point of viewI’ve been writing about coping with stress by gaining perspective.  Today, I want you to learn to use another excellent coping technique based on trying to imagine someone else’s point of view.

The Point of View technique works like this:

When someone does something that angers, annoys, or otherwise upsets you, imagine three possible reasons that person may have behaved that way.  The reasons cannot involve malice or personalization, i.e., you can’t assume the person is being mean-spirited or directing his/her behavior toward you.  In addition, the reasons must be reasons you can empathize with.

This technique shields you agains the physical and emotional toll of feeling angry/stressed/frustrated.  It also helps you build empathy by imagining what someone else might be going through.  In addition, it’s a reminder that most people are just trying to get through their day and they are not going out of their way to anger you.

Here’s an example:

You’re in line at the grocery and the person in front of you is chatting away on his cell phone.  Only when everything is bagged and ready to go does he take out his wallet and start digging through his cash, apparently now intent on gathering correct change.  But wait, now he’s decided to use a credit card, but he’s not paying attention and keeps running the card through on the wrong side. . .   You get the idea.

You could huff and puff and try to show your annoyance, which will amp up your sympathetic nervous system.  Or, you could imagine one of these scenarios:

  • Maybe his wife just left him and he’s trying to pick up groceries for a weekend with his children.   He’s completely overwhelmed and therefore not functioning very well.
  • Just as he got to the checkout line, he received a phone call that is very upsetting–maybe his boss is chewing him out or he’s received some bad news.  Understandably, he’s distracted.
  • His daughter is serving in Afghanistan and he just received a rare phone call from her.  He’s thrilled to talk with her and completely disengaged from the task at hand.

(If you think these examples are ridiculous, think again–these are all real situations described to me by clients, and a little understanding from others would have gone a long way.)

What if the person really is incredibly rude and/or trying to make your life difficult?

If it’s a stranger or someone you don’t like, does it really matter?  We all know that indifference is the worst insult to both bullies and narcissists, plus you’re not going to know whether it’s maliciousness or a more sympathetic reason until you confront the person.  And it’s rare that the emotional stress of a confrontation is really worth it.  (There are, of course, times when a confrontation will be productive, but these situations will still take an emotional toll on you, so choose wisely!)

If it’s someone you know and the behavior is out of character (and not severe), why not let it go?  After all, who enjoys being called out on the one-off bad behavior?  Maybe the person is tired, stressed, or distracted.  If a trend is developing, you will have another opportunity to address the behavior.

Remember, a key aspect of the Point of View technique is to generate three possible reasons why the person may be behaving this way, and the reasons cannot include maliciousness or personalization.  By generating alternative explanations for bad behavior, you’re building your sense of empathy as well as distancing yourself emotionally from anger and the stress response.

Your Daily Shoring assignment for today is to practice the Point of View technique!  Think back to the last time someone angered you, was rude, or they seemed to be purposefully trying to annoy you.  If you can’t think of a time (good for you!) then here’s an easy one–imagine someone cuts you off in traffic.  Now generate three sympathetic reasons for his/her rude behavior.  Practice this technique and try to use it moving forward–it can save you a lot of frustration and stress!

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