What If You Don’t Know What or How to Change?


What If You Don’t Know What or How to Change?

We recently had someone from Chicago come out to Davao and he’s been learning the ropes. Despite me being a relatively unexciting guy, I took the liberty of showing him around as best I could.

We hung out for lunch at a sit-down restaurant on a typical day. As far as I can recall, there was nothing pressing on my mind. Maybe a bit of stress from work, as it’s been a hectic month, but nothing too crazy.

A couple buddies and I went out last week and something interesting came up.

It was about me. Something negative.

My friend from before brought up the fact that I was rude to the wait staff during our first lunch.

“Are you sure?”, I kept asking as if I was expecting the answer to change. I kept playing the memory back in my mind to figure out why I came across as brash.

I couldn’t think of anything I did wrong.

Action Trumping Intent

I’ve heard this a few times before: “Judge someone based off how they treat waiters.”

Does my being rude to waitstaff mean I’m genuinely a rude person? Am I wearing a mask when I’m being nice? Are my intentions not lining up with my actions?

Or could it be that I’ve been rude for so long now that I’m not even aware of my own faults?

Another friend was listening and agreed, offering his tales of Bad Vincent.

I was crushed. Even more than that, I was genuinely dumbfounded.

I had no idea what they’re talking about. There was no denying on my end but just a dazed “What?” and “Huh?”

Sure, we all have our off days, but this apparently wasn’t just an occasional thing for me. It’s a part of who I am and I don’t even realize it.

The First Step

They’ve assured me that I’m not a bad guy because at least I’m trying to be aware of my flaws and fix them. But still…

This whole time I thought I treated everyone with respect and proper courtesy, always making sure to say “please”, “thank you”, and using a friendly tone.

I’m still trying to figure it out, but I think I may need a tap on the shoulder whenever I’ve got rudeness mode on. Maybe even something similar to NFL commentators’ play-by-play breakdowns, listing exactly what I said and did wrong.

Makes you wonder what else you don’t know about yourself.

As they say, the first step is acknowledging you have a problem (definitely borrowing from alcoholic cliches here).

I suppose when I’m preoccupied and my mind is elsewhere then my tone does drop a bit and can be misinterpreted.

Seeing My Faults in Action

While this was still fresh in my mind, I had another potential rude occurrence this week.

I was leaving Starbucks when I brought the tray to the front and the barista asked me if I’d like takeout. I said “No thanks” but the look she gave me almost looked offended.

Highly doubt it was because I didn’t want to order out—that’d be ridiculous. I played it in my head a few times and I think my mixed tone of tiredness and eagerness to leave came across as rude and impatient.

Crazy stuff. This sort of thing is easy to overcorrect and start being fake, especially if you lack proper guidance and if you’re prone to overthinking. Fortunately for me, my friends are insightful, honest, and willing to help. On the other hand, I’m a classic overthinker…

What about you?

Have you ever had a friend (kindly) tell you something negative about yourself that you couldn’t quite understand?

How did you handle the news? What did you do about it?

Please share your stories in the comments below.

peasap – flickr

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Vincent Nguyen is the author of Self Stairway and founder of Growth Ninja, a digital marketing agency that specializes in Facebook Ads. Voted "Most Guapo" five years in a row (lost during 6th year to a hand model.)

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17 responses to What If You Don’t Know What or How to Change?

  1. Damn that would be rough to face. I would cringe if my friends told me that. They tell me the opposite and always laugh because I am super friendly to strangers. Sorry for talking myself up.

    They do tell me/joke to me about my other glaring flaws. It can be tough to hear, but it is very helpful. I think one of the hardest thing for me in regards to this situation was when a girl I liked said she didn’t like me romantically because I was too nice and wasn’t assertive enough.

  2. First off let me thank you, I mean really, for the heads up about the 1 Second Everyday App! Such a good idea. And your video wasn’t so bad. I liked being the voyeur.

    Have you ever thought about discreetly recording your interactions with others so you could see what they’re talking about? Maybe they are just misinterpreting an expression or your distraction in the moment. I’ve been accused of being aloof by my peers and it is no doubt true at times. But I can be great company too. My aloofness stems from a tendency to attention distraction. The things that are occurring at the moment are sometimes more interesting to me than the conversation, facial expressions, and general hysteria that accompany interpersonal jockeying. It’s just the way I’m built.

    Then again maybe they were just pulling your leg to get more reaction from you. You do seem to be serious in your work. They could have been saying, “Lighten Up!” And the Starbucks server may have had the eyes for you and you didn’t notice. I’m not one to talk though as I said. I have too much empathy sometimes and I’ve got to get away from energetic people situations or I suffer sensory overload. It took me years to understand my sensitivity and learn how to turn it off for business and pleasure. So I learned how to meditate and relax. It made all the difference.

