If you're a fan of the 90's sitcom Seinfeld then you may be familiar with the fictional holiday Festivus. Though there are a number of different Festivus traditions, the one that always sticks out in my mind is "the airing of grievances."
As the name suggests, it's essentially where people vent about the different ways they've been disappointed by others throughout the year. It's so contrary to most of the things we normally associate with the Holiday season – joyfulness, cheer, and gratitude – which is part of what makes it such a funny idea.
If you work in customer support, sometimes it feels like you're continuously on the receiving end of the airing of grievances for customers. It's a lot to handle. And, in some cases, it may inspire you to feel the need to air your own grievances.
And while venting is certainly an important, and sometimes needed, coping tool, spending too much time focusing on the negative can quickly take you from catharsis to crisis. You might start feeling less motivated at work, causing the level of service you offer to drop, resulting in even more customer complaints. It's a vicious cycle, but one you can avoid through one very powerful practice: gratitude.
An attitude of gratitude
The simplest way to explain gratitude is as the act of being grateful. There's no one, or right, way to express gratitude. Some do it through words, others through actions. As your one friend who still owns a hacky sack says, "it's all good."
Though gratitude is important for people of all backgrounds, it's particularly important for customer-facing folks like those working in support. There are a few key reasons for that:
Practicing gratitude can help reduce the risk of burnout by improving overall health. Customer support people deal with a lot of negativity in their day-to-day work. Though gratitude certainly isn't a silver bullet, or an excuse to skimp on other well-being programs, expressing gratitude has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, and even improve sleep for some. These effects can help buffer against the more draining parts of the role.
Having a grateful disposition can aid in building better relationships. Realistically, we do more for people we like. A disposition of gratitude can help build strong relationships with customers, which in term can lead to better outcomes.
Support people are the face of the company to customers who need help. By virtue of that, their attitudes have a higher-than-normal impact on customer sentiment. So, not only does gratitude benefit you, it helps customers and the company at large, too.
Knowing why gratitude is important is a good first step to take, but it has to be put into action in order to have an impact.
As it is with many things in life, consistency is key when practicing gratitude. At first, it may take some effort to come up with something to be grateful for, but the more you do it, the easier it gets. Research shows that when you express gratitude consistently you're actually rewiring your brain to default toward positivity, making it easier to do in the future. Try setting a goal to write down just one thing a day that you’re grateful for, then build on your list over time.
One of the best ways to cultivate any habit is through social support. Whether or not you lead a team, you may be able to engage others to practice along with you.
For example, here at Flight we run a gratitude challenge every November. The premise is pretty simple. At the beginning of the month, we announce the challenge. Then, we send out a daily reflective prompt to encourage our team to think up new things to be grateful for. Everyone is invited to join and can share their answers in Slack.
Make it public
Another way to build gratitude into your day-to-day at work is to create an ongoing public space for people to express gratitude to each other, like our #kudos channel here at Flight.
Building this practice in a public can also inspire others to join in. As more people participate, it becomes more ingrained as part of the team culture and more of a normal habit for everyone. And, the fact is that when people receive praise publicly, it can positively reinforce the behavior that caused them to receive the praise.
Along with a Slack channel, you could also consider doing quarterly team awards where peers nominate one another, then announce the winners at a team meeting. No matter the specific tactic, as long you're intentional and consistent with sharing praise publicly, you’ll reap the benefits.
Sweat the small stuff
When you're trying to think of reasons why you're grateful, it can feel like you need to pick something grand, but it doesn't have to be that way. The small things count, too. Instead of always trying to find big things to be grateful for, try looking for little things. They’re often much easier to find!
For example, maybe you had a customer ask you how your day was going. Or, perhaps, they sent over some information about an issue they were having without you asking for it, making the interaction smoother. These may not be banner items, but they could certainly inspire gratitude for making your day a bit brighter.
By removing any condition or expectation of what something has to be in order for you to be grateful for it, you make it much easier to find things. As the famous TV dad Phil Dunphy very astutely said, "The most amazing things that can happen to a human being will happen to you, if you just lower your expectations.” We’re not saying not to dream big, but rather to appreciate all the amazing little things in life.
Have you ever heard of the Sapir Whorf hypothesis? If not, the basic idea is that the language we use to describe something ultimately dictates how we feel about it. Meaning, if you describe something positively, then you end up feeling positively about it too.
For example, instead of saying you have to work out, you could say you get to work out. Saying it as a "get to" as opposed to a "have to" frames it as a privilege instead of a burden. Each time you choose to frame something positively, you reinforce that feeling and eventually it becomes the default. Language leads your feelings.
You can use the same tactic for customer support work, too. Instead of saying how frustrating an issue was, you could talk about how rewarding finding a solution was. The more you frame things positively, the more rewarding you may find your future troubleshooting to be.
Though around this time of year, you may want to bust out the Festivus pole and start airing your grievances, it’ll likely bring you more cheer to make gratitude your attitude instead.