Service of Nonchalance

March 7th, 2011

Categories: Arrogance, Attitude, Communications, Courtesy, Customer Care, Nonchalance, Public Relations, Responsiveness, Service Personality, You Do It


Cool and calm under pressure is great. But indifference is off-putting. In addition to being unhelpful, the attitude is disrespectful verging on insulting. Nobody expects a sycophant with unctuous manner and nauseating phony smile to direct them, but indifference and lack of concern is equally inappropriate in business as it is in a hospital, library, restaurant, post office, retail establishment, school, airport–anywhere.

A client, I’ll call him Jake, a reasonable, patient, no-nonsense person, described a recent incident that perfectly illustrates nonchalance. I’m thrilled to say that he was not in New York City when this happened.

On signing in to a major show where he was an exhibitor, Jake asked the clerk where the press room was so he could drop off his press kits. The fellow looked totally blank and Jake asked if he’d please find out. He placed a call on his walky-talky. Nobody responded.

noproblemJake got the impression that the sign-in clerk was hoping he’d shrug, say, “No problem, I really don’t need the information,” and go away. Instead, Jake said, “So where can I go to find someone who will know where the press room is?”

Jake followed the complicated instructions to find a show office in this huge conference center–down vast tracts of show floor to a staircase, which he mounted–and eventually he saw signs for the office. He entered. There was a man sitting at a desk, behind a computer, with a walky-talky on a desk. Their eyes met for a second and the clerk’s eyes returned to the computer. Still no greeting or sign of recognition: Total silence. So my client said: “May I ask you a question?” and did.

duhThe fellow still didn’t say a word. He looked at his computer and fiddled with the walky-talky and eventually told Jake that the press room was “down one level to the right.” But these fuzzy instructions in this huge edifice were useless. Jake asked for clarification. In a condescending voice, the clerk repeated what he’d first said adding a tad more directive.

When he entered what seemed to be the right place Jake called out, “Is this where I leave off my press kits for the show?” and immediately, someone came out from behind a curtain and replied, “Oh, I’ll take them! I help with the press.”

Jake observed, “Clearly, this was a PR type,” [Yay!] “She knew how to speak to people.”

I blame the show manager for not telling the sign-in staff where the press room is. How is the press going to find it? It’s tough on staff when they aren’t given the information they need to succeed. I bet that the incommunicative creature in the upstairs show office was the one who didn’t answer the sign-in clerk’s query. Think of the time and energy he’d have saved. I wonder who his model is and how he keeps his job.

Where and when have you encountered such service-killing nonchalance?


6 Responses to “Service of Nonchalance”

  1. Lucrezia Said:

    Let’s not confuse nonchalance with incompetence, which appears to be what client “Jake” was up against. Can’t say I’ve had anything as described happen to me, but someone once said I had a certain “edge” to my voice which strongly discouraged attempts to blow me off. The same has been said of my letters, some of which have produced unexpectedly rapid results.

    Incompetence is not a New York product, but a weed that is found in every business regardless of location. As for “Jake,” he seems to be more than able to take care of himself.

    True nonchalance is a huge asset when used to offset an attempt to insult or downgrade. More often than not, the offending individual is swiftly put in his place by a well placed but non violent slap. It’s a weapon which we would do well to learn to wield effectively.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    A slap! WOW. In today’s climate I would be afraid that “Jake” would end up in jail for abusing the silent man who ignored him and not spend his time in his wonderful booth where he belongs!

    There may also have been some kind of inappropriate power thing going on. This particular show is very hard to get into and Silent Man knows this. [Nevertheless, what an idiot!] Make too big of a fuss and you might jeopardize your chances of getting in the show the next time you want to, though Jake didn’t mention this.

    As you note, you don’t fool with a man like Jake. What gets me angry is what he, the show’s client, had to go through to get information that is his due.

  3. Hester Craddock Said:

    I recall a time when my husband and I went to a good Japanese restaurant in New York where we had eaten many times before. This time it was full of Japanese. After a long wait to get a table (there were plenty of empty ones), and an even longer wait to order, we got the message: We were no longer welcome so we walked out and never went back.

    Sometimes, as in Jake’s case, when you need something the culprits have, like a driver’s license in New York City, there is not much you can do about a nonchalant attitude whatever its cause. If you are rich, then you can go to a motor vehicle office in a small town upstate where people tend to function differently, or, which can save time, just pay the fine when you are caught driving without a license, or even better, if you have a politically well-connected lawyer, you probably won’t even have to do that.

    Regrettably, the scenarios (and the people involved) are predictable, and that doesn’t bode well for anyone hoping to find a cure for this kind of problem anytime soon.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I can’t imagine that Jake wasn’t welcome at the event that had accepted him to begin with. He found a punk and an untrained clerk, both of whom were the show manger’s fault but not a direct attack on him. I think that his experience was a bit different than what happened to you where a Japanese restaurant turned native on you, making it clear that you were no longer welcome. [I take it with the name Hester, you are not Japanese.]

    You offer a great tip to New Yorkers who don’t want to deal with the city Motor Vehicle employees who are famous, like the City Hall marriage bureau civil servants, for being surly and cruel: Go out of town. You don’t even have to be rich to do so. Rent a zip car for the few hours. I don’t recommend driving without a license.

    I’m sad that you find Jake’s experience to be predictable. I thought of it as surprising and remarkable, in that he was exhibiting at a well-attended show with hundreds of exhibitors. Hopefully the exhibitors will find other places to show their things or, before that happens, the organization will wake up and change its staff.

  5. Lucrezia Said:

    In response to JMBs remark about a slap, the one alluded to was “non violent” which should mean non physical. Physical slaps are downright stupid and should be energetically avoided.

    The Japanese restaurant got what it deserved, and its lack of diplomacy may get it in the end. My Chinese restaurant experience involves two friends, long time clients at Hop Lees on Mott Street. The place may be jam packed, with or without Chinese, and the Maitre D shows up with bows and smiles, and always manages to find a table.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I’m glad you didn’t mean a real slap! I take things literally.

    I love restaurants like Hop Lees. Making people feel welcome and wanted is as important as the food, which must be great, given how busy the place is.

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