Karl, my partner, and I were rushing to catch a plane in Sacramento. We stopped to fill the tank of our rental car. When I tried to pre-pay with my credit card, nothing happened. I tried inserting the card a few more times, not so gently by the third try.
By now, Karl had come to see what was wrong. He began instructing me on the best way to insert the credit card. My reaction was also not so gentle.
“I know how to do this,” I said and stomped off to see the cashier. I found out that the computer had gone down. I ran out knowing we had little time to locate another gas station before having to pay triple to the car rental company. With tense politeness, we worked together to find another station and return to the airport in time.
After checking in, I said to Karl, “I’m sorry for biting your head off. I get angry when someone tells me what to do, especially when it’s a simple task. I’m working on not being so reactive, I promise you, but I’m not sure I’m going to completely stop this in this lifetime.”
He smiled and said, “I understand. I get anxious and want to help when I seem someone struggling, especially with a simple task. I’m working on my reactions, but I’m not sure this is going to completely stop this in this lifetime.”
We embraced with laughter. The tension melted away.
Brain Tip #1: Just because you are self-aware and are learning to ask for what you need from others doesn’t mean you can’t honor who they are and what they need from you.
Brain Tip #2: Remember that most of your thoughts are spent on either 1) rationalizing your decisions and actions since they are a result of your emotions, and 2) on judging the behaviors of others. You rationalize and judge to be right and safe, which can be very unattractive and harmful to any relationship. To attract and connect, you need to tell the truth about why you did what you did and laugh away your judgments. This is the basis for strong relationships.
Brain Tip #3: Whenever you feel angry or irritated, stop and ask yourself what your brain thinks it is not getting at that moment. Does your brain sense a lack of respect, acknowledgment, independence, control, or attention? Is this person intentionally not giving you this? If it is really true that someone is not giving you what you need, then ask for it. Tell them the impact of what they are doing and clearly explain how to would prefer to be treated in the future. On the other hand, if they are just doing what they do and it’s not about you, let it go.
As for the caretakers and experts, if you are feeling anxious or overeager to help, ask yourself what your brain wants so badly. The desire to be of assistance, feel needed and to solve problems can be as strong as the impulse to eat or shop. Does this person really want your ideas? Would they rather figure out the solution on their own? It is always better to ask if they would like a suggestion before jumping in. Better yet, ask them a few questions to clarify the situation and the possible options. They will feel heard instead of demeaned.
Brain Tip #4: Clean it up. Never leave an event or conversation incomplete. To build strong relationships, you need to talk, share, and care. Then find a way to laugh together at your humanness.