Let’s not get personal here

Everybody: I’m on a plane!

I wish I were on a boat for the comedic pop cultural tie-in, but unfortunately, I rarely travel by boat.

 Once you’ve tamed your jealousy, you can continue reading this post, which is completely unrelated to my novel technological experience:

Interactions Between The Consumer and The Service Provider

I’ve thought about this off and on for several years, especially as I have had many jobs in the service sector. It’s true that whatever job you have provides a service to someone, but I don’t consider myself to be working in the service sector anymore mostly because my job has more status than jobs I would consider “service sector.”

My service sector jobs have not required a college degree and dealt more with providing direct, relatively short services.

Examples of this include:

  • Working as a hostess at California Pizza Kitchen.
  • Driving students from point A to point B between the hours of 9 PM and 2:30 AM. Rides usually did not exceed 10 min.
  • Trying to convince Astros fans to let me take pictures of them at Astros games. (The idea being that they then buy the photo online later)

The relationship between the consumer and the service provider fits an interesting model, one that I haven’t quite been able to explain until now.

The best way I can describe it is that the interaction is categorized by intimacy-aversion. Earlier this week I saw someone walk into a restaurant, and without actually looking at the hostess, point and say, “I’m meeting some people,” and continue walking. In almost every other interaction, we feel it necessary to make eye contact when talking to someone, but the hostess doesn’t get that same recognition.

And it’s not necessarily about the hostess being “below” the restaurant patron. It’s also that the patron is trying to avoid inconveniencing the hostess. The interaction is so transactional that when the hostess has no purpose (since you already know where you’re sitting), you want to keep the interaction at a minimum so as to avoid wasting her time. If you looked her in the eye, you would be tricking her into thinking she could help you, and that would just be rude.

This is true for salespeople, too. We don’t want to look them in the eye when we reject them, as that very rejection disqualifies any reason for the two of us to even exist in the same space. The only reason we interact is for him/her to sell and for me to buy. I refuse to make the transaction and I therefore invalidate the conditions upon which the salesperson first spoke to me. It’s even a slight attack of the person’s very livelihood, since not only will I not buy, I will not recognize the initial offer with eye contact.* And it feeds on itself, with salespeople finding meaning in that eye contact because it is so rare, and then we also don’t want to look them in the eye because it would signify we’re buying.

At the heart of it all is the desire to avoid breaching the confines of an impersonal relationship. There may be some snobbery involved (“I’m better educated than this McDonald’s guy”) and some justified fear of salespeople, but the underlying issue is not imposing intimacy on the stranger.

I am as victim to this hyper-sensitivity to over-intimization as anyone else. But I actually don’t think it’s a good idea. Within limits, people like to have personal interactions with strangers. Since working in the service sector, I have tried to look people in the eye when rejecting their invitations to, say, enter me into a drawing. Just a firm “no, thank you,” with a smile. They won’t ask again, and I’ve just treated someone like a human who has a right to ask me such a question in the first place.

 And, overall, you’ll get a lot more positivity from people when you treat them like someone who could be your friend one day. Why not just look at someone when you talk to them? There’s nothing to be afraid of.

I’m very eager for comments on this one; I really have no clue how relative my opinion is.

*Is it apparent that I am way too sensitive to be in sales, and that I cried nearly every day I worked at Minute Maid Park?

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1 Comment

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One response to “Let’s not get personal here

  1. I tend to avoid looking friends in the eye when talking to them so I’m a bad one to consult on the general subject of looking strangers in the eye. I do think it’s not a good idea not to take jobs like hostess if you are offended by someone who ignores you as they seek out their friends at a table. I know many people who would be offended, and I may even be one of them, but I think there are a lot of people who would not be and would be better suited for such a job. Plus, the indignation should be saved for those strangers who are so rude to people in service jobs that even non-sensitive folks are appalled.

    I recommend being a newspaper boy which I was in high school and a dishwasher which was my job during senior year of high school as well as immediately after college, while I looked for something more in line with my major. Both jobs are wonderfully absent of human interaction 🙂 Ok, I know that’s not the ideal, but thought I’d throw it out there.

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