Monday, February 9, 2009

Lessons I learn from working at the Y: Part I

As a membership receptionist at our local YMCA, I assist our members and community participants by processing memberships and class registrations, answering potential members' questions, handing out towels and racquets, directing phone calls, explaining new procedures, etc. Most of the people who come to the Y - whether it's to work out or to pick up their child for child care or to bring them for swim lessons - are really awesome. Occasionally, though, we get some stinkers who are too rushed, too tired, too cranky to follow procedures. I take great pride in providing good customer service and sometimes by the end of my shift I feel rushed, tired, and cranky, too! That's when I know I have to pull up my big girl panties, plaster on a big smile, and communicate with these buggers even when I don't feel like it.

For the past few months, I've been using my position behind the desk to conduct little experiments on human psychology. It's fun, plus I get to learn so much about myself and about people in general. Lately, I've been working on the role of eye contact in human interactions. Here is what I'm learning:
~People are more likely to smile at me and engage in small talk when I look straight at them. If I assist them with little eye contact, they make no attempt to engage in any other communication.
~I usually work with a partner. If I establish eye contact with the person before she does, they are more likely to turn to me for assistance, even if my partner has spoken first. If I withhold my eye contact as I am working with someone and my partner greets them while looking at them, they will turn to her and act like I no longer exist.
~When someone is upset, they are more likely to relax and listen if I hold my gaze on them as I am explaining something to them.

So, what does this mean? Well, for one thing, I am making more of a conscious effort to look at people square in the eye to let them know they have my full attention. I have come to realize that in general, I, like most Americans, tend to look down or to look away while I talk to people. I am working hard to change my behavior (at the Y and everywhere) because I know people appreciate being looked at. My eyes are as powerful as my voice. It worked today at the doctor's office when I had to ask the receptionist, who usually seems standoff-ish, a question and she answered me with a big old smile as I was looking (it felt like staring) right at her. Interesting!

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