Kindness and Respect
There have been several times when I had to contact customer support due to problems with an order or due to my own negligence. Either way I did my best to go in with the attitude of being super friendly and with appreciation for their support. I recognized that this was just their job and why did they need to deal with another person's anger and abuse. At those times when I don’t feel I’m getting anywhere I do ask to speak to a supervisor. This is usually when I know that it was my fault and they needed to follow protocol. But, I was clear about what I expected and am humbled enough to recognize that they would be doing me a solid.
This was the case with a credit card company that was charging me 25% interest and I did not realize this after a few months that it was in effect. The first person wasn’t able to help me and I was clear that I wasn’t going to pay the accumulated interest. When I then spoke with the supervisor I started with how helpful their services were in the past and how I would like to continue to work with them but I did need this situation resolved. I did let her know what I should have done to avoid this issue and told her that I would be more careful next time. She heard me out and gave me a brief lecture about being more careful and responsible and she allowed me to pay off the card without the substantial accumulated interest. I was extremely appreciative and reiterated how supportive the company was. I didn’t need to get nasty or argue over the phone or yell out demands. We were able to be human and work together.
I have a friend who takes a different approach, which drives me nuts. He is often full-out verbally aggressive and sometimes rude, treating it like a challenge to get more. He often does come out with results, but it does seem to take a long time. I’m left feeling sorry for the poor person on the other end of the line. I imagine them going home after being abused all day by customers barking at them and taking it out on their significant others or kids.
I’ve had experience speaking with customers on the phone. As a behavioral health consultant, part of my job is working with customers in person or on the phone. These people often call me frustrated that they are not able to get the treatment they want because the service is not a covered benefit. They are often angry and determined to get what they want. I have to recognize my own defensiveness coming up, and replace it with understanding and empathy. I first let them know that I heard them and understand the problem by repeating it back to them in my own words. I then present them with different options to try and resolve the problem. If that doesn’t work and let them know that I will discuss the situation with my director and see if there are any other feasible solutions. Most often there are reasonable solutions.
Another challenge to kindness is encounters with rude people in your presence. This is not easy because you usually can’t hide your facial expressions and have little time to think before reacting. I admit that I’m not a saint, and often feel the need to say something when my ego is engaged. Most times I’m able to put things in a certain context or perspective. If it’s a rude teenagers playing loud music on the train or being foul-mouthed, I recognize it as a phase in their life. If it’s a drunk person being obnoxious I recognize a person with a problem. If I see a car weaving through other cars or cutting into traffic I know how it feels to be in a rush or to show off. In these instances I say to myself “how is my saying anything going to help the situation and will I really be heard?”
One time that I let my ego get the best of me, I had to correct myself. Parking can be very difficult in Brooklyn and when you finally find a spot it’s like gold. After circling for a while I was finally able to find a spot that was slightly covering someone’s driveway. The homeowner confronted me. While frustrated and tired, I verbally fought with him to give me a break. I was going to stick to my guns. After some time I decided to move because I didn’t want something to happen to my car. I finally found another spot a block away. As I walked passed the gentleman I apologized for my actions and extended my hand. He was receptive and we had a pleasant conversation.
One area that I feel the need to jump in is when witnessing any abusive or dangerous situation. I would do my best to be diplomatic while my adrenaline is pumping. One time I was witnessing someone being abusive towards a store clerk. My young daughter was with me and I was able to say to the lady “excuse me, my child is present.” That was enough to distract her and she moved on. The clerk later thanked me and I felt good with my deed.
When dealing with adversity I do my best to be as kind, diplomatic and patient as I can. I recognize I get more from being kind and human than when my ego is engaged and I’m being forceful. There is a lot of satisfaction in being able to connect with others, be respectful and still get what I need. I think of it as being a good person in a win-win situation.
Ian Sherman, LCSW-R