    • Love the app! To those who are reading the comment and didn’t get the email, Nick’s referring to 1secondeveryday.com. Check it out, it’s great stuff.

      Nah, that’d be kinda creepy I think.

      They definitely weren’t pulling my leg, I’m sure of that. 🙂

  3. I think you handled it pretty well, and the fact that you are willing to look into it more and change it says a lot. If I was in that situation, I would try not to be offended. But I am sure it would be hard not to be.

    • Same thing they were assuring me of, at least I’m trying to change. I’ve been hyperaware of my tone this past week and I’m not sure if it’s making a difference yet. Still waiting on that NFL-style play-by-play breakdown 🙂

  4. Hey Vincent,

    This is very interesting and timely since I went through something not that different a few years back, and recently wrote about it on my own blog. I too, felt a bit blind-sided when a friend called me out and said that I was being perceived in a negative fashion, especially because I was actually working in a business that required a lot of patience and customer service. The solution came for me when I learned (or rather, was coached by a mentor) to redefine “Leadership”, and what it meant in regards to how we handle ourselves, and treat others around us. Please feel free to take a look and let me know what you think – it’s actually a much easier “fix” than it seems. Cheers and best of luck. David

    • Great insight. The greatest leaders in my life are people who understand how to treat people… Like people.

      They’re leaders who make you feel like an equal. They’re people who you feel like are one of your closest friends.

      And you’re right, management isn’t always leadership.

  5. I’d say do not take it at face value, or too personally. I think the most important is your intention behind your actions. Are you trying to hurt someone or not? If not, then you should be ok with yourself. You even say “please” and “thanks”, how many people do not even bother?

    You do not have to always say thanks with a high cheerful tone and staring at the person right in the eyes. If someone is offended because you say thanks in low tone while your intention was good, then it’s not really your problem.

    Respect is a pretty abstract concept anyway. Maybe your friends think you should bow to people? Maybe if you stand up for yourself they will feel you disrespect people because you don’t put others feelings and needs first? Maybe the barista was shocked because you look like a Chinese but you have a perfect english accent? Who knows.

    If your intention is good, and your action is respectful (according to your own terms), then the only thing you can take from this experience is a check whether your communication style transmit correctly your intention. Maybe you act afraid, you try to protect yourself, or you just were lost in your mind. You can control and work on that, but the story doesn’t make you a bad or rude person.

    I got several times the comment that I was arrogant. It’s been a shock to me because I mainly pay attention to my own life, I don’t judge people, I’m pretty open and I tell people that what they’re doing is not ok only when it touches my life, else I don’t give lessons. So I had a hard time understanding why some people found me arrogant. The truth is that some were jealous that I stand up for myself, some just had to find something to fuck me, some were just seeing arrogant people everywhere, my face and body give out an arrogant look, I hate conformism so it bothers some people, and of course a part was due to my communication style. I could only work and improve on that.
    I’m sure some still find me arrogant, but people who really know me know that I am not, so it’s ok.

    • I’ve always found this quote to be powerful: “We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behavior.”

      It’s really not about going over the top and bending backwards to appear respectful. Bowing, for example, would obviously be too extreme and outside the social norm.

      The issues appear when you miss out on the subtle nuances that we all subconsciously (and consciously) pick up on.

      Does your tone of voice sound irritated? Of course the third party won’t be able to assume you don’t mean to sound agitated but can only base his/her opinion from what is known. In this case, it’d be your tone of voice that forms the base for the opinion to be formed.

      To ignore the signs that you may be in the wrong would be to miss out on an opportunity for genuine self-improvement.

      • I agree with your last sentence. But my point is that “being in the wrong” is very subjective. Some people will be offended because you forgot to hold the door for them. But you don’t have to. If you do it it’s a nice gesture, if you forget because your head is somewhere you shouldn’t be flagellated for it, by others or by yourself. I understand what you mean, but I want to point also that sometimes we easily overthink things and analyze stuff that don’t need to be analyzed.

        • I see what you’re saying, as much of it subjective, but there are things that the majority would agree are “right” and “wrong.”

          I think holding the door for someone within a reasonable distance is the correct thing to do. The distance itself can vary from person to person but if I was directly behind someone and they slammed the door behind them while knowing I was just behind would tick me off. Most others would agree that it’s a gesture that should be done as it takes very little effort and it’s a simple way to show respect.

          Typically, the majority’s perspective of what’s proper etiquette dictates what is right or wrong (taking into account culture makes it a bit more difficult.)

  6. But do you feel you need to get it right all the time? Perfectly?

    • Nope. Where’s the fun in that?

      • Just asking. Some people strive for perfection even if it’s not fun and even when it’s harmful. Without awareness that perfection is just a way to avoid criticism we sometimes try to reach for it. That’s why blogs like ours exist and remind people and ourselves about healthier mindsets. Cheers and have a good one.

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