Cultivating a Service Mentality

This post is not about volunteering, assisting, or contributing. It’s about shifting perspectives in your interpersonal relationships to a service mentality, from a primary focus on yourself to a focus on the OTHERS’ narrative. In a career context that OTHER is your “customer” – whoever you are called upon to interact with*.

I’ve written fairly extensively about the tendency to emphasize YOUR story/side/justification when dealing with others. This is the “natural” approach, of course. But you need to strengthen the ability to quickly pivot into the shoes of others if you are to excel at resolving disputes, finding effective compromise, placating anger, and, most importantly, advancing your career development.

Creating a Positive Relationship

What triggered today’s post was a series of interactions I’ve had this weekend while traveling to and visiting Fort Lauderdale (though the same kinds of interactions could have occurred in Ft. Worth, Ft. Wayne or Ft. Knox.) The pleasant ones were those in which my take on a situation was acknowledged in some manner and, not surprisingly, the unpleasant ones were those in which my perspective was either ignored or contradicted. Yes, these interactions took place in a classic “service” context (i.e. at rental car agency, at airline check-in, at a ticket booth), not on the job. And it’s certainly easier to see how this pleasant/unpleasant difference would impact your personal frame of mind more than how it would impact your career advancement. But one of the four most important pillars on which career advancement rests is relationship development (the other three being expertise developed through experience or learning, work ethic, and innate talent). Whether you’re applying for a job, interviewing for one, or performing one, it’s essential to constantly remind yourself that you’re looking to create a positive relationship by building “customer” satisfaction (the “customer,” looked at from a career perspective could be a colleague, a boss, a client, or a hiring manager – see asterisk below).

Paying more attention to where the other, your customer, is coming from will certainly yield dividends. To take an obvious example: if an interviewer asked you to name three strengths of which you are most proud, you’d be foolish not to first think about which strengths would be most relevant for the job you’re interviewing. Generosity or bravery, for example, might well be strengths you are proud of, but if you didn’t make it clear how those strengths would benefit the employer you’d be hurting yourself.

Another example, much less obvious: let’s say you’re late in producing a deliverable. Defensively explaining why it’s late provides no benefit at all to the party awaiting the delivery, but presumably benefits you by covering your behind. How could you get this situation to provide a benefit to your “customer”? Perhaps by explaining how you intended to avoid this problem in the future, which would have the benefit of reducing your customer’s anxiety about your reliability.

To put this advice into practice, try to pay particularly close attention to where your mind goes in difficult situations; you will see that it immediately goes into a defensive mode – evolution saw to that as a means of self-preservation. But except in rare instances you should be emphasizing not self-preservation but advancement. Putting yourself in your “customer’s” shoes will help make that happen. I promise.

*The dictionary’s second definition of “customer” is: “A person or thing of a specified kind that one has to deal with”