Free eBooklet from H2!

Friday, 8 July 2011

Are you too polite to complain?

It's post-exam season here in the UK, so the teenagers are footloose and fancy free, without a care in the world, having a well-eared rest before they get their results...

Good for them I say, but for us commuters, there's a menace on the train lines: 'gangs (gaggles?) of yoofs' piling into the train carriages, weighed down with rucksacks, sleeping bags and 6-packs of larger - on their way to or from one or other of the plethora of music festivals... That's all well and good, but for those of us going about our daily commute, minding our own business (literally), the imposition of loud, not particularly entertaining banter, laughter and squeals is somewhat distracting and downright irritating. Unfortunately the UK trains are just not big enough to accommodate the influx of additional (unwashed) bodies. So what do you do (or have you done) about it? Nothing? Sit quietly fuming, counting the minutes down until your stop?

Yesterday I witnessed myself go through the initial dismay of "oh no, this ‘lovely-half-empty-post-rush-hour-train-that-I-chose- to-travel-into-London-on’ has been over-run with noisy teenagers"… to 10 minutes later, the utter irritation of: "How on earth can 6 people be so unaware of their surroundings, so disrespectful of other passengers right/desire for peace?"... And then I did something somewhat uncharacteristic - I actually decided to say something! "What?" I hear you say... "You mean you actually asked them to pipe down and they didn't stab you?!"

The reality is I made a quick assessment of the situation, decided that they were just ordinary, slightly hung-over young people on a day-trip together. They didn't look like a gang, or sound like a gang (not according to the stereotype in my mind, anyway). So I simply turned to one of the girls sitting next to me and calmly said (with a conscious disarming smile and non-confrontational body language): "I really don't want to be a party pooper, but would you mind keeping your voices down a little?" All 6 of them looked at me, somewhat shocked. I'm guessing because nobody has ever said anything like that before. After a couple of sarcastic comments in stage whispers to each other about having to communicate in sign language, or by passing notes, they continued their (somewhat banal) conversation at a much reduced, more tolerable volume and within 30 minutes they were all asleep! I caught the eyes of a few other passengers nearby, and they beamed at me. It felt like a 'take a bow' moment, but it was hardly an act of heroism. I simply overcame my British politeness, and put my respectful assertive communication skills into practice.

As I sat there, feeling quite pleased with myself (and sharing the fact on my Facebook status) a middle aged gentleman got onto the train and sat down next to me. He then proceeded to open a plastic bag and take out a strong smelling sandwich. Goodness knows what was in it, sardines and onions? Now this was really a tricky one. I know what it's like when you're that hungry, you've just got to eat. And sometimes you can't avoid eating on a train. But my goodness, please spare a thought for the people you inflict with ‘passive eating’! Did I say anything to him? No I didn't, I just slouched down in my seat and tried to breathe through my mouth and not my nose. It had already occurred to me that I might be a bossy control freak. One of my FB friends commented on my status update, likening me to "Victor(ia) Meldrew". I really didn't feel like proving the point by asking the man to take his sandwich elsewhere.

Perhaps you'd think that as a trainer of communication skills, particularly 'assertive communication' and 'influencing skills', I would have been in there, all guns blazing (not literally, I hope.) But actually, when you're sitting in a train, there's a strange unspoken protocol that we just shouldn't interfere with what other people are doing - even if it is antisocial. With my trainer hat on, I would say it's important for human beings to communicate and negotiate with each other to reach mutually acceptable outcomes... if we don't, then resentment really can and does build up and then the fall-out can be catastrophic. However, as an off-duty trainer I recognise that I am still often 'too polite' to say anything. And that's a good thing - I don't want to become a moaning 'grumpy old woman', interfering in other people's fun. But I do fantasize about a time when we human beings can naturally be a bit more respectful of each other, and to be able to politely remind those of their impact on us without fearing violence.

I'd love to hear from anyone who has tried with or without success to influence the behaviour of others - on a train, on the tube, in the cinema or in an open plan office...

No comments:

Post a Comment