A few weeks ago, I was joking with a friend who also works in the behavioral health field that we often find ourselves "behavior coaching" and analyzing the behavior of people in our daily lives. What we do and experience in our jobs often applies in a practical way to what happens outside of work.
"If someone is mean to me." I explained, "it's hard for me to take it personally. I always assume there's something more going on. I just want to say to them, 'Who hurt you?'"
The statement elicited laughter but it holds truth. The truth is, when someone gets upset and acts out it's usually because of something that's happened in the past that they haven't been able to let go of. They are not mad at me; they might really be mad at their abusive mother and something I just did reminded them of that.
I saw this idea in play last week while buying some hay at the pet store. The young man behind the cash register asked if I had a store perks card or a phone number. I started looking for the card and said I thought I had one but couldn't find it.
"How about a phone number?" he asked.
"I don't think I have one connected to a card,"I replied.
"Just give me a phone number."
I obliged. He typed in my phone number and magically a discount was applied to my purchase.
"See?" he said. "Ï told you it would work. Why don't you just listen?"
I blushed and became flustered. How dare he talk to me like that! I am a customer and I am always right and he wasn't clear in what he was asking etc. etc.
Then his last phrase echoed in my inner dialogue. Why don't you just listen is not a phrase that one normally hears during a routine monetary transaction. It's a phrase I've heard numerous exasperated parents use with their disobedient children. It's a phrase that, many times, causes the child to feel guilt and shame.
It's a phrase that, maybe, the Sassy Pet Store Cashier heard too many times.
I don't claim to be able to know, after one small interaction, what is going on with a person or from what past events they might be suffering. Maybe I'm completely wrong about the reason behind their sassiness; maybe they're just having a bad day.Maybe the Sassy Pet Store Cashier just enjoys being sassy. Either way, taking their words and actions personally will only make things worse for everyone involved.
Maybe what I should have said was simply, "Who hurt you?"