Commentary by Thea Wasche
50th Force Support Squadron director
I’ve had the privilege of directing the 50th Force Support Squadron for more than two years. While the many faces in the squadron change, our commitment to provide first-rate support, service and programs for all personnel and their families has not. Our team is committed to providing service and information with distinction and accuracy as well as delivering it with reliability and professionalism.
In a 2002 survey conducted by Public Agenda, 79 percent of Americans say a lack of respect and courtesy is a serious national problem. Seventy-three percent say we were accustomed to treating one another with greater respect in the past than we do today.
I believe we are very fortunate to be in the Air Force where discipline and respect is ingrained into our culture, but there is room for improvement.
We should also hold ourselves to those values when we are customers. As customers, we should avoid belittling and/or intimidating the employee behind the customer-service counter. Such condescending attitudes make it an unnecessary challenge for the serving employee (regardless of whether civilian or military, young or with added experience) to respectfully take care of our needs.
Arrogance has no place in our Air Force.
A more senior member, or anyone for that matter, never has the right to be contemptuous or rude. In the military, our necessary and proven rank structure automatically lays out professional customs and courtesies. But regardless of our own rank, age, or position, service personnel deserve respect.
Respect is acknowledging the value and uniqueness of others and being mindful of their feelings, while at the same time trying to put ourselves in their position. Respect comes from Latin “re” meaning “back” and “specere” meaning “look at,” so it all comes back on how we “look back at” ourselves and others.
The person behind the counter is there to serve us, the customer. They are trained to answer our questions and help us with our requirements, otherwise they wouldn’t be there. Most are bona fide experts, and the others are striving to be those experts. All are professionals and proud of it.
That doesn’t mean I should turn off my analytical mind when they respond to my question, or that I shouldn’t question their answer. Their answer should stand up to any further questioning or clarifications, and should always make sense. If it doesn’t, then perhaps communication isn’t complete, and asking questions may uncover unstated assumptions from one or both parties, or uncover misunderstandings. Seek the true answer, not a chance to intimidate if you happen upon a rare answer that stumbled.
The “expert” should always know his or her own limits of knowledge, and know where to go to answer a question beyond their abilities, whether that means looking it up, making a phone call, or even consulting the more senior colleague in the adjoining desk or the supervisor. Customer service personnel have the added pressure of the customer waiting on them to provide the answer.
The goal of most career civilians, and virtually all career military, is to strive to become leaders as they progress up the experience ladder. It’s good to keep in mind the following wise advice from American speaker and author, Jim Rohn — “The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; and have humor, but without folly.”
The next time we are helped by someone behind the counter, let us remember to use humility and respect. Such kindness will show an accurate assessment of ourselves.