“I have learned silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet strange, I am ungrateful to these teachers.” - Kahlil Gibran
As Kahlil Gibran writes so beautifully, we can learn a great deal from the people who behave in a way that we might not appreciate or don’t understand. When we open up to the possibility that these people can be teachers, our communication will become one filled with curiosity and love instead of separation and annoyance.
I remember working as a cook for a silent retreat. Serving three meals a days to 15 people, with limited resources and time. The work was tough but I enjoyed it tremendously as most people were also very thankful for my efforts. Most people, because one lady felt the need to complain about tiny details: a specific tea flavor that was missing, the types of bread on the table, the dessert that was not sweet enough for her, etc. Her complaining upset me quite a lot, because it made me feel like all my effort didn’t mean anything to her and most of all, I couldn’t understand why she would complain about such little things. So basically my mood would drop every time she entered the kitchen.
And then it hit me. Her complaining, her statements about everything that bothered her, were actually a great example of honesty and expressing one’s needs. Something that I have always found difficult. My mood lifted again, and since that moment, whenever this lady would enter the kitchen, I could approach her with an open mind and a loving communication. I even started to admire her and wanted to learn these skills of honesty and expressing one’s needs from her.
I guess we’ve all experienced a situation in which we were with someone that seemed so hard to communicate with or even behaved in a way that just irritated us. Maybe you get annoyed when a friend always needs to check everything and take control of all decisions and situations. Or a stubborn colleague who seems to be incapable of taking someone else's point of view. Maybe the upcoming Christmas dinners are already stirring your mood, knowing that you have the spend some hours with this specific person.
So what I’ve learned in that kitchen and what I would like to share, is that we can take a look at these behaviors and turn them into something admirable and valuable. Interestingly enough it turned out there is a behavior model from Daniel Ofman that can help us to do exactly that, step-by-step. This theory is called Core Quadrants and I first encountered it in a communication course, during my bachelor in Psychology.
Ofman states that you have a core quality, a pitfall, an allergy and a personal challenge, which are called the quadrants. By exploring every quadrant you can not only learn more about yourself, but also learn to appreciate the other person more. It is a way of turning something negative into something positive and valuable.
Before using an example to show you how this theory can be helpful in a more loving communication, let’s first explore every quadrant and its meaning:
A core quality is a personal trait we have that seems natural to us, but is praised by others. It is something that we tend to do anyway and is typical for who we are. This quality is a very helpful trait, but when we overdo it won’t be helpful anymore and it will turn into our pitfall.
A pitfall is too much of the good stuff (the core quality) and is something we tend to do, even though it doesn’t do us any good. It’s like turning our strength into our weakness.
An allergy is a type of behavior that someone else displays, that makes us annoyed. It might be difficult to understand why someone would act like this and having to deal with this behavior can make us feel angry and confused. This obviously makes the communication with this person that is ‘in our allergy zone’ very hard. However, becoming aware of our allergy can teach us a lot about ourselves and the other person, as you will see later on in this article.
The fourth quadrant is called the personal challenge. This challenge is a type of behavior that we find difficult to display, even though it would be good for us in a sense that it would protect us from our pitfall. Also, it is exactly the thing that ‘our allergy’ is extremely good at.
As you can see in the figure below, all these quadrants are connected with each other. Which means that when you are aware of one quadrant, for example when you know one of your core qualities, you can discover every other quadrant just by following the arrows.
Let's Try It Out
So let’s put these quadrants into work and start with modesty as an example for a core quality. During the explanation you can take the image above and just follow the arrows along with the text to get a clear view of how this system works. It will help to imagine yourself in the following example, when you recognise modesty as one of your qualities, or picture someone else you see as a modest person. Here we go!
As mentioned before, when we take too much of the good stuff, we turn our strength into our weakness. So modesty turns into the pitfall of being too agreeable. It means that we tend to put our own needs aside and perhaps say yes too often. The pitfall is something we should be aware of and protect ourselves from.
Now taking the positive opposite of our pitfall, we will find our personal challenge. The positive opposite of being too agreeable is showing your limits and expressing your needs. Something that a lot of us find quite difficult to do, but what would help us to protect our energy and stand up for what we believe in. However, as the word says, it’s a challenge and therefore takes an extra effort to achieve.
At this point we have already learned, by looking at our core quality, what behavior we should be aware of, why we find it hard to behave in a certain way and what we could learn to do better in order to feel better. The next step is to take our personal challenge and discover what our allergy is.
Someone who is ‘too good’ in expressing his or her needs and setting boundaries, is someone who complains a lot and might be too stubborn to make space for someone else’s needs. And this allergy in turn irritates us and compromises the communication with this person. So coming from your core quality you can better understand why you find it hard to communicate with certain people: because they are ‘your allergy’.
But along the way of discovering our allergy, we also discovered that this person has a quality from which we can learn in order to grow personally (our personal challenge). As I wrote before about the lady I met during a job, she taught me that I could improve my skills in expressing my needs and I actually started to appreciate her as a teacher.
A Loving Communication
Feel free to fill in any one of the quadrants as a start, and work your way through the theory to discover more about yourself and others and improve your communication with others. I can imagine that this theory seems quite systematic and maybe almost impersonal. But I believe that tapping into such theories every now and then, can help us turn irritation and misunderstanding, into optimism, love and connection. Something that we not only long for during these days of Christmas celebration, but also every other day of the year.