QUESTION: I love this time of the year and I always go shopping taking my “Christmas spirit” with me; however, this year I had challenge after challenge with clerks who weren’t helpful. I called one store looking for a particular item and the person who answered the phone said she couldn’t check her computer. I said, “Yes, you can because I’ve asked customer service at your store to do it before, and they’ve done it.” What could she say? She then checked the computer and, lo and behold, the item was in the store.
It seems I’m not the only one with this problem. My daughter-in-law was looking at jewelry in a large department store. She could overhear two clerks talking about their break time, but neither offered to help her until she asked, and then she received and abrupt, “Yes?”
I was sold an item that did not go with a game I purchased, even though I was assured it did. The list goes on and on. Could you say something about people who work with the public? Perhaps a few of them will read this and consider changing their attitude.
~ Frustrated Holiday Shopper
Dear Frustrated Holiday Shopper,
The holidays can be truly difficult for many people. If you happen to be in a service industry, there may be a tendency to treat people with distain, particularly if many of the customers encountered have been difficult, complaining or rude. We’re all very busy during this time and tempers run high while patience may be low. Unfortunately, that’s really no excuse for reciprocal rudeness or to visit the accumulated frustration on other innocent clientele. The reality is that being in a position that requires working with people, whether point-of-purchase or in an office setting, requires a commitment to customer service that includes appropriate demeanor. Sometimes counter personnel are not properly trained for the service they’re expected to offer customers. Sometimes there is not sufficient supervision. And sometimes the employee is simply not well matched for the job. This unfortunate lack of service can dramatically jeopardize the business or organization’s bottom line.
On the other hand, as shoppers we’re sometimes impatient because we have so much to accomplish in a limited amount of time. We can be short-tempered and unfeeling, even when we’re not meaning to be, and may send the wrong signals to those whose job is to assist us. One of my quests during this time of year (or any time the service aspect is lacking) is to attempt to lighten the atmosphere by asking a more personal question about his or her day or how long until the shift is over. Sometimes a comment on the fact that they look like they’ve had a rough day or have been very busy opens a dialogue that fosters familiarity and understanding. I’ve found that asking how much longer the person’s shift is and then making some comment about the fact that it’s getting closer to the end gives them a reason to smile. Basically, I try to take what may be an uncomfortable situation and alter it to be more favorable. It’s sort of a personal challenge.
Although there’s no excuse for inappropriate behavior from a person whose job is to serve others, we can remind ourselves that we don’t know what’s really going on in their lives and attempt to lighten their load rather than add to it. This can be very challenging, but generally yields a better outcome than the customary frustration. In the final analysis, both client and service associate leave the situation with a much better disposition. The shopper gets the attention they need and deserve while the worker gets a brief respite from their personal trials, enabling them to do their job more efficiently and with a better outlook.
Dear Frustrated Holiday Shopper,
You describe a real problem and it’s getting worse every year! In my lifetime I’ve seen the “Christmas spirit” you speak of steadily evaporating bit by bit. Sadly, poor customer service is not relegated only to Christmas shopping but continues all year long. Still, it’s at Christmas time when this becomes most obvious, inasmuch as Christmas is the busiest season of the retail year. Long before your letter, I’ve pondered the issues you raise: reflecting the Christmas spirit, clerks who can’t be bothered, changing snarky Christmastime attitudes. I’m afraid even a loud, heartfelt wish of “Happy Holidays!” won’t change the attitudes of the commercial Scrooges out there.
But something else just might: “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.’ 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” Luke 2:8-20
Dear Shopper, this good news from an angel certainly changed my attitude. Maybe the answer is in embracing the meaning of the first Christmas and following the example of the shepherds.
Rev. Jon T. Karn
QUESTION: Is there an adequate answer we can give people when pressured to do something we don’t want to do? When we were younger, my husband and I celebrated New Year’s Eve with family and friends at various homes. For the past several years, we have preferred to stay at home, have a toast together at midnight and watch the ball drop in Times Square. Sometimes, our adult children and their children join us and we have a pajama party. We don’t want to invite our friends. We just want to be alone by ourselves or with family when they care to join us.
Our friends are giving us a bad time calling us “spoil sports” and “old fogies.” Frankly, we don’t care; we just want them to get the idea that we have no intention of going out on New Year’s Eve. Can you help us with a viable answer?
~ New Year’s Eve Homebodies
Dear New Year’s Eve Homebodies,
Your situation is exactly how I feel now. In my younger years, New Year’s Eve was party time. Now it has become a time of reflection, important with ritual and being with those I’m closest to. It’s a time to value your own time, and not be catering to someone else’s desires, even if they are “well intended.” You are adults and you have a right to your own preferences. And you can choose to not let someone else’s words affect you. I used to tell my kids in children’s church that you use your ears to let the negative thoughts/words go in one ear and out the other. And a well-known author, Terry Cole Whitaker, wrote a book, “What You Think of Me is None of My Business.”
Turn this kind of moment into a win-win for everyone involved. Thank your friends for wanting to include you in their events, and don’t apologize for your feelings. Just say, “Thank you for wanting to include us, and this time of year is a time we really value and enjoy spending the time either by ourselves or with our immediate family. Let’s plan to get together at another date and celebrate our friendship. Have fun at your party and Happy New Year.”
If they respond with their negative words, “use your ears” and let it go. Be proud that you are not buying into their pressure. Don’t waste your energy on this kind of situation, just be grateful that your friends are giving you an opportunity to be strong in your own choices.
Happy New Year.
Laney Clevenger-White, RScP
Dear New Year’s Eve Homebodies,
There is nothing wrong with the choice you have made for yourselves in celebrating New Year’s Eve. I think it is lovely and meaningful. Getting your friends to accept that seems to be a bit of a problem for you.
Well, clearly your friends value you and hold you in great esteem; otherwise, they would never ask to enjoy your company. Sometimes a rejection of an invitation is perceived as a rejection of the person or persons making the invitation. Whereas you have not sought or intended to offend, on one level offense has been taken and little barbs like “old fogies” are thrown out in response.
So how to handle this? It’s all in the framing of your response. There are two issues to be dealt with here. Both are equally important, and both must be addressed. The first is clearly stating your needs, wants, and desires, and sometimes the why. The second is clearly stating the value and regard you still have for your friends, thus reassuring them of your continued good will and affection in spite of your decision. For example, one might say, “My husband and I have gotten to that point in our lives where we really enjoy just being in one another’s company to quietly celebrate the New Year. But with that said, I really appreciate your kind offer because we both are very fond of you and enjoy your company. But for New Year’s, we really look forward now just for some private time together.”
It’s okay to have what you choose for yourself. But sometimes, as a courtesy and a mark of respect to those who care about us, we need to go out of our way to clearly reassure them that our choices (which may exclude them) are not done as a personal rejection, and that we still value and hold them in high regard as a friend.
Anthony P. Kelson, RScP