Working in a Public-Facing Role
Strengthening Your People Skills
A business absolutely devoted to service will have only one worry about profits. They will be embarrassingly large. – Henry Ford
Garrick is a district manager for a large supermarket chain. As part of a new initiative, he must spend 20 percent of his working week interacting one-on-one with customers. His aim is to identify their wants and needs, help solve their problems, and show that the company cares about their concerns.
Garrick is excited about the opportunity, but his first week is a disaster. One customer is angry that the store no longer stocks her favorite brand. He tries to smooth things over, but somehow manages to make her more upset.
Another customer tells a long story about his positive experiences with the chain, but then accuses Garrick of not listening when he quickly checks his cell phone. He only spent two days with customers, but, by the end of the week, he feels that he's done more harm than good.
Working in a public-facing role isn't always easy. If you get it right, you and your organization can benefit tremendously. But, if you get it wrong, you damage your organization's reputation – and your own.
Types of Roles
There are many different roles that involve working with the public. For example:
- Manuel works in the PR department, and often speaks to the public and the media about what's happening in his organization. He's also in charge of hosting the community-service events that his organization sponsors.
- Samara works in marketing. She spends the majority of her time using Facebook® and Twitter® to post company updates and interact with customers.
- Leila manages a call-center team in her organization's customer-service department. She resolves issues for customers by phone, email, and online chat.
- Phillip is a manager in a government agency. People often call or email him with complaints and questions, and, sometimes, contact him with compliments on his department's good work.
Even if you don't work directly with the public now, a new role, project, or emergency could mean that you need to in the future. Learning basic skills and best practices will help you prepare for this.
Skills and Strategies for Public Roles
There are many strategies and skills that will help you work effectively with the public. We look at these below.
Develop Emotional Intelligence
When you're in a public role, you'll encounter lots of different people. Some will be from different cultures, some will have disabilities, some will be enthusiastic and excited to talk to you, and others will be angry or frustrated.
That's why it's important to develop emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand your emotions and what they're telling you, and it helps you understand the emotions and needs of the people around you.
To develop it, start by building your self-awareness. Be conscious of what your emotions are telling you, and how they affect the people around you. Then focus on developing empathy, so that you can understand the perspective of the person you're talking to.
If you're shy, working in a public-facing role may cause you anxiety. To combat this, take small steps and challenge yourself. Choose one thing that makes you uncomfortable and do it every day. You might be surprised that, in a few months, talking to people isn't as difficult as it used to be.
The awareness you gain through developing emotional intelligence will also help you to avoid discrimination. For example, you might unconsciously discriminate against individuals because of their social status, profession, or dress. Learn more about this in our Book Insight into Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People, and do your best to give each person the respect that they deserve.
Last, become expert at managing your emotions. This is especially important when you're interacting with someone who's angry, tense, or upset. When you manage your emotions, you stay calm and cool, and you're able to resolve the situation.
Develop Conflict-Resolution Skills
Occasionally, you will need to deal with someone who is angry, upset, or frustrated. Good conflict-resolution skills will not only help you defuse the situation, but, if you handle the opportunity with sensitivity, skill, and respect, you can use it to make a difference in this person's life.
Listening is one of the most important skills that you can use during a tense situation. Make sure that you develop active listening skills , so that you can hear what the other person is saying, and respond appropriately.
Often, conflicts with others aren't the result of your actions. Try not to take their anger or frustration personally. Instead, stay calm, apologize, and focus on how you will help resolve the situation.
At times, people might be rude, or even abusive. When you don't have the skills to handle these types of situations, this can be intimidating. However, learning skills such as assertiveness and self-confidence can help you handle the situation with professionalism and respect.
Often, when people are acting with aggression or hostility, they simply want to be heard. In these situations, stay calm and listen. Let them know that you understand, and ask them how they would like to see the situation resolved. Sometimes you will be able to meet their needs, while other times you'll need to compromise. However, asking for their input indicates that you want to find a solution that works for everyone.
Last, use role playing to prepare for difficult conversations and situations. When you rehearse difficult situations, you're better prepared to stay calm and think on your feet when you're confronted with anger or aggression.
People often forget that comments they make online will be read by a "real person." Because of this, they might express their anger or frustration freely.
Respond to these comments in a polite and calm way. Once people realize that they're not dealing with an automated system, they're likely to adjust their tone.
Good communication skills are important when you're in a public-facing role. You might communicate with people face-to-face, or by email, chat, social networks, or telephone.
First, take our interactive quiz, "How Good Are Your Communication Skills?" to find out how well you currently communicate, and to discover how you can improve.
When you communicate with consumers, be aware that they may have limited knowledge about your organization or industry. Don't use jargon or technical terms that they might not understand. Instead – and without being patronizing – use words and phrases that they're familiar with, and use stories and analogies to help explain technical or complex concepts.
Last, use the 7Cs of Communication as a checklist to make sure that your emails, reports, briefings, or speeches are as clear and concise as possible.
Non-verbal communication is just as important as what you say out loud. Make sure that you smile, look people in the eye, and use body language to convey that you're listening. Also, ensure that your tone of voice is appropriate for the situation.
Working in a public role can be emotionally draining. When you interact with lots of different people, you have to stay professional and positive, no matter how you're feeling.
There are several things that you can do to stay positive. First, use affirmations to overcome negative thoughts. Affirmations can change your entire outlook, and even help you interact with others more effectively. Also, visualizations can be especially useful when you're feeling down, or if you're having a tough day.
In some roles, you'll need to interact with the public all day, every day. This is often called "emotional labor" , because you have to show emotions that you might not feel, and hide the ones that you do feel. This can quickly lead to burnout or emotional exhaustion, if you are not careful.
Take regular breaks throughout the day to relax and unwind, even if this is only for five minutes. Go for a walk outside, stretch, or listen to music that you enjoy. This will give you the strength and resilience you need to make it through the rest of the day.
Know Rules and Policies
When you know your organization's policies and procedures, and you understand why the rules are there, you can navigate difficult situations and keep your organization's goals, values, and expectations in mind.
Working in a public-facing role can be challenging and rewarding.
Several skills will help you work better with the public. First, strengthen your emotional intelligence. Next, learn how to communicate effectively, regardless of whether you're speaking in public or sending an email. Learn how to resolve conflict by listening and by being assertive. Last, know the rules and policies in your organization, so that you can respond quickly to situations or requests.