"How did the meeting go?"
"Ah, just the man I wanted to see" I say to my boss, as I walk back into the office. "Before I answer you, I have one burning question I need to ask you first". I pause for effect "Just so that I know for next time - Can I get fired for punching a customer in the face?"
He has never been very sure how to take me and now he is looking very concerned. “Why, what happened?"
"Oh nothing, but I did fantasize about punching that fucker in the face many times". He relaxes slightly, but I continue in all seriousness. "Even as he was talking at me, I was actually tensing the muscles in my legs in anticipation. I could feel the texture of the table on my knees as, in my mind anyway, I crawled across the table and my fist made contact with his cheek."
Now let me stop for a minute and tell you all that I am not a violent man.
In fact, I can't remember ever punching anybody in the face, not in my entire life. But if I was ever saving myself for one great punch, this was the guy.
So how did he achieve this special honour? How did he become, in my imagination, "The Man With The Broken Face"?
It started early. We had a meeting scheduled, I had asked for him at reception and instead of attending himself he sent three members of his team. None of them had any idea why we were meeting. Rude but not a punchable offence.
After explaining who my colleague and I were, and why we were there, the meeting actually took shape. Concerns were raised, ideas were discussed and problems were solved.
It was at that point that the man with the broken face entered the room, fifteen minutes late. There was no apology, no explanation, and no pleasantness about it... and he insisted that we start the meeting all over again.
Once again, very bad form but that in itself was not a punchable offense either. No, this would have to be something special indeed.
I tried to explain everything we had discussed and the decisions that had been made, but he simply waved them away with the back of his hand. He proceeded to change everything. Some of his decisions made absolutely no sense to anyone present
As often happens it wasn't his rudeness to me personally that earned him his title of "The man with the broken face". If it was just me he treated badly, it might not have annoyed me like it did.
It was his absolute rudeness to his own team that finally broke me. He spoke over the top of them regularly, and constantly undermined any contribution they tried to have to the discussion. Eventually, they stopped talking altogether and just sat there deflated.
It was at this point that I started to fantasize about punching him. The thought started innocently enough with a mental slap which almost made me giggle out loud.
Soon though I had developed the line of thought so much that I could the feel the textures of the desk, the walls, his cheek within my fantasy.
I even started to think about what I might say in that moment of contact. Perhaps something cool like "Take a memo motherf-cker" and then bam! Something worthy of a Terminator film.
But alas I would get in trouble, maybe not sacked, but certainly in big trouble. And unfortunately, for my brief potential fighting career, I have more than just myself to think about. I needed to feed my family and keep a roof over our heads. To do that I also needed to keep my job and get paid.
After everything that he had put us through over the previous twenty minutes, he suddenly decided that the meeting was beneath him and that he had somewhere better to be. He got up to leave and mentioned that he would leave us to fill in the details.
I couldn't help myself. Like many, I am cursed with a disease called self-respect. I said "John, given that you were delayed by about twenty minutes, perhaps you could give me another five".
He started to argue, but I simply cut in with "Let's make it three then" and I pointed to the chair.
So how do you handle the asshole in the room?
1. You find a way to park your anger.
There were a million insults that I could have thrown at that man, but none would have penetrated his ego sufficiently to cause any discomfort. He simply would have used them against me.
And getting upset about his treatment of his own team was not really my responsibility anyway. If they were happy to put up with him then that was their issue, not mine.
Being angry wasn't going to get me anywhere and neither was doing all of the useless action items that he had just given me.
2. You negate their tactics.
A lot of people believe that Sales People need to be subservient to their customers. I strongly disagree.
Customer Service does not make you a doormat. And being a salesman does not make me any less of a man who deserves respect.
Our goal is to become a trusted advisor or even peer to the customer. If you allow a customer to treat you badly then it devalues any of the products or services that they may buy from you.
I'm always happy to negotiate, but I refuse to devalue!
I needed him to know that I wasn’t going to accept the position he had tried to put me in.
3. You call attention to their behaviour.
I wanted him to know what he did wrong, but there is a right and a wrong way to go about it. Calling out a behavior without judgment often leaves a blank space for others to fill. If he can’t then let his own team judge his behaviour.
Arriving late and leaving early told me everything I needed to know. I was not a priority, and no matter what I did for him I would not become one.
Message from Guided Mind: Use guided meditation to be more assertive and stand up for yourself.
4. You reset the agenda.
I needed to make it very clear that I would not be pursuing it further without a greater investment in time and focus from his end. I did not have the time to waste chasing shadows.
Instead, I said, "John I can see that you are a busy guy. In fact, I’m a little swamped myself. Also, I can clearly see that I have not been a priority in your day. So, even if I go and do all of this stuff I’m not sure that I'll be a priority next time I come back either. I think, for the sake of your diary and mine, we park this for now".
I didn’t wait for a response. I thanked him for his time and headed for the lift. Once inside there was only one word that seemed to sum up the situation. My colleague and I looked at each other. “Wanker!” is all he said.
So, in summary, I guess this is not the big ending you may have been expecting. There was no violence, no yelling, not even a harsh word.
For if I had fallen for any of those weaknesses ‘The man with the broken face’ would have won.
Written by Andrew Hood: I am a father of 3 and have spent over 20 years in Sales and Customer Service within the IT Industry.
My blog discusses the Tipping Point moments in my life where I have learnt important life lessons that I am looking to share with like minded people. These moments often occur through my private life, career or even my struggles with Anxiety and Depression over the years. My Blog is mainly about personal and career development and the pursuit of happiness in general.