We’ve all been there – in a situation where somebody annoys the crap out of us and that little voice in our head goes off. Are you freakin’ kidding me? Can you believe what she just did to me? What is this person thinking?!
Hell, sometimes, we even say that stuff out loud.
I find myself coaching clients (CEOs, executives, employees, etc.) on these annoyances all the time. As a member of the species (and not even a particularly magnanimous one), I certainly face these situations myself. The big question is, how do you handle it? What do you do when other people’s bad behavior affects yours?
Well, this is what I did one afternoon. It wasn’t pretty.
A while back, I walked into the drugstore to pick up my prescription, only to find the last thing I wanted to see, a long line. At the front of it, I spotted a new employee at the cash register, who was clearly the cause of the hold up. As the minutes passed and we all stood there, I started to get annoyed. Why was this cashier taking so long? Why weren’t they opening another register?
The entire line was huffing and puffing!
Finally, it was my turn. I told the cashier my name, but for some reason she couldn’t find my prescription. At that point, I was beginning to show my frustration. I told her it was a monthly auto refill, and that it should be right there, just like it always was.
She still couldn’t find it.
The whole time I was thinking. What is wrong with this place?! Can you believe this?! There are 10 people in line behind me!
The cashier went to ask the head of the pharmacy, but I could see he was busy discussing a TV show he had watched the night before. Did she try to get his attention? Nope! She stood there there like she had all the time in the world, patiently waiting for him to spoil the show’s season finale.
When she finally came back with my order, I glared at her and rudely said, “You’ve got to be kidding me. Can’t you see this line? Could you be moving any slower?!” And, guess what she did? She looked at ME like I was the one out of my mind. As if I was the problem! I paid her and walked out of there thinking, what’s wrong with these people?!
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Ten minutes later, I was driving back to my home office, but in my head I was still very much in the pharmacy, going over and over what happened. Uh-oh, I realized. This was a very serious sign that maybe it was I who did something wrong. At HG, we have a rule about this – if you mumble something three times, you need take a step back and review. So, I dissected the behavior – mine and hers.
I thought about it. The cashier was new at her job. And, as a newbie, she was probably nervous to interrupt her new boss. She also must have felt so overwhelmed trying to manage the long line of customers, and there I was wagging my finger at her lousy job. I was so focused on my own perspective and intent on making the case for my righteous indignation that I didn’t see how I was behaving towards her.
The jerk wasn’t she, it was me! And, with that discovery, I realized that the biggest and most honorable thing I could and should do would be to head right back there and apologize to her in person. But, in that moment, I could still feel my resistance to accepting all of the accountability.
OFF THE HOOK
What was going on in my head is what happens to most people when we get a result we don’t like – we blame. You know, it’s their fault, not ours. And, it’s exactly this response that brilliantly gets us off the hook from our own bad behavior. But here’s the catch: your results are caused by what you think. Not just influenced, CAUSED. So, if you’re walking around at work or in life pissed off and thinking people are jerks, what kind of result do you think that’s going to produce? Back at the pharmacy, the result I was looking for was better service. It is very unlikely that I would have gotten that result by acting out and being a jerk to the new cashier.
Now, I’m not suggesting that others shouldn’t be held to account. Could the new cashier have done a better job? Sure. Could she have apologized and explained her newness to better take care of her customers? Absolutely. But, the point is that I could’ve done a better job too. WAY better. The truth is, I lost my patience in the long line and allowed myself to become annoyed. I lashed out at the new cashier and blamed her for my own bad behavior. Except, I’m the only person who can be held accountable for my own behavior and how I want to show up in the world. Do I want to be that impatient, snarky customer who ruins a new employee’s day? Certainly not. So I decided to do something about it.
I made a u-turn and went back to the drug store. I walked up to the counter and came face-to-face with the cashier, who looked at me like a deer in headlights, which is exactly what I came back to fix.
I said, “Oh my god, I am so sorry! I came back to apologize to you, you did not deserve my wrath, please forgive me.” She smiled big and said it was alright and also apologized for the long wait. I instantly felt better, and I could see she did too.
Poof: I had transformed myself from “Crazed Customer” back to being who I wanted to be, “The Best Beth.” It was that easy.
Next time you find yourself in a situation like mine, where you are convinced that someone (other than you) is being a total jerk, whether it be at work with an employee or at home or even at a cash only line at a tollbooth with someone trying to pay by card (!), I urge you to take a step back and consider a different perspective.
What, if anything, did I do to create this situation? What could I have done differently so that the other person would have responded differently as well?
There is an alchemy that occurs in all relationships – any single element you add will inevitably cause a reaction and alter the outcome. Set a standard for how you want to be in your interactions, regardless of what’s going on around you.
Suffice it to say, the old me would NEVER have driven back to that pharmacy to apologize for losing my cool. I ended up not only proud of the way I owned up to my behavior with the new cashier, but of how far I’ve come in my own quest to be a nicer and more patient human. I’m not perfect, but today I’m a way better Beth than I’ve ever been.