Sunday, February 15, 2009

Seeing people clearly

It happens to the best of us, especially at my age: every couple years or so, those darn road signs get blurrier and I need to go get a new pair of glasses.

This time, I decided to try my first pair of no-line bifocals, thinking they would make it easier for me sitting in front of my omnipresent word processor. In reality, the opposite is true: they give me tunnel vision, and I am constantly moving my head around chasing a small spot of clarity around the screen. So it’s probably back to regular bifocals for me.

Meanwhile, a busy optical store is a fascinating place to watch human nature and communication take place. Many people, when they try a new pair of glasses on for the first time, find it disorienting and complain about it. And the optical staff, being human beings, often react the same way our caveman ancestors did when confronted with a hungry saber-toothed tiger: they get defensive and start countering the customer’s arguments.

But when I go out of my way to be polite and upbeat about problems like my new bifocals, I notice an interesting dynamic: because I don’t challenge people, they go out of their way to validate my point of view and be helpful. They say things like “I can see why you react this way to them. Let me show you why this might be happening” instead of the usual “Well, you probably need to do X” response people give under pressure.

So here is my suggestion for you folks out there: next time you have a customer problem, be as charming and cheerful about it as you can. Even if you’ve been overcharged $70 or are returning a defective computer. And then see what happens. I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised!

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