When “No” Means “Yes” and “Yes” Means “No”

A few years back, I used to teach English part-time at a small language school.

One day, since the owner was out of town and no other teachers were available, I was scheduled to have 9 hours of lessons with a one-hour break in-between.

A couple of days before that, I received a text essentially saying: “Another student signed up, you will teach 10 hours without break.”

After giving it some thought, I declined the lesson citing not only personal reasons but also why it wouldn’t be the best for the owner’s business. Having received a response saying “what you mention really makes sense” and her immediately rescheduling the lesson, I thought I would share my thoughts from that day.

When "No" Means "Yes" and "Yes" Means "No"

It’s not uncommon to hear phrases like “put your customers first.” And, I think it’s a good approach in most situations. However, there are some situations in which it can be a bit tricky.

It was easy to look at the calendar, and – when the customer asked “Do you have a slot available on Friday?” – answer “yes.” It was easy to “put the customer first” by offering him what he asked for.

However, by answering “yes” to the customer’s direct question, the answer to some other questions the customer might have been asking in his head – like “will I be provided with a great lesson?” – became a “no” at worst and “not-a-certain-yes” at best.

Sure, 10-hour shifts without a break might work in manufacturing and other non-customer-facing industries.

After all, when people buy – let’s say – cars, they don’t see the faces of those that manufactured them. Interaction with the people on the assembly line is not a part of the product.

As such, any potential moral, ethical, and legal issues aside, the customers don’t mind whether the person who made their car worked five or fifteen hours that day. What they care about is that the car offers a good value, doesn’t break and that they get good gas mileage.

That’s not the case with services like one-on-one lessons, though.

In that case, the teacher is the product. The teacher’s full attention is crucial.

Assuming the teacher is good, as long as he’s happy and full of energy, the student will have an enjoyable lesson and be happy. If the teacher’s too tired, the student will notice, and his experience will not be as good.

In a case like that, I believe, it should be “employees first.”

In fact, since your employees, in that case, are your product, by “putting your employees first,” you are also “putting your customers first.”

You are doing so by ensuring that they get the best possible product.

You are doing so by saying “yes” to the question that they are really asking – “will I get the best possible English lesson for the money?”

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