Let’s start with the bad news. You’re never going to be good enough. No matter how much you try, no matter how smart you are, no matter how alert, no matter how sensitive, no matter how suave. Sooner or later, you’re going to fumble and let somebody down. You’re bound to be a disappointment. It is the way of the world.
But, the fact that someone feels disappointed with you, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s your fault. Maybe it is. Maybe you broke an important agreement. Maybe you just forgot. Maybe you really are an unrelenting jerk. Whatever the case, others have responsibilities too.
Knowing you’re bound to be a disappointment sooner or later helps clarify the lines of responsibility, helps you figure out on which side the fault lies when disappointments occur. By being forearmed with the knowledge of your limits, you can create a plan for dealing with those times when you slip up.
WHEN THE FAULT IS YOURS
First, you’ve got to keep your word. See, character is the foundation of relationships. If you can’t keep your word on important matters, you’re never going to establish lasting, rewarding relationships. This doesn’t mean that everything that comes out of your mouth is a lifelong vow, but it means that reasonable people have a reasonable expectation that you will follow through with what you promise.
If, for example, you say you’re going to have that project done before you go home, you stay until it’s done. If you say you’re going to pick the kids up from school, you’re standing by the car in the parking lot at 3:15. This can’t be a once-in- a-while thing for you. Steady, continuous reliability is key.
When you fail to provide that kind of reliability, the fault is yours. Don’t continually blow off your promises and expect people to invest deeper levels of trust in you. Every time you disappoint, that trust level falls. You should work as hard as possible never to let that happen.
Sometimes, though, you can’t help it. Sometimes you’re in a rush and forget to write things down. Sometimes the car won’t work. Sometimes there are legitimate reasons you can’t do what you’ve promised. Reasonable people understand that, and shouldn’t make too big a deal out of it.
WHEN THE FAULT IS THEIRS
That’s the other side. Other people have obligations to you as well. Chiefly, they are obligated to have reasonable, realistic expectations. Maybe you’ve known someone to whom you were always a disappointment. Maybe that was your dad or your mom. Maybe you’re dating him. Maybe you’re married to her. Maybe it’s your kid.
Whatever you do, no matter how hard you try, they’re disappointed. If you walked a hundred miles to bring this person a bouquet of lilies, she’d complain you that you didn’t bring roses. In these situations, it is you, not she who has a right to be disappointed. You have a right to be disappointed by the lack of gratitude, the exaggerated sense of entitlement and the arrogance in her view of the world.
MAKING THE JUDGEMENT
To deal effectively with disappointing others, you need to have a plan, and that plan needs to begin with an assessment of where the problem actually lies.
Here’s a basic test:
Did you break a promise?
Did you fail to do something reasonable you explicitly agreed to do?
Did someone else experience a real, tangible loss of time, money or reputation due to your negligence?
If the answer to any of these is yes, then the fault is yours.
On the other hand, you need to consider these questions:
Did you keep the promise, but in a way that the other person did not like, or did not like some particular aspect of?
Was the thing the other person expected reasonable?
Was the thing expected even possible for you given your financial, physical and temporal limitations?
Is the person you’ve disappointed someone who is normally even-tempered, satisfied and at peace, or is this someone with a long history of complaining, bitterness and strife?
If the answer to any of these is yes, the fault likely lies with the other.
The good news is that you have viable options in both these situations.
WHAT TO DO
If the fault is yours, just apologize. Be sincere. If another has a legitimate reason to be disappointed in you, say so, say you’re sorry and move on. Then, try to make restitution. If the person suffered some inconvenience due to your failure, see if there is a way to make it up, to return to him whatever he lost. When this is done, move on and don’t aggravate the situation by overreacting.
If the fault is the other’s, if you’ve disappointed someone who has no right to be disappointed, your only choice is to confront. If you can engage in a rational conversation with the offended person about what are reasonable expectations and what are not, if you can clarify what you are and aren’t willing to do, you both will profit. If either you or he is unwilling to carry out such a rational conversation, you have no choice but to let the matter lie, even if doing so reduces the overall trust level in the relationship. That’s just the way it goes.
Rest assured, most relationships can weather a little disappointment. If they couldn’t, there would be no relationships, because disappointments are inevitable. What matters is how you handle them. When you disappoint another, simply think of it as an opportunity for the two of you to grow closer and to understand one another more deeply. Remember every time you disappoint another, you have the chance to respond well. Others expect you to do so, to determine where the fault lies and to apologize if it’s on your end. They expect you to do this because they want to be close to you, want to know and enjoy you. Don’t disappoint them.
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