Stymied. Good word, don't you think? STY-MEED.
I feel stymied today. And frustrated and resentful.
I work in service. I run a very small company, and I've been doing it for about 18 years. I don't know how it happened, but here I am, still running this company. I often feel blessed and grateful, but not today. Not lately.
Here is the thing: I am too nice. Way back when, I used to think that if I really did my best for people that they would appreciate it and I could earn their future business that way. I really believed that. I wanted to show people what I was capable of. It was a strategy that reflected my personality and my values, it gave me room to have faith in people and enjoy my interactions with them. It was comfortable for me, and it served me with varying degrees of success for a long time. Lately, I think it's broken and it needs to change.
What I find now is that when I do my best for people, when I make an effort, when I share my expertise - people take everything I am willing to give and do and explain, and most of the time it doesn't lead to them spending money in my shop. They may walk away having benefited a great deal from their conversation with me, but it doesn't mean they feel like I have earned anything at all from them. All many of them have learned is that I am a great person to call when they can't figure something out and they want free advice. When they are going to buy something, they go to a Big Box Store. Then when it doesn't work, guess who they call?
People also become more demanding according to how much (of anything) you are willing to provide. For instance, someone may approach me with a question, and if I don't seem to mind giving them a detailed answer, they will come up with another question, and then another. And would I mind showing them on the demo computer how to do X,Y,Z? And perhaps they could use my washroom? It's ridiculous how far people will push, without even seeming to notice that they're doing it, that they're taking advantage. And it's starting to make me angry.
I read somewhere that anger is a sign that you are not setting proper boundaries. Amen to that. I do recognize that I am allowing people to do this. I'm just not sure how to stop it. I have to be nice, because I do need people to shop here, get their work done here, and recommend us to other people. So where is the line between "nice" and "too nice?"
I've given this a lot of thought, and I think I will have to work on a few key areas:
1. Limit or eliminate small-talk. I need people to realize I am not here to chat. I need to work - and get paid. This one is hard for me, because I am naturally very friendly and chatty.
2. Work out exit strategies for conversations that go too long.
This can be done with body language for some people, but it's completely lost on others. For the others, I guess I'll actually have to start saying "Listen, I'm sorry but I have work to do." There are a lot of other handy tricks I use such as "The Repeater" - an approach in which, once I have said everything I am going to say, I reply to everything a person says by repeating one sentence, such as "You should contact your ISP about that." Or "Perhaps the people who sold you the computer/printer/hippopotamus can help you." Or "I'm sorry, I don't do telephone support for Hotmail." Sometimes I have to do that five times before the caller catches on, but they eventually do.
3. Smile less. I know, this one is weird. I'm still trying to puzzle out the science behind it, but there is something about having a smile that is too ready that just makes people feel very comfortable. And sure that's nice, but I think things have gone a little too far in that direction. I find if people feel like we're friends they expect me to do favours for them, or do the work at a discounted rate. If there is a scale that moves from "Pleasant" to "Professional," I need to push that needle farther to the right.
It's sad to think, but lately I find that a friendly demeanor just makes me vulnerable, somehow. There are people out there who think that because I'm doing good work or going the extra mile or even just taking more time than many would, that it means I must really need their business and they're going to use that. And that's really tricky for me, because I have a strong work ethic - I like to do my best for people. I'm not even sure I know how to just shrug out of a conversation that I know isn't going to be profitable - but I need to start thinking about that. Sometimes there are "customers" you can't afford to have.