I believe being mean comes from the feeling of insecurity and that it’s an attempt to be in control in one way or another. When I am behaving in a mean way, it’s usually because I felt hurt and therefore threatened as well. I wanna bring back my presence and illusion of power by resorting to acting mean. This happens so automatically that if I am not aware of myself enough, it’s difficult to catch myself as it happens and correct my course of action.
We encounter people acting this way regularly everywhere – when we get up early in the morning and our mom or partner is already irritated for reasons we don’t understand, when we commute to work and we see drivers or passengers spilling wrath around them because of somebody’s little honest mistake, when we unintentionally disappoint our colleagues, our customers/clients, our bosses at work and their whole day gets ruined and we take the blow.
I used to quickly jump into conclusions when I experience these things. I would immediately rant inside my head about how mean this and that person is. But lately since I’ve become more aware of myself, too, I’ve become more understanding of others’ behavior as well. I would say most of the time, people are not really mean, they just act mean because they feel overwhelmed or powerless (which can mean the same thing at times).
Therefore, the right reaction is not to “get even” with them. It’s not wise to push back (well, unless your goal is to start a fight). If our goal is unity and harmony (and not proving your point), the appropriate reaction, I’d say, would be to embrace humility. First of all, we must acknowledge our contribution to the person’s feeling of upset, in case there is. If there is or there isn’t, the next thing to do is to understand how could the other person be feeling. We must put ourselves into his/her position to understand more how human he/she is behaving. Once we get a sense of it, we can identify the appropriate response that would make them less hurt, less overwhelmed and generally, less defensive. There are a few ways to respond. We can verbally/or in writing, acknowledge how they’re feeling and express how sorry we are that they’re feeling that way. We can explain that while it’s not our intention, we simply misunderstood them, or we were careless, or we were just not aware of what we should have done. By letting our own defenses down, we bring them closer to our side. Next thing is to provide them with a reassurance by giving them a game plan or a solution on what we’ll do to make up for our mistake or how we can avoid it from happening again.This is important for them to calm down and get back to trusting us again.
Saying sorry is not enough. We have to prove our sincerity by providing a clear description of what we’re gonna do or avoid doing in the future in case the same situation comes up.
I’ve practically been using this strategy both in my personal and professional relationships. I even do this with strangers (it’s in fact very useful with strangers). It doesn’t only help get the work done (whatever that may be) by keeping in harmony with those around me but it also helps my mood and sets my perspective and attitude in ways that are empowering for me. It makes me less defensive, less anxious, less unhappy when I obviously did something which upsets another person. It also makes me even more aware of my own thoughts, emotions and behavior.