Case study – What does the passive aggressive note really mean?


Published: 4 Mar 2018

Compassionate Assertiveness

A photo should have been taken of it (the note) – but instead it became a chewing gum receptacle …..that’s how important it was to me.

It happened in the car park of one of NZ leading teaching hospitals – about to go in and deliver a lecture there for the first time since 2016. The drive around around the car park took 33 minutes without any luck of a spot (chaotic and very busy car park). Losing the will to live, the need to ring the coordinator and tell her to apologise to my class became more apparent. Then I spotted a huge grey van coming out of a space that this tiny white car could easily fit into.

Moving into the space as soon as the van pulled away,  and having a final look at the lesson plan, any thought of the car park now vanished.

Four hours later after a rewarding time with new students,  walking back to the car a white note was clearly on the windscreen. Confused. Was it a reserved spot? Nearer to my car realisation that it was a hand written note set it This is what is said (almost word for word).

“Thanks for STEALING my car park space. And I had my children in the car. And then you just sat there on your phone – how rude!!!!!!

Karma is a bitch. And communication certainly is the key!!!!!!!!!”

Scanning down to the bottom of the paper and hoping for a phone number, but of course there wasn’t one.

Searching my brain for who this person could be and couldn’t come up with anything, because they had not been on my radar. But, she had obviously seen into the car. Close enough to see me on my phone in my own car. Close enough to wait until after I’d left my car and walk up to my car and read the sign writing on the side that said, “Because communication is always the key”. Close enough to leave the note on my windscreen.

So what communication style was the woman running in?

Why would she have chosen this route instead of face to face?

The next class delivered later in the week used what had occurred with the note as the opener to a lecture telling students that it summed up communication perfectly.

First this woman made the massive assumption that I had seen her/felt her emotional ping.

She also made the assumption that she had “got back at me’ and hoped I’d feel guilt, shame, remorse? I did not. I felt sadness when I read the note. That she had missed an opportunity to be compassionately assertive. That she had obviously had a rage about me in front of her children who witnessed her doing all of this. That she had made the massive assumption that communication had taken place….it had not! That she had raised her blood pressure which would take around an hour to get back to normal. That she felt that THIS was normal. That she believed that I was a ‘bad’ person – she wanted to believe it.

I picked my daughter up from work and the note was still on the floor of the passenger well where I’d left it. She picked it up and looked at me incredulously saying, “This can’t be for you mum is it?” I said, “Yes it is. It was left on my windscreen today.” My daughter said “Well, you obviously wouldn’t ever do that on purpose. Why didn’t she just knock on your window and tell you what she thought you’d done to her?

So is there a moral to this story?

Yes, the tale of five communication styles.

The passive person would have just driven around the car park and found another space.

The assertive person would have probably rolled down their window and said something to me.

The aggressive person would have got out of their car and given me a piece of their mind with added volume and verbal abuse thrown in for good measure, or stayed in their car and flipped me the bird.

The passive aggressive person would have done what this woman did. And then she would have posted it on Facebook that night whinging about me, would have told her husband when he got home, and worse still would have inflicted the story on whoever she was visiting at the hospital that afternoon. She had also taught her kids that if people piss you off you leave them a note! Meanwhile I didn’t know any of this, her feelings, until I got back to my car, and by then she had left me no way to explain myself or remedy the situation – assuming I wanted to. And, she had toxified many people’s lives by that time

The compassionately assertive person would have found a new park and if they felt an emotional ping (were pissed off) at me, would have calmly approached me and said, “Did you realise I was waiting for that park?” Then a conversation would have ensued around any misunderstanding.

Since this incident I have had 4 car parks ‘stolen’ from me in the same car park from right under my nose. The first time I could see another park 3 spaces down and had the time and inclination to just let it go.

The second time I indicated into a spot first and a driver of a mobility van indicated after me and made to go in. I wound my window down and said “do you need that space, because I’m teaching here today and have already been driving around for 20 minutes.” She said, “yes I do, I’m picking a patient up.” And I waved her into it with a smile and then looked for a space for a further 22 minutes and was late for my class by 5 minutes.

The third time I indicated to go into a park and a couple of old ladies just went into it right in front of me. It was such an audacious move I had to laugh, but in the spirit of the emotional ping I parked behind her car and waited for her to get out. I wound my window down and said, “did you not see me indicating into that park?”  “she looked at me with contempt and said, “yes!” Then walked off. I decided not to engage as the effort would not be worth it.

The fourth time I indicated right into a park as a guy came from the opposite direction and indicated left after me. Instead of leaving it I pulled my car up level with his so we were face to face at the drivers window. He wound down his window and I said, “did you see me indicating into that space and do you acknowledge that I was here first?” “He didn’t answer the question but with an aggressive sweep of his hand said ” well have it then!” I said calmly, “no, I insist you have it.” And drove off and found another park. As a reader of body language I am in no doubt that he got a return emotional ping from that, and this fact alone may make him adjust his behaviour should he ever be in that position again.

All four of my responses were compassionately assertive even though they appear quite different.

FYI Karma is not a bitch. I spend around 2.5 hours a week in that car park and at least twice a week drive straight into a space. But, by the time I leave that teaching contract in April who knows what will have happened? Maybe I’ll do a research project on behaviour in car parks?

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