In fact, I hate conflict. I hate confrontation. I avoid it whenever I can. I won’t say at all costs, because that’s not true. There are times when confrontation is needed. It’s necessary. Not everyone will agree.
I was at BJs today. Trouble in the warehouse. For those that don’t know, BJs is a warehouse club like Costco or Sams Club. I usually go to BJs because it’s close to home. I stopped to get gas (side note: what is up with gas prices?) and went into the store to get ice. Four bags of it. I waited in the checkout line close to the ice machine with my empty cart. I assumed I should pay and then pick them up. It wasn’t the shortest line but I waited.
In front of me was a cute little blond girl. She struck me as a single girl, sort of shy, definitely demure. Her blond hair was almost as pale as her skin and she wore a lovely light blue jacket and cute hat. I was getting ready for a party. I was her antithesis. Dark hair in a ponytail, black t-shirt, black pants, black jacket, and Crocs. Not my best fashion day.
My issue wasn’t with her. But I could, from the moment I laid eyes on her, tell that she wasn’t one to get involved. Unfortunately, I am.
In front of her was a middle-aged (I guess in his 50s), salty Irishman. I could tell from his accent and the way he kept his shoulders scrunched and could only turn his head with his whole body, not with his neck. He appeared to be with his wife and young son.
Here’s what I ascertained. His items were rung up. He made a purchase, probably with a large bill. He wanted his change back in singles. Not a problem. But apparently, he wanted a large number of singles – more than the clerk had in his drawer.
The clerk offered him what he had and apologized.
“I’m sorry, sir. This is all I have in my drawer. If you go to customer service, they can give you the change you need.”
He was so polite even when the salty dog insisted he wanted his change. Again, the clerk exchanged niceties explaining it wasn’t possible. The salty dog wanted him to get money from another register or manager or supervisor. He apologized again and said he couldn’t do that but customer service would be more than happy to help him. He grumbled that he didn’t want to wait at Customer Service. Voices were raised. The clerk explained that there was no one waiting at Customer Service. More grumbles and stronger insistance.
I watched. I waited. I wasn’t being impatient. It wasn’t the waiting. It was that this man was being told no and but refusing to accept the answer. The clerk was being extremely patient and genuinely nice to him. I felt a loathing rising up. Who did this man think he was? Why was he being so difficult? Why was he taking so much time to argue the point when the time he spent arguing could have equated to him accomplishing his goal at customer service?
Finally, I could take no more. It’s not fair to be unjustly rude to people and have no consideration for those around you. I spoke up. I did not choose my words carefully. I was pretty angry.
“Dude, what is your problem? Why can’t you just go to customer service? He already told you he can’t help you.”
In retrospect, “dude” is probably not the best way to start a conversation. I was immediately met with hostility. He told me that it was none of my concern. I insisted it was. He told me to go to another register. I told him to go to another register. He told me that I should shut up and mind my own business. I called him an ass.
And then he left.
The clerk apologized profusely to the frail blond girl and to me. He had nothing to apologize for. I told him he handled the situation with grace, and certainly much better than I would have. I told him that I just didn’t think people should be allowed to get away with bad behavior. People shouldn’t be allowed to treat another human being with no respect regardless of their position.
And it’s not the first time I’ve found myself in this situation.
About 15 years ago, before I moved to Raleigh, I went to a U-Haul store to get a trailer hitch installed on my 1998 Honda CivicDX, a car that has no business with a trailer hitch. As I was sitting in the store waiting for my hitch to be installed, a man walks in to make a return on ratchet straps, used to tie down cargo.
He walks up to the counter and asks to return them. The clerk, clearly following policy, says he cannot refund cash for an item without a receipt but that he could issue a store credit. The guy went ballistic. Seriously. He was screaming and going on about the item. The clerk looked scared. I was a little scared. He seemed like the kind of guy that could come back with a gun.
In a thoughtless moment, I asked how much the ratchet straps cost. The guy answered $10. I pulled out a $10 bill, handed to him, and said, “Here. Now you can leave.” Much to my surprise, he left the ratchet strips on the counter, took my $10 bill and quietly left. Again, the clerk thanked me profusely and even discounted the service I was having done. But I did it because his behavior was so derisive towards another human being, I couldn’t take it.
I honestly feel compassion for the retail clerks that have to put up with this kind of behavior day after day, having been one of them once upon a time. But I don’t get involved because of the clerks. I get involved because I get disgusted with people who have bad behavior and get away with it because other people tolerate it. If you tolerate it in the name of customer service and because you need a job, I salute you. But I don’t work in customer service and I’ll gladly say something.
In a perfect world, we would all become self-policing and hold each other accountable for our behavior. I’d like to see us do more of that, in a constructive way. How about you? What would you have done?