Relationship Death by a Thousand Cuts: Are You Letting What ‘Should Be’ Get in the Way of What Is?


Not long ago, I walked into a small local market — the mom-and-pop kind that’s a refreshing alternative to big-box stores. Just inside the entrance was a display of eggplant with a neon-bright handwritten sign that caught my eye: $1.25 each.

At that low price, I grabbed a couple, along with the items actually on my list, and headed for checkout. When the cashier announced the total, it didn’t sound quite right. I looked at the screen and saw that she had charged per pound for the eggplant rather than per unit.

The difference was only a couple dollars, but I went ahead and spoke up. My tone was consciously friendly and inquisitive. “I could be wrong, but I thought the sign said $1.25 each.”

The cashier shook her head and responded with absolute certainty. “Oh, no. They’re always per pound.”

I shrugged and slid my debit card into the machine. “That’s OK. I’ll swing by there on my way out and take a look.”

The bagger squinted her attentive eyes at me and nodded, clearly making a decision. “You know what? I’ll go check for you.”

Sure enough, whoever wrote the sign mistakenly marked “each” when it should have read “per pound.”

The cashier honored the per-unit price, then gruffly directed the bagger to remove the inaccurate sign immediately.

Two Approaches

These seemingly simple, inconsequential micro-interactions take place multiple times every day. We sift, sort and make many “little” decisions so quickly that, quite possibly, we’re not even conscious about what we’re doing or offering in return. Yet, these little things, stacked up, lead to bigger things and impact the quality of our relationships.

The cashier’s instantaneous, definitive response allowed for no alternative, no other possibility. Based on her previous experience, she assumed that what should have been true of the pricing on the sign was indeed the case.

On the other hand, the bagger made room for a different possibility. She may have known how the price should have been marked as well. But she took a moment to think about what was said and was willing to ensure that what should have been actually was.

The Bigger Picture

When we respond with the cashier’s approach, it’s like firmly closing a door in the face of the loved one, colleague or client who is asking us a question. The question itself is not necessarily important, just as the price of eggplant or who was right about it wasn’t of primary concern. But the quality of the interaction is critical. Depending on the people or circumstances involved, just one instance of feeling shut down can significantly impact a relationship. If we make assumptions frequently, close the proverbial door repeatedly and show no openness to anything but what we think should be true, we’ll probably find ourselves with fractured or severed personal connections and a dwindling client or customer list.

Being like the bagger — open, curious, allowing — helps avoid many of those outcomes. So, regardless of how busy you are, or how certain you feel about what should be, take a moment to consider what is being presented to you. Be willing to look into it and offer a thoughtful response rather than an automatic reaction.

You just might find your relationships feeling a little easier and more connected, and many more doors open in front of you, too.

If your vision and intention is to live your purpose and passion fully in the new year and you’re ready to bring them into your life, reach out. Schedule a complimentary clarity call with Kristen to discover how she can help you make them real for you, inside and out.

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