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November 01, 2010

And all she had to do was ask


Today, at approximately 7:10 p.m., I did something not so nice.

I was at Trader Joe's and I had a small basket of items, and there was an abandoned cart full of stuff, hovering by the checkout line. The guy in front of it was paying, so I waited a bit longer and when no one showed up, I moved forward and prepared to unload my stuff.

When from behind me, I heard a shrill voice.

"Well GEE, that was nice!"

I turned around and saw a woman looking at me like I was the cheerleader who had stolen her boyfriend, the roommate who stealth snacked on her ice cream, the grad student who just 'borrowed' a few ideas from a labmate's email and put her name on the presentation.

A thief.

I had stolen her spot, while she was picking up a few items she'd forgotten.

It took me a second to react, because -- small world -- I thought I recognized her! Surprised, I took a closer look and saw it wasn't my old boss, but wow -- the resemblance was uncanny. And by the time I snapped out of it and started to move, she was gone, muttering something.
Yes, I cut.

No, I didn't get out of the way instantly.

But what if she'd said:

"Hey, thanks for watching my stuff -- can I hop back in now?"

"Excuse me, I was here before and I ran to get these lentils."

"Hi. Can I get back in line?"

"Are you in a rush? [No.] Then can I go? I've had a long day."

"The cashier didn't tell you? I asked him to hold my spot while I grabbed these."

Instead, she yelled and was sarcastic and I, surprised, didn't rush to oblige. She huffed away and I felt slimy.

What if she'd assumed we weren't antagonists (and recognized her cart at the front of the line was not a sacrosanct placeholder). What if she made it easy to resolve the situation in her favor?

I guess the lesson of sorts I'm extracting from this situation is what to do when someone pulls a fast one on me -- cuts me in line, gives me the wrong change, forgets (or "forgets") to follow up on something, does something jerky (or seemingly jerky). Sometimes I need to stick up for myself and shout GEE! But other times giving them an out, letting them save face, assuming they didn't mean to hurt me, asking for the desired outcome rather than threatening or demanding it, and generally making it easy rather than hard (emotionally, socially, physically, who knows how else?) to reach a positive resolution may be the best course of action.
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