Earlier this week, I had a frustrating conversation with a representative from my car insurance company (that will remain nameless 🙂 ).
Due to some financial struggles (related to being on maternity leave), I decided to call all of our bill collectors to try to make payment arrangements, installment agreements, or see what kind of help these companies might offer. The woman on the phone was nice (at first) and explained a bunch of different options–including one option that involved her cancelling my automatic payments, to give us some time to get the money.
But, as I reflected on the options, I realized that none of them were really right for us. So, I declined and thanked her for her time. But, before I could hang up, she explained that she had already gone ahead and cancelled my next automatic payment and all future ones too!
Taken aback, I asked her why she did that, and explained that I hadn’t authorized her to make that change.
I expected her to apologize and fix my account. But, the most amazing thing happened… she got angry and defensive! And she dismissively said, “I was just trying to help YOU out!”
I was in shock! Isn’t that a golden rule? That a company can’t make a change to your account without your permission? How could she be upset with ME?
Now, we’ve all been through similar experiences. We experience an injustice. And it’s usually at this point in the conversation where we have a choice… to lose it OR not to lose it. Thankfully, years of teaching high school and having two small children has given me enough strategies for handling stress and other people’s meltdowns.
I breathed, tried to calm myself down. Then, I calmly explained to her that I appreciated her attempts to help me out, and my criticism is not intended to disrespect her in anyway. BUT, that she made a mistake when she made a change to my account without asking me first.
I explained to her that, “I am a teacher, I deal with rude behavior every day. I get it. You must deal with a lot. This is not intended to be rude or disrespectful, just a note to help you improve. In the future, please make sure you wait to get permission before you change someone’s account settings.”
Sounds reasonable enough, right? Even kind! But, she got even more upset!
So, I asked to speak to a supervisor. What’s crazier about this whole story is that her supervisor actually defended HER! She spent the whole time explaining the good intentions behind her actions, minimizing her responsibility. I couldn’t believe it! Didn’t she know the golden rule?!
After all that, we ended the call with the supervisor explaining that they couldn’t even fix the mistake on their end. I would have to go into the online system myself, to change my settings back to normal.
Now this bothered me for a solid 30 minutes. And as I analyzed the situation, I realized that it wasn’t her human error that was driving me nuts, but her willingness to defend it so much. Why couldn’t she just say “my bad” and move on?! What was the big deal?!
BUT, then it hit me… There was a much deeper issue going on here that we’ve all been guilty of: fear. Fear and insecurities. She couldn’t handle me calling her actions out, because it made her feel insecure about herself.
She was defending her actions as though admitting she made a mistake would undo all of the positive things she had done for me. As though admitting she made a mistake would mean that she sucks at her job! She appeared to take my criticism as an indictment of her character.
But admitting you messed up doesn’t diminish you in any way! In fact, it’s when we can calmly and genuinely take ownership over our mistakes that we actually grow. It’s only when we are truly brave enough to be honest with ourselves that we can we see our mistakes and take steps to improve. It’s the only way to truly transform! Otherwise we stay stuck where we are.
Part of the reason I was able to cut her some slack is because even though I was upset, I recognized the same insecurity, fear, and defensiveness in myself. It’s something that I have had to work on, and still do!
Our ability to listen to constructive criticism and feedback actually comes from a much deeper place of self-love. When we truly learn to love ourselves, we see ourselves for the whole, amazing, divine creatures that we are. When you see yourself as divine, you don’t harshly judge yourself based on small mistakes and errors. You are able to see that everyone makes mistakes, and that you are human, beautifully flawed just like everyone else.
You see defensiveness for what it truly is… a sneaky perfectionism, that has its roots in fear. Fear of not having it all together, fear of being judged by others, fear of not being accepted or validated. Subconsciously, perfectionists hope that if everything on the surface is “perfect” that it will calm their
inner insecurities and self-doubts, but it doesn’t. Perfection is an impossible standard, so it just leaves perfectionists feeling anxious, sad, and depressed when they can’t hit all of their impossible targets.
I like to think of myself as a P.I.R. (Perfectionist in Recovery), so I feel her! And if we really wanna keep it real,many of us probably can feel her too!
And so, while I don’t think my message to her really sunk in at the time, I hope at some point it does. I hope she understands that I am not judging her, nor am I indicting her imperfections. I hope she understands that she is worthy, whole, beautiful, divinely created, and that her mistakes don’t define her.
I hope at some point she understands that constructive feedback is intended to push us, help us grow, and it’s our fear that makes us think it’s meant to tear us down. Even when it feels like an attack, there is always some message in every interaction that will help you grow, if you just let it!
Self-awareness is the first step! 🙂