The Gatekeepers and the Service Providers

Vikram Bath

Vikram Bath is the pseudonym of a former business school professor living in the United States with his wife, daughter, and dog. (Dog pictured.) His current interests include amateur philosophy of science, business, and economics. Tweet at him at @vikrambath1.

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80 Responses

  1. Mo says:

    3b. Laziness/thoughtlessness. It’s much easier to apply a universal heuristic rather than to think about the appropriateness of a policy in all situations.Report

  2. Michael Cain says:

    There are no privacy concerns when a person right in front of you is asking for information about themselves. Rather than being helpful, the form was used as a barrier to helping.

    In this particular case, add “record keeping” to the list of possibilities. At some point the audit may happen, and no one wants to be caught having given out information with potential legal liabilities without having the request on file. Electronic medical records make this even worse, since we have a generally miserable ability to have metadata accompany the copies that happen. Given EMR, the effort to dump a patient’s entire medical history to a flash drive is just as easy as printing a few pages. Easier, maybe.Report

    • Good point in that particular case.

      Then again, obviously at least one receptionist was willing to forego the documentation.Report

    • Jim Heffman in reply to Michael Cain says:

      Exactly. If someone from the FDA comes around asking where the records are and it turns out you haven’t been following the exact proper procedure, your supervisors will throw you to the sharks without even blinking. And heck, they have to, because the FDA needs to Make Examples Of Someone to show that they’re In Charge. Pour encourager les autres.

      And, y’know, nobody ever got fired because they followed procedures too closely, or erred on the side of conservatism.

      So where’s the incentive to be reasonable?Report

    • dragonfrog in reply to Michael Cain says:

      Same thing probably goes in the situations that produce Mordacs, preventers of information services.

      In order to have predictable and manageable IT systems, management has introduced a cumbersome and unusable system of change control and inventory management. Each time there has been new outage or incident, the post-incident review process identified failures of the change management process that might have contributed to the problem, and introduced even more steps, approvals, and risk assessment scoresheets, and made them apply to ever simpler and more straightforward changes than before, making the system even more cumbersome.

      And woe betide the sysadmin who makes any change not properly ticketed and approved, that ends up producing an unintended effect.Report

    • Of course, my solution in this particular case is that I ought to be getting a copy of everything that goes into the (mandatory now?) EMR systems. There’s no one else that’s as interested in having a complete medical record that stays intact as insurance forces me from one provider to another over the years than me.Report

  3. Saul Degraw says:

    1. I think this is the general problem that can be observed in a million situations. The DMV is the canonical example of service providers acting like gatekeepers according to a million complaints. FWIW I have never really had a problem at the DMV. I’ve had a problem as a contract lawyer at firms where I ask a case assistant for information or if they can do something for me and gotten a polite but firm no. I suspect that in those situations if I was a full-associate, they would have responded differently. Being a contract attorney is a weird place where you have more and less status that full-time staff simultaneously because you are an attorney but also a freelancer.

    2. I don’t think I have a gatekeeper orientation and I suspect that gatekeeper orientation arises from multiple reasons. It could be a passive-aggressive form of class welfare. The classic gatekeeper seems to be a very low-level person like the medical receptionist in the example you gave for your wife or a clerk at the DMV office. In Gabriel’s example it could stem from feeling like the professors and students acted in an ungrateful and snotty manner towards the admin staff especially the low-level staff. I suspect that some of these people really do see themselves as gatekeepers and think that their job is to act more as a bouncer and prevent whoever is front of them from getting to the boss. I suspect some gatekeepers were told this explicitly and others just got it in their heads for psychological reasons. Maybe gatekeeping causes people to give up and reduces costs for the employer?

    I suspect that if someone hired me and told me to run interference and that they did not want to speak to X, I would do so but in a polite manner.

    3. Almost certainly.Report

  4. Kim says:

    There’s little difference between the two orientations, because they come from the same people.
    You start yelling at a service provider, and instantly you get the harshest treatment you can get.
    You act nicely, sweetly even, to someone who sees themselves as a gatekeeper, and suddenly you deserve the exception.

