Assumptions. They occur every day. A lot! We all make assumptions. Some assumptions are good ones, some are not so good. I make assumptions. It happens.
The problem lies in the reaction generated by the assumption. I am guilty of this, but am trying to change my ways, as sometimes a snappy reaction to an assumption I have made (which is often either wrong or misconstrued) can really hurt someone’s feelings.
Example: One of your friends says something to you and you don’t understand, so you respond with a question. Rather than the obvious “I’m not sure what you mean” in a calm tone, you respond with a snappy “What?” or “Is that right?” Often times, a question posed like this can cause the other party to go into defense mode and react to your question in a defensive or snappy manner without really thinking. This can result in hurt feelings.
Usually situations like this are relatively harmless, but if they occur again and again, it can really add up. Sometimes the snappy question is perceived as a personal attack, and things can get really ugly… when it’s entirely possible that it was an honest and genuine question, but came out snappier than intended.
So, what I’ve been trying to do in these situations is this: When someone says or asks me something in what I perceive to be a snappy manner, or perhaps sounds like an attack on my person, I take a breath. That’s all it takes. Rather than responding right away with the first thing that comes to mind (which – when an attack is perceived – is almost always negative and defensive), I take 2 or 3 seconds to think about the situation.
The first thing I remind myself in those few seconds is that 99% of the time the words, comments, and questions that come out of the mouths of others are NOT ABOUT ME. This reminder is hard to take in stride, because our ego often speaks loudest by saying: *Obviously this person is attacking me personally, so I must put them in their place* Often, this is simply not the case. Remember – 99% of the time, it’s not about you 😉 That person’s snarky comment is probably because they are in a bad mood, or not thinking straight, or just because they are grouchy by nature (all of said reasons are all about them, and totally not about you at all).
That being said – if I can realize that the snappy question or comment was not intended as an attack on me (which is usually the case), I can lower my defenses and clarify things for the person asking. Even if it was intended as an attack on me, responding with a counter attack usually only creates a bigger situation out of a teeny tiny snappy comment. What’s the point in that? I understand that people should stand up for themselves, but at the right time, and for the appropriate reasons. Often, responding literally to the snappy question (in a calm way) disarms the other party. Or, if you’re not sure… respond with a joking tone so that you can test the waters. If you respond in a manner that indicates your genuine want to answer the question, the other person will often get the message quickly and tone it down. Using humour is also a great way to diffuse things, and to also let the other person know to chill out.
If you’re the one who seems to be misunderstood and have been snapped at, you have a couple of choices. One, you can clarify exactly what you meant, and clearly let the other person know their comment was out of line (which sometimes leads to more defensive attacks and an ensuing war). If the other person disagrees with your honest explanation, it is no longer your problem. Just make sure you clearly and calmly state your case and intentions, and apologize if need be for any misunderstanding. Then your responsibility of the situation is complete. You cannot control where the other party takes your explanation and apology.
Or two: you can just let it go. I understand that after a while it’s hard to let comments like that roll off your back, but we really do have to pick and choose where we stand up and where we just shrug our shoulders and shake our head at someone else’s comments or behaviour. In the grand scheme of things, little things like small snappy comments don’t really matter.
Life is too short to dwell so long on little things like this. So when a situation like this arises with a stranger, a friend, family, or a loved one – remember to take that breath before you snap back. Think about what was said to you, and also think about your response. Is it necessary to climb a mountain and throw stones at someone before you really understand what they are trying to say to you? Ultimately, it’s not worth your time and effort to do anything except ask the other person to clarify your assumption. *Did you mean this?* At least that way, you have the full story and can respond properly 🙂 Even if they meant to be snappy, it’s just as easy (and much less hurtful) to let them know you didn’t appreciate the way they just talked to you. And even if you don’t feel like explaining yourself, at least taking a breath will prevent you from snapping back.
We don’t always have to prove our ‘status’ with other people, because when people feel like they have to prove themselves with a snappy comment (whether it’s intended to be hurtful or not), it’s often because they are feeling much, much lower than they’d like to be.
I have witnessed wars between people that started from one small assumption.
Often, it is simply a misunderstanding that can easily be clarified.