A while back, I had a conversation with a friend of mine. He seemed genuinely confused about the way his stepson was avoiding any direct contact. When I asked “what happened between the two of you?” my friend replied “nothing.”
My first impulse was to talk about how much I hate it when people get their panties in a twist, and act like jerks out of the blue. I stopped myself though. I didn’t want to say or do anything that was going to make an already bad situation worse.
While I was silently mulling over how to respond, my friend continued. “I’ve never done anything to wrong the kid,” he said. A simple question popped out of my mouth before my conscious brain even realized that I was thinking it. “How do you know?” I challenged him.
My friend told me that he’d racked his brain, trying to figure out his end of things but had come up empty. He simply couldn’t conceive of a single thing that would justify his stepson’s attitude.
It got me to thinking that in a situation like this, my friend wasn’t in a position to determine what (if anything) he’d done wrong. His stepson was the only one who could shed light on that. The only way to get a real explanation was to get it directly from the wounded party.
Many times over the years, I’ve found myself in both sides of these situations. If I’m going to be honest, I don’t think I’ve got a great track record of handling them well.
When someone is upset with me, and I really can’t figure out why, I often approach them with a challenge. Something along the lines of “whats your problem? I haven’t done anything to you!”
That’s not exactly giving the other party good incentive to express themselves. Why would they, when I’ve made it clear that defending my innocence is more valuable than resolving a conflict or misunderstanding?!
On the other side of things, when I’m upset with someone else, I do just as little to encourage open dialogue. In these situations, my ego sometimes gets in the way of giving the other person the opportunity to explain themselves. When they ask me what’s wrong, the easiest response is a hard “nothing.”
I don’t know why I do these things — especially when I know better. All I know is that I really do want to get along with people. I can’t reasonably expect that to happen unless I work harder to change up my approach.
Listen to the podcast version of this (and other) stories at www.acfischerpod.com