Monday, May 19, 2008

Oh, gee... ya think?

This morning as I perused the Internet, I found this article. It seemed to me that the writer was stating the obvious.

The article says, in part:

FRANKFURT, Germany, May 16 (UPI) -- A German scientist has proved that people forced to smile and take on-the-job insults suffer more and longer-lasting stress that may harm their health.

Dieter Zapf of the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt studied 4,000 volunteers working in a fake call center. Half were allowed to respond in kind to abuse on the other end of the line while the other half had to suck it up, The Telegraph reports.

Back in the day, when I used to work at an IT Help Desk, the pressure put on all of us to be constantly nice regardless of the behavior of the person on the other end was intense. I recall at one point the supervisors putting a mirror in our cubicles, telling us that we should use them to make sure we were "smiling" because "the customer can hear it in your voices."

My immediate reaction was to take it down and toss it in a drawer because when all is said and done, I do not suffer fools gladly.

The emphasis on this constant faux cheeriness was relentless. There were meetings about it. There were emails about it. They brought in professional corporate trainers to drive home the point that we were merely service objects and should not express any emotion at all.

It began to feel like emotional prostitution. I and my coworkers were IT professionals, not telemarketers. Just the same, we were told that no matter how we were treated, that we should not show our frustration or unhappiness with being talked to in such a manner.

I'm not advocating being rude. At the same time, I can not abide the idea of anyone having to take abuse in order to earn money.

The article continues:

He found that those able to answer back had a brief increase in heart rate. Those who could not had stress symptoms that lasted much longer.

"Every time a person is forced to repress his true feelings there are negative consequences," Zapf said. "We are all able to rein in our emotions but it becomes difficult to do this over a protracted period."

Well, duh! No one is suggesting that customers and representatives get into screaming matches or begin calling each other names and verbally brawling. It only seems to be common sense that emotional prostitution would have negative health consequences.

The solution? According to the article:

In an interview with the German healthcare magazine Apotheken Umschau, Zapf suggested that people who must keep smiling on the job should get regular breaks to let it out.

Wrong. The solution is to make a simple statement. "When you are able to discuss this in a calm and respectful manner, please call back. I'm sure someone will be happy to help you."

What do you think?
~*


29 comments:

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

I think that this is another aspect of our "instant gratification" society. We've all become big babies, so we expect to be able to behave outrageously to people who work in service professions and to have them just take our garbage.

So much of this is the need to put yourself in the other person's shoes. (Here I'm talking about the customers thinking about the IT professionals, not vice versa).

slouching mom said...

I think your advice at the very end of the post is spot on -- except that the "corporation" wouldn't tolerate it for a moment.

Sad.

wheelsonthebus said...

That depends -- will the people at the call center be respectful to the callers to start from? If not, they shouldn't be allowed to admonish the callers to behave better than they do.

Defiantmuse said...

I'm not sure. Maybe the solution is that people shouldn't be assholes.

Have you seen the movie "Office Space"? This post made me think of it.

Angela said...

I think that it is disrespectful, in a way, to tolerate someone's terrible behavior.

I was just admonished for this point of view the other day, but it didn't change my perspective.

If someone is behaving abusively, we are not doing this person any favors by allowing them to do so.

It especially bothers me when someone behaves inappropriately in this way, their behavior is openly tolerated, and then the abused person turns around and complains to everyone within earshot about how badly they were treated....rather than simply being honest with the person.

Two weeks ago, I was treated terribly by someone at work. I've tolerated this behavior countless times from this person, and finally (because I've put my notice in) I approached this person and told her that her behavior was incredibly disrespectful and that no means no.

My manager couldn't understand why I did this, and reminded me that she "does this to everyone" and that I shouldn't take it personally. Apparently, her bad behavior was MY problem. I considered my manager's perspective for about twenty seconds before I softly suggested that it is because "everyone" tolerates her behavior that she continues to behave the way that she does.

Angela said...

I think that it is disrespectful, in a way, to tolerate someone's terrible behavior.

I was just admonished for this point of view the other day, but it didn't change my perspective.

If someone is behaving abusively, we are not doing this person any favors by allowing them to do so.

It especially bothers me when someone behaves inappropriately in this way, their behavior is openly tolerated, and then the abused person turns around and complains to everyone within earshot about how badly they were treated....rather than simply being honest with the person.

