Welcome to Nate 90!
With the advent of social media, we are able to learn things about people that we would have likely never known. I've been out of college for almost 20 years now. Occasionally I come across a post from someone I knew in college, and I am shocked. It seems totally out of character from the person I knew in college. One of my first thoughts usually is, "Where did that come from?"
People usually recognize some characteristics and tendencies that their friends and acquaintances have. However, I think that most of us lapse into what I am calling blank slate perspectives. When we meet someone, our relationship with them really is a blank slate. We know nothing about them and they know nothing about us. As we learn about each other, information is written on this slate, and after a period of time, this slate of information can seem pretty full.
This is when the shocks and surprises may start happening. The information we have filled our slate with about each other isn't necessarily inaccurate - it's just incomplete. We naturally form conclusions based on the information we do have, and that is a reasonable thing to do.
When my wife and I were married, although we had two and a half years of dating, there were still some surprises in the first few months of marriage. And, the surprises didn't stop in early marriage. They continued for years to come. I will grant that the longer we have been married, the surprises are much less.
These types of surprises show up in many areas of our life: work, school, extended family, etc. The longer I have served in leadership positions, the more I have learned to draw conclusions about people slowly. Many times over the years I have drawn conclusions rather quickly, made decisions about those conclusions, and then regretted it later as I learned more about the people involved.
When these surprises happen, things have a potential to get ugly. In these moments the way the other person is acting is unexpected based on what you know about them (the information recorded on your slate). Sometimes we are able to remain calm, think about what might be going on, and give the other person space. That is what we should do. And, I wish we always did.
What we are after today is to consider what happens when we do NOT react the right way when these surprises happen. The unexpected actions of the other person can be frustrating, angering, confusing, hurtful....we can get into some very complex set of emotions in these times.
We are never going to get rid of these negative reactions. They are a fact of life. What we CAN do is begin to train ourselves on how we handle them when they come up.
The most powerful tool we have is to consider that there are things we do not know about the other person and where they are coming from - whether we have just met the person or we have known the person in one aspect of their lives (i.e. just as a neighbor, a co-worker, extended family member, etc). Our normal response to people is to form conclusions about them in the moment based on our past experiences with them. Or, if we do not know them, our past experiences with someone who is similar to the person we are interacting with in the present.
This means in order for us to use this tool of thinking where the other person is coming from, we have to develop within ourselves the ability to slow down our normal reaction and think beyond it.
To consider that the person may be responding the way they currently are is because of reasons that you are not familiar with and may not readily be able to recognize...yes is a powerful tool...but it is an acquired skill that you must intentionally develop over time.
Ugly clashes continue to happen when people refuse to consider where other people are coming from or simply don't understand their first response to others behavior may be uninformed. Of course there are other causes for ugly clashes, but this is a good place to start. If you want a more extensive handling of the causes for clashes between people, take a look at Malcom Gladwell's book Talking to Strangers.
Before I go, I want to give you one more consideration. As we draw our snap conclusions about others, they may be faulty because we do not properly understand ourselves. That, however, is too big a topic to get into today.