My Social Skills – Part 1

Welcome, this week’s post is about My Social Skills and, most importantly, my Lack there of them. I’m not sure if I should turn this into a series, I certainly have enough material to do so, but I’ll see how it goes, technically I’m not supposed to be posting anything at all and should be working on my NaNoWriMo Project.
procrastination
However, I feel strongly about this and it was going to distract me from Metamorphosis anyway until I posted it up, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. Anyway. my day-job is a customer service occupation at my local supermarket. For people who require special assistance with shopping, for example an elderly person or a person in a wheelchair (though we do have a wheel-chair accessible trolley available), a customer can come up to the service desk and request someone to assist them.

By circumstance, I’m often stationed at the Disability Access Register, which is a register with a wider lane-way so that people in wheel-chairs can move through it easier, though it’s often used with people who have walking frames, oxygen tanks and certain prams because the other registers are simply too narrow for those types of mobility devices or other equipment to go through. There’s only two of these registers available in the supermarket that I work at and can be identified by the extra light (with a person in a wheel-chair sticker on it) next to the number light that tells a customer a register is open. Now, these registers are at opposite ends of the store, registers 1 and 8 respectively. Register 1 is a pain the arse to use because while it’s a disability access register, it’s often the last register to be updated, there are problems with the eftpos machine (you have to press extra hard on the buttons), it’s not a major problem, but it’s a complete pain in the arse because I get a lot of customers who come into the store and buy things, but don’t bring their glasses along with them, I figure it’s because they’re ashamed to be seen wearing glasses, to be seen as less than perfect. Perhaps a small moment of Vanity might seem insignificant, but it has a whole domino effect on the shopping experience. I’ll give an example:

I once had a middle-aged lady come through my register, spent the whole time leaning close to the register, squinting at the screen, and when it came time to use the eftpos machine, it took her almost ten minutes for her to select her account and type in her pin. That might not seem like a long time, but in Customer service, that is forever. Now, as I said the eftpos machine on register one is difficult, you need to press harder to key in your pin, but a customer shouldn’t need to nearly press their face right up against it to see it. When I asked her if she needed assistance, she snapped at me, saying something along the lines of “I can use an eftpos machine, thank you.”, this mostly because she was embarrassed about the fact that she couldn’t see and she was holding up the other customers. Now, logically that could have all been avoided if she had just worn her glasses, or she could have paid cash, or she could have handed over her eftpos card to me and I could have processed it for her. The person attending the cash-register will generally know how to use the eftpos machine better than a customer (it’s not always the case, I’ve experienced some pretty shitty customer service skills myself, but that’s an indicator of a bigger problem).

The point I’m trying to make here is that, if it’s considerably difficult for a person with impaired vision to perform basic activities (like use an eftpos machine to buy food), imagine what it must be like for someone who is completely blind, how much more difficult those day-to-day things must must be.

Take yesterday for example, the 22nd and the 23rd of November is the annual Strawberries and Cherries Festival that occurs every year (the dates aren’t always the same but it generally happens sometime in November). Most of the time, I work both days of the festival, so it’s not big deal but there’s usually a lot of slow moving people out on the footpath, there’s live music performances going on and there’s a stamp trail (you go around to a bunch of different local shops and collect a stamp on a bingo card, if you collect all the stamps, I think you get a prize? Not entirely sure). Yesterday was the first day of the festival, I was working 14:00 to 17:30 (because my manager likes to give me weird shifts for some reason) and there’s a blind gentleman who comes in on a regular basis, usually on a Saturday.

The gentleman had his guide dog with him on this occasion (he doesn’t always have a guide dog with him, sometimes he only has a cane) and I’m there talking to him, asking how he is, if he was okay with the large amount of people on the sidewalk. I mean, I personally don’t like crowds and I get anxious at being in closed in tight spaces with lots of people, but I can navigate around it. But no apparently he was fine, apparently his dog was very popular with lots of people coming up and patting him (which you really shouldn’t do by the way). The conversation kinda went like this:
“He’s very popular, but people don’t notice me, I’m invisible,” the gentleman said.
I laughed and said “that’s terrible,”

You know, because my brain doesn’t work a lot of the time, and then I realised he wasn’t joking about the being invisible part, so my brain kicked in and told me “WARNING: You just laughed at the idea of a blind man being invisible, you are an awful human being.” and I was guilt-ridden mess for the rest of the time he was there, it doesn’t help that the supermarket I work at is located in a shopping center, where there is LOTS of noise and I often have to speak up or lean closer in order to speak to the gentleman.

