Friday, February 08, 2013

And Today's Question ...

I was so torn. And I must have looked a bit weird. Joe and I had gone shopping at a very upscale grocery store. We tend not to go there because everything is SO expensive. We were stunned to see that a loaf of bread cost 7 or 8 bucks. I whispered to Joe that we should make an announcement that not even the most expensive bread can take the stink from poo - because most of the people shopping there seemed to be convinced that when they pinched a loaf it would smell of fresh baked money. ANYWAYS that has nothing to do with the dilemma I found myself in.

One of the things I like about the store is that the staff who work there are a very, very, diverse group. I LIKE diversity. People of different ethnicities, differing genders, differing sexualities, differing faith groups, differing approach to body art. It's cool - intentional diversity always is. I did notice that there didn't seem to be anyone with any kind of disability on staff but ... hey we often ride on the back seat of the diversity bus - because that's where the lift is of course.

But today, while I was looking at the bread and thinking, oddly, about poo, Joe came up to me and said that they had hired a young man with Down Syndrome to work in the Deli department. Cool! Very Cool Indeed. Intentional diversity always is. As it happened when we went up to pay for our groceries, thinking all the while about the hugely expensive loaf of bread, I notice the young man sitting on break at the tables near the customer service desk.

Behind the desk was a young man who was groomed to perfection and who walked like he was on a runway. In this case when I say 'he's so gay' ... it's because he was - and out about it and proud about it too. I made my way up to the desk with the intention of saying something about the stores commitment to diversity and how much I valued seeing that as a customer. I wanted specifically to say something about disability in my compliment because, BECAUSE, I was told once by someone who worked in a large shopping centre that they get complaints from a solid minority of customers about 'not wanting to see that kind of thing' in a grocery store. As if people with disabilities curdle milk just by passing by! So I know they are going to get complaints. But I got there, he asked me, sweetly, if he could help me, I just mumbled something about how great the store was. He smiled, like he'd been trained to, and I could tell he was thinking, 'Oh, OK.'

Complainers have the courage to complain.

Yet compliments seem to die in the mouth of the praise-giver.

Which happened to me. Complainers don't worry about how they are taken or understood, they just want their voice to be heard ...


I worried.

Would I be centring him out?

Would I be seen as silly?

Would my disability make my compliment less valuable - in a conflict of interest kind of way.


I didn't.

And I'm not sure I did the right thing by remaining silent. I WANT stores to know that there are customers on the other side of the employment issue ... customers who value intentional diversity ... customers who would come back to a store just BECAUSE of open hiring practises ... customers who think more highly of places that create jobs for all.

But I kept my mouth shut.

So, here' today's question ... should we speak up about these things or, if I had, would it have been seen as placing too much focus on the young man's disability?

I am truly curious to hear what you all have to say.


CL said...

I think that it's good to give this kind of feedback to businesses. Regardless of how we say it, what they hear when they get positive feedback is "doing this thing means $$$" -- and this could result in the business giving more opportunities to different types of employees.

As a gay person, I wouldn't fall all over the place to thank a friend for treating gay people like anybody else. It would be weird, and also it should just happen -- I shouldn't need to be grateful. But when a company features gay couples in their ads, even though I shouldn't have to be grateful for that either, I think it's good to give them a lot of gushy positive feedback. Because there are other forces discouraging inclusion, and I want the company to hear that "LGBT inclusion = $$$" Because I know that if they get that message, they will continue to do things that benefit my community.

When we're just dealing with ordinary people, we can consider the nuances of how we say things and worry about getting it right. But business is all artificial anyway, it all comes down to money in the end. If we can encourage them to direct that money to a diverse group of employees, the ends justify whatever weirdness we might feel about it.

Anonymous said...

Personally I wouldn't approach someone and say something for fear of being misunderstood (hitting on them or something), but I'd use other methods of communication. Is there a comment box? Use it. Is there a website? Comment. Write a letter. Then one can speak clearly and with distinction - which Dave, you are very good at. I think feedback like this, positive feedback reinforcing the current policies is great. If more people did it - then, as CL said the money speaks.

