Monday, July 06, 2009

Emotional Labors

My friend, Shauna, sent me an article about "Emotional Labor" after reading this last week. My pastor, Kevin DeYoung, featured various people from our church every week to highlight their jobs and how they've dealt with economy downturn in Michigan. My turn came up last week and I shared about serving coffee to grumpy customers.

Serving (and making) coffee (and lattes, mochas, cappuccinos and frappuccinos) is the physical part of my job which in itself is challenging, especially when I am making and/or handing out several at the same time. Mentally, there is a lot, too when you factor memorizing customers and their drinks and the qualities of each kind of coffee bean we sell. I'm good at both these things, like all my co-workers are.

But the part of the job that is very difficult is the emotional dimension. There is the feeling you really have versus the feeling you are supposed to have in order to make a customer happy.
Maintaining integrity and honesty while serving hard-to- please people is a delicate balance to acheive. And my particular company attracts picky people who are very specific about what they drink. Everyone struggles with it-- even after ten years, I still do.

These days, when someone is extremely rude, I won't hide my taken aback or offended reaction. I may not say anything other than "excuse me?" in an assertive tone. Rudeness answered by more rudeness is not the way to go but I don't believe that it is my job or anyone else's to take abuse. But it is amazing what kind of treatment my co-workers recieve. My old manager was called stupid, a supervisor had a lid thrown at her and a fellow barista was yelled at for simply helping a customer order his drink easier. And I had been yelled at by someone who didn't understand that it was possible for me to prepare his drink while chatting with another customer and another partner at the same time.

How much dignity am I required to give up? And if I accept it, how much more abuse will the jerk inflict on the next service person unlucky to have to deal with them? So, they are having a bad day (or life) and can't still be decent?

It helps to talk to fellow baristas who know how it is, or swim laps or take walks. But sometimes it isn't enough. I do find peace in having faith in a good and soveriegn God who is a source of all strength. If someone yells at me, it isn't me that is the problem but it says a lot about who they are. Especially over something as minor as coffee.

An excerpt from the article Shauna sent me:

"When you engage in emotional labor, you control your feelings to fulfill the goals and expectations of your organization. From a practical standpoint, this means that you either (a) express only your positive feelings, or (b) hide or manage your negative feelings. To deal with negative emotions, people tend to do one of the following:

Show emotion they don't really feel.

Hide emotion they really do feel.

Create an appropriate emotion for the situation.
You can do this using two emotional labor techniques:

Surface acting - You fake, or pretend to have, an emotion by using unnatural and artificial body language and verbal communication. Smiling and using a soft tone of voice help you show emotion that you don't feel, or hide emotion that you do feel.

Deep acting - You control your internal emotions, directing them to believe that you actually are happy, and enjoying the interaction with the other person. Rather than feel like you're pretending, you convince yourself you're not experiencing a negative reaction.
When you continually need to show only those emotions that are appropriate for the job, despite how you really feel, this can often lead to emotional conflict between your real emotions and those you show to others."

"Deep acting", eh? So, I must be the Meryl Streep of coffeehouse barsitas. It's not possible to keep that acting up and not suffer some kind of emotional exhaustion. You think you can? C'mon, make a hundred thousand lattes and see what I'm talking about. Either you get more negative or you go crazy, it's that simple. What are the other alternatives? Mine is Jesus.

For the rest of the article"

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