Career Opportunities

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A weekly ComputorEdge Column and Podcast by Douglas E. Welch

Don't treat everyone like a criminal, or an idiot

March 16, 2007

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How are you treating those around you? How do you treat your customers? Are you letting your day-to-day interactions with them cloud your judgment and effect your behavior? This is one of the most insidious problems you can experience as you build your career and yet it is something we experience every day in our work and in our lives. Despite our best efforts, if you deal with certain problems frequently enough, you can forget that people are still individuals and should be treated as such.

I first noticed this problem in friends and acquaintances that work in law enforcement or as attorneys.Confronted daily with the reality and cruelty of crime, they begin to see all people, regardless of their actions, as potential criminals. They have been over-exposed to the baser sides of life and begin to believe that their friends and neighbors are just as capable of murder as anyone else they encounter in their work. Observing this attitude from the outside, we can see the inherent fallacy in these beliefs, but when you are immersed in it, it can seem very real. Eventually, these folks can come to believe that there is no "good" in the world anymore, only a progression of threats to be avoided. In the worst cases, you will find people withdrawing from friends, family and society. What a sad situation, made all the more so by the fact that it doesn't have to be this way.

While this is an extreme example, I see similar behaviors in those people engaged in less life-threatening daily work such as customer service and support. The causes may be different, but the results are strikingly the same. Even more, whenever you begin treating everyone the way you would treat the worst of society, your career is in danger.

I see this all the time, and I am sure you do, too. Almost every sales and support interaction in my day, and yours, is colored by behavior like this. We suffer tortuous return policies at some retail stores because someone else has abused their previous policies. We ask a perfectly valid question, only to be treated rudely by someone who has answered that same question a hundred times that day. A sales associate treats you badly because she was treated rudely by 10, 100 or 1,000 other people that day. I call this "the punishing of the innocent." Some people's behavior is rude, stupid or evil and everyone else must pay.

These employees, and possibly you as well, are preparing for the unemployment line, if this behavior continues. Offending and mistreating your best customers and clients will drive them away, reduce profits and perhaps even destroy the company. Your day-to-day behavior has a direct effect on the future of your job.

So, how do you avoid this pervasive problem? First, you need to start treating each person, each customer, each client, as a unique individual again. You need to stop assuming that they were placed on this Earth to simply make your life more difficult. Yes, of course, there are people who will try to abuse your policies, rip you off or willfully remain ignorant, but there are many others who are simply trying to return a product that did not work or ask a very simple question. Notice when you, and your company, are punishing the innocent and do everything in your power to stop it.

Having previously worked in help desk operations and even in my current computer consulting role, I know it can be frustrating to answer the same question again and again, but instead of getting angry at the customer, why don't we explore why the question keeps being asked? What flaw is causing the question and what can we do about it? Getting angry is simply giving up.

No career can be built on a structure of annoyance and contempt for your customer. If you have started to see everyone as the enemy then your career will be a slow progression of disdain, anger and cynicism. In this world, everyone treats each other with such contempt that the world becomes an increasingly difficult place to live and your career becomes a burden instead of a launching pad for a better life.


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