No lie—everyone in my world seems to be dealing with at least one person who’s suddenly acting like a complete jackass. The most recent examples include my 10-year-old’s “best friends” suddenly taking the lead role in “Mean Girls,” resulting in several days of tearful evening conversations; a close business associate of my husband, whom he has known and respected across three decades, seeming to now take joy in frequent passive aggressive jabs; a dear friend of mine being forced to deal with a somewhat toxic person in her life on pretty much a daily basis; and countless clients with a mind-blowing number of examples of ugly behavior and run-ins with peers, direct reports and bosses. Not to mention my own treasure chest of interactions that have left me confused, mildly discouraged and wondering, “what was THAT about?”
Unfortunately, when someone in your life or at work seems to be blowing you off, acting superior, or theoretically drawing a circle and shutting you out, it can be easy to blame yourself or make yourself nuts trying to rationalize the irrational. In which case, I’ll say to you the same thing I tell my kids, my husband, my clients and myself: It’s not about you. It’s not. I promise.
Instead of wondering what you did wrong or how you could have caused such an interpersonal breakdown, here are a few tips to help you process the situation quickly and either create clarity or the realization that you need to put your energy elsewhere—at least for the time being:
Check yourself: So, you’re not completely off the hook. While someone’s rude behavior and choice to act like a child or an ass is his or her problem and not yours, it is important to look within before completely dismissing the other person. Are you acting differently? Are you more preoccupied or stressed than normal? Are your insecurities and “dark sides” showing for some reason? Assess your own life and incongruities that may inadvertently act as force fields against kindness and decency. As one of my best friends and I joke with each other, “Your crazy’s sticking out—better tuck it back in.”
Ask good questions: One of my go-to approaches is seek to understand. When we feel emotionally accosted, it’s easy to pick the other person apart in your mind or with someone else. By tearing him or her apart, we are somehow vindicated and elevated. But as mom always said, “two wrongs don’t make a right.” Instead, clarify as much as possible that you are accurately experiencing the other person and/or accurately interpreting the interaction. Some helpful clarifying questions: “Did I understand you when you said …,” “Did I hear you correctly when you said …,” “Can you explain more about …,” “I think you’re saying …; is that accurate?”
Let it go: At the end of the day, you cannot control another person’s actions. You can, however, control your reaction. Have you intentionally avoided going down a rabbit hole of self-doubt, worry, shame and blame? Have you taken the time to self-assess and determined you’re not somehow inviting bad behavior? Did you act courageously and confidently and engage your counterpart in a clarifying conversation to make sure you have the facts straight? Then it really is time to let it go. It’s not about you; it’s about them. People who go out of their way to make someone else feel badly have some sort of healing to do that has nothing to do with you. And if it really does have something to do with you, at this point it’s on them to come to you. Remember, when people are happy and whole, they automatically want to lift up the lives of those around them to spread and preserve that happiness and wholeness. Conversely, those who feel bad about themselves and are perpetually unhappy, insecure or dissatisfied with their own life or work will want to drag down those around them—especially if you seem secure, satisfied and successful in life and/or work. “Don’t let anyone dull your sparkle” has become a beloved quip between another close friend and myself. Whatever your sparkle looks like, don’t lose it getting wrapped up in someone else’s issues.