Self-Advocacy | Reevaluating Email’s Responsiveness | The “Why” Variable | 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People

In This Month’s Issue…


What do people really want, anyway? We’re often so hard to understand or satisfy, even when the only person we’re dealing with is our own self!

If you’d like to chip away at figuring this out, you’ll find a variety of suggestions here to make the process more straightforward and effective.


Stress Less

Self-Advocacy

How many of the New Year’s resolutions you made last January have been fulfilled, and how many of them have gone by the boards?

You may have promised yourself a hundred times not to cut anyone off in conversation. Maybe this was the year you decided you’d finally start making your bed every morning like a grownup. And now it’s September, but when you left your house this morning the bed was a mess and already today you’ve cut off one family member and finished two colleagues’ thoughts for them.

Did you ever stop to explain the real purpose of the resolution to yourself? Not just because “it would be better,” but by examining your decision completely, to see what really matters to you?

Instead of giving up on yourself again, act as your own advocate for what you want.

List the 10 or 20 motivations you have for this change, including the results you hope to achieve; the ways in which others might benefit; how much better you expect to feel afterwards; or even the moral value. Here’s an example:

If I made the bed every morning…

  • I would come back to a neat room.
  • It wouldn’t be awkward to have a guest visit.
  • I’d feel more like an adult!
  • All the respectable people I know always have their beds made, and I would be one of them.

Then list the reasons each of those motivations is important to you. Perhaps coming home at night to a neat room is welcoming and aesthetically pleasing, so you’ll feel relaxed right away. You’ll end up with dozens of solid justifications for making that bed.

Identify which of those many possibilities are worth it even when you’re running late or just don’t feel like it, and post them where you can see them when you’re running late or just don’t feel like it — and give yourself and your resolution another chance.

Or you might find that implementing your resolution isn’t really worth it after all. You’ll get a stress reduction benefit either way: The bed will be made from now on, or you’ll decide it’s not necessary and let it go. One way or the other, you can stop hassling yourself about it.


Service Smarts

Reevaluating Email’s Responsiveness

Email is great for responding to customer questions and complaints: You can start writing, pause to verify information, and edit until the message is crafted just the way you want it. So why are so many service emails so unresponsive?

There are countless examples in blogs and on complaint sites about “form” emails that “thanked” unhappy customers for their “concerns” or their “interest,” but never directly addressed the issue that was of concern.

Harried or insufficiently trained reps often only skim emails when deep reading is necessary. They assume they recognize the general parameters of the situation but miss details and nuance. I’ve read numerous ill-fated interactions that went eight rounds — that’s 16 separate emails — but ended with both sides indignant.

When reps miss important information or requests early on, subsequent correspondence can feel as if the customer is constantly bringing up new demands. Aggravated, frustrated reps may adopt a patronizing, nasty tone, or outright refuse to provide what seems like the equitable, practical resolution or accommodation.

From the customers’ perspective, this kind of exchange feels as if the company doesn’t care — or worse, as if it’s downright unprincipled.

Skimming simply doesn’t work, so take steps to spare both the customer and the service rep the agony of going back and forth to get all the different sub-issues handled.

Consider this double-barreled approach:

  1. Create a web form that captures crucial details via separate input fields or dropdown boxes to isolate crucial factual details that clarify and structure whatever freeform or rambling text the customer also chooses to provide.
  2. Before responding to the customer’s communication, try numbering each of the issues or details that should be addressed. Then, in drafting the response, number or bullet each of your points to match. (You don’t need to keep the actual numbers in the email you send; just be sure to handle each of them.)

Whether or not a company intends to accommodate any particular request, it’s wasteful and irresponsible not to identify what all the requests are! From a customer’s standpoint, a negative response — if it’s balanced, reasonable, and clearly explained — is better than being ignored.


Management Matters

The “Why” Variable

I’m usually a proponent of probing for reasons and meaning when you’re trying to understand something. After a conversation I recently observed, though, I’ve rethought the use of “Why?” as the probe.

When you start an inquiry with “Why did you…,” “Why didn’t you…,” “Why can’t you..,” “Why don’t you…,” or “Why haven’t you…,” you almost can’t help but sound like you’re making an accusation. Worse, it’s often an indictment that’s not truly meant to be satisfied: Picture someone with arms outspread, eyes cast up to heaven, either beseeching or complaining, “Why do these things always happen?!?”

This kind of “why” either implicitly or explicitly puts the other party on the defensive, and often makes it apparent that there is, in fact, no acceptable answer.

On the other hand, there’s a kind of “why” that’s not only useful, but crucial to understanding. “Why” can be an effective tool for sharing context.

If you think you’ve been explaining how things should be done and others are not responding satisfactorily, perhaps you’ve put too much emphasis on what you want people to do or how you want them to do it, but not nearly enough on why doing something a certain way is important, relevant, or valuable.

That’s when you need to include “why” — as in “here’s why.” Context leads to understanding, helps foster accuracy of implementation, and creates the potential for enthusiastic participation.


Book Bit

100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People

This month, I enjoyed reading 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People by Susan M. Weinschenk. It’s a compendium of research and empirical findings about how people process information, make choices, and even confuse themselves. It’s a particularly handy book if you need to present ideas, objects, or methods that are persuasive and easy-to-use. And who doesn’t?

I hope you’ve found a bit of wisdom in this month’s issue that’s persuasive and easy for you to use. Do let me know if there are topics you’d like to hear more about, and please pass along your copy of Workplace Wisdom to someone else who cares about what people want — and how to satisfy them.

Till October, onward and upward,
LK

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Liz Kislik helps companies create successes in customer service and sales, talent management and team development, and organizational structure and culture.
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