The email was innocuous enough. There was nothing exactly negative about it, but I found myself irritated, unsettled and if I’m honest a bit angry. The client who sent it – let’s call him Stuart – had recently been on one of my courses and was updating me on his progress, or rather lack of it. He was basically saying that whatever it was I had been teaching, it didn’t work for him.
My reaction surprised me. If you’ve been in business as long as I have you know the truth of the old saying that you ‘can’t please all of the people all of the time’. No matter how much you value the product or service you are offering there will always be a handful of people who will beg to differ. We call it ‘buyer’s remorse’. It’s a perfectly human emotion and those (mercifully few) disappointed clients I have encountered are perfectly entitled to feel it. I have always gone out of my way to put the customer first and if they have a negative reaction to any aspect of my training I respect that and try to learn from it.
I knew all of this, but for some reason that email from Stuart stuck around in my mind. And we all know what happens to thoughts that stick around – they expand and grow. But there’s a problem, and in my defence it isn’t just my occasional failure to take my own advice and let go of thoughts that are unhelpful to me. The problem is emails, or digital messages in general.
Did you ever get a text that you misunderstood or misinterpreted? Of course you did. You probably get about three a day if you’re an average phone user. You know the sort of thing: someone texts to say: “I thought we were meeting up!” You read “You’ve let me down again!” only to find out later that what they meant was “I’m so dumb LOL”, or words to that affect. What was intended as a positive, humourous text is interpreted as a negative, accusing one, and human nature being what it is, our minds tend to read more negativity than positivity into these sometimes quite neutral messages.
Carl Jung said: ‘Perception is projection’. What he meant – at least according to my understanding – was that the world around us has no meaning beyond what we place on it via our thoughts. So two people could look at, say, my new jacket, and have entirely different views about it. Same jacket, but to one person it’s a beautifully tailored garment, to the other it’s a cheap bit of old tat that I probably picked up at a charity shop. So it’s not the jacket that’s creating their responses, correct? Reality is created by us humans, moment to moment.
I knew I had to phone Stuart. I wasn’t particularly dreading it, as it’s something I always do out of courtesy and to see if the problem can be rectified. I have to admit that I put that phone call off for a few hours, which had the very predictable effect of increasing my agitation. But you can probably guess what’s coming…
It was Stuart who apologised to me! He had read his email over again and come to the same conclusion as I had – that it sounded a bit negative. In fact he had only been trying to tell me that he hadn’t fully understood some aspects of the course and needed a little bit of advice from me to get back on track. We were on the phone for well over an hour and ended up sharing some real insights. Stuart now has many clients of his own.
You may have come across the old Native American proverb about the two wolves. It goes something like this: a young brave is troubled so he goes to the Chief of the tribe for help. He’s having many negative feelings about his world and can’t seem to shake them off. The Chief tells him that there is a war going on inside all humans between two wolves, one that loves peace and harmony and community spirit, the other who is filled with hate, jealousy and bitterness. The young brave asks him who will win the war, to which the Chief replies:
“The wolf that we feed”.
My negative feelings could only grow if I innocently fed them, and that’s exactly what they did. Remember what I said about my new jacket? It’s not the jacket’s fault if you like it or not, and it wasn’t the fault of that email that I allowed myself to get upset. That was all my doing. Moral of the story? In all our digital communications we need to ….