A few years ago I was riding the subway during a rainy rush hour. We were packed in like sardines, and I was holding onto the bar next to me for balance. I had my umbrella in the same hand.
“Can you please move your umbrella, you’re getting me wet?” requested the woman in the seat I was standing next to. I profusely apologized and did my best to lower the umbrella so it was as much out of her way as was possible on the overcrowded train.
Without a thank you she turned her head almost in disgust. I couldn’t help but notice the continued peripheral looks moving from my hand to her leg. I guess she thought I didn’t notice so she started to vocally huff as the car jerked and a single drop of water escaped and found refuge on her navy pants.
With a tone that indicated I was intentionally causing her a great offense she said, “You’re still dripping on me!”
“I’m really sorry,” I said, “but I have nowhere else to go. I need to be able to hold on.”
“I don’t appreciate getting wet,” she snapped.
I had been doing my level best to maintain my composure but her attitude and the elbow that just knocked the side of my head was making it difficult. In a slightly less friendly, but still neutral tone I said, “It’s raining out– you’re going to get wet!”
“Well, I prefer to choose when I get wet!” she said with great indignation.
I was done. I rolled my eyes and caught another women holding back laughter as she observed the entire exchange. I mumbled under my breath but loud enough for the seated woman to hear, “I guess it’s true – water really does melt witches.”
I was pretty sure she had heard me, but she didn’t react. I knew it was immature and unnecessary but in the moment it felt good. I was relived to get off at the next stop.
I didn’t notice the woman entertained by the whole exchange get off behind me. So when I saw her in the faculty lounge at the AMA a wave of fear and embarrassment swept over me. I am a communications trainer after all and that is how I handled the situation – ugh.
Her name was Lori and we had that simultaneous moment of recognition from the subway. She asked to confirm what she was thinking and I sheepishly acknowledged it was me.
“I couldn’t believe how rude that woman was,” Lori said. “I thought you handled the situation very well for how much she blew it out of proportion.”
I thanked her, but told her I was disappointed at myself for my final comment which she apparently hadn’t heard. In my guilt I shared what I had said and Lori had a great laugh. I appreciated her response, “we can’t always be perfect.”
I have said before that we know what may be a better way to communicate but we don’t always do it. You know what, that’s OK. Sometimes it isn’t about being perfect but about recovering and owning it when you are not. So tell me what do you do when you aren’t happy with your response? Does it work? How would you have handled the woman on the subway?