• Andrew Wien

You are right. They are wrong. How do you respond?

We’ve all been in this situation. You are right. Someone else is wrong. And that person is treating you like you are the one that is wrong. How do you react?

I live in the mountains of Boulder, CO. Sometimes I commute to town by bike, which is a 1,500 vertical feet descent on paved mountain roads. This is a road cyclist’s dream.

Recently the county closed the road to bicycles for some major construction. Given the road’s popularity with recreational cyclists, this was a smart move. But what about the small number of folks that live on the hill and commute by bike?

After a quick email exchange, the transportation director of Boulder County confirmed that commuter cyclists were exempt from this restriction. Phew! Residents could continue to ride down.

And then it happened. Yesterday I rode down the hill to meet a not so nice construction worker holding up a STOP sign at the bottom.

He angrily told me that I had no business being here, would not be allowed to pass, and needed to turn around. I was in a nice shirt and Chaco’s and was in no condition to climb 1,500 vertical feet back to my house to get my car. AND I had permission from Boulder County to do exactly what I was doing. I did not deserve to be treated this way. I was right. He was wrong. I was going to show him!

And then I noticed…. my hands were clenched, and I had strong sensations exploding out of my head. Ah, right. I’m angry. Take a breath. Observe what is happening in my body. Choose how I want to respond.

When someone directs anger towards you, our natural reaction is to respond with anger. What is challenging is to adjust your response so that it helps you get what you want in the long term, not make you feel good in the (very) short term.

This story takes a while to end. He called his supervisor who yelled at me too. They eventually let me through after I explained that I had permission from Boulder County and hoped that they took a more collaborative communication style in the future.

The end goal, however, was to prevent this interaction from happening again to me or any other resident of the road. The actions of the construction crew were unacceptable. After sending an email, Boulder County felt the same way. They are meeting with the crew first thing tomorrow morning to help them adjust their behavior.

If I had initially reacted with anger, this would not have been possible. So, when someone directs anger towards you, how will you respond?

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