I had the most amazing experience at work this evening--one that would have left me upset and nervous only a few short months ago but today has made me feel wonderfully grateful and strong. Tonight, I know that one of the lessons I had written about previously in this blog (It Isn't About You!, Sept. 15, 2010) has been truly incorporated into my being. I was able to handle a conflict situation with a grace and understanding, truly diffusing it in a non-confrontational way. The thrill of knowing I was acting and not reacting filled me with such a peace. I knew beyond doubt I had mastered this conflict.
I've been working at a department store. Anyone who has ever worked in a retail environment knows there are just some customers that are hard to deal with. Most of the time I don't even notice them--mainly because I can usually address their issues and make them feel better. Tonight, this wasn't true. I was processing a return for this customer, and in my haste I asked her to sign the return receipt. Most of them have to be signed, so it has become habit for me to ask everyone for it. Unfortunately, this one truly didn't need to be signed (at this point in time, I'm still new enough in the job I don't know the difference). The customer immediately went off on me, saying I was not treating her like every other customer, that I was singling her out because of who she was, etc. etc. I apologized for my error and did try to explain I was still new in the position. However, she was not listening to me at that point. While I could have been angry or upset with her, I chose not to be because I could see from her reaction that she had been hurt somehow in the past. I knew she had been wrongly accused of something and she was in a place in life where she was going to make sure it didn't happen again. She was reacting from her past pain. I was able to understand that and move toward her with compassion. While I can't say the customer was happy when she left, I will say she did reluctantly wish me a "Merry Christmas" after I had issued a sincere, "Thank you for shopping with us and Merry Christmas!"
The incident ironically left my coworkers and even a few customers upset. The customers at the register next to me told me I had done a great job. So did my coworkers. One of the younger ones even said, "I don't know how you did that. I would have been in tears." The thing is, I viewed the whole incident with a different lens, and it made a huge impact on the way I dealt with it.
While I can't say I will react this well to every conflict that comes up, I can say I know the tools are there. I truly do understand that the attacks of others upon me are not about me but about their own internal struggles. I am well on my way toward mastering conflict, and I am overwhelmingly thankful.