Don’t assume you are the cause of other people’s bad temper

Recently, I was driving along a quiet country lane on a fine day, and was in a good mood. An old friend drove past me at some speed. I just had time to acknowledge him before he was out of sight, but to my slight irritation… he did not respond. Over the next few miles this irritation turned into worry, frustration, and finally mild anger. By the time I got to my destination I needed to take some deep breaths to calm down.

I had fallen into the classic trap of reading a whole book into a situation that was not even worth a line. My thinking ran along these lines:

  • He saw me but chose not to acknowledge me. I must there fore have upset him and be out of favour.
  • He knows something I don’t. If he knows this (whatever it is) he will have told other people. They now think less of me. It must go against me.
  • I must have made a medical mistake. I haven’t seen him socially for a while, so there has to be a professional reason why he ignored me. What have I done wrong, then? What does he know that I don’t? What makes him think he’s a better doctor than me?

This type of thinking will continue as long as you let it. In this case it lasted until I came to my senses and realized that probably he had just not seen me. I met him at a meeting some days later and mentioned he had passed me in a hurry. He replied,’ Sorry about that. I was in a desperate hurry to catch a train. I didn’t have time to wave and made the train wiith 30 seconds to spare.’ I had turned his mad dash for a train into a professional slight against me.

We are all prone to this type of’ kneejerk’ thinking. The eas iest way to stop it is to put yourself in the position of whoever you think you have upset. Have you ever walked through a door held open for you without saying thank you? If you were too busy or distracted to notice that day, why can’t someone else be? You will have been late for appointments despite your best efforts – other people are too. Putting this thinking into perspective takes practice, but always pays off. Remember – you do not have a divine right to be the only person having a bad day at the office.

However, this is not an excuse to explain away rude or hostile behaviour. If someone persistently ignores you, they are probably doing exactly that – ignoring you. In such cases you need to find out what is going on. Raising the issue with that person may cause you anxiety, but not as great as the anxiety your kneejerk thinking will generate if you do not.

If someone is grumpy or rude, don’t assume it is your fault. Stop the kneejerk response of blaming yourself and consider other possible reasons for their behaviour. They may have a hangover, or be late for a meeting.

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