“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” – Muhammad Ali

Bear with me on this introduction.

Recently, I was preparing an employee training session on creating positive customer experiences, a staple “day-one-of-training” topic in training programs for almost any employee who delivers any kind of service or product.

You remember it, the catch phrases like “the customer if always right” or “put the customer first” or the anxiety-inducing role-playing skits with that fellow employee-turned-actor playing the “irate” customer that is returning a pair of jeans after they’ve worn them.

There is a “philosophy” behind customer service in every organization that ranges from FISH to Elephants (that’s mine – feel free to ask about it) to Gold Stars. This customer “service” thing seems so hard and complicated that companies are outsourcing it faster than almost any service in the world. In fact, the customer service business is now a 92 billion dollar industry.

It got me thinking (about the “why” of course): Why is this so hard? Why do we have to teach people to serve customers (who are, brace for it, actually just other people)? Why do I go on Facebook and see one of my friends posting a thrilled comment about a company saying they were “…blown away that I actually had a good experience at [insert cable company here]?” That company only EXISTS because of the people who need or want that product. Why wouldn’t you serve them and serve them well?

After delivering my two-hour workshop on creating customer experiences, I started thinking more simplistically about who customers are, and why it is so hard for companies and individuals to serve them adequately.

I’ve drawn a semi-conclusion that it all comes down to the fact that we are human beings with a human nature, and we humans seem to not like other people all that much. Before you say, “not me!”, keep reading.

I think it is as simple as this: customers are people, customer service is being nice to other people. (It’s even easier in business because the people actually want or need what you have – but we struggle greatly even in this setting which demonstrates a more fundamental problem with us humans).

As I reflected on my training session, I literally spent two hours teaching people that smiling and listening are good behaviors. And here’s the thing: it works. When employees take a few minutes to reflect on these basic principles, they become more motivated, they see customers as people, and more than likely profit turns for the better because 82% of the time, customers repurchase from a company from which they were satisfied.

This all led me to a larger question much bigger than customer service: How did we, as people, get to this point? Why are we spending billions of dollars teaching people how to be nice to, and serve, other people?

This past week, at work, around the city, and in stores, I observed how people react to one another. I also reflected on the countless conversations I’ve had with my own employees and friends.

What I found is that almost all of the problems we have with our work and our lives, aside from money (but that is another blog), come down to the very “things” that give us our work, lives, and even money – PEOPLE.

So, why don’t we like who we need? After my observations, I came up with 4 Reasons Why We Don’t Like Other People, and within each of those four reasons, I have also listed why these very reasons are actually good and necessary to our journey to becoming better versions of ourselves.

4 Reasons Why We Don’t Like Other People (and why we should)

1. People are inconvenient.

Other human beings force us to abandon the comfort and security of thinking about only ourselves. Whether we are trying to make a left turn, going through security at the airport, or trying to get out of the grocery store to get home – there they are… people.

At work, when people think differently, or communicate differently, they make things harder, for us.

In our personal lives, when we selectively invite people out to dinner, or intentionally skip answering specific phone calls, we are avoiding the inconvenient situation of having to “get to know” other people.

In our relationships, we actually have to sacrifice things about ourselves for other people. Sacrificing is not fun.

Why inconvenience is good, and necessary: Inconvenience drags us, kicking and screaming, out of our own isolation. It makes us frustrated and angry and reveals parts of ourselves that are typically buried deep down. No matter how much community service we do, or how much we post on Facebook that we love all people, face it, we are generally prone to be selfish. Getting that annoyed feeling when someone in front of you pulls out 22 coupons at the grocery store is really just a symptom of your underlying selfishness, a sniffle that tells you that you have a cold – and you might want to do something about it. Inconvenience forces us into encounters, into a space and time that we would otherwise never find ourselves in. But most importantly, it pulls us, in moments like driving home from work when all we want is to be at home on our couch, out of the dark hole of isolation and forces us to realize that without the construction worker delaying your drive home, well, you wouldn’t have a road to drive on at all.

2. People cause discomfort.

In my opinion, the core reason why we do not like other people is because deeply at some level, they make us feel uncomfortable. Whether it is that person who talks a bit too slow for your liking, or the co-worker who never makes eye contact, or the person who has a different political affiliation listed on their Facebook profile.

Or, it may be the person that does exactly what you have devoted as your life’s work to, better than you. You have to work harder, and that is uncomfortable, so why not drag them down with you?

Or, on the other side, let’s take someone who you’ve convinced yourself that you have every reason to not like. You think they are mean, immature, disrespectful or conceited (and they may very well be). They force you to stand up for something. They force you to engage and to not only feel good about your values, but actually publicly display them. Moreover, these people call you into question: Are you going to act or not? Are you going to give that person feedback or let them keep living like they are living? Many times we just choose avoidance, because acting means discomfort and confronting our values is uncomfortable. Avoidance is easy.

Why discomfort is good and necessary: I challenge you to examine your life and find a moment when you learned something profound and at the same time you were comfortable. Learning has a twin and its name is discomfort. As people, we avoid it at all costs. That is what makes online shopping so appealing, or fake sick days so great, or why some of us hope to get a voice mailbox when we call someone at work. We can sit on our comfy couches and avoid the discomfort that other people cause us, but in that same time we miss out on learning, the immense learning that can come when we sit down and talk with someone who disagrees with us, or when we have to bring ourselves to humility and learn from the person who does what we do better than us. When we learn, we become better, and people facilitate our own self-growth through causing us discomfort. Embrace it.

3. You are what people sense you to be.

Have you ever worked really hard on a home improvement or craft project and then when you are completely finished it looks nothing like the picture on the instruction booklet or on the Home Depot “project guide”? It’s disappointing. As people, we work tirelessly to build our reputations. We even spend the time to carefully tell people what kind of people we are through quotes, blogs like this one, houses, cars, and careers.

For all that work, at the end of the day people’s senses define us. Taken together many philosophers have asked the question: If people can not see us, feel us, or hear us, than do we exist? Our only hope of a human self-definition comes from what others perceive of us. At the end of the day, in this earth’s life, that is all we have to measure ourselves against. We don’t have a reputation without others. And more times than not the reflection others give us of ourselves doesn’t match up with the image we so meticulously try to project.

The reflection we get from others reveals our beauty and flaws in a way we could never hope for on our own. This is disquieting. That we may work so hard to create an identity and then for it to be reflected back negatively crushes us.

When this happens, we tend to freeze up, and then the denial sets in. We start by saying, “I don’t care what other people think” or “I am living my life and you live yours.” Just by saying we don’t care what people think, we are demonstrating that we care deeply what people think and that our identity hinges on that fact that others’ thoughts matter. If no one thought anything of you, would you even exist at all? And who doesn’t want to exist?

When we do this, we miss out on the revelations others can provide us. Granted, and let me be clear, not every reflection is warranted, just, or fair, but by ignoring all of the perceptions others have of us because of a few bad ones, we sets ourselves back in building the best versions of ourselves.

Why others’ perceptions are good and necessary: Others’ perceptions of us are like free research data that we can use to assist us in the journey of developing into our best selves. People provide us with what our existence’s reality is in this world. It may be tough to face, but when we can gain from it instead of pretending we don’t care, that is when we truly become better. Better yet, ask people for their perceptions so you’re never surprised by what people’s reflections are of the image you’ve been working so hard on.

4. You need people…

For all of the above reasons.

– Zach