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I walked into the doctor’s office and approached the receptionist. After taking my name and checking her computer, her first words were: “Your deductible is not met, and we need to take a copy of your credit card.” She said more, but her rapid fire monotone made it all but impossible to make sense of the content.

I explained that my deductible had been met earlier in the year. “There must be a mistake,” I said. She continued to repeat the same message about the deductible and the credit card as if she hadn’t heard me.

I’m not exactly sure what took my center.

It could have been:

· Her lack of acknowledgement of my concerns about the insurance.

· The way she ended every sentence as if it were a question, even if it wasn’t? You know what I mean?

· The feeling I had that I was just another (annoying) patient.

I wish I could say that I caught the Ki moment and regained my center. But, alas! I continued to fight a losing battle. I finally gave in and walked huffily toward the waiting area, showing contempt in the usual passive-aggressive ways: staring, sighing, and, yes … I may have rolled my eyes.

Managing Hot Buttons

I’ve written before about my hot buttons with “bad customer service,” and over the years I’ve given a lot of thought to what triggers my uncenteredness. Sometimes it’s the pitch or quality of the person’s voice, the lack of eye contact, or the seeming absence of empathy and human connection.

Regardless of the cause, I am the one having the reaction, and that’s the only piece of this that I can control. I don’t like losing my poise in this way. And, despite this recent episode, I am making positive progress. I practice in the following ways:

#1) Center First

Looking back at my visit to the doctor’s office, I was uncentered going in. I was slightly late, had difficulty parking, and entered the office off balance. Because I know that dealing with receptionists and other administrative and service representatives can be off-putting, I make it a practice now to catch myself before I enter into the phone call or face-to-face conversation. Entering centered is something I can control.

#2) Exchange Names

Usually, the rep gives their name, especially on the phone. I make sure I listen for it, repeat it back, and give them mine. This helps establish a human connection and is an important first step in helping me see the rep as a person, not a voice, and not an obstacle.

#3) Adopt a Problem-Solving Stance

If you assume they really do want to help you solve a problem, you’ll treat them as a partner instead of an adversary. You’ll be easier on them and engage them in finding a solution. And you’ll model the kind of empathy you hope to see returned. If for reasons beyond your control (or theirs) the problem can’t be solved in the way you’d hoped, this problem-solving stance helps you stay curious and open to other possible solutions.

What Do I Need to Learn Here?
Interestingly, my bad behavior that day was rewarded. The doctor didn’t charge me, possibly because it was a short 5-minute followup visit, or perhaps she heard about my frustration with the administrator. It certainly helped. But the real work is up to me. When I allow someone else’s actions to trigger a reactive mind-body state, it’s time to look for the teacher hiding in the wings. What do I need to learn here?

What about you? Where are the hot buttons in your life, and what are you doing to remove them?

Judy Ringer is the author of Turn Enemies Into Allies: The Art of Peace in the Workplace and Unlikely Teachers: Finding the Hidden Gifts in Daily Conflict.

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