I Got What You Need
I think it is a habit of ours to assume we know what others need. From our understanding of cognitive and social psychology, we know the human brain is designed to develop mental shortcuts, or heuristics, as we navigate life in order to make things easier for us. As AmeriCorps members, now that we have two months of experience under our belts, we have seen similar stories amongst our customers and may easily jump to particular conclusions about their situations as we form these mental shortcuts. The elderly man who pecks away at his keyboard needs to be referred to Wake Tech’s “Computer Literacy for Jobseekers” class. The woman printing out five copies of the same e-mail would be better off if you just did it for her. If an individual shows you their resume, you can save time by looking at the format and avoiding a conversation about their interests and career goals altogether.
I found myself gravitating towards this manner of approaching things until I was startled awake by a speech at Swinburne’s Annual Partner Staff Training event at the end of October. We were given a presentation from Vielka Gabriel, a Human Services employee who told us an amazing story about second chances. A woman she had been working with was on the verge of being escorted out by police until one conversation showed Vielka that her client would be better off with one-on-one employment assistance. This individual was able to turn her life around and is still in contact with Vielka to this day. Her speech made me realize that by assuming what the customer needs and where they are going, we may actually be holding them back from reaching their full potential. The most important aspect of communicating with the individuals we assist is actually listening to their stories and their questions. Additionally, if necessary, it also involves asking people more to get a full picture of how we can best help them.
This week I worked with a man on his resume, which contained a great deal of customer service experience. I was quick to help him format his summary of skills in a way that would highlight this experience, until he started opening up to me about his dreams of working in an animation studio one day. By taking the time to listen to his story, I realized we needed to format his resume in a way that was more appealing to a broad range of jobs. We enrolled him in a class called “Finding Your Compass” at Wake Tech and he left feeling incredibly hopeful and optimistic. It did not matter that he had been laid off from his job last Friday and was now living in his car. He now had a tangible reason to believe that things could get better. So, rather than assuming we know what someone needs, perhaps it is best to take a step back, drop our assumptions, and ask someone to tell us themselves.
Well, this week has been pretty uneventful. Since Veterans Day was on Tuesday, we had the day off as county employees. Let me tell you, that was very welcome and I was going to use it to my full advantage. Working with people can be stressful and because of that, it’s so nice to just sit in silence with only yourself as company. On Tuesday, I went for a 90-minute massage at the Bannard Family Chiropractic and Acupuncture Center in Cary to treat myself. And what a treat it was! Lying on a soft-top table listening to soothing music – it was pure bliss. Lesson here is, even if you’re in the field of helping people, you also need to take care of yourself. In my spare time, I like to tour distilleries and breweries, try new restaurants, go to museums, bake, take long walks, and spend time with dogs. It’s all about balance and that’s important to remember.