On my best parenting days, when my son throws a tantrum or lashes out, for the most part, I react to his outburst with compassion. “I know you woke up early today and you’re feeling more cranky than usual,” I’ll hear myself say. Or “Are you feeling irritable because you didn’t have a big enough lunch? That’s OK—hunger can throw anyone off.”
But the funny thing is, I almost never afford this level of kindness to adults.
Take this recent interaction: A friend of mine that I used to see quite regularly pre-pandemic had totally blown me off. If I reached out directly about making plans, her response was vague, never concrete. (Me: “Hey, I miss you! Want to get brunch Sunday?” Her: “I’ll get back to you, thanks!”) This happened a few times—we just couldn’t ever confirm plans—and that irked and bothered me. But if I took the approach that I do with my toddler, I’d have spent less time stewing about her flakiness (was she mad? had I done something wrong?) and more time being brave and bold (maybe her commitment issues weren’t about me).
This idea is called ‘emotional generosity,’ something Dave Bailey, a career coach known for his work with CEOs, described in a recent piece for Medium. It’s the art of not taking things personally, he says. His suggestion: The next time we encounter emotions or a behavior that we don’t like or understand, we should make every effort to see past it and proactively find a compassionate way to make sense of it instead.