The Phrase That Will Always Piss You Off

I work in an environment where customers enter our place of business and we treat them like guests. We like to have a positive, safe environment for all our guests.

Recently, as I was walking through the building on the mezzanine level, I came upon a man with two children. The children were both between two and three years old. I immediately noticed that the man was setting one child up on a ledge that over looked the first floor. From that ledge it is about a 20 foot fall on to carpet that isn't all that energy absorbent. While this wasn't the smartest move in the world, it wasn't all that dangerous if he held on to her. I started in his direction so that I could stand near him in the hopes that he might get the non-verbal message that he was not exactly being safe.

And that is when he let go of her and turned around to pick up child number two. Child number two had wandered about seven feet away so the man started to walk away from the first child on the ledge.

I hastened forward and said, "Sir! Sir! That is not very safe!"

He turned to me as he picked up child two and quickly stepped back to the girl on the ledge. He paused for a second wondering if he should now stick kid number two up on the ledge. I'm sure at this point he realized that he was not being very safe and made up his mind to take the child off the ledge. I continued to try and talk to him into taking the girl down and I said, possibly using the wrong phrasing, "Sir, I do not think it is wise to put your kids up there."

He put the second kid down and in reaching for the girl he said flatly, "Calm down, pal."

The phrase had the exact opposite effect.

I read once that the phrase "calm down" is offensive in every language. I have to agree. Tacking on a "pal" was just enraging. I immediately went red. Luckily, I am trained in the art of guest services and I focused my rage and turned it into a big smile. I flattened most of my canine teeth in the process. I waited until he took the girl off the ledge and turned and walked away with a "Have a good rest of your visit."

Two or three people in the office got to hear that story in my efforts to cool off. Sure, maybe suggesting that the guy wasn't wise could have been poor word choice. He was probably embarrassed at his actions.

But for that split second after he said "calm down, pal," I could have cared less about him or his kids. That's a powerful phrase. I'm going to try it on a few folks and see if I can get my ass kicked.


Capt. Schmoe said...

The term "calm down" or "relax" implies that the receiver of the message is emotional beyond control.

As you were in control, just concerned, the implication pissed you off. His choice of words were not only inaccurate, but somewhat offensive.

Your choice of words were entirely appropriate and they worked. He removed his kids from the ledge.

Besides, the guy was a maroon for putting his kids on the ledge.
Screw him.

Thanks for the post.

Holland Rhodes said...

I very nearly began to flatted my canines upon reading your account.

But I think I would have said "Sir, for safety, no children or other persons are not allowed on the railings."

Of course, this is in hind-sight after reading your tale here. What would likely have happened is that he would have dropped his child after I shouted (from 20ft away) "What the fuck are you doing?! Get your kid off the ledge before she falls!"

Schuyler said...

"Chill out, man" is another one...