Because of the adversarial nature of my career as an attorney, I’ve dealt with my share of irrational people.
However, one fairly recent event nearly put me over the edge.
As background, in the true spirit of a procrastinator, I usually wait until my gas tank light is on before I refuel.
It’s a game of chicken that I like to play with myself.
I also prefer not to get gas when my children are in the car because they get bored.
This event happened after a busy day at work. I was bombarded with preparing for hearings, client reporting deadlines, and responding to emails. My husband needed me to pick up the girls from daycare, and I happily obliged because, after a long day at the office, all I wanted to do was to spend quality time with them.
And drink a glass of wine.
As my gas light had been on for quite a while and it was “time,” I decided to pull into a gas station before picking up the girls.
It’s one of the busiest gas stations in town and, during certain times when it’s inundated with dawdlers like myself, the area around the pumps can be so cluttered with people waiting that it’s nearly impossible to pull in and out.
(Tampanians: it’s the Sunoco on the corner of MacDill and Platt. You know what I’m talking about!)
I pulled into the station at 5:45 pm (cutting it close to daycare ending at 6 pm) and was on the phone with one of my girlfriends.
Then I saw it. It was like manna from heaven. An open pump.
How can this be? I thought to myself.
I didn’t linger with questions. I pulled directly up to the pump.
All of a sudden, I saw a girl in front of me get out of her vehicle and start screaming.
She looked like a possessed demon. Red faced. Foamy spit coming out of her mouth.
Uh, I have to get off the phone, I told my friend, I think someone is yelling at me.
Apparently the girl was attempting to back her vehicle up to the gas pump when I arrived and, unknowingly, “stole” it from her.
Visibly upset, she was screaming, yelling obscenities, and giving me the middle finger.
Her reaction was crazy.
Under any ordinary situation, I would have profusely apologized, gotten back into my car, moved my vehicle, and waited for a different pump. That’s how I would want someone to treat me.
After all, this was an honest mistake.
However, this chick’s reaction set me internally on fire.
She must not have real problems if she’s going to get this worked up over a gas pump.
So I said nothing and, instead, judged her. She was wearing workout clothes, appeared to be in her early 20s, had her hair in a ponytail under a baseball cap, and was driving an early 2000s model Volkswagen Jetta.
I decided the likelihood of her packing heat was low.
So I completely ignored her, got out of my vehicle, and began pumping my gas.
She became spastic.
I didn’t even look her in the eye or acknowledge in any way that she was losing her mind and making a scene in front of every bystander at the gas station.
I didn’t care. I kept pumping gas. I didn’t acknowledge her and pretended she didn’t exist.
And it made her come undone.
She was screaming. Pulled up to the back of my car and loudly called me a Fruity Banana.
Only it wasn’t a Fruity Banana.
The first word began with an F and the second word began with a B.
I continued ignoring her and stared at the digital numbers on the pump.
Hurry up! I thought.
Then, the worst thing that could have possibly happen happened.
The spot on the direct opposite side of my pump became available.
The girl pulled up next to me, got out of her car, and began pumping gas.
How can I avoid making eye contact?
She continued screaming and calling me names. Then, she got on her cellular phone and started talking about me to whoever was on the other end.
This ordeal was the longest three minutes of my life.
When my tank was full, I got into my car and moved onto more important things. My kids.
I don’t know who this girl is and wouldn’t recognize her in a line up. Maybe she was already having a bad day. Maybe she found out her boyfriend was cheating on her. Maybe she discovered she flunked college algebra. Maybe she learned her fitness class was over booked and so she got the boot.
Whoever this girl is, I just hope her proverbial tank has since been replenished with love, peace, and validation.
Because isn’t that what we all want?
To be loved? To be acknowledged? To feel like we matter, instead of being ignored?
I don’t regret how I handled the situation. Sometimes it’s better to do nothing. On my end, it was nearly impossible for me to bite my tongue. But I’m glad I did.
Unlike gas station girl, some irrational people cannot be avoided. Business associates. Members of churches and volunteer organizations. Relatives. People who run in your social circle. People who aren’t “going away.”
I often wonder the ideal way to handle these types of people.
I enlisted the help of some colleagues who are in the mental health profession, and they provided input on the five best ways to deal with the crazy people in your life.
Ignore. Don’t respond to someone who doesn’t deserve a response. You received a rude text? Ignore it. Someone sent you a rude email or asked you a rude question? Don’t acknowledge it. Do you routinely have to see someone who bugs you? Other than exchanging casual formalities (because you’re polite and that’s just what you do), ignore them.
Raise the White Flag. If someone acts crazy because you legitimately did something to them and you are genuinely sorry, then recognize your wrongdoing, address it with a sincere apology, and move on.
It takes guts to eat crow.
Most sane people will appreciate the apology and will provide a clean slate. Ideally, it will no longer be awkward to be around that person.
Set Boundaries. If you are constantly around someone who pushes your buttons, then recognize it and stay aware of your own emotions. As irrational people are often predictable and the pattern starts showing itself, determine ahead of time how you will deal with this person, and stick to your plan.
Don’t Take on Their Issues. I once worked with a guy who said he never let other people control the way he feels.
It stuck with me.
Sometimes it’s so easy to take on another person’s crappy attitude.
Guilty over here.
However, make up your mind that you are going to do your thing regardless of how they are doing theirs. Stick with it. If you feel their bad attitude wearing off on you, then start limiting the time you spend with them.
Offer Compassion. This one, my friends, is the hardest of the options. You never know what other people are going through, and, like the saying goes, “hurt people, hurt people.”
I went through four years of college detesting a girl we’ll call Ashley. She never “did” anything specifically to me, per se, but she was an overall nasty person. Hateful just to be hateful. She didn’t try to cultivate female friendships and had a reputation for being stuck up. Fast forward ten years later, Ashley and I reconnected professionally and, at a work conference, she confided to me that her mother was verbally and physically abusive when she was growing up, which caused her to project anger and toward others.
That explained everything.
And there you have it, my friends, five good ways to deal with crazy people. Do you have any pointers that I left off the list?