What Happened?

puzzle-one-directionAfter twenty years in the Marine Corps, I concluded that I needed to find some way to ensure that I would have a place in Heaven someday. It led me to one conclusion. I had to do time in retail sales. So, after completing the construction of our retirement home, I landed a job with a local building materials company that was still owned by the family of the original founder.

My title was Consumer Marketing Manager and one of my big responsibilities was to respond to calls from the refund desk when a customer was requesting a refund and the refund clerk needed assistance. While exercising this part of my responsibilities, I came to the understanding that people had become extremely angry and combative. Let me provide a classic example.

A lady was at the refund desk to return a kitchen faucet she claimed she bought at our store but did not have the receipt for the item. When the clerk saw the boxed item, she tried to reason with the lady but to no avail. That is when she called for a manager to handle the return. I responded, walking toward the refund desk with a smile on my face to set the tone that I was a friend and would be able to help. Before I could say anything, the lady began yelling at me.

“I just finished building my house and I bought everything from your store. Now this girl (said with absolute disgust in her voice) tells me that I did not buy this faucet from your store and unless I have a receipt, she can’t do a refund.  I am telling you now, I bought this here and you are going to give me a refund.”

I picked up the box and looked at the faucet. I then began speaking in a very calm voice. “Ma’am, this is an absolutely beautiful faucet. I would love to have a faucet that is this pretty in my store but unfortunately, I can take you to my faucet aisle and show you that this beautiful faucet is not on display. But, if you will just look at the box for one second, I am sure you will realize that you did not purchase this wonderful faucet from our store.”

Now her face was bright red and she yelled loud enough for everyone in the front part of the store to hear, “I don’t need to look at the box! I know I bought this here and I demand a refund.”

Holding the box at eye level for her to see, I calmly said, “Doesn’t that sticker on the box read “Paid for at Lowe’s Garden Department.”

With that, she snatched the box from my hand, turned, and walked out of the store. No shy smile of realization. No “I’m sorry.” Not even an “oops.”

I would love to say that this was the only time I had to deal with angry, combative, unreasonable customers but they had become the norm. So, a sweet looking older lady who could pass for a wonderful grandma cussed me out with combinations that would have made my drill instructor proud; a man and his wife berated my clerk to the point of tears just because she wanted to see his drivers license so she could process his refund; a man dropped the “f” bomb in front of my female clerk repeatedly even after I cautioned him that his language was unacceptable (all over a four dollar dead plant) so that I finally told him that if he did not leave the store, I would jump over the counter and drag him out; and, my favorite, a woman demanded to see the on-duty manager because one of our clerks was being too helpful and it made her feel like he did not trust her to provide the checkout clerk with the correct price on the door he had spent an hour helping her select.

What happened to us? Why are we so angry? Why are we so ready to go to general quarters and fight over things that really have no importance in the big picture of what is going on in this old world?

The answer is in our pronouns.  We tend to use “I” and “me” way too much. Society has conditioned us to believe that each person is the most important person in the universe and all the other people only exist to do their bidding.  Don’t believe me? How many times have you seen a small child throw a temper tantrum in a store because a parent told them they could not have that toy or candy bar they want? How many times have you witnessed a tween speak to their parents with utter contempt and disrespect while the parent says nothing? How many time have you heard teenagers talking about how stupid their parents are and how they just ignore them? How many times have young adults been seen on television rioting because someone might say something with which they disagree? How many times have you seen parents defending illegal actions committed by their children with the justification of “But he couldn’t have done this – he is a good boy – he’s just a kid. If they punish him, it will ruin his future.” And finally, how many times have you listened to the politicians who are supposed to do what is right for our country make every issue a partisan talking point?  We have become a people that believe one thing – I am right and if you disagree, I will do everything I can to belittle you, destroy you, and shut you up.

So, what are we to do? How can we turn this around?  Many will not like what I am about to say but here are my suggestions.

  • Learn to respect others. The Golden Rule may seem old fashion to many but it is the fastest way for us to put civility back into our interactions with others. Children should learn to respect parents, elders, teachers, police, etc. Adults should set the example by using their best manners when dealing with others – especially when their children are watching.
  • Take responsibility for your actions. Good behavior brings positive results. Bad behavior has consequences.  You, and only you, determine exactly what path you decide to take. So, stop blaming others and look at yourself. If you don’t like the direction you are heading, turn around!
  • Be willing to listen to the opinion of others. Taking the time to actually listen to every different opinion about any subject helps us grow. Learning to share our points of view without being demeaning, angry, or hateful leads to understanding. That is not to say that all parties will end up in complete agreement. But it will make you more informed and could help you see the subject in a new light. But even if in the end, your opinion stays the same, you can agree to disagree without being disagreeable.
  • Develop a sense of empathy. Everyone has their own story and some people have endured unspeakable hardships in their lives. You may not completely grasp the pain and heartache they have experienced, but you can be a friend and show them kindness so that they learn to trust people again and come to the realization that not all people are out to hurt them.
  • Live with integrity. Always be true to yourself and true to your core values of right and wrong. People are naturally drawn to a person they know is always trustworthy. In this manner, you can make a difference in the world.
  • Do what is right. Stop living in the “pack” mentality and stand up for what you know instinctively to be right.  Correct an injustice when you see it.  Say “I’m sorry” when you make a mistake. Humble yourself to put the needs of others before your own. Courageously stand up to the powers that be when they demand you comprise your values. And remember that most of the time, when you do what is right, you will be criticized.  Do what is right anyway.

In my heart, I believe we can once again become more caring and understanding.  We just have to change our focus from “What about me?” to “How can I help you?”

If you want to be an exceptional leader, you will need to be a model of civility.  In the end, you will like yourself a whole lot better.

Originally published by Bizcatalyst360



Len Bernat

Len Bernat

Len Bernat is a leader groomed by 20 years of molding and shaping by some of the finest leaders in the United States Marine Corps. Their guidance helped Len realize his full potential as he moved from an enlisted Marine to becoming an Officer of Marines. Len became known for being the leader who could turn any lackluster organization into a strong, functional unit. The secret to his success was his focus on creating leaders who were trained to know all aspects of their responsibilities and then providing them the support they needed to be their very best while being held accountable for results. His ability to quickly ascertain how each individual could be motivated allowed Len to be creative in his leadership approach so that the end result was a team whose focus was on team success and not individual accolades and whose loyalty to the mission carried them through even under extreme conditions. Today, he carries the lessons learned into his civilian position at Jackson County, Georgia. As a member of the Governmental Procurement Association of Georgia and its 2011 Purchasing Officer of the Year, Len is sought out for guidance in matters of leadership and procurement law and policy.

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