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Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 52 seconds

The messenger has been shot

To shoot the messenger, you receive unwelcome information, react defensively, and attack the messenger instead of dealing productively with criticism. It may not literally be an attack, but it can feel like it.

I recently had an experience dealing with a company that I love and have used for years. As I reflect on the events that led to this situation, two things come to mind:

  1. They shot the messenger and missed the entire point of the incident.
  2. What could have been used as constructive criticism was overshadowed by their myopic reaction.

Do I Shoot the Messenger?

We have the power to remove ourselves from a fight and look how and why we process conflict to make better decisions. In this case, I have come full circle, and it feels pretty darned good.

The Gory Details

One Ringy Dingy

I received unexpected terrible telephone customer service one afternoon when I called to get some quick assistance and set up an appointment. The staff member was rude to the point that I complimented them on how truly unhelpful they were, then hung up on them politely. I assumed they were “just following orders” and were having a bad day. I did not give it another thought.

When I called back in the next morning, I received the great customer service I was accustomed to from another employee. After gushing about how wonderful it was to get my situation resolved in 2 minutes, I made the mistake of telling that coworker, “the wrong person” about my bad experience the night before.  This was a stupid, petty, and childish thing to do that I truly regret.

Then the Hammer Came Down

Within a day I received an angry email from the supervisor of the person I had hung up on, accusing me of being homophobic, insensitive to people with disabilities, and a mean, pushy jerk. WHAT? I was in super-hot water. I believe she was blinded by the natural reaction to defend her pups.

Initially I was terrified that I would be fired as a punishment for my behavior. Change is difficult and painful, and I thought I had been branded as a bad guy. How could I ever apologize enough to get back in her good graces? It put me in a bad mood for a few days. Had I done everything I could to make a bad situation better?

The Light Came On

The times they are a changin’

I awoke one day with a different perspective. I’m the client here, by golly, and I don’t tolerate unhelpful people, which I equate with bad customer service. If they want to defend their own at my expense, then they get what they deserve. This being the second time in several years that something similar occurred, without an apology or a recording system in place (that I suggested the first time) to vindicate me, I’m out. I have my limits and I have the power to change, too. They obviously do not need my business.

The Wisdom Learned

The adage “the customer is always right” is a bunch of hooey in my mind. I admit that I made a mistake! I tried to apologize, but it was unwelcome. I had been branded, and that was that. Sadly, the distraction was only confusing the chief problem with the chief complaint. This is a common problem in medicine, too.

A wise friend of mine Ron Dunagan often says. “If you can’t change the people around you, change the people around you.” Are there other firms that can and want to work with me? Heck yes, there are, and this incident signaled that it was time for me to find a better one. Odds are that in the end it will be a 10X more beneficial relationship.

As I become more mindful of everyday interactions, I strive to  strengthen my relationships with everyone I meet. Learn from my shortcomings and move on. Let’s be sure not to shoot the messenger in our daily lives.


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