To make matters worse, this isn’t the first time I’ve said something really bad and only realised that was an awful thing to say afterwards. Like the time I talking with the gentleman about his previous guide-dog which had to removed from the guide-dog program because the dog was going blind. The conversation went like this.
“Fair enough, we wouldn’t want either of you to get hurt,” I said
“Oh no, he was my best friend, I wanted to keep him,” he said.
I could tell how sad this made him, just by his tone, and then my brain helpfully kicked in and told me “WARNING: You just advocated for a blind person to have his best friend taken away, you are an awful human being.” *GUILTY AWKWARD SILENCE*

So yeah, I suppose the take-away message here is that I should probably not interact with people who have a disabilities or just people in general, perhaps I should just become a hermit and spare everyone my presence. And you know what makes it even worse? I don’t even know his name, or the name of his dog and he probably doesn’t even know mine, which is especially bad as introducing yourself is one of things you’re supposed to do when interacting with blind or visually impaired people (no doubt he knows me as the weird one at the supermarket), and because I’m usually always working on a Saturday and as there’s only two registers he can go through, there’s a high chance he’s stuck with me. So I figured I would look into how to improve my lackluster social skills and apparently there’s a couple of websites that have helped (links are below) and hopefully they will help other people too.

If there are any links to websites, organisations or helpful tips readers would like to suggest, I’m happy to take recommendations.

Links:
Vision Australia
Blind Welfare Association
5 Shocking Ways the Modern World Screws Blind People by J.F. Sargent and T.L. Swedensky
Ten Tips For Interacting With People Who Are Blind by Shelley Johns
Interacting With A Person Who is Blind – Blindskills Inc.

4 comments

  1. Because I lived with many people who wore glasses in an extended family of glasses wearers, no, a lot of people (especially working-class, non-wealthy people) only have one or two pairs of glasses. (Remember, one of those pairs might be for outdoors/sunglasses and the other for indoor reading. A lot of people still don’t have fancy glasses that do both or can stand wearing them, so Mum has three or four different pairs.) It is so freaking easy to leave glasses on the counter instead of bringing them in your bag when you go shopping, especially if you only use them for reading. (Mum has a collection of distinct bright-coloured glasses cases for this reason. There’s an orange blob in the lounge right now!) If you’re constantly taking your glasses in and out of your bag all the time, or swapping your sunglasses over for your reading glasses, you’re going to forget them sometimes. Embarrassment/shame at wearing them might be the cause for some people, but I’d hardly claim it to be universal when the reality of living with glasses is a better explanation for not always having them. Embarrassment at forgetting glasses and holding up customers I can absolutely believe in, however…

    (Usually I’m the one holding up customers, with my shaky hands, but this is why I’m grateful for not working in a supermarket. My ability to talk product and work MYOB is more important than my speed at a cash register.)

    Actually, I let customers do EFTPOS transactions themselves, because otherwise I have to ask if they tap (paypass), swipe or insert, and this confuses some people when they stop to think how they do it, whereas if they just do it they don’t have to worry about answering my question. (Although I’ve had cards tap from underneath the EFTPOS machine, at which point we discovered that customer could tap n’ go.) This might depend on the EFTPOS machine in question, though. Ours is pretty new.

    No, the answer is not to be a hermit. That doesn’t help anyone. (Correction: it helps you not hurt anyone ever, but then you’ll never be able to live a meaningful life. Or learn anything.) I think it’s telling that this man told you about his invisibility, though: he volunteered something personal and raw, his inner truth, so I presume he thought (or felt on an unconscious level) you were a safe person to tell (in a world where it is dangerous to speak our truths aloud). And now you know the problems with what you said, you can do something to work on being the kind of person people trust with their stories. People love talking to retail workers, as I’m sure you know – especially people who are outsiders in the world. We’re in a pretty good position to be trusted with some awesome truths.

    (Although I wish one of my customers understood that when I am on the bus coming home from work after a day of talking with people, I need to be not talking to people for a while, as an introvert. Instead it’s ten minutes of the assumption that I am always the person I am behind the counter and mentally able to chat and listen to their stories in the same way, and sometimes that’s a little difficult.)

    • Fair enough about the glasses, I suppose with my cynical nature it’s difficult for me to grasp the concept (not forgetting stuff or misplacing things, I do that all the time) as I have to wear my glasses all the time and don’t wear sunglasses at all (though I do have a pair for some strange reason). Though, people leaving their glasses at home, then doing the shopping is really common, but most of the time they’ll tell me and ask for assistance.

      As for your eftpos, I suppose it depends on your system and your customer group. The majority of the customers I serve have difficulties with the eftpos machine, some of the time it’s because their elderly, some of it is because not everybody updates their card at the same time (the vast majority of my customers still use cash, tap-and-go not as popular) but mostly because we have a shitty eftpos system. With the eftpos system at my work, if the card has a chip in it, you can’t swipe it, you have to insert it, it won’t accept it (regardless of whether it has the pay-pass chip in it or not). You also can’t do cash out on the credit account, only savings or cheque, so what often happens is people will ask for cash out and then tap their card. There’s also difficulties in split payments (half cash, half eftpos), you have to do the card part first as cash is considered a final payment (don’t ask me why, I have no idea). It’s simply easier for me to do it on their behalf and ask them questions. There’s also no ATM machines in the shopping center so we constantly have customers coming up to us to get cash out (which you can do without charge), it’s not a big deal but it can be a pain when it’s busy. Though I do occasionally get asked for large amounts of cash, like “Can I get $700 out?” and I’m like “No”. Your ability to talk product and work MYOB is way more important than speed, trust me, I will take good customer service over fast customer service any day of the week. Especially since MYOB experience is now considered a high priority job skill.

