Updated: Nov 2, 2019
A few weeks ago I walked into Lowe’s to look for a wooden bench. I looked online before going in the store. I knew it was in stock, but I just to see it in person before making the decision to buy it that day. I walked to that area, found it in the aisle, then walked over to an attendant to ask if he could get it off the shelf. It was high up, and in a heavy box. The attendant said that he was going to call another attendant with the tools to get it down. I stood close to the that area for almost 10 minutes when the same attendant can back and said that the one with the tools is on his way. So, after maybe another five to ten minutes, the new attendant came. As he approached, I hear him mumble… “...you had me rush over here to help this N***er?” It wasn’t a sentence I could mistake. It wasn’t something I misheard. It was clear to my ears what he said. Clear to my eyes what his mouth was fixed to mumble. Yes, I’m the only person of color in the store, but only 15 minutes from my home. There, it’s diverse, and we seem to have mutual respect amongst all individuals in our community. I didn’t drive 50 miles out to a new town with a .5% minority population rating. For that reason, I was shocked. He walked up with the box on a dolly and asked if I had anyone to help me. My response was, “I’m sorry, can you tell me what you just said back there as you were walking towards me?” He stuttered and looked away, looked down and sighed and then said “I’m sorry.” I replied “You’re sorry… what’s your name? He said his name, I walked away. Nothing bought, nothing reported.
There were many different misperceptions in this event, from different angles and parties. The first, was that the community of this specific Lowe’s was equal opportunity, and enforced consistent high quality customer service. The second misperception was the way that I may have been expected to handle the matter. The third, is how the attendant would present himself after the mis-spoken incident. One barrier to that unfavorable event would be the self-serving bias. Not only is the racial slur an indicator of the attendant’s superiority complex solely on the bases of his skin color in contrast to mine, his use of the slur also showed to emphasize the idea that his tasks are not of his own control. It also implied that he doesn't like his job, yet he’s there. Those are his personal issues that were both appointed as the responsibilities of his coworkers and a customer of a different skin tone. His bias, or self-pity had everything to do with the fact that he didn’t like what he was doing at his job, that he thought himself to be worth more, and as a result compared himself to a customer that he was expected to provide great customer service to.
Somehow the incident brought me as a witness to view the disparity of his condition, weather personality based or psychologically based. Me asking for a product in a store, turned into a whirlwind of offense, anger, and discomfort all because a racist man didn’t like his job as a Lowe’s attendant. In addition to the self-serving bias barrier, the overlooked complex of racism attributed by the halo effect could very possibly allow him to act out in offensive ways without losing sleep over it at night because he truly thinks he deserves better. When considering the halo effect bias, he truly thinks his worth is more. His bout of anger as a white male and as a Lowe’s attendant could be justified in the mist of others like him because of the way that they regard themselves in society. To improve the interpersonal perception in this instance, a few things could have happened. First, clearly confirming what I heard by waiting a little longer for him to respond throughout his stuttering.
After, he apologized, I could have asked him again to make sure that I heard him right. Maybe, I could have told him what I thought I heard him say, so that he had the chance to confirm or deny that statement. Another strategy of the perception confirmation that could have possibly improved the situation would have been to tell him what my options would be as a customer. This could include either talking to his manager, leaving an anonymous report, or posting a social media comment stating his name and which Lowe’s branch it happened in. This way, I could have relayed the importance of good character and good customer service and its repercussions if dismissed. In actual event though, I walked away with no lead to him as to what I was going to do next, if I was going to do anything. If there was any chance that he said something else. Something not so blatantly offensive, me giving him an extended amount of time to correct my perception of him, could have really turned things around.
I don’t plan on visiting that store again. Because of how scaring that interaction was for me. It is not the first encounter with someone who shares the same kind of opinion, but it being so close to home really shook up the feeling of security and community. Through retrospect, making myself more comfortable in that uncomfortable discussion could have brought more awareness for both myself and the attendant. If I pushed to be more confrontational, we both could have gained more clarity in that moment. The halo effect barrier and self-serving bias as illustrated in the context of the attendant, could have reflected on me as a customer as well. In that moment, I thought not responding was a great way to get him wondering and reflecting on himself. Taking the high road is a classic halo effect character. Really? That’s such a missed opportunity, to have an honest conversation and broaden awareness in a somewhat safe environment. If I felt upset at the fact that I left the bench there, upset that he was racist, or upset at the terrible customer service, and created a bad day because of those things, it would have been identified as a self-serving bias, to have self-pity on the shoulders of others.
The proposed strategies previously stated include confirming my perception, and stating my
intention and method of response. These strategies would have really helped reach the goal of mutual understanding and clarity. We obviously would not agree, but gaining insight to the thoughts and feelings that lead up to the perceptions, is what helps us all grow as individuals. This was just one example of how one conversation has the potential to change a person’s course; their career, their happiness, their identity, or their self-worth. Learning the Perception Concepts explained in Looking In Looking Out, by Adler and Proctor (2016), can be extremely instrumental in it’s lasting effects, if applied with intention.
Adler, R. B., & Proctor II, R. F. (2016) Looking Out Looking In (15th ed.). Boston MA: Cengage Learning.