I don’t have the world’s best poker face. My emotions tend to be obvious. If I think you’re a fool, it shows.
As a people manager, I’ve had to temper my natural responses. With good employees I don’t need to worry. With my problem children, it takes a lot of effort to keep a neutral countenance.
I’ve gotten better over the years. I can think of one example in which I did a marvelous job of keeping my feelings to myself. I had one horribly high-strung employee I’ll call Mara. She freaked out at nothing and had a temper like a bulldog with an oozing toothache.
Her boyfriend also worked for us, and keeping her happy was almost a full-time job for him. Watching them reminded me of an old song by the Canadian band the Northern Pikes called, “She ain’t pretty, she just looks that way”. I could see the physical attraction, but I have no idea how any male could put up with her antics. I digress.
Mara yelled at customers and coworkers alike. She cried a lot. I couldn’t stand her. She sucked people of their energy.
One morning after a particularly bad phone call, Mara walked up to my desk and announced, “I’m leaving.”
“Are you leaving for the day?” I asked.
“No, I am never coming back.”
This is where the poker face practice came in. I wanted to grin like a Cheshire cat, but I was afraid I would jinx her leaving. Normally, when you put a lot of money and time into training an employee, you want to get your money’s worth. That means you try to talk them into staying, particularly when your call centre has high turnover. With Mara, I felt like I’d just hit the jackpot.
I had to at least pretend that I cared, especially since we were in the middle of the call centre floor surrounded by other employees. So I asked what happened and was there anything I could do to make her stay?
This started sobbing and screaming on Mara’s part. I was smart enough to get her the heck off of the floor. Crying panic doesn’t do much for the rest of the troops. I herded her to a quiet corner while she yelled about how awful the job, the people and even the city were. She wanted to leave all of them and she was never coming anywhere near the place again.
I wanted to dance a jig, but I kept my serene manager face plastered on. I told Mara I understood her feelings, wished her luck, then whisked her towards the front door. I made sure to take her security pass. If she changed her mind, I didn’t want her getting back in the building.
Only when she was gone did I skip back down the hall to my desk. I went straight to my computer and did the electronic processing required for her termination in record time. It was a good day.