conversation is an engine

A lot can happen in a conversation

People hate me. Immediately. (Dummy’s Guide to Conversation #21)

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Can I have a conversation even if I’m in customer service?

Q: Help: I’m in customer service and my conversation partners are harried, angry and nasty. The moment I speak, they hate me and the company I speak for. Conversation is no engine for me most days.

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Am I my company’s keeper?

A: I’m sure you’ve found that a quiet, buoyant response to explosive negativity is a good first step. It is nearly always good to avoid matching anger and volume with anger and volume. If you can help your conversation partner feel heard you’ve accomplished a huge thing—especially when your company really wants to hear (your firm does want to make things right, yes?). Repeating what the person said is common in customer service circles these days and is a useful tactic in the rest of life as well. Repeating what someone says without any rhetorical or sarcastic flourishes is a useful moment in saying and hearing.

What other tactics do you practice? I’d be curious to hear them.

But don’t despair: conversation can still be an engine for you, despite each day’s avalanche of problems. Here’s how: consider each conversational event a moment to serve rather than looking for “Thank you.” Because that’s exactly what this is about: how can I (company representative) help you (respected customer) get some satisfaction? There can be immense joy in helping someone. You can create your own meaning by adopting that purpose. And it really works best with no strings attached: you can derive meaning whether or not your hear “Thanks!” or “You changed my life, Mr. Customer Service Guy!”

Some of my favorite people routinely live in this subversively helpful way and their attitude is infectious, possibly even life-giving.

See also #6: Listen to other people’s stuff

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

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