I will freely confess: One of my biggest pet peeves is when I go out of my way to help someone or do something in an effort to brighten someone’s day… and they sound aggravated that I had the audacity to interrupt whatever it was they were doing or whatever was going on at that moment. As this just happened to me the other day – I made a phone call to someone whom I thought needed a friendly voice to improve their morning. They were at work and when they answered the phone the tone of their voice was quite agitated. I thought that it might have been because they didn’t recognize my voice (yes, I was/am arrogant enough to think they’d be happy to hear from me, especially if I was calling to cheer them up a bit) but even when I was sure they knew who they were talking to, they still sounded like I was an unwelcome and unappreciated interruption to their work day.
The challenges that created in my mind were twofold:
First, I felt like my attempt to brighten their day had actually backfired and made their morning worse, and
Second, I felt like I must have been REALLY wrong about how they felt about me. I felt like, if hearing my voice was actually worse than what was already going on at their work (which they had been complaining about), then I must really be a sore spot in their day / life.
After I considered both for a moment I entered the circle of wonderment and resentment. I found it difficult to believe that they’d actually meant for me to feel like I was THAT unappreciated or THAT much of an inconvenience. But they DID make me feel that way rather than being appreciative of my thoughtfulness and phone call, and I resented them for making me feel so lousy.
In contemplating all of this I came to the realization that this experience, while feeling totally and personal and unique to me… probably isn’t. I can’t be the only guy (or girl) who feels unappreciated at times after going out of my way to try to improve someone’s day. Further, I can’t be the only person who experiences it with someone relatively important in my life and day (think spouse, adult child, best friend, close workmate, etc).
While debating the various viewpoints of this between my ears, I came to several conclusions:
1) That we who reach out and try to do these nice things are acting as “Good Samaritans” and therefore shouldn’t be punished for our efforts, even if our timing is somehow off.
2) That we Good Samaritans certainly shouldn’t be made to feel like we’ve done something wrong when we’ve obviously made a strong effort to do something right and NICE for someone.
3) That after the fact – after we’ve made our attempt to do something nice for someone to brighten their day and they’ve turned it around on us and, perhaps unintentionally, made us feel bad for having done so – that person we tried to do something for SHOULD realize that they acted in a less than appreciative manner and either apologize or thank us for our effort or (best yet) BOTH.
My next conundrum was this: If that person you tried to cheer up, and who means something to you in your day / life, fails to ever acknowledge your attempt to do something nice for them, and further fails to ever apologize for having acted so unkind to you in responsive to your nice gesture, what do you do next?
I know couples who have gotten divorced because situations like these, compounded over time, led to one spouse feeling that the relationship was too one-sided and that they needed to escape what was, at best, a neglectful relationship and, at worst, an abusive one (because sometimes, sadly, this type of scenario is just one symptom of a larger relational issue). It’s a shame to see a relationship ever fall apart that completely simply because of two things:
1) Lack of appreciation, and
2) Lack of communication.
Folks, it really is this easy: If someone who cares about you does something nice for you, even if the timing is bad or ill-conceived, take the necessary 15 seconds out of your day to say, “Wow, thanks! That was really nice of you!” Heck, it didn’t even take me 15 seconds to type that. It would probably take even less to say. Take those precious few seconds to appreciate the thought and action on the part of that person who demonstrates concern for your happiness and communicate that appreciation, even if it has to be done quickly.
But what if the timing is bad? What if I really DON’T appreciate their effort? Then make the time to talk to that person and explain WHY. Don’t just leave them feeling like they tried to do something nice and you simply didn’t appreciate it, or worse, were aggravated by it. Do them the courtesy of talking to them and letting them know what it was about their effort that turned it into something more aggravating than appreciated.
Note that f you read the last three paragraphs, you saw “communication” mentioned several times. Whether you appreciate that person’s efforts or not; whether their timing is good or bad; whether you take a little time or a lot of time to mention it or discuss it, COMMUNICATION is vital. Without it, then people are just left trying to guess what they’ve done right or wrong and the conclusions they come to may be right or wrong and their follow on actions may, therefore, be right or wrong. How about removing the confusion by simply TALKING about it?