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  • Scott Bowman

So... no bag?

In Sausalito there is a store that sells socks. Just socks. It’s called Soxalitio. (See what they did there?) In this sock(s?) store there is a wonderful cashier. She’s a gifted artist and incredibly wise and works there selling socks to help make ends meet. I found out these things because I employed a magic communications trick I want to share with you.


I asked her how she was doing.


Spectacular huh? Asking a question? There’s a rule though - you can only ask questions you really want to know the answer to. So when I ask that question, I really want to know. And when I really want to know, I ask that question just like I’d ask a friend or family member. And when you genuinely ask that question, like that, people will answer you - sometimes in the most amazing ways.


We learned about her art and she showed us pictures on her phone, fascinating paintings seen through a shattered iphone screen. And she told us about what it was like to work there in tourist season, how she was learning about boundaries and protecting her energy and also this incredible customer service technique that I’ll never forget.


If you’ve ever worked customer service you’ve learned a lot about anger. In a former life I ran the customer service floor for a company I helped build that sold headset telephones (it’s called headsets.com, still going! Run by Mike Faith- a guy I learned more about business from than I learned getting my MBA). When you supervise customer service, you end up dealing with all the seriously PO’d

people who have either been:


a) mistreated by us b) mistreated by the fates c) mistreated by the gene pool or d) mistreated by their day


And you learn a lot about anger. One of the things I learned is that an angry person, be it a customer, client, lover, partner, friend or stranger to you, is not interested in listening. Not until their anger is recognized and understood anyway. This is the number one first thing to do with an angry person - acknowledge and recognize that they are angry and tell them why you think THEY THINK they are angry.


Before I go into that weird emphasis I want to list some of the first moves NOT to make with angry people. This list has been verified by experiment and you do not need to intentionally try to replicate the results - trust me on this. DO NOT:


1. Defend yourself 2. Justify anything 3. Explain anything 4. Get angry back! Yeah why not!! They’re doing it! 5. Interrupt them 6. Hum or whistle 7. Eat celery or other loud, crunchy foods 8. Say anything like “yeah, yeah, yeah”


All of these things will not move the conversation forward an inch. You will be in exactly the same spot, so you might as well not do any of them.


But if you recognize why they are angry, and say it so they believe you understand, they will stop telling you they are angry and you can talk to them.


And here’s the point of that special emphasis above. You might think you have some particular insight into why they are ACTUALLY angry. Perhaps you know something about this person’s parentage, cognitive capacity or communication skills, or perhaps their aptitude with small electronic devices, or which of those mistreatments from the list above is actually happening.


At this moment, they are not particularly interested in your insight.


But if you can reflect for them THEIR belief about why they are angry, they will then be in a place they can listen to you, perhaps accept an apology, perhaps understand a set of circumstances or sequence of events, and what the options might be - maybe even your experience of the whole thing.


This is magic by the way. And there were many, MANY incredibly angry people I won over and sold more headset telephones to doing this. (Because everyone needs a headset telephone, whether your angry or not, right? Hey this was the 90’s.)


But the goddess behind the counter at the sock shop had a different move - a wonderful move - and one that’s surprisingly deep. She was talking about how challenging it is to be a highly sensitive person in such a small space that can get quite crowded and hectic with other people’s upset. Perhaps you can relate.


Talking about how she was growing from this experience she described one irate customer who, while getting rung up at the counter, blew up and had some kind of tantrum. Like me, perhaps you are wondering what could possibly merit a full grown, middle-aged man having a tantrum in a sock shop.

No clue. Even the cashier didn’t know.


What she did know was that it had absolutely nothing to do with her, and there was really only one question to resolve. So, holding his freshly rung-up socks, she looked at him and when he sputtered to a stop innocently said,


“So... no bag?”


God, I love that. She just didn’t take any of it on, didn’t engage it, didn’t make it mean anything, didn’t distract herself for a moment with any little part of it. Just held to the small part of the interaction that was hers to manage - nothing more.


Some months ago,one of the blogs my lady follows, I believe it was the powerpath, said, “This is a good month to get your ducks in a row, just make sure they are your ducks!” This has become a running joke between us. “Not my duck!”


Not my duck.


“So... no bag?”


Sometimes the very best way to deal with angry people is to let them have their experience and just not participate in it at all.


So here are three ways to deal with the next angry customer, loved one or stranger you encounter:


1. Genuine curiosity 2. Listen and reflect 3. Not my duck


Play around and try them out. They are each truly magical and can open up completely unexpected and unpredictable conversations where it seems like misery was destined.


...I swear she was like some kind of Sock Cashier Aikido master...

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