A reporter contacted me the other day to ask my opinion about healthy anger versus unhealthy anger on the job. Toward the end of the interview she asked what I thought about the airline employee who made the national news for losing his cool, grabbing a beer, and walking (okay, sliding) off the job. His actions made him an instant folk hero presumably because there isn’t a one of us who hasn’t fantasized about doing the same thing at one time or another.
Before answering her question I had to stop and think back to my initial, uncensored reaction to the news piece. I think I blurted out something like, “Wow, that’s hilarious!” Okay, coming from someone who’s supposed to coach and guide people through conflicts with dignity, I admit that being momentarily entertained by his actions probably wasn’t the most professional response. I did, however, quickly pull myself together and look for the learning in the story.
Upon further reflection I decided that there is quite a contradiction between what we want from customers and co-workers, and what we give to others. When we’re on the job we expect others to treat us with respect and dignity, right? So, why is it we can so easily turn into the snotty lady or condescending guy when someone else is just trying to do his job? I’m not sure what makes us lose our dignity and jump right into a fight with a complete stranger but I don’t think the world is out to get us. Even though it often feels like the cashier at the store or the receptionist at the doctor’s office spent the entire morning plotting how they could ruin our day, I’m pretty certain they didn’t. Rather than believe the silly stories we tell ourselves about the motivation of others, I’ve learned over the years to switch out the negative explanations with those that are a bit more compassionate. It helps me keep my blood pressure down and I’m sure the employees I deal with appreciate me for it.
If you’re interested in taking a similar approach, feel free to start with a few explanations I use on a regular basis:
Situation: A delivery van driver cuts me off in traffic
Old explanation: He treats everyone with disrespect because he’s a complete and utter jerk
New explanation: He’s distracted because last night his wife told him she has breast cancer
Situation: The cashier snaps at me when I question the total on my receipt
Old explanation: She’s incompetent and will be embarrassed when she finds her mistake
New explanation: Her baby is at home with a high fever and she’s worried about him
Situation: The customer service rep I call is condescending when I ask for a refund
Old explanation: He’s lazy and doesn’t want to help me
New explanation: He found out he didn’t get into the school he wanted and just wants to call his mom
Situation: The receptionist ignores me
Old explanation: She’s rude
New explanation: She’s the delivery van driver’s wife