Frieda said...

Well, I think there are different intentions for you to leave "compliments" - and different people they should get.
the shop should be adressed about the courage - yes, it is still one- to give work to a person with disability and how much you appreciate it - and that you would like more! intentional diversity includes disabled people -and lots of them.
For the young man with down syndrome: I think its more about telling him that you are happy for him that he has got this job (an "ordinary" one in a place that is not used to have visibly disabled employees) and that you like that. And that you fear he could be bullied and that you very much hope he won´t and if, he knows to answer. And you hope he can stand the "violent eyes" who stare at him. And maybe you regret that he´s alone and has no other person with disability there to share bad and good experiences with. That he really has your empathy for all - and that you wish him luck. And, although you don´t know him, you appreciate his working there and you wish him all the best.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Frieda, I don't think I could have or would have approached the young fellow with a disability directly. He was just doing something ordinary in an ordinary day, it's the fact that he had the opportunity to do it that is extraordinary so I only wanted to speak to the customer service desk. But you raise a good point and I'd like other people to join in on that too - what about speaking to him directly, I wouldn't, would you?

Anonymous said...

Frieda that is making an awful lot of assumptions about that shop workers life and experiences. How does the fact that his Downs Syndrome is visible make it ok for a stranger to go up to him at his place of work and tell him a,youre happy hes been 'allowed' this 'ordinary' and public job,that you fear he could be bullied and does he know how to deal with that (because presumably this is his first time out in the world showing his Downs face) and that you 'regret hes alone' and has no other 'people like him' to share experiences with (coz the idea he might have a life outside the job where he can chat to friends/lovers/family about the good and bad and everyday experiences of his job,like ya know 'normal' people cant be a possibility right?). Thats just as rubbish as the people who complain about him being there.

Dave,the words died in your throat because your soul knew they were the wrong thing to say. Smile at the shop guy,show your pleasure and acceptance through treating him like any other shop assistant and tell 'the company' that youre pleased about their diversity hiring because like cl says,its the company who need that message of support for their hiring practises,its not the guy himself who needs reassurance that his visibility is ok. That should be a given. It isnt yet but it should be and we'll get closer to that if we praise the power structures for moves in the right direction and treat the disabled people themselves as regular human beings. Being visibly disabled is tough enough without strangers thinking it means they know about our lives and can get 'intimate' with us about them while theyre buying bread.

Mary said...

If I was working shop-floor in a grocery store and a customer approached me and started earnestly telling me how wonderful the diversity of the store was, I would not know how to respond. I'd be all "uh... okay... great... was there anything I can actually help you with?"


you are entirely right that positive feedback should be given as readily as negative. And clearly it's on your mind.

I would suggest perhaps sending a short email, or maybe even a snail-mail notecard, explaining in no more than four sentences that you have noticed their efforts to present a diverse group of employees including those from minorities often discriminated against, and that as a man who falls into several of those groups, their mix of staff is something you value highly and makes you feel very positive about shopping at their store.

That way you're not risking highlighting the "otherness" of any individual staff on the shop floor (isn't the point to get away from public othering?), you're not sailing close to the dreaded "ooh, isn't it marvellous that they'll be so good as to even employ people like that," which I know is definitely not something you want to do! You're keeping it away from the individuals and making it about your response to the shop's positive hiring practices.

Dave Hingsburger said...

I clearly haven't been clear, I was going to give feedback to the customer service representative working at that desk NOT the young man with Down Syndrome. I wanted the customer service guy to take my comment up the ladder to let people know that I appreciated their hiring policy.

Louise said...

You weren't singling him out, though. You appreciated all the other diversity too.
They're bound have a 'contact us' thing on a website - post your comment there, then they get the feedback and you don't get to be embarrassed!

Education: Exploring Online Learning said...

I think you should WRITE a thank you. Not because saying something won't have an impact - it might. Not because saying something as a person with a disability is a conflict of interest - who knows how that will be read. No, I think you should put it in writing because that's what we do with our most important compliments and most important complaints, and what you see as valuable in the store goes far beyond the customer service rep. I think there's something to be gained by speaking a compliment, but to write a positive customer service letter goes further. Those are the letters that get posted in break rooms, etc. Nice letters make people take notice.

