I am submitting this to eHell in hopes of getting a bit of advice on how to handle a highly confrontational situation with a member of the public and my supervisor. I can be an unthinking twit sometimes, and while I honestly do not think I’ve done anything wrong perhaps I am too close to the issue. I would welcome any helpful comments.
Here is what happened:
I work for a public high school as the database clerk. I manage the data on the students, input it, analyze it, compile it and just generally make sure that it’s all there and available to anyone who needs it.
Last summer (I work all summer) a parent came by two weeks before school began to update her address with us. She brought in proof of residency (an official piece of mail, in this case some correspondence from a utilities company) and her ID. I went to the copier to make copies of both when I noticed that the names didn’t match. I went back to her and asked: “Ma’am I’ve noticed that your name isn’t the same on these documents, did you change your name recently for any reason?”
She shrieks at me: “That is NONE OF YOUR business! You shouldn’t be asking about that!” When I say shriek, I mean shriek. She startled me so bad I jumped. A co-worker came running, thinking I was in danger of some kind. The parent continued to yell saying that if I was going to ask such personal questions I shouldn’t do it in a public waiting room but instead take her to my private office. (She used different language and a much higher volume but that was her ultimate point. I think.)
I would like to point out that it was summer, there wasn’t anyone in the room with us. My co-worker who came running was within ear shot of yelling but not normal speaking voices. But I was so flustered by her outburst that I didn’t think to say that, I only apologized and asked if she’d like to go into my office. She yelled that no, she did not. Took back her documents and stormed away. I wrote the incident off as just another peril of working with the public.
Several weeks later, just after school began the same parent returned to drop something off. She took one look at me and started yelling again. My principal was in that waiting room seeing another family and quickly came over to see what was wrong. The parent expressed her unhappiness at my continued employment in the most impolite terms possible and at great volume. She said that she did not want her child’s file to “…be handled by this woman in any way! She does not like me, she does not like my child and I will not have that kind of attitude around my children!” (I have never met her child; the school I work in has over 1800 students.)
I have never been so verbally abused in my life. And I worked in retail before the public sector. My principal let this parent go on at some length, completely disrupting the waiting room and creating quite a spectacle. I did not speak up, rather waited for my principal to make the first move or comment. Finally, my principal turns to me and simply dismisses me back to my office. I fled.
What should I have done? My principal was right there listening to this woman abuse one of her employees. Should I have deferred to her as I did that day? Or should I have spoken up for myself, regardless that my direct supervisor was right there and was technically the one in charge? What do you do when faced with someone who is being unreasonable at such a high volume like that? She was right during our first encounter, you should never ask personal questions of someone in a public setting like I did, but I honestly didn’t think anything of it at the time because we were alone, despite being in the waiting room. Again, I welcome any advice! 0404-14
You do not reciprocate in kind whatsoever. One has to trust that people recognize a drama queen and the more the histrionics, the less credible they appear. By remaining calm, you present an image of professionalism and credibility. It’s like that video that went viral of the female customer screeching in the Apple store. No one had pity on her, other customers were either bemused or thought she was loony and meanwhile the store employees remained calm and in control. Who lost in that scenario?