At some point in our lives, we’ve all experienced situations where someone we know has behaved out of character. It might have been a friend or family member who suddenly got angry and lashed out when they are usually calm and collected. Or maybe it was a colleague at work who seemed snippy and unresponsive when they are typically friendly and communicative. It can be challenging to witness someone you know act so differently from how you expect them to.
Quick to judge
In these moments, it can be easy to judge them and make assumptions about their true nature based on this one incident. We tend to assume that this is how they are all the time instead of looking deeper into the situation and considering why they might be reacting differently than usual. This kind of judgment can lead us down a negative path where feelings are hurt, and relationships suffer because no one has taken the time to understand what is happening on an individual level.
Yet, we tend to forgive ourselves gracefully when we make similar mistakes and expect others to be understanding. We often want an explanation for the sudden change in behavior, something concrete that will make sense of the situation. However, often, there isn't an obvious answer, as people have complex lives with many different influences at play, some known and some unknown even to themselves.
That doesn't mean that we shouldn't ask questions if something seems amiss. But instead of accusingly asking, “What's wrong with you?," which could lead down a destructive path, we can take the time to show genuine concern by inquiring gently about what might be going on behind-the-scenes. For instance, "Is everything alright? Is there anything I can do to help? You seem distressed recently - would you like me to lend an ear if needed?" By doing this, we show respect for another person's feelings while also giving ourselves space to understand why they're reacting differently than usual before making any snap judgments about their true self or personality characteristics.
The truth is that there are many reasons why people behave out of character in certain situations. It could be due to stress or anxiety caused by a difficult life event, mental health issues such as depression, or the fact that people don’t always feel comfortable expressing their true selves in public settings due to fear of judgment from others.
Whatever the reason, it is essential to take pause and offer empathy towards understanding the real person behind unexpected words or actions. After all, everyone has moments where life gets overwhelming.
One way we can do this is by recognizing our own biases and prejudices before coming into contact with someone new or unfamiliar to us. We all bring unconscious bias into our interactions with other people, whether it’s because of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, etc. So if we take the time beforehand to become aware of these biases, then when something unexpected happens during our interaction with said individual (i.e., behavior that isn’t necessarily ‘normal’), we can respond empathetically instead of negatively.
Another way empathy comes into play here is by actively trying to understand what another person might need at any given moment, rather than assuming we know best based on our personal experience. For example, if someone you know seems unusually agitated, instead of instantly trying to offer advice, ask yourself first: What could be causing this agitation? And secondly: How can I help? Asking questions like these will allow you to gain better insight into the inner workings behind someone's emotions, enabling you to help more effectively, especially if something serious such as depression or anxiety is involved.
Additionally, learning to listen without judgment helps too. Most times, people simply need an outlet to express themselves without fear of being judged or ridiculed, and showing genuine interest in what's bothering them goes a long way in helping them feel heard and validated.
In conclusion, showing empathy and understanding when someone behaves out of character can help build stronger and more meaningful relationships. Its important not to forget that everyone experiences ups and downs and sometimes unexpected behaviour may simply be the result of a bad day rather than something deeper. By approaching the situation with curiosity and care, rather than judgment and assumption, we can deepen our understanding of the people in our lives and create a safer space for vulnerability and growth. Remember that we all have our own unique struggles and experiences, and by practicing empathy, we can build a more compassionate and supportive community.