The Commercial Insult – Part Two

I packed up practice when it stopped paying. I took up trade and it proved a gold mine. But a gold mine with pitfalls.

One of them was the late owner of the place. A dear, sweet, man who had been a patient and who employed me out of pity – and occasionally showed this. He had a tendency to remind me of my former position and suggest that I had fallen. I endured this with good cheer, as I knew the secret of my balance sheet and could see the good that employment was doing me. I gained in health and wealth during 7+ years in that shop and learned a great deal more about insult during the time. I did not resent his occasional jibe at all.

Being behind a counter serving the public means that you will see it all and clean up after a good deal of it. Keep a damp rag handy. People will flatter, demand, cozen, and abuse – often in turn, and on memorable occasions all at once – in an effort to get goods for cheaper prices. That is the nature of humans. They are not necessarily fools or knaves for it – just human. It does no good to resent the thing any more than it does to get angry at a Shakespeare play.

Every now and then a customer would try insult as a means of control. I remember a legal professional who disgraced himself frequently in this respect – both at the counter and in the offices of the managers. A media tycoon – tycoon in a small, local way – was also of this persuasion. The one I remember was theatrical with it – I cannot be sure that he was not reading from one of his own scripts as he sneered his way around the shop. Not as funny as John Cleese would have been, nor as intelligent, but right there doing a live act.

What did we – the other staff and I – do about this sort of thing? Nothing. As sales assistants we were in no position to return insult with word or actions. We did, however, note the hard words and never extended ourselves past professional politeness to assist the arrogant. I’m sorry for the balance sheet of the shop that we viewed the loss of their business as a good thing. In real terms, they probably spent less than the polite customers – and we would go out of our way to help them in any way we could.

The position of an employee at a help desk is an awkward one. They are frequently the butt of insult and bear the brunt of the anger that someone feels when something fails. They also cope with the failure of the user to operate anything well – or to understand what they are doing. They must be diplomatists far in advance of anything that DFAT could field. They are frequently put upon from all sides. When you see a help desk person, buy them a doughnut.

Still worried about insults? I shall lay your fears to rest tomorrow.

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