While I was on vacation a few weeks ago, I wandered into a clothing store and had just begun to look through the racks when my cell phone rang. Not wanting to be rude, I stepped just outside to take the call, standing with my back to the store. As I was talking, I heard a loud click behind me, but I didn’t realize what it meant until I finished the call and tried to go back inside. The door was now locked. I could see the clerk through the glass door, doing her best to look busy over by the register and deliberately not looking in my direction. I was only on the phone for a minute, but apparently that was all the time she needed to and lock me out.
Fuming, I checked the hours posted next to the door, and realized that the store was scheduled to close in ten minutes. I’m guessing the clerk was afraid I was going to take an armful of clothes into the dressing room and force her to stay open while I tried them on, which is why she grabbed the chance to lock me out. But it would have been so much better if she had just told me the store would be closing soon when I first walked in. That, I would have understood. And I wouldn’t have been standing on the sidewalk in front of her store, thinking distinctly unkind thoughts about sneaky little sales clerks, and vowing never to shop there again.
Believe me, I struggle with speaking up just as much as everyone else, particularly when I’m not sure how what I have to say is going to be received. I have wimped out and kept my mouth shut more times than I can count. But in almost every case where I’ve done that, I’ve ended up being sorry in the end. Either my silence has led to an awkward misunderstanding, or I have ended up feeling rather bitter and angry because someone else doesn’t understand what I haven’t bothered to tell them. But when I find the nerve to say the stuff that’s hard to say, I’m at least opening the door for a chance at real communication and understanding.
It helps to remember how much I appreciate it when someone is brave enough to speak up to me. The other night, my husband and I were driving home from dinner at our favorite restaurant when the manager called. He wanted to know if everything was alright with our meal, or if our waiter (who was new) had done anything to offend us. My husband assured him that everything was great, and asked why he wanted to know. It turns out, we had accidentally left the waiter a one-dollar tip. We were so glad that the manager knew us well enough to know we would never do that on purpose, and was willing to call and let us know. We drove right back to the restaurant and gave the waiter his proper tip, even though the manager said we could just take care of it next time we were in.
I know that these examples are small and personal, but I believe that the practice of speaking honestly and tactfully as much as possible is best in most situations. I think we owe it to ourselves and to others to find the courage to say what needs to be said. I’ve heard the old saying, “Silence is Golden,” and there are times when it is. Hateful, petty and spiteful words are much better left unsaid. But for everything else, real communication is priceless.