      Naw, but I wanna be a hermit >:| But your right, it doesn’t help anyone or improve the situation. I seem to be this person that people tell stuff to, however I also tend to be that person where I’ve asked them the standard “Hi, how are you?” and they’ve replied with “My parent died recently” and I always seemed to think I know how to deal with that situation, then the situation happens and I’m like “I have no idea what to do.” And I suppose it’s cheaper and easier to talk to your local check-out person rather than see a councilor (though there are times where I really wish they did). But I suppose your right, it’s good a thing that I make people feel safe.

      Yeah, I know that feeling, especially when you wear a uniform. I was food-shopping at another store after work (I was wearing my uniform but I had a coat over the top so you couldn’t really see it) and this elderly gentleman comes up to me and asks me for help and I just had to flow with it, he realised afterwards I didn’t work there but still. I also live in a small town, so I get weird looks from some customers when they see me at the train-station, like “You exist outside of the supermarket? What is this?” You’re a lot better at being polite though, I lack subtlety.

      • You know, I don’t understand why people think MYOB is so scary. Or take classes in it. It’s a poorly-designed program, yes, with very limited function, but it’s not hard to figure out (and it’s designed to be not hard, actually, which is most of the problem I have with it. It’s too simple, which means loss of functionality). Admittedly, I used Warehouse Management Systems at Old Job of Doom I Can’t Name Online Because I Like Not Being Sued, so I’m drawing from something similar in concept (if far better in execution in my opinion) but now that I’m using it … well, the retail side of it just isn’t hard. I’m more frustrated by the things I want to do that it won’t let me do, and any number of stupid glitches I need to Google and fix someday, than by figuring out how to do things. InDesign is far, far harder to learn than MYOB, IMO.

        (I mean, Adobe sets the bar pretty high, right?)

        There is no-one in my family who has a permanent, singular pair of glasses. I swear, they’re all swapping glasses (regular glasses, reading glasses, that old pair of glasses in the car, sunglasses) and not one of them is multifunctional. So there’s always someone borrowing someone else’s glasses (if they have a remotely-similar prescription) to read a menu or something. And nobody can borrow Dad’s glasses because he’s got one clear glass lens (astigmatism in one eye, the other perfect). Although Dad could get a monocle…

        Well, I’ve had some young people come in who’ve never used a card before, which is interesting, but most of my EFTPOS customers are between 12 and 40. And male. Game store. And a very new system. I do like it when people tap, though. It almost halves the processing time.

        We don’t do cash out, thank heavens. I find people asking me to break notes to be annoying enough, even knowing the keyboard shortcut for the till. Although I think the thing I explain most is the ten dollar minimum for EFTPOS transactions. Sure, we can totally justify the fees for a two dollar chocolate bar … nope.

        $700! I laughed out loud, truly. Um, do people realise you shouldn’t have masses of money in the till anyway? That you do regular drops throughout the day so you don’t have ridiculous amounts in the till? (I mean, I’m not supposed to have anywhere near that much, and I assume a supermarket isn’t that different. Its not safe.) A supermarket is totally a bank, right?

        Oh, I’ll smile and I’ll chat about products and I’ll be awesome. I’ll just be slow. The hardest part of my job is getting items in shopping bags. People who say they don’t want bags are brilliant, IMO. Plastic bags are evil.

        Oh, you’re like me. Yep. I get that sort of thing all the time.

        It’s a bit harder on my end because we’re a store but we’re also a place people come to hang out and play games and chat, so the line between customer and retail worker is a little blurred. Most of the time, that’s amazing – there’s people I really like talking to/getting to know. But there’s a couple of people for whom that’s not so amazing, but I can’t actually say ‘Dude, I want to treat you like a customer, not a friend, even though I treat regular customers as friends who buy things’. Of course, the people who don’t get the difference are the people you want to get the difference, you know?

      • A Supermarket is totally a bank *sarcasm*. I suspect the fact that we don’t have fees for our eftpos transactions is probably a part of it, you don’t even have to buy anything and people just can’t be arsed going down to bank (despite the fact that there’s like four of them out in the main street). You should see the dirty looks I get when I have to tell people I can’t do cash out, hell hath no fury like an entitled customer, especially during the Christmas period. We’re also expected to be a community information center as well (we know EVERYTHING!). Not just “where are the toilets?” and “what time does the post office close?” kinda stuff. I mean, for example, the shopping center where my work is located at was recently sold and is under new management, they’re turning the central open-foyer area (sorry, I can’t think of any other way to describe it) into a more standardized food court, which meant a cafe and probably a doughnut king have to be relocated (so does my local book store for a similar reason). but the thing is, the center management are talking to the higher ups, not the grunt monkeys at the bottom of the food chain, but everyone seems to think that the people that work in my supermarket know what’s happening everywhere else and unless you know the people personally involved, you’re not going to know or get reliable information. However, after months of putting up boards and sealing off sections for construction, the center management bring over some pamphlets for us to have at the service desk and possibly hand out to customers. To say there are communication problems in the retail sector would be an understatement. People aren’t very good at separating personal and professional.

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