    Be nice to customer service, they hold a lot of discretionary power, and put up with a ton of shit.Report

    • Jim Heffman in reply to Kim says:

      Discretion is how we get institutionalized racism. White person with nothing but a utility bill from six months ago? Well, we can work with that, after all doesn’t everybody forget their photo ID now and then. Black person with a driver’s license from another state? He’s trying to pull something, and I don’t need proof because you know what those people are like.Report

      • Kim in reply to Jim Heffman says:

        Yes, this is certainly true. It’s a good deal of why I am skeptical of private charities being allowed to do ALL the government’s work. In my not so humble opinion, the government can serve as a safety net for everyone that falls through the charities cracks.

        Jobs, Jail, money and public health. That’s where i’d say “please walk the letter of the law” — a lot of other things can be bent. Is it really a big deal if someone gets a library card a bit easier than the next guy?Report

      • Jim,

        That’s one reason I oppose voter i.d. laws.Report

    • Mo in reply to Kim says:

      There is definitely some of this. I did campus tech support when I was in college and I was much more helpful to the people that were nice to me, weren’t demanding and followed my instructions. Heck, sometimes I broke the rules just to be more helpful. But the people that yelled at me or a colleague, were known PITAs or refused to follow basic instructions definitely got a “did you fill out Form A in triplicate”. In my defense, I was 19, but it was definitely a form of petty revenge. Though rather than it being customer antipathy, it was because I generally liked my customers and felt that the ones who were actually empathetic and understanding deserved better service.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Mo says:

        I did the same thing in college & was the same way. Those who listened & followed directions got better service that those who did not, etc. Heck, there were times I actually got official permission to refuse service to some (like the Korean professor who had lots of Korean students working for him; I had to stop helping him & his students because they would not put their laptops & PCs into english & insisted they could just translate for me; except they had really bad english skills, which meant it took 2-3 times as long to fix machines because bad translations had me hunting down the wrong problem).

        Overall, I was service oriented, but I would fall back to the gatekeeper tactics for known problem customers.Report

    • Vikram Bath in reply to Kim says:

      I think it’s fair to note that people might switch back and forth between the two orientations. The likability of the customer is probably a feature that needs to be added to any complete model of the choice.Report

  5. Kazzy says:

    When I see this and other similar behaviors, I tend to think of your explanation #1 but in a slightly different way: justification of one’s own existence. If I stop you from proceeding, than no one can deny that I am real and have an impact on the world. I am grasping tightly to that which makes me impactful in the hopes of establishing and maintaining meaning for my existence.

    This is common behavior in the children I teach because of developmental processes they are going through. They are attempting to figure out their place in the world — the power they have, the extent of their control, the depth of their impact — and will often engage in seemingly nonsensical or antisocial behaviors in pursuit of it. But, if you consider where they are developmentally, it makes perfect sense.

    Unfortunately, many adults seem to have never moved beyond the developmental level of a four-year-old.Report

  6. Will Truman says:

    Irritation transferrence: I have to live with these stupid rules, and now so do you.Report

    • I think there might be something here. I’d be surprised if the DMV and Post Office treated its own employees particularly humanely. I think it’s more likely that they are treated like advantage-taking children by their employers, and they in turn treat customers the same way. Let’s call this the Do-unto-the-customer-as-has-been-done-to-me hypothesis.Report

  7. LeeEsq says:

    Gatekeepers might be following protocol from their superiors. The ultimate form of gate-keeping is the automoated message system, where you have to jump through hopes to get a living person to help you. I prefer talking to a living person rather than an automoated message. I assume many people are the same. Things usually go faster when dealing with a living person. Living people cost money though so businesses and organizations use automated systems. Gatekeeping might serve a similar function, make sure that customers don’t consume resources by making the use of service providors difficult. As a lawyer, I am very familiar with the gatekeepers from USCIS and the courts.Report

    • Vikram Bath in reply to LeeEsq says:

      This is an interesting association. If you deal with a human reading from a rigid script though, it can be less helpful than a recording sometimes.Report

    • Glyph in reply to LeeEsq says:

      I am going to assume that ‘automoated’ is intentional. I definitely want to automoat my life.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to LeeEsq says:


      “The ultimate form of gate-keeping is the automoated message system, where you have to jump through hopes to get a living person to help you.”

      From now on, I want all automated message systems to begin with “Abandon all hope, all ye who listen to this….”Report

    • Kim in reply to LeeEsq says:

      Automated message systems can be defeated with discrete swearing, often enough.Report

    • TrexPushups in reply to LeeEsq says:

      As a computer programmer I prefer to work with a gate keeper separatting me from the internal customers.