Now if only their bread was cheaper....

Glee said...

Yes Dave definitely tell them that you love the diversity of their employees. Mention a few of those types of diversity ie "I love coming here cos your staff are so diverse in culture, religion, colour, and now I see you have employed a person with a disability so I see you are doing the right thing by all. I will be back because of your fabulous attitude in this" or something of that sort. Excellent love it!

Ray C said...

It's an interesting dilemma. I think we are all quick to complain and slow to compliment. I've missed opportunities to compliment for similar reasons and reflected afterwards that I could have made someones day, or at least helped to, without any cost to me.

As CL says a compliment to the company helps against any forces discouraging diversity.

I guess the answer is that we never know how it will be taken, but if the intention is to genuinely compliment then go with it.

Glee said...

Yes I think writing would be the best cos it is harder for them to ignore it and it shows that you really mean it cos you took the trouble to write it down and send it. Gives it much more import :)

Wordshurtorheal said...

Write about it, you want the head of the company to know you feel they are doing the right thing. Let him/her filter it down to the stores. then mention they might want to find more diversity in their bread so you can come back more often:)

starrlife said...

I think it is always about considering the persons feelings more than what is politically correct.. Individually if someone stands out because they are doing a good job - that bears an individual compliment.
As for speaking to customer support I would vote in the no camp, go for the letter for the most effective path for max impact.
For me the cool thing is when diversity isn't diversity but just the new definition of normal ......

Anonymous said...

I believe that it is important to be as quick to compliment as to complain, and it literally never occured to me until I read Dave's post that my compliments might not have value due to my disability. I guess that there may occasionally be an individual who shrugs and says "So what?" when I give positive feedback, but it's okay. Not everyone responds the way we want them to. It doesn't negate the importance of being positive and of commenting on the behavior we wish to see.

Karry said...

A couple of months ago I was shopping and when I returned to the parking lot my car battery was dead. I went back into the store and asked the person at customer service for some help. She made an announcement to employees there and the man who came forward and offered to help had Down Syndrome. He jumped my car and got me going. I was very impressed and wrote a letter to the store, thanking them for hiring such a polite young man. It just reminded me of your situation.... I am a bit shy and a letter always works better for me.

Anonymous said...

I think the dilemma is HOW to tell. I would not expect the customer service desk to know what to do with this information. They might, but I wouldn’t expect that they would. It’s important stuff, and needs to be dealt with caringly and carefully, so I would write or phone directly to the people responsible for hiring or HR. Or drop a note off at customer services and be clear about who it’s addressed to. Maybe the workers on the shop floor are well versed in the the rationale and politics of the positive about diversity policy, but where I live (and I like in a hippy alternative city in the UK), I wouldn’t count on it.

[REBECCA]scheerer said...

Dave: I apologize for the double post, I accidentally posted this in the comments of another post!

So...I absolutely think we should give our verbal support and praise for those employers who are embracing persons with a disability as valuable members of the workforce.

One night, my family and I went to The Olive Garden (yes, a guilty pleasure of mine) for dinner. my son, Wyatt, who has Down syndrome, was with us and barely a year old. I walked in and found almond shaped eyes staring back at me from behind the hostess stand. A girl with Ds was working hard at seating customers. Then later, I see another set of almond shaped eyes peeking out from the kitchen door! A man with Down syndrome, working in the back of the house.

I promptly pick up Wyatt, walked to the bar and asked for the manager. When he came out, I looked at him square in the face and said "I just wanted to say thank you for hiring individuals, like my son, with Down syndrome. I greatly appreciate that you are supporting them and giving them a fair chance to work."

He smiled, maybe even blushed a little and said thank you. He went on a few minutes, telling me how much everyone gets along and loves the employees. He shared a bit about his personal philosophy.

