Manipulative Language: “Happy”

Like the word “need”, I’ve noticed a few uncomfortable terms being used in the world of customer service and the workplace. For a long time I’ve felt that people are effectively turning into machines or zombies, if for no other reason than they talk like they’re reading from a script. (I’d spent just over a week in telesales many years ago, and having to read from a script – and nothing but the script – was one of the most demeaning things I’ve ever done.)

One of these other terms is the word “happy“, often used as follows:

Are you happy to do that?

Are you happy for me to put you forward..?

Are you happy to pay the charges?


I don’t know about you, but I have a problem with being told how to feel – which is pretty much what people who say these things are trying to do – when confronted with something I really don’t like the sound of. And it always seems to involve screwing you over in some way: whether you’re being charged for something you don’t want, or you’re being inconvenienced, somehow you’re meant to be “happy” about it.

The first memorable instance of this happening with me was with a previous umbrella company: I had been having problems with a very bad client who owed me money, and nobody – the agent involved or the client – wanted to clarify when I’d get paid. The umbrella company’s suggestion was that I take an advance, which they would do for a fee (as most umbrella companies would). The oh-so-helpful person on the other end kept suggesting that I was “happy” to be charged for taking an advance on money I was owed. I reiterated over and over,

No, I’m not happy about it, but it looks like I’ll have to [pay the charge so I’d have some money].

Actually, you’re more likely to hear someone suggest you’re “happy” as part of a statement, rather than a question:

So you’re happy with that?

to which one’s automatic response (if they’re not careful) is “yes”.

It sounds a lot like some kind of neurolinguistic programming (NLP), in the sense that they’re not asking you whether you’re really happy with something: it’s more like they’re insisting you feel happy about it – or more to the point, that your reaction to this particular thing is happy.

It’s a similar kind of thing to those “do you wanna” questions that people in your workplace often ask, which aren’t actually questions but commands. If you don’t believe me, or you think I’m mad, just try telling them no the next time someone uses it on you, or at the very least ask them to clarify what they mean. You’ll probably find that they’re not asking you at all: they just heard the mantra “ask, don’t tell” and interpreted it as using questions to get people to do what they want.

I’ve since made a point of clarifying that I’m “okay” with doing something if I agree with it, but I also clarify that I’m not necessarily happy about it. Because there’s no telling what else they’ll suggest you’re happy with