(Reprinted from my December, 2007 E-zine, Tips for Today’s Managers)
My most memorable Christmas was with my in-laws in 1982. My wife is one of eight children, five girls and three boys. With most of them having their own families, the number of presents you had to buy for all the brothers, sisters, nephews, and nieces was getting out of hand. So that year it was decided that we would have a structured gift exchange, where each member would draw one name and buy a nice gift for that person. The remainder of what would have been spent on twenty or thirty presents would be contributed to a Salvation Army family.
Christmas Day we all gathered for the gift exchange. Tasteful
presents of sweaters, vases, and golf stuff were opened one-at-a-time and fussed over by everyone. Then, my sister-in-law Bridget opened her present from her younger brother Nick. Nick had dropped out of college and was working on the Alaska Pipeline at the time. He was known as the party animal of the family, so I wasn’t surprised to see the framed, 2’x3′ photograph of himself in a Mexican bandito outfit, complete with bandoleers and a fake moustache. It drew a big laugh from the men in the room, including me. The women, on the other hand, weren’t so amused – and Bridget left room, visibly upset.
While one of the sisters went to console her, the others chastised Nick for his rude behavior. Somehow the conversation
morphed into a heated discussion among all the sisters about whom their mother loved more. The event ended with half the family marching out, children in tow, vowing never to speak to one another again.
Everyone has since made up, but it reminded me of how stressful the ostensibly joyful holidays can be. There are expectations to fulfill and potential disappointments to deal with. Nick probably thought he was going the extra mile by giving a picture of himself – a truly personalized gift – and expected appreciation for it. Bridget, on the other hand, probably felt that Nick was showing her disrespect by giving her a gag gift when everyone else was getting nice stuff. Meanwhile, the rest of the family was carrying just enough angst about old hurts and injustices that all it took was this incident to ignite a family blow-up.
Even without the weird family dynamics, however, there’s a whole lot of holiday stress that that comes around this time of year. Presents to buy, parties to plan, people to see, traffic to
fight, crowds to endure, money to worry about, expectations to
look great, and pressure to be “happy.” It’s no wonder that we
get a bit cranky. Of course the same goes for your customers and
So when those hoards of tired and stressed out customers, with
crazy family dynamics and too many people to shop for come into your establishment this December, and throw a hissy fit because you’re out of something they want or their delivery is delayed; or your co-workers seem unusually cranky and bite your head off for some minor oversight, just remember, it’s not you with whom they have the problem, it’s my brother-in-law Nick they’re mad at.
It’ll help you stay calm.