Don’t Be That Person

I don’t know if it’s because spring is in the air or there was a full moon last week, but recently I’ve encountered a lot of people who seem to have forgotten the basic social graces. It’s not just me, either, several people have mentioned the same thing in the past week or so.

Now, I could start off on a long dissertation about the decline of American society and so forth, but I think it’s simpler than that. Life can be tough and when that happens, people get self-centered. And truthfully, I think some people are just wired that way from birth.  I’ve tried various responses to this sort of situation over the years – anywhere from trying to convince the person of their bad behavior to outright ignoring it. (For the record, trying to convince people to change their behavior never really worked).

One thing I learned after many years in customer service is that you really can’t tell what is going on in someone else’s head. Guessing their motives is tricky and can lead you to places where you really don’t want to go.

Years ago, when I was still working in an insurance company, one of my staff people transferred a call to me. The man on the phone was angry and getting belligerent and I had always trained my people to send those sorts of calls to me rather than trying to deal with it themselves. I sat quietly and listened to the man as he ranted for about 15 minutes. He was angry, and to some extent had a right to be, because we had made a mistake on his policy and overcharged him. But after I listened and let him calm down, he told me the real story behind his anger. You see, he had received two pieces of mail that day – the first was from Visa, who had lost his payment and shut off his credit while his wife was traveling on that credit card.  She was now stuck in a faraway city with no way to pay for meals or hotel, but when he called, Visa put him on hold and ignored him. So, he opened the second piece of mail which was from us – and we did answer our phone. After he calmed down, we had a pleasant conversation, I fixed the problem, and he went back to deal with Visa.

You see, had I assumed this guy’s motives, I’d have become angry or belligerent myself, decided the guy was just a jerk, and the conversation would have gone nowhere. Instead, I gave him an outlet for his emotions and we both walked away unscathed.

So, next time you encounter someone who’s being angry or rude, take a minute to check your own reaction. Don’t assume their motive, and don’t react in kind. Assume that there may be something going on that you don’t know about, and react in kindness rather than anger. In the end, all we control is our own reaction anyway, and there’s no point putting more bad stuff out in the universe.

And if they really are self-centered and harmful, you can do like I do and simply vote them off your island.


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