Cooling Off A Hot Head
We’ve all been there – in a situation where somebody annoys the crap out of us. That little voice in your 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 on this dilemma all the time. And as a human, 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 starts affecting yours?
What a jerk!
A few months ago, I walked into the drugstore to pick up my monthly 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 in line, I started to get annoyed. Why was New Girl taking so long? Why weren’t they opening another cash register? The whole line was huffing and puffing!
Finally, it was my turn. I told New Girl my name, but for some reason, she couldn’t find my prescription. At that point, I was beginning to show my annoyance. I told her it was a monthly auto-refill, and that it should be right there, just like always. 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! New Girl went to ask her boss, 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? Noooooo! She stood there like she had all the time in the world, patiently waiting for him to spoil the season finale of his show.
When she finally came back with my order, I glared at her and said, “You’ve got to be kidding me. Can’t you see this line? Could you be moving any slower?!”
And she looked at me like I was 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?!”
Maybe it’s you
Ten minutes later I was driving back to my home office, but in my head I was still in the pharmacy, going over and over what happened. Uh-oh, I realized. This was a very serious sign that maybe it was me who did something wrong. At HG, we have a rule about this – if you mumble something three times, you need to take a step back and review. So I dissected the behavior – mine and hers.
I thought about it and realized that New Girl is, by definition, new at her job. And she was probably too much of a chicken to interrupt her new boss. She must have felt so overwhelmed trying to manage the long line of customers, and there I was at the front of it, 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 here isn’t her, I thought. It’s me! And I realized that I probably should go back and apologize to her in person. But, I still wasn’t ready to accept all the blame.
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. It’s THEIR fault, not ours. It never has to do with us. And we think like that because it gets us off the hook for our own bad behavior. Then we walk around mad, blaming whatever we don’t like on someone or something else.
But here’s the catch: your results are caused by what you think. Not just influenced, CAUSED. And if you’re walking around 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 New Girl. Now, I’m not suggesting that people shouldn’t be held to account. That’s super important. Could she have done a better job? Sure. 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. Then I lashed out at New Girl and blamed her for my own bad behavior.
But my behavior is my own to deal with. I’m the only person who can be held accountable for 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.
Turning it around
I made a u-turn and headed back to the drug store. I walked up to the counter and came face-to-face with New Girl, who looked at me like a deer in headlights. Oy. That’s exactly what I came back to fix. I said, “Oh my god, I am so sorry! And I came back to apologize to you, you did not deserve my wrath, please forgive me.” And she gave me a big smile, 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 The Best Beth. It was that easy.
Next time you find yourself in a situation like mine, where you are convinced that someone is being a total jerk, I urge you to take a step back and consider a different perspective. Ask yourself what, if anything, you might have done to create this situation. What could you have done differently so that the other person would have to respond accordingly?
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 who and 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’m not just proud of the way I owned up to my behavior with New Girl, I’m proud of how far I have come in my own quest to be nicer and more patient. I’m not perfect, but today I’m a way better Beth than I’ve ever been, and that feels awesome.
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