Liz reminded me the other day of this story we heard many years ago:
A guy was driving his car in a country road when he notices he has a flat tire. Since this story is from before the time of cell phones, the guy can’t call AAA. So he goes to his trunk, gets the spare tire and the wrench, but he finds out he doesn’t have a jack.
Since he is in a road which has basically no traffic, waiting for someone to drive by is not a good idea. Looking uphill he sees a farmhouse at a distance, so he decides to walk there.
As he is walking, he starts to rehearse mentally what he is going to say in order to borrow a jack. immediately his brain starts to paint some pessimistic scenarios:
What if the person says “I don’t know you, why should I lend you my jack?”
Or: “I have this brand new jack, and I don’t want to get it damaged”
Or yet: “How stupid can you be to not have a jack. I could sell you mine for 300 dollars”
As he huffs and puffs his way up the road he gets progressively angry with the person in the house. “Why wouldn’t somebody want to help me?”
When he finally gets in front of the house he knocks on the doors with anger.
As the person opens the door, he immediately starts saying very loudly:
“What a jerk you are! You are the most selfish person I know. Not helping someone in need is a real bad attitude. Next time you are in trouble don’t come knocking on my door”
When he finishes, he turns around resolutely and walks back to the car, with the feeling he said exactly what the person deserved to hear.
This seems an absurd story, but I have to confess I have caught myself with a behavior that is not too far from that. Actually this week, as I went to South Korea to have some meetings there, I felt a bit like that guy, with very strong pre-conceived ideas, and prepared to fight.
In real life it is more probable that we do something like that when we are approaching someone we know. We use all our history with the person to anticipate their reaction, with the most negative scenarios in mind.
Have you done that to a co-worker, or a family member? Maybe your spouse?
Think about the jack story next time you catch yourself preparing to fight.
Maybe giving dialogue a chance is a better strategy (By the way, my meetings went fairly well. I didn’t even had to fight)