We all make mistakes, and we need to be tolerant of each other’s foibles. But there are ways to mitigate errors that cause you to look ridiculous. This was the lesson I took from an experience I had several weeks ago at the grocery store.
I was in the produce section of the store, located toward the front, when a woman made a boisterous entrance. Immediately as she came through the doors she could be heard saying, “I need to get some bell peppers.” Everyone around me turned to look in her direction. She made a beeline to the rack of orange, red, and yellow bell peppers, followed by a man and another woman. She picked up an orange then a red bell pepper, seemed to examine them, but flung them back onto the pile. She began to look frustrated. Her companions stood behind her quietly watching.
“No,” she bellowed, “Where are the bell peppers?” A produce worker standing nearby looked at her puzzled. The frustrated woman made a quick glance backward toward her companions, then turned back to the stack of colorful peppers. “I want a bell pepper. What’s wrong with this store? I need a BELL PEPPER.”
The produce worker approached her cautiously. The woman turned toward her and screeched, “Where are your bell peppers?” The produce worker gingerly raised an arm toward a separate display of all green bell peppers, about six feet from where they were standing, and said, “Is this what you are looking for?”
“There they are,” the loud woman said in a huff. She proceeded to the display, took what she wanted and stormed off followed by her two still silent companions.
I always try to find the lesson in every situation. I wanted to empathize with the woman, but she seemed completely oblivious to her gaffe, suggesting she felt no embarrassment. She certainly didn’t feel ridiculous, although she appeared very much to be. Not a learning experience for her, but maybe a gem for the rest of us.
Here is what I took from the experience:
Know Your Facts Before Opening Your Mouth. So many times, we think we know what we are talking about but clearly don’t. Making an assumption made her look dense. A simple fact-check might have avoided the error. The woman was lucky that the produce worker intuited her need.
Communicate Clearly. There was a possibility that the woman knew what she had in mind and did not communicate it well. Perhaps she knew the difference, that all the peppers were, in fact, bell peppers, but in her mind wanted the green one. And she simply did not communicate specifically enough. Making sure her words matched what she was requesting would have kept her from looking foolish.
Be Approachable. Her manner was such that everyone around her was apprehensive to challenge her. I doubt her companions were ignorant of her mistake. Yet neither of them appeared to want to help her clear it up. Her manner suggested she might bite someone’s head off if they pointed out her complete lack of knowledge in this situation.
Don’t Draw Attention to Yourself Unless the Situation Demands It. By all means, if you have an emergency and need help, make all the noise you need to get it. Otherwise, keep your exposure to a minimum. It’s not necessary. The entire customer-filled produce department witnessed this incident in its entirety.
We can’t avoid every mistake. And shouldn’t, because that is how we learn and grow. But if you want to avoid looking foolish in your mistake, there are ways to keep it to a minimum. Hopefully, these tips will help you achieve common smarts in that regard.
Copyright 2022, Monica Nelson