The next time you feel irritated with a friend or colleague because he doesn’t respond to your emails or show up when you expected him to, stop and think about your options before you act.
You might decide to get angry because you think he’s irresponsible. That would be a reasonable conclusion and a natural response.
Or, you might decide to get curious and ask if something’s wrong.
These are two perfectly reasonable responses to the same set of circumstances and you can decide which response to have.
Mind you, the consequences of your choice may be big.
Let’s Compare: Angry vs. Concerned
If you get angry, you’re likely to drive a wedge between you and your colleague. If you get curious, you will probably strengthen your relationship with him.
That’s what happened to me recently.
My colleague had not been responsive. He hadn’t returned some emails that specifically requested a response. And then he didn’t show up at a meeting I had painstakingly set up to accommodate his schedule.
Yes, my blood boiled a bit. And I was about to write him off as useless or worse. But then I thought again. I realized that I was more concerned than angry. So I emailed him saying “Charlie, I’m worried about you. You didn’t respond to my email and you missed the meeting last night. Is everything alright?”
His response came back pronto. “Yes, I’m okay. But I’m over my head and very tired. I totally forgot the meeting. I’m so sorry. What can I do to help?”
Immediately the irritation washed out of me. I felt a great sense relief as I realized that Charlie’s behavior had more to do with what was going on in his life than it did with me.
By not responding and not showing up, he wasn’t making a judgment on how he felt about me or my meeting. He was doing his best to get through his complicated life and had just faltered a bit. I can easily forgive that. We all falter every once in a while.
The difference between responding with anger and responding with concern is just a slight shift in attitude.
But the difference in the result is huge.
Be sure that you take the time to look at your options when deciding how to respond. You might be surprised at how well responding with concern and curiosity can build your relationships rather than erode them.
Get Concerned Rather Than Angry
The next time you find yourself irritated with someone, stop before you lash out. Instead, ask a question to find out what’s going on for that person. You will probably find out that whatever is going on has more to do with that person’s life than it does with you. And simply by caring enough to ask, your relationship with that person will get stronger.
How you respond to someone is your choice. The consequences are bigger than you might imagine.
How do you get yourself to be curious about other people? If you have tricks for doing that, share them in the comments below.