Knee-Jerk

I’ve been noticing a pattern for awhile, and it’s getting to the point where I think I have something to say about it.

We all have our areas of specialty, right? The areas where we feel like we get nothing but the same question, over and over. For example, in college, I went to school in a midwestern state. When people asked where I was from and I said “Colorado,” 90 percent of the time, their next question was “oh, Colorado! Do you ski?” It was almost comical how often that was the case.

So we all have these patterns in our lives where we just know the question we’re going to get next. I do this too— I try to anticipate the questions people will have when I say something, and include the answers in my initial communication. And then I feel self-righteously irritated when they don’t read the communication.

But the truth is, especially in our day jobs, we get paid for a reason. We have specialized knowledge, or we spend all day every day thinking about something, or we have access to resources (even if it’s databases or handbooks or something) that aren’t publicly available, or any of a dozen reasons.

So when someone calls us up and asks a basic question or falls into our pattern, it seems like it’s common to laugh at them, as if they’re dumb. “Is there gas in the car [you moron]?” “Have you tried turning it off and back on again [you idiot]?” “Have you tried resetting your password [stupid]?”

It’s not a big thing, and we definitely all have legitimate moments of exasperation, but I don’t think there’s a lot of virtue in falling into the habit of using our experience as a weapon. In fact, in my experience, it’s something we most often do when we’re starting from a place of insecurity. And beyond that, I’ve found a couple of situations where, if I could hold my judgment and hear someone out, I got useful information that helped me to solve a bigger problem. I had one of those, yesterday, where it sounded like the same old complaint, and I tried to handle it with the usual solutions. But the caller stuck with it, and his resolve helped me see a pattern where I couldn’t see it before. It will take awhile for me to fix what’s broken, but if I washed my hands of it before that point, he’d be unsatisfied, I’d be irritated, and the solution would still be evading both of us. It happened again, today, where someone was trying to give me the brush-off, and I had to remind them again and again that their usual answer wasn’t actually addressing the question I was asking. Once I did, they were able to help me, but it took us several chances to get there.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again— one of my favorite lines from one of my all-time favorite movies, “The Philadelphia Story,” is “the time to give up on people is never.” I really think that’s the key— to keep treating people like people, even when it’s easier to reduce them to something less.

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One thought on “Knee-Jerk

  1. “Treating people the way that you would like to be treated” is so obvious, and makes so much sense. I wonder why we have trouble behaving in accordance with it?

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