Before I left the UK to move to California, my landlord’s agents sent me an unfriendly letter arbitrarily increasing my rent from the following month.
It made me cross with the agents, and disappointed with the landlord: I’d always believed he and I had a cordial relationship, and it seemed on the face of it unfriendly of him to have used the agent to up the rent, without first letting me know himself.
However, we ended up talking on the phone, and all became clear.
The agents had apparently taken it upon themselves to increase the rents on all the properties they manage (which really isn’t their job), asking landlords to intervene only if they disagreed.
I guess they then started up their photocopier, produced scores of letters to tenants, and antagonised them (us) all in the process.
Then came the phone call.
‘Forget it,’ said the landlord, ‘we’ll keep things as they are.’ And that might have been the end of the conversation if we hadn’t chatted on a bit, allowing him to tell me of an unbelievably sad situation in which he and his wife had found themselves, purely by chance.
Once we’d started communicating properly, any earlier prickliness immediately disappeared.
I was able to empathise with him, and also to understand why, perhaps, his mind had been on other things when the agents clumsily attempted to claw themselves a tiny bit more commission.
All too often, I suspect we don’t really know what’s going on in the lives of those we have dealings with.
Perhaps when we get fed up with someone, or become exasperated by their behaviour, our views might change if we only knew what they were going through.
It’s easy to assume that others have no problems, that they act the way they do out of some odd sense of malevolence, bitterness or even vindictiveness.
Take the time to connect – to properly connect – and I’m pretty sure that this is rarely the case however.
If you want to be understood, doesn’t it make sense to first be an understander?