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Be kind and merciful. Let no one ever come to you without coming away better and happier – Mother Theresa

There’s hardly a day that goes by that you don’t have to deal with it… a cashier’s disgusted glance, a tailgater’s obscene gestures, a sales associate’s apathetic attitude, a customer’s self-serving behavior, a service rep’s rude response. Whether it’s harsh words or empty responses, negativity robs us of everything good life has to offer. It becomes a filter through which we experience the world, a filter that distorts and destroys.

We’ve all been there – we receive a negative word or behavior and, in an instant, we decide to respond in like kind or to go against our inherent nature and offer the unexpected – a smile, a pleasant gesture, a kind word. It is this instant in time that affords us an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others. When confronted with negativity, we all have a chance to either act or react. When we react, it’s typically an emotive, non-thoughtful response that does nothing more than escalate the negativity, turning the encounter into something far worse than necessary. If, however, we choose to ACT, we can, at the least, neutralize the negativity and, in some cases, completely redefine the experience, transforming it into a positive interaction.

As a general guideline, I have found that following three simple rules, using ACT as an acronym, can make all the difference when it comes to the types of daily encounters we experience.

A = Assume the best. This rule is probably the most difficult to follow. Basically, we have to give others the benefit of the doubt. Rather than believing they have impure motives, we must allow for the probability that whatever negativity the individual is communicating has nothing at all to do with us. Chances are they are tired, having a difficult day, just rolled in the door after sitting in 30 minutes of traffic, etc. Regardless, when we realize their attitude is about them and their life, it allows us the freedom to give them space, knowing that their circumstance is not our problem. This rule is particularly helpful when driving. Rather than assuming a person cut you off or cut in front of you on purpose, you can conceive of the possibility that maybe they didn’t see you. Of late, whenever this happens to me, I just tell myself (out loud) that the person who cut me off is better or more important than I am and has a greater need to get where they’re going than I do. Granted, I’m sarcastic in my tone and thought, but this simple exercise has saved me many a headache and temper tantrum. Whether your belief is accurate or not is irrelevant; rather, the key is that your blood pressure, mood, and attitude remain positive in spite of others’ actions.

C = Communicate empathy. To empathize with others is to imagine what it must be like to be in their situation. When we assume the best, communicating an attitude of empathy comes easily. It’s often as simple as asking the other person a question or making a statement, such as, “Customers can be difficult, can’t they?” or “Seems like you’re having a difficult time this morning.” It’s interesting how often such responses render positive reactions. Many people in customer service jobs are poised for that negative customer and are just waiting for the opportunity to pounce. By communicating empathy, we catch them off guard and, typically, they welcome the chance to vent or simply chat with someone who seems to be thoughtful and caring of them as an individual. You never know what they’re going through. For example, once I was eating out and I just asked the server how she was doing. She seemed stressed but said she was fine. I told her she didn’t seem fine, a comment that resulted in 20 minutes of her sharing some very difficult experiences she was going through. She couldn’t thank me enough for caring enough to simply ask.

T = Trade the negative for positive. Whenever we confront a situation or a person exuding negativity, we can choose to focus on something positive. Each of us has the opportunity to be the author of our own lives, to write our own stories. Thus, we all have the option of saying and doing positive things even when those around us choose otherwise. The objective is to figure out how to see the good even when it’s not obvious. For instance, take the experience of receiving bad service when you’re out to dinner with a friend. Instead of focusing on the bad service, you can look at it as an opportunity to enjoy a longer visit with your friend.

Without question, focusing attention on the all-pervasive negative attitudes we confront on a daily basis is far easier than engaging in that constant search for the positive. However, when we choose to look at life through positive lenses, the result is something quite worthwhile, a better quality of life, health, and well-being. So the next time life throws a curve, remember to ACT! – Assume the best, Communicate empathy, and Trade the negative for positive.

The positive thinker sees the invisible, feels the intangible, and achieves the impossible. – Anonymous

Published in The Oyster Pointer