Jan 16, 2012

Rude or Assertive

There's a big difference between the two. The crazy mess of it all is that, by and large, most people are taught that you should be respectful to others. The exception to that, generally, seems to be any time the person you're speaking to is dealing with you as part of their job. If someone offers to help us with our bags, tell us where something is in a shop, or advises us on insurance policies, we're gracious and pleasant. The moment we realise that someone is doing this because they're being paid, our attitudes shift. It's a tiny, subconscious thing, but it is there.

Now, personally I get set on edge by salespeople. Nothing puts me off making a purchase faster than a shop assistant walking up to me and asking if they can help. I'm just that kind of person. So, I'll always politely say I'm fine and just having a look around.

Generally, whenever someone catches me off guard or gives me an answer I didn't want, I try to be polite and accept that they're just doing their job. Most of the time I manage to keep my cool if something bothers me, but sometimes I fail. Not everyone makes that attempt.

I've worked in retail, in a fast food restaurant, in customer service and in office administration. I've seen customers speak to staffmembers of different companies as if they were dirt. I've been spoken to that way myself, more times than I care to remember. The worst part of it isn't that someone got annoyed because we were out of a particular breakfast cereal, or couldn't sell them cigarettes without ID, or that our company's policies don't allow us to give out another customer's contact information.

The worst part is how the person who gets annoyed somehow expects that it's part of our job description to stand there and take their abuse.

I've had soft drink bottles thrown at me. Been threatened with physical violence, or legal action. I've been called rude and unhelpful just because a caller on the phone wanted me to give them information that would have been a violation of our company's privacy policies and my own job contract to reveal. There have been times when I've let myself be drawn into an argument with such people. There have been times I've quietly taken the verbal abuse while fuming inside.

And there have been times when I've calmly and plainly told the person that I would not be able to help them if they continued to be aggressive. These are the times when I'm proud of myself. They're also the times when I see the true character of the other person. Will they back down and apologise, realising that they're letting their temper get the better of them? Or will this only incite them further, accusing me of being "smart-arsed," "rude," "defensive," or "cheeky?" I've been called all of these and worse, even had to ask people to stop swearing at me.

I don't believe that people doing their job should have to kowtow to someone who is being abusive or unreasonable simply because they're at work. Everyone, everywhere, has the right to go to work and be treated with respect by everyone; collegue and customer alike. There is nothing worse than going to work in fear of what someone may say to you just because they don't like not getting their own way. People like that are nothing more than bullies, and bullies can only be dealt with by remaining assertive and not allowing yourself to be abused.

We can remain strong and assertive while at the same time being calm and polite. Remember this, especially any of you still working day jobs while reaching for something better. Don't be fooled or browbeaten into thinking that standing up for yourself is something you shouldn't do.

And if you're the customer waiting to be served by that one cashier stuck on their own during the busy period, give them a break. You might be having a bad day, but so are they, and your bad day isn't their fault.


  1. Something that only one of my crappy retail jobs has ever bothered to justify to me is the actual reason why CSRs greet everyone in the door. It's not just to help them, there's a big reason and a small reason.

    The small reason is to break the ice, so that customer knows it's ok to talk to the CSR. But the big reason is so that person doesn't nick anything - people only shoplift if they think no one's looking, but when someone said "Hi, how are you!" as soon as you walk in, then they think someone's looking.

    Knowing that makes me feel a lot less frustrated about being asked if I need help.

  2. Nicely done. I despise rude and abusive people, especially when they are receiving great customer service.. Well, at least their behavior. Maybe they're the ones having a bad day.

  3. I've been working in retail for over 10 years now, part of that time as a manager, and I am so with you on this. We're taught that "the customer is always right", and we should bend over backwards to help them in any way we can. But I believe there is a line of decency that the customers often cross that puts us, the workers, in a precarious position. Do we stand there and let them chew us out? Or do we say, "I'm sorry but I've done everything I can to help you, have a nice day."

    I'm for the latter. Because over the years I've let too many people yell at me (or worse) for things that were essentially out of my control. I'm done with that. I'm done with letting people be rude to me just because I'm "on the clock."

    Thank you so much for this post.

  4. Linda: Thanks!

    Aonghus: I didn't know that. Makes a lot of sense.

    Stephen: Exactly. Everyone has bad days, we all need to remember that.

    Lydia: You're welcome. I'm with you. I've spent far too long letting people walk over me.

  5. I had a great boos a few years ago when I was working in complaint dept, he once overheard my end of the phone call (which was pretty much me telling someone to calm down and stop cursing at me) took the phone out of my hand and hung up on the guy. Best boss ever!

    What really sucks is working one of those jobs with a boss that wont back you up!