Saturday, October 18, 2008

Zen and the Art of Service with Sincerity


My colleagues and I wanted to give a presentation to our students on customer service. We had a movie about customer service. I was thinking there has to be something more than following a set of good “practices” so I decided I would explore sincerity at work at a public desk.

One of my student’s requested a copy of what I wrote (sadly I am not a very coherent public speaker as I fight with the sensation of wearing a collar of bees as I speak, I sometimes can’t breathe) and so I thought I would blog about what I presented. I’m sure it will be easier to follow written down than how it stumbled out of me.

Be Here Now

I want to talk to you today about the work experience and I want to start with a few facts I wish someone would have reminded me about when I was in my twenties. Here goes:

  1. There is a voice in your head that will kill your courage and deprive you of every happiness known to humanity if you let it.

This voice is you and it is comprised of every sound bite your parents and the great American wall of advertising has hurled at you - amongst other things. The Bad News: it is the time of your life you can assimilate all that and default to becoming your parent's or someone else’s expectation of you. The Good News: this is the time of your life when you can choose to step out of that carnival of noise and decide what is true for YOU and decide what you want to think.

  1. Behold the self fulfilled prophesy! No one is doing your life but you.

The voice says: “ that person (situation, event…whatever) is making me crazy!” Actually you are allowing yourself to be made CRAZY by something. Everyday we get up and choose who we want to be, like it or not. The Bad News: we invite most despair into our life and we find it certain miseries comfortable; The Good News is we are in charge of our own comfort zones and we have tons of control over how our life plays out.

  1. Happiness and satisfaction is not contingent upon outside forces.

This one everyone gives lip service to and no one seems to actually understand how it unreels out in our heads. Everyday this voice blabs: I need to graduate! I need money! I need to loose 10 pounds! I need to gain 10 pounds! I need a boyfriend or girl friend! I need a boyfriend AND a girlfriend! I need to see if that person accepted my facebook invite! I need to be more! Blah blah blah…and when this happens I will experience great joy and be happy. Actually, happiness does not arrive as a contingency. Happiness is available to us all everyday in every way. It is totally provided and built in to every breath. Happiness does not evade us because of things that we are not – it appears to take its ball home and leave us to chase after it but, in truth, we remove ourselves from the game by not showing up or running away. We cannot be present to play if we are spending all our time cultivating the habit of listing out everything that we are NOT with everything that has not yet happened. The Bad News: We all want to be right more than we want to be happy. We have a lot more training in our culture in finding the right answer than we do in discovering what makes us happy. The Good News: we can all learn to recognize our habits of distraction and find what allows us great joy. We can be honest about why we are not playing.

Down with “THE MAN”: Transparency and Changes in the American Workplace

  • Nobody is asking you to be insincere.
  • How to apply the above to the task at hand.

Consider these Scenarios:

  • Someone approaches the desk and they are wearing a really neat hat. You think to yourself “MY GOD I love that hat! I wish I had that hat.” And then you fantasize a mini-sized fantasy about wearing the hat and your friend Sam sees it and cracks up, and you have a good experience thinking that…blah blah blah…by this time the person is at the counter and you smile and help them and you watch them walking away wearing the hat that you love. Then the phone rings – and you are off into the next thing - end of story.

  • Someone approaches the desk and they are wearing a really neat hat. You think to yourself “MY GOD I love that hat! I wish I had that hat”. You make eye contact with the person who is now at the counter and you smile and say, “I love your hat!” They smile back and maybe they tell you a story about the hat or just say thank you…any number of things can happen from this exchange. You helped them and you shared yourself a little in a sincere manner. At the very least you have initiated a positive exchange with another individual. You stepped up and allowed yourself to be present.

Both of these experiences are pleasant – both of these scenarios are correct. One, however, happens primarily in your head and one happens in real time with a real individual. Again, you are choosing how rich your experience can be. Your day is full of these kinds of choices. Get the dialog going with yourself about what you’re choosing to do in this way.

Being a library assistant is declared as your job but it can also be a part of your school work. While you are at University, you are formulating your pattern of approach to work and laying the foundation of how YOU do work in the world. I think it is important to remember that this is not something that magically happens LATER when you have a REAL job. That is what the voice in your head may tell you. The truth is you are doing it now. You are developing the habit of being yourself everyday – right now.

On the plus side this is a little easier to examine when you have just a few hour chunks of time to do so. When you work 9 hours a day (with commute, maybe 10) at a job and you find yourself in the mix of the life you have created, it is hard to find time to reflect on these things and fine tune your presence.

Consider your library assistant job as a lab.

You have an opportunity in this job to track the voice in your head and make choices that are better suited to the you you intend on being. Try and define what is performance from you and what is sincere in yourself through what you share with people as an exercise. If you are feeling forced with people, ask yourself why and answer the question honestly. If you feel stuck and stubborn, sometimes it is just a matter of putting habitual thinking of being distant on hold and smiling at someone to break out.

Being disinterested is a habit and possibly an ill fitting by-product of being a teenagerit is a valuable survival skill as a teenager to allow space to develop as an adult and it will mess you up in any attempt you make to leave its confines. It gets under control by our simply opting out and choosing an alternate behavior that satisfies. The dirty job in this is finding an alternate behavior to replace it that works for you and reflects a little more of who you really are. Start an adult dialog with yourself on these issues. Know you are choosing what you want to do - try and understand the consequence of choosing to stay disengaged and distant from what is going on around you and accept the responsibility for it.

Having said all of this, I hope we, as your supervisors and confidantes, do not let you down in your efforts. The work world is changing from a hierarchal system to a transparent one making the playing field more level and everyone’s creativity and input more valuable. Many of us are still not used to listening and we want to.

The workplace is going to be the structure of your work/playground where you make your mark in the world. This change is happening now in the library and across the campus. You have a unique opportunity to be involved in how this complex transition evolves. At the library we certainly invite you to do so! For one thing, you can make customer service videos on-the-fly that work better than what is available currently! You KNOW you CAN! There is actual support existing within the library to help you be involved that way, if you choose.

Then I thanked everyone and no one had any comments. Well, Jenny wanted a copy of what I said. That made me feel good and a small swarm of bees lifted gracefully aside to accommodate my smile. I find it truly sad that somewhere across the trajectory of my life I managed to loose my ability to speak in public and draw people out because much of what I spoke to the students about is what I am actually going through myself – only the 55 year old version. With all the changes in the workplace and inspiration rising from the upheaval of the existing status quo, I would have liked to have been persuasive enough in the sharing to have stimulated a conversation and had a chance to hear to what their experiences are. Perhaps they will share them with me in time. I hope I remember to listen. As it is, that was my 10 minutes.

1 comment:

Jim said...

Thank you for posting this. I would not have made a comment or asked questions because I would have been stunned. Seldom do people talk so elegantly and with such wisdom when addressing the workplace. Inspiration sometimes comes creeping in silently, weeks or months after we hear something as powerful as what you said.

Well done. Very well done.