TV soap operas are addictive because most people can’t resist being on the inside of people’s lives, knowing their dirty laundry and having someone—an arch villain to hate. We somehow can’t pull ourselves away from watching a totally avoidable and needless drama unfold.
One person does something, says something, or maybe doesn’t do or say anything, and another person interprets it as an attack or a betrayal. They then react from their interpretation of betrayal, which causes the first person to feel attacked and respond in kind and we watch a relationship disintegrate like a slow-motion train wreck.
But we love the drama and then talk to our soap opera buddies about how stupid this or that character is.
No judgment, I was once addicted to one.
Yet this is also why soaps can teach us a few things about the care and feeding of the personal and professional relationships in our lives. Here are some important lessons from soaps that can improve or salvage relationships in your office or at home.
There are always other interpretations
No one knows what it’s like to be you. Apart from your unique life history, the influence and sequence of events that motivate you—including the memories that occur for you—are often not even in your complete awareness. How then can you be so certain about another’s motivation?
No one is completely rational and sometimes we all do or say things we regret, but can’t fully explain.
In this morning’s meeting, why did your co-worker raise an eye-brow at you, or smirk when you made your proposal? is it:
a) They could have Bells palsy?
b) Perhaps they were daydreaming about some other event and their face reflected what was going on in the daydream.
c) Perhaps it was not a smirk but a smile.
d) They’re just a conniving snake, silently plotting your demise so they can spit on your corpse as it rots on the doorstep every morning.
Guess which option the soap opera character is going to choose with absolute certainty?
Your interpretation is a choice NOT the truth
Don’t make the mistake the soap opera character makes. Most times people’s hurtful words or actions has nothing to do with you.
It’s not personal!
Most times we can’t be sure of all the facts, all the influences that made someone take a perceived action against us. And when it is personal, you might find they are reacting that way because they listened to gossip about you. Perhaps they made an earlier (mis) interpretation about something you said or did?
Any initial interpretation you make is a choice of competing explanations. You can’t possible know the truth without asking with an open mind.
Seek to understand
Instead of reacting out of defence or vengeance, seek first to understand. Ask questions and be honest about what is disturbing you. You may find the person surprised at your interpretation and volunteer the truth about what was going on for them.
Your reactive feelings of distrust and revenge may melt into compassion and support.
Remind yourself of your true goal
If we can stand back, most of us would choose the latter (as Nelson Mandela did), but in our own soap opera moments almost all of us choose the former. We almost can’t help but lash out of feelings of hurt and betrayal.
But before sending that email with “Reply All” ask yourself: “Are you more concerned with getting even or building relationships?”
That’s a choice, and you must practice remembering your choice.
Confront your core beliefs about people
The choice you make will depend on what you fundamentally believe about people. And we all have fundamental beliefs about people. (Prejudice is beliefs that apply only to certain groups of people.)
If you believe that most people are selfish, uncaring and egotistical etc., then your interpretations about them will fit, and people will occur for you that way. A funny little trick of life—you do get what you seek.
If you believe that people are fundamentally the same and can’t help but act from their particular historical and cultural circumstance then your interpretations will be more compassionate; you will not take offence so easily and you’ll be more likely to try to heal root causes of behaviour rather than defend your ego. You’ll forgive more easily.
In other words you’d never get a job writing for soap operas.