30 November 2008

A True Story [Multiple Choice]

This actually happened, quite recently; when I thought about it afterward, several things struck me:

[1] it's a textbook example of abusiveness,
[2] it's also a classic example of the effect a bystander can have in an abusive situation, and
[3] I was never at a loss during the episode - in fact, I could literally predict the course of events.

Anyone who's been reading here for any length of time probably can too, so I'm going to tell the tale in multiple-choice format. You can play along, or just read the choices and follow the story. I"ve partly fictionalized it, to change some details, but the behaviors observed are exactly as described.

It happened at my local FedEx dropoff point, which is very well managed by Mr. Singh. I've been a customer for years; this time, I was there to send several year-end charitable contributions out. Using a delivery service gets them into the right hands fast, and my patronage gives Mr. S and his family a bit of extra income at least twice a year. We've got this semi-annual routine pretty well choreographed by now.

While I was giving him the shipping forms and we were sorting out the envelopes, two women came in. One of them

[a] began talking to him as though I didn't exist and was not being served
[b] strolled up and down the store making rude comments about the furnishings and decor
[c] stood very close behind me talking VERY LOUDLY to her companion about what a hurry she was in and how many IMPORTANT THINGS she just HAD to get done.

This is a trick question, because she actually did all three, first [b], then [c], then [a].

Mr. Singh is quite, quite bright, and he isn't fond of abusers either, but being in a customer service oriented business he has to maintain a certain composure. He called his son out to help the woman. Both he and his son have quiet voices with charming accents, which are quite easy to understand -- if you are listening.

The woman

[a] became verbally aggressive and accused Mr. S of interrupting her [bear in mind, she was interrupting him, while he was clearly occupied with helping me]
[b] asked nastily if his son knew how to do the job

Right you are: she did both.

He reassured her that his son knew everything about the job that he did, and resumed helping me. Both of us had an ear cocked, keeping close tabs on things next door. The woman

[a] announced boastfully that she'd been in mediation over a defective online purchase for almost a year, had 'won' and was sending the item back for a full refund
[b] demanded special services that require additional charges and became verbally aggressive when Mr. S. Jr. tried to explain that these services would add to the cost of her shipment
[c] began loudly berating Mr.S. Jr. for having an accent.

Yep, right again, all three.

At this point, Mr. S. and I had completed our joint task, I'd paid him and my packets were all in the pickup area [well out of this woman's reach]. He moved over, gently took his son's arm and moved Son over to talk with me while Dad addressed the Customer from Hell. At this point, Mr. S. Jr., who was a bit shaken by the totally unprovoked aggression, asked me what else I needed, and I leaned over and said, quietly, "I need to stay here until those people finish. I'd like to talk to your father again, but I want to wait. It's O.K, I don't mind."

I then got out my cell phone, turned it on, flipped it open, held it open, and quietly watched the performance at the next register.

As soon as I did this, things improved dramatically for Mr. S. The woman acted as though a switch had been thrown. Suddenly she was

[a] trying to joke with him about her 'victory' over the person who sold her the 'defective' merchandise
[b] smiling and gesturing and trying to draw me in to the 'party'
[c] using manners: saying please and thank you. [Which of course meant that she knew perfectly well just how badly she'd been behaving previously].

Um-hmm, all three again. I just stood there, with my cell phone open and as calm a face as I could manage.

You can probably predict the next bit too. Mr. S. gave her an estimated cost up front [no fool he] and carefully itemized it for her. She then

[a] expressed astonished offense at the price, VERY LOUDLY
[b] glanced over at me apprehensively
[c] expressed shock at the price again but much more politely
[d] decided that she 'needed to think' about this because the shipping cost was more than she'd paid for the item in the first place
[e] canceled the sale
[f] left with her companion, muttering.

Yep. All of it.

Just to frost the cake, you should know that she was profoundly offended by a shipping cost of about $5 more than she paid for the item. And to further help your perspective, she'd apparently paid less than $25 for it. [And yes, I am well aware that when returning defective merchandise, it's usual to expect that your shipping costs will be covered by the seller. I kept my mouth tightly closed about that. So, you will notice, did Mr. S. and Son.]

As soon as they left, and the door had closed, Mr. S. thanked me for staying. Mr. S. Jr. asked if I needed anything else, and I said, "No, I just wanted to stay until that was over with. I knew that woman was potential trouble and I wanted to make sure you both had an outside witness if you needed one. Security cameras don't usually have soundtracks."

