It takes a lot of practice to lose the grump


The tone was unmistakably raucus and self-righteous and loud enough that I heard it through cubicle walls halfway across the office. The deep voice sounded like he was giving the people at the front desk a very hard time, and half recognizing it, I jumped up and came to their rescue. I didn’t recognize him, but he sure recognized me with a loud,

“It’s my money and I want it now. It’s mine.”

What could I say? What I did say was, “Are you giving my people a hard time up here? Quit that and come back here with me.” I didn’t give him a choice. I just spun and headed back to my cubicle. After a few clicks I had his info up on my screen and got myself caught up pronto. Now, I remembered him. A few more clicks and I found some juicy stuff that I kept to myself – for the moment.

His attitude was demanding, grumpy, grating, irritating … all around and downright unpleasant. I let him vent his tirade and inserted the proper eyebrow elevations and frowns in the appropriate places. He described this, explained that and brought himself back around to getting what he thought was his due. I had no chance to get a word in edgewise unless I asserted myself far more than is usual, and it got old fast. Finally, at the end of his story, I printed out that juicy stuff I was holding back on and placed it on the desk in front of him.

In essence, the piece of paper was an account of how someone else described this man sitting there at my desk. He used his finger to trace an underline of the printed words and staggeringly read them aloud. The words “disagreeable,” “unhappy” and “argumentative” were repeated a few times, ending with a very clear invitation to get gone.

Done reading aloud, he looked up at me and said, “Well, yeah, I was.”

My reply: “Yes, you are. Now me, it doesn’t bother me. I attribute it to your current circumstances. I get that. But, you are a pain in the (ass) to talk with.”  (I whispered the word “ass,” but he heard me loud and clear. I was at work, and that demanded a level of professionalism that does not include saying the word “ass” out loud.)

“Yeah, but…” (No fair! Those are my words. That’s my phrase. No one else can use it. Heh.)

I cut him off. “Look. You are disagreeable and argumentative. That is not going to work in your favor for the next step in all of this. Not at all. Besides, do you think you would have had a different outcome if you had taken a less-nasty approach? Instead of yelling, ‘hey this is crap and I ain’t gonna take it,’ do you think maybe following normal procedures to solving the problems would have worked? Like, maybe putting in a work order and seeing if they fix it?”

His cell phone rang, his wife calling, to which he said, “She’s telling me I’m rude and ugly to people and that I was wrong. I’ll call you back when she’s done,” and hung up.

Now that really ticked me off. “Don’t you dare be patronizing with me. I am serious. If you want this to go your way, you are going to have to get rid of the anger and the tone and just plain state your facts and let the facts speak for themselves. That is the only way.”

The change was almost imperceptible, but it was there.

“You’re right,” he says, “I am a prick and I piss people off.”

A few more minutes of coaching, of working on softening his presentation, and he wasn’t quite so abrasive. I do believe I startled him out of his usual way of interacting enough to see the logic behind what I was telling him. He apologized about treating the people at the front desk badly, and he apologized to me. On his way out the door, he wished me a happy Thanksgiving. But, I don’t think I hit him hard enough for it to hit home with him. A year older than me, he was well practiced in how he behaved toward others, and a half hour of me laying it on the line wasn’t going to change that.

He turned back to me and asked, “Do you think it will work?”

“Probably not this time, but it could work the next time or the next.” A pause, then a nod; then he was gone.

My time with this grumpy man was loud and overheard by the entire office. No one said a word to me about it, but I saw “the looks.” You know the ones I mean. I got the looks that said, “Ooo, she’s in trouble now.” 

I followed my instincts and did what I had to do for that man’s sake. Oppositional/defiance just doesn’t work, especially when it’s the other side that has the upper hand. I know this because I’m pretty much the same way when I get my dander up. It doesn’t work. Diplomacy does, and that takes a lot of practice. Trust me, it takes a lot of practice. A lot of practice.
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