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Losing your temper often is easy, and pointless

Angry

I was revisiting Seth Godin’s graceful little book Graceful the other day, and came across this:

“The guy in front of me in line (maybe he was in front of you, once, too) has every right to be upset with the clerk. She’s not making it easy for him to buy his ticket, and after all, he did call the day before, and after all, he’s been a customer here for years (at least that’s what he reports, loudly). So he indulges himself. He huffs and he puffs and he blows and he yells and he stomps and he’s mean. Boy, that must feel good. Why else would he do it? It’s certainly not helping him get his ticket. The difficult alternative would be to smile. To see the situation from her point of view. Most of all, to be graceful, to get your ticket with a smile and take this up later (if it’s truly worth it) with someone who can actually do something about it.”

Shortly after that, as though in synchronicity, my wife came home and recounted something that she had just observed at our local supermarket. A customer seemed to have lost his rag with one of the assistants and started shouting. The irate man seemed affronted by some perceived stupidity on the part of the assistant, and was letting the hapless employee have both barrels of his ire. There was much ‘effing and blinding’ going on. The employee had to just stand there and take it. No supervisor or manager came to his aid, or to handle the customer on his behalf. Other customers looked away, embarrassed.

The way most of our enterprises are run, there is much for customers to be frustrated, even angry about. We are often kept waiting in interminable queues, on business premises, on the phone or online, just to complete the simplest task. Many times, we lose precious hours in our lives simply because somebody somewhere has messed up and caused a chain of problems that will take ages to correct. Even worse, we are often disconnected from essential services due to human or system errors even though we are diligent in our payments.

Sometimes the issues are caused by substandard or archaic systems or processes; sometimes by under-qualified or under-trained employees. Much needless stupidity occurs much of the time.

And so it is tempting, very tempting, to lose our tempers.

Go back to Seth’s words above. When we lose it with someone, we are indulging ourselves. It feels good to let rip after all that frustration. It makes us feel like we are back in control, taking charge, seizing superiority by saying: Me? I don’t stand for this rubbish.

And most of the time we achieve sweet nothing.

We might go home feeling good about clearing our anger exhaust pipes, but will anything good really come from the outburst? In my wife’s supermarket scenario, if the supervisors within earshot could not be bothered to step in, are they likely to change a damn thing after the customer has gone?

The problems of customer service are almost never the fault of the person in front of you. They come from systematic failures in standards, in processes, and, most importantly, in leadership. Someone up above has failed to set a proper standard and deploy systems, processes and people to deliver it. And someone above that person has failed in the selection process.

So: are you willing to go and blow your top with that annoying organization’s CEO, or board of directors? If not, please don’t indulge yourself with that unfortunate junior in front of you. If you want a result, find a proper way of expressing yourself: forcefully but politely, and with the support of others, and with some righteousness. Don’t lose the high ground by mouthing high-decibel obscenities just because you have personal anger-management issues.

In any case, by standing there shouting at some underling, what are you telling us about yourself? It is never OK to belittle someone, gratuitously or otherwise. Shouting out insults is the mark of a bully and a loser. Winners make their point and argue their case and make a change actually happen. Or they have the inner peace to accept things as they are. They don’t resort to name-calling and rabid threats.

If an organization is always annoying you, take your money elsewhere or make them see your point. Showing up for regular rants is a loser’s game.

(Sunday Nation, 30 April 2017)

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