Sunlit Water

May 9, 2009

Play It Cool

Filed under: Personal — by teofilo @ 11:18 pm

Another thing about this job, which I didn’t mention in the previous post, is that it requires remaining calm and polite at all times.  This is another thing that has been very helpful to me to learn how to do.  No matter how angry a visitor gets over something, whether it’s the park’s fault (or mine) or not, it’s absolutely crucial to maintain a steady, calm demeanor and deal with the situation carefully and rationally.  Just in the course of working this job, particularly when I’ve worked the front desk in the visitor center, I’ve become very skilled at defusing potentially problematic or hostile situations.  The key is to hide my own emotional reaction to the situation and visibly display as much empathy and understanding of the visitor’s point of view as possible.  It’s remarkable how quickly people will calm down if they feel that someone is really listening to them and hearing them out, even if there’s nothing that can be done about their problem.  This doesn’t always work, of course, and some people just can’t be helped, but it’s been a lot more effective than I would have thought.

Another way this can manifest itself is in questions that are asked in a decidedly confrontational way, which can be expressed in either tone or phrasing.  This in particular tends to provoke an intense emotional reaction in me, since it tends to sound like questioning or challenging my authority or the accuracy of what I say.  As I mentioned before, that feeling of authority is very important to me, and I have a tendency to get upset when it’s put into doubt.  It’s important to note, however, that this is not always intentional on the part of the visitor; some people just have a way of speaking that tends toward the confrontational.  Others do mean to be confrontational and to challenge me, for various reasons.  Some are just interested in how I’ll react under pressure, while others want to make a point about something or other.  Whatever the reason, my instinctive reaction is the same, and I always have to hide or disguise it in some manner.

I’ve actually gotten to a point where I don’t mind this sort of thing much.  I view it mainly as an interesting challenge, and I feel secure enough in my knowledge and ability to handle these situations that I’m not concerned about losing my perceived authority.  What I’ll generally do is channel my intense emotions into a carefully phrased and expressed answer that acknowledges the source of the confrontational nature of the question (to the extent that I can discern it) while holding fast to the message I want to give.  Often the visitor’s reaction to the answer is the best or only way to tell why the question seemed so confrontational.  If they continue to sound confrontational in tone but congenial in content, that’s generally just the way they talk.  If both tone and content stay confrontational, they’ve got some sort of point or hobbyhorse, and the only thing to do is to hear them out and nod politely.  If they shift to a genial tone, they’re either testing my reaction or my answer has genuinely changed their mind or shifted their preconceptions on the issue.  The last is probably the least common, but it does happen from time to time.

The bottom line to all of this, and one of the most important things I’ve learned from this job, is that I need to separate the persona I present when interacting with the public from my own inner attitudes and emotions.  When I think about it that way, as in some sense putting on a show that doesn’t have to be an authentic representation of my “real” self, it becomes surprisingly easy.  It’s like acting, following a script, inhabiting a character.  (I’ve never done any actual acting to speak of, but I imagine this is what it’s like.)  The fact that the character is identical to me in name, background, and outward appearance doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a character and not the person that I feel myself to be inside.  Since it’s just a character, I can decide how that character reacts to difficult situations and then play the role, rather than reacting based on my instinctual emotions.  Also, since this character isn’t really me, any challenges to him aren’t really challenges to me, and there’s no need to get bent out of shape about them.  I have a feeling that this ability to separate myself from my persona, as it were, will serve me well in the future.



  1. Separating your own feelings from your public persona is very useful, and I am terrible at this. I can do it, but it takes conscious effort, and I can’t do it every day, or keep it up for very long. It just seems dishonest, and when I see other people acting like this, it makes me distrust them. Which is a shame, because many things would go more smoothly if I would let go of my unreasonable expectations.

    Comment by YK — May 17, 2009 @ 6:23 pm |Reply

  2. Yeah, I used to dislike seeing other people putting on different faces in different situations, but I’ve come to realize that it’s a really useful skill to have. I’m kind of surprised at how easily I was able to acquire it. I think part of it was that I wasn’t really aware that was what I was doing at the time; it just sort of happened.

    Comment by teofilo — May 18, 2009 @ 12:31 am |Reply

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