“We don’t play well together.”
That was a phrase I heard recently at a pretty solemn public gathering.
While the phrase itself took me by surprise, what surprised me more was the unprofessionalism of it.
Who says that in a serious business context?
I was just thankful I was immediately verbally disassociated with that person with that utterance.
Seeing as how I’ve worked numerous jobs over the years, I can share other times I have faced similar unprofessionalism and still came out on top.
I once worked at a newspaper in eastern North Carolina, where I covered government stories mostly. One of the governing bodies I covered was the city council for a town with a population of approximately 1,000 people.
And it was reported by many that the mayor of said town…was a “crackhead.”
Whether or not “crackhead” applied, I can say he definitely acted unprofessional for some reason.
Anyone attending could watch the show — when he’d arrive, he was dressed to the nines, except for socks. He was attentive. He was ready for action. He was almost exploding with “hyperness.”
And within an hour, the jumpy, hyper mayor began a transformation — into a gelatin-like substance which appeared to melt into the table. Many times by the end of a meeting, he’d place his head on his arms and flop down across the desk, sometimes even rolling his eyes.
The first time he did it I kicked myself for not having a camera.
Over time he was able to share with my camera, and then I with the public, his public displays of, well, his personality I guess.
And of course I had the “power of the pen.” Despite the fact the man had been re-elected into the office twice, all it took was 10-11 months for his voting constituency to realize what they were electing.
He is no longer the mayor.
But unprofessional behavior isn’t exclusionary to any one type of employment.
And I can attest to its prevalence in the food service industry. I spent more than a decade schlepping various genres of food, and witnessed many types of unprofessional behavior, some of which would sicken the best of them.
We had an older woman who was a regular at a place I worked third shift. She always asked for the same meal, and rarely left more than a couple quarters for a tip. Most times I took care of her, but this one day I asked another server to work with her.
Unbeknownst to me, he was not happy with the request.
So instead of breaking apart the romaine lettuce, adding the Caesar dressing and croutons, and mixing it together prior to serving, the angered server threw it all in a pile on a plate and plopped it in front of her at her table.
The dressing amount required for those salads was approximately two tablespoons. There was a full cup of dressing drowning the shriveling lettuce leaves.
And instead of the eight to 10 croutons, there were at least 30 piled on top.
She was so mad she tracked me down in the back of the restaurant. She thrust the mess called a salad in my face and said “Would YOU eat that?”
Of course, I wouldn’t have.
I went back and tracked down the server, who decided instead to explode all over me, screaming obscenities where everyone could hear, especially the woman who got the bad salad.
He even called her a special obscenity.
Of course, I swooped in and quietly admonished him, including sending him packing out the back door.
Then I made the salad, took it to the woman and told her it was no charge. I added a piece of pie to it, although she tried to send it back to me.
When I got back to the table to clean it up after she left, I found a nice little $20 tucked under the salad plate.
Unprofessionalism isn’t limited to face-to-face contact in the workplace.
Sometimes it can happen through those nasty little cell phones.
I have a mortgage company, and the nicest thing I can say about them is….is…..um….iiiiiiiiis, well nothing.
I had some health issues, which led me to a long-term hospital stay to get things working again. I lost my job in the process, and was trying to basically count nickels and dimes to get the house payment made.
I got a call five days before the payment was due, and I explained to them what was going on and that my payment would likely be late.
“So can you give me a check so I can take care of your payment?” the difficult-to-understand caller asked me.
“No I can’t do that,” I said. “I just explained to you what was going on, and that I wouldn’t be able to get you a check until the 15th.”
“So how do you want to take care of this today?” the voice asked again.
“Um, I just told you I can’t do that today. It will have to be the 15th.”
“Would you like to take care of this today with a check?”
I pulled the phone from my ear and stared at the screen, incredulous.
“I just said to you — now pay attention — I just said that I cannot pay until the 15th. Is today the 15th?”
“No sir, but we can take care of this for you today with a check.”
“Oh,” I said. “So you’re going to pay the mortgage this month?”
“Excuse me?” asked the voice. “I need to take care of this with a check from you today, so can I get your check information?”
“Is today the 15th.”
“Well, as I said, I can’t do anything ‘til the 15th.”
And I hang up.
About a half hour later, I get another call. And went through the same pile of stupidity I dealt with on the first call.
And again I get to the point where I can’t take it, and I hang up.
This performance is repeated usually nine or 10 times before I stop talking to them altogether.
Unprofessional doesn’t even begin to cover that experience, but we’ll go with it for the purposes of this column.
The basic rule of thumb which should be followed, not only in the workplace, but anywhere you must share space with other members of the human race, is to treat others the way you’d like to be treated.
It’s said all different ways in all different languages, but the statement’s basic message remains true.
Put other people’s shoes on for a minute, then re-examine the scene.
You might get a surprise as to how the rest of us look at you.
(Reporter John Ross can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)