On Empathy and Reading People

I was in a meeting today, and someone who is a recent addition to the group started talking about me as part of the meeting, as though I wasn’t sitting right at the table with everyone else. Referring to me as “she”, not even by name. And I could have so quickly gotten mad, either taking it as a personal affront or an attack on women, that a man would be so dismissive of my gender that he can’t include me in the meeting about points that concern me.

As soon as I realized what was happening, though, I took ten seconds to consider the situation. This is a man that everyone dislikes – male and female alike. In a creative field teeming with socially awkward people, this particular man is the type that comes across as arrogant, annoying, incapable of not being included in a discussion, interrupting others to build his own self up, and once starting on a topic, unable to veer to a different topic even when begged by others to do so. And in studying his demeanor during this conversation, I was able to determine that it wasn’t a personal or gender-related dig, but merely him being utterly clueless as to how to function in a roomful of people. My anger button wasn’t even given time to flutter before I came to this conclusion, and I started actually feeling a little sorry for the guy.

That said, being me, and not being a delicate or shy flower when it comes to being ignored on matters that I shouldn’t be ignored on, I couldn’t keep my mouth entirely shut. I arched an eyebrow incredulously and smirking said “Wait a minute, are you actually talking about me like I’m not in the room?” There was a pause, and a few of the others shifted uncomfortably, and then the person running the meeting picked up the conversation and addressed me directly. The subtlety was lost on Mr. Personality, which I knew it would be, but everyone else in the room got it, which was my actual goal.

My point, though, is this is something that could so easily have been blown out of proportion, and this happens all the time, from individuals to different small groups to nations.  Many are so quick to get offended by incidents that really aren’t offensive or important in the big scheme of humanity, but there are real social injustices to fight against and deep-seated hatred that needs to be dealt with. So I’m trying hard not to give in to the pull to take things personally anymore, and I’m glad I was able to use my empathy and people-reading skills to not waste my energy on being mad about a clueless idiot.

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