      People making change requests don’t know or care about all the other things I have to work on. Even worse giving them unsought access to me would just create a distraction.

      By making them jump through hoops it gets rid of unimportant requests and helps manage what would otherwise be a firehose of work requests.Report

      • zic in reply to TrexPushups says:

        The ‘anaother story’ in this should be of interest to you:

        Money quote:

        Now I could argue — and I will — that this sort of nonsense is in fact very bad IT policy, because it values an employee’s time at zero. I’ve seen this in a lot of companies, and it’s stupid, and I think it often reflects an IT organization that doesn’t really understand the company’s mission or its role in enabling it.


      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to TrexPushups says:

        This is good too:

        If we knew this all along and voters didn’t, that doesn’t mean voters don’t have a right to be outraged. It means that we’ve lost track of whose side we’re on.Report

      • Thanks, zic. It’s interesting that McArdle seems to take the gatekeeper’s side there and explicitly refers to IT’s hostility as earned by its customers.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to TrexPushups says:


        Every work in an IT admin role?Report

      • zic in reply to TrexPushups says:

        I have, @mad-rocket-scientist and my sweetie has.

        And we’ve both seen this exact mentality repeatedly. Much depends on the philosophy of the person at the top; but if IT is seen as a ‘well-oiled’ machine, and not as a service to the people in the organization so that they can be a well-oiled machine, it’s generally gate keeping.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to TrexPushups says:

        Our IT people are great, fortunately, but our business office people are gatekeepers with a vengeance. Their perspective seems to be that because they handle the money that keeps the institution open everything else it does is just as adjunct to their work, instead of the other way ’round.Report

      • zic in reply to TrexPushups says:

        The fear of theft of a box of paper clips causes a lot of expensive stuff to happen; it’s not really much different than the fear of someone undeserving getting welfare. Costs more to stop than just giving everyone a box of paper clips to take home.Report

      • Every work in an IT admin role?


        And I do get that at some level they have to set up things so that even their dumbest user can’t mess anything up too much. But that becomes a frustration for those who need additional flexibility.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to TrexPushups says:

        @zic @vikram-bath

        In any enterprise IT support organization, you have 2 dynamics at play. The first is balancing flexibility of the end-user workstations. Computer lab PCs will tend to be locked down since one user can affect downstream users if they screw something up, so making the machines idiot-proof is just a good idea. Personal workstations can usually be afforded greater flexibility since the only person affected is the user, so they are shooting themselves in the foot if they nuke their box. Finding the sweet spot for personal workstations is a matter of knowing your user base. Exceptions to the standard permission model should be few & far between, since every single one will result in grousing from users whose actual skills fall far short of their perceived skills.

        The second dynamic is balancing individual attention. You always have a range of users, from those who are good enough that they will only call you when they’ve hit a permissions wall, to those who will call you every time the computer pops up an error message, no matter how obviously innocuous. Usually, when the expert user calls, you can expect the problem to be a head scratcher, so it’ll take time, but overall such users are not a waste of time. The scaredy-cat users can usually be patiently trained to the point of being some of your best users, if you spend the time up front to get them past their anxieties. Such users will often ask for their PC to be locked down so they can avoid mistakes. I had one professor who preferred to work in the labs because they felt more comfortable on those PCs.

        The worst users are those who see themselves as power users or better, but either lack the knowledge & understanding, or the attention to detail, to actually be an expert user, and as such their reach consistently exceeds their grasp. Sometimes this can be handled with additional training, to fill in that knowledge & understanding gap, but too often, such users have an ego that gets in the way of that. These are the folks that will consistently suck up your time in frustrating & maddening ways. These are the people who will get the gatekeeper treatment, good & hard.Report

  8. j r says:

    I have always had a similar taxonomy in my head, but I always called it the customer service mentality vs. the compliance mentality. The former is about servicing the customer by helpfully manipulating the rules and regulations in place. The latter is about enforcing the rules and regulations by unhelpfully manipulating the customer.

    There are a lot of things that determine what mentality dominates in any given role, but I’ve found the following to be important:

    – how often the person in the role interacts with the same people through multiple iterations (one-off interactions lead to compliance; relationships lead to customer service);
    – to whom the person is responsible;
    – how the incentives are structured.Report

    • Gabriel Conroy in reply to j r says:


      That’s a good way of seeing it, and I’m inclined to see it that way (customer service vs. compliance).Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to j r says:

      Many of the people I deal with are clearly interested in servicing customers, where “servicing” is a euphemism.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to j r says:


      Interesting analysis.

