I’m usually decent at filtering what I say, but have recently had a strong desire to try the Michael Scott approach to workplace appropriateness. A patron just told me that I didn’t sound very sure about my answer to her question, and I very nearly said, “Well you don’t look very nice.” Fortunately, Tactful Hannah won that battle. (I guess Michael is more into the inappropriate sexual commentary than the rude commentary, so it’s not a perfect parallel.)
There was one moment in my life when professionalism and tact flew out the window. I like to refer to it as the Biggest Ever Customer Service Slip-up. I worked for an online publishing company in the year between undergrad and grad school and spent a large chunk of each day talking to disgruntled customers. They either wanted to pay less for our publications or couldn’t find something on the website, etc.
I went into the job without much in the way of confrontation skills and came out ready to face down the angriest, most belligerent people relatively stress-free. I really appreciate that aspect of the year.
A few months into the job, I still wasn’t a superstar at dealing with angry people. I apologized a lot (although that’s still part of my “handling anger” plan) and tried not to make them more angry. One lady called and was yelling and cursing at me for about 20 minutes.
We didn’t have offices or even cubicles in the space. It was a giant loft with fun brick walls, wood floors, super high ceilings and slick glass desks. There wasn’t much to stop sound waves from bouncing quickly from desk to desk. That means that every person in my half of the office heard exactly how I responded to angry customers.
So Miss Angry Pants was still screaming at me, and I was still trying to mollify her when she said, “You don’t know what the hell you’re doing!” Before I knew it, I responded with an indignant, “I do know what the hell I’m doing!” Perfect. Now I’m going to be fired for cursing at a customer, and my co-workers all heard it.
And then, miracle of miracles, we both started laughing. Miss Angry Pants not only quit being angry, she very nearly approached being nice. I finished helping her through the problem, and we moved on with our lives. Double miracle of miracles, everybody around me in the office thought it was hilarious. I went on to spend many months at that desk, demurely not cursing at customers.