How to Respond to Out-of-Character Behavior From Someone You Know and Like

Surprised Woman

Out-of-character behavior always carries a certain amount of shock value with it.  As the saying goes, "just when you think you know someone . . ."

Humans thrive on consistency.  We want the people in our lives to be reliable and we feel safe knowing we can predict their behavior.  Even when one's behavior is consistently unpredictable, we are able to prepare ourselves for possible outcomes.

But when you've known someone's consistent behavior for some time and all of a sudden, an action, reaction, or comment comes out of left field, it can leave you dumbfounded.

Take a Pause

Remember, no one is perfect.  Even a good friend you've known for years.  

When that person displays unexpected, irregular, and inconsistent behavior it could be an indication of any number of causes.  Illness, a personal life challenge, or an uncomfortable situation may cause a person to lose his cool.

The first rule of etiquette is to be respectful and courteous, so when someone we know and like shocks us, being as calm and kind as possible is the first step to handling the situation.

If this is the first time you've been witness to an episode like this you will, of course, be shocked.  But take a pause, catch your breath, and try to smooth over the situation at hand.

An Out-of-Character Outburst

If an outburst is directed at you, you may not only be surprised but hurt as well.  As you take a pause, consider if the outburst requires your immediate reaction.  

Is it worth defending yourself?  Do you owe an apology or acceptance of responsibility?  Or should you simply remove yourself from the situation?

One effective method for handling an out-of-character outburst is to acknowledge what your friend is feeling, then explain that you understand the importance of dealing with what is upsetting her, but you would prefer to do so when you can both speak calmly and aren't too clouded by emotion to hear both sides.

When Out-of-Character Becomes True Character

A Maya Angelo quote reads, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”   Paraphrasing that: people may tell you who they are, but when they show you who they are—that’s what you should believe about them.  

If it happens that a friend or appreciated acquaintance or co-worker blurts something out of character, maybe something unthinkingly racist, it’s up to you to remind yourself that you know the better person this person is—not the one who is showing up disrespectfully.

Unfortunately, there are times once a friend becomes more comfortable around you that he begins showing his true colors.  Words and actions you thought were out-of-character become more commonplace.

This is the time when you must decide if you agree or disagree with someone's behavior.  But if you can't be in agreement with this person, know that your ideals and integrity are not worth sacrificing.

The Bottom Line

Etiquette demands that we not meet disrespect with disrespect.   The mindful pause etiquette gives often provides the time to get your grip and find the right words.  

Being your etiquette-ful self means than you are intentional in not adding fuel to the flames of someone else’s poor behavior.  Plus, your calmness in reserving reaction can serve to mirror to the other person that there may be something she needs to look at and hear herself say.

When the time is right, and you can do so privately and calmly, discuss your friend's behavior with her, asking if you might help the situation in any way.

Then, as a good friend does, keep the discussion between the two of you.  If she needs a true friend, she'll know she has one in you.

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