It was the lowest point of my professional carear to date. I am so ashamed. I recount this story so we can have a chat about a common issue for all of us: unreasonable behavior, and how to avoid the throw down. I am not the heroine of this story, even though it felt really good to cuss at someone who sucks. She didn't deserve it though, and I am really not better than her now. But still, I am only human.
This is what happend to me:
A woman we will call Caroline (from the Outkast song about a woman who thinks her shit smells like Roses, no relation to a real person in my life.) Anyway, she bought a painting, yay! She bought it on Friday, it was picked up by our shipper on Thursday of the next week. It would normally have gone out on Tuesday, but I had a 103 degree fever, and was not at my best. My assistant was valiantly attempting to get everything done as fast as possible, but we couldn't hold it together to our usual standard. Before the painting was picked up, she was already threatening us with a VISA recall for the payment and blamed me for a dispute she had with a painting that was sold through another vendor of mine.
A little voice in my head said this: "Michelle, refund her, and tell her that she isn't going to have a painting of yours. She is unreasonable, and once she gets your painting, she will just continue to be unreasonable, and then she will have your painting..." My husband talked me out of it, b/c he is tirelessly professional and diplomatic and I always listen to him b/c he is usually right. I love you baby :)
The painting went out, she filed a claim with VISA, despite the fact that she had proof of pick-up, and called my shipper five times, and I sent her many re-assuring, professional and polite emails. She knew it was on the way to her! I was naturally perplexed, and I thought wow, she must have been really scared that her painting wouldn't arrive. I wonder if I could have done anything to make her transaction with us better?
So...I called her. I asked her if she got her painting "Yes, but its still in the crate, so I don't know if its damaged or not..." Ya'll I tried so hard to stay clam. I asked her what we could have done to make it better for her, and why she felt she needed to threaten us. I told her (calmly) that her actions were distressing. We tried our best, why didn't she just contact me? What could I do to make her stop acting so aggressively? I even apologized that my voice was shaking, I explained that I was upset. She said "I don't know what you are talking about, so I am going to hang up now." Then I lost my shit.
So I told her that every time she looked at her painting, she could know that it was "a giant fucking middle finger from me." Then I hung up on her.
Ok, now calm down. I know. I KNOW!
I have no right to say she is was being unreasonable, rude and aggressive b/c I cussed her out dude! (Upon further reflection, I can see now that I really did do everything I could to give her the benefit of the doubt that her actions could be explained, which is what I wanted when I called her. She pulled a passive agressive denial strategy, perfectly fitting with her previous behavior; but I just couldn't image a grown-up acting that way!) I take full responsibility for my blow up, but I have to admit that I am no longer the least bit sorry for cursing her. Saying something rude to another person is never almost never ok. I lept off the high road like...I don't know, a pissed off frog?
What did I learn from this? Well, don't continue to attempt to communicate with an unreasonable person in the hopes that they change their behavior. Ain't gonna happen. ALSO, Don't sell your work to a person who is unreasonable, it isn't worth the hassle.
This is what I should have done before, and what I most certainly will be implementing starting right this second.
1. Come up with a guideline for what you consider "over the line" behavior. Example: threats to withdraw payment, blame for an action you are not connected with, verbal abuse of some kind, or disrespect that makes you feel icky inside. Either write it down and have your staff see it too (or your mom who is helping you out or whatever) so that they know when to red flag someone.
2. Outline a defined course of action for dealing with these people because a. you will encounter them, and b. you will be so upset that you may not act professionally or responsibly in the heat of the moment. Ahem.
3. My course of action:
a. Send detailed explanation of events in email (in our case my exceptional assistant Elizabeth did that, she is a gem). If there is rudeness, address it head on with polite sternness.
b. If client continues with bad behavior (I should have listend to my gut, as my gut feelings are just always right!) take immediate, stern action by....
c. Send a polite email or make a polite phone call explaining that their behavior is uncalled for, and that you have decided not to continue to do business with them. Trust me, you don't need the money, in the end you will spend more just dealing with them!
d. Inform them that they are no longer welcome to buy from you.
This is why I feel so strongly about my (new and improved) course of action: It is in line with one of my core business values: no drama...and apparently annoying punctuation.
Yes, I totally get that I acted like a drama queen, so these steps are in place to avoid a meltdown from happening again. I don't want this to happen again because I was mean to someone, and that hurts me. I really don't care about her at all if you want to know the truth. I just don't want to be a part of something negative that goes against my values. Nothing is allowed in my life that makes me angry enough to be mean. End point. She deserved to not get my painting because I paint with love and light and joy, and that is what my art is supposed to be about. She doesn't deserve to have my painting, but she really didn't deserve for me to be mean to her.
I am sorry Caroline.
In the imortal worlds of Outkast...
"I hope she's speeding on the way to the clubTrying to hurry up to get to some
Baller or singer or somebody like that
And try to put on her makeup in the mirror
And crash, crash, craaash.. into a ditch! (Just Playing!)"
Oh and the final irony? I named the painting Roses? which is an homage to this song which just happend to be playing in my studio when I titled it.