6 Degrees of Dealing With Difficult People
We live half a mile from the nearest Fry’s grocery store. The prices are the best in town. This used to be my go-to grocery place, but I finally had to stop frequenting the place because it had slowly plunged into shambles.
The way I last remember the store is smelly and dirty. The shopping carts were filthy, and none of them worked like they were supposed to. The workers were unhappy and, as a result, difficult people to deal with. Almost every time I was either entering or exiting my car, I was descended upon by some of the most aggressive beggars I have ever encountered.
I couldn’t deal.
I moved to a different Fry’s.
Yes, it IS a few miles further away from my house. And yes, I DO have to drive east on Camelback Road to get there, which means I have to fight heavy traffic, regardless of the time or day of the week I’m going shopping. The parking lot is always crammed full of cars, and, on a good day, I only drive around for 5 minutes looking for a spot.
The store itself isn’t much better than the other Fry’s. Busy. Crowded. Old.
There is, however, a Starbucks inside. This makes it all worth it. That, and the workers are nice.
This past Saturday, I was in a rush. I was expecting company, and I had a lot to do in not a lot of time. I decided to take a risk.
I decided to go to the “old” Fry’s.
I drove less than two minutes from my house to breezily park in a spot near the entrance to the store. I was pleasantly surprised at what I saw when I walked in; the store had been remodeled! The floors were polished, the place smelled fresh and the carts were clean and shiny.
Even better than that, part of the remodeling included the erecting of a Starbucks store inside, near the front door. Grocery store paradise, right?
Yes. And no.
In my hour long shopping expedition, I came across two workers who were clearly angry and unhappy. They took it out on me.
It pissed me off.
The one who made the biggest impression was the lady working at the deli counter. I politely stood there waiting (with no one else in line) for a good two minutes while she pretended I wasn’t there. When she finally decided to pay attention to me, I shrunk under the gaze of her death stare.
“What do you need?” she scowled.
I squeaked out, “A pound of honey ham. Please?”
She stomped to the refrigerator, while I shook in my shoes. As she took her sweet time slicing my meat, I started getting angry.
Who the hell does she think she is to treat me this way?
Whatever happened to the motto of “service with a smile”?
What in the heck is her problem?
I’m going to ask her when she comes back!
She came back to the scale near where I was standing. She smacked down the meat with a thump and growled “What else?”
I lost my nerve. I also lost my nerve to ask for the chipotle gouda cheese I was craving.
“Nothing else. Thank you.” Then, I squeaked away to the end of the aisle.
The deli dame wrecked my good mood. Not just because she acted like a jerk, but because I acted like such a wimp. For nearly all of the rest of my trip, I was the one stamping around the store through clenched teeth with a nasty attitude.
Somewhere around the milk and yogurt, I felt like I was going to burst into flames. Then, I had an epiphany.
Maybe my despicable deli helper was just having a bad day.
Maybe she is having a bad time in life.
Maybe I caught her after someone had just treated her the same way she treated me.
Why am I so quick to assume that everyone who acts like a jerk is one? After all, even I can certainly act like a beast at times. It doesn’t mean I really am one.
And, when I AM acting like a ninny, good people forgive me. They understand there is a reason behind my crappy behavior. They give me what I need the most:
Next time you are dealing with a difficult person, instead of jumping their stuff, why not think about doing the following:
1. Not reacting
This one is hard, especially if you’re a natural born spaz (like me). If you can be present enough to stop and take a breath, you might possibly prevent an ugly experience from going down. Bite your tongue.
2. Asking yourself whether the difficult person/difficult exchange is worth thinking twice about
There are many battles not worth fighting. If this one isn’t, don’t waste any of your precious time (or energy) worrying about the difficult person. Move forward.
Get over it.
3. If the difficult person/difficult exchange IS worth thinking twice about, examining your conscience and opening your mouth
Was it something you said? What about something you did? Is there a possibility that you and the other person got your wires crossed?
In many cases, minor misunderstandings lead to major meltdowns. If you think this might have happened in your situation, try to fix it by communicating with the other individual. Address the problem head on and talk things through.
4. Using A+ communication skills
Try to understand where the other person is coming from (empathize). In doing this, remember to listen before talking. Don’t attack the individual, rather focus on the behavior you don’t like. Use “I” statements, not “you” statements.
Avoid fingerpointing and name-calling. No sandbagging. Keep your voice level low. Take slow, regular breaths.
5. Remembering that difficult people are…people
Just like you, the difficult person feels afraid at times. In fact, fear could well be the reason behind their dreadful demeanor. Can you really blame that person?
Let me put it another way. When you are afraid, do you ever act defensive? Do you ever go into assault mode? Do you try to control? Do you take hostile action in the name of self-preservation?
I am certain that the answers to these questions are yes. Yes. Yes. And yes.
Cut that difficult person some slack. Remember you’ve been in those same shoes in the past. And, when that has been the case, the thing you needed more than anything was for people to “get off you.”
6. Remember who you really are
You are a good person. Spread some of yourself around by acting in alignment with that goodness. Give yourself the chance to make a difficult person’s day happier. Show them some love. Give them a smile.
That is what I’m going to do for the lady behind the meat counter next time I go to my nearest neighborhood Fry’s.
Yes. I will be back.
Not only is the new store close with ample parking, but it’s sparkly and fresh, too. The best part, however, is the fact that I can now buy a tall, iced Starbucks to keep me company as I shop.
Actually, I take that back.
The best part is that I will get regular practice in mastering the art of compassion. This is something I want to extend to “difficult people” I come across in my daily wanderings. Compassion is something I hope everyone extends to me when I’m coming off like a jerk.
I’m not one.
I probably just need a little love.