August 22, 2010 in Business

Intolerant atmosphere could come back to haunt you

Jan Quintrall
 

Last week, a Montana newspaper reporter called me about an interesting subject: Fox News or CNBC playing on televisions in waiting rooms and reception areas of business establishments. He wondered if the BBB got complaints about businesses that “subjected” customers to various forms of cable news, as many people seem to have strong reactions, either way, to allegedly slanted and divergent messages from these sources.

For example, a few months ago, I gained word of two individuals of dissimilar beliefs getting into a near shouting match in a public place when one of them switched the “liberal” TV news program that was on to a “conservative” news source. Even when I experience certain radio talk show hosts who think volume and hatred increase effectiveness, I feel my blood pressure rise, muscles tighten and level of irritation go off the charts.

So when the reporter asked me this question, I explained that the BBB gets involved when a transaction has taken place. Is a lobby dispute in a place of business – the result of differing beliefs between customers – considered a formal complaint?

BBB is scrupulous and interested in hearing about various dynamics out there that affect business, and this, frankly, could be something to be more attentive about. Obviously the subject raises the curiosity and emotions of many.

What type of “air” does your workplace give off to your customers? Are you tuning them out when they walk in, simply with the TV or radio station you are playing? You could be and not even know it. If we are, does this mean we are losing touch with our mission? Are we thin-skinned, or is this just par for the course, and we are simply getting less tolerant each day about how others think? When does this lack of tolerance and single-mindedness turn us into zealots or fanatics? Better yet, when does this turn off your most precious commodity, your valued customer? Does silence in the face of our beliefs and values diminish us? I’ve even asked myself that question.

Later in the week, I had an interesting experience at a nice restaurant on the South Hill while a friend and I were enjoying lunch. Elea Sprinkle, the BBB vice president, and I were trying to get some work done away from the office. There was a booth full of middle-aged men behind me. In this restaurant, voices bounce off hard surfaces and conversations are shared with all sorts of people. It quickly became clear they were unilaterally bigoted against anyone who was not them, including women and nearly every ethnicity and religion on Earth.

Internet connection hang-ups forced us to just chat, enjoy the summer day and great food. But sadly, a peppering of racial slurs, slams against women, and blanket religious persecution was something hard to ignore as it took place behind me.

I am a seasoned person, and at times think I have seen and heard it all, but these men had me shocked. I could hardly believe the spew of “junk” coming from that table. Elea, who was sitting across from me, was equally shocked, but I had the feeling her bigger concern was just how long I could sit there before I said something to these men.

No, I didn’t kid myself that I could change them, but it felt wrong to be subjected to this talk and not point out how inappropriate it was, ask them what European country their families came from, and how unwelcome they could have been made to feel 100 years ago by what they were saying.

Finally, the group of men said something I will not repeat, but which nearly made me choke on my salad. I then turned around and looked the speaker right in the eye. I just looked. After all, sometimes a glare is worth a thousand words. Getting into a debate with them was not going to accomplish a thing but disruption in the restaurant. We walked out soon after that as we overheard one of the men say, “Well, we sure made her mad,” as the others laughed. Sad.

So, in mulling over the questions from the Montana reporter, the experience in the restaurant is what made me deliberate just when we should sit by quietly and do nothing and when silence becomes an endorsement of what we hear and see. I don’t compare the liberal/conservative media messages to a table of bigots, but recalling that restaurant incident gave me a new perspective on why people are so passionate.

When you offer up messages in your business, be aware that if you run too far to the left or the right or do not embrace diversity, you may pay for it.

When did we become so intolerant? When did we quit listening and having thoughtful debates? When did we start stereotyping entire races, genders and religions? Do I now think all white men over 60 are arrogant bigots? No, I don’t. But rest assured, if you openly disagree with me, I will listen.

Jan Quintrall is president and CEO of the local Better Business Bureau. She can be reached at jquintrall@spokane.bbb.org.


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