Today was one of those days, when I wished that I had a magic wand to wave over a parent who was in a grocery store. I would have used it to pause her conversation, as she accused one store manager of following her because she carried a small earplugs package into their restaurant.
I heard the woman confess to accidentally carrying the item into the restaurant and her declaration to pay for it after she finished her breakfast. It was at that point, that I walked closer and wondered what was going on? By the time that I got closer, she was upset and making sweeping generalizations about:
- Racist store personnel following her
- A racist city towards persons of color.
She was directing her comments to one manager in particular. His arrogance towards her and his defensive stance was flaming the fire and turning a spark into something bigger. The woman’s tone grew louder. One manager was smart enough to just stand, and listen . He made great eye contact with her and allowed her to talk. The other manager was less accommodating and interrupted her as she continued to talk. He became further incensed when she brought up race by discussing “all y’all white people” and how they treat “all us black people” in the city. She was careful to note that her observations of racism dated back 30 years. I tried to support her while she talked and encouraged the manager who was flaming the fire to listen to her. He did not take well to that suggestion, and walked away, declaring that he needed to go to his meeting! Two other managers stood by feverishly and dared to say anything to the woman. They afforded to her an opportunity to continue her rant and apologized for the other manager, who made her mad and then walked away. I took advantage of the opportunity to thank the silent managers for their willingness to listen to the woman and her rant. They confided in me later their ignorance about the best way to handle the situation. I tried to reassure them that they did the best thing by remaining silent and putting their egos and words on pause.
I also said that in many situations, people who are demonstrating angry feelings just need to vent their feelings and emotions. It is not always necessary to respond right away, use threats to call the police or remove the person from their premise. The woman in question voiced her opinion about the store manager and preceded to her seat to finish her breakfast. One manager in particular went an extra step and apologized again for her experience and gave her a gift certificate to use for her next meal. The Restaurant Manager thanked me later for leading by example and allowing the woman to share her raw feelings without further comment. He promised me that he was going to try that approach the next time that he encountered a frustrated customer.
We can all learn an important lesson from this experience. Lets try to apply this very important lesson in our workplaces, schools and homes – when others are in emotional distress. Instead of trying to reason with them, why don’t we just listen attentively and put our own thoughts, feelings and the need to be heard on pause?
Let me know what you think about this idea. Feel free to leave your comments below.