Monday, June 23, 2014

The Worst Thing You Can Say...

When I'm at a business and I'm greeted by an employee and I ask, "How are you?" The worst thing I hear back is:

"I'll be doing great when I'm off in about 20 minutes."

This feels almost as ubiquitous as the checkout question, "Did you find everything ok?" (Sorry, blog within a blog here.) I made it to the checkout with the item; is this the best question you have?

Sorry, back to the topic ;-) "I'll be doing great when I'm off in about _____ minutes" communicates so much in that tiny sentence. It says:

  • I've forgotten you're a customer by the way I'm treating you like a fellow employee.
  • Whatever I'm doing here is far from what I like to do.
  • I don't really respect what I do for a living even though I chose this job.
  • I'm foolishly brazen. I didn't even look over my shoulder before I said it.
  • I'm apparently not good at talking with customers.
  • I'm putting up with whatever you might ask of me until I get to do something interesting.

So here's the tension: I write this and get it off my chest. You read it and nod along, "Morgan, you're so right!"

But now, I have to do something the next time this happens. Why? If I don't, I'm just a crabby old guy with a blog. Seriously, the easiest thing to do is make commentary on life; take pot shots.

So now I have to find a way to turn the tide, because most of the people I'm talking about don't read my blog. And I'll have to be nice when I say something. I never got rebuked by an old dude with an air of superiority and thought, "That was cool."

Here's my game plan: (E. = employee. MY = me)

E: "I'll be doing fine when I get off in 10 minutes."

MY: "Do you mind if I share something with you?"

(Start by asking permission. When offering something that might be hard to hear, I always ask permission. And before I ask, I check my motivation: am I trying to make a point or trying to help? Unless I'm honestly trying to help, I should shut up. Making a point is selfish; trying to help is humility.)

E: (cautiously) "Uh, sure."

MY: (Sincerely) "When you said that just now, about doing better when you get off--you probably never thought how that sounds on this side of it, but it sounds like you don't want to be here and then don't really want to wait on me."

E: "Oh hey, sir, I didn't mean to..."

MY: "Hey it's ok--I know a lot of people say that. I said something because I'm just a guy trying to help. (smiling) Now where are the routers?"

During and after that exchange, if I'm not seriously nice to the employee I've totally screwed this up. If I come off in my actions, like I really care, then maybe my words have a chance.

I'm guessing when this happens he or she will tell all the people on the shift and maybe people on the other shifts the rest of the week. The story might get told like I was a douche; that's ok. The story will get told and maybe some amount of positive change will come about.

All I know is it takes all of us to get better. If all I do is make observations that never turn into helpful interactions, then what good am I really?

Who knows, you may even take a stab at this the next time some well-meaning employee let's you know they'll be going great in a few more minutes ;-)