When the Teacher Gets Schooled

by | Apr 4, 2024

“So be here at 9:45 in one of these two buildings for the first-come, first-served tickets at the house, right? Is there anything else I need to know?” 

“Yes, that’s correct, and no, you’re all set!”

That was the summary statement after asking six ways to Sunday trying to verify the information I needed for my parents and me to take in the third part of a museum we’d bought tickets for earlier that day. 

It had been a long day. We were pooped. We needed to have a rest before dinner. With the plan for Sunday in hand, we headed back to the hotel for a lay-down. 

It turns out dinner was a fiasco. Earlier at lunch, we packed it in and left after staring at two workers behind the counter for five minutes with no acknowledgment whatsoever. The previous night’s dinner had been delicious but with molasses-slow service. After leaving said mess of a dinner on Saturday, I sent my parents back to the hotel, and I went in search of ice cream (obv) and witnessed a hit-and-run, which was a whole thing that I can’t even with here. 

This brings us to Sunday morning. All packed up and ready to go. Our final stop, the museum house, after picking up tickets at the other part of the museum. This was day three of our hang, and like clockwork, my Dad was getting squirrelly. (It’s part of his charm.) I looked up the address and saw the museum didn’t actually open until 10:00 🐿🐿🐿🐿

We headed over to the ticket place early. My parents dropped me off to go park. A family cut me off at the door when they finally opened, and in they went to get their tickets. 🙄

I wait. The lovely lady behind the desk greets me. I request my passes for the house, stoked that I am the only one there for the first-come, first-served action. 

“Sure! We can get you in at 11:30.” 


“No no, NO NO NO. No. I was TOLD by someone yesterday that I had to be here at 9:45, and it was first come first serve and you don’t even open until ten and so how can it be that there are already people there and we can’t get in for an hour and a half and I asked up and down and all around to try to make sure I had the information right and SHE TOLD ME YESTERDAY I had to come here and I asked if we could go to the house and she said no and now you’re telling me that we have to wait an hour and a half and we COULD have gone right to the house and my parents are in the car and they’ve got to get on the road and now I don’t even know if we can go to the house and why did she tell me that?!?!?!?!?!?” 

That should be in all caps, but I don’t want to scare you. 

I was heated. 

Ruth was chill. 

“You got the wrong information, and I apologize for that. Give me just one minute….”

She’s clacking on her keyboard. I’m getting a few more frustrated bursts out. 

She comes back, “Would your parents be able to get on the road in time if I got you in at 10:30?” 

“Hold on. Let me call my Mom.” Like a total brat. 

I walked across the lobby, took a few deep breaths, called Mom, and 10:30 worked. 

I headed back to Ruth. “10:30 is good. I’m sorry.” 

“You do not have to be sorry! It’s a totally frustrating situation! I’m calling over to Terry right now. ‘Terry, I’ve got Erin here. We gave her some bad information, and I told her we’d get her in at 10:30….Yes, I can see her name on the screen now. Thank you!” 

“I’m sorry,” I said it again. “Really, I apologize and thank you for taking care of it.” 

I was sorry. I wasn’t AWFUL to Ruth, but I wasn’t that charming, either. She got the brunt of a bunch of nonsense that added up over the weekend. 

Cue the red balloon. By the time I walked up to that counter, my balloon was ready to explode with all of the things that had come before it, and Ruth was the unlucky recipient of the deflating of said balloon. I blew my hot air from all of the stuff all weekend all over her. 

And Ruth owned it. 

She deflated my balloon, and let me get it out without interrupting.

She listened, picking up on when I said my parents were on a timeframe. 

She related by acknowledging how I felt–way frustrated. 

She owned it, not by getting defensive or throwing her colleague under the bus. “We gave you wrong information.” Facts. 

She elevated the situation by giving me an option, then calling over, and then assuring me that our reservation was set. 

Terry kept it going when we got to the house by apologizing and acknowledging the bad information. 

Ruth deflated, related, and elevated the situation. 

Normally I’m on the other side of that formula, teaching DRE to teams. This time, it was me who got schooled.

People’s balloons are going to be full. Maybe from something you or your business did, maybe not. We’re going to give people bad information. There will be misunderstandings. All of this is inevitable. 

However, when you make like Ruth and listen, empathize, and ask questions, you make people feel heard, understood, and acknowledged. 

You deflate that air out of their balloons, and when people who come in hot leave apologizing, you know you’ve done it right, and that balloon will stay empty. 

(Until the guy at the coffee shop refused to say good morning…then up it goes again!)


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