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Beware Of Hidden Contempt For The People You Serve

It doesn’t matter how old you are, getting your blood drawn is always a scary experience.

And every time I go, I freak out.

The technician wraps that blue strip of latex around my arm and tells me to pump my fist.

Over and over I do this, until they can find a vein.

And as I sit there, sweating, a clipboard appears, as if out of nowhere.

“Please check that your information is correct, and sign here. Make sure to put the date on it.”

The needle comes closer and my eyes start to bulge. Nooooooooooooo……

“It’s gonna hurt,” says the tech.

And it does.

But just when I feel like I’m about to scream, it’s over.

The needle is withdrawn and a bandage is applied, quick and without any fanfare.

“You’re good to go, Mrs. Blumenthal.”

As it happens, my mother is a nurse who spent many years as a phlebotomist. She worked for a small blood center that was nevertheless busy.

Her main job, she would say, was to keep the patient calm. For obvious reasons.

So what began as a brisk, no-nonsense manner morphed into an extra-sensitivity.

She doesn’t work as a phlebotomist anymore.

But when she got paid to draw blood, my mother could take it from even the most panicky toddler.

We adapt our skills at work all the time.

Because outside a few, fairly static technical parameters, “doing a good job” is defined by the unique environment in which you serve. The culture and the people within it.

In a medical setting, healthcare providers increasingly are competing for the business of customers. And customers have very high expectations.

They also go online and post ratings. All over the place. In a very transparent way.

Anyone who depends on their customers for a living, and deals with them every day, learns well the meaning of premium service.

They learn it or else they don’t eat.

At the root of it is respect.

Without respect that is genuinely felt, service is impossible to offer.

The problem for the civil servant is that the consequences of poor customer service on their part are not immediately felt. This is particularly true for people working in an office environment, insulated from direct contact with the people they serve, “out there,” the public.

What is accountability? It is, in the end, karma — the consequence of the correlation between your values, attitudes, and behaviors on the job, and the results that your customers experience.

When accountability is lacking, it creates a fertile ground for organizational disease to take root, to grow and to fester.

Contempt is the primary symptom of that disease.

Contempt is the mindset that says, in the face of being funded from the taxpayer’s trough — “I’m going to get paid by you — whether I do a good job or not.”

This is not to make broad, sweeping statements about the nature of the civil service. Not at all.

There are plenty of customer-facing professionals in the private sector whose attitude is nasty at best.

It is to say that contempt is something to be watchful for. We can’t afford to have it. It is especially dangerous when your customer is in need of your basic services to live.

The word “accountability” is scary for a reason.

But it’s a bit easier to manage when you simply think of it as being your highest self.

Maybe you can’t see the customer directly from your workstation.

They still need you to do the right thing.


Posted August 2, 2017 by Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. This post is public domain. All opinions are the author’s own. Photo via Wikipedia.

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