We don’t know what we don’t know; that’s my current behavioral mantra. It hit me on several occasions this week when confronted with challenging behaviors. Each time I had to pause before impulsively reacting – and remind myself that behaviors often have silent backstories.
There were about 20 people waiting for their orders to be filled at the Starbucks in one of the airports I passed through this week. Though the lady behind the counter wasn’t in the best of spirits, the one in front calling out names and handing out orders had quite the sunny disposition. Sadly though, she got called to the back for something.
Filled orders started to stack up on the counter as we waited for her return. With mob-mentality frustration growing, I stepped forward to help. I glanced at one order to call out a name but was stopped short. “Sir. Don’t touch the orders,” the behind-the-counter lady barked. “I’m sorry. I won’t,” I replied. Before I could continue, she angrily cut me off – “You already done did!” Without saying a word, I slowly stepped back, as several travelers thanked me for “taking one for team.”
It’s times like these I have to remember that we’ve all had bad days. We’ve also demonstrated bad behaviors that were triggered by other events in our lives. For all I know that poor Starbucks worker was going through a bad breakup, or dealing with financial difficulties, or having gastric distress…
Like the grand Wizard of Oz, we don’t know what’s behind the curtain. So, when faced with people’s difficult behaviors, I choose to assume they are hurting and working through challenges unknown to me. Not only does this help me take things less personally, but it helps move me from a place of anger to one of compassion. It’s a small perspective shift, but one that results in a big positive gain for my mental health and well-being.