Another behavioral revelation…

A lightbulb went off in my head a few minutes ago.  Another example of disconnects between different behavior styles — and this one had escaped me until now.  Here’s the story.

My sister Martha’s husband was just diagnosed with cancer.  It looks like it’s not as bad as we first thought, which is great news, but he’s still having surgery next week to remove the growth.  My oldest sister, Pam, called to tell me about the doctor’s report and the plans for surgery.  This will all take place at Duke — about 3 hours from my home.

I told Pam to tell Martha that I’d be happy to come if there was “anything I could do to help.”  That’s my behavior style talking.  I’m by nature a task oriented person.  I think in terms of what I can “do.”  Is there some “thing” that I can take care of, some “task” that needs to be accomplished, etc.  My sister sounded a little put off and said, “you probably can’t DO anything, but I think she’d appreciate your being here.” 

And then it hit me.  I wasn’t saying I wouldn’t come if I couldn’t DO something tangible, but I always think in terms of “doing” first.  I feel like I’m in the way if I’m not being tangibly useful.  Maybe it would be better for me not to be there if I can’t DO something.  The revelation to me was this:  Just by being there, I would be doing something.  Just by sitting in the waiting room while he was in surgery, I’d be doing something. 

That may seem so obvious to most of you that you think I’m a complete idiot for not figuring that out before now.   But, it is a great example of behavioral differences that cause us to misread each other.  I expect my sister thought I was looking for a reason NOT to drive 3 hours.  That wasn’t the case at all.  I’ll be happy to be there–I want to be there.

So here’s the lesson for you.  If there’s someone in your life that you think doesn’t care about people because he or she doesn’t naturally understand that sometimes just “being there” is enough, take a step back.  Maybe they just care in a different way, or they aren’t sure how to show they care if it isn’t in some productive way.  Don’t judge the motive too harshly.  Be willing to tell them that “being there” IS doing something.

Here’s to my brother-in-law, Marion.  I’ll be there!

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