When a Customer Makes a Sexist Remark By VanSight
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The Situation While customers probably use sexist language less these days, employees still encounter sexist remarks much more frequently than many of us would think. Both men and women can be the victims of sexist comments, but women are more likely to be the targets. We’ll look at one way to deal with a somewhat indirect, demeaning, sexist remark. 3
Techniques Used 4 Not Taking the Bait Refocus Pros and Cons
Dialogue 5 The employee is a car mechanic who is highly qualified and expert at her job. The customer, unfamiliar with having a woman work on his car, expresses a lack of confidence in an obnoxious, sexist, and insulting way. Customer: Look, I want someone to look at my car who knows what he’s doing. Isn’t there a man around? Employee: If you are concerned about my experience, I’ve been a mechanic for over 10 years and I’ve had my license at least that long. Now, you mentioned a funny noise coming from the engine. Can you describe it for me?
Dialogue 6 Customer: I don’t see how a woman can know anything about cars. Employee: Well, the thing is that if you want your car fixed today, I’m the only person available. So it’s up to you what you want to do. Do you want to discuss the problem with your car so we can get it done for you? Customer: OK, let’s do it.
Explanations 7 While the sexist remarks are exceedingly demeaning and insulting, notice that the employee refuses to be drawn into an argument about the ability of women to fix cars. She realizes that if the customer is sexist, it’s not likely that arguing with him is going to change his mind. So, first she avoids the bait. She very briefly assures the customer that she is experienced and skilled, but almost in the same breath she refocuses back to the customer’s reason for being there—the problem with the car. Unfortunately, the customer responds to the refocus with another sexist comment. The employee responds by providing incentive for the customer to put aside his prejudice (really a Pros and Cons technique), by explaining that if he wants the car problem repaired today, she’s the mechanic he will have to deal with. Faced with this reality, the customer gives in.
How to Diffuse the Situation 8 There is a difference between sexist remarks and behaviors and a legitimate desire to work with a man or a Woman. For example, a man arranging a psychotherapy session may have a legitimate desire to work with another man (or a woman) because he feels more comfortable and his comfort may be essential to the success of psychotherapy, at least for him. His request to work with a man (or woman) isn't based on any prejudice about male or female competencies. However, when a request is phrased in terms that imply one gender or the other is inferior, then the request is sexist.
How to Diffuse the Situation 9 While sexist remarks may cause considerable anger, remember two things: you aren’t going to change the other person and the person is a stranger whose opinions shouldn’t be allowed to control your emotions. There’s no point in arguing. However, when a customer makes sexist remarks over and over and it’s clear that his or her attitude is going to prevent you from doing your job to help, you can consider terminating the conversation or giving in and arranging for the customer to be served by someone else—of the preferred gender. It’s a judgment call. You can also refer the individual to a supervisor.
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