Someone cuts you off in traffic. Your temper flares as your sight goes from the usual technicolor to a pure, deep crimson. You feel the adrenaline as it is unleashed upon your nervous system as you transform from mild-mannered Bruce Banner, into the fearsome, untamable Hulk-like version of yourself. You exchange some harsh, colorful-expletives and, perhaps if you are feeling especially salty, give the other driver a sampling of gestures you usually reserve for your most mortal of enemies.
Does this sound familiar?
Sure it does! It this happens to the best of us - no matter how calm, cool, and collected we might be (...or think we are). Some guy cuts us off in traffic and we view it as a personalized, engraved invitation to unleash holy hell and wrath upon them.
And what do we usually think about that other person? I'm going to go out on a limb and say that most of us - certainly not YOU - but most of us, label that other driver in a way that probably isn't fair, accurate, or even close to any semblance of a truth that accurately describes them. And, we probably assume they are texting, or are a millennial, or a new driver - but, whatever we think...what if we took a moment and explored other possibilities?
What I mean is that we usually take an event like the one described above at face value or, at the very least, we assume the worst (texting, drunk, asleep at the wheel, etc.), but, what if there was something else at work entirely?
For example - if this happened to you, would you feel differently if that was a husband driving their very pregnant wife to the hospital because she was about to give birth to twins? Or, what if that was an over-eager boyfriend, late to his planned proposal to his soon-to-be-fiancé? How about this: a woman just got the call that her elderly father had been hit by a car and she was speeding to the hospital to, quite possibly, have the last conversation with her father that she will ever have?
Would you feel differently? Probably so. Would it lessen your frustration? You bet. Would you empathize with that person and wish them well? Of course.
Now, how does this apply to life, work and everything in-between? The next time the excrement hits the fan at work and you want to blow a gasket - step back, and ask the question, "What else could this be?" Could this be an opportunity to change process and procedure so that it doesn't happen again? Could this be a chance to promote someone internally that might be able to help keep this from happening? Could this be a training opportunity to help the employee that caused this fiasco become better?
The next time your significant other seemingly lets you down and drops the ball, before you "politely" share with them your "disappointment", step back and ask, "What else could this be?" Is it JUST a symptom of them "not caring or paying attention to detail" or could it be an opportunity to talk to them about it and see just what's going on? Could it be that they are stressed about something at work and it's just distracting them, but they are afraid to talk about it because they don't want you to worry? Or, perhaps they are planning a surprise for you and were so excited about it, that they lost track of the time and forgot to complete that task you asked them to do.
Maybe you get passed over for a promotion at work. Before you get upset with your boss or start to complain about the "unqualified" employee that "stole" your job, take a moment to step back. What else could this be? Could this be the final kick you needed to look for a better job or start your own business? Could this be the motivation for you to go back to school and get the education you need to get an even better job?
The common thread here is this: Most of the time we take setbacks as...we'll...just that - setbacks - a moment to complain and grumble and a chance for us to gossip and vent at the dinner table or around the water cooler. But, if we take a moment to ask the question, "What else could this be," we usually will find that they are actually opportunities. And these opportunities give us a chance to choose a better reason for these supposed setbacks. We can choose to use these opportunities to learn, change, or (as in the opening car example) to empathize with another person.
And that's your homework: the next time something happens - whether later this week or in the next 10 minutes - that tempts you to want to become upset, to judge, or to otherwise be negative, take a moment to ask, "What else could this be?" It could lead you to an opportunity or solution you never would have considered.