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How Not To Be A Jerk When You Get Irritated

Most social media bad ratings of businesses are because of bad interactions between staff and customers. Knowing how to prevent them can save you money!

This is about an interaction with a checkout clerk, where we both made mistakes. As you read this, please see if you can catch them.

I was in one of my favorite local grocery stores recently when I routinely asked for a paper bag instead of a plastic bag. The young woman bagging my items asked, “Are you sure?”

Immediately, my irritation meter shot up over the half way mark. My natural state with people is being bossy, and I have to work to contain it. I consciously work on this. Plus, she looked like she could be my granddaughter and she had jewelry poking out of her nose and also orange hair. “Don’t judge her,” I told myself, “Remember the guys you dated in high school whose long hair aggravated your parents.” “Yes dear, I am sure,” I said, working hard to disguise my irritation. I am a chatty gal and mentioned that I use the paper bags to hold my recycling items until I put them in the recycling bin, and that paper bags are better for the environment. Instead of just reading my body language that I wanted to get in and out of there she responded that the East Baton Rouge Parish recycling program collects plastic bags. “I. Want. Paper.” I answered curtly, glaring at her.

I can sense people’s feelings whether I want to or not, and I care about them, whether I want to or not. This characteristic of mine is often very inconvenient because I end up using energy correcting my own miscues in human interactions that part of me thinks really shouldn’t matter that much. So, when she looked hurt in response, I said this:

“I think it’s great that you care about the environment so much. I think you’re mistaken, but let’s look it up.”

I paid for my food and moved out of the checkout aisle and looked it up on my iPhone. EBR does not recycle plastic bags. But instead of sharing this with her in a one up triumphal tone to prove myself to be right and her wrong, I said this: “Well it turns out they don’t, but at least now we both know, and we won’t be tossing our plastic bags in the recycling and making it harder for the people who sort it to do their jobs.” She mentioned that Walmart has collection boxes to recycle plastic bags. We smiled at each other and I left.

Where I erred: I wasn’t in the mood for a chat. I often am, but not that day. When she asked me if I was sure, instead of explaining myself to someone who had no right to know, I told her why I use paper bags. That led to the rest of it. Had I just said, ““Yes I am sure” that ought to have ended it.

Questioning the choice of a customer over something so basic is never a good idea. A grocery store isn’t a hardware store where an employee who is knowledgeable about an item might ask about a customer’s choice to help them find something more suited to their needs. It felt like she was correcting me, and that almost always irritates customers.

When she told me that Walmart collects plastic bags for recycling she was basically encouraging me to visit a competitor and shop there. Had I been a store manager overhearing this the two of us would have had a very direct conversation.

But in this example, from my perspective as a customer, she is not my concern, I am. Because if I can get better and better and stopping myself from becoming irritated at someone when I am on the buying end, I can also do it when I am on the selling end.

Here are the steps I took: First, I recognized that my own response was not helping to have a pleasant interaction and decided to modify it. Second, I decided to treat her belief as something potentially valid and I became momentarily, if only slightly, curious. It took me less than two minutes to look it up on my iphone. Third, When I shared the results with her I was consciously aware of my tone of voice so that she did not feel I was trying to prove her wrong and me right. It was more like, “Hey look what I found out”, instead of “Dummy, you’re WRONG!”

Several weeks later, do I really care about this interaction? Am I genuinely worried that I “hurt the young lady’s feelings”? Honestly, no. I am old enough to be her mother, at least, and I have a bit of old school beliefs about manners between generations. But the interaction gave me a chance to share some things that are really important to me and most of all, I left that grocery store, which is owned by friends of mine, feeling like I had been true to my caring, kind self.



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