Making Different Choices

As people all over the country read my book, “Understanding Other People: The Five Secrets to Human Behavior,” the feedback I hear most often is the “ah-hah” moment people get when they realize that others are not necessary “difficult people” – they are not deliberately trying to drive them crazy!

When we take an objective look at what others are doing and saying, and we refuse to act on impulse to “judge” or to react, we often find that others are not trying to annoy us, but rather they are simply hurting human beings.

If you’re a parent you can relate to the situation when a child is seeking attention, or perhaps doesn’t feel very well – for example, tired or hungry. The child will not politely ask, “Can you help me?” but rather they will whine, cry and throw tantrums, seeking the support that they need. This behavior doesn’t benefit them, except that it does generate a response most times from the adult in charge.

We grown-ups are not so different in many cases. Sometimes we don’t have the words we need, or the peace inside to calmly ask for what we want. We get angry or frustrated or depressed because we can’t give voice to our real needs. Many times we aren’t even sure what we need – we just know we aren’t getting it!

When we lash out at others, or become otherwise difficult in our relationships, we are only adding to the other person’s pain, and to our own. Instead of being a person who reacts and then feels badly for the way they treated someone, practice assuming the Interested Observer (IO) mode. IO says that instead of letting another person “trigger” me and allowing myself to respond with a knee-jerk reaction, I will pause and be watchful about what’s happening in the exchange. I will give myself the critical few seconds to step outside of the communication and be aware of the other person, and of my own reactions.

Taking the time to assume an IO role won’t make the other person behave differently toward you, and it might not make the exchange any easier, but it will give you another option in terms of how you choose to respond.

Most of the time we are responding without even knowing what we’re doing, and then we wish we could take back the interaction and start over. Practice this week to start over before you begin. Allow yourself the few seconds needed to calmly watch your interactions, develop a number of possible responses and then choose the one that actually meets your needs.