      Teachers can be seen as gatekeepers in a way. We can essentially serve as judge-jury-and-executioner for our students. And with young children (and perhaps older ones as well), we often serve as gatekeepers to one thing or another. For me personally, I believe in the importance of rules, routines, and structures. But I believe these should all be purposeful. And while consistency is important, so is flexibility: we are dealing with humans (little humans, but humans nonetheless), not robots. Every year, one of my goals is to say yes more often and no less often. Ultimately, I want to say no to my students only when absolutely necessary. And while most teachers would probably say that they only say no when absolutely necessary, the great variance in the frequency of no shows that “absolutely necessary” is a fairly relative concept.

      So what fuels this disparity? I think a big part of it is rooted in trust. Trust in the students (i.e., customers) but also trust in the broader system. My kids this year wanted to explore super hero play and, quasi-relatedly, were very interested in picking up large sticks on the playground. Unfortunately, this was a recipe for disaster. Not necessarily because kids can’t manage super hero play, sticks, and the intersection of them (though there is reasonable concern there) but also all the fretting about liability and whatnot. But I didn’t want to just say no. So I bought them a bunch of pool noodles, cut them down to size, and let them have at it. And they have a blast! And nary an injury has occurred. But it still draws the chagrin of some other teachers. “They’re going to hurt each other!” (No trust in the students.) “They’ll all turn violent!” (No trust in the system.)

      With regards to the former, many teachers simply don’t have trust in their students’ competencies. They think they’ll just muck anything up. Sigh…

      As for the latter, they often don’t believe in the systems and structures put in place that make micromanaging unnecessary. This is often because they’ve done a piss poor job of establishing those in the first place. So when I give my kids the noodles, I said, “Here’s the deal. We’re going to use them this way in this space. They’re to have fun with. If for any reason we stop having fun with them or start having troubles elsewhere, they go elsewhere. Got it?” And they got it.

      As I’ve explained before, I give my kids fairly wide but fairly firm parameters in most areas. I give them as much room to explore and develop/employ agency as possible without letting them go flying off the cliff. This takes a lot of work, especially early in the year. Many teachers can’t or won’t invest that work. They micromanage. They keep the gates. It is the only way they can stay in control. Why they crave such control is another matter.Report

      • Vikram Bath in reply to Kazzy says:

        This is a really interesting example to me. Part of me wonders whether they are just objecting to fun. I know as a kid that a lot of adults seemed to act like that was their primary motivation.

        Or perhaps they don’t like the fact that you’ve figured out how to be a likable teacher and they see that as something out of their personal grasp.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


        In back-channel communications, we wonder how much of this response is based in a “How children ought to be” mentality and the idea that children are whacking the crap out of each other with pool noodles simply seems like something they ought not do. It’s not really a safety issue or an aggression issue or a social-interaction issue… it’s some sort of visceral sense that kids should be… I don’t know… more refined than that. Boggles the mind.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        To build on that last point a bit, there is no doubt a certain decorum that children need to exhibit in certain social situations. Whacking each other with pool noodles in a restaurant is inappropriate. I work with my students a lot on “place and time”. That is part of the broader system and structure I put in place. The idea that kids who act like wild animals on the playground are going to be wild animals elsewhere is ridiculous. It’s like the adults forget that they act differently in different contexts and can successfully code switch. That ties back to a lack of trust in the competency of the children.Report

    • Vikram Bath in reply to j r says:

      the customer service mentality vs. the compliance mentality

      I think these might be better labels. Thanks!

      Regarding your three hypotheses, I think #1 could probably be categorized as customer-likability, which seems to be an important one that I left out.

      Can you elaborate on the “how the incentives are structured”?Report

      • I can’t speak for what J-R meant, but one incentive that can affect whether one shades more into compliance/gatekeeping mode is how supportive the next level of management is to helping out. In some customer service jobs I’ve had, supervisors get crabby toward the empployee when a they have to step in to help the employee enforce a particularly hard-to-enforce rule.

