Take a holiday shopping day, impatient people, bad weather, too-small and too-few parking spaces, and add on top of that the best box office sales of the year and you have all of the ingredients of a recipe for disaster. They call it “Black Friday”. A day, and a shopping trip, I will never forget…
It was November 26th, 2010 when my friend, Lisa, and I set out to do some serious holiday shopping. After Lisa and I had been sitting in the car for over 15 minutes just trying to turn into the parking lot, much of our initial excitement was losing steam. Once in, we realized that it was time to be strategic if we were going to get a parking spot. We aligned ourselves to execute the “Stalk and Block”; a parking method used by truly serious holiday shoppers like us where exiting shoppers are stalked to their car then blocked until they pull their car out. At which point the Stalk and Blocker takes over the well-earned spot.
Lisa and I began to scan the concrete landscape for an exiting shopper who would make a good candidate to stalk. I must be honest; we weren’t very good at this strategy as we had more than a couple false starts. It had been over 15 minutes and we were still parking spot deprived. Our frustration levels were increasing while our patience levels were decreasing. Lisa had a family event that afternoon so the time to take advantage of the shopping discounts was quickly fleeting.
Suddenly, from the corner of our eyes we spotted our victim a couple aisles over. They had already unlocked their car with their remote so we could identify the soon-to-be-vacant-spot and to our disbelief, there didn’t seem to be any cars in the aisle waiting for the spot!
As we headed over to what was soon going to be our parking spot,a car came flying out of an aisle (without even slowing to see if cars were coming), causing Lisa to slam on her brakes to avoid hitting him. That was not the worst of it. Because there were cars coming from the opposite direction, the car was then stuck in the lane completely blocking us from being able to move. This all happened as we watchedourhard earned and clearly deserved parking spot stolen by a delighted shopper entering from the other direction.
By this time, even though my friend Lisa was very familiar with our Emotional Intelligence work, she found herself honking her horn and making a vulgar hand gesture to the man in the car. She was furious. We were furious. We could see that the man was talking into a Bluetooth and seemed totally unaware what he had just done. How could he not realize that we had just been trying to get into the parking lot and park for over half an hour? What made him so special and why did he cut us off AND block usfrom gettingourspot? We drove away, blood boiling, ranting about what type of awful person this guy MUST be!
Unbelievably, the next aisle we turned down had an empty parking spot and we parked. Still upset and fuming, we headed into the shopping center. Now this story doesn’t end there. That would be too predictable…too usual. A simple story of bad driving and parking lot road rage during the holiday season.
No, where this story takes an unexpected twist is 10 minutes later as Lisa and I stood in yet another line at the Pottery Barn (still angry and justifying our actions). As we stood there we saw to our surprise the “parking spot hijacker” enter the store. Lisa and I postured for an interaction; ready to give this guy a piece of our mind. At which point he walked up to us, reached out is hand and said, “Hello, my name is Brian and I just cut you off in the parking lot a couple of minutes ago. I just want to say that I am sorry and I won’t risk diluting my apology with excuses. We all have things going on and I wasn’t paying attention. I know that’s not your fault so please accept my apology as that must have been very frustrating for you. I hope you can still enjoy your shopping today.” With that he turned and walked away leaving Lisa and I standing there, with our chins touching the floor.
Moments later, as Lisa and I closed our mouths we realized what had just happened. We had envisioned this man as an ignorant rude person because he wasn’t thinking of us, but it turns out we may have been pointing our finger in the wrong direction. It was us who let our emotions take over; replacing clarity with entitlement. We made assumptions and awfulized, about a person that we didn’t even know. How emotionally intelligent is that? It was Brian who did not judge us in the moment (even with the unacceptable hand gesture from Lisa). Instead he thought of how his actions had impacted us and wanted to address it so that our day wasn’t ruined. I will never forget that moment and the associated feelings of embarrassment that Lisa and I felt.
So, as we near the holiday season perhaps we can find a moment to stop, and instead of judging a person by their perceived actions, get curious about what may be going on for them. Stop your emotions from hijacking your rational mind, and give the benefit of the doubt. We never knew why Brian was distracted in that moment, but it doesn’t matter, his generosity will never be forgotten!