Have you ever said hello to someone and have them ignore you? If you’re like me, the first thought that jumps to my mind is something like, “What did I do wrong to make them mad at me?”
Or how about you ask somebody a simple question and they respond to you in anger? Again, I wonder, “What should I have said differently?”
Or maybe I send somebody a text and they don’t respond. And I think, “Are they ignoring me on purpose because of something I did or didn’t do?”
What I have learned over the years, is that my first response is to think that the issue is all about me – that I did something “wrong” to produce that outcome. But I have found this usually isn’t the case at all.
Quite often, something is going on in the person’s life that has nothing to do with me. Perhaps they had a fight with a family member. Perhaps they didn’t sleep well and are exhausted. Or perhaps they’re simply thinking about something important to them.
In fact, the older I get, the more I realize that very little of it is actually about me.
One evening I asked one of the boys to wash the dishes. I did some other chores and returned to the kitchen to find only half of the dishes washed. I went searching for the child and found him in his room reading a book. I was very close to saying something like, “I asked you to wash the dishes so I wouldn’t have to do it and you ignored me.” (Notice how many times I would have said “I” or “me”.) But instead I said something like, “You only got half the dishes washed, what happened?”
The child immediately jumped up and said, “I’m sorry, Mom! I had to go to the bathroom and I got distracted. I’ll finish them right now.” To which I simply responded, “Thanks, [insert child’s nickname].” He wasn’t trying to ignore me. He was simply being a kid and didn’t finish. It wasn’t about me at all.
Another time, I was at a family event and we were telling stories about our childhood. My brother kept telling stories that painted me in a very unflattering light. After two or three of them, I wasn’t laughing and wanted to respond with a few negative stories about him. But I looked at him and he looked really tired. So instead of doing what I wanted, I contributed a few stories where he was the hero of the story. A few hours later, he said to me, “Thanks. It’s been a rough week at work.” Once again, it wasn’t about me at all. He was struggling at work and was simply in a poor mood.
I am very active on our Goat Milk Stuff Facebook page and am familiar with a lot of our regular commenters. I had an instance once, where a normally very nice woman started attacking everything I said on Facebook. It was very unusual behavior for her, so I ignored it the first time, and the second, and the third. But it got so bad that I had to send her a private message asking why she was being so negative. She immediately apologized and told me that there were some unfortunate issues occurring in her life and she was on edge. Her behavior reverted to normal and has never been repeated. It was not about me at all.
And it’s not just people! Some of the pregnant goats get really cranky during kidding season. They try to take their bad moods out on us, but despite their crankiness, we still take good care of their needs and make them as comfortable as they can be. After all, it’s about them, not us.
How we respond to issues is so instrumental in how the situation resolves. When we believe that the other person’s behavior is all about us, our response can be inflammatory, which can often escalate the situation. Or it could put the other person on the defensive. And someone who is defensive rarely says the right thing.
Instead, we need to recognize that our first reaction (believing that it’s all about me) is often incorrect. If you can train yourself to realize that it might not be about you at all, you will find that you react better to situations. So how do you train yourself this way?
- Pause. Most people react too quickly. They feel like they are being attacked and they say the first thing that comes to their mind.
- Think. Use that pause to think about the other person and not your own feelings.
- Ask yourself what else could this be about instead of me. Don’t assume that the other person is reacting to something you said or did. What else could be going on in their life?
- Do not get defensive. When we feel we are being attacked, we make the situation about us when it often has nothing to do with us at all.
- Lead with a question and not a statement. Don’t assume you’ve figured out what is going on that caused the person’s actions. Ask them what is happening, with a focus on them and not on you.
Those sound like such simple steps. And while they are simple, they’re not always easy. Emotions and words are tricky things and when we respond with emotional words, they can often get us into a lot of trouble.
Remember that when somebody hurts you with with their actions or words, quite often, you are just the vehicle for them to try to release their own feelings. It’s not always about you. Make it about them and you can often resolve the situation.
What do you think? Are you quick to make issues about you instead of the other person? How do you handle conflicts where you are feeling attacked?