How do we differentiate between someone who needs to change their attitude or us needing to be more accommodating?

A student wrote to me with this question:

How do we differentiate between someone who needs to change their attitude or us needing to be more accommodating?

It all depends on your principles and values. Sure, some of us might feel obliged to please the people around us, but it’s ok insofar as you accommodate within the limits of your principles and values. If accommodating someone means becoming somebody whom you are not, or doing things that you don’t want to do, then of course, you shouldn’t be accommodating that person in that manner.

Now, the problem you posed is that you’ve frame the possible course of actions to a binary either “change their attitude” or “I be more accommodating.” There are more options available, and I don’t want you to fall into the trap of the false dichotomy.

In many ways, expecting a person to change his/her attitude is too high an expectation, and you are surely bound to be sorely disappointed. Attitude isn’t something that can be changed at will in an instant. It’s part of a person’s core self, and it takes lots of time and a conscious effort for there to be an adjustment. If you are going to strongly demand it, what you will get is grudging compliance from someone who, quite ironically, has decided to accommodate your demands despite the pre-existing attitude that you don’t like.

It’ll be more productive to have a one-to-one heart-to-heart chat with that person to better understand where s/he is coming from. The problems, worries, concerns, etc. that’s motivating the person to behave in that way. And at the same time, it helps to let the person understand that you feel hurt/upset when s/he does or says a certain thing. Now, it’s very important to avoid accusatory language that links your frustration with the person. It’ll make that person get very defensive. The way around it would be to phrase it like: “When X happens to me, I feel sad,” or more concretely as an example, “When I hear you say, “XXXXX,” I feel hurt because…”

In short, try to seek mutual understanding through communication. The two options that you put forth, i.e. expecting a person to change their attitude vs. accommodating, lacks any form of communication or understanding. It’s not healthy as you’re constantly trying to second guess and mind-read what the other might think. And we are often wrong about other people in such matters.

Author: Jonathan Y. H. Sim

Jonathan Sim is an Instructor with the Department of Philosophy at the National University of Singapore. He is passionate about teaching and he continues to research fun and innovative ways of engaging students to learn effectively. He has been teaching general education modules to a diverse range of undergraduate students and adult learners at the University.

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