Where Angels Fear to Tread


Where Angels Fear to Tread

I have a tendency to go where Angels fear to tread and talk about things I know nothing about. This may be one of those times.

Matt Penney, head of parking and transportation at Baylor, and a trainer at the IPMI, has a short piece on their blog about ‘thin slicing.’ This is a psychological term meaning that sometimes in interactions, ‘gut instinct’ may tell you that there is more to the story than is obvious from the words spoken. You realize that something is off.

Matt points out that now is the time to slow down the process and allow all the emotion that may be below the surface to come out and the true issues to be in a place where they can be dealt with. Now this is heady stuff.

My problem with all this is that we are to, at this point, fall back on policy and procedures to slow the process down. His quote is “When emotions don’t match the situation, hide behind policy.” He says this protects the staff both legally and emotionally. Remember that Matt has much more experience in all this than I, and I’m certain his advice is spot on. But…

Here we have a situation that could possibly spiral out of control. We have a customer who is not happy and we aren’t sure why. Our goal is to give the situation more time and to allow the subsurface issues to come to light. But is the best way we do that is to move the conversation to the bureaucracy and fill it with rules and regs. “I understand you were in a hurry to get to class, but the sign right there says that you can’t park at a nonworking meter. We are just going to have to proceed with the citation and then you can take it to the review board if you feel it was unfair.”

I wonder if another approach might be to bring a third party into the situation, a supervisor perhaps. “Gee, Mr. Jones, I can see that you have a good point. Let me call in my supervisor who can help us deal with this issue and perhaps resolve it on the spot.” That might have a calming effect, allow time to pass, and perhaps the third party could have a better sense of the underlying issues and help resolve them.

I know that it is a simplistic view of an often complex issue, but perhaps it could help mitigate a problem and turn an irate customer into a long term supporter.


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John Van Horn

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