Clutter and Clarity


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Technicians who procrastinate about their tablet data entry and paperwork-completion are more likely to suffer from the maladies of clutter, verbal junk, and inefficiency. Read the following anecdote for an example about how clutter impacts clarity.

James searched through the mound of papers piled up on the passenger seat of his truck. The accounting clerk at the office had phoned him with a simple question regarding a replacement part number. James could answer the question in 2 seconds, if only he was able to find the right paperwork. He handled every piece of paper in the pile twice, and he was still unable to find the correct work order.

James’ rate of breathing increased, his heartbeat was racing, and he had a difficult time focusing on the task at hand. The more James searched, the more stressed out he became. “Do you want to call me back?” asked the accounting clerk. To which James exhaled loudly and replied, “Um, duh,” and other undecipherable mutterings. “Just call me when you find it,” said the accounting clerk as he hung up the phone.

The relationship between clutter and clarity is profound. Simply defined, clutter is a confused or disorderly condition in which a collection of items are not in their expected places. These items pile up in a conspicuous location, one item eclipsing the other, and the result is a mess.

But wait, there’s more!

Clutter also has negative side effects that limit a person’s ability to communicate with internal and external customers. The undecipherable “Um” and “duh” mutterings are called verbal junk. Therefore, clutter is not just “the mess,” it also includes the damaging consequences resulting from the mess.

James spoke unintelligibly because his brain was dealing with two conflicting messages:

  1. This is a simple question that I should be able to answer.
  2. I am unable to answer this simple question.

James’ brain got locked down in an endless cycle of, “I should be able to,” and, “I am unable to,” and the result was confusion.

The stress response, which activates his body’s defense mechanism, further diminishes his ability to engage in calm, creative, and clear thinking. While clutter is the root cause, it is stress that renders James ineffective. No real threat exists except for the threat to James’s ego. He knows that this embarrassing situation could have been averted had he taken the time to organize, and put away his paperwork.

James’ thinking dwells on the internal questions such as, “Why did I procrastinate?” and, “This is unlike me. How could I let this happen?” This self-destructive behavior involves dominant thoughts about defense and survival. This creates the internal battle that triggers his psychological fight-or-flight response.

This aggressive and narrowly focused mind-set is in stark contrast to the calm perspective required to view the wide panorama of potential solutions. This is what caused James’ “Um, duh” response when asked a simple question.

The cumulative effect of procrastinating results in a reactive stance that is preventable. If James chose not to procrastinate, but rather to organize his paperwork, he would benefit from a proactive stance, which would yield greater clarity, efficiency, and productivity. Yet when service professionals falter due to their own self-imposed hindrances, this reactive environment makes things worse for everyone.

Steve Coscia
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Posted In: ACCA Now, Customer Service

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