So, yes, I think we should share! Beccause you never know where someone is in their head about it. They might have just had another customer come up and complain about "not wanting to see THAT in a grocery store." And at that moment, they may just need our validation that they have done the RIGHT THING. Or maybe they were doubting themselves and needed the support and appreciation of another human being.

Disability in the workplace is not a "natural" thing for employers and they don't know how to make it work many times. So if we support the ones who do with our actions and our voices, then one day...hopefully one will be commonplace enough that we don't even think twice about it. But until then, I say, hold you head high and say it loud and proud: THANK YOU for supporting disability in your workplace!

Anonymous said...

Secondly, I want to address the idea that doing this (diversity) means $$$. One commenter has said ‘LGBT inclusion = $$$’. It’s a common belief that LGBT people have money, that it makes economic sense to include LGBT people to get the ‘pink pound’.
Of course there are LGBT people with money, usually associated with education, class, and privilege. There are also LGBT people on low income/benefits, which may be associated with fleeing unsafe situations, mental health issues in turn affected by experiences of discrimination. Trans people in particular may have little or lose everything when others fail to accomodate trans identities and transition, and then there’s the gender reassignment treatment that rarely is available as quality treatment publicly funded.
Beyond this, I’m not sure that there is an understanding that employing diversity = $$$. In the UK the economic recession, anecdotaley, appears to have lead to less opportunities for people with disabilities to get into employment, particularly the unpaid volunteering which seems to be necessary for disabled people to ‘demonstrate’ employability.
Where i am, it seems that when there is a workforce shortage, there are opportunities for people with learning disabilities in sectors such as gardening, catering, retail. When there is a recession, people with learning disabilities are seen as costing MORE as employees because of assumptions about needing extra training and supervision. If this is the case, it may be balanced by long service and reliability as has been demonstrated in some questionairre style research with employers.
I think the ‘doing this thing means $$$’ can actually backfire against (some) identities that we would want to include in the drive for diversity.

Anonymous said...

I think there have been some wonderful answers and agree that in writing to the company would be best. And it does make me thinK of how compliments do need to be given more often to places that I like. L

TMc said...

I don't think you should address the worker. They are just being themselves. I think contacting the management and complimenting them would be appropriate. I agree complimenting is harder (at least for me) and therefore probably done more infrequently. Just this week I was in a national electronic store supporting someone who wanted to purchase a tablet computer. He has CP and uses a wheelchair. He wanted to know if the accessibilty features would meet his needs out of the box or if he would need to buy additional software. The salesman (all of 24 years old) was phenomenal. All of the eyecontact and conversation was directed to the person I was with who was in fact the customer. I felt compeled to call the store manager and compliment the salesman and to inquire if this was an inate quality or if it had it been cultivated by training. My impression is that it was the former. Even though this interaction was as it should be unfortunalty it is the exception and thusly qualified as exceptional service.
Many times I have wondered as a human service professional if I should comment to people that I see in the world.

Beth said...

Yeah, Dave, I'd give the compliment. You're right that negative feedback is so much more common than positive feedback in general. That makes positive feedback all the more precious. If I was struck by the diversity, I'd comment on it. I'd do so by note (or note in addition to verbally) if I wanted the comment to be reliably communicated to others.

That you're part of at least one of the minority groups doesn't, I think, make your compliment less valid. I mean, it's good for them to take note that not only do they employ PWD, some of their customers are PWD, too.

I give positive feedback at least as quickly as negative and I tend to give the compliments in writing more often than the complaints (which I usually begin by giving them an opportunity to fix things before making the problem more "official"). If something very right is uncommon even if it oughtn't be, positive feedback is very valuable.

Jill Faber said...

Dave...I want to thank-you for sharing this. I've been in this position before myself- and the feeling of "let's not make a big deal of this" or "now's the time to be an ally" can be conflicting.

A well written letter to the owner and manager of the store will probably have more impact than telling the customer service rep.

A shout out to your friends and acquaintances in the area to do the same -would also be well received by the store I'm sure.

And why not one more step- a letter to the local chamber of commerce or business association the store belongs to- even the MPP?

Or- as I often do- I just go back another day and admit I wanted to say something the other day and never did..sure I might be greeted with a quizzical stare or two..but I'm always optimistic about the spread of inclusive ideas and open minds.

