Odd Jobs #5 – phoney me

When I wrote my first “Odd Jobs”-blog in September 2015 I was just starting to settle in at the job I currently still work at and was still very much in the honey moon phase. Don’t get me wrong, I still love my job and am not planning on leaving any time soon, but things have changed since then, which is logical and good for my development (or so people keep telling me).

full-caterpillar-to-butterfly-transition

Looking back across my CV and the different jobs I’ve done, I see one big trend: the telephone. The odd one out in that sense, is my time at the notorious tax office (aka the most miserable you have ever seen me). And thinking about it now, I think I only said yes to that job because it involved no phonework whatsoever and I had decided I needed to take a big and conscious step away from call centery work if I wanted to move forward.

When I started taking my frustrations from work out on my favorite people, I changed my mind quickly and ran back to the first phone I could find.

My current job involves picking up the phone but is very un-callcenter-like in every other aspect. My previous work experience made this part of my job a walk in the park and very gradually shaped me into the company’s unofficial “phone coach”, as a surprisingly large group of people is either not very good at this or genuinely afraid of the ringing machine… Helping my co-workers find their telephone courage taught me several things:

  • Maybe, perhaps, probably, possibly, could and should are words that express doubt and avoiding them not only makes the person on the other end of the line feel more confident about the message you are communicating, but also has a positive backfire-effect on the person who speaks them.
  • “I don’t know” is a perfectly acceptable answer (when it is true) and is more helpful than offering a solution you are unsure about.
  • A sincere “I am sorry to hear that” is sometimes all that is needed.
  • Words are powerful things and should not be underestimated.
  • There are many ways to say “No”.

An interesting transformation I have seen happening in “newbies”, that I recognize now in myself as well, is the following:

  1. The beginning:
    Internal dialogue: So much new information, I will never get the hang of this!
    I feel unsure / hesitant / overwhelmed / Argh!
  2. One month later:
    Internal dialogue: Customers are not calling to make my life miserable and I actually know quite a bit!
    I feel more confident / proud / relieved.
  3. Getting the hang of it:
    Internal / external dialogue: “Yes, yes, no need to finish your sentence, I know what you want. Probably better than you do. Let me get into my flow and tell you everything I know so you can be on your way.” Next!
    I feel over-confident / impatient / repetitive / superior / judgmental.
  4. Slightly frustrated
    Internal dialogue: I’m quite sure I was giving customers the information they needed but now that I’ve been told to try a different approach I feel like an idiot.
    I feel insecure again. I feel like my words sound insincere and unnatural. I feel rebellious.
  5. Telephone zen
    Internal dialogue: First, I’m just going to listen….
    I feel relaxed / open minded / self-confident / ready

What I disliked about callcenter work:

  • most-important-call-center-metricsScripts.
  • Being evaluated using silly standards such as
    • Did you mention the client’s name the right amount of times?
    • Did you ask the client if there were any further questions (even when the client has clearly said he / she had no further questions)?
    • Did you say all the sentences in the right order?
    • Did you manage to keep your average conversation time under 3 minutes?
  • Strict break times.
  • Good hair days turning into bad hair days after constantly getting entangled with headphones.
  • The constant buzz of people talking around you, for 8 hours straight.
  • The unhealthy air / lighting.
  • The clear limit there often is to the amount of critical thinking that is tolerated.
  • Crappy tea (and apparently also bad coffee, but that doesn’t affect me)
  • The fact that I can’t pick up my own phone without automatically mentioning my employer’s name as well.

What makes my current employer different:

  • No real script, apart from the greeting when you pick up. The rest of the “script” consists of general pointers and tips (that by now have mostly been written by me).
  • Break time is very flexible (up to the point that many of us forget to take a proper one).
  • Relatively small budget, so pretty crappy phones & underlying technique.
  • It is encouraged to come up with alternative ways to do things and every idea will be looked into seriously. Disappointment when your plan disappears into the bin after one (or two) looks, is not really allowed though. You must be able to get yourself together quick and move on.
  • No evaluation (or none that I notice).

