It was a recent Friday afternoon and I was making my way up to the front of the line at the Murphy USA station with my bag of low cal chips and my 100 calorie special k cereal bar. I frequented this particular Murphy station often for my prefered snack of low calorie goodies and diet vanilla coke. But on this particular day I was just buying the chips and bar. “What, No soda today?” she asked in her exceptional friendly way of speaking. “Nope, i’ve already had a couple” I responded. “I know that’s right honey, I know I can’t have more than one or two a day myself or i’ll be up all night” she said brightly. “You want a bag for your stuff, sweetie?” she continued. “No thanks” I responded, thinking to myself, she said two of them today, I wonder if we’ll get the trifecta. I handed over my money and she quickly tapped on the touch screen with well practiced hands. The drawer popped open.. And within a second she had exchanged my five dollar bill for a a single and some silver coins. “You have a good weekend, Baby” she said with a hint of rural carolina accent in the voice. “You too” I responded by rote, thinking to myself, she did it.. The whole trifecta in about thirty seconds!
She was one of them, I think of them as honey, sweetie, baby girls. Everyone has met them, but I think you run into them in the south far more often than you would expect. I don’t recall if this is the case from my time traveling the rest of the country but it seems every other waffle house and every third gas station has a honey, sweetie, baby girl who is part of the front line service staff. Their charming and affectionate manner aligns well with customer service as well as the patrons of these types of establishments. They pepper their speech patterns with terms of endearment that are significantly beyond what you would expect in casual conversations.
I don’t know what motivates the affectations of affection in their speech patterns. Maybe it was an absent father figure. Maybe it’s low self esteem. There probably are as many reasons for this type of behavior as there are people who exhibit it. I had always classified them as different, but it was because I was writing this blog, and the long form writing project, that the point of this post hit me. I’ve been trying to quantify what makes a professional a professional, and it’s come down to the fact that it’s not one thing, for example a degree from a four year college is not the only identifier of a professional individual contributor. This is one of the separators between the professional the non-professional.
Part of what makes a professional what they are is how they communicate. I have never been in a meeting with a female engineer and have had her say “here are the CAD drawings I just finished for the new capacitor housing, honey.”. I doubt any HR professional said “well we gotta let you go, but you can get COBRA, baby”
Spoken communication is independent from education, although they are somewhat aligned. It is independent from your job. I’ve been in several waffle houses with very well spoken wait staff. The words we use is very similar to how we dress, it is an identifier, it makes us unique yet still identifies us as part of a group. It is a way to fit in with a peer group. It’s something that starts young and becomes a habit, a comfort area. It’s a habit that’s probably as difficult to change and as uncomfortable feeling as if someone to switched from boxers to briefs.
Professionals have either avoided the problem or have changed their speech patterns to fit into the professional world. We don’t use inappropriate speech for the most part. If we do, then we either aren’t professionals for too long or we accelerate our job hopping. This isn’t to say that Professional Individual Contributors and management doesn’t have our own issues with our verbal communications. Although these tend to around the dreaded filler words such as “Um”, “So” and the dreaded “like”.
Communication, like our professional uniforms, is all about projecting an impression. Professionals have our own words and patterns that help us be professionals. How we communicate, right down to the words we use to convey a connection to someone we serve tells the world we are professionals. And as professionals we get this. The cashier at the beginning of this post doesn’t get that, and it’s one of the reasons why she’s a cashier at a Murphy.
Just because we ‘get it’ doesn’t mean we put it into practice. I believe that PIC’s should always be mindful of the words they use. If PIC’s can tune the words they use, it may be easier to accomplish the things they wish to accomplish at their organizations. But hey, if your reading this you are most likely already a professional, and that means you already know what I mean, sweetie!