Who’s in Your Room?
Here’s how to cope with those you allow into your room, a metaphor for your brain & life, according to business entrepreneur and author Ivan Misner, Ph. D
Ivan Misner, Ph. D
In recent years, there’s been so much talk about ghosting, the not-subtle art of figuratively expelling people from your life by withdrawing from all communication with them. They write, call, email or text, and you fail to reply. Some are more persistent than others. It may take multiple efforts before they get that you want them out of your life. Seems harsh, doesn’t it? We think so.
However, entrepreneur Ivan Misner, Ph.D., founder of BNI (Business Network International), the world’s largest business networking organization with almost 250,000 members in 73 countries, which he founded in 1985, has a kinder, gentler way of interacting with those you want to ignore. With co-author Stewart Emery, also an entrepreneur, and Rick Sapio, who contributed stories and concepts, the men have put together a slim, powerful volume, Who’s in Your Room? The Secret to Creating Your Best Life (Indigo River Publishing, 2018). It tells how to make better choices regarding the folks we allow into our lives in the first place.
The key, according to the book, is to think of our lives as one room with one door, which is a metaphor for our brain. Once someone enters that door and is in our psyche, there’s no way for the person to leave. This door is only for entering; never for exiting. Sounds like something from the 1960’s former TV show the Twilight Zone, doesn’t it? If so, it’s better if we only allow in those, we are confident we’ll want to have in our space—or in this case our lives—for a very long time. The reason is that everyone we interact with affects the quality of our life now--and forever.
Of course, this is a difficult concept to grasp when we know everyone changes and grows through the years. Who seems right as a friend today may not be tomorrow or in a year or two. Perhaps, if we had taken the time to get to know someone better before we let them in, we never would have done so. So how do we get them to leave? We cannot, but at least we can take steps to be more selective in the future. And if they’ve gained entry, all is not lost. There are ways we can make those we’ve let in less important by having less interaction with them.
We recently talked with Dr. Misner by phone from his office in Austin, Texas, about how we can do this best. Following are his edited, condensed responses.
Question: First, why did you, a businessman and successful entrepreneur, write a book that seems would have come from a psychologist?
Answer: My doctoral work was in organizational behavior, which is akin to psychology. I wrote the book because my friend Stewart, who became my co-author, talked about this concept. I told him, “You have to write a book on this.” For the next two years, I kept asking him how the book was coming. It wasn’t. We decided to write it together, along with a third co-author, another business associate.
Q: Why did you like the concept?
A: It’s a self-help book that fits networking, which is my area of expertise. It deals with whom you network with…who’s in your life, who’s in your work. It resonated with what I do at BNI. I also wanted to do something that would have a broader rather than niche appeal, which this is. It’s for young people, married people, couples, literally anyone. It helps people understand the values and people with whom they want to let in and live their lives.
Q: Have you ever wanted someone out of your life?
A: Absolutely. And one of the deal breakers for me in making that kind of decision is anyone dripping in drama, which you know when you see it. For some, everything is drama. I had several interactions with people like this, and then it hit me. It was all my fault. I had let them in. Someone was a person I had even hired. I knew there was drama but thought I could deal with it. I was wrong.
Q: Why does it matter so much who we let in if we can avoid them later?
A: Because people’s fingerprints are all over your brain. They may be out of your life, but they remain in your head. Sometimes, if I do a live presentation or radio interview, I say to the group, “Think of someone who is out of your life, was caustic and you didn’t like them. Now, think about why you didn’t like them and what they did?” And I go on to ask if people have someone in their life like that and all say “Yes.” So, if you remember them that vividly, they are still in your head and you can’t get them of that metaphorical room. Maybe, you can put them in a corner or recesses of your mind, but they are still there. Equally unsettling is that many decisions you make may be based on that experience.
Q: But we all make bad choices about people at some time, don’t we?
A: Yes, there are so many charming narcissists out there who suck you into their web and then you find out they are toxic.
