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Checking Out While Dialing In

Checking Out While Dialing In

There’s an art to stealing moments for yourself. I travel often for work so it sometimes feels I spend more time at airports than I do at home. As you know, airports rarely provide anything close to a relaxing experience. But, there are times when travel is smooth and I can steal a little time before flight to take a pass on the grab-n-go salad coolers and sit down for a proper meal. I recently had one such moment at the San Francisco airport – I arrived with time to spare. I headed toward the only full-service restaurant in the terminal and was thrilled to find that there was a table available.

As the hostess lead me to my seat, I wondered why every face I encountered wore a scowl. It took only seconds to learn why.

Hey, You’re Not on Mute!

As I took my seat, I immediately noticed a woman a few seats over. Though she was seated alone, she was gesticulating wildly and talking so loudly that all eyes were on her. I realized she was holding court on a conference call and was sadly oblivious to the fact that she had forced a good portion of the restaurant’s patrons to be on the call with her. As I looked around, anyone within ear shot was staring at her with such disdain that it was a wonder she couldn’t feel it.

Two men at the table beside me seemed particularly frustrated and in very colorful Boston accents shared that the call had been going on for 20 minutes.

Maybe she accomplished a lot during her call, but I wondered if she would have thought it worth it if she’d known she had disturbed so many. I didn’t have to wonder for long.

When she finally ended her call, one of the Boston guys picked up his phone and pretended to make his own call. In an equally loud and obnoxious voice he said,

“Honey, honey don’t worry! STDs are treatable these days. We can take care of this!”

As if struck by lightning, our protagonist looked up and realized he was mocking her.

“Was I that loud?” she asked.

“Yes,” he shot back. “You’ve ruined everyone’s lunch with your call today.”

She apologized, quickly paid her bill and stood to leave. As she walked through the row of tables, nearby diners broke into a round of applause. Unsurprisingly, her face turned red and she once again said she was sorry. She vowed to never do it again before racing out of the restaurant.

Now, there’s a certain level of humor in this episode and I must admit to laughing along when the frustrated Boston diner made his racy fake phone call. While on some level the oblivious diner may have had it coming, I couldn’t help but feel this moment would haunt her for perhaps too long. After all, she did say she was sorry and that she’d never do it again.

Is Public Shaming the Best Tactic?

Sue Scheff, author of Shame Nation: The Global Epidemic of Online Hate, argued in a blog post for Psychology Today that “there are no winners” in public shaming. She continues, “Being an activist is admirable. You don’t have to be a bully—be constructive with your behavior, not combative. There is never a reason to…mock people.”

If you do a quick search of the term “public shaming,” you’ll be quickly reminded of the viral news stories over the past few years of people who first made poor decisions and then were shamed online, the modern equivalent to the Old World practice of someone locked in stocks in the public square. In many of those cases, an argument can be made that the punishment they received was worse than the mistakes they made.

Yes, that act of calling out the woman on the conference call was probably effective. It’s likely she won’t soon forget her embarrassment, and she’ll be more aware. But I just keep thinking that no one really wants to be on either end of that scenario, right? Even though “justice was served” it didn’t leave me with a good feeling. What do you think? What if I or someone else had just walked up to her, tapped her on the shoulder and politely asked her to take the call outside? What are other appropriate ways to deal with a situation like this so that everyone wins? What would you have done?