We encounter strangers everyday: in line, at the post office, at the grocery store, to and from work. We talk to them on the phone and we greet them at the doctor’s office for appointments.

But not all interactions with strangers are pleasant. Sometimes they turn awry. Sometimes people can seem rude, curt, or short-tempered. How do we exercise patience and kindness when this happens?

Give The Benefit of the Doubt

How easy it can be to say that people who seem brash or inconsiderate are just downright terrible. That person pushed me out of the way, they’re awful! Or That bank clerk was so rude, they must be bad at their job. Sometimes, such thoughts can be unfounded generalizations. If you encounter a stranger who is a little rude or falls short, give them the benefit of the doubt. Realize that most people aren’t naturally crabby or purposely trying to work against you: they’re usually dealing with their own stresses and working through their own dilemmas. You may have caught them on a bad day or in a rough moment. 

Think Outside of Yourself

If we’re operating on our own agenda, we easily get wrapped up in our heads.  As a result, people who seem rude or get in our way get labeled as the ones who are doing us wrong. Our first thought might be to think of our own needs, to declare that we are the victim. But life is not about just us: it’s about everyone, and most everyone is simply trying to get by and do their best. If a stranger inconveniences you or does something you don’t like, remember that most of the time their actions aren’t really about you.

Focus on Commonalities

In moments of conflict it is easy to focus on all the ways that someone is different from you. This person just cut in line. They’re not at all like me, I would never do that! Of course, for every stranger who makes us sour, there are likely at least a handful of times that we’ve been curt with others! None of us are perfect. The people you interact are just like you: they are flawed, complex. They have needs, wants, and emotions just like you. They are human! Starting seeing yourself in others and you may grow a little bit softer towards them.

Being Patient Doesn’t Mean Being a Pushover

All of these are good practice for when you encounter someone who ruffles your feathers. Of course, practicing patience doesn’t mean you have to sit by and passively put up with behavior you think is unacceptable. You can do all of these exercises while holding folks accountable if they treat you in ways that are hurtful. You can display empathy and strength at the same time.

Keep in mind too that these exercises aren’t just for strangers. You can extend them to everyone! Practicing patience and compassion does not have a quota, and you will never run out of opportunities to show kindness.