        Or sometimes it’s not a rule, and the supervisor must sign off on something in order for the employee to help the customer, but the supervisor has a lot of other stuff to do and gets exasperated at the repeated requests. I encountered this as a bank teller. When I started the job, I was told quite emphatically that I needed to get a supervisor’s approval to cash any check over $1,000, but my supervisors tended to get very annoyed when I kept going to them for approval to cash checks over $1,000. (I later learned that the admonition wasn’t quite as emphatic as it sounded, and there were on-the-spot exceptions I was allowed to make, although I wasn’t really told about those. I just learned them.)

        The incentive here can be to find a reason to stall a customer, to say something like “I’m not positive I can cash this” because I wanted to mentally prepare them for the possibility the supervisor might say no. (And sometimes the supervisor did for reasons that weren’t obvious to me.) That behavior–saying “I might not be able to cash this”–might sound to the customer like passive aggressive gatekeeping (and maybe better customer service is to deal with the refusals to cash when they come and not mention it at the time). But it’s a way to hedge against the unpredictable responses from the supervisor.

        (My story makes it sound like supervisors were arbitrary about check cashing. That wasn’t the case. They followed rules and usually had a good reason to act as they did. But when I first started, very few of those reasons were communicated to me and I had to learn them on the go. Also, I think supervisors are more wary of signing off on, and taking responsibility for, something a subordinate does than they are about simply doing a transaction themselves, because they’re more familiar with the circumstances.)Report

      • Ah, this is a really good anecdote. Thanks for sharing it.Report

      • Another incentive–and one that makes more sense than my first example–could be something like the DMV. I’ve never worked at a DMV, but I assume there’s some pressure not to give ID’s to the wrong people, i.e., identity theft and all. There are a lot of rules and redundancies to combat identity theft, and most of them are probably more CYA than actually effective at limiting identity theft. But the employee doesn’t want to be the one responsible for giving an i.d. to a wrong person, especially if the employee didn’t require the customer to jump through all the appropriate hoops. To the customer, this probably often looks like arbitrary gatekeeping.

        (Similarly with bank telling–and one reason why supervisors were sometimes chary to cash checks. You don’t want to cash a check for someone with very suspicious account activity, and then find the check is charged back or (worse) kited. For a low-level teller, it’s not a job-ending proposition, at least provided the teller had jumped through all the hoops, but it doesn’t make the teller look good, and enough of such instances can start to make the teller look bad.)

        Not that there probably aren’t rude DMV workers, but like Saul above, I don’t recall any really bad experience there. Long lines, maybe, but not anything that seemed like exceptional rudeness.Report

  9. kenB says:

    We have a Mordac here where I work, and as far as I can divine, it’s ultimately an issue of incentives, with a bit of work-reduction thrown in. His job is to protect the company and protect the equipment, and the more access we have to the company equipment and to the world outside the firewall, the more his mission is endangered; plus he feels like he has enough to do without having to hunt down a virus on someone’s machine or replace a lost laptop or whatever.

    I think at an abstract level he does understand that his paycheck derives from our actually being able to deliver products and services to our clients, which pretty much requires the full use of the equipment the company bought, but whenever he gets to choose, he always chooses less access.Report

    • Kim in reply to kenB says:

      So, um, there is an optimism pessimism thing going on with tech folks.
      “How much could someone screw up with this access??”
      “What’s the probability that someone will screw this up?”

      Cowboy versus Pro, in other words.
      This can start longstanding arguments…Report

      • kenB in reply to Kim says:

        I understand that there’s a balance to be struck — standard risk-benefit analysis. But the benefit side of the scale is nearly invisible to him, because he doesn’t talk to clients or have anything to do with creating or managing our products.Report

  10. zic says:

    I don’t know how much stock I put in the whole Meyers-Briggs testing; but when I took the test (with a bunch of gatekeepers at a private school,) I could not help noticing that it correlated with ‘J.’Report

  11. Michael Cain says:

    The last session I worked for the Colorado legislature I was responsible for the calendar for the House Appropriations Committee (okay, technically the committee chair was responsible, but he said, “Mike, take care of this, just bring me the form listing the bills we’re going to hear by Tuesdays”) — absolutely a gatekeeper role. It was good that I had had a couple of years on the staff to grow thicker skin, because I was accused of everything from being unprofessional to stupidity to having my own agenda. Sometimes at rather loud volumes and short distances. 99 out of 100 members of the General Assembly were mad at me at some point during the session. The chair of the committee, who loved the way I handled the calendar, was the exception.

