You have to interact with other people so you might as well make it more pleasant (for you and them).
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Pam: [00:00] You’re listening to Not Bad Advice where we discuss one good idea that you can use right away, no matter who you are or where you’re at in life. We’ll cover topics all over the spectrum with the simple goal of offering you a new perspective. I’m Pamela Lund…
CK: [00:25] And I’m CK Chung.
Pam: [00:27] And we hope that after listening, you’ll think, “Hey, that’s not bad advice.”
[00:36] On the last two episodes, we focused on trying new things and moving out of your comfort zones. So today I want to shift gears. We’re in a period right now, where the way we interact with others is changing, from our coworkers that we have to have video calls with, to people standing too close to the grocery store, to your family that you’re stuck in the same house with, or maybe that you’re missing because you can’t see them.
[01:01] Every relationship that you have, no matter how superficial or deep is being affected in some way and a lot of your relationships might feel more strained or difficult. So I want to talk about how to make them a little bit easier. Sound good?
CK: [01:15] Sounds good to me.
Pam: [01:17] The ironic thing is that I didn’t feel like recording today. I almost told CK that I wanted to skip it because I was feeling really off. Like, mentally really off.
[01:27] But the reason that I was feeling off was because of an interaction I had yesterday that was lingering in my subconscious. The universe being the way that it is, the interaction was a perfect example of how not to act. And it felt really inauthentic for me to tell people to behave one way, when I had behaved exactly the opposite way. So let me tell you what happened.
[01:53] We were going into a condo complex yesterday – and we don’t live there, we were going to see family for a physically distant mother’s day – and we pulled up to the gate. And it’s the type of gate where there’s one entrance for the residents, and they have like a clicker and they can go through. And then there’s an entrance for guests, and you have to use a call box to get buzzed in. And you can only go one car at a time. There’s a gate that will come down, and it only allows one car in at a time.
[02:21] So when we pulled up, there was a guy in a pickup truck sitting in front of the guest entrance. So, we couldn’t get in because he was blocking the entrance, and he couldn’t get in because he didn’t know how to use the gate. So I needed to communicate with him that he was in the way, and the only way that I could do that was by yelling at him from our car.
[02:43] So like right away, that is not a good way to interact with someone yelling from your car to their car. So I yelled at him that like he needed to get out of the way and his response was to call me a princess and say “fine, I’m moving princess” or something like that, which immediately made me angry.
[03:01] So I responded out of anger and he told me that he was trying to make a delivery. And immediately when I realized that he was a delivery person, I felt. Really bad because delivery people right now are under a lot of stress and they’re trying to get food to all of these people that are quarantining in their houses for this pandemic.
[03:22] And by that point, there’s no way that this interaction could have turned out positively. I tried to tell him, I’m sorry, I’m not trying to be a jerk. You can just only have one car at a time. You have to use the call box, but he didn’t want to hear what I had to say. And we’re still yelling at each other from our cars.
[03:37] So the interaction went exactly the opposite way of how I would want to interact with someone who’s working in a stressful job right now, or really anyone. And so we left each other, me thinking he was a jerk because he called me a princess and him probably thinking that I was this bitch that lived in this expensive condo complex.
[03:53] I was coming down on him trying to do his job. So it didn’t go the way that I wanted it to and it didn’t have to go that way. And it was really on me. I was the one that started the interaction. So it really stuck with me until this morning when I almost called off this recording session.
[04:09] And then I realized like, Of course, that is exactly why I needed to record this today because the feeling’s really fresh and I want to help other people avoid feeling that way.
[04:21] And as soon as I realized that and I started working through what happened in my head, I started to feel better because when we’re stressed is exactly when we’re prone to behaving in ways that don’t feel good.
[04:32] It’s really easy to act the way that you want to act when you feel good. You’re in a positive mental space,
[04:37] you’re really present, there’s not a lot of stress going on so you act the way that you think that you act all the time. And it’s really easy to behave in the way that you want to behave in reality, in the way that’s aligned with who you think that you are. So we need to practice reacting and acting in ways that reflect who we want to be and how we want to feel so that those reactions become our default reactions when we are stressed
[05:01] and so it doesn’t take as much work to be cool when you’re stressed. So I’m not perfect. No one is, but I can get better. I can learn and so can everyone else. So let’s talk about what we all need to practice.
CK: [05:15] I think that’s a great story and a great example of an experience where you realize you’re caught in the emotions of the circumstances. And when you realize that you can see how to separate the emotion from the circumstance and see the circumstance for what it actually is. Instead of having your initial emotion affect your reaction to the whole situation.
Pam: [05:43] Yeah. And that’s something that can carry on for a longer period of time. And we’re going to get into how that happens and why in a minute.
