“Sally said my hair looked nice today. Can you believe that!”
Did Sally pay me a compliment? Or was that a subtle insult, implying that she noticed an improvement over those many non-nice hair days? Was Sally being sarcastic? Or was she perhaps envious, wishing she’d have hair like this someday?
When reading—without body language, expression, and tone to help us understand our communication—it’s hard to make a valid assessment.
We don’t know the history. We don’t know the context of the comment. We don’t even know what my hair looked like. (Maybe I’d finally invested in that Phyllis Diller wig I’ve had my eye on!) There is so very, very much that we don’t know.
Communication is complicated? Sometimes I find it surprising that we can understand and be understood at all!
Another element that plays a role in our communications is our predisposition. What am I inclined to hear? Does that matter?
Let’s say my predisposition is to be happy and confident about my life; thus, happy and confident about my hair. Sally tells me my hair looks nice; I take that as a compliment because I know that of course, it does! I thank her for noticing and we cheerily go on our ways.
However, what if my predisposition is to be uncomfortable and sensitive about my hairdos (and possibly also my life)? If that’s the case, when Sally tells me my hair looks nice, I might analyze. Does she mean nice right now, but not nice yesterday? Does she mean I should make a change? Does she mean…?
What if my predisposition is to be angry and resentful? Sally tells me my hair looks nice; I think, “Yeah, easy for her to say. She has money, not like me. She can get her hair done anytime. What does she know about a hard life? Nice try, patronizing me. Well, I’m not going to take that! Grumble, grumble…”
We have our predispositions for different situations. We might be confident and happy about our appearance, but sensitive and uncertain about our skills, or vice versa. We might have a tendency to believe that we are welcome and viewed positively by others, or we may believe the opposite.
Although I have used the trivial example of hair, the idea of predisposition can have a serious impact. For example, if I have a predisposition to dislike Sally, then there is likely nothing that Sally can say or do that I will not interpret negatively. That preconceived notion takes precedence over all new information.
The reality check here is, “What predisposition is more effective for your life?” You make the evaluation.
Is it helpful for you to assume that others want to hurt you or put you down? If so, you may be guarding against hurt by analyzing all seemingly positive remarks for hidden insults.
Is it helpful to choose to resent other’s apparent good fortune compared to yours? If so, you may respond with anger when complimented by those with effortlessly wonderful hair (or lives).
Or is it more helpful to assume that others are generally pleasant and kind, and to accept compliments at face value?
Even if the complimentor intended to insult you, is it helpful to believe it’s an insult? Or might you ignore the intent (as you may never truly know it) and choose to accept the compliment regardless?
It really is your choice. What’s your predisposition?