You’ve been on hold for 35 minutes. No one you’ve spoken to has cared to help you. And you were "accidentally" disconnected twice. That was infuriating.
Finally, you're connected to the right person. John sounds patient and attentive. He actually wants to help.
But you’re so irritated by the past 35 minutes of lousy on-hold music and dropped calls that you’re a jerk to John.
Or, at least, you’re not your usual rational and charming self. You know, the self that's efficient at getting what it wants from others.
Instead, you bark about the anguish you've endured and you command him to help you. Or you're passive aggressive. Either way, your anger is persisting.
In this moment, the childlike persistence of your anger blinds you from making the most of the new conversation. We mistakenly think, If I'm blatantly angry, they'll understand I'm unhappy with the situation. Then this won't happen again.
Wait. You think John will go out of his rank-and-file to ensure his coworkers suck less and that you get disconnected less often?
Don't further your anger under the fantasy that it's somehow productive for anyone.
If you were instead kind, John might have gone out of his way to help you. A tempered adult always realizes this and reverts to neutral.
Whereas a child throws a tantrum.
Tragically, even most adults throw a tantrum too.
Shoddy customer service is just one example of this phenomenon. Let's explore a less obvious one that has greater implications.
Imagine you've received a warm intro to someone. Let's call that person Max.
And let's imagine Max is one of those networking opportunities where you can't imagine how you'll get value from it.
So you ignore the intro. (Or maybe you expect to get to it later... You don’t.)
A couple weeks later, Max emails you a second time. He’s friendly and thoughtful, so your guilt escorts you into setting up a call. You’re irritated by the ordeal (you're busy and you didn’t ask for this intro!), so you allot a brief 15 minutes to chat with him.
You give Max a ring. He picks up.
You sigh (you're busy, after all), “Hi Max. Tell me what I can help you with.”
You’ve just failed to recognize the sunk cost of your commitment, and why it's madly inefficient to be a curmudgeon right now.
Let’s be more practical about this:
Now that you've been helpful to Max, he'll go above and beyond when, say, it turns out his friend is someone who can help you with a critical future matter.
Recognizing the sunk cost of anger then forbidding it to persist is life advice that reshapes your interactions with everyone.
You can frame it like this:
From social dinners, to plane conversations, to lunches at work: Either reject the opportunity so you can spend time on something more fulfilling, or make the most of the conversation at-hand.
How do you make the most of the conversation? Learn from those you're with. Get inspired by them. And excite them. Help them.
When Max picked up the phone, you should have exclaimed:
“Hey, Max! It’s a pleasure to chat. Would love to hear what you’re up to.”
And you should have said it authentically.
Even if you're feeling miserable for unrelated reasons.
Thanks to your warmth, Max is appreciative that you’re making his hustle easier, and he goes out of his way to tell you what he can do for you at the end of the call.
No, not everyone will reciprocate like that. But most people are like Max: Even if they don’t proactively reach out to help you one day, they will help when you ask them to.
Here's the takeaway: The next time you catch yourself being passive aggressive to broadcast your discontent with a situation, remember the only change this leads to is people liking you less. That's counter-productive. And leaves the world worse off.
Force yourself to be unexpectedly warm and attentive. Watch how much more you get out of conversations. And how much happier the people around you become.
So far, I've written in-depth guides on how to build muscle and how to acquire customers. My upcoming guides teach how to write well, play piano, and think critically. If you'd like them a couple months early, you can enter your email below.
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