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This is one of the most predictable human responses.

When behaviors, interactions, and words don’t make sense to you, you’ll create a story to explain them. Surround yourself with a climate of transparency to eliminate assumptions, false beliefs, and misunderstandings.

You have this in common with every other person on the planet.  You have expectations of how others should behave, how your environment should be ordered, and how activities (yours and those of others) should pan out.  When these expectations are unmet, you will experience surprise, discomfort, disappointment, confusion, and a threat reaction (fight, flight, freeze; small or great).  And then, you will create a story to explain the gap between your expectations and “unusual” or “unfamiliar” reality.

Why Do You Do This?

Much of the compulsion to make sense of (understand) things was inherited as a primal urge that helps ensure safety and self-preservation, while some is simply curiosity.  You are wired for it.  It helped keep our cave-dwelling ancestors safe and alive.  When they emerged from the cave in the morning, they expected their outdoor living space to be as they left it the night before.  What was familiar and unchanged seemed safer.  But, if they found limbs broken, ground disturbed, or belongings moved or missing, they went on guard until they could discover exactly what had changed and why.  Learning if the cause was a wild animal, a threatening neighbor, or something harmless helped them protect themselves then and for the future.

The Stories You Tell Yourself

You’re not living under such primitive and physically threatening circumstances (I hope!). However, while physical safety has somewhat improved, the compulsion to make sense and its related reactions in modern times are most often related to personality or style differences. When another person’s behavior is unfamiliar or strange and not what you expect, you will experience some or all of the following – surprise, discomfort, disappointment, confusion, and a threat reaction (fight, flight, freeze; small or great).  Remember that others may experience your personality or styles as unfamiliar, unexpected, and strange.

To help yourself be more comfortable with the gap between what you expected and what you experienced, you will create stories to explain the gap—the “why?”  However, these stories are vulnerable to cognitive bias and are often filled with assumptions and false beliefs.

When your created stories become the basis for living and relating, they give rise to misunderstanding, judgment, alienation, conflict, and unhealthy relationships.

Note: When the behavior is more than a simple personality or style difference, and you feel threatened, Run!

What are some of the stories you tell yourself to explain the “unusual” or “unfamiliar” behavior of others, occurrences in relationships, and discomfort about how an activity went?

Getting the Stories Right – Transparency Helps

When it comes to personality and style differences, avoid asking, “What’s wrong with you?” insinuating that something is wrong with them.  And, instead of creating inaccurate stories and allowing others to do the same, pursue transparency about the differences. Talk about it.

Ask the other person about their behavior that confuses you and listen to understand.  Try something like this,

“May I ask you a question?  (if yes, then the following).

“I’ve noticed (behavior).  What do I need to know to help me understand what is happening there?

Explain your behavior to others.

“May I offer this insight?

“When I (your behavior), I am (explain the behavior).

See four case studies illustrating transparent approaches to understanding and proactively interpreting behavior here. The studies provide tips on specific responses that can be made.

Please get in touch with me today if you need support crafting your transparent response or proactive interpretation of your behavior in more specific situations.

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