Friend or Foe: Choose!

Friend or Foe: Choose!

In your daily encounters, which would you prefer to make?  Friends or foes?

That’s not a trick question.  Too often people choose to foe-make by reacting unhelpfully to negative social and work encounters.  Sometimes with scowls, snide remarks, the finger or outright ‘cussin’.  Even when our reactions to apparent unhelpfulness or bad attitudes are not extreme we don’t choose to respond in ways that could keep someone as a potential ally.

How foe-making goes down in daily life

You see this often when people have to deal with long lines for process-driven and often bureaucratic social services.  When the person behind the glass window doesn’t help you, and you believe they can, or inconveniences you—for “no good reason”(wink)—the normal reaction is to ‘get back’ at that person.  Think Matt Damon’s character in the movie Crash.

In the movie, there’s a scene where Matt’s character becomes increasingly upset at a social worker who denies his claim request and she in turn becomes increasingly reluctant to help him because he verbally abuses her. This began a cycle of interactions in the movie between two people who come to hate each other.

The move “Crash” is brilliant at depicting the foe-making phenomena.

Someone doesn’t help you in the way you expect and you get mad. Your instinct is to lash back, but this person actually has power over you in some way. They can deny you access—or can make it very difficult for you—to get some service you need, some payment, etc.  That’s why you’re sitting in front of them in the first place.

You would think you would want to make such a person your friend, but no.  All you can think of is their “unwillingness” to do what you want.

So what do you do?

Appeal to their human instinct to help?  No.

You lash out.  I once saw someone react to a rejection with Royal-like condescension.

His Royal Highness demanded redress!

This commoner clearly didn’t know who he was so he let them know that their failure to grant his request must have been the result of inadequate intellectual firepower, and/or some childhood cognitive-impairing disease.

So he spoke UP to compensate and demanded to see their boss.

Brilliant!  They certainly wanted to help him now … right?  WRONG!

And the next time he goes in to that office do you think they’ll be more helpful?

Get the picture?

It’s much more of a challenge to convert a potential antagonist into an ally, and much more rewarding.

Foe making is easy.

Any idiot can do that.

It takes someone with an eye on the big picture, and compassion to not take rejection personally; to get that the person wasn’t necessarily trying to be an asshole but was merely doing their job.  And even if they were—being an asshole (that happens too)—it’s just not helpful to piss them off.

So how do you not foe-make?

  1. Don’t lose sight of the big picture.  You’re in this human interaction because you need something—an approval, important document, a refund etc.  Don’t let ‘getting-back’ at this person become your new dead-end-street objective.
  2. Acknowledge them for doing their job, even if it didn’t go your way.  Your empathy for someone doing a  process driven, bureaucratic, boring and often thankless job could go a long way towards converting that person to someone willing to bend the rules for you—if possible, and if not, into someone more willing to make the process easier or more pleasant for you.
  3. Accept that you’ll need to compromise in some way.  Getting mad at rain clouds won’t make them go away. Bureaucracy is stupid and it takes a long time to change.  You need whatever you need NOW.  Be nice to your new best friend and he or she may help make things easier next time.

Life is short and we all need help to take care of what matters to us.  It just makes sense to make more friends than foes.  That just takes some awareness and of course practice.

Photo by Nick Douglas

Any thoughts? Contributions/acknowledgments welcome.