Dear Dr. Respler: At the recent wedding of my best friend’s son, I arrived for the chuppah early so as to secure a seat close to the front and by the aisle. I didn’t want to miss anything.
The room quickly filled up and soon there were no seats available. Suddenly, a woman walked in and placed a chair in the aisle, right in front of me and sat there, blocking my view. I knew she was the type of person who might start yelling at me if I said anything to her and, as this would cause a commotion, I decided to remain quiet. I definitely did not want to create a scene. I wasn’t the only person being affected. Another close friend of the chosson’s mother was sitting next to me and this woman blocked her view as well.
This friend quietly approached the woman, whispered something in her ear, and the woman immediately left her seat. I asked my friend what she had said and was astounded by the eloquent way she handled someone who was clearly demonstrating chutzpah.
In a quiet and respectful manner, she told that woman that the position she was sitting in would probably block the photographer from snapping proper pictures. She said it in a quiet and respectful tone.
I was very impressed with her answer. Dr. Yael, please address the issue of how we can help people who behave inappropriately change their action without creating an argumentative situation. As I usually opt to remain quiet while seething inside, any helpful advice would be appreciated. A Passive Reader
Dear Passive Reader: Thank you for raising this matter. I will try to give you some ideas as to how to put the technique you’ve lauded into action. I agree that your friend handled herself appropriately and astutely.
People who behave inappropriately generally have low self-esteem and do not respond kindly to criticism. Your friend seems to have learned how to make people feel at ease, treating them in a non-threatening way. The statement to the woman obstructing both of your views, that perhaps the photographer would not be able to take appropriate pictures, was not a criticism or negative statement but rather a non-threatening observation, which allowed the other woman to move without feeling defensive or disparaged. Furthermore by showing the other woman respect, she allowed her to feel at ease.
Recently I was stuck in a traffic jam on a side street in Brooklyn. I was blocked off due to a problem ahead of me and there were several police officers monitoring the situation. Seeing that I could not proceed, I just sat back and relaxed. Next to me was a young, impatient frum guy who started honking his horn. I did not quite get why he was honking, as clearly nothing was moving because something was going on.
A young police officer strutted over to me and started screaming. I pulled down my window and he said in a loud, irate tone, “Lady, why are you honking? Don’t you see there is a problem?” I knew that I had not honked; it was the frum guy next to me who did. Quickly assessing my situation, I realized that I could not tell the cop that I did not honk, since saying that would mean I was massering (informing) on him. I also hoped that with my knowledge of psychology, I would be more successful in dealing with the police officer. So I listened to the cop yelling at me and I apologized by saying, “I am so sorry, sir. You are right to be upset. You protect our city, so please accept my apology.” This did not appease the young police officer, who seemed to enjoy yelling at me. He continued to yell, and when I thought he was finished I started to roll up the window.
But he kept yelling, trying to put me in my place. I rolled down the window and listened politely until he felt satisfied that he had yelled enough. Baruch Hashem, he did not issue me a ticket for honking inappropriately. And all the while the young frum guy gazed at what was happening, knowing that he was the culprit and appreciating the fact that I was taking the blame for his misdeed. With the police officer gone from the scene, the problem was resolved five minutes later and it was full steam ahead.
In my story, I attempted to accord the police officer extreme respect. Likewise, in your story, your friend demonstrated respect to the other woman. Had she said loudly and disrespectfully, “Don’t you know that the way you are sitting will interfere with the photographer?” I am not sure that the results would have been as effective as they turned out to be. By exerting effort to demonstrate respect, she validated the other woman’s ego.