Scene: Terminal A, Gate 26, Newark Airport, waiting for a flight to DC.
“For God’s sake, lady!” a red-faced man exploded. Custom-made suit, silk tie, luxury watch, Italian leather briefcase. Gray-haired, tall, distinguished – and seriously p.o.’d. At me.
My roll-aboard and attached duffle bag had fallen over in the space in front of his seat. He took it personally.
Shocked by his intensity, I asked, “You don’t think I did that on purpose, do you?”
Him: “I think you’re flakey!”
Me: “Well I think you’re very rude!”
I picked up my luggage while he glared, huffed to another row, and prayed we would not be seatmates on the flight. No worries. He was flying first class.
End of encounter? Oh, no.
I texted my kids and began to obsess on what I wished I’d said. For the next two days.
My imaginary snappy retorts began with wanting to put him in his place:
“And I think you’re an arrogant s.o.b.!” or
“A gentleman would have helped me pick it up.”
My kids got into it. One texted, “Take his picture and put it on Facebook.” Public shaming! Delicious. …. But no, too much like the current political scene.
If not vengeance, how about faux sympathy, dripping sarcasm?
“Have you thought of anger management classes?” or
“Wow! You need to lighten up or you’ll have a cardiac arrest!”
After I played in the seductive fields of vengeance and sarcasm, my peacemaker side began to emerge. I remembered that whenever there’s a conflict, I always advise clients, Start with yourself.
What could I have done differently?
Mr. Impeccable had a point. My duffle bag was too big to balance well on the 22-inch roll-aboard allowed as carry-on. I had stretched the limits to save the checked baggage fee.
And although I would not have agreed to flakey” I was feeling disoriented. My brother-in-law had just died in Miami and I’d been with my sister. On my way home our plane was delayed in Miami, so I’d had to rush from one terminal to another at the next stop, stressed that I might miss the connection. With awkwardly balanced luggage in tow.
And, if I look with compassionate imagination instead of judgement, here’s what I might have seen: a man with a lot of responsibility who’s having a bad day. A lonely man. Maybe even a man terrified of his own aging, hoping money and power will keep it all at bay.
(Or he may have been a jerk all his life.)
Now that I’ve calmed down and thought it over, here’s what I wish I’d said:
“Sorry. I just came from a relative’s funeral, and I’m a bit frazzled.”
That may have caused him to question his behavior. Or not. At least it would have saved me two days of fretting.
It would also have been to the point, inoffensive, and perhaps encouraged the gentleman to think twice before unloading on someone else.
Beyond Dispute Associates
© Carolyn Parr and Beyond Dispute Associates, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carolyn Parr and Beyond Dispute Associates with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
I’d have just apologized profusely, rearranged my luggage and returned to my book, trying hard to appear serene and untroubled although of course no one likes being yelled at in public. In a perfect world, my gracious and dignified response would just make him look like an even bigger jerk. But really, no one knows how he or she would react in a situation like this.
Sandy Thigpen says
Great post! Many thoughts, would’ve, could’ve, should’ve, said. Bottom line, his comment was out of line. Taking the high road or a snarky comment wouldn’t change the fact, he comment about “being flakey” doesn’t even fit the the situation. I worked with a conflict resolution group years ago, during some of my training. One take away from that group, “I’m sorry you feel that way” is a great response. It lays the emotion back on the other person.
Carolyn Parr says
Great thought! I’ll remember that!
Carolyn Parr says
Hi Jim! What a nice surprise to hear from you!
M. Jane says
What a wonderful tale with relevance to everyone, at least me for sure. I love the final response that you have come up. We unfortunately never know what is going on in the lives of those who cross our path and it is so easy to get defensive when one is rushed and stressed with our own challenges. Thanks for sharing your introspection with us and providing the refreshing reminder.
Laury Adams says
This is a great example of how “I” messages might be the most effective. This is what we preach. THIS IS WHAT WE SHOULD PRACTICE! We all have perfect “after-thoughts.” Idea for a book: “What I Coulda/Shoulda Said.”
Mary McDermott says
Thank you Carolyn for this reflective article. I tend to always start out in a situation like that by apologizing, as if I had done something wrong. It was what my parents taught me (to turn the other cheek), but drives my family crazy today. Then just as you did, I criticize myself later for not being more assertive. And while you did nothing wrong in this situation, being reflective enough to start by examining our own behavior is a way toward self-improvement and inner peace, and it will keep the jerks in this world from renting space in our head.
Ron Kraybill says
Thanks Carolyn, this is well-written and insightful. And reflects at every microstep the journey I go through in similar situations!
Great paper. I have recently learned that to solve a problem…do it in 3 tries…. (understand the problem from various perspectives, find out how ‘others are causing it, Examine yourself.. How you are causing or minimising the problem. Applicable with right mediation skills…