    I’ll admit that I did have just a little bit of my own agenda. One of the factors I considered in scheduling was which people on the budget staff had to do the write-ups for the bills on the list, and tried not to overload any one staffer in a given week.Report

    • Mike, would you say that your gatekeeping behavior was solely the result of there not being enough capacity to get everyone what they wanted?Report

      • Every bill that reached the Appropriations Committee got scheduled eventually, and within the official deadlines. Most of the conflicts were over when they got scheduled.

        Sometimes members wanted the hearing moved up because they had counted votes and had enough to get it passed, but one of the votes was shaky. Sometimes they wanted the hearing delayed because they didn’t have enough votes but thought they could find another one given more time. Sometimes I had to explain to them that I couldn’t schedule bills until they cleared the committee of reference and it wasn’t my fault that that hearing was two weeks ago but the chairperson hadn’t signed the freaking committee report yet. Sometimes I had to explain that I was helping them — eg, the bill spent General Fund dollars on something new and if the committee heard it before the budget Long Bill was finished they would simply kill it (on one occasion an extremely upset member stopped me because their GF bill had been scheduled before the budget was done, they knew what that meant, and while the Speaker’s staff and Minority Leader’s staff had called me to tell me that the fix was in and the bill would pass, they hadn’t told the member).Report

  12. I haven’t read the comments yet and am still mulling over what you say in your post, but thanks for the shout out!Report

  13. Patrick says:

    It’s not atypical for the foundation of this sort of behavior to be utterly rational response to incentives. It is not necessarily a natural affinity for being an information blocker (although there are plenty of those).

    If I do something the way my boss tells me to do it, I am rewarded regardless of whether or not the outcome is good.

    If I do something other than the way my boss tells me to do it, I am punished severely if the outcome is poor and punished less severely even if the outcome is good.

    Ergo: I will color inside the goddamn lines and nowhere else.Report

    • Vikram Bath in reply to Patrick says:

      I agree that it can be a rational response, and some of the hypotheses I mention are rational in some ways, e.g. work-avoidance.

      Really, I’m just interested in situations where it is a genuine choice by the service provider, not one in which the provider needs to violate a rule on behalf of the customer.Report

      • I’ve made more than my fair share of comments already, but I’ll chime in again before I go to work.

        In practice, I don’t think being a gatekeeper always feels like a choice to the one keeping gate. Or rather, I suspect there’s often an internal rationalization the gatekeeper undertakes to convince themselves they’re not acting arbitrarily, even if they are.

        I remember at my current job a few months ago I refused to photocopy a journal article for a patron because I was afraid of copyright concerns. It’s a long story, and while I think I was probably right, I probably could’ve gotten away with it and I do feel bad about it. The customer in question was kind of high maintenance, and to the extent it was a judgment call, perhaps their high maintenance-ness influenced my decision. For the record, if I had it to do over again, I would probably do it. But in the moment, I was following the rules, as I understood them to apply at that particular time. (Copyright and its antidote, fair use, are of course hard things to pin down sometimes. And one wants to be fair, but also avoid liability. My working rule of thumb is to find a way to help the patron get what they want. But in that particular case, at that particular moment, I found it hard to do so.)Report

  14. Additional hypotheses to yours (which were very good, in my opinion):

    *class warfare similar to what Saul mentioned above, although that’s perhaps a subset the second hypothesis.

    *Fatigue: sometimes you just get so tired standing on your feet all day or dealing with people that you just gotta be a d***.

    *Fog of war (a variant of fatigue): the situation is tense, and you have to make a lot of gate keeping vs. service calls and sometimes whatever reason you (the general you) just decide to keep gate because you have to decide. There may be another motivation behind it, but it feels to the gate keeper like a snap decision.Report

  15. My answers to last 3 questions:

    1. Yes. In most customer service venues I go to regularly, if I go there regularly enough, I sometimes notice gate keeping, and sometimes by someone who otherwise has been more service oriented. As someone (I think) said above, one can be both.

    2. I’d like to think I’m generally service oriented. But of course, I would say that, wouldn’t I?, and there’s no hiding from my confession in Open Blog, quoted verbatim in your OP. I’d say something like the class warfare hypothesis explains my inner motivations very well, perhaps along with my fatigue and fog of war hypotheses. One thing that doesn’t explain (at least for me) is “work avoidance.” I find–in general–that being passive aggressive makes my work longer and more unpleasant, beyond the initial satisfaction I get from the passive aggressive act.* Being service oriented, however, makes the day go by faster, and while there are always exceptions, in my experience customers usually appreciate earnest service. The small number who don’t appreciate it, or make a big deal over honest mistakes, loom a lot larger than the ones who do, but most do, and a job that’s not always a battlefield is easier to endure than one that more often is a battlefield.

