When People know they did you wrong... they ignore you!

We tend to blame ourselves when others behave strangely or ignore us. But often, their behaviour has nothing to do with us. Empathy can help us avoid conflicts and improve relationships.

When People know they did you wrong... they ignore you!
Photo by Nikola Johnny Mirkovic / Unsplash

In conversations with friends and colleagues, it strikes me repeatedly that they have too much ego-centric view of the world. This manifests itself in many ways, but today I would like to take up one aspect, the understanding of which is relatively straightforward and leads to more serenity and quality of life.

The point is that humans pay careful attention to how our social environment reacts to us. In particular, we pay attention to deviations from previous behaviour (consistency) and our expectations (based on previous experience with another person).

This is also understandable if we think about our historical context. Before there were advanced social structures, we as humans depended on having the support of our clan and village community and, above all, not being cast out. Our perceptions are correspondingly sensitive to social change.

  • A long-time friend with whom we used to talk every day suddenly stopped contacting us.
  • A work colleague suddenly avoids glances and avoids contact
  • Our colleague is usually very talkative, except when I attend general team meetings.
  • People we know no longer greet us on the street and pretend not to see us.

If we notice such a situation, the standard reaction is that we believe that the cause must lie within us. We go over old conversations and think about what we did wrong. Did we accidentally offend the other person? Were we too stuck up? Did we forget a birthday? Did we disappoint? And so on.

Part of a series of concept photos I took during lockdown using drawing mannequins.
Photo by Charl Folscher / Unsplash

This is the wrong way to go, leading to unnecessary rumination and spoiling our mood.

The truth is: in 9 out of 10 cases, the supposedly strange behaviour of the other person has absolutely nothing to do with us. We are not the main characters in a hero movie. We are only a tiny piece of a puzzle in a holistic social structure. The reasons often lie instead in the problems of the counterpart, which we do not know.

For this article, I have the good fortune to know the proper background to three such situations from my circle of friends, acquaintances and colleagues as to why someone was supposedly treated strangely or ignored:

Photo by Claudio Schwarz / Unsplash

Example 1: A friend is no longer greeted on the street.

I went for a walk with a friend. She was in good spirits and was in a cheerful mood. Then we ran into one of her "best friends" from a few years ago. And this one ignored my friend and just looked away.

The result? My friend was suddenly sulking and visibly clouded, thinking about what she had done wrong.

I spoke to the ignoring person sometime later. She ignored my friend because she was ashamed that she hadn't contacted her in so long. She thought that maybe my friend didn't remember her either. This is nonsense, but it shows how people feel in these situations.

If neither of them recognizes the reality of the situation, they will consciously ignore the other. An utterly avoidable situation if you just put yourself in the other person's shoes instead of just thinking about yourself.

Eye of the Storm
Photo by Peter Forster / Unsplash

Example 2: A work colleague takes revenge for a passive aggression

I often see it at work that when people are shown passive aggression towards them, they want to get revenge for it. They think of games where they can get back at someone by cleverly "passing the ball back".

If you observe such situations as a neutral third party and know both parties, you quickly see that the supposed attack was not an attack at all. It may only have seemed that way because one of the colleagues was in a bad mood or had to deal with a private emotional problem.

To refer to this to oneself and then to take revenge for it, then, of course, leads to an actual conflict arising. This an avoidable situation if one would first empathically assume a logical reason in the seemingly negative behaviour of the counterpart, that isn't related to oneself.

A uni project I did, where I used self portrait to best look at a Societal issue and how we could look at it using photography.
Photo by Callum Skelton / Unsplash

Example 3: A friendship breaks up

A friend, Markus, meets a woman, Irmgard, every day on his way to work. They become friends and use the commute daily to talk for 5-10 minutes and exchange news, thoughts and ideas.

This goes on for two years until one day, Markus notices that Irmgard talks less and less but only listens passively. She seems increasingly stressed. Later, she no longer reacts at all, stops communicating, and seems like a zombie. This is a process that slowly drags on for weeks. Markus begins to contemplate what he has done wrong. He regrets jokes he made that didn't seem to go over well. And so on. After initially hoping that she will come around, it finally becomes too much for him, and he insists that Irmgard tell him what is happening. She answers in riddles and is not ready (or unable) to say to him the genuine reasons in a final escalation. The contact breaks apart.

The truth is that Irmgard was increasingly overwhelmed with herself and her situation. Child and work. Building a house. Increasing dissatisfaction in the marriage. The heavy workload at work. Irmgard also reacts to stress by mentally withdrawing into her inner self to protect herself. Apart from the fact that this is, of course, per se a disastrous and toxic behaviour for maintaining sustainable relationships, it is, however, at least understandable and has zero to do with Markus.

Markus could have reacted much more calmly if he had not overestimated his own relevance in Irmgard's behaviour. He would have skipped the aggravation to an emotional escalation peak, which ended the contact, and instead perhaps withdrawn for 2-3 months. Irmgard's problem would probably have disappeared as if by itself. And if not, at least Markus wouldn't have stressed about this, and this wouldn't have negatively affected his mood.

Back of Hercules in main square in Florence, Italy.
Photo by Simone Pellegrini / Unsplash

My tip: Humility and Serenity

So what is the learning from these examples? From my point of view, it is a beneficial life strategy first to consider the other person's perspective when dealing with interpersonal problems. What could be the reasons that make them act? If you can't think of a reason, assume it's a logical/good reason and that it has nothing to do with you.

Sometimes it may have something to do with you. But you lose nothing by first humbly stepping back from your ego and reacting calmly to such situations.

You can only gain an increased quality of life and fewer social problems that take away your emotional energy.

Do you have any additional or contrarian thoughts on this? Feel free to add your tips and opinions to this page's comment section, Twitter or LinkedIn!

Best regards,
-- Martin from Deliberate-Diligence.com