Red (Faced) Tape at the DMV

In the DMV the other morning, I noticed the most appalling behavior. A  DMV worker, let’s call her Sally,  was managing a customer’s routine request (let’s call her Ronda). Sally told Ronda  to fill out a few specific forms in an informative tone, which should have resolved her problem. Immediately Ronda threw her hands on her hips and became very snippy with Sally. Speaking to her like a child, Ronda indicated she had filled out the forms and said, “If you would stop and listen to what I am saying instead of jumping to conclusions, maybe you might understand what I am saying.”  Unphased by Ronda’s tone and courteous still, Sally said, “I’m sorry. Please explain what you need.” The conversation continued and within a few moments Ronda snapped at Sally again , “That’s why I’m here! I didn’t step into line on a whim. That guy over there told me to come here and speak with you. And don’t you think I’m about to keep running back and forth because you all don’t seem to know how to do your jobs.”  The conversation continued from there, with Ronda continually growing angry at the ever-calm Sally. I phased out at that point to tend to my own business, but it left me with a lot of thoughts about what transpired.

First, since when did adults believe it is acceptable to behave like toddlers? Ronda threw a tantrum in the DMV fully expecting everything to go her way because she expressed her anger. In my opinion, I would think being kind and courteous would have facilitated the resolution to her complaint much more quickly.

Second, when Ronda grew upset from the start, it was clear to me that she would have gotten angry at anybody. Sally was just the first face to come along. That isn’t very considerate of Ronda. It is fine to be upset with the red tape in our law system, but the people behind the counters don’t make the rules. They are likely as frustrated as you are with the system. What would have been better in this situation would be to ask questions to clarify what Sally meant while including the fact that Ronda had indeed filled out some forms.

My third feeling about this event was admiration! Sally kept her cool with Ronda, even after Ronda insulted Sally’s ability to listen and do her job. Amazing. Sally is an example of a terrific employee and person. Rather than accelerate the situation by reacting to Ronda, Sally provided information and assistance clearly and calmly to her and managed to get the frustrated customer out of the DMV without any major incident.

I feel…

I used to argue with my sister. Well… I still do even though we’re both almost thirty, but not nearly so often. When we were kids, we got in nasty fights and often-times this would include fighting with our mother.

Unlike many teenagers and their mothers, my Mom insisted on talking through our feelings rather than reacting, shutting down, or avoiding. We might as well have been like girl scouts around a campfire holding a “talking stick” because it was really that organized. We did not interrupt–and if we did, someone would say, “Excuse me, (so and so) was still talking,” and the other person (no matter how angry they were) would say, “I’m sorry, please continue.” (As a matter of fact–and this is an aside–my mother taught us as children to never say “shut up” when someone was speaking because it meant we had no interest in what the other person was saying and that this was rude and inconsiderate.)

We sometimes spent hours sorting out our feelings in order to find workable solutions. It was horrible to be a teenager and be forced to talk about everything, but in another way it was great. Because of that we were much closer and understood ourselves and each other much more than most of our peers. And let me tell you, who needs to be grounded when you spend three hours talking about why and how what you did was wrong! It was a great punishment! 😉

There is something lasting I learned from this:  it is easy to react, to say things we don’t mean. But it is a whole other thing to identify where the feelings are coming fromactually feel them, and then say what you honestly feel and mean.

We learned to preface our statements with, I feel.  “I feel… that is a poor excuse for your behavoir, even though I understand how you could react that way.”  “I feel… hurt when you tease me about _______.” It was easier for the person to apologize for their actions or empathize with my feelings if I wasn’t accusatory or reactive. For example, “You always tease me and don’t care what I feel. You are such a jerk.” No one is going to respond well to that one. What if they really didn’t know it was hurting you? Isn’t it likely they deserve the benefit of doubt?

Depending on how well you know the person or how much that person is capable of responding to you with equal maturity, you will have varying degrees of success. But I have found that approaching communication with two simple words, “I feel,” has saved me from a lot of unnecessary complications of easily solvable issues. And my relationships seem to be a little nicer than they might be otherwise!


© Be Nice. Creator and Be Nice. (, 2008-2009.