It Ain’t All Rainbows and Unicorns

bekindYou have to at least consider the possibility that you have no idea what’s going on.

We’d like to think that we do. We all like to feel like we know people, like we get people, and that we’re one of the chosen few who can do what is famously called reading people.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not discounting that there are people who are especially gifted in those areas. There most certainly are. No question.

But…

At the same time, you’ve got to admit that the vast majority of the time you don’t have a clue what’s going on inside a person’s head, heart, or life.

In some ways, that’s part of what makes the human experience amazing — as you get to know someone, you slowly discover some of those things, and they compel you to either appreciate that person more or less. Other times you “click” with someone and that whole process is accelerated. Other times still — and these instances are very, very, very rare — you connect with someone almost instantly in a way you can’t even understand.

That said, I think we too often operate under the assumption that everything’s peachy with people when we really have no idea. So when people don’t act like we want them to or think they should, we may attribute it to incorrect causes.

As we meander around our workplaces, we see people scattered throughout the building, and barely take a second to think about what’s really going on with that person. You wave and smile and say hi, and they return the pleasantry with a salutation and facial expression of their own, and you both move on; but neither of you have any idea what’s beneath that wave, smile, and greeting.

For some people, it’s really nothing much. (I just realized that may have sounded like an insult and I didn’t mean it that way.) I just meant that with some folks some times, what you see is what you get. Other times — probably most of the time — there’s more to people’s stories than what we think based on the two and a half seconds we just spent with them.

You see, it’s not always rainbows and unicorns. Mayberry wasn’t real. I suspect June Cleaver may have secretly been Jack the Ripper. Remember Mr. Rogers? Well, he may or may not have been a bad-ass assassin in his non-cardigan-sweater-wearing down time.

That person in the next cubicle over that you’re annoyed at because you feel like she’s being aloof? Have you considered that it may not be that? Maybe she’s not as outgoing as you think she should be (which coincidentally is usually exactly as outgoing as you), but maybe she doesn’t have to be as outgoing as you. Honest to God, I’ve seen plenty of quieter folks whose attitudes are way more positive than more outgoing folks who are real jackasses.

Or maybe that guy you just passed in the hallway is having a rough day and trying to collect himself so he doesn’t spread his negative vibe to others.

imfineIt’s also possible that the one you see with a look in his eye that you can’t quite put your finger on is one of 18 million people in the United States suffering from real-deal depression. I’m not talking about lyrics-from-a-country-song depression, or even being a life-long Cubs fan depression. I mean the actual mental disorder complete with chemical imbalances that result in significant physical, mental, and emotional challenges. There’s not a “snap out of it” option with that. There’s not a “just make a decision to be happy” avenue.

What I’m saying isn’t anything you’ve not heard me say before. Organizations are clumps of humans; and because they’re clumps of humans, they’re complicated, messy, and awesome at the same time.

But remember this: You may know what’s going on with someone, and you may not. But you can be assured that there’s more going on than you know with everyone you’re coming across. They’re struggling with things you couldn’t imagine. They’re hurting. They’re dealing with real-world, difficult stuff.

So maybe we need to take more time making sure folks are really, actually “fine” when they respond with that word to the “How are you?” you toss in their general direction in passing.

You have an opportunity to have a positive impact — even if it’s a small one — on them.  Take the time to actually care about the humans you’re living life with eight to ten hours a day at the office.

You have no idea how badly some of them need you to.

15 thoughts on “It Ain’t All Rainbows and Unicorns

  • Matt, such a great post. The interactions and reactions you get from someone are potentially being influenced by other things then the topic at hand. This also is how email exchanges on tough topics can go south. You don’t have the full perspective. You have to seek to understand and appreciate what is going on in someone else’s head or heart. Think: “If I had just gone through that, might I look at it that way?” TIM

    • Communication is fascinating, isn’t it? So many factors at play. Who you’re communicating with, how they tend to interpret things, how you tend to come across, what the content of the message is, etc. When in doubt, face-to-face.

  • Thank you so much for sharing this!
    I wish I could forward this to people in my office who think I’m aloof sometimes!! Seems as though its ok for some people to go through troubles but not for others!

    • It’s often not that they don’t think it’s “not ok for some people to go through troubles” so much as it’s that they don’t know you’re going through them. Or if they do know, they don’t know to what degree or how to react to them. So do they give you space? Do they ask how you are? It’s a tricky dynamic for all involved. That’s why working toward a place where teammates can be open and vulnerable with each other is where the solution to this and so many other things lies.

  • Another great reminder that you can’t take people at “face value” and that it’s not always “all about me”. When somebody tells me their fine, I usually respond with “really” and ask them in a non-threatening way why things are fine. You’d be surprised at the responses I receive.

    • It’s funny you mention that, Kathy. Because I swear to you, I must have gotten a dozen or so emails following this post asking that same thing. 🙂

  • Thanks for a great post Matt. As communication becomes more impersonal nowadays, I guess sometimes we forget to ask, sometimes we forget to answer, sometimes we are so arrogant or we are in our eternal rush and just don’t have (make) the time to engage. Let’s be mindful of a simple Plato’s teaching you quote: “Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.” I know I am fighting my battle, am I kinder???

    I like very much a reminder by Sue Atchley Ebaugh: “The greatest gift we can give one another is rapt attention to one another’s existence.”

    Mother Teresa had a word on this topic too: “One of the greatest diseases is to be nobody to anybody.”

    Thanks again for sharing!

  • Thanks so much for this article. I completely agree. I am not a “On the surface” type person. I keep my business to myself and at times that allows things to get misunderstood. Communication means so much! Sometimes I think we should have cards that we could flip on our desk that says how we feel that day. Like a little warning! That would be so helpful! LOL! Thanks for sharing!

    • Oooooo. Like mood cards? Kind of like those mood ring things that kids used to wear. I mean the rings were almost never right, but whatever.

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