How do you treat those around you?

Career Opportunities podcast logoHow do you treat those around you?
By Douglas E. Welch


Listen: How do you treat those around you?

How do you treat those around you?
May 30, 2008

Starting tomorrow, I want you to arrive at your work — whether in an office, retail store, support phone line or other service job — and imagine that everyone you deal with is NOT an idiot. Imagine that everyone is NOT out to make your life miserable. Imagine that everyone is NOT actively sabotaging your work. Imagine. Now, do more than imagine. Act as if all that is true. Act as if the people you meet each day are normal, decent people who want nothing more than to complete their transaction with you and move on to the next item on their agenda. If you do this I can guarantee that you will have a day unlike any other. You will find that work is a pleasure, not a chore. You will find that people are nice and interesting. You will find that, while there are some grumpy people in the world, for the most part, everyone just wants to get along.

Having worked in “service industries” for almost 25 years, I know how tough it can be. I know how it can wear you down, chew you up and spit you out…if you let it. I know how quickly you can become cynical and abrasive. I know how you start to treat everyone as “the problem” instead of those who truly are. That said, this is a dangerous place to find yourself and you must, at all costs, find a way out. Falling into this trap can damage more than just your job. It can damage your life.

It all starts so slowly, of course. When you first start out in a job, everything is new and, usually, exciting. You answer questions quickly and expertly with a friendly smile. After a while, though, you start to see the same questions, again and again – often from the same people. Worse still, you think that just because you have learned the answers over time, everyone else should know them as well. You can find yourself getting angry with people who ask you a question for the 2,000th time, even though they might be asking it for the first. You start to believe that everyone is a complete idiot and your interactions with them become more and more terse, if not downright hostile.

When we don’t treat each other with respect, we end up in an endless cycle of tit for tat. You treated me badly, so I will treat someone else badly.

I see this type of behavior everyday in nearly any business. The librarian who treats patrons as a bother and not their “customer.” — the telephone rep who would rather hang up on you than explain a particular charge on your statement for the seemingly 1 millionth time — the computer consultant who gives an exasperated sigh and rolls their eyes at every question. (See The Exasperated Sigh) All of these people need to be reminded (as I need to be reminded on occasion) that while a question may be old to you, it is probably new to your client or customer. They are not trying to drive you mad. They are trying to get the answer to an important, annoying, costly problem and you are the person they are paying (directly or indirectly) to help them.

When we don’t treat each other with respect, we end up in an endless cycle of tit for tat. You treated me badly, so I will treat someone else badly. Do you really want to be the cause of that among your customers? As was discussed in last week’s column, do you really want to be the cause of more ugliness in the world? Worse still, if you get involved in this behavior at your work, you will surely bring the same behaviors home to your family and this can cause even more dramatic problems in your life.

So, pick a day. Sit in your car before you go into the office and repeat to yourself, “Everyone is NOT an idiot. Everyone is a fellow human being. Everyone is NOT out to get me.” Then, go in and do the best work you can. Engage with people. Treat them as individuals. Make their life just a little easier. I can guarantee you that your day will fly by and you will leave work energized instead of drained. Then, do it the next day and the next and the next. Before long, with a little work, you will have regained some of the joy you once found in your work and, hopefully, passed it on to those around you.

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