Anonymous said...

As far as I understand it, the heirachy goes like this;

Talk to a person about a person,
Talk to a manager about the store
Talk to a company about their policy.

I think the reason it stuck in your throat is because wanted to compliment the company, about the store, regarding a person. It messes things up a bit, and could have come out as a "he's so brave to be working" / "you're so kind to take the risk and hire him because *whisper it* HE'S DIFFERENT - and you are too!!". Which doesn't seem like what you wanted to say.

So in this case I would suggest;
Contact the company, and tell them you shop there because you can see that they live up their diversity policy. Let them know the particular store, in case they don't have a policy, and therefore the store is just generally good.

If you wanted to talk to someone in person, then compliment the things they have control over, things that are worth complimenting; aka you don't want to compliment someone for a tick-box hiring choice, you want to compliment them for hiring someone capable, and being openminded to understand what capable means. Maybe compliment them on staff you see supporting other members of staff. Maybe talk to the manager and compliment them on making the store have a community feel.

Just make sure you aren't accidentally complimenting them on a superficial issue (congratulations on putting your disableds on show!!).

Not because that's what you mean, but because that might accidentally be the lesson you teach.

- L

Anonymous said...

$7 for a loaf of bread...How is the toast, must be amazing :)

Extranjera said...

Although I don't generally think that anyone should be complimented for doing the right thing, there are instances where praise is the 'advocate thing' to do.

In this case, in my opinion the company should be praised for their business strategy (i.e. hiring a diverse staff, not just hiring a person with Ds) so that this praise can help to curb any negative feedback, and so that through a financial advantage (as CL writes) something that is not commonplace in our society can become commonplace, the smart business strategy.

So that companies can 'fake it till they make it', so to speak.

amber york said...

I think compliments are few and far between, and that we shouldn't refrain. I say yes, give the man at the customer service desk a compliment. "I am beyond pleased with my shopping experience here every time I come! Can I get customer service information from you? I would love to leave a letter!" (or something of that nature) That way your satisfaction has been shared, you didn't have to dump all of your feelings on one person, and you both walk away happy! Seriously, feed-back like that is shared for the morning staff meeting, etc. That comment will not only lift the spirits of the service-desk clerk, but every employee. And like I said, compliments are few and far between, so everyone will just be thrilled to hear that! And your letter can be filled with every detail and every emotion you have, and it will go to the appropriate person. And I know you weren't talking about approaching the guy with a "disability", but I say go far it! Say to him "hey, I saw you working earlier. You're one hard worker! You deserve that break!" (or something of that nature). You can compliment him without focusing on the disability.

Tamara said...

I like the idea of complimenting businesses on diversity policies. I'm not sure the best way to do that. I can guess that a customer service person would have a process to escalate a complaint; I wonder what their process is for a compliment?

Maybe the best place to start would be telling the customer service representative that you would like to file a compliment and see what kind of reaction you get -

Rickismom said...

a written note would be the job...
and as for approaching the worker with DS? Ricki would have been downright pissed off at that!

Gretchen said...

Enjoyed reading the blog (my first visit).

Compliments are great! As a former business owner, I have to tell you they work! Managers listen to what you say. In fact, companies invest dollars (sometimes big dollars) in people in the form of hiring and/or wage increases, because of the compliments you make. It’s actually a powerful way to make a person’s day too. Think about the last time you received a compliment—it was fantastic, wasn’t it! I realize that time, or shyness, or just about anything can limit the number of compliments we offer. My question: Is this a valid excuse?

The problem: Unfortunately, most people don’t take the time to give a compliment. Feedback counts! Of course, a letter is better not only does it go in the employees file, but the employee gets a copy too. If you’re not a letter writer, then ask to speak with the manager. The manager really wants to know “how they’re doing” from the customer’s perspective. If the compliment is because the employee did something worth writing about, then say it! If you are happy the company gets the value of inclusion, than say that. Words shape the world. Use your words to educate the businesses you frequent and change the world one compliment at a time!