Two weeks ago, I was treated terribly by someone at work. I've tolerated this behavior countless times from this person, and finally (because I've put my notice in) I approached this person and told her that her behavior was incredibly disrespectful and that no means no.

My manager couldn't understand why I did this, and reminded me that she "does this to everyone" and that I shouldn't take it personally. Apparently, her bad behavior was MY problem. I considered my manager's perspective for about twenty seconds before I softly suggested that it is because "everyone" tolerates her behavior that she continues to behave the way that she does.

Olivia said...

Chani,

I think that there is a delicate balance between being authentic and real and not tolerating abuse and between tolerating frustration.

Specifically, in a customer service or help desk setting, I think that helping people lower their frustration level is a challenge, but one that you have to be in the right frame of mind to take on. I've had some great people help me to see that I'm overreacting to problems they could help me with. Now, I've never been abusive or even rude, just really frustrated. But other people might not be able to control themselves and might need a way to vent; still that doesn't make you a volunteer if you have a job like that.

I think it's a tough balance that we have to decide about on a case by case or situation by situation basis.

And I don't think that anyone should have to tolerate any type of abuse, either---name calling, swearing, or screaming.

I'm glad that I don't have a job that requires this of me, and I think it would be incredibly stressful to have to endure.

I like your response, but I don't think that the rude people could abide it. Still, it seems like the only reasonable option!

Namaste,

O
xxoo

Sober Briquette said...

I guess I've either been lucky or I'm a good listener. For a while I worked a customer service phone line for life insurance products. We had a line of business that was tanking and the investors were losing everything, and even then, I never had to terminate a call.

In person is a little different, and I have had people "bully" me into appeasing them and later felt resentful.

What bothers me most about the article is that participants were permitted to "respond in kind." Two wrongs...?

Gillian said...

I think if corporations could rely on people to use good judgement when dealing with clients, they wouldn't have to enforce such ridulous policies.
Not all employees could be trusted to handle a matter respectfully or with grace. Those are the people the rule is designed for, so that you have smilers across the board.
The customer isn't always right; but you must make them think they are.
xox

the psycho therapist said...

I think I agree with this BIG TIME:

"Every time a person is forced to repress his true feelings there are negative consequences," Zapf said. "We are all able to rein in our emotions but it becomes difficult to do this over a protracted period."

We enact what we cannot feel. The repressed "gunk" finds it way out somehow, somewhere, some place...uh, headaches, stomach upset, kicking the dog, yelling at your spouse, kids, and so on and so on and so on.

On a good day, I tend to offer folks in difficult situations this simple 1-2-3 rule:

1. Tell the rudey when their behavior is inappropriate. Advise them you will end the communication if it continues.

2. If and when the rudey continues with the rude behavior, remind them of your stance and that you will end the communication without further warning if it continues.

3. If and when the rudey continues, advise them you are now ending the communication. Hang up or walk away.

On a bad day, I try to do my best David Niven or Clifton Webb impression and offer up a one-liner I hope will demonstrate which of the two of us uses higher brain functions.

womaninawindow said...

I work in retail and it is funny to me to see people time and time again feel entitled to belittle me and own me. Often people assume (so it seems) that I would be uneducated and something of a country bumpkin. I have a University degree and I have travelled the world (a bit). I try my best to think large and not draw conclusions upon sight. I also usually meet those snarls and assumptions with a smile anyway, 'cause in the end, the joke is on them. I'm the one holding the icecream or fudge or moccasins, or whatever it is that that customer wants. Even then there is a level of control. I just don't let them get me down...

we_be_toys said...

-I hate being told to smile
-I hate having to be nice to someone who doesn't deserve it
-and I hate those squeaky wheels who think if they bitch loudly enough they'll get their way.

That being said, I did work in the service industry for many years, and eventually had to quit because it ate a hole in my stomach and killed a tooth from grinding my teeth.

There are two sides of that coin -

there are those people on a phone who are supposed to be helping you who do as little as they can, and they cause stress.

Then there are the high maintenance "princesses", if you will, who think they can huff and puff and get whatever they want.

I wish we could refuse to work with both kinds. Barring that idyllic pipe dream, I guess the only solution is to remember that the person on the other end of the phone is human and just as frail as you are, and to cut them a break - as long as they behave themselves!!!!

Ian Lidster said...

