"Today, give a stranger one of your smiles. It might be the only sunshine he sees all day." ~ H.Jackson Brown, Jr.
A few years ago, I was having a particularly difficult time at my job. It wasn’t the actual job that was the problem, but the environment that I worked in. The stress was really starting to affect me. I could handle the stress of taking care of sick children and their concerned families. The big problem was the interpersonal communication with many of the staff that worked both on the unit I worked on and even more so, in other departments within the hospital. It seemed like many times, staff members just couldn't (or wouldn't) treat each other with respect and kindness. Then I started to think that maybe I was part of the problem because of how I was dealing with all of these difficult interactions..
I remember one day I called the radiology department to schedule a patient for a CT scan and I was verbally attacked by the person on the other line when all I had said was “can I please schedule a CT scan for this afternoon”. The woman on the other end gave me some serious attitude. Did I realize how busy they were? Why didn’t I call earlier? (It had just been ordered by the doctor on a child who was having some issues). She had a million reasons about why this child would have to wait until the next morning for the CT scan.
To be honest, my instinct back then would be to snap back at her. However I had been thinking of ways to more effectively deal with my stress at work and decided that if I was going to make it through another week at this job, I needed to change things up quick. So my first response was to tell her that I was sorry she was having such a tough day and I would do whatever I could to help with the scheduling. Trust me, considering how hectic my day was at that point, the words did not come out easily. I could not believe her response. She said that I was the first person all day to acknowledge what things were like for her in that department and furthermore, she had a sick child at home with a sitter that she was worried about. She then apologized for being so cranky. My patient’s CT scan then got scheduled for that afternoon. Furthermore, I never had an interpersonal conflict with her after that day.
I learned two very valuable lessons that day. First, I learned that maybe the better way to get what I needed from someone, was to kill them with kindness so to speak; rather than react with anger and frustration. In this instance, it was for the benefit of my patient and I have no problem with that being my motive in any way. As I came to use the “killing them with kindness” approach more and more, I found that I got better results, quicker. I also found that it significantly decreased my stress level because I was not the one getting all worked up. In addition, I usually walked away from the situation feeling better about myself because I like myself a lot more when I don’t stoop to someone else’s level.
The second lesson learned was that it struck me that many times when people act in an unkind way, there is usually a reason. At that time, for me, it was always a natural reaction to snap back when someone was unkind towards me. However the bottom line is, we really don’t know what is going on in someone else’s life; such as this women’s sick child at home. Now your reaction to that thought may be that we all have bad days and she should have been more professional. That thought definitely entered my mind. The reality is though, we are all human. We all have stresses that can affect our behavior in every aspect of our lives. What is wrong with giving someone the benefit of the doubt? With giving them a break? Yes, there are people who will take advantage of that and there are also people in this world who are just bad people. I am not saying the killing them with kindness approach always works or is even always appropriate. But overall, I don’t think this is the norm. I think that people who are rude, critical, or just downright inappropriate at times have something going on with themselves or their lives that strongly influences their behavior; maybe on occasion or maybe more frequently. I know for a fact I have been in this situation (although luckily, much less often in the past year or so) and I also have people in my life that can act in a less than desirable way…we all do. When this happens with those in my life, I try to take a step back and recognize that I probably don’t know all the facts about what they are thinking and feeling. So what do I do? I try to be patient and kill them with a little kindness. Then ultimately I try to remember that maybe the best way to get through the stresses of life, is by trying to take a little better care of each other.