I made a mistake the other day.
I’m sitting in the waiting room at the (new to us) dentist’s office and notice this battered magazine table in front of me. At first I hesitate, but then I stick my feet comfortably on the coffee table, making a mental note that I am one of 100s of people who have done this (this table was in bad shape).
I’m dead tired and the momentary respite that is stretching out with an US Magazine feels so comfy cozy. So I go against social decorum and YES, I PUT MY FEET ON THE BLEEPING TABLE!
First let me say, office staff in medical situations are so important. It is already stressful seeing a dentist (add new to that) so the staff needs to keep things safe and welcoming. This is not what happened.
When it was our turn to go back, the dental assistant opens the door but first says nastily, “Could you PLEASE take your feet off OUR coffee table?!” Her eyes are narrowed. She appears to be snarling.
“I apologize. I shouldn’t have done that,” I said. I felt bad. “I thought it was okay and I was getting so comfortable.” I droned on apologetically because I was embarrassed.
Judgey Lady Dental Assistant comes back with a snark. “It’s not an ottoman, lady. It’s a table. A. Coffee. Table.” Picture her scrunched face (not good).
My thoughts turn to upset. What the h&&! How dare she act like that to me! Aren’t I the customer?
The way I feel …
I was mad at this woman. It was not what she said but how she said it. I was sorry. I knew I made a mistake too and I had apologized, but this was a terrible way to let me know.
How we say things is as important as what we say.
Snarls and inflections: The tone was condescending and rude. It gave me the worst of feelings. When I called it out, she denied it. Her defense? “But I said ‘please.’”
Do you know people like this? People who act hostile and say things very aggressively and then resort to, “But, all I said was ____”. Do they look at you like you are the crazy person or make you second-guess yourself?
Eleanor Roosevelt used to say, “No one has permission to make you feel inferior, without your consent.” I agree, but Eleanor isn’t usually with us when people are criticizing.
Criticism easily brings out the shame feelings that run deep inside all of us. Shame is one of the hardest of human emotions to bear.
Say how you feel …
I didn’t do what I wanted to do, which was tear her a new one. Instead, I did what I have been practicing when I have rough interactions with others. I told her how she made me feel.
“I feel really shamed and judged by your statement. The tone and manner in which you talked to me is so condemning. I don’t appreciate that.”
Most importantly, I kept my cool.
I believe the following:
- I have no right to judge or criticize other people and condemn them, if they do something that makes me mad! (This is hard sometimes.)
- One should try to behave with respect, even when not treated with respect.
- It is important to say how you feel and want respect, but it is important to do that in a way that is mutually respectful.
- Be the change you want to see.
Later, I pulled the dentist aside and explained what happened. I did so privately, so as not to embarrass anyone, or let anyone else hear. I explained that it wasn’t the request to move my feet that mattered, it was how she went about it and especially how she acted after I apologized. The dentist was apologetic and I felt it was important to make sure that as a businessperson, she makes sure her staff members are trained to represent her well.
There are a menu of options in how to handle difficult interactions. How would you have handled this? I am interested.
About the author: Cherilynn M. Veland, LCSW, MSW, is author of the forthcoming book Stop Giving It Away. She leads a new self-advocacy movement intended to help women reach out, speak up, and take action steps for what’s best for them. Please support this effort by liking the Facebook page and/or subscribing for updates on my blog. You can also connect on Twitter and Google Plus.