Many are the perils of applying mathematics to relationships.

Extrapolation in layman’s terms is predicting numbers or values based on the relationship known numbers or values.  For instance if 1 corresponds with 7 (I know you’re asking “By text or snapchat?” but no, different kind of correspondence) and 2 corresponds with 14 then what corresponds with 3?  The extrapolation would be 21.  I know it’s sort of a confusing concept but just stick with me.

Extrapolation is used in all different places in business to maintain a philosophy with the numbers if you will.  Put another way you’re creating if/then statements.  If 1 goes with 7 and 2 goes with 14 then logically 3 goes with 21.  Get the picture?  So that’s logical and makes sense from a numbers relationship standpoint.  Where extrapolation doesn’t make sense any more than if/then statements made sense to me in Basic Programming back in high school is applying extrapolations to personal relationships.

The pitfalls of using extrapolation in predicting the intentions, motivations and feelings of people are obvious.  For example:  “You don’t clear your dishes therefore you don’t love me.”  Or, “If you don’t make it to my Aunt Laverne’s birthday party that means you don’t care about the family.”  Or perhaps, “You were late coming to supper so you don’t value me as a person.”  Get the picture?

Now, I’m not here to tell you the above transgressions DON’T mean something.  They could very well be the outward sign of an inward and much larger problem.  What I am here to say is that these outward signs are not proof of a problem.  They might very well be an outward sign of any number of personal flaws, failings or habits that quite frankly might have nothing to do with the relationship.  Let’s look at each of these offenses.  What about that plate?

Far from being testament to not loving someone, being a slob and not clearing your own dishes can have many, many root causes none of which have to do with feelings about someone else.  Perhaps the offender has been “picked up after” by parents or roommates in the past.  They’ve been taken care of and never had to pull their own weight.  Or, perhaps they are preoccupied with work or emotion or personal difficulties and walked away from the table or kitchen because their mind was elsewhere.   I’m not here to make excuses.  I’m just here to suggest a caring statement such as, “You normally help with clean up and today you just walked away.  What’s going on?” could avoid a confrontation.  It might also serve as a way to open a dialogue and offer our concern and help.  Sometimes the biggest opportunities to strengthen relationships happen at the most inopportune times.  Timing, good or bad, can be everything.

Moving along, what about Aunt Laverne’s birthday party?  The universe seems to plot against us sometimes, doesn’t it?  It fell on the same night that your boss unexpectedly sprung a massive project on you at 4:15, one that he needed first thing in the morning.  You adore Aunt Laverne but unfortunately you’re going to miss the party.  Or perhaps your child’s soccer coach, who you co-coach with, tells you that a practice is mandatory on the same day as Laverne’s party.  Clearly you both have a responsibility to be at this practice.  You and your player made a commitment to the team and while you love the family; other obligations also exist.  I won’t try and round off any corners here.  This is clearly a question of priorities but if attending the practice wins out you could call Auntie to wish her the best and should.  It is not a question absolutely however, of caring.  That said, it’s our responsibility to quell any extrapolation in that direction as best we can.  It does come down to effort.

Nowhere are our efforts brought more into question than around the subject of promptness, being on time.  Our punctuality may be a matter of discipline, habit or disregard for others’ time and expectations.  Clearly the latter deserves the most concern.  Being a decent human means treating others with respect.  If we are always late it’s a sign of a larger problem and one we need to address.  Life is about choices and choosing to continue doing something when we have committed to being somewhere else can indicate our priorities.  It can also be an indication of being pulled in too many directions and not being able to say ‘no’.  The internal, personal issue unfortunately may have the unintended consequences of hurting the ones we ultimately care for the most.  It’s easy to see how the extrapolation occurs.  If or when it does it’s on us to discuss our shortcomings with the offended party.  This is the crux of the matter and any effort we make to quell extrapolation.  But it isn’t always easy.

It’s no simple task to head off the conclusions of someone who feels they’ve been wronged.  Just as they can’t change how you supposedly think or prioritize neither can you stop the conclusions they draw about your behavior.  The key, as in so many other things, is communication.  Communicating where our heart lies is a good start in at least slowing extrapolation.  Communication should occur apart from the situation in question and immediately when a conflict arises.  This accurately reflects respect for the other party as well as for your own responsibilities and commitments.  While no silver bullet, it’s the most reliable method to stop extrapolation.  So, say something, talk, call, text and strive to convey to others where you’re coming from lest extrapolation run rampant.

Extrapolation is a typical human response and one that accelerates exponentially in relation to how long we’re kept waiting in addition to other things.  Alone we can’t help it.  Together, with work, we have a fighting chance to stop it and make all our lives a little better.

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