sandpaper people

Posted: May 16, 2013 in Uncategorized

She was being shown the ropes at her new office job.  She got instructions on how the job-specific software worked.  A tour of the supply closet.  A series of little step-by-step lessons on processes that would need to be done daily.

And the rundown of the “special people” she’d be encountering among those being served.

Every office (oh heck, surely every workplace that deals with people at all – that’s nearly ALL workplaces, right?) deals with the special people.  This is not like the label “special needs.”  This is a short list of core complainers – people who can be counted on to behave badly on a fairly predictable schedule.  People who seem to be intentionally refusing to understand.  Who want to nitpick over details.  Who need to demonstrate outrage and personal offense – not just over one incident, but at something new each time, all the time.  Who are pushing for a better deal than everyone else gets.  Who are embroiled in family insanity and dragging random office workers into their mess.  Who need to be given the same instructions 20 times, each time acting as if they’ve never been told before.  Who want to spend a full hour, talking in circles, saying the same things over and over to try and change a policy that is just flat not going to change.  Who demand that they be allowed to dictate a long laundry list of things that must be changed.  Whose advice is intended to be taken as a direct and immediate command.

They are people who, due to the frequency of their calls, can be recognized by the way they say, “hello” on the phone.  The ones who make the sound of their breathing or banging of their cane so familiar that others know who is coming down the hall, without seeing first. 

Often, they have a general speech that they give, that doesn’t vary much.  Often that speech includes a generous amount of stating what a fair-minded, patient, uncomplaining person they are, and telling how any reasonable person would see it their way.  Often they feel the need to say more than once that they are, “not crazy.” 

Hard people to serve, much less love. 

I find that if I’m willing to deal with these people with the basic understanding that their issue is NOT ME – if I can step back and refuse to be personally offended by their behavior and often-awful words – these people teach me.  I mean, they THINK they are teaching me all the things they are right about, and that is sad, because it is generally not so.  But they DO teach me. 

  • They are like giant mirrors that I can hold up, asking myself, “Where do I see my own attitudes and sense of entitlement and general brattiness in them, even if mine is kept quietly inside, where others don’t have to experience it?” There is a whole lot of me in these people, no matter how differently our outsides are behaving.
  • They push me into exercising gratitude.  Every time I am vexed by someone like this, I am pushed to go and find something for which to express gratitude, if for no other reason than just to prove to myself that I’m not as far gone as they are.  LOL
  • They teach me how to pray through adversity.  It is easy to want to “talk back” to them – to try and push and make them admit they are wrong.  But in giving up the need to *be right* I find that I am free to really listen and truly pray about their real problems, which often aren’t even remotely touched upon by the words coming out of their mouths.
  • They grow me in grace.  In some jobs, maybe you can treat people the way you think they deserve to be treated and get away with it.  In the types of jobs I’ve worked, happily that’s not as much an option (I shudder when I think how bad my own life would be, if I were regularly treated the way I deserve to be treated).  I have to play nicely.  I have to be welcoming.  I have to help others to feel that they have been heard.  I have to look for actual solutions.  My behavior reflects on my organization (true everywhere I’ve ever worked!) and so I have to act in a way that will show it to its best advantage.  It’s really easy to behave well when everyone is being nice.  Learning how to still be pleasant when others are being the polar opposite of pleasant – that’s hard, but it’s such a valuable skill to have. 
  • They teach me to make no assumptions.  Quite often, those raising holy hell don’t understand the situation, though they are thoroughly convinced that they do.  Every time that happens, I wonder how often I have spouted off about something and shown my utter ignorance about it in my complaint. 
  • They bring me laughter.  No, not on the spot.  In the moment, it’s just the dread of hearing them coming again, the irritation of their voice one more time on the phone line, the frustration of being unable to ever satisfy them.  But in the bigger picture, some of the most hilarious stories I know come from my experiences with these types of people.  I often enjoy great big belly laughs, remembering some of the outrageous ways these people have behaved while interacting with me and others.  It’s funny stuff, when you’re not in the midst of it.

I don’t call them “special people,” because for me that’s too close to the “special needs” label and I never want to attach a pejorative connotation to that.  In my mind, I call them “sandpaper people.”  That’s what they are.  They chafe the crap out of me, but in the end, they are among the forces refining and growing me into something better than I was before I met them.

If that’s not a reason to be grateful, I don’t know what is. 

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