Excuse Me, You're Stepping on My Perception

Yesterday I had an interesting experience. I am generally a peace-loving, conflict-avoiding person. But yesterday, I wanted to curse someone out!

My colleague and I met to conduct some business. I had parked in one hour parking as the business we were due to complete would not take very long. After we had been meeting for about forty five minutes, I told her that I would have to move my car or feed the meter so that I wouldn't get a ticket and that I would return to sign the second stack of paperwork as needed. She immediately became angry and asked me why I couldn't just sign the papers before I left. She said that she had to get going. I promised her that I would return quickly as I had other appointments that day as well, but she would not budge. Then she went into what I will describe as a rant, about how everything is done at my convenience and she is sick of it. After trying to reason with her and talk to her about how we've compromised in our work together all year, I shut my mouth, signed the stack of papers as quickly as I could, slid them across the table to her and ran to feed the meter as she mumbled an insincere, and slightly sarcastic, thank you.

As I left, I was very angry. I couldn't imagine why she would speak to me with such disrespect for absolutely no reason. I had to shut my mouth in that moment to prevent myself from saying something unprofessional in a professional space, but feeling that I had to be silent only increased my anger. I have been taught to respect my elders and this was an elder colleague. Yet, I did not feel in that moment that she deserved my respect, as she was not willing to give me hers. The icing on the cake was that when I returned from feeding the meter, she was still there socializing for at least twenty minutes! What happened to that appointment she was in a rush to get to?

As I contemplated the occurrence later, I realized that we had completely different perceptions of the same incident. I realized that while I saw myself as being compromising by moving my car and returning as quickly as I could so as not to inconvenience her or sacrifice her time, she saw me as doing everything at my convenience without giving thought to her needs. As I recounted all the times that I had made a conscientious effort to compromise with her, I realized that all of those attempts were completely inapparent from her perspective.

I saw that I ask for what I want in the professional setting and am unafraid of being met with resistance. I am also unattached to getting exactly what I ask for most of the time. I feel that if I ask for things and someone says no, I am back exactly where I began. I have lost nothing. My colleague does not see life that way and does not ask for what she desires; therefore, to her someone like me must seem selfish. How dare I ask for what I want?

How often do we look at someone else's behavior and find it inappropriate, without even trying to understand their perspective? Do I need to give my colleague permission to ask for what she wants so that she doesn't get to the point of being fed up and explode? Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps it's just my job to recognize that my perception of things is sometimes only true for me and to allow people their unique perceptions. It is also my responsibility to enlighten others as to how to best communicate with me. It is my responsibility to let them know that I highly value myself and I will only tolerate being spoken to with respect. Finally, it is my responsibility to define for them what respect looks like in my view. Excuse me, you're stepping on my perception.


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