You Can Quote That

You Can Quote That

Wrap a phrase in quotation marks and it changes the context. You wonder who said it, and then you can measure its truth against your own experience.

“When someone irritates you, be aware that what irritates you is your own belief.” That reads like something you heard on TV last night, but it was actually postulated by Epictetus, a philosopher born in the first century A.D.

Epictetus is “famous” for his contribution to stoic thought, but he also had a lot of practical advice for living. Too often we get caught up in our own perception of what is correct, and we forget that our rules for living are actually an amalgamation of experience and input from those around us. Maybe what you think is bad behavior is actually just different behavior that you’ve deemed irritating.

If we take a look at Epictetus’ advice on what irritates us in the context of customer and professional relationships, I’m sure we’d all have a lot of material to analyze. Having recently returned from InfoComm, I’d have to say that the key to building better businesses is interacting with a diverse array of industry contacts. We’ve all been in this business long enough to know that the customer that used to irritate us via email turned out to be a great person in real life. We are social creatures, after all, and we need a lot more than a few lines of typewritten text to create a complete picture.

This is something we all have to actively work on. It can be difficult to read between the lines as written communication continues its rapid dissolution into short bursts of words. Already, text messages, tweets, and Facebook posts are replacing real, earnest expression of ideas—not to mention context.

If you are maintaining customer contact solely through these abbreviated means, I’d take a hard look at whether you might in fact be perceived as irritating. Are you providing new information? Or are you just repeating an oft-quoted missive that gives people pause for a moment, but then they go galloping off to their next meeting? What you want is to “stick” in the minds of those who encounter your business and your people. Encourage thought.

The next time you’re going to fire off an abbreviated and somewhat hostile email to someone—or worse, just some words in the subject line of an email—pick up the phone instead. Or arrange a meeting. You’ll be surprised how much more progress is made in a few minutes of dialogue versus a prolonged exchange of misunderstood and irritating messages.

Kirsten Nelson