Gavin de Becker -type note: At no time during any of this did I feel the slightest fear on my own behalf, or on theirs. This was not foolish bravado. I've felt apprehensive in parking lots merely because someone who parks nearby glares at my car as they get out of their own; when that happens I find another parking spot immediately, Far Away From There, because glaring at total strangers' parked cars is Not Normal. People who do that dent doors and break windows, all about things that have Nothing To Do With You Or Your Car, because they are Seriously Unwell [but they're not stupid: they do it only when they can Get Away With It].

IMO, this gal was also Seriously Unwell, but she registered as Vindictive Bully [and then as Vindictive Racist Bully] rather than as Potential Axe Murderer. I was sticking around primarily so Mr. S and Mr. S. Jr. would have a witness for their side, if V. Bully decided she'd like to start months of mediation with them over a $30.00 shipping bill. Anyone who would go through a year of mediation over a $25 trinket needs to be closely watched, and avoided completely, if possible.

Incidentally, the best part of this story?

I don't have a cameraphone.

I had my phone on and open so that I could call 911 immediately, if need be.




Blogger TH in SoC said...

Now, that's a good story! You showed great wisdom in that situation. There is power in the hands of wise bystanders - something we must all remember in these days.

30 November, 2008 19:36  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well done you...

Hope you are feeling OK after that little tussle with evil.

01 December, 2008 02:08  
Blogger Stormchild said...

Hi TH, hi Meg


Actually, what helped tremendously in this situation, and what I should have emphasized much more, was the wisdom of Mr. Singh.

The moment V. Bully tried to push her way into his interaction with me, he and I looked at each other - just looked at each other; no wince or headshake. But just from that look, it was obvious to both of us that we 'knew the type'.

As she was beginning to browbeat his son, he and I were both paying close attention, and we looked at each other again when she started berating young Mr. Singh for having an accent.

The elder Mr. Singh was very calm and in control of himself as he gently moved his son out of harm's way. His son, either from a long history of trusting his dad or from shock at being treated so crassly, didn't protest, resist, or even make any comment - he just moved smoothly over to where I was standing on the other side of their counter.

It was teamwork, really. It would not have worked half so well, otherwise. The remarkable thing about it was that every bit of communication between us during the incident was nonverbal except for my reassuring young Mr. Singh that I'd wait to speak with his dad. When Mr. Singh thanked me afterwards, we both knew why - I verbalized it because I thought it would do them good to hear it, after what they'd been hearing for the past ten minutes.

It would have been quite another story entirely if Mr. Singh, his son, or both had been vulnerable to V. Bully's combative baiting, and had themselves become combative or taken overt offense. Had either of them chosen to play the Karpman game she was offering them, I could have done nothing much to help.

:-) :-) My goodness. What we actually had here is one of the few times in my life where people have knowingly declined to play a Karpman game [Messrs. Singh vs. V. Bully] and opted for a Quinby interaction instead [Messrs. Singh & Stormchild]. The fact that it really did take place interculturally - and we didn't have to all know the terms Karpman and Quinby for it to work - makes it that much more marvelous in my sight :-) :-).

To refuse Karpman and substitute Quinby takes at least two people committed to doing the healthy thing - the GOOD thing. An equal share of credit for this outcome has to go to the other two participants - Mr. Singh and Son.

Thanks for commenting, because it's in thinking about and responding to your kindness that I've just realized this, and it's the best part of the story, by far.

01 December, 2008 20:24  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you written elsewhere on this blog about Karpman and Quinby? I feel as though I haven't been paying enough attention.

Could you give me a reference to find these authors?


01 December, 2008 20:38  
Blogger Stormchild said...

Hi Meg --

Here are a couple of URLs for the places where I first discussed triangulation and Karpman dynamics - and Quinby, too.

I've had all kinds of trouble converting them to hotlinks, for some reason, so I just left them full syntax. You can copy and paste, if they don't work directly from here.

The earliest one has a lot of links to other references, and a Google search on "Karpman Drama Triangle" will bring up many many more.





01 December, 2008 21:35  
Anonymous Meg said...

Thankyou for going to so much trouble for these.

I will check them out!!

02 December, 2008 16:43  

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