When those situations involve salespeople, it just gets ugly.
Two examples to make it a little more concrete:
This weekend we went to a few open houses and interacted with some realtors. The second guy was typical but he asked the standard question as we left and suddenly it bcame confrontational: “So, what’d you think of the house?” Frankly, the house sucked. Not what we wanted, terribly boring, shoddy craftsmanship. But I can’t say that to the guy. I mumbled something about not having what we needed, and then thankfully my cell phone rang (never thought I’d enjoy that interuption).
But it was the first realtor who was the worst. Awkward. Annoying. Painful. Rather than being a typical pushy salesman, he had the awkwardness of a poor public speaker. He followed us around the entire house, pointing out the obvious features like a kid trying to show off his toys: “How do you like these high ceilings?” He never gave us a moment’s peace to privately tell each other what we thought. I just wanted to scream, “Back off!” I managed to honestly tell him what we didn’t like about the house (bad location) but what I really wanted to tell him was that his demeanor was enough to send buyers screaming for the hills. I imagined his only business came from friends and relatives who felt obligated.
2) The Photographer
After Lexi was born we got a deal from a photographer to get pictures taken at 3 months, 6 months, 9 months and 1 year and get a free panel of all four pictures. There was no catch. The obvious hope was that we would order additional prints from any of these photo shoots and maybe even continue to use the photographer as our daughter grows up.
We went in for the final shoot today and the photographer confirmed what he’s shown us at the other three shoots: He’s an ass.
He’s never made much of an effort to get our business (frowning at our choice of outfit, trying to pose Lexi in ways she won’t be posed, etc.) but today he blew it. He spent all of three minutes taking her picture in one awkward pose that I’m pretty sure is going to look terrible. When he said he thought he had a good one and indicated that we could go, I asked if we should try a different position. He grudgingly went along with it, snapping thirty seconds worth of pictures and complaining all along that the pose wouldn’t work for the panel but doing nothing to fix it.
It was painfully clear he had realized we were in it only for the free pictures and weren’t going to buy anything. So he was going to get us out of there as quickly as possible.
But then as we were leaving he made small talk about Christmas, but he was really trying to find out if we had Christmas or birthday pictures taken for the family, the obvious but unspoken hint being that we could get those pictures taken at his studio. After blowing us off he was now trying to get our business again?
I couldn’t believe it. The non-confrontational side of me wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible. A small part of me wanted to inflict physical violence. It strikes me as a Minnesota Nice vs. Minnesota Nice sort of situation, but if your entire marketing plan is to give people something free, you can’t get all passive aggressive with them when they just take the free stuff. You’ve got to stick to your customer service and hope they at least say nice things to their friends.
Me? Oh no. I’ll passive-aggressively blog about it and tell friends to never ever go there.
These kind of confrontational situations drive me nuts. Being honest would require being brutal. So I grit my teeth and lie or mumble something that gets me out of the situation. I don’t want to lie, but telling people what I really think seems like a good way to be a jerk myself.
Sometimes I just wish I could tell these people off. It would ultimately help them do their job better (assuming they took what I said to heart) and would make me feel better. Except for that whole confrontational part. I wouldn’t feel better until it was over, on the contrary I’d feel much, much worse. And something tells me I don’t have the gentleness to confront someone in a way that doesn’t upset them. Though it might be worth trying it just to see how they’d react.
Sometimes it feels easier to walk away than to stand up for myself. I wish that weren’t the case. I need to find the balance between Minnesota Nice and being an ass.
Update: After further discussions with my wife I came to two conclusions:
- What I really want to do is confront people with compassion. The hard part is finding when this is worth the effort of doing. And actually have that compassion when you’re seething is pretty difficult, too.
- I realized this desire to stand up for myself is a direct result of becoming a father and feeling the need to protect my daughter. Confronting someone who is doing something with my child I don’t like is uncomfortable for me, but I’m realizing it’s essential. Of course at this point I haven’t had to deal with any real issues, but it will happen.