What I hope to master in time to come (or at some time in my life):

  • Time keeping
  • Making decision with “the bigger picture” in mind
  • Making a plan and sticking to it.

My final conclusion is that call center work is often seen as the bottom of the career food chain, and yes, any slacker could probably do it… but people that are really good at it need to know so much about so many things, starting out with empathy. I think that it every human being would work in customer care for a while and would really make an effort, the world might be just a little more friendly…

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Fighting intolerance by popping our filter bubbles

It’s Political Crunch Time in the Netherlands.

Just two more days before election day. I am ready. I have decided. I know who I’m going for, or at least which party, which in itself is a mini victory as we have about twenty political parties to choose from this time around…

As many places in the world, our country is going through a phase of polarization. It’s not so much “left and right” anymore, though… The logical question to ask is: Ok, if it’s not about left- and right-wing politics, what is it about? Well… I can’t explain that in just one sentence, because it took me some time to figure out… In fact, I think I will need more than one blog for this.

Let me start by pointing out the white elephant in the room:

Geert Wilders.

geert wilders tulp.jpgThis man is quite something.

I know many people say he’s the Dutch Donald Trump but I really think that gives him too little credit. Contrary to the Donald, I actually don’t dislike Geert Wilders as a person. He does quite well in one-on-one interviews and is a very talented speaker. I think he is a much better politician than the current POTUS and deserves some props for that.

I dislike him in debates, that’s for sure. What happens is that he gets so fired up, that he degrades any good argument he may have had into a vulgar mud slinging contest. I do get it though. I mean, it must be incredibly frustrating to have practically every single person in parliament go against your propositions and ideas, sometimes purely on principle…  But still… Not chic…

I can not deny I feel sorry for him as well. His ideas have put him in a position where he needs security 24/7, preventing him from conducting politics in the same fashion his colleagues can. He can not simply go out and shake hands with people on a random market place, even though I believe he would like to.

bruce hulk.jpgAll though I can follow his rhetoric up to a certain degree when he explains it calmly in interviews such as this one for Europa Magazin, he completely loses me with the way he chooses to bring it across at rallies and debates. I can sympathize with his Bruce Banner version but he seems to prefer the Hulk, which is nasty, ugly and rude.

Until this morning, I had nothing positive to say about Geert Wilders, besides feeling pity for his security issues and the burden this must be on him and his family. But I made an effort to truly look into this guy, who is so easy to dislike. So many people apparently agree with him that I felt I should at least try to get it. At least one honest look. So I took off my filtered glasses just for a bit and started reading, watching and listening.

All though I have always tried to be conscious of the fact that my reality is based on how I was brought up and which lessons I was taught, it has been increasingly difficult to sympathize with the “Trump voters” across the pond and the “Wilders voters” in my own country. It’s so easy to just dismiss them as “angry white men”. The shameful murmurations inside of me about the ignorantes who don’t know what’s good for themselves nor for the greater good, can hardly withstand the light of day…

Last weekend though, I read an article about the phenomenon of “filter bubbles”. It wasn’t something that was new to me but for some reason it really hit home at that moment. I realized how unfair I was being and that I really needed to read news from other news sources and open my mind to the Wilders voters, even if they may not be prepared to show me the same courtesy. Or was that just an unjust preconception as well?

I watched several full length interviews with Geert Wilders and read articles I would otherwise have dismissed as populist propaganda or clicked away from in annoyance, without even giving it a listen.

And boy is it important to do this every now and then. Because it turns out we’re all actually not that different from one another and essentially want the same things. I know, shocking right?

And do you know what? Don’t take my word for it. Go figure it out yourself!

I recommend it.

Having said that, I’m still not voting for the guy. I disagree with him on many different levels, which I will not be going into right now (but maybe after the election results are in). But at least now I know why and can look myself in the eye when I stand up for my version of what is right.

quote-spend-5-minutes-at-the-beginning-of-each-day-remembering-we-all-want-the-same-things-dalai-lama-53-96-23.jpg