Anyone who’s worked a day in any retail establishment can tell you a story about an unpleasant encounter with a customer. Someone who was insistent on their rights, wholly self-involved, irrational and just generally mean, who took pleasure in humbling and humiliating you. Who could call you incompetent to your face and get away with it.
Of course you don’t have to have retail experience to recognize the type I mean. They stand solidly immobile in lines, spread out over all the best seats in waiting rooms, they linger over prime tables at restaurants and take the aisle seats in theaters, spewing their venom for all to enjoy. They’re loud, nasty and don’t seem to care who they insult or annoy. It’s all about them.
Selective hearing is a key skill during encounters, on the job or otherwise, with this type. It helps to have the determination not to be goaded into making a scene, but to take the high road… to demonstrate control… to refuse to accept the negativity and be the better person. Time is truly your ally here, for sooner or later (it may feel like a lot later), this black cloud of nastiness will have to move on to their next victim. It helps if you can keep your expression perfectly blank, your tone friendly (or at least neutral) and a relaxed smile on your face.
Go to your happy place and stay there until the rat bastard moves on.
The unexpected good that comes from public exposure to nasty, difficult types is the reaction of everyone who witnesses the scene. Many times witnesses to the most insulting, abusive behavior are quick to console you afterward, complimenting your composure. That certainly eases the sting. But know that whether they voice it or not, those who watch but can’t help are with you, silently cheering your fake smile and upbeat, “Have a nice day.” given to an ill-tempered bore who, if there was any justice, should have a miserable day.
Frankly the most promising advice I’ve come across is to try and remember that everyone is dealing with something tougher than we see and their behavior is the best they can do right now. I try not to take my struggles out on other people but I certainly don’t always succeed — so too for others I’d guess. So the cranky older lady shopping with her elderly mother is fighting unseen battles on many levels and doesn’t have the resources to be pleasant, to give ground gracefully — she’s had to fight and she’ll keep on fighting.
If you can look beyond the curt tone and entitled attitude you might find a daughter struggling to cope with a parent’s decline, who’s stressed and over-scheduled and never planned on being a caretaker at this point in her life. Not everyone handles tough situations the way we might wish, or the way we would. It’s a little harder to be angry when you think of things in those terms… though just as hard to bring that to mind in the face of deliberate rudeness and public insults.
The best I’ve managed is to think about what might be lying under that unpleasant surface after the fact and hope the person gets some goodness in their lives. Also, that our paths don’t cross again anytime soon.