Communication Made Easy — Speaking, Editing, Writing, Marketing, Networking Answers

A picture may be worth 1,000 words, but words themselves are at the basis of all communication. Whether we are communicating for business or personal reasons, our spoken and written words matter. These posts will address issues and answer questions related primarily to business communications, as they affect writing, credibility, marketing, and networking.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Communicating Compassion

Have you ever been so fed up with the poor customer service at an establishment that you left, even if it meant inconveniencing yourself by having to drive an extra mile or two to visit another location of the same company, or one of their competitors? I have, many times in the past, in fact. I am getting better about it lately, however – mostly, I believe, because I am attracting fewer unruly or unsatisfactory experiences, overall.

I had one occur yesterday, though – the first in quite some time. This was interesting, too, because although I did leave the store without making a purchase, it was not because the proprietor was rude to me. Rather, it had to do with the way he behaved toward other customers.

I won’t pretend this is an easy situation. In fact, having just posted a blog about judgment at Dangerous Tea Party, I am trying to figure out how to utilize this episode as a learning experience without sliding down that slippery slope into judgment.

The Details

As I walked into the FoodMart at a Chevron gas station, the proprietor was shouting angrily at a woman that she needed to “get off his property!” He yelled that he’d already told her to leave once, and she hadn’t left – now he needed her to leave IMMEDIATELY. In my effort to understand, I assessed the woman. She didn’t appear drunk. She had no shopping cart or even a bag with her. She wasn’t dirty or unkempt. Do I have any idea what preceded his angry outburst? No – because I wasn't there to see the precipitating incidient. Perhaps she had tried to steal something from the store. Maybe she’d had an altercation with someone in the shop. Fact is, this angry man might have had a very good reason for his obviously outraged reaction to this woman.

Until he resumed his position behind the counter, that is, to continue collecting payment from the line that had grown while he was outside throwing the woman off his property. He challenged a man in the line, “And you know I don’t want her here, but you bring her here anyway.”

The guy replied, “Hey, I’m just trying to pay for my drink.”

But Mr. Angry Chevron Proprietor was not done. He continued loudly, “No. I said, ‘Don’t bring her here,’ but you did. You brought her back on my property. You know – I want you out, too.” And he started screaming again. “You get out of here – get off my property, NOW!”

My Response

At which point I decided I didn’t need to buy gas or anything else at this particular gas station, so I took my money and went out those front doors, thinking to myself, “I will never do business here again.” But I’m not sure that’s the proper answer either. I find myself struggling with this idea of judging the proprietor – and that certainly is what I am doing, by deciding his behavior was so over-the-top, in my estimation, that I will never shop there again, particularly as I still don’t know what exactly led up to his banning the woman from his property.

I am not a shop owner, so I can only imagine what it must be like to deal with drunks, homeless, addicts, and panhandlers, particularly as they so often meander outside convenience stores and gas stations, accosting patrons and making people generally uncomfortable. These unsightly, unseemly people no doubt have a financial impact on business establishments, as well as influencing the caliber of clientele, and the shop-owners are fully within their right to protect their businesses and their customers.

Poor decision-making never robs
an individual of his or her humanity.

I suppose what I’m hoping for, though, is a little bit of compassion. Having seen many a belligerent shop owner's response to a vagrant, my heart instinctively empathizes with the transient. Now, I am not denying that their choices led these individuals to the place where they are in their lives. They have volition, and responsibility for their decisions. But poor decision-making never robs an individual of his or her humanity. These shop owners have reached such a level of frustration, though, that they no longer can view the drunk, homeless, panhandling addict as a person; they see them only as a problem that needs correcting. And the obvious solution is to hurl them off the property as quickly as possible. I can’t help but think that for some, if erecting a moat or a wall with a sentry on duty wouldn’t adversely affect sales, they would jump right on it.

As I said before, there’s no easy answer here. I must keep in mind the Chevron guy’s desire to preserve a business he likely worked hard to build. But what I also wish is that he could keep in mind the effect his shouting has on both the individual he is confronting, and all the rest of us who must witness the confrontation.

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