Part of being a professional is the expectation that we are to act, well, professionally. They don’t teach a course on professionalism in vet school- it’s one of those absorbed-by-osmosis things, I think.
It means not getting into fistfights in the parking lot.
It means not wearing platform flip flops to work (though I would argue those shouldn’t be worn anywhere.)
It means not spiking your co-worker’s drink with laxatives.
It means not calling co-workers or clients names.
In short, it is a nebulous code of conduct that entails treating people with respect, even if you are not getting the same in return.
Now I may be one of those crazy old fashioned types, but I believe treating everyone with respect and civility, even outside of work (though I make an exception when I’m driving. All Southern Californians do.) If you manage to be a jerk and show me you don’t deserve that respect, so be it, but life is a lot better when you give people the benefit of the doubt.
Which is why I find myself constantly taken aback at the way people sometimes treat each other, the things they might find acceptable to say, the insults and/or threats they find themselves entitled to speak because they are upset. Or cranky. Or for no reason whatsoever.
In a professional environment, it’s a tough line to toe. I understand that people say and do things under duress that they would not normally do, and I think most offices do try and be understanding about that kind of thing. More of then than not someone does have a legitimate concern, and if we can all stay calm enough to discuss it rationally it makes coming to a resolution that much easier. But there is a line- usually involving threats of some sort or another- that will get you politely but firmly shown the door.
Don’t get me wrong- most clients are great, and even if they are upset about something, we can usually work it out. I’m speaking solely of that small percentage of people who will, no matter what you do, never be happy and go out of their way to be mean and nasty. I wish I could say I really am zen and Spock-like, and I admit that I need to do more yoga, but letting the insults roll off me does not come naturally. I absorb other people’s emotions like a sponge, which is honestly one of the reasons I think I do my job well, but is also one of the reasons it can be consuming. Negativity is exponential, unfortunately; every insult can drag you down as much as 10 positive comments can lift you.
For the record: no one likes to be called a megalomaniacal money grubbing no good sorry excuse for an anything. Even if they look at you stoically and say, “I’m sorry you feel that way.”
I’m working on some visualization techniques to deal with the nasties. In my head, I have erected a “Jerk-O” button. When imaginarily pressed, it opens a magical trapdoor beneath the person in question, and they drop straight into the dumpster on top of the paper towels we use to clean up after anal gland expressions.
The nice thing about this is that the logistics occupy my mind somewhat, giving me the appropriate serious yet quizzical expression a professional must maintain even when being lambasted. There’s nothing left to do when someone’s flying off the deep end except ride it out- might as well use the time to ponder important trapdoor-related issues:
How quickly would they drop? Would they hover for a moment, ponytail floating in the air behind them, or just plop in like a stone? Would they keep yelling as they fell further and further away- “All any of you people care about is Moo-OOOHHHHHHHHHHhhhhhhhh” or just silently thud on down? Who would I designate to meet them outside the dumpster with their pet and a copy of their records?
It beats listening to them lobbing psychological missiles at you, at any rate.
“If I were human, I believe my response would be: ‘go to hell’. If I were human.”
—Spock in ‘The Final Frontier’