Social Experimentation in the Workplace

Working in college administration is certainly rewarding and can even be fun sometimes. Sometimes. 

I am the college Registrar, meaning I am responsible for creating student schedules, handling transcripts, and several other things that would bore you to tears. I am probably one of the least liked people on staff due to my job requirements (at least that is what I tell myself). I am the one who puts students on academic probation. I call to tell them they have failed a class and as a result will not graduate with their cohort. I am the one who decides which teachers they will have and when they will take classes. If a student is unhappy with his or her schedule,grades, or any aspect of life in relation to school, I hear about it. Usually by way of screaming and threats. 

For almost two years now I have been cussed at, insulted, and called names I would save for my worst enemy. It has been a good learning experience and has allowed me to practice my “workplace professionalism” when dealing with nasty clients or customers. Many a time I have been tempted to say to an ill-tempered student “keep talking to me this way and I’ll make your life miserable you idiot. I see your grades, I SEE HOW STUPID YOU ARE!” Instead, I have to respond calmly with things like “This is our school policy, Jenny, and I am terribly sorry but there is nothing more I can do. Would you like to discuss your options again? Is there anything else I can do for you?” GAG. 

Lately, I have been trying out different tactics for dealing with these unruly students, I am calling it my own little social experiment. This way I can entertain the psychology freak in me AND avoid anger buildup as I’m being torn a new As$hole. I simply decide which type of response I want to go with and track the effectiveness of each. It’s win-win! So far I have tried arguing back, sympathizing, tough love, pissy, sad, defensive, overly confrontational, and pass-off-to-another-staff-member. I have not been too satisfied with any of them.

Today I tried a response that I thoroughly enjoyed, and am definitely going to repeat. I call it the “passive aggressive smile treatment”, PAST for short. A student entered my office and started screaming about something that actually had nothing to do with me (for once). I let her rant for a minute and when she stopped and was angrily awaiting my reply I gave her one of these:

I literally did not say a word, just smiled that snide stupid smile. She didn’t know how to react, so she started screaming again. When she stopped and stared at me, STILL waiting for me to show her some compassion or offer assistance I threw her this:

I had a hard time not laughing at this point. The student became noticeably awkward and screamed at me “I’M SORRY, I’M JUST REALLY TIRED!! OKAY???? I’M TIRED!!!!!!!!!” How did I respond? 

The student and I stared at each other in silence for a solid 10 seconds (yep I held that smile the WHOLE TIME) until she slowly turned and walked out of my office. 

I’d say the PAST response was a complete success. The student vented, I listened, I did not utter any words of unprofessionalism, and I maintained my cool. I can’t wait for another angry student encounter so I can test my PAST effectiveness plan again. 

12 thoughts on “Social Experimentation in the Workplace

  1. I wish this worked over the phone. I work in customer service and get yelled at for no reason too…this would be great to use.

  2. I have to say that I love your experiment. I work in a financial aid office at a college and I have many of the same experiences. I am yelled at regularly by students for any number of reasons and most (if not all) are not my fault. Perhaps I should try that face next time a student flips out on me!

    • Oooh Financial Aid, that is another office that takes quite a beating! It amazes me how students think that the school is secretly holding back their funds or screwing them over. I wish they understood how tightly it is regulated and we can only do so much!!

      You’ll appreciate this: A few weeks ago we had a student come in for a refund check but we informed her she didn’t have one because after tuition was taken out, there was nothing left over. She exclaimed “I DID NOT give you permission to take tuition out of my loan money!!! I never signed anything agreeing to that.” Yikes.

  3. This is AWESOME!!!! For the first time in two years I wish I was still waitressing since I would love to try out PAST!!! Ah-mazing!!!! LOVE this!! LOVE you!! Hysterical!

    • Hahahha thanks!! I am back at the restaurant tonight so I’ll definitely be trying it out on guests! Granted it is a little bit more difficult to pull off when you are working for tips AND seeing as how guests love to complain to the manager whenever their waitress shows any sign of a backbone when being verbally abused. Such is life.

  4. This is sooo funny! I will have to share it with Joe. Maybe he can use it with his crazy customers. When you come up with one for the phone, let me know cause he definitely needs that. Hope that PAST is a continued success 🙂 Thanks for the laughter!

    • Yeah too bad PAST isn’t effective on the phone. I guess he could just not say anything and finally when the angry person says “HELLO???” he could just say “oh yes, I’m here.” Just don’t respond to nastiness. That is how I have started handling the students! If it is not said in a polite and respectful manner I just pretend I can’t hear them.

  5. Omg Court, That is awesome! I would have busted out laughing if I were u! That’s great though that is a much better and way more satisfying way of dealing with such rude people : ).

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