Oh, Great and Mighty, All-Knowing, All-Seeing, Keeper of the Secrets of Heaven and of the Secrets of the Earth, of the Secrets of Etiquette and of the Secrets of Grammar and of the Secrets of Relationships and of the Secrets of Fabrics and of Leggings Made Thereof and of the Secrets of Distillation and Fermentation and the Proper Blending and Imbibing of the Products of Said Processes, Determiner of the Righteousness of Snacks and Master of Not Letting People Fuck With You, O! Highest and Most Revered Rejectionist, Thy humble Author-Friend begs of Thee the boon of Thy wisdom!
(How's THAT for a salutation? :D)
Okay, so here's the deal. In my day job (or, rather, my night job, since I work evenings) there is a guy (this is not a romancey question!) that I am going to call "Paul" because that's his name and it's really not likely he'll ever see this, since any time someone mentions the Internet or computers to him he looks at them like they've offered him a frog sandwich. And Paul is what we call a "difficult person" by which I mean that there are about three hundred people who work there and we don't, by any means, all know everybody, but if you mention Paul to just about anyone they growl and clench their fists and start kicking things.
Paul is impatient and short-tempered and rude. If you're unloading a truck and you get a pallet full of frozen turkeys momentarily caught in a narrow part of the aisle, he's apt as not to yank the handle of the pallet jack out of your hand, snarl, "you don't know what you're doing! Just get away and give it to me!", back the turkeys up fast without looking and knock over a stack of milk, make a huge mess and then scream for someone to bring him a mop and stop standing around looking like idiots. Or, if you're in the break room reading or chatting with a couple of friends, he'll come over and try to start a superficial conversation about celebrity gossip and if you say you don't know anything about whatever starlet is on the cover of whatever gossip magazine he's picked up off the nearest table and ask him what he thinks, he looks down his nose at you and says HE doesn't know, HE doesn't read those things. And his idea of a conversation is more about trying to score some witty comment than about actually exchanging any sort of information, which is extremely tiresome.
And none of that is the problem.
The problem is that sometimes, just every once in a while on rare occasions, he can be really nice. Like, if you're trying to lift a heavy wooden pallet on top of a stack of other heavy wooden pallets, he'll come over and say, "here, let me help you with that, I don't want you to get hurt." And I have had a couple of honest-to-goodness conversations with him about, like, he helps to care for his elderly mother and he lives with a couple of cats and anyone who likes cats can't be ALL bad.
But I work full-time plus I'm trying to build a writing career and I have to keep my house in some kind of order and my car duct-taped together and I have six cats and a HUGE family, many members of which are actually insane, and the LAST thing I need is a pet bi-polar bear. But I feel sorry for him, because I think he must be lonely (though he's certainly never said as much) and I'd like to do something to help him break out of his shell and, as a totally unrelated by-product, not come barreling through my department with a pallet of frozen chicken, cursing me under his breath and pushing all my stuff out of his way while I'm trying to make fruit baskets (which is, hands down, the best part of my job and I only get to do it at Christmas time).
So, should I try to do something for/about him? And if so, what? I thought of slipping Valium into his Dr. Pepper, but I don't have any Valium and, besides, I think you have to take it more than once for it to do any good. Buy him a copy of "How to Win Friends and Influence People"? Give him a CD of music with a subliminal voice saying "you will not be an asshole... you WILL NOT be an asshole"? Smack him over the head and ship him off to a secret government "re-education facility"? Run him over with a forklift? What?
Eagerly I await Thy guidance, O! Exalted Rejectionist, and remain...
Thy Humble Author-friend
Dear Author-friend, how mightily your salutation pleases us! Let us once again respond to your question with an Anecdote of our own! Once, in high school, we knew a very Difficult Person as well, a young lady who was terribly condescending and arrogant, who took every opportunity to say impolite things to the people around her, who thought she was a lot smarter than she actually was (NO WE ARE NOT TALKING ABOUT OURSELF JUST SHUT UP. SHUT UP), etc. etc. You get the drill. Until, one day, we walked in on her crying in the girls' bathroom, and asked her sort of tentatively if she was okay, not wanting to get our head bitten off, and she told us about how her dad had been dying of an extremely painful disease over the last year and she was more or less his primary caregiver since her mom worked full-time, and he had just passed away. In which context her unpleasant behavior made a lot more sense. There is not a tidy ending to this story; she was still a jerk, and she was never nice to us again after unburdening herself to us, but after that we thought a lot more about judging Difficult People. (We certainly still judge them; the Rejectionist is also only human. We do try to be more aware, is all, and make allowances where we are able.)
Our point? Behind every Difficult Person there is a Story. The Story is not an excuse for the Difficult Person's poor behavior, but it is context. We make the choices we have the tools to make, and some people did not get handed a very full toolbox at the outset. You do not need to find out Paul's Story, but you can operate under the assumption that there is a reason why he is Difficult, and it's probably a good one.
We would advise starting small, in this situation, particularly since you already have a lot on your plate. Valium in the Dr. Pepper we do not recommend (perhaps a Klonopin instead). It's likely, if this person possesses even a modicum of self-awareness, that Paul has a pretty good idea that everyone hates him; it's going to look a little weird if you suddenly start showing up with presents and confetti. Begin with a little Kindness (which it sounds like you are already giving), with a side helping of Benefit of the Doubt and some Direct Communication. (Has anyone actually SAID, "Paul, I appreciate your dedication to the job, but I wonder if next time you could not run me over with the frozen chickens?" It is super important to say this in a NOT SARCASTIC way. It is AMAZING how rarely the tactic of Direct Communication is utilized in the workplace, and TRULY ASTOUNDING how effective it is.) If Paul comes up in conversation, try mentioning some of your positive experiences with him, in the hopes that other coworkers might also be moved to throw around a little generosity of the spirit. Instead of viewing Paul as a Project, start thinking of him as a Person (albeit kind of an obnoxious one). There is clearly a decent human being in there. It is up to Paul, not you, to find that decent human being and excavate him. But a little positive reinforcement goes a long way on our journey to self-actualization, does it not? The biggest gift you can give this person is compassion, and from the sound of things, you didn't need us to figure that out. Good luck!
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