CK: [05:50] Perfect
Pam: [05:51] So before we really dig in, I want to be clear that this has nothing to do with being nice or being a people pleaser, or making other people happy at all. What we’re talking about today is making you happier by improving interactions that are negatively affecting you.
[06:07] This is all about reducing friction, so you can have fewer stressful interactions. This is entirely about how you feel. It’s great if other people walk away from interacting with you feeling good, but what we’re really talking about today is what happens in your head and how you process things, how you react and how you feel when you walk away from those interactions.
[06:30] I want to be clear with that because I don’t want people to walk away from this thinking, “Oh, she’s saying I have to be nice.” There’s nothing here about having to be nice. This is a hundred percent about yourself.
CK: [06:41] I think that’s a good point to clear that up because oftentimes we don’t think about how we think- or this metacognition, per se. You know, we just react and go through our processess like we go through them and think that’s it. But there’s a space there where we can evaluate our thoughts.
Pam: [07:03] Yup. Yeah, that’s huge. The, the idea of there being space or that we need to create space for that evaluation. So there’s a few reasons that interactions can feel stressful, but they can be grouped into some broad categories. You know, People may be rude, inconsiderate, or hurt your feelings in some way. They may say something or act in a way that doesn’t make sense to you, so you’re left feeling like, “what the hell was that?” Or they act in a way that disappoints you or lets you down. Or they’re asking or telling you to do something you don’t want to do. I’m sure there’s others, but those four categories really cover the interactions that we’re talking about here today, and that leave you feeling discomfort or stress in some way. So there’s two cognitive biases that play major roles in how we react to other people in these situations. The first one is called consensus bias. It’s also known as false consensus effect. And all that means is that we think that the way we are is the way that everyone else is too.
[08:07] So we think that everyone else thinks the way that we do. We think that everyone else has the same values that we do and that they should come to the same conclusions that we do. And therefore act the way that we would act. In other words, we project ourselves onto other people instead of putting ourselves in their shoes.
[08:25] And that’s just the way humans are wired. There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s no judgment in this. This is just the way people are. So it think it’s really important to know that this is natural and everyone does it. So when you can become aware of it and you can just see it kind of like creating that space that you were just talking about CK, when you become aware of it, you can go, “Oh, that’s consensus bias” or, “Oh, that’s totally natural that this is happening to me”.
[08:50] So we think that everyone is just like us and why wouldn’t we? We’re pretty great. Right? And so when that happens, though, even the people that you know best will act in ways that don’t make sense to you because you know them through your lens. You see them the way that you see them. You’re not actually seeing what’s happening inside their heads.
[09:11] And we also think that people know what we know and can see a situation that we do, which they don’t. So taking that example with the delivery guy yesterday, I didn’t know that he was making a delivery. I didn’t know what he was doing. And he didn’t know that I couldn’t let him in. There was no way for me to let him in, but he probably thought that I lived there and had a clicker.
[09:33] So we were both coming at that situation from a completely different sets of information and assuming that the other person knew what we knew, because we don’t have the perspective of seeing what other people know and getting inside their heads.
[09:48] So when someone acts in a way that doesn’t make sense to you, it creates a conflict in your head. It creates stress for you because you can’t understand why they’re acting that way, and you can’t see things the way they do. You can’t understand why they don’t see things the way you do. So you get angry or annoyed or offended because they didn’t act the way you think they should or the way that you want them to.
[10:11] So this bias, this consensus bias causes us to start thinking that there’s just something wrong with them to reconcile that stress and that conflict between how you think they should act and how they actually do. Because if there’s something wrong with them, then, of course, they’re going to act in a way that doesn’t make sense to you. That like solves the problem.
[10:31] If you watch somebody do something that doesn’t make sense to you and you can go, “Oh, well they’re just an idiot,” then that immediately resolves that conflict in your head. Because if they’re dumb, you’re not dumb, so the way that you think they should have acted is still the right way and what they did was wrong, cause they’re just dumb. Of course, that’s not true, but we’re going to get back to that in a minute.
[10:53] So the other cognitive bias that we want to talk about is fundamental attribution error, which I know is one of CK’s favorite biases. Do you wanna take a crack at explaining this one?
CK: [11:06] Sure. So, fundamental attribution error basically means that when judging why a person is acting the way they are, people put too much weight into who they think the person is and not enough consideration into what the person is dealing with at the time. So it’s kind of like a person versus situation debate.
Pam: [11:30] Yeah, that’s a good way of putting it. So we can take an example of someone cutting you off in traffic. When they do that, you just automatically think the person is a rude jerk and that cutting you off wasn’t an accident, that they’re just always a bad driver. Someone cuts you off. You’re like, “Oh, that person’s just a bad driver. He’s a jerk.”
