Tornadoes and hurricanes are preceded by absolute silence, a magnificent moment of quiet before the storm.
Last Thursday I started my day dropping my steel coffee mug with the securely tightened lid on the hood of my car. It splashed all over and I asked a passerby to help me get a bucket of water to wash it off...he obliged. The young man who helped me has worked with me for a number of years and he got the bucket of water in his typical manner, quietly and efficiently. I recognized this was a rare encounter with an individual who does not need to talk and simply gets the job done.
As the day progressed, it seemed almost everyone else I came in contact with yelled at me. I also noticed that like the young man, I was not reacting to the chaos and simply getting my job done. This got me thinking about the supreme effort it takes not to get drawn into everyone else's drama. I believe that individuals that like to create a whirlwind often do not listen and often like to hear themselves talk. In fact, on Thursday I found that for some reason when I answered "no" to a question the customer just paraphrased the question and spoke louder and slower. I was being treated like my Mother who is hard of hearing except when she pulls a fast one on me and wears her hearing aid. My negative responses were then met with another paraphrasing of the question, an even louder delivery and now accompanied by swearing.
My Father had a lawyer friend who during negotiations with the workers at my Father's company would start to lower his voice. During one negotiation he actually ended up whispering with the opposing counsel. When asked why he was whispering he responded because he could. I found myself on Thursday using the same tactic. The more aggravated and irritated the co-worker, customer, or my boss appeared the slower I spoke with my voice lowered. My sister used to keep caramels and mints on her desk when she taught high school. If she had a parent/teacher conference she would offer a caramel to bombastic parents and a mint to the quiet parents. She said it avoided lengthy arguments. If I had peanut butter and crackers to offer on Thursday I may have avoided a couple confrontations.
Do not think though that I do not get emotional myself with yelling or abusive people. Since I come from a family of teachers I have picked up a few tips. If someone is swearing at me I tell them I will not continue the conversation until they stop swearing. Of course I am thinking in swear because some of my favorite words in the English, French or any other language are swear words. I mean they are so descriptive. However, I usually refrain from saying them out loud. I allow individuals to speak their mind but I am not above cutting them off when they become repetitious. I like people to get to the point and have been criticized for anticipating what they are going to say. Sometimes to allow them to get to the point I sing a show tune in my head. I have to be careful that I check back in when they ask me a question but otherwise it is all Broadway. Sometimes I look at an object above the person's head but in the direction of the eyes so it seems I am listening. Most importantly, I try not to interact with anyone else I know, family or friends, during particularly difficult conversations. When I am nervous I have a tendency to laugh which seems to accelerate diatribes, usually ending in the speaker exploding. It is inevitable when someone says to me "don't laugh" that I will be escorted guffawing from the room.
I realize that I am only confirming what many of you already know, that I am a mediocre listener. However, before I can understand how to deal with those individuals that like yelling in the wind, I need to understand how I feed the storm. Real progress for me would be to adopt the same attitude of the young man who helped me Thursday morning...and so I go forward with quiet resolve to succumb to the prevailing winds...