Monday, October 25, 2010

Coping With Rude People...Like Me

Contrary to how it may seem, I don't purposely try to be thoughtless, aggressive and idiotic. I just come across that way sometimes, for various reasons. Not a great excuse, but it is the truth. Rudeness is a byproduct, not my intention. So I'm always inspired by and grateful for the understanding and patience of others.

The other day, two girlfriends and I stood still in a restaurant doorway, blocking others from getting in or out. We were so caught up in talking to each other as we started to walk out the door that we never exactly got out the door--proof, obviously, that we need to work on our walk-and-talk-at-the-same-time skills.

But the woman in front of us was nothing but respectful, even cheerful, when she smiled and said, "Excuse me." And personally, her lightheartedness about our gaffe was a much more persuasive inducement for me to pay attention next time than had she been rude back.

Unfortunately, I've done much worse than prevent the hungry from getting to a meal. Eight or so years ago I decided to drive to the post office before going to a meeting. But because I didn't leave myself ample time, I was worried about being late. Consequently, I was frenzied, and I zoomed my Jeep past a pedestrian in the post office parking lot, nearly giving her a coronary.

I apologized as soon as I got out of the car. She accepted, but not before giving me a well-deserved talking-to. Things would have gone a lot differently had I taken a moment to stop and think before leaving home that morning. I'd have scrapped the ridiculous post office idea, driven directly to my meeting and that woman would have never experienced a lunatic in a WMD.

But as I learned from a man at my cable company, kindness does wonders for enlightening we serenity thieves.

Last year, when my husband and I repeatedly had trouble with our cable, phone and Internet service--at times we had no phone for chunks of a day--I felt forsaken in a sea of corporate circumvention. Twice technicians had come to our home during a period of several months, and the problem had always reoccurred a week or two after they left. In between, again and again, I was on my cell phone with and put on hold by service representatives, supervisors and technicians.

Aside from nobody knowing how to fix our problem, there never seemed to be a record of previous phone conversations. So I continually re-explained my problem, only to hear the same advice over and over again.

Through it all, not once did anyone say, "Wow, that's terrible. I'm sorry you've had to go through that."

Instead, everyone at the other end of the line sounded just as automated and unfeeling as the recorded voice I repeatedly endured before reaching an actual person.

I felt so frustrated, helpless and irritated that by the time I got to my final service representative on the phone--whom I will forever refer to as Oh Thank You God--I was not in a good mood. My words were not unkind, but I'm sure my tone wasn't patient or peaceful. Actually, there's a pretty good chance I came off pissed off since, well, I was pissed off.  And the fact is, feeling and behaving pissed off offers nothing positive to the planet.

But instead of acting affronted--or worse, like a soulless, mechanical robo-rep--this man was serene. It wasn't what he said, but more how he said what he said. He was genuinely sympathetic, and he made me feel like he considered me a person, not a faceless whiny customer. That shocked me, so I apologized. Come to think of it, I even had tears.

And wouldn't you know, the service technician he sent to our home fixed our cable issue.

If only we all were as compassionate as Oh Thank You God when faced with an ill-mannered person. Because, like it or not, no matter how much we wish we could fix or correct other people's rude behavior, we can't. Rude people are the only ones who can fix and correct themselves.

And yes, I am working on that.