Sunday, February 15, 2009

Staying Happy in the Face of Anger

Something I have learned over the years is that the cause or trigger of other people's negative behaviors is often something I would not have guessed, and 99.999% of the time it is completely unrelated to me, no matter how personal it may seem.*

This point was really underscored one day when I was trying to get home to Urbana from Chicago-O'Hare airport. (Or, should I say, one night.) I missed the final flight home for the evening and managed to convince the airline to comp me for a shuttle, which I knew left every three hours. At midnight, the shuttle arrived, with three people waiting for it and only one space left. One of the contenders for the seat said that he really needed to be the person to go on the shuttle, because he had to be at work for his shift at 6 a.m. I didn't have any committments that I couldn't rearrange, so as far as I was concerned, he could have the seat. While the other woman waiting for the shuttle didn't have those constraints either, she was really angry about being deprived of the seat. But since two of us had agreed that he should go, there wasn't much she could do about it. The driver recommended that the two of us remaining call and reserve seats for the 3 a.m. shuttle.

The angry woman then called the reservation line on her cell phone before I was able to call myself. She then proceeded to chew out the reservationist for at least ten minutes. There was so much shouting, berating, and rudeness being emitted from her that I had to leave the vicinity. I stood inside where I couldn't hear her, but could still see her through the window.

Finally, when I saw her hang up, I called the reservation line. The reservationist was extremely defensive, and quite frankly, a bit rude to me. But I let her vent, because I knew what she had just been through, and it did not upset me at all. I thanked her for her help, hung up, and waited for the shuttle.

I don't know what had made the original angry woman so angry. I will never know that. But I did know what made the reservationist so angry! And because I had that knowledge, the reservationist's angry words had no adverse emotional effect on me, and in fact I was able to help her get over her negative feelings.

Had I just randomly called for tickets at that particular moment, however, I would not have possessed that knowledge. I might have been confused, angry, or offended by her rudeness. Or, if I thought about it, I might have drawn the conclusion that something else is bothering her, and I'm just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In no way am I trying to excuse the behavior. As a professional customer service representative, she really should have found a way to either protect her emotional state when talking to an angry customer (although this had to be one of the angriest customers ever, so I can understand why that didn't work), or to cool off between calls.

And in fact, there are people who are chronically grumpy and rude (talking to her as we waited for the next shuttle, the angry woman struck me as overly negative and unreasonably demanding), and their behavior needs to be corrected (by a professional, not by me). But understanding that it's nothing personal can really make a difference between getting your buttons pushed and remaining happy in the face of negativity.

* By "other people" I mean a person whom you encounter but do not actually know. Your actions may cause your spouse or other intimates to get angry, although even then, sometimes it has nothing to do with you.

1 comment:

lost clown said...

Reason # 311 I should never have a job like that: I'd hang up on angry woman. And keep doing it every time she called back. Because I'm like that.