Q: So, how do we guard the metaphorical door and not allow in certain people in the first place?
A: We can try to do a good job of understanding our values and the values of those we meet. When I talk to people about values, it’s akin to deer in the headlights. People tend to hesitate, and most can’t share their personal values. They haven’t thought about what they are. So, we wrote the book by talking about deal breakers that they could better identify with; whom they didn’t want to have a relationship with such as someone who’s very dramatic or caustic. You also need to align your values if you’re part of a couple. If you casually meet another couple who doesn’t love and respect one another, my wife and I won’t be interested in becoming friends with them and allowing them into our room. Of course, everyone may have moments about another couple’s own interactions, but we’re talking about their overall behavior toward one another. When you recognize these deal breakers, it’s easier then to think about your personal values, which should align with those you’re in touch with.
Q: Can you explain more?
A: First, remember again that we can’t undo the past, but we can curate our rooms to build a better future. Start by taking a full inventory of who’s in your room…from family to friends, neighbors, business associations, social media contacts. Then think and even write down reasons you have good associations with those in your room. Maybe a running buddy keeps you motivated to meet fitness goals. Maybe, neighbors are good about lending a hand when you need your leaves raked, or whatever. Then do the same with those who foster negative feelings or values that don’t align with yours; maybe, someone talks so much more about how much money they have when you’re not very materialistic, or perhaps always shares what you ask them not to reveal. Good people become “engines” and help us to be our best selves. Then there are others who complain and undermine our values. They tend to be negative “anchors” who weigh us down.
Q: But again, those already in, what do we do? And what kind of toll can they take on your life?
A: Originally, we thought use imagery. Put them in the basement, but that felt like the movie, Arsenic and Old Lace. So, it hit me what my mother had said when I was stressed out with a relationship or problem. You must put them in a box and then put the box on a shelf you can’t reach easily and won’t reach for often. Also, don’t obsess over what you can’t change in the moment or you’ll struggle.
Q: Can you offer more ideas about how we keep those out we shouldn’t have let in in the first place?
A: Two of our techniques are benign neglect and homeopathic doses. First, over time you’ll neglect the person and the relationship with dissipate. That happens even with friends we like because we’re busy. Now, imagine doing that with a plan. I don’t like burning bridges, however. I run a network. Gradually let the relationship dissipate through homeopathic doses. Do only what you must; treat the relationship as an ailment. For example, if you are visiting a town where somebody lives whom you never wanted to let in, instead of calling the month before and planning, let them know the night before and say, “I am free between 1 p.m. and 1:30 p.m.” A small dose of interaction will lead to benign neglect over time. I have seen my wife Elisabeth do this with people who have become difficult and gradually the relationship has dissipated. Or, as she says, “languished on the vine.”
Q: What if some become confrontational and want to know why we’re not making plans or returning calls, what’s your best recommendation to handle this kindly? Some just won’t let go.
A: If you do it gradually, they may not get mad but may ask questions. Be honest in terms of your schedule and inability to connect. We make time for those we want to and don’t have to for those we don’t want to.
Q: Since you wrote the book, what results have you seen both professionally and socially in your own life?
A: I fired one of the drama people in my life who was in my office. I’ve learned how to say “No.” When you run a network, you ask, “How may I help you and help to build relationships?” In networking, you’re selling all the time. But the downside is sometimes people ask you to do things that aren’t a good fit. And I’ve learned to say “no” but find others who can help who may have more time or are more qualified or more interested. Always be honest and don’t do the Seinfeld-TV thing where you think up some crazy subterfuge to get out of something by fabricating a crazy story and excuse. Example: “My car needs to be repaired because I hit a stump when I was busy taking my cat for a procedure.” That’s not believable. You get in more trouble doing and saying such things. Be straight and try not to burn those bridges. And remember that sometimes “No” is just a one-word sentence without explanation.