Acknowledge me!

I just got back from picking up a take-out order at one of my favorite local eateries. The hostess directed me to the bar to pick it up, so I staked out a spot along the row of 10 or so chairs, only two of which were occupied. And I waited. And I waited. Eight to 10 employees swirled around the bar area but none came into it and still I waited.

Finally a woman came behind the bar to make a garnish for a Bloody Mary (which, I admit, I eyed with longing). She was right in front of me but did not look at me until I asked if I could get my take-out order that I could see sitting on the counter behind her. She said I’d have to wait until she got back. She disappeared Into the kitchen for a shrimp to add to the garnish, then glided out into the dining area.

A beat or two later a man came into the bar area and began washing glasses, just to the left of where I stood. Though I noticed he had time to read a text message on his watch, he did not look up at me until I said “Excuse me” and told him I was here to pay for my to-go order.

He wiped off his hands, went to the cash register for the bill and I gave him my credit card. As he’s about to swipe my card at the register the first woman has returned and is now lecturing the man about the importance of adding the shrimp to the Sunday brunch garnishes. This went on for a good minute or so before he finally ran my card and returned the receipt to me to sign. 

He gave me the bag with my order and as I arranged it with my keys and wallet, Garnish Woman came back to the spot in front of me, still not looking at me, further going about her garnishing business until she looks up at the man next to me to exclaim how long it had been since she’d seen him.

This episode came just three days after two tellers at the drive-through insisted the checks in my deposit added up to $100 less than what I wrote on the deposit slip. After more than five minutes of radio silence, they sent the receipt back -- in the amount I said it was -- with a ridiculously cheery  “have a nice day“ but without mention of their mistake or the time it took for them to figure it out.

I seethed after both incidents. Obviously, since I’m writing about them now.

Now, before you accuse me of First World problems and being an entitled so-n-so, hear me out.

The issue isn’t that I had to wait. It was annoying, but it wasn’t that long. And it’s not because I was ultimately in the right, though that it is satisfying.

No, the issue is that I had to wait and I had been called out for being wrong, without anyone acknowledging me as a person. They didn’t see me, didn’t hear me. Didn’t recognize why I was even there.

While engaging in a service transaction, where I had followed the rules and expected them to do the same, I was essentially ignored. I had to grab the attention of the bar staff. The tellers did not appreciate how their mistake had called me into question and then delayed me.

When we acknowledge each other’s physical presence (even if that presence is on the other end of telephone or email), we create in the other a well-spring of patience, understanding and forgiveness. When you nod your head, smile, make eye contact, say hello, please and thank you, or apologize for mistakes, the other person has something to draw from to forgive slights. If any of these bartenders or tellers had looked at me, smiled, noticed that I’d been waiting, my balloon of frustration would have quickly deflated.

And this is related to public records how?

Half the implementation of both the records and meetings provisions of the Freedom of Information Act is customer service.

A customer is seeking information from a service provider. The customer wants records that were created in her name. The customer wants to watch a meeting where decisions impacting him are being made by representatives he elected.

These customers are entitled by law to see most of those records and to see most of those meetings. They expect to get what they’re entitled to without a whole lot of hassle or without having to wait indefinitely. Most of the time they do.

Of course there are exceptions to the general rules, and here is where the customer service piece of it really comes into play.

There are ways to say no that are less abrasive than others. The language of bureaucracy may be technically correct, but it sounds cold to many and leaves them feeling that they have not been “seen.” When their efforts to point out errors are met with hostility rather than acknowledgement, they walk away with a bitter taste in their mouths. When they are eyed suspiciously for wanting to know more, they retreat into skeptical hostility.

To be sure: this is a two-way street. The customer is not always right. When they file multiple requests for records simply to grind government to a halt. When they ignore the legitimate rules for public comment periods. When they forget that the men and women on the other side of the counter or dais have the same hopes, fears, bad days, headaches and problems at home or work. When they do not acknowledge them as individuals.

I’m not suggesting that we all must be -- or even can be -- all peaches and cream, honey over vinegar. Forced friendliness is almost as annoying as the lack of it.

I am suggesting that we simply acknowledge one another. Recognize our shared inner dignity. Be candid about our mistakes, and bestow grace on others for theirs.

When we are seen and heard, we have more incentive to see and hear others.

Now, about that Bloody Mary.

Add new comment

Filtered HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <p> <br> <h2> <h3> <h4>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.