In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Showdown at Big Sky.”
How do you handle conflict? Boldly and directly? Or, do you prefer a more subtle approach?
I hate conflict. Like, it actually makes me extremely uncomfortable to the point it can leave me feeling physically sick. It’s almost like I’m allergic to it. I don’t know when that reaction started happening…I don’t remember it being there as a kid. I also don’t know where it stems from, though I suppose my years in retail haven’t helped the issue.
In terms of how I handle it, I guess it depends on the situation. If it’s between friends, for instance, I am all about subtly and talking it out. I guess I’m bold in that I’m usually the first one to openly address the problem, but I won’t do it in a confrontational way, even if I’m angry or upset about it. I know most people tend to shut down when you approach them that way, and the last thing I want is to lose one of the few good friends I have left over something that, even at the time, I can usually appreciate is small and probably trivial.
When I was in management at my old job, I handled confrontation differently. I wasn’t afraid to tell angry, abusive customers where the door was, and that they are out of line speaking to staff in that manner. I was never comfortable in those situations, but it was part of the job, and I learnt pretty quickly that subtly doesn’t usually work as they think they’re winning and getting their way. My worst confrontation happened about six months or so prior to me leaving the job. It was a flat out Saturday, all the staff were exhausted and run off their feet, and an older lady (not elderly, but not young either) came in, carrying on about her bill and the wait time to get served. Basically, just being a real sour puss. One of the girls served her and tried to explain the situation but the lady wouldn’t listen; she’d overtalk and argue and basically was being a rude cow, intentionally drawing attention to herself by speaking loudly and looking around the shop at all the people patiently waiting to be served. This went on for a long time, I think maybe half an hour. That’s a long time to put up with someone’s rudeness, even in retail. Eventually the girl couldn’t handle it any more and excused herself to take five minutes out the back and cool off before she lost it at her customer. Anyway, I was serving a different customer but I’d been keeping tabs on the rude bitch since she came in (that’s what managers in telco have to do in case it suddenly escalates). My store manager was also on the floor, serving customers, listening to everything.
The rude bitch decides she’s had enough and gets up and marches over to the store manager, demanding he help her at once. At this stage he’s at the register and there’s at least five people waiting, and her issue was one we actually couldn’t fix in store (the girl who was serving her tried to explain that many times). Anyway, the store manager tells her in no uncertain terms that she is to sit back down and wait, and he’ll be over when he can. He wasn’t rude about it, though he was blunt. She wasn’t happy about this at all, and decides she wants to speak to the original consultant right then and there. She marches over to the door leading into our back room and slams her fists against it so hard I thought she was going to punch through it. I was standing right next to her (literally about 30 centimetres away) and I lost it. I’d been getting pretty angry at her from the moment she’d come into the store, though I’d kept it inside as she wasn’t my customer, but I couldn’t handle it any more. I completely forgot I was halfway through serving a customer. I whirled around, screamed at her “EXCUSE ME, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”
The lady took a second to realize that the yelling was actually directed at her, and from a member of staff no less (I have a feeling she didn’t even notice I was standing there). She looked up at me, anger dancing in her eyes, but also a little bit of fear. I’ll bet she wasn’t expecting anyone to stand up to her. “I want to speak to the girl again.” She spat.
“SHE’S OUT THE BACK CRYING FROM THE WAY YOU TREATED HER. YOU WON’T BE SPEAKING TO HER AGAIN. NOW GO AND SIT DOWN LIKE THE MANAGER TOLD YOU TO OR GET OUT.”
I’d never raised my voice to anyone in public like that before in my life, let alone a customer. I was seething. She was rude, aggressive and wasn’t willing to listen. The whole shop – which was still packed with customers – had gone dead silent the moment the old bitch started trying to break down the door. I guess she’d only just noticed because suddenly, she looked around, embarrassment slowly overtaking her anger. She slunk back to her seat, sat there for about ten seconds, then got up and left.
The customer I was midway through serving was so nice. “Are you okay?” she asked. “If you need to take a break, I’ll wait for someone else to serve me. I worked in retail for awhile, I totally understand how that must have felt. People just have no respect or manners any more.”
I assured her I was okay (a giant lie) and finished serving her, before going out the back. Three staff members (including the girl who’d been serving the bitch) couldn’t stop talking about what happened and how brave I was and how it took them a minute to even work out it was me yelling because they’d never heard me do that before. I felt physically sick. I sat down, hunched over, my stomach in severe pain. I don’t know why the yelling caused that reaction, but God did it hurt. It took a good twenty minutes for it to start subsiding. I was the hero of the store for the day, but I felt rotten for it.
This is why I’m kind of glad I’m not in management right now. I mean, I enjoy leading the team and organising events and whatnot, but having to be the one to resolve conflict and disputes…it’s tough for someone who can’t handle fighting or aggression. I’ve definitely gotten mentally stronger since I started in telco all those years ago (the first few times I got yelled at, I started crying), but the trade off is physical pain instead of mental. Why can’t everyone just be nice to one another? It’d make my life so much less complicated!