Sophie (not her real name – I can’t remember her real name, but would not use it here anyway) is a piece of work – demanding, impatient, self-focused, disrespectful. Sheri Lynn had come over from her quiet register to help me bag (and to hang out with me – we do like to do that, her and I). She jumped in to help Sophie when she said “This mayonnaise has canola oil” (or something like that) – “I want one without canola oil.” Sheri went off in search.
When Sheri Lynn had been gone for a while and a line was accumulating in my lane, I said to Sophie, “I’m going to suspend your transaction and wait on some of these people – then I’ll put you first in line when Sheri gets back.” “No you will not. I’m in line – I’m the next in line. I’ve been waiting – I’m not going to wait any more.” I caved. I gave sympathetic looks to the people in my line and waited for Sheri Lynn.
Then I heard Sheri on the overhead speaker paging for a grocery team member. I decided that was it – getting this help could still take her a while.
I looked at Sophie and said, “Sheri Lynn has paged for a grocery team member – I’m suspending your transaction” and I did that, as she was loudly protesting that I had better not. By this time I was totally seeing red – and I did the very best thing I could have done, which rescued the situation, and which followed a playbook that I had learned on the job here: I hollered for help. I said to Sophie – “I’m calling a supervisor to help with this.” I turned to face the office and with a volume that I have shaped to be just loud enough to be heard in the office, but not too startling to customers in between me and the office – though I can’t guarantee that this time it wasn’t a little extra-loud – said “I need a supervisor!!” My blood pressure started to drop as soon as the words were out of my mouth.
Perhaps my voice did have an extra edge of urgency, because Tiffany came out of the office almost immediately. As she approached my register, I met her part way (so as to be out of Sophie’s earshot) and said, “You’re going to have to take this over – I’m losing it with this woman.”
I gave her the suspend slip and she, with a voice that was equal parts reassuring and take-charge, told Sophie that she would take her over to the customer service desk and they would get everything straightened out. I was still hyper-charged from the stress of being so angry with nowhere to put it, but I felt good about the way it had been resolved and my stress continued to reduce with the next few typically-nice customers.
I came away from this experience with two big insights. The first one fell into place almost immediately. It’s good to ask for help. A lot of my conditioning would not lean this way – would say you’ve got be strong and self-reliant, handle your own problems, etc. – but I have learned better over the years. Asking for help is good – and expecting that you will get that help is wonderful, and even better is believing that it will be competent help (even in the body of a 23 year old) and come without a price to pay for asking.
There’s another insight that didn’t come together for me until about 8:30 this evening, two hours after leaving work and right after Tae Kwon Do class had gotten me de-stressed, in my body and out of whatever useless strains of thinking had been still operating before the class. I had been thinking that the worst outcome from my encounter with Sophie in the morning would have been for me to say or do something that got me fired. And maybe I still think that would have been the worst outcome, but there’s another that’s at least a close second.
Perhaps the worst outcome would have been for Sophie to get further injured. Nobody treats others as badly as Sophie does (and Sheri Lynn and Tiffany each shared with me their histories of run-ins with her) unless they are in pain. A Course in Miracles says that people are always either offering love or asking for it. Sophie is asking for it. “Please love me even while I’m being mean to you.” I didn’t have the presence of mind to love her in the middle of our negative encounter, but I did have the presence of mind to not say anything disrespectful or incendiary. Holding the line with her – suspending the transaction, not making others wait unnecessarily – this was good. Hurting her by mean language, loud tones or any kind of disrespect would not have been good.
Through the rest of the day, when staff (not customers) asked me about my day, I referred back to this encounter. In its own funky, complex way, it definitely was a highlight of my day.