    3. The short answer is yes and I don’t like it, but I think I usually understand. Or at least I understand that I don’t understand, and I can usually chalk it off to something like “overworked and underpaid” and “I probably look like the same type middle-class douchebag I used to hate serving, so I really can’t blame them.” Alas, sometimes I let others’ gate keeping get to me, and my mantras don’t work.

    *It’s like making a snarky put-down on a blog thread. It feels satisfying at the time, but I regret it and feel bad about doing it, sometimes for one or two days figuratively kicking myself.Report

    • I sometimes notice gate keeping, and sometimes by someone who otherwise has been more service oriented

      Is this because the person is more tired than before? Or are they dealing with a more difficult customer?

      I find–in general–that being passive aggressive makes my work longer and more unpleasant

      This sounds like the realization we had on our team. Sometimes just doing what is asked is less annoying than asking them to come back later with a bunch of stuff that you have to deal with again.Report

      • “Is this because the person is more tired than before? Or are they dealing with a more difficult customer?”

        Possibly, or perhaps due to other reasons that are unseen by me (maybe they’re having a rough day from something going on at home? Maybe they’re just fed up with helping people?) I’m not perfect, but I really do try to understand that I don’t know everything the worker has to go through, and ideally, I would like to believe I take passive aggressive service in stride. In practice, perhaps not so much, although I still try to stay on good behavior.

        I know I’ve said this before, but one of the rules I try to live by is that “most jobs are more complicated or difficult than they appear to the one who doesn’t have to do them.” Perhaps that’s not always true, but in theory at least, it helps me to remember it.

        With that, last comment for the morning. I promise!Report

  16. James Hanley says:

    I’m currently chair of my college’s curriculum committe. It’s explicitly a gate-keeping committee, in the sense that we control whether curriculum proposals go to the full faculty for approval, and since that approval is nearly automatic, we are the key point of review to ensure proposals are compliant with policy.

    Some years back the chair was someone with a gatekeeping mentality. Not simply the compliance policy J R mentions (although the guy would describe himself that way), because he used his influence to block things that were within policy, but that he apparently didn’t like. 6 years gone by from his time as chair, I’ve had people ask me, “why aren’t we allowed to do X, I don’t understand?” to which I reply, “you can do X, there’s no rule against it.” “But Dr. Gatekeer didn’t let us!” And I say, “well, now would be a good time to do it.”

    Proposals do come to us that are problematic, and when the problems are minor, I work informally with the faculty to work out those problems before their proposal comes before our committee. The more I can move items into compliance, correct the problems that could cause them to get voted down, and help people get the substance of what they want, the better a job
    I’m doing, I figure. But it’s backroom work–those whose proposals could get blocked recognize what I’m doing, because I help clear the roadblocks, but nobody else, even most of those on my committee, aren’t really aware any of it’s happening.

    I used to say I wanted to be that old guy at the church that won’t get up and lead the prayers, but comes in on the weekdays and fixes all the little things that are broken, that people don’t tend to notice when they’re fixed. I’m not a churchgoer anymore, but it strikes me that what I’m doing now is similar.

    I find it strangely satisfying to be a service provider in this obscure way.Report

  17. Damon says:

    I don’t know if it’s gatekeeper or not, but I have someone in my own department who refused to give me a list of employees we laid off. That info was helpful in double checking our headcount numbers for our monthly reporting. I knew how many in total had been let go, but not the names. She kept insisting that I didn’t need that info.

    Yeah, like when I finally got it and our headcount data still had a few of those folks in the list as active employees. Yep..didn’t need it. Christ. I don’t ask for irrelevant info to do my job.Report

  18. Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    Back in the day, I worked as a IT Manager for student computer labs. Balancing the service & gatekeeper aspects was a trick. My predecessor had let anything goes be the rule of the day, and the labs were in a state (all sorts of crap installed on all the machines, desks & machines were a sticky mess, etc.). I started by cranking up the gatekeeper functions of my staff to 11, basically making it so nothing could happen without my OK.

