You are part of the problem

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Have you ever sat in stand-still traffic grousing about everyone in front of you as the source of the traffic problem? If so, what do you think the person behind you is doing? 

That puts some perspective on it, doesn’t it?

I heard a quote the other day: “As you are sitting in traffic, remember, you are the traffic.” 

I don’t drive much in traffic anymore (thank goodness), but I had the opportunity to experience a similar situation at the post office this week.

I’d braced myself for a long line at the post office, timed my visit for 11:00 AM (after the morning rush, but before the lunch rush), and allotted 30 minutes for this task. My packages were all ready to go and sorted by type and urgency of arrival. I’d done just about everything I could have done to prepare, both organizationally and mentally.

When I arrived, there were six people in line in front of me. (No worries, I had plenty of time.) Half the people were grousing about how long it was taking, while the rest of us were chatting as if we were long-time friends anticipating the holidays. All was good.

I started to observe.

The grousers showed immense tension, had sour looks on their faces, fidgeted endlessly, and barked at the clerks when they arrived at the counter. They were having a miserable experience and didn’t care if they shared that with everyone else. I could see the smiles fade from the post office clerks’ faces at the grousers approached them. When their transactions were completed, the grousers left with a sour look on their faces.

On the other hand, the chatters hummed Christmas carols, smiled, and nodded knowingly when new people arrived, thanked the post office clerks for their smiles on what must be a challenging day, and wished everyone a good day as they left.

Quite the contrast in experiences, not only for the grousers and chatters but everyone they encountered.

What’s the difference? How people manage reality when it doesn’t meet expectations plays a big part in our reaction to unanticipated situations.

  1. The grousers had unrealistic expectations about long this process should take the week before Christmas.
  2. The chatters engaged with their fellow line-standers, creating a sense of community around the experience.
  3. The grousers approached the situation with a sense of frustration and entitlement: “this is going to take forever,” “what are all these people doing here?” “this is going to make me late,” etc.
  4. The chatters approached the situation with a sense of reality and compassion: “possibly I should have done this last week,” “this must be so hard on the clerks,” “next year, I’m going to do this differently,” etc.

Although any number of situations have the potential to be immensely frustrating, the most important thing we can do is manage our reaction to the situation.

So here’s a question for you: Do you want to be a grouser or a chatter?


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