The Customer is Wrong

Posted by jlubans on March 28, 2024  •  Leave comment (0)


Caption: Latvian punk rock band SŅK album. One way of getting rid of whiny customers

Not long ago, I wrote about an expression seemingly unique to Latvia: Pats vainīgs! ("It's your own fault!") Pronounced pots-why-nigs, it is often heard on the street after a cyclist crashes into a pedestrian. SNK, the band, used the phrase on its album. Give them a listen.
As every large city has discovered, pedestrians and wheeled contraptions do not mix well.
After you are brushed back or run over, would you not expect the e-scooter driver to apologize?
Not in Latvia.
Instead of an apology the rider's go-to phrase is, "It's your own fault! You got in my way!"
While I experienced this in Latvia, blame-shifting/denying is not unique to nations hung over from decades of totalitarian rule. Back then, passing the buck was one way to survive.
And, such behavior is not limited to scooter/pedestrian interactions.
My 2015 blog, The Kindness of Strangers touches on the "It's your fault" school of customer service and, remarkably, how people help others when least expected.
Eighty kilometers south of the university town of Tartu, Estonia, my wife and I found ourselves stranded in Valga. I last saw our Lux Express bus from about 50 yards back as I ran after it, waving my arms and yelling for it to Stop! (or Stopp! in Estonian.)
No big deal, a sunny day, surely another bus would be along soon? We'll laugh about this in a day or so.
True, but the missed bus sill had my backpack and our suitcase. And if the driver did not drop those items off in Tartu then they'd wind up in St. Petersburg, the bus' end-destination in Putin's Russia.
Imagine how long it would take, if ever, to get those items out of Russia.
So, after recovering our breaths - the absconding bus still visible a quarter mile down the highway - we schemed how to catch it. Perhaps a private car could head it off?
But reason prevailed. The bus driver did not stop when he saw me in his rear view mirrors, so was unlikely to stop for someone waving him down from a speeding car!
Besides, where was I, unlike Bruce Willis, going to commandeer a private car?
Our next thought was to get a message to the bus terminal in Tartu so the agent could get our luggage off. We asked a taxi driver but he did not speak English. He did tell us there was either a train or a bus in a few hours, pointing to a video display on the side of the shared train/bus station building. This was Sunday so not many people were around; the ticket office was closed.
Then we spotted a young red-haired woman on the train platform. She said she spoke English "a little bit." She quickly understood our predicament and willingly googled the bus company's numbers and called, first to Riga (our starting point) and then to Tartu, speaking in rapid Estonian.
A stranger, she helped us. She arranged to have the luggage taken off the bus in Tartu.
"These things happen," she said consolingly. With a wave, our angel got into a waiting car and went out of our lives.
Waiting for the next bus - in the dappled sunshine of a little park in front of the station - I thought about kindness. And that I tell my classes early on about how and why humans cooperate, that our inclination is to help each other. Stuff may get in the way of doing so, but our first reaction is to help.
And, I go on, our willingness to help strangers is why we have survived over the millenia. Undoubtedly, there are humans (aka jerks) with more of the selfish gene (if it exists) and less willing to help but for the most part we have an innate desire to help each other.
Back to our abandonment's being our fault.
The Lux Express company, while sorry to hear of our experience, pretty much responded with pats vainigs. The drivers (there are two on each bus) denied seeing me as I chased them for 100 yards, even when the bus was broad side to me and when I am sure a passenger or two would have said something to the driver.
As I recall Lux offered an e-credit for the Valga to Tartu leg of the trip but no other compensation. I did not bother to ask them to reimburse me for the added expense of our getting from Valga to Tartu.
While we regularly bemoan the deterioration of customer service in the USA, it can be far worse in Europe. But, that said, without Lux Express' failure I would not have experienced an unforgettable act of kindness.
So, while Lux said "Pats vainīgs!" to us, I have to say in return, Thank you, Lux!

Fables offer ancient wisdom about the human condition :

And, for examples of collaborative teamwork in the workplace:
Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

Copyright all text John Lubans 2015 & 2024

Why Does the Beech Tree Keep Its Leaves in Winter?*

Posted by jlubans on March 25, 2024  •  Leave comment (0)


Caption: Oil painting of beeches by Canadian artist in author's collection.

Now, listen well and I will tell you why.
Long ago all trees flourished and grew many feet into the sky, as high as they could go. Then a drought came and the trees began to suffer.
Their leader, the Great Oak, called a council of trees to consider what to do. This was a time when trees could walk and talk. Many in the assembly thought it best to leave for elsewhere; certainly, over the mountains there must be rain and rich dirt!
A few blamed the Great Oak for the hardship, "it was a matter of poor leadership, indeed failed leadership!" some harrumphed. Yes, trees back then could find fault just like people.
Many trees joined in the criticism, and advised - with much rustling and creaking of branches - crossing the mountains.
The Oak heard, but said he was staying. It was best, in his eyes, to stand silently and wait in wisdom: use less food from the earth and produce less fruit, and wait for the rains. All, including their animal friends, will have to do with less.
The Beech Tree listened and considered. She remembered Grandmother Beech's stories about the joy of bountiful days and the misery of lean times. "There will be times of plenty, there will be times of less. Some years there will be little growth, other years will be full of new leaves and heavy hanging fruit. Never is each year the same."
She taught that only patience and sacrifice will get a tree through a bad year into a good one.
Then, the Beech Tree spoke up and said she would stay by the side of Great Oak.
Hearing Beech Tree's wisdom, many trees reconsidered and stayed. Some trees did pick up their roots and move away, seeking a gentler climate. They found little improvement; the drought was throughout the land. Their energy spent on crossing the mountains, many died.
Those that stayed with the Great Oak suffered but survived.
Eventually, the rains came and the forest turned green.
At the next council, the Great Oak told all the trees that the Beech Tree would keep its autumn leaves through the winter. It was to remind everyone of the importance of loyalty, faith, and patience - and of Beech's independence.
Her leaves would shine brightly in bands of gold amidst winter's grey. "Those un-fallen leaves will remind us of the warm rain and sun, the gentle winds, and our soon-to-return animal friends, small and large and winged."

