Bullish: How to Remain Blissfully Unfrustrated in the Face of Other People’s Incompetence

Fake Niceness Goes a Long Way, Even When Everyone Knows It’s Fake. In a cab the other day, I said “Here is good, thank you,” and the driver pulled over and I said, “Great, thank you,” and then he said “Cash or credit?” and I said “Credit, thank you,” paid, and asked for a receipt. He handed it to me and I said “Thank you,” and he said, “Thank you.” As I was getting out of the cab, I realized I had said “thank you” at least five times, and the driver at least three. And it was kind of nice. Were we really swimming in gratitude towards one another? Not really. But we had a mutual commitment to get the job done in a manner as free of friction as possible. I feel free to offer fake smiles to people in boring, time-consuming, favor-involving business situations. People with good body language skills can tell a fake smile from a real one, and that’s fine. In fact, a real smile would be sort of pathological when complaining about how you didn’t realize Sleepy’s would be charging you retroactive interest if you didn’t pay off your mattress in full within 5 months and 29 days. A fake smile is just fine; it shows that you are committed to making the other person’s job easy. People like that. Fake niceness is the lubricant of unpleasant tasks.

Waiting is Called “Relaxing” If You Have Beer. “Peak performance” guru Tony Robbins (whom I have previously quoted at some length and with some caveats here) tells a story in Awaken the Giant Within (side note: how many women really want to think about their inner “giant”?) about returning home from a trip and learning that he had over 100 phone calls to return, which made him angry and led him to ask “disempowering questions.” But then, in a more empowering question, he asked himself “How can I enjoy the process while I do what is necessary to make it the way I want it?” The answer turned out to be returning phone calls from the Jacuzzi in his back yard.

As a stressed-to-the-brink young entrepreneur, I took this to heart, despite my execrable lack of Jacuzzi. I decided that waiting in line at the bank wasn’t so bad when you had a grande skim mocha, and that, actually, virtually any experience is improved by an optimal beverage supply. Recently, I had to sit through an online training that was totally stupid and pointless (“Is sexual harassment in the workplace acceptable if it’s just for fun? Click yes or no. You picked no. That is correct!”) I did so from my balcony (haha, I’m outdoors!) with a bowl of cereal (haha, I’m EATING!)

For non-work-related tasks, feel free to add booze. Banks, credit card companies, and places you ordered a defective blender from take calls in the evening and on weekends, times at which it is perfectly acceptable to be drinking champagne and eating strawberries while soaking your feet in a tub full of bath salts (seriously, doesn’t that make you want to call customer service right now?) Plan, say, 45 minutes of champagne/strawberries/soaking and then make your phone call. When you’re done early, you’ll hardly even know what to do with your new free time.

It’s worth a mention here that many people in customer service gigs or dead-end jobs of various kinds are disempowered by corporate structures that cause them to appear incompetent when they aren’t, and that, in a bad economy, plenty of people are legitimately dissatisfied to be working in jobs well below where they expected to be at this point in their lives. I am in no way claiming that all customer service people are incompetent, and of course plenty of them have cool side projects, graduate-degrees-in-progress, etc.

While the above has focused a lot on customer service situations, I find that, even in dealing with peers, I am often (initially) frustrated with the incredibly slow speed at which other people do things. At these times, I use the lull to get ahead on other things, and I just take a step back and feel gratitude: if other people were fast and efficient and smart and competent, I would have a hard time competing! As long as a great many people around me are sort of lame, I am easily able to be successful! For you to be at the top, other people have to be at the bottom, so thank those people for putting themselves there! They are like the kneeling people at the bottom of your cheerleader pyramid.

Of course, if the person whose incompetence is causing your aorta to shred is your Actual Boss, while some points above may still possibly apply, I shall reiterate my perennial advice to consider excusing yourself from the 9-to-5 job world. TheGloss editor Lilit Marcus has advice aplenty on dealing with a hellish boss in Save the Assistants. Also see How Business is Like Dating and How to Quit Your Job With Your Career and Dignity Intact. Or, hide a flask in your desk.

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