If you’ve been reading my articles for a while, you may have noticed that I have a little bit of an anger problem. Although I’m optimistic by nature and work hard at staying positive, there are certain situations that irritate me and cause me to automatically respond in a hostile way. Two such situations are: (1) when a person who should be listening to me doesn’t listen; and (2) when a person doesn’t do what he (or she) promised to do.
I have rarely regretted responding in a hostile way toward individuals who have failed to listen to me or keep their word. My response to their inept and dishonest behavior has always been swift and aggressive. I have never hesitated to put them in their place and hold them accountable for their behavior.
This particular way of dealing with people has been beneficial to me in the legal and business world, where intimidation and confrontation are sometimes the only effective way of dealing with incompetent and dishonest people. Unfortunately, because this behavior has become reactive and automatic, it has affected the way I deal with people in non-business situations.
On one occasion about five or six years ago, I pulled up to the drive-thru at a local McDonald’s restaurant. At the time, Georgette and our three younger daughters, Mary, Christine, and Teresa, were in the car with me. When the McDonald’s employee said she was ready to take my order, I told her what we wanted. After I was finished giving her the order I said, “And that’s all I want.” I then asked her to repeat the order so I could make sure she heard me correctly.
After she read the order back to me, I told her, “Yes, that’s correct. That’s all I want.” She then said, “Would you like to order an apple pie with that?” I instantly and automatically snapped back, “No! I already told you I didn’t want anything else. Weren’t you listening to me?” After a moment of silence, the McDonald’s employee told me the total amount of the order and asked me to pull up to the payment window.
As I pulled forward, it quickly became obvious that Georgette and the girls were not happy with my behavior. Georgette told me that I had no right to reprimand the employee, because, “She was just doing her job.” I responded by telling Georgette that I had told the employee on two separate occasions that I didn’t want anything else. If she had been listening to me, she would not have asked me if I wanted to order apple pie.
Georgette and my daughters then proceeded to gang up on me and said that I had overreacted. Georgette insisted that I apologize to the employee. The girls agreed. Since I was clearly outnumbered, when I handed the money to the employee, I said, “I’m sorry for the way I responded when you asked me if I wanted to order some apple pie, but it really irritates me when I specifically say that I don’t want anything else and I’m still asked if I want to order apple pie!”
The employee didn’t say anything in response to my comment. She just took my money, gave me my change, and told me to have a nice day.
As you can imagine, the ride home wasn’t very pleasant. Georgette’s first statement was, “You call that an apology?” I tried to defend myself, but failed to convince her and the girls that I was right. The four (hormonal) females in the car made it very clear to me that I acted like a bully and I needed to shape up and be more considerate of the feelings of others. (Thank God for the women in my life!)
When I was in my early twenties (before I had several daughters to set me straight), an older relative of mine created problems for me that caused some hard feelings between us. After I got through the problems, I refused to associate with him. Whenever we both happened to be at the same family function, I avoided him. This went on for over three years.
During the three years, Georgette periodically reminded me that I needed to forgive him for what he had done. Each time the topic came up for discussion, I told her, “I’m willing to forgive him, but I’m still never going to talk to him again.”
Although she agreed with me that I had the option of forgiving him without talking to him in the future, she insisted that the values I was brought up with required that I give him another chance. In addition, she felt that I would be a bad example to our children if I continued to refuse to talk to him in the future. At one point, I told her that if he apologized to me, I would be willing to act as though the dispute never occurred.
One Sunday afternoon after I attended and participated in a church event, my relative approached me and started a conversation. We ended up talking for over an hour. During the conversation, he brought up our previous dispute. We discussed what had happened and I told him he owed me an apology. He tried to convince me that the other people who were involved in the dispute were more to blame than he was, and that he was an innocent bystander.
After I gave him some compelling reasons as to why he was more responsible for the dispute than anyone else, he finally said, “I don’t agree with you, but if it will make you feel better, then I’ll apologize.” I responded by saying, “Is that an apology? Are you apologizing to me for what you did?” He replied, “Yes, if it will make you feel better, I apologize.”*
I have two questions for you: Was my apology to the McDonald’s employee a genuine apology? Was my relative’s apology to me a genuine apology?
Let’s say I wasn’t feeling well yesterday and I lost my temper and made an offensive comment to Georgette. Then today I tell her, “I’m really sorry for the way I treated you yesterday, but I wasn’t feeling well. I guess I just lost my cool.” Would you agree with me that today’s statement was a genuine apology?
I’ll make it easier for you. I’m fifteen minutes late for an appointment with you. When I arrive, I say, “I’m so sorry for being late. I got caught up in traffic.” Is that statement a genuine apology?
In my opinion, none of the four apologies I’ve mentioned above are genuine. Why? I’ll give you my reasons next week.
*I want to point out that my relative and I reconciled because he was willing to make the first move and open up the conversation. If he hadn’t approached me on that Sunday afternoon, there’s a good chance we would have never reconciled. We became good friends after that conversation and over the years, I have periodically sought out his advice.