Latin Catholic by birth, Byzantine Catholic by the grace of God.
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Location: Upstate, New York, United States

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Charm Culture and Business Barbarianism

I've mentioned before that I currently sell insurance for a living; it's going on three years now.

Mercifully, being a home worker, there are rarely instances in which I have to interact with corporate culture. Calling it such is generous, as it is more of an unwritten system of veiling greed and hostility, and thus hardly approaches anything that may be labeled "culture."

Still, I'm called on a few times a week to deal with a client that attempts to wield the broad sword of business culture with me. Let's not consider those whom I have contacted cold, for they are not under the same obligation of good manners that others are in more social settings. But, when clients contact me and want me to do something that they think I'm going to hassle them over, they give me the "game face." Who are they? Fischer playing Spassky for the world chess championship? Why the graven face and stern look?

Usually, this is a fellow (or worse still, a woman) who wants to cash out a policy sold to him by a previous agent. Let it be known that I really couldn't care less what you do with products I didn't sell you; although I'll advise you as to the best course of action, I'm not going to tie you to your chair to stop you from surrendering a policy. So then I walk in and get the game face, they put me in the most uncomfortable part of the house (or want to do business on the hood of my car), and don't even offer me a beverage. This last one is particularly tweaking: At his request I drive sometimes an hour to his house at his request, and he can't pour me a cup of coffee?

Then, the lies and obfuscation. Sure, folks don't want to talk about the messy details of life, a la divorce, but if they just want to buy a boat with the money, so what? I can't talk people out of buying boats to save their life insurance and won't usually even try. And if they let me know what's on their minds, I'll be out quicker. Otherwise, it turns into 20 Questions.
  • Do you need the cash?
  • Or do you just not want to pay anymore?
  • Do you have the excess coverage to make up for it?
  • Would you rather take a loan and pay it off?
  • Etc ...

Then the hostility flows free, unlike the coffee. How dare I do my job and try to help them make an informed decision? I'm under no obligation to help jackasses. I'm completely free to leave the form and let them fill it out wrong, then go chase down another notary public, then pay to mail the forms themselves. And then get their checks two extra weeks late because they don't have inter-office envelopes like I do. Pull the jackassery on me to an extreme degree and I'm liable to do just that - this happens about once a year.

And if they're just jerks or give me the business culture treatment, they would be wise to remember that I am knee-deep in paperwork on any given day. I mean this literally. My inboxes if stacked together would go up to my knee. If you're nice, you go to the top of the pile. If you try to be a Big Man in front of me to impress your wife or make up for your insecurity, you go to the bottom of the pile.

By no means is this limited to policy surrenders, or to my job alone. When I'm dealing with overly businesslike business people, I'm liable to find someone else to provide my services. Is friendliness too much to ask?

How about the Charm Culture? By being nice, playing verbal pattycake, asking them about their kids, and doing small harmless favors, I've gotten things I didn't even ask for: free slices of pizza, free beers afterhours at my favorite pubs, and even a quarter-point off my mortgage rate after I'd already signed the paperwork. How many folks to do you know got a 30-year rate of 5.25% in mid-2004? I got that with honey, not vinegar.

Charm mixed with dishonesty can turn disingenuous and become mere sycophancy. This is not what I'm advocating. But how about we all start by giving each other the benefit of the doubt?

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