Rude Customers? Try This First

Aug 06, 2022

Rude customers? Try this first

(Photo by Tehmasip Khan)

Think about a time when you saw someone "snap" on another person. You probably thought that they were just rude. Based on one outburst you might decide that the person is always rude or abusive to others. 

But, think about an interaction with someone where maybe you were a little short tempered. You may recall that you were tired that day. You hadn't eaten anything yet. Your car was acting funny and almost didn't start. All these stressors came together and caused you to react in a way that you normally wouldn't. You may snap at someone who did nothing to hurt you.

This is called correspondence bias. It's a type of cognitive bias that explains how people often perceive their own behavior differently from other people's. It's a distortion in the way that we see ourselves and the world.

Why do we do this?

We take more environmental factors into account when thinking about our own decisions. In other words, we have a lot more information about what led us to behave in a certain way than we do about a stranger.

When we see a stranger do something "bad", we may decide that they must be a bad person. But you might expect people to be more understanding if it were you. You aren't bad, you were just in a situation that caused you to behave out of character. We can try and remember this when we look at how other people act.

Story time!

I once worked the customer service desk at a craft store. The way our store was set up, you still had to go through the queue to get to the customer service desk. Not a great customer service experience, but don't get me started on that.

One day, a woman came in and walked over to the queue. The line was long, so she waited and waited and waited. Once she got to a cashier and explained what she needed, the cashier sent her to another cashier. They were also unable to help her so she ended up at my desk.

She. Was. Furious. And understandably so! I don't even remember what her issue was, I just listened to her while she talked. I let her vent about her day. I had the mental space for it and she wasn't being mean to me, so I was more than happy to listen. 

Next thing I knew, this woman was happy and laughing. I finished resolving her issue and she walked away with a smile and a wave. I'll never forget my manager walking up to me afterwards, "The other cashiers told me she was furious, what did you do?" All I said was, "I don't know, I just listened."

All I did was give her the space she needed while still respecting my space. I found out later in life that it was part of empathy. 

Use empathy to give the benefit of the doubt

Empathy is simply the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. To be able to imagine yourself in their situation and guess what the feelings that come along with it are.

Of course, some people are just rude, but we don't have to assume that about total strangers. We wouldn't want them to think that about us. 

Empathy for strangers has a twofold effect: 

  1. If you end up interacting with the person who is behaving poorly, you can still treat them with kindness. That may be exactly what they need at the time. Try to remember that the way they are acting is not a reflection of you. They might just be going through a tough time and might be frustrated about other things in their lives.

  2. It has a positive effect on your perception of the world around you and the people in it. If you see "bad" people everywhere you go it can make the world seem dark and unfriendly. We all go through difficult times in life and we could all use a little more compassion. 

Make the world a brighter place

In general, we could all use a little more empathy in our lives. Trying to see things from another person's perspective can help us to be a bit more understanding. 

Try to not make negative assumptions about people that may just need a little kindness, understanding, a vacation, or a hug. We can all help each other to have better days.

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