[11:47] You don’t consider that they might have a reason for cutting you off. So the situation was that they’re cutting you off. Maybe they just made a mistake. Maybe they are rushing to the hospital. You know, you don’t know what’s going on in their world. But you don’t consider that you just go “that person’s a jerk.”
[12:03] But on the flip side, whenever you cut someone off in traffic, You expect that they understand that it was a mistake and you’re like, “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry”.
[12:13] Meanwhile, that person is thinking that you’re just a bad driver and always a jerk. So this is something again that everyone is doing. It’s happening all the time. It’s natural. These are biases that everyone has. But being aware that they’re happening is the important thing. And you don’t have to remember the names of consensus bias and the fundamental attribution error, or even really what they mean.
[12:35] I just mentioned them because it’s important to know that the way your brain works and the way it makes decisions about other people’s behavior is exactly the same way other people are thinking about you. Other people don’t understand why you act the way that you do. And they think you’re an asshole when you cut them off in traffic.
[12:52] And that perspective always, really helps me reset my judgment of other people. I guess. I’m just trying to get like a little judgement karma. Okay so, after someone does something that affects you negatively – and quick sidebar here, there are no negative emotions, all emotions are just emotions, but I’m saying that it affects you negatively because it’s just the easiest and most concise way to say it.
[13:17] But I want to be clear there that feeling a certain way is not negative and another way isn’t positive. Emotions don’t inherently have value one way or another.
[13:26] Okay. So, after someone does something that affects you negatively, the natural reaction that most people have is to stay with that first feeling like you get angry or offended or disappointed, and you just stay in that.
[13:39] Right? You don’t take the time to create that space that CK was talking about earlier to step away and be like, was this actually the reaction that I want to be having, or that I should be having, or this situation warrants. And if you want to be mad or disappointed a lot, like by all means, keep doing that. You do you. If you keep listening to that first reaction and believing it, then you’ll continue to feel that way and that’s your prerogative.
[14:02] But if you don’t want to feel that way so often there’s actually a pretty simple way to stop. And notice that I didn’t say easy, I said simple. Because changing thought patterns is not easy, but the fix is actually simple and the fix, well, it’s just empathy. But when you say empathy, most people either roll their eyes and shut down, or they’re like, “I’m already empathetic I don’t need to hear this”.
[14:27] So if you had either of those reactions, hang tight, because I’m going to change your mind. So empathy is the ability to understand someone else’s feelings. That’s really all it is – being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. So practicing empathy means actively pushing back on those cognitive biases.
[14:49] I mentioned earlier on those natural reactions that we all have. So when someone does something or says something that makes you react negatively, just notice what you’re feeling. Take a second to think about their perspective. What are they going through that made them act that way? What are they feeling?
[15:10] What might they know that you don’t know what happened to them right before that interaction? Or where are they going? That is impacting how they’re feeling right now. All of those things are information that you don’t have readily available to you, but you can think about it. You can make assumptions about it. And you can just take a second to think that, “Oh right… I’m coming from my perspective… they have a different perspective.”
[15:37] And a really simple example of this that I mentioned earlier is getting cut off in traffic. When you get cut off, you get mad, maybe like flip the person off and you get all worked up about it.
[15:46] And maybe you even follow the person for awhile and you get really ragey about it. And all you’re accomplishing is putting yourself in a bad mood and maybe raising your blood pressure. You aren’t actually getting any value out of acting like that, but it’s your first reaction. So you stick with it and you can choose to stay with that reaction.
[16:03] Or you can take just a second. Think about like maybe the last time you accidentally cut someone off and how you were so sorry and hope they didn’t think you were a jerk. Like actively put yourself in the other person’s position. I had to do this with CK a few weeks ago, actually, I was kind of doing some stuff around the house and he was on his computer in the living room and he suggested that we put on a documentary in the background for us to watch.
[16:25] So I put on one on Netflix called American Factory, and I didn’t realize that a lot of it would be subtitled. So after about 15 minutes, CK was like, “this isn’t going to work” in this tone that seemed like an overreaction. So my immediate emotion was to be annoyed. I’d gone through the effort to find something for swatch.
[16:46] And he was the one that wanted to watch it in the first place! And now he was being so bitchy about me choosing one that wasn’t what he wanted to watch. So my first reaction was kind of like, you know, “screw you, you find a movie then”, but then I remembered that he hadn’t slept well the night before and he was just tired.
[17:06] He wasn’t trying to be a jerk about something insignificant, and right as I realized that he was tired and that’s where that was coming from, he got up and said he was going to go take a nap. So I could’ve said something bitchy back right away and created this bad interaction between us over something so stupid.
