Monday, March 29, 2010

Piece of Advice #13: Defer/Engage

Much of the content here could be boiled down to a handful of very simple directives: be kind, be respectful, think long-term, have self-discipline, don't be self-absorbed.  Most people don't really find generalizations that helpful, though, so here are a few scenarios to absorb and practice.

Scenario 1
You are in the grocery store and the brand of yogurt you like best/is on sale happens to be the yogurt that the shelver is unpacking and shelving right now.  You stand there for a minute, but he doesn't look at you.  Rude!  Finally, irritated, you say, "Excuse me, but could I get to that yogurt?  It's the one that's on sale."  He looks up at you for a second and then moves away, still not saying anything.  You grab your stuff and think, "The people they get to work at these stores!  Zombies, and rude ones at that!  Don't they know who's funding their paychecks?"

Scenario 2
You are looking for a CD holder as a gift for your boyfriend for his birthday.  The first store you went to didn't carry them.  You are in a hurry because you left this to the last minute and you're supposed to meet him in an hour and a half.  In the second store you go to there are two guys manning the entertainment section.  They are talking and don't look up right away.  Impatient, you say, "Excuse me, but can you show me where those things, you know, those folders that you put your music in?"  They look at your blankly.  "You know, that you put your CD's in?"  One of them nods, walks over to the appropriate section, and says, "Right here." You nod stiffly and look over the selection.  He slopes off, clearly bored to death with his job.  Again, the service leaves something to be desired.  You'd think they'd be grateful to have a job.

Did you notice that at the end of these two little interactions both you and the customer service people are unhappy or - to be more accurate - pissed off?  Do you realize that with just a little more effort on your part you could rework this so that this might not be the case?

Let's take Scenario 1 and redo.  You are in the grocery store and the brand of yogurt you like best/is on sale happens to be the yogurt that the shelver is unpacking and shelving right now.  You stand there for a minute, but he doesn't look at you.  You say, "Pardon me, sir, but do you think I could get in there and grab a couple of those yogurt containers?"  He nods, but still doesn't say anything.  You smile.  "Could you point out where the peach ones are?  My son loves peach yogurt."  "Oh, right here," he says, pointing.  "I like peach myself.  I think peach is the most consistent amongst all the brands."  "Really?" you say.  "Well, he loves them.  I can't keep them in the house.  Hmmm.  Let's see.  Where's the blueberry? That's my husband's favorite."  He grabs a couple and hands them to you.  "Oh, thanks so much."  He smiles.  You smile.  You put your stuff in the cart and start pushing it down the aisle.*

And let's rework Scenario 2.  You are looking for a CD holder as a gift for your boyfriend for his birthday.  The first store you went to didn't carry them.  You are in a hurry because you left this to the last minute and you're supposed to meet him in an hour.  In the second store you go to there are two guys manning the entertainment section.  They are talking and don't look up right away.  When they do you smile.  "I'm looking for a holder for CD's?  For my boyfriend's birthday.  Could you show me where they are?  I've kind of put it off till the last minute and I've got to get my act together."  One of the guys, looking pretty gray and apathetic, softens a little and takes you over to the appropriate section.  You put on a touch more charm because he looks like he's about to expire from sheer boredom.  "Wow, there's quite a few of them.  My boyfriend has a lot of CD's, but this is for his car, so I think maybe the one that holds 72?  What do you think?"  "That sounds about right," he says.  "They come in fabric or plastic, I see, which would you recommend?"  "Well, I think the plastic is much more likely to fall apart over time in the car if the temperature fluxuates," he says, looking a bit more animated.  "The price is the same. I would recommend the fabric."  "Thanks very much," you say, looking him in the eye and smiling.  "I think I will get the fabric one.  I want it to last."  He gives you a smile and goes back to where his coworker is standing.  You grab your purchase and head for the check out.*

Now, here's the deal: obviously this is not a suicide prevention hotline.  You don't make or break people's days by being friendly or respectful.  Your interaction is just one of hundreds.  But if you tamp down the attitude and try to see people as people and not drones or servants, you don't ruin the moment.  You walk away happy, he walks away feeling respected, and no one gets shot at the post office today.

My experience is that with women, all you need to do to de-drone them is make real eye contact and notice something about them or their experience and comment positively on it.  With men, I always give a little deference, whether that is addressing them as "sir" or asking their opinion on something or for some knowledge they can provide.  It's a little social dance; I let them lead, give some respect, and it's amazing what I can learn and the kind of helpfulness this can bring out.  I've worked customer service and  been on the other end of this dance, so I know that approach is everything.  If someone makes me feel valued, I will go the extra mile to help them out.

You have the power to reframe many of your interactions so that they are pleasant for other people and for you.  Why not use this power?  It will benefit you, and it will repair the social fabric at the same time.  That social fabric is kind of in tatters.  We should all do our part to repair it.

* Based on a True Story

3 comments:

  1. Ok, this one is interesting. When we lived in California, BOTH scenario #1s are pretty much all you get, any time, with any gender, age, race, etc. It's demoralizing. IT really does make a difference that you can go to the store, have a small conversation with the checkout people or on the sales floor. You (and they) don't feel so much like a drone.

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  2. hah; thats so true. I've worked quite a lot in various shops, and having a customer treat you like a human rather than a cog in the machine (or even just *smile* (specially if she's cute) )

    But yeah, having been on the receiving end of both good and bad customers, I try to do a little more of the former stuff. :)

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  3. SoonTheyllAllBeRobotKiosksAnywaysSeptember 16, 2016 at 6:47 PM

    Both of those interactions took longer in Scenario #2. Possible tradeoff with the superior CD case, but in the grocery store scenario you're clearly worse off. Also, LOL forever @ the notion that I ought to be gratuitously sweet and deferential (because patriarchy?) to indolent 85-IQ nogs.

    We all know honey catches more flies, but your first scenario, especially, is not speaking to that issue. It's more like: "you're a woman, so you should banter obsequiously with service employees, even if you're running late and even if we stipulate you have nothing to gain from this indulgence."

    It's interesting: the reactionary internet rejects egalitarianism and advocates a lucid, unapologetic embrace of hierarchy...to a point. There's a clear consensus that we should revive sex hierarchy, possibly to the point of coverture. But class hierarchy is a longstanding reality, too, and I see far less zeal for its revival. Here, you're chiding those uppity shrews for viewing, as servants, a class of people literally employed as servants.

    Clearly there's no excuse for being rude or abusive to drones (and objectively, per psychometrics, Bantus function at approx the level of drones). But declining to stop and hold a coffee klatch isn't a sign of a personality defect, and I very much doubt you'd foist the same expectation on men.

    (To preempt the response that men and women are different -- well, so are the bourgeoisie and the mystery-meat underclass).

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