As someone who isn’t afraid to speak up when something isn’t quite right, I felt compelled this morning to share a few thoughts on a couple of unsettling encounters I’ve had over the past few months. First, I want to talk a bit about the importance of knowing what not to say when you’re talking with new or potential customers. Second, I want to share my thoughts on the appropriateness of giving someone a verbal “dressing down.” Since the first one is fresh in my mind, we’ll start there.
Yesterday, I called around town looking for a place to get my daughter in for a haircut. A simple haircut and style should be easy, right? Well, I called eight salons and none of them were able to accommodate. Finally, I found one lady who was gracious enough to allow us to come in, even though she had already closed her store for the day. At first, I thought this was very nice. She must have been a saint to open her doors to us after she had already closed up shop. Granted, it wasn’t actually time for her to close according to her hours, but hey, it’s her store so that’s quite literally not my business.
When we arrived, she was cordial. We showed her the picture of the haircut and we proceeded to let her get to work. As often happens with hairdressers, she began making chit-chat with us and somehow we got around to the topic of tattoos. She made several comments that indicated how much she didn’t care for tattoos…especially “all that writing on their arms” as she put it. She said that she just wanted to wash it off whenever she saw it. Now, I don’t happen to have a bunch of tattoos, but one day I plan to. I have only the one which happens to be writing on my forearm. I had my jacket on, so she couldn’t see that I was one of the very people by whom she was so offended. I found this amusing as I sat there listening to her going on and on, alienating me little by little as I thought to myself, “These are things I would keep to myself if I were a businessperson who is likely to cut the hair or do the nails of a woman who has tattoos.” Because I’m a fairly respectful person, I decided to let it pass. No need to pull up my sleeve and thrust my inked-up arm in her face. She simply didn’t seem to comprehend that she was being a bit offensive. And since I was in fact, the bigger person in the room (in terms of physical attributes), I decided to allow myself to be bigger in my conduct as well.
She went on and on, throwing a little profanity into her monologue here and there. I can’t recall ever sitting in a stylist’s chair and being so surprised by their language while simultaneously being irritated at their unwitting judgment of something I actually enjoyed (the tattoos). It was the strangest hour of interaction I’ve had in a while, but one that reinforces just how narrow people can get in their perceptions of what is right and what is wrong. This woman clearly thought that her sins were of a different caliber than mine (though she had no idea about my tattoo). In her mind, she had placed herself above individuals with tattoos, but I’d be willing to bet money that if I were to go back to her store in a few months to get my hair cut she would be the first one to compliment me on my tattoo should I be so bold as to expose my arms during my visit. Fascinating, isn’t it?
The second encounter I’d like to share is one that caught me completely off guard. In my opinion, if you have some sort of “beef” with someone because you don’t like the way they handled business with you, it is really unprofessional to air your grievances in an open forum. The polite and professional thing to do is to have a conversation with that person either via e-mail or phone and let them know that they have disappointed you and then to try and resolve the matter. Unfortunately, at my last event I witnessed the worst possible handling of a complaint. A colleague of mine was supposed to get together with a friend of mine to discuss some business matters. My friend had set up a meeting with him several weeks prior and on the day of the meeting, she hadn’t been feeling well and had in fact forgotten all about it until she received a message from him asking if she would be at their meeting. She responded to him immediately, saying how sorry she was that she had forgotten and asked if they could reschedule. She received no response. As a side note, this wasn’t a meeting where he was going to pay her for any services. She had actually volunteered to help him with something free of charge. Normally, she is very conscientious about her meetings, but she has a chronic illness that is sometimes debilitating, and, on this occasion, she was simply in so much pain that the meeting slipped her mind. It wasn’t intended as a slight and she felt terrible for having forgotten. She waited to hear back from him but heard nothing until the day of our event.
As the man approached us, he took the first opportunity to tear into her. He began ranting, quite loudly, about whether or not she expected to make money in her business and then said that she would not if she treated people the way she had treated him. At first, we thought he was joking around. She had done what she could to make the situation right and he, evidently, had bottled up his anger for several weeks in anticipation of confronting her in a public setting. After he finished his rant, we both stood there with our jaws on the ground looking around to see the reactions on the faces of the onlookers. What a ridiculous way to address an issue! Instead of responding loudly to him and meeting his rudeness with our own, we both simply said we were sorry he felt that way and we let him move on. It was an awkward exchange, to say the least. Since this is someone I do business with from time to time, I had to really think about whether or not I wanted to continue doing any kind of work with him after witnessing how he treated my friend. I don’t appreciate those who make it a habit to publicly (or privately) demean others. I also have to wonder at the stability of a person who calls out someone else’s professionalism by displaying the most unprofessional of behaviors. Another case of the “your sins are greater than mine” mentality.
I share these things with you because both situations troubled me. I’ve been known to launch a fiery complaint here and there, but I generally have to be provoked to a point where it is warranted. On those occasions where I act like an ass, I often feel compelled to apologize. I don’t like to make others feel badly about themselves and since I know that I have a rather salty disposition to begin with, I have to work very hard to say what I want to say as tactfully as possible. If I feel that I can’t reign it in, then I generally just keep my mouth shut. The point is, there is never a need to verbally assault someone. Even if they have made a mistake or displeased you in some way. Whether, as in the first scenario, we are simply voicing our opinions on things in idle conversation or as in the second scenario, we are expressing our dissatisfaction for some perceived slight, we really need to think about what we are saying. The old adage, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all,” comes to mind. I know there are times when we need to stand up for ourselves and I don’t begrudge anyone that right. But can we at least be sure that what we are saying is actually warranted or at least proper and relevant to the situation?
I believe in speaking one’s mind. I also believe that one should be absolutely sure they are in their right mind before doing so. Otherwise, there’s a lot of unnecessary strife and hard feelings. Isn’t life hard enough without all of that?
Rebecca Benston is an author and publisher who lives in Springfield, Ohio. She is the owner of Higher Ground Books & Media. This post is part of a series called 2020 Vision and will be one of many shared over the next year. Be sure to check out Benston’s books, The Rona Shively Stories mystery series, Don’t Be Stupid (And I Mean That in the Nicest Way), Wise Up to Rise Up, Grumble D. Grumble Learns to Smile, All the Scary Things, and more. These can be found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or on the Higher Ground Shop page.