Over the past week, two clients have asked me why people act the way they do and why some people are jerks. This was, of course, the perspective of those clients. As a coach I can ask them why they think these people are acting the way they are and I can attempt to get the client to understand that we see things from our own perspective, which in turn becomes our own reality. It’s at times like this that I wish I could put all parties into a room and do the Johari Room experiment. For those of you who may not be familiar with this process, it’s a great tool to find out where your personal blind spots may be. The reality is, how we act is a reflection of who we are and who we are is a compilation of both our genes (our ancestry) and environment (experiences).
This is not going to be a post on the two sides of the “born or made” argument. I believe it is a combination of both. What got me thinking about this was an event that I attended earlier this week at which the guest speaker was Amanda Lindhout, a Canadian journalist who was kidnapped and held hostage by Somali Islamist insurgents and held for 15 months. In her talk she described her ordeal, feelings and how she survived. One of the fundamental questions I heard her asking was what is it that made her kidnappers — young men, mostly teenagers — turn into the violent, vicious individuals they were. She hints at an answer to this question in her description of one of her kidnappers, with scars from a bomb blast that killed a number of his immediate family, but she doesn’t say much more. The truth for me is that how we react to situations is as individual and personal as there are the number of people on this planet. I’m sure you have met individuals who have grown up in horrific situations but have turned out to be decent human beings and others who have not.
My response to the two clients I met with was this: What is it that you can control in this situation? Because there are things that we can control and those we can’t. We can’t control how someone is going to interact with us, but we can control how we react. The bottom line is that there are some folk to whom we will just not be able to relate, because they don’t want to relate to us. The best we can do in those situations is to turn our focus towards those who do want to interact with and relate to us.
We can also become more self-aware. How are we acting and relating to others? Think of times we have acted in an inappropriate way. Was it a reflection or throw back of something from our past? What do we have to change? What it is that we can control? Need a coach?
John Whitehead, coaches’ individuals and organizations in becoming more effective by helping them improve their interpersonal communications, emotional intelligence and resiliency.
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