I work with the public. I am a face behind a sheet of plexiglass and people talk to me through a hole in that glass all day long. No, it’s not at all like a glory hole. Thanks for making that joke in your head, though.
It doesn’t matter what I do. I could be a DMV worker. I could be the guy who sits in a toll booth all day. I could be someone who works in the office of the person who runs your town, county or state. I could be the person who is going to help you through a very trying court process. Whatever I do as a civil servant, I am there to assist you, the public. I’m there to help.
Here are some guidelines you can follow to make your visit to a government agency a pleasant experience for both of us.
*Don’t come in with a bad attitude. I am not the reason why you are there. Don’t yell at me. Don’t talk at me and don’t talk down to me. If you speak nicely to me, I will speak nicely to you. But if you are loud, rude or condescending my desire to help you with your problem is going to plummet. Remember that we are there to help you. If you come in with the attitude that all civil servants are surly, lazy and horrible human beings who eat the souls of babies to stay alive, it shows in your attitude. Come in with a smile and we will smile back at you! Really!
*You want an explanation of something? Great. Allow me to speak, then. Let me answer your questions or explain a process without interruption. I don’t want to start the explanation over and over again. You really don’t want to listen to my voice go up an octave every time you make go back to the beginning.
*If you are coming into the office to keep an appointment, please check before you come what time your appointment is and what room it will take place in. Don’t come up to the counter and say “I’m supposed to be here today but I don’t know where or when and I left all that important paperwork with the date and time and place home because that’s what you’re here for, to look this shit up for me!”
*I’m sorry if I haven’t told you what you want to hear. I’m telling you how it works. I’m telling you the correct procedure, process, etc. If that doesn’t coincide with what you wanted to hear, I’m terribly sorry for that but don’t get belligerent with me because things are not going your way.
*Don’t be demanding. I am not your lackey. It may be my job to help you, but it is not my job respond when you point your finger and yell at me to do your bidding.
*Pay attention to signs. If the sign says “Please wait until you are called to approach the window” that doesn’t mean “Barge ahead of everyone because you don’t want to wait in line because your business is more important than anyone else’s.” If the sign says “No cell phones” then don’t use your cell phone. We’re trying to work with people here. Your very loud discussion with your friend about your gynecologist appointment is distracting and rude.
*Don’t get agitated and start complaining if the person currently being helped is taking too long. When it’s your turn at the window, you’ll want us to give you undivided attention and do everything we can to solve your crisis or help complete your task, so expect us to do the same for everyone. That includes the person ahead of you who is taking longer than you’d like.
*Don’t stuff food in your mouth while you are talking to us. Thanks.
*Be prepared. If your visit to my office requires you to show me paperwork, complete forms or anything of that nature, don’t show up with all your papers shoved into a plastic grocery bag, then dump them on the counter when I ask to see them. Especially do not do this if your papers smell like stale cigarettes. Have everything in order before you reach the counter. Don’t waste my time and the time of every one else waiting for help by spending ten minutes shuffling through your papers in front of me. Also, bring a pen and any pertinent information you might need. If you approach me with something like “Yea, can you tell me what to do about this thing that I have no paperwork for and very little information for you to go on?” I’m going to send you home.
*Do not ever say to me “You’re a civil servant. My taxes pay your salary, so you have to do what I say.” Just don’t. I will either walk away from you or do everything in my power to make sure you don’t get what you need today. You know what? My taxes pay for your kid’s public education. If you come to my office and demand things of me because you pay my salary, then I’m going to come to your house and demand to hover over your kid while he does his homework to make sure my taxes aren’t being wasted.
*Although I am considered a civil servant, I am not your servant. When you approach my little window, I start off with a smile and a pleasant “Can I help you?” How it goes from there is entirely up to you. If you treat me as if you are somehow better than me because you’re on the other side of the window, if you talk to me like I’m below you, if you raise your voice, start off on the defensive or are demanding in any way, our time together will rapidly deteriorate.
*In my particular situation, I spend a lot of my day on the receiving end of insults, threats and misdirected anger. I manage to maintain my smile and (mostly) pleasant demeanor for eight hours. It’s not easy. But I feel as if every person who comes into that office at first deserves the most help I can give them in the most pleasant way possible. I greet every person with the respect I assume they deserve. I don’t think it’s a lot to expect to be treated the same way..
*The last thing: Please, every once in a while, say thank you. Tell someone they’ve been helpful. If our job is to help you, it’s nice to know once in a while that someone recognizes we’ve done our job right. We know it. But a smile and a thank you goes a long way toward helping us put up with the next person who yells at us.