[17:24] If I hadn’t taken that breath and tried to figure out why is he acting the way that he’s acting. And CK, you actually came back and apologized later. I had completely forgotten about it. And you came back and you’re like, Oh, I’m sorry, because you knew that you were feeling that way. But I didn’t at the time.
[17:41] So that example might seem really minor and unimportant when I’m telling it, like, that’s not a fantastic story. It’s a super tiny little interaction, but those little interactions, those little slights are ones that can actually turn into fights before you even know what happened. I’m sure everyone has had that where all of a sudden you’re in a fight and you’re like, where did this even come from?
[18:01] Like, I have no idea how this even happened, or maybe you don’t get into a fight, but they just kind of like build up into grudges and bigger feelings and they expand beyond what they really are because individual moments don’t exist in a bubble. They are part of our broader experience and they add up and the overwhelming majority of real life is actually small moments and those are what relationships are built on.
[18:28] So we can take a look at a work example. Maybe your boss is suddenly micromanaging you, or they’re asking for a ton of reports that you feel like you’re wasting your time on. So you can get mad about it and complain and make yourself and everyone around you miserable, or you can put yourself in your boss’s shoes and try to figure out what their motivation is.
[18:49] Like, is your boss’s boss putting pressure on them? Did your boss’s spouse get laid off, putting financial pressure on them? Find something your boss’s life that is maybe affecting their motivations for acting the way they are. Can you put yourself in their position?
[19:05] And it doesn’t matter if you’re going through the exact same thing that your boss is going through and you’re like, “I feel stressed about this too, so why is he or she acting this way?” Just because you’re stressed out doesn’t mean that other people don’t get to be stressed too. Just because you’re all going through the same thing doesn’t mean that they don’t get to act differently than the way you are or the way that you would in that situation.
[19:32] The process here is really about removing yourself from the situation so you can see why the other person is doing what they’re doing. So, if you can figure out what might be motivating them to act the way they are, then you’ve got a couple of options. If it’s within your power, you can say, “hey, like I know this thing’s going on and here’s how I can help.”
[19:50] Or you can ask them if there’s something going on that’s making them behave the way that they are. That may not be in your power. If it’s not, just using that empathy to understand where your boss is coming from can change your perspective on how they’re acting, and you can see that it’s not actually about you in most cases.
[20:08] And when you take yourself out of the situation and empathize with where your boss is coming from, you feel better. Maybe your boss is still a jerk, but you feel better. It doesn’t matter. Your boss has to do his or her own internal work. You don’t own that. You can only own how you feel. So learning to actively practice empathy is what we want to do here.
[20:32] And that takes time…building any muscle takes repetition. It takes practice, but it gets easier with practice and you can retrain your brain to default to empathy first (most of the time). It’s really hard when you’re in a stressful interaction, but the more you practice it, the more you work on it, the more you can make that your default so that when you are in that stressful situation, at least you’re able to create that space that CK was talking about.
[20:56] You can take a second before you yell at the other person in the car. Before you react, you can just take a breath and be like, okay, what’s going on here? What is really happening? And when you default to empathy, you spend a lot less time being mad and a lot more time feeling connected to and compassionate for other people, which feels better than being mad
CK: [21:18] For sure.
Pam: [21:43] And speaking of feeling connected, let’s transition into the part of the show where we get a little more intuitive with our advice. I’m going to shuffle a deck of Oracle cards and I’m going to pull a card to see what perspective we get. And just remember that even if you’re not into the idea of intuition or wisdom from the universe, don’t go anywhere yet. You don’t have to believe in any of it for the perspective to have value for you. Like any of the advice we give here, all you have to do to benefit is listen, see what resonates for you and apply it to your life, where it feels right. As usual I’m using the Nocturna deck from the creeping moon designed by Megan over there. Shuffle real quick.
[22:41] Okay. So this is really funny. The card that I pulled is the slug. Which if you’ve ever seen a slug, you know they move really, really slow. So this card is asking us where we need to slow down… where in our interactions do we need to be a slug? Chill out? Know that you can take a minute. You don’t have to get there fast. You don’t have to be the first to respond. You don’t have to be the first to talk.
[23:17] You can channel the slug. Take a second. Take a breath. Slow down and approach your interactions with a little empathy.
CK: [23:31] How appropriate.
Pam: [23:32] I love it when it works out like that. Right?
CK: [23:35] Yeah, absolutely.
Pam: [23:37] All right. So if you found yourself thinking, “hey, that’s not bad advice” while listening today, we love it if you share the episode with your friends and rated it in iTunes. You can get in touch with us on Twitter, where I’m @Pamela_Lund and CK is @cKdisco. To find us on other platforms, visit ForcesOfEqual.com/Advice, and there, you can also contact us if there’s something you need advice about. We’d love to hear from you.