Friendliness is good.
Forced friendliness is faux and it shows.
An advantage of working from home is that I can scowl when I choose.

Tabba said...

this is totally off of the subject, Chani - but I LOVE your new look here.
It is stunning.

ThomasLB said...

My first job was working in the paint department at Sears, and we regularly encountered people with awful little lives who came in primarily to berate the clerks.

It was stressful at first, but pretty quickly I learned to simply not care; not about the job, not about the customers, not about the company. I just put in my time, then went home.

I hear people complain constantly about the poor service they get from low-wage no-benefit workers. Frankly, they should be happy they showed up for work at all.

crazymumma said...

what is that saying? Smile Through The Pain?

khengsiong said...

I am not sure if your 'solution' is a good one. When people call, they want to solve their problems immediately. You can't tell them to call back...

Molly said...

But if they want their problems solved they should treat the potential solver with civility. I would never respond in kind when someone was rude. I would be more likely to become more excruciatingly polite as they became ruder.....And if they became ruder than I could bear, then I'd quietly push the disconnect button---"oh-oh! We must have gotten cut off!"Of course they'd fire me then....
The ridiculous thing is that, in all likelihood, large amounts of money were spent on that study---to prove what anyone with a few brain cells and a modicum of common sense could figure out for nothing!

Julie Pippert said...

I think this is why I don't like clowns. Like I said in my post: they embody this idea for me and I think that's why they bother me.

It reveals our callous disregard for other people and the mistaken "suck it up" principle.

ITA with your simple statement.

Carla said...

No one, absolutely no one should be forced to put up with abuse.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I think your idea is perfect, except that the mentality that created the rule in the first place is so afraid of losing a precious dollar that nothing will change except the personnel as they burn out and are replaced by fresh smiling faces.

It always amazes me that people get grants to perform studies on things we all know (or should know) anyway.

Yoli said...

I was a waitress, you have no idea the stress and humiliation you had to put up with, all with a smile. Be rude and ask a waitress for decaff, see what happens. I have caffinated some many idiots.

thailandchani said...

Yoli, as a person with a heart condition who can not have caffeine at serious risk to my health, I would suggest you figure out another method of expressing your anger.

You could kill someone.

citizen of the world said...

I think the only thing I'd do is change it to "we": "when we are able to discuss this" - It establishes an alliance and doesn't directly cast blame although it will be clear to both of you who needs to do the calming down.

Mariposa said...

I'm late here but wants to reply anyway...since I'm from the Call Center.

I have always made it a policy never to allow callers to verbally abuse our agents. We have a spiel to cover cases like this...I believe agents can help them best when they more calm. Of course most of the managers did not agree...most center managers did not agree...BUT I fought it hard in the corporate level. My point...I did not get where I am overnight...I tried taking calls, and I know what and how it feels. They have not.

I got what I wanted. I know it does not really take away all the stress but at least, I don't make the agents feel like they have to suck it all up because that is how they earn their living. No way.

So, I'm with you here.

painted maypole said...

i think it is not a job I would want. I try really hard to be nice to whoever I am talking to, no matter how frustrated I am, because I know it is just their job. I have been known to say "I'm sorry, I'm not angry at you, I'm just really frustrated. Let's see if we can solve this."

MsLittlePea said...

Chiming in a little late since I haven't been connecting much lately but I completely agree. I have a close family member who I used to talk to on the phone quite a bit. It's not so much that she was negative a abusive towards me but there's such a huge amount of anger and negativity she holds on to. I would listen to her and just stay silent just to keep the peace. But every time I talk to her I have a physical reaction because I'm holding all my feelings in...I end up feeling sick and exhausted. I finally had to just stop talking to her so frequently. I can only imagine what it must be like to have to "smile" through all the abuse.

Angela said...

I think that dealing with abusive customers should carry higher salaries and a lot more time off! I thank God every day that I don't have to do that anymore. Tough, tough job.

Rebel said...

I'm so glad I stumbled onto your blog. I just quit my job, in part, because I had to be polite & ready to serve regardless of how unreasonable the people I was working for were being. Having to suck it up for the past 6 years has just about killed me. And now I'm planning to go to Thailand to teach English. I know they do a lot of smiling there and tend to do the 'cool heart' type thing, but I'm hoping to learn how to *actually* have a cool heart, and not just fake it.

Emotional prostitution... that's the truth.