Imagine you’re getting ready for a first date. You’re excited: You’ve planned your day around this, and you’re ready to go.
Then, a text message:
“Hey I’m so sorry to even ask this but how do you feel about a weekend day instead of right now? We just got approval to launch a product and it’s happening very quickly.”
How would you respond?
That’s the current situation dividing Twitter, after a woman posted a screenshot of a text exchange with her canceled date. Here’s the reply from the “cancelee”:
“Are you joking? I’m showered, ready to go, and had planned my day around this. I understand work comes first, but to pull out this late is pretty disrespectful. If you’re unable to respect me or my time, then I’m over it. Be well [peace out emoji]”
In her date, the canceler included the caption: “You can truly dodge a bullet with men by inquiring to reschedule a first date day of and seeing how they respond.”
Judging by the response from the Twitter community, you’re likely to side with one or the other in this scenario.
But before you choose sides, please read the introduction to this piece one more time. Then, answer the question:
How would you respond?
Pondering that question can teach us a lesson in empathy, respect, and dependability–all core tenets of emotional intelligence.
What’s emotional intelligence got to do with it?
To be clear, all we have to go on in this situation is a single screenshot, along with the tweeter’s caption. Therefore, the purpose of this piece isn’t to judge either person for their actions. Rather, it’s to see what lessons we can learn from the action taken.
It’s common nowadays for people to break an agreement or commitment for spurious reasons. Plans for the weekend, a handshake business deal–many find it easy to go back on their word when following through presents inconvenience.
At the same time, it must be acknowledged that not every situation is the same. You may feel in certain circumstances that you have no choice but to cancel on a previous arrangement.
In this case, the canceler indicates she felt bad to pull out last minute. But with her message, she sends two clear messages:
Work is more important than personal life.
My time and responsibilities are more important than yours.
I thought this tweet (in reply to the original) summed it up nicely:
“How people treat you at the beginning is the best they ever will.”
Words of wisdom.
It’s worth noting that the canceler, whom I won’t name here, lists herself as a multiple-time founder and startup investor. Undoubtedly, she’s influenced by the current hustle culture we live in, where work is emphasized over all else.
But being a founder, or a business owner, or even a manager doesn’t cancel the rules of respect.
Further, if the canceler is the boss at her current company, her tweet could set an unreasonable standard for colleagues. Should they all cancel personal plans because of the launch of the new product?
If she’s not the boss, she is likely setting unreasonable expectations for herself for the future.
Either way, this tweet sets the foundation for an unhealthy culture at work.
The greater lesson
The far greater lesson, however, doesn’t involve the original text message at all. Rather, it’s the fact that the canceler felt the need to tweet the exchange and try and shame the (cancelled) date for his response.
In other words, even after the fact, the canceler was unable to empathize with the person she canceled on.
Empathy is a funny thing. While we all crave for others to try to see things from our perspective, it’s often hard for us to do the same.
And here is where emotional intelligence comes into play.
When someone criticizes us, a part of our brain known as the amygdala springs into action. We interpret the criticism as an attack; often, our default is to fight back.
Ergo, the tweet about “dodging a bullet.”
But there’s another way to handle criticism. It involves taking a step back and seeing things from the other person’s perspective. It means considering we may have been wrong. It could lead to us reexamining our actions, our priorities, and even our life path.
At the very least, it helps us understand those who think differently than we do. And when we do that, regardless of whether we were right or wrong in the first place, we learn.
And we grow.
Of course, learning to see things through the eyes of others may even inspire us to do something almost unheard of nowadays …
And while “I’m sorry” may be the two hardest words to say, they’re also the most powerful.
Because when you’re willing to admit your mistakes, you make a big statement about how you view yourself …
And you start building relationships that matter.
Enjoy this post? Check out my book, EQ Applied, which uses fascinating research and compelling stories to illustrate what emotional intelligence looks like in everyday life.
A version of this article originally appeared on Inc.com.