My neighbor has a large white shepherd dog, Bella. He likes to take Bella for walks around our complex, but he usually doesn’t keep her on a leash. Therefore, more than once, I have been confronted with a barking dog charging at me while my neighbor yells (in broken English): “Don’t worry. Bella is friendly.” Now it turns out that Bella is a fairly friendly dog; her desire is to herd people, not bite them. Still, it’s hard to take her owner at his words when Bella is racing through the parking lot, her eyes pinning you down, and her expression proclaiming “Wow! Here’s dinner!”
Bella, unfortunately, is cursed with a happy personality housed in a menacing demeanor. But she is an ever-present reminder in my life to watch my actions and expressions when working with people. We’ve probably all encountered a clerk or customer service rep who made, “May I help you?” sound like “I’m going to take you out back and beat you up.” And no one likes those encounters, but I wonder if we are as aware when our own actions (and reactions) slip into some more negative.
And it doesn’t have to be openly hostile. When I was in college, I remember going to the reference room in the library, where the library help desk was, and, although I needed help, I never once asked the librarians there a question. Why? Because they never looked up. They never made eye contact. Their body language said clearly, “I don’t want to help you.” Now I’m sure that this was an unfair inference on my part, and if they saw this, they would feel hurt and misunderstood. (But I still think it was not too much to ask for them to occasionally look up and establish eye contact.)
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.” And if you sometimes wonder why you are so misunderstood, it might be time to pay attention to your actions as well as your words.