Are You Interacting Or Reacting?

One of things I’ve decided to change is the way I interact with people throughout the day.  I’ve decided to stop simply reacting to the way other people are behaving and make a choice as to how I want to behave and interact with others.  I see situations fairly often in public of people reacting to the other person.  If someone smiles and is friendly, people smile back.  If the cashier is a bit rude, people are often a bit short, if not downright rude, back.  

I have to admit, when I first had this idea, the thought of continuing to be warm and kind to someone who was being less than kind to me sort of irked me.  Shouldn’t I stand up for myself?  But then I asked myself, is being rude back to a rude person standing up for myself or is it retaliating?

I do believe that your state of mind sets the tone for your life β€” from the thoughts that you have access to to the circumstances that you find yourself in.  And if I continued to choose to put myself in a pissy mood (and it is a choice) because someone cut me off in traffic, then I was effectively giving that person the power to determine what lined up for me that day.

When I thought of it that way, I didn’t like the sound of that all.  I also didn’t like the idea that how I behaved during the day, if I continued to follow my old pattern of reacting to the way the other person was behaving, would be totally dependent on the people I ran into.  If I met a series of pleasant people, that I would be friendly and happy, if I met a series of nasty people, then I would be surly.  This was not how I wanted to continue.  I wanted to own my behaviour.

Since I committed to interacting with people the way that I wanted to interact, I must admit I haven’t really been sorely tested.  There are way, way more warm, caring people than cranky ones.   But I did have one interesting little situation that happened recently that highlighted my new outlook.  

I volunteer at a charity book store , and not too long ago a lady came in who wasn’t one of the regulars.  She asked for help finding an author, so I helped her out.  I was in a good mood, so I was being open and friendly, but she was completely reserved.  No answering smile, no attempt to engage when I asked her some open-ended questions.  She certainly wasn’t rude, but maybe a bit chilly.  It caught me off guard a bit, and I felt myself starting to slip back into my usual ways β€” which would have been to stop being warm and start being as stand-offish as she was.  But I caught it and reminded myself of how I wanted to treat people.  I continued to be open and approachable but did stop trying to start a conversation since she didn’t seem to be interested.  She asked me questions about where to find a few more things and then browsed on her own for a while.  Eventually she came over to the desk to pay.  I handed her her change, thanked her for coming, and genuinely wished her a good day.  I expected her to take her books and leave, but a funny thing happened.  She suddenly started telling me about the busy day she had in front of her.  It was as if a switch got flipped.  I was a bit startled at first, but we ended up having a nice little exchange before she left.  Some people just take a while to warm up, I guess.

I’m not saying that I’m nice to people hoping that they’ll be nice back.  I was appreciating that little event even before her turnaround because it helped me realize just how much easier it is to not have my typical knee jerk reaction to people than I thought it would be.  Having her open up at the end was just icing on an already yummy cake.

So, I will interact the way I choose to.  I won’t point the finger at anyone else and say, “I did X because she was Y.”  The way I behave is my responsibility and no one else’s.  I’ll have slip ups and times where I’ll end up being negative β€”and I certainly won’t beat myself up when I do (another decision I made) β€” but I’m sure that even when I do have those slip ups, I’ll be able to bounce back more quickly.

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