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14 Aug '13

I just wish someone would listen

Posted by T.J. Addington in listening
I am currently staying at a hotel in Kinshasa, Congo, a sprawling city of some 12 million people. My hotel stay has been both a blessing (running water, electricity, a toilet and air conditioning) and a lesson in patience (worst internet service ever, marginal food and terrible service).

The service thing! What is that? It seems to be non-existent in my hotel. That I am paying to stay here seems to staff a privilege rather than the right to expect service. 

The other day I needed TP which had not been restocked by the maid cleaning the room. I made three calls to the front desk with them telling me each time it was on the way. When it never arrived I went down the front desk in person, told them I was not leaving until the TP arrived and just waited. The front desk guy calls the general manager of the hotel (I guess it takes his OK for everything) who OK'd the TP. Three hours of frustration and no one cared. Time after time I have been told that something cannot be done.

Another thing. The guy who runs the hotel is Chinese (like many enterprises in Congo, the hotel is owned by a firm in China) who doesn't speak French and the folks who work in the hotel don't speak Chinese so communication is a constant issue. And of course almost no-one speaks English notwithstanding the fact that they have contracts with the US Embassy and the UN. All of which means that getting a problem explained from English to French to Chinese back to French and back to English is well - a recipe for major frustration. The guy who actually runs security for the hotel (a big deal in Kinshasa) has to speak to the General Manager through an interpreter which seems just a mite bit scary. I'm thinking the US Embassy would not like that scenario.

So I could go on but will forgo my other issues like the day it took all afternoon and conversations with eight people to get a room change. (Yes it came down to the GM in the end. He must be a really busy guy because it is a big hotel.) But I found myself really wanting to just talk to someone who would listen about the frustrations I had. I tried numerous times but everyone seemed to shrug their shoulders and say sorry and do nothing about it.

Then riding up the elevator last evening I met a guy from France who runs the hotel's restaurants and told him my list of woes about the service in the hotel. This guy (Angel) stayed on the elevator until he got to my floor, listened carefully, apologized profusely and told me the inside story. Evidently I was not the only one who experienced frustration and the GM who had to be called to give me TP was just yesterday dispatched home and a new GM has arrived to whip the place into shape.

The fact that I found someone who would genuinely listen to me, respond non-defensively and really care - and told me to call him if I encountered any more issues evaporated most of my frustration.

Which got me to thinking about a principle. When people are frustrated for whatever reason, if there is no one to listen and dialogue that frustration can turn into anger, bitterness and untrue assumptions. I see it in churches all the time. But when a leader will sit down and genuinely listen, be non-defensive and genuinely want to understand it makes all the difference in the world. You may or may not be able to solve the problem but listening and understanding is half the battle.

Until Angel came along, no one listened or seemed to care which caused frustration. His listening and and non-defensive attitude made all the difference. A lesson for all of us. Next time I have a problem Angle is my phone call rather than the front desk. And he does speak English. 

Oh, now I know why I should have paid attention to my French classes in Junior high. But I guess it is too late.