Not too long ago I was at the mall and encountered a very rude cashier. I was about to pay for my purchases. Just as the cashier hit total, I had picked up a pair of sunglasses. I said, “Could I just add these?” She said, “Well I guess you can, but you’ll have to bag them yourself!” Then she tossed a small bag across the counter! Just… Wow. There before me was a golden opportunity for this chick to hijack my day and put me in a bad mood.
I’m going to share with you a 4-Step Strategy that will help you in your encounters with mean people and then I’ll share how I handled the clerk. We’ll use the acronym, “DEAL.”
First, D is for “DEFINE.”
Define your parameters of what you are willing to put up with. What you tolerate, you perpetuate in life. I can deal with minor abruptness, a bit of a bad mood, or being rushed a little. I am not willing to be treated with disrespect or to be the victim of poor customer service. Even at your job, team members are some times allowed to get away with bad attitudes and snotty comments. We dismiss this behavior by saying things like, “Oh that’s just how Bob is.” Maybe so, but we have allowed Bob to get away with bad behavior. Again, what we tolerate, we perpetuate. I don’t want to deal with Bob.
Second, E is for “EXPECT,” Mean People.
One of the things that throws us for a loop is that someone comes out of left field, acting like an idiot, and we are so caught off guard that we don’t handle the situation effectively. And it usually hijacks your day for an hour or so. If you get up in the morning and say to yourself, “I wonder if any mean people will pop up today and what will I do if they show up?” That realistically puts you in control and allows you to proactively prepare for them.
Third, A is for “ASK,” for What You Need.
This strategy works if you are the customer or if it is a personal relationship that you are navigating. If you are the customer, a simple question like, “Will you please provide the information I am looking for without being so curt?” Or, “May I speak to the Manager about the service today?” If it is personal, “Are you willing to listen to me until I finish without interrupting me?” Or, “Can we think of a way to fix this together that makes sense to both of us?”
Fourth, L is for, “LATER TONITE.”
Think to Yourself, “Later Tonite… I’m going to have a cappuccino and watch American Idol….” “Later Tonite… I’m going to have a bubble bath.” Focus on something pleasurable you will do later that will make this temporary situation not worth stressing over. If nothing else works, sometimes that’s all you can do. The main thing is to let go of it so it doesn’t hijack your day. Sometimes it’s that person’s problem and you have to write it off and cut your losses.
In addition to this 4 Step Strategy, you can sometimes turn the situation around completely, which is an advanced skill. So let’s apply this back to the shop clerk I was dealing with.
I was not willing to put up with her disrespect. I remained calm and simply said, “Wow! You must be having a rotten day because I am certain you don’t treat all of your customers with such disrespect.” It was direct and she was stunned that I called her out on her behavior. Her body language went into a slump and she apologized saying that her relief clerk was not there yet and she hadn’t eaten which makes her edgy because she has diabetes. She went on to say she shouldn’t have treated me like that.
At that point I actually offered to get her a sandwich from the Food Court. Again, she was shocked. At that point I brought it down to two human beings interacting. She said no, but thanks for helping her get back on track.
No doubt it takes discipline to be calm with mean people. But in this 5 minute interaction, I brought her behavior into focus, prevented another hapless customer from falling victim to her stress, and I walked away please with myself instead of stewing over a rude clerk. Just because you are invited to an argument doesn't mean you have to attend.