Why are they so angry? I wondered to myself as I made my way past an intimidating crowd and into the eerily quiet lobby of the Palace Hotel, San Francisco. With not a soul waiting in line, I walked right up to the check-in counter, perplexed and a little dazed.
“What is that?”, I asked the woman behind the desk, pointing outside. With an uneasy smile, the assistant manager explained that I had just walked through a picket line and apologised in advance for the barrage of abuse that I would encounter for the duration of my stay.
Moments earlier, my car had pulled up to the hotel after an arduous 16-hour flight from Dubai. All I wanted was a quick workout, a shower and some peace and quiet, before my meetings started later that afternoon. Instead, I was greeted by a mob of disgruntled housekeepers, bellmen and bartenders, banging on drums, blowing whistles and shouting in my face as I tried to make my way to the hotel entrance.
Some protesters even physically pushed me to keep me from going inside. Suddenly, I went from having never experienced the consequences of crossing a picket line, to enduring them first-hand for three days straight. Each time I walked in and out of the hotel, I stiffened in preparation for the onslaught.
It emerged that the issues driving the workers’ strike included health care and wages, which their union said hadn’t kept up with the cost of living in the Bay Area. The housekeepers also reportedly wanted better protection from sexual harassment. The thing is, while these might be valid grievances, they didn’t give the strikers just cause to direct their anger towards me — a weary traveller with no control over their circumstances.
I respected the right of the hotel workers to protest, even strike, but why did they need to be hostile? The right to strike is a generally accepted practice in the US, but I see no reason why people can’t make their points peacefully. The demonstration outside the Palace Hotel was particularly confrontational, with more than 100 arrests made in total. One worker was even arrested twice for his civil disobedience.
This happened months ago, October 8 to be precise, yet it’s gnawed at me ever since and made me wonder, why the anger?
Anger is an emotion often characterised by antagonism toward someone you feel has deliberately done you wrong. So, if the hotel workers had chosen to be angry at their employer, then that was their prerogative. My concern was not that, it was the unfair displacement of their built-up anger towards the hotel guests.
They may argue that by crossing the picket line and staying at the hotel, I violated their boundaries, but I could equally argue that they violated mine.
Like a pressure cooker, you need to manage your anger and either release the pressure before you blow your top, or grab hold of it and turn it into positive energy.
When you’re angry, control it, channel it. Don’t let it spew out wildly, turning everyone you encounter into a culprit. Even when your circumstances are not great, don’t create a bigger fiasco, because once the anger simmers down, you’ll have to live with the collateral damage.
It’s doubtful that any one of the strikers outside the Palace Hotel thought for even a moment that I would one day be making a choice about where to stay during a future visit to San Francisco. The strike is officially settled now and the employees are back to work, but for me, something else is settled too: next time, I’ll choose a different hotel.
The assistant manager was justified in her apology; that hotel stay was definitely an experience I hope never to repeat, not because of the lack of services, but because of the anger I was exposed to.
When you’re upset, don’t displace your anger. Whatever your emotions, use them for good. Be constructive ... not destructive.
Tommy Weir is CEO of the EMLC Leadership Ai Lab and author of “Leadership Dubai Style”. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.