I recently read a funny anecdote that reminded me of my own junior high shenanigans (more on that later). The story highlighted how a company’s well-intentioned policy can swerve into the ridiculous when employees follow the letter of the law. A call center’s customer service reps were required to use a customer’s name five times, regardless of how short the call was. One day, someone called and asked a simple, “Does your company provide such-and-such service?” The rep asked for the person’s name and was told it was John. The rep then responded, “John, John, John, John, no, we don’t, John. Thanks for calling.”
A similar technique was used by my friend who was a flight attendant back in the day when they were still called stewardesses. Seems in those days, it wasn’t unusual for passengers to offer the hard-working flight attendants tips (as in money, not what stocks to pick or what horses to bet on). The airline’s policy was that their employees had to say “no” to the tip three times – with the implication that they refused three separate times. But these savvy gals figured out how to follow policy and still sometimes make extra bank. Here’s how it went down: Passenger offers tip, flight attendant smiles and says, “No, no, no! I can’t take that.” Passenger insists. Flight attendant gratefully accepts. No policy was violated.
Now, being the smart-ass you know me for, would it surprise you to learn that I pulled a similar stunt in eighth grade? I followed the letter of the law when I was told to write a 1,000-word essay as a punishment for passing a note in class. (Remember when kids did that instead of text?) So I wrote, “I, I, I…(repeated 999 times) stutter.” I know it’s not politically correct, and I apologize for the insensitivity of my eighth-grade self. My point wasn’t to make fun of anyone, but rather to complete the assignment as quickly and painlessly as possible – while following school policy.
So while in life there will always be policies to follow, there will also be those of us who manage to do so – but just barely. All the more reason when we communicate directions to others we must use clear, direct language and even provide examples – both of what’s expected and what’s unacceptable.