As humans we like stories. Stories help us make sense of the world and share our understanding with others. The problem is sometimes the story we tell ourselves is not true and when we repeat it to others it can cause problems. Here is what happened to a client of mine when she made up a story about the behavior of a co-worker. The names are fictitious. My client, Sally, was waiting for some information from her colleague, Harry. She needed the information to create a quote for a customer on Monday morning. Harry had promised to send it to her by 2:00 p.m. on Friday. It was 4:00 o’clock on Friday afternoon and no information. Sally called his office, no response. She called his cell phone and got his voice mail. She then called his administrative assistance and found out Harry left at 12:00 noon that day, he said he wouldn’t be back in until Monday and offered no other explanation. Sally made up all kinds of stories in her head about Harry and why he failed to deliver on his promise. She spent her entire weekend stewing about Harry’s lack of respect for her, the company and customer’s proposal. She was so upset it ruined her time at a family outing. On Monday morning she discovered Harry had sent the information to her on Friday before he left, however there was a glitch in the email system and the message was still stuck in his inbox.
Sally learned a valuable lesson. In the future instead of making up stories and spending her weekend all worked up, she would tell herself there was a reason for Harry’s behavior. When we judge someone else’s behavior, we have two choices: react or respond. When we react, we blame the other person, when we respond there is a pause between what we see or what we hear and what we say or do next. We become curious and look for reason. It takes practice to shift from automatically reacting to responding. They next time you find yourself in a tailspin reacting to another’s behavior stop and say to yourself, there is an explanation, at this moment in time I don’t know what it is, so I’m going to stop being upset and move on.