*An original, aboriginal-style story, it first appeared in early 2013 as one of my Friday Fables, The Beech Tree in Winter. Here it is again, little changed.

Speaking of fables :

And, for aboriginal insights on working:
Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

Copyright all text and illustration by John Lubans 2013 & 2024

Biting Feedback

Posted by jlubans on March 09, 2024  •  Leave comment (0)


A friend sent me a recent article from the Economist. Entitled Why you should lose your temper at work,
it discusses anger in the workplace and how losing one's temper may be an effective way to move things forward. There is a qualification, of course, calibrate the anger and do not throw things!
The Economist probably timed their article to appear at the start of America's annual hellish rite, the rightly dreaded performance review.
While recent years have seen some side-stepping, if not total abandonment of performance evaluation, we are now told by no less than that Wall Street Journal:
Your Employee Thinks They're God's Gift . How to Break It to Them.
And, the same publication wrote a few weeks ago that: Performance Reviews Will Bite This Year. Be Ready.
So, now may be a good time to consider how best to give feedback and what tools we can use to make sure the message is received and heard with positive outcomes.
On reflection, I could have shown some temper several times in my career, but due to my preference for avoiding, failed to do so.
Two previous blogs come to mind. The first was from 2013 and was capsulated in a fable:
"A dog was chasing a lion with all his might when the lion turned around and roared at him. The dog abandoned his pursuit, turned tail, and ran. A fox happened to see the dog and said, 'Why on earth would you chase after something when you cannot even stand the sound of its voice?' It is a foolish man who wants to rival his superiors. He is doomed to fail, and becomes a laughing-stock as well."
Here is my updated commentary on that fable:
My daughter Mara's dog, Bridger, matured into a self-actualized dog, indeed an Apollonian canine.
Whenever she, Bridger, visited me we went back to our daily routine. She reminded me when it was time for our early morning walk and when it was time for our afternoon walk. It was not much of a reminder, just enough of a presence, a nudging look at me or the door.
And we were off.
In the early morning you would see us, rain or shine, on a nearby forest trail. In the afternoon, it was a leisurely saunter around the block.
One of the houses in the neighborhood had a couple small dogs and a cat or two. Usually I had Bridger off-leash because there is little foot traffic and because she was amazingly polite and well behaved, of course.
As we strolled past the house with the several pets, a high-strung barking erupted. Within seconds a tiny dog shot out of the driveway scrambling after Bridger.
Bridger was un-impressed. Here was this 3 or 4-pounder, barking and snarling at a 50-pound black lab.
"Bring it on" the little guy was shouting, "Bring it on!"
Bridger, imperturbable, ambled along. Then - Napoleonically thinking she was in retreat - he snapped at Bridger's tail. Bridger spun around, opening her jaws about a foot wide, showing her molars. And, her hackles stood up three inches, adding another 20 pounds to her presence. The little dog, stunned, eyes bulging, ceased and desisted back into the safety of his yard.
I like to think Bridger was a little amused.
So, Bridger's display of anger fit the circumstance. She used just the right amount to send the little dog skittering away and we continued our peaceful amble.
My other reflection looks at a mis-guided use of anger.
I made it into a case study of avoiding conflict and how losing one's temper can backfire. It was titled Jack and Jill.
Like the nursery rhyme, it did not work out well: Jack fell down and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling after.
Jill was a department head who had long used her negativity to get what she wanted. Jack was me, her supervisor.
I'd gone along with Jill because, her dog-in-the-manger attitude aside, she and her department did a good job. Unlike some aggrieved bureaucrats, she did not punish her clients.
While bemused, I stayed pretty much silent on her negative views and of her victimhood cultivation. I largely ignored the real possibility that her negative attitude permeated the work of the department and her peer relationships.
Obviously, I was avoiding a difficult conversation.
I think Jill trusted very few people and based on her gloomy interpretations of others very likely had a touch of paranoia.
Alas, I said nothing.
If I thought about it, it was that probably things would get better. Given my strong support for her department and its mission, surely she would gain a sunnier disposition.
Dream on.
Jill firmly believed, I think, it was her whining and complaining that got things for her department.
And, my avoiding a difficult conversation was encouraging the bad behavior.
Finally, I did take action when I found out she had been fudging her production statistics.
Following a department heads meeting about a budget crunch in which she displayed a pit bull territoriality and offered no help, I asked for her to come speak with me.
Exasperated, I told her that I was disappointed and embarrassed with how she constantly complained in meetings. I then asked her since this job was so difficult whether she would like to step down and let someone else do it.
I had no one in mind, but thought maybe she would opt for a break.
Given her probable paranoia, she thought I was wanting to fire her. (I suppose I was.)
Interestingly, when I used the Jack and Jill case study in a management workshop the participants sided with Jill and blamed Jack for the problem.
Begrudgingly, I can see why.
But, what I found a little hard to believe was that they (unlike Jack) would confront Jill immediately on the first manifestation of her whining!
Most managers - not just Jack -have a hard time with conflict; of the five conflict modes - competing, collaborating, compromising, accommodating and avoiding - the latter three see a lot more use than does the best option, collaborating.

*Source: Aesop's Fables. A new translation by Laura Gibbs. Oxford University Press (World's Classics): Oxford, 2002.

ONLY a click away, more fables germane to the workplace :

And, for a variety of insights on effective communication:
Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

Copyright John Lubans all text 2024