I have a thorn in my side at work and her name is Noreen (not her real name). She is my main contact at one of our major suppliers, so when I am sending custom orders, she needs just enough acumen to read the instructions on my purchase orders and get the parts into production. You'd think this was a pretty simple task, but for Noreen, I might as well be asking her to map the human genome or balance the federal budget.
I don't want to come across as cruel, but facts are facts: Noreen is about as alert and intelligent as a box of rusty nails. When her stupidity surfaced during our first point of contact, I tried to be nice about it and not make her feel inferior by pointing out the obvious answers to her questions, typed neatly on our faxed purchase order. Right there in black and white.
Then there was a fleeting thought that I must not be communicating properly. Maybe it's me. But not having this problem with other suppliers, I quickly came to the conclusion that it's not me, IT'S HER. And that sort of realization wore my nerves down to a frazzled mass of tangled vessels, ready to explode at any given moment.
After months of dealing with Noreen I was through with being nice. I got to a point where I wanted her to feel my pain. I wanted to shove her idiocy right back down her own throat with force. My frustration levels were off the chart. In 21 years I have never encountered such daftness. So I stopped being nice and said things like:
"Just get it done, Noreen."
"I don't have time to explain every little detail to you, Noreen."
"Read the purchase order, Noreen."
"Look at the previous order, Noreen."
"It's right there on the order. Why are you asking me?" (after which I would read the answer to her inane question aloud from the PO)
"Whatever, Noreen. I'm tired of explaining this to you. We just talked about this yesterday. Do you not remember our conversation?" (she never remembered our previous conversations)
"Figure it out, Noreen."
These things were all said in very clipped, abrupt tones. Oh, and the curse words I wanted to spew were pushed way down into the depths of my belly. I'd pray they would stay buried there and not surface like projectile vomiting or a sudden case of Turette's. I'd be damned if Noreen was going to do me in after 21 years in this job, using her mind-numbing ignorance like a machete, chopping feverishly on my frayed nerves.
One day something came over me. Perhaps it was the realization that being blunt and to the point wasn't getting through, or maybe the vein that was throbbing in the side of my neck started to become worrisome, ready to burst through and cause a fatal heart attack. No way was Noreen getting the best of me, nor would she claim responsibility for putting me in the grave. Dear God, no, don't let it be Noreen.
So I changed tactics. I decided to be exceptionally nice. Not fake nice, but out of a place of true compassion. Perhaps with genuine patience and understanding I could make the situation better. For both of us. I would no longer point out obvious inconsistencies in her statements or thrash her for overlooking crucial details. It was difficult beyond belief and my tongue was sore from biting it. I patiently walked her through orders, politely answering her questions. And I'm proud to say it wasn't in a condescending way.
Niceness toward Noreen felt foreign and forced at first, but over the weeks, surprisingly, it came more naturally. In turn she also became nicer and more accommodating. She actually did me a favor today, which saved my company $150. Score! I win!
Did my diplomacy make Noreen any smarter? No. Did it make her remember things she had just told me the day before, but can't remember today? No. Did she suddenly figure out how to read our orders and process them without incident? No. Did my nicety make that vein stop throbbing in my neck? It's easing. Baby steps.
I think I'm on to something here. Never give up on someone. Remember that everyone is not at the same place in life — intellectually, emotionally, and physically — that you are. What I learned is that even when you don't feel like being gracious, if you try your best to put it into practice anyway, it makes life exceedingly more pleasant.
After 2 years of dealing with Noreen, it's doubtful that I will ever write her a recommendation letter or suggest to her superior that she receive a promotion, but I have created a little bubble of peace around us, fragile though it may be, and that's enough. I hope to carry this lesson into other areas of my life.
Peace and love,