Tuesday, July 24, 2012

This Agression Will Not Stand

Let's set aside the obnoxious old saw that it takes more muscles to frown than smile and admit that, in situations that are frustrating or unpleasant, the path of least resistance is to be awful.  It's a hard thing to admit and most of us have the blinders on when it comes to our own tendency to be ungracious, but it's true and human and something that requires vigilance instead of denial.

The past few weeks at work have been particularly hellacious, an impossible numbers game wherein hundreds of people descend on our five-person operation with everything they own and, owing to a poor understanding of geometry, physics, and the notion that the world doesn't revolve around them, become enraged to find that we can't fit the astonishing pile of consumer goods they've deemed necessary for a weekend getaway on a boat immediately.

Look, I'm no angel where this is concerned.  No one ever thinks they're the one being unreasonable, and I'd like to imagine that I can claim the high road. Realistically, though, it takes an extraordinary amount of energy not to trade snark for snark, raised voice for raised voice, veiled insult for veiled insult.  I try. Really hard.  But while I'm mostly successful in not shooting first, I struggle not to fire back in kind and when I dig in for a fight, I am not fun.

That said, being on the receiving end of these shenanigans and being responsible for young seasonal employees who are still learning the operation but who are smart, courteous, and hard-working, and watching bitter hags having a bad day just eviscerate these kids makes me realize what a lot of assholes there are in this world.  And now that I'm more conscious of it, I see it everywhere that customer service happens: in stores, at the movies, in restaurants...Ev. Ery. Where.  Customers are awful, entitled know-it-alls.  Sure, sure, there are times when things are legitimately bad and someone needs to do a better job, but just look around and see how often someone in a line near you goes from 0 to subhuman because a grocery clerk needs a price check or won't accept their Canadian currency or asks them to wait a moment while they put out the fire that's just erupted in the trash can.

So the thing is, it takes a little bit of decorum, a little bit of restraint to overcome the junkfood-style satisfaction of being awful in the moment but it's well worth it because in the long run it's kind of soul-crushing.  Or it should be, if you're even kind of a good person.

Am I a broken record?  Maybe.  But if the easiest way to be is awful, it's worth reminding myself and others to be diligent about NOT being so as often as possible.

It's 4 a.m. and I'm about to go to work.  Today I will behave as though every customer is an alien new to earth and in need of guidance.  Today I will muster an appreciative laugh for lame jokes just to honor the spirit of positivity.  Today I'm bringing cupcakes to work just because.

Ready? Go!


  1. Well said, my friend. It's difficult for some to abjure the "junkfood-style satisfaction" of going off on someone, partly because their lives are so empty and risible.

    There, I've used the words abjure and risible. That'll teach 'em.

  2. After a decade in the service industry myself, I can attest to having seen much of the same. I once worked for someone who rarely had anything of value to say about anyone or anything, but who did once say to me the one thing I did take away from our time together, which was, "Some people are only interested in the experience of being dissatisfied."

    What I think we have to remember is that most human beings walk around with the animal kingdom's cognitive equivalent of a Ferrari 911 on their shoulders, but have only ever been taught (or bothered to learn) how to drive it in first gear. Hence, a lot of sputtering, fuming, smoking, stops and wrenching stops as all that horsepower searches around in vain for something, ANYTHING to focus on. And we all know how much easier it is to dwell and focus, and tell and retell (to uninterested friends) a negative experience over a positive one. The cognitive equivalent of revving the engine, if you will.

    At the same time, you also probably are experiencing something of the online rater effect, where only the ones and fives bother to make themselves noticed. And since it is pretty difficult to have a five-star experience standing in line waiting to board a ferry (unless one is being handed a free cupcake) the average person has a quiet three star experience, while the fuming one stars make themselves obnoxiously heard.

  3. Oh, I miss blogging more often if only because I don't get to interact with you lot!

    Anyway, yes, I think there are definitely people for whom dissatisfaction is a lifestyle choice. I wish them all the ill will in the world. Ha!

    Interesting to note, I mostly had the day I plotted for myself including a really (5) stellar interaction with a tourist from New York whose cultural number I just happened to pick up immediately which was fun.

    Ironically, for my troubles being positive and responsive, a customer with a hefty litany of complaints was directed to me by a member of our Board of Directors. And just to fall further down the rabbit hole, among her complaints was the unhappiness and curtness of come employees. I think we had a constructive conversation, but it was all I could do not to say, "Criminy, woman, can you imagine standing in a glass box in 90 degree heat for 8 hours a day answering the same questions and listening to the same complaints ALL SUMMER LONG? Be nice! We long for those kind/funny moments to revive our humanity!"

  4. Also, watch your language, Davis.