I got laid off about 5 months ago.
You all know how hard the job market is – after conducting countless informational interviews, applying to dozens of jobs every week, cold calling, cold emailing, asking around, the best I could show for it was doing freelance writing for a sketchy law firm and getting “laid off” (again) after 2 days of working at a small marketing company because they “found a better candidate.”
All the while, I was meticulously mailing in my unemployment claims, waiting to receive my desperately-needed rent money. I had filed, re-filed, called, emailed, mailed (heck, I tried internet-chatting with them), but the EDD never got back to me. Rent came, and if it wasn’t for the guys in my bible study stepping in, I wouldn’t have been able to eat, much less pay rent and the internet bill.
I finally got a call this morning from the unemployment office. It was 5 minutes long. The guy who called seem to be in a hurry, and it didn’t sound like he cared that much about the situation. I told him what the deal was, but after I was done, he informed me that the EDD received most of my claims too late, and that most of these past few months would be forfeited for my unemployment.
“You should really stay on top of mailing in your claims,” he lectured me.
You can only push a guy so far.
What I Could’ve Done
I could’ve done a lot of things. I could have yelled profanities and ancient curses in Latin at him. I could have thrown my phone on the ground as watch gleefully as it smashed into a million little pieces as I lost what little sanity I had left. I could sue them.
But I didn’t. I was practically shaking with rage and resentment that some random receptionist named “Brian” was lecturing me on being organized after I had spent 20 weeks begging, borrowing, and practically stealing money just to buy a box of Raisin Bran. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t FAIR, DAMMIT.
But I didn’t lose my cool. (I guess this probably sounds pretty self-centered, but I have to admit I am proud of myself for not going full-Hulk-monster-frenzy, which I wanted to)
What I Did Instead
Actually, I was as polite as humanly possible. I was polite to spite the guy. I was polite because that was the most effective option with the highest success rate in these situations.
Have you ever been accused, blamed, scrutinized over some mistake? How’d you feel? Probably defensive, huh? You make excuses, you bring in other people, other circumstances, you get mad at everyone else. What’s the worst thing you can do? Probably react those ways. Worse still, you get angry, and you turn that frustration out at your accusers. No WAY am I gonna get blamed for this.
When you react in anger, when you respond not with thoughtful responses but with resentful/defensive accusations, you already lose. You completely miss out on the clam, cool, collected, thoughtful path. The path with the highest success rate.
This unemployment guy probably makes a lot of these phone calls to (rightfully) angry and frustrated people suffering from unemployment. He probably gets yelled at, chewed out, and threatened a lot. He’s probably lost most (if not all) motivation to help these people. I mean, it’s not his fault. And it’s not.
But he’s the one with the power here, as much as I dislike that. I knew – if I wanted any chance of getting a fair shake, I needed to be peaceful and professional. I couldn’t be his usual customer.
How These Situations End
Well, there isn’t a happy ending to this particular story – not yet, anyway. He said the EDD would be in touch (sounds promising) and to file my claims on time from now on. That was it. No compensation, no next-steps, no nothing.
You bet I was angry. I was livid. I was going to punch a hole through my garage. I was so incredibly angry, I was actually shaking.
But expressing my response through those feelings won’t help anyone – I’d feel crappy, he’d feel defensive and angry, and no one wins.
There’s a time an a place to vent that anger and frustration, but it’s not in that moment. It’s after you’ve cooled down and thought things through that you talk to them again.
Don’t be a fool and respond when you’re angry. Be tactful, polite, and patient. You’ll get what you want that way.
Even if it takes a while.