    Then, once I had the machines back to working order & locked down so that you could not load anything without it being part of the image, I started having my staff dial back the gatekeeping aspects & I put in place a formal process for requesting software installations (basically I had to balance licensing, cost, and purpose – ICQ might be free, but it had no purpose for the school, and it came with the added problem that if I allowed it to be there, I would have to support all the IM apps of the day). The ultimate goal was not (as many believed at the start) to make life difficult for any one person, but to make sure the labs functioned smoothly so life would not be difficult for everyone trying to use the labs.

    I will also add that I had clearly spelled out reasons for all the policies I had in place, and my staff was informed what those reasons were (and they had the policies & reasoning written down in the handbook). That alone cut down on the vast bulk of people storming into my office to protest some restriction (didn’t stop it, but cut it back from almost daily to once or twice a month – perhaps a bit more at the start of the year, new students and all).

    I don’t enjoying saying No to people, usually. Although there are some people for whom saying No to is almost a divine pleasure.Report

    • I have to confess that if I would be an not-understanding user about banning something like ICQ. I’d have viewed it as something not likely to interfere with anything else, and I’d have mentally labeled you as a spoilsport .Report

      • Me too. For a while, messaging was one of those things that got me through some really long work days.

        A former employer blocked GMail, on the basis that accessing personal email was a hindrance to productivity. In one sense it was. In another, though, taking that away meant that I left work at precisely 5:00, because they’d cut off my access to the outside world. With that access, I knew when I wasn’t missing much when I stayed at work late.

        These days, with smartphones, it’s kind of a moot point, though.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        It wasn’t ICQ that was problem, and back in the day when ICQ was the only IM app out there, it would not have been a problem. But this was when IM apps exploded (2001), each had it’s own client (instead of being web based), and if I installed ICQ, then I’d be pestered to also install AIM, MSN, and at least another half dozen IM clients that were all popular back then. If I restricted the install to ICQ, then I had to justify why I loaded ICQ over all the others.

        I wound up installing Trillian, which could front for all the major clients, and left it at that. Ultimately, they were student lab machines, not personal workstations, so I had to keep them as clean as I could.

        I had a similar problem when some foreign students demanded I install their native language fonts & dictionaries. I said no for a similar reason (if I install one, I have to install any that are requested). They complained to the Dean, who asked me why I was saying no. I explained it to him, and he told me to just load them all. When I told him that loading every language Windows could support would require I double the RAM on each machine & get bigger hard drives (& I handed him the dollar figure for doing that to 200+ machines), he blanched. I then offered him a compromise: Look at all the countries we have students from & use that to make me a list of languages to load & I’ll load them the next time we rebuild the images.

        I never did get that list.Report

      • I wound up installing Trillian

        I was just about to mention that and then you did.Report

    • My former coblogger Web and I used to get into it with something similar. He’s a network admin for a university. I’m (or was) an IT worker that goes apoplectic at the thought of losing admin rights to my machine. I have a history of working for small companies, and all of them started trying to restrict access as it got bigger. Over and over again they said that this is the way it works and Big and Serious companies don’t let employees have admin rights to their machines.

      Then I went to work at one of the largest software companies in the world. They let me have admin rights to my machine.

      (This is all rather different, of course, from a K-12 school, where it can often make sense to take a more restrictive stance.)Report

      • Likewise. Strangely enough though, I now use my computer (a Mac) logged in as a regular non-admin account. It forces me to enter in an admin password when I want something installed, but I feel like it’s less likely something unwanted will get installed without my knowledge.Report

  19. zic says:

    I am repeating myself here, I misposted this on Glyph’s music-business thread, and I wouldn’t mind having that deleted.

    1) the koolkidz. In childhood, this gatekeepking is painful. I had a rough childhood; I escaped it into adulthood as soon as I was able.

    2) petty officials. Schools. Town offices. Police departments, in particular. As a citizen, you have a right to ask them for the information they guard. It disgusted me, while reporting, how often they only felt obliged to provide me with information because I was a member of the press. The fucking owe each and every one of us that information under the Freedom of Information Act. Equally disturbing was how few regular people I encountered who knew they had a right to that information. Teaching children about FOIA, and having them learn how to use it should be a required part of our civic education. Particularly now, in the internet age.

    3) the people who book bands into nightclubs.

    4) people who talk jargon when plain language will do

    And finally, the non-gatekeepers. My hero in that regard is d-hex, who, when I explained that animated gifs caused migraines, instantly stopped posting them here.Report