By Scott Westerman
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“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
~Maya Angelou

There’s a family picture floating around from my high school years where I’m dressed in a yellow sport coat, a purple shirt and a green tie. My horrible haircut was vintage David Cassidy. As I look at that hideous image I wonder how my parents and sister kept from passing out from laughter. Across the sands of time, that picture still creates quite an impression.

We make a lot of decisions with an eye on how other people will react. This has come to be called, “being sensitive to the optics.” How will what you say and do be perceived by others?

I remember being warned that the “OK” sign we Americans make by curling our index finger and thumb into a circle would be highly offensive in some cultures. And it’s the same way with words. Our Diversity Director discourages the use of, “America’s melting pot”. “Tossed salad” is now the more politically correct term.

Many of us worry that every action might be negatively misconstrued. At it’s worst, we can become locked up, afraid to say or do anything for fear of hurting feelings, damaging friendships or tarnishing a career.

How do we exist in this environment? Some take the, “I am who I am and go jump in a lake if you don’t like it,” approach. Extremes on all sides of the political spectrum earn fame and shame with this approach. Others a so solicitous that you get the sense that they don’t stand for anything.

Over the years, I have coached my teams to use Disney’s Safety-Courtesy-Care-Cash Flow hierarchy. Where safety is concerned you do whatever it takes to protect a life, even if it ruffles feathers. Courtesy means treating everyone as you would want to be treated, even if you don’t like their personality. Care means doing everything you can to provide the best possible experience for others. And Cash Flow, both financial and emotional, is the inevitable return you receive under the law of cause and effect. “Time heals all wounds and time wounds all heels,” as my friend Gary Mescher likes to say.

There’s another dynamic to consider when the optics someone else presents seem to be out of whack. Is there something else going on in their life that is impacting how they act and react? We all have times when our filters become hyper sensitive or insensitive due to stress, loss, even when something really good is happening. I try to avoid judging based on these emotional spikes, no matter how uncomfortable they might be.

Forgive when you can. Apologize when you screw up. Extricate yourself from the patterns of unhealthy relationships. Realize that you will inevitably hurt people, even if you don’t mean to. And remember the truth of the maxim, “If you want to make enemies, make a decision.”

However you decide to live your life, you will attract some fellow travelers and repel others. There are certain behaviors that are common to the people we most respect. And even the best human beings are painfully imperfect.

How many of the qualities that you admire do you see in yourself when you look in the mirror?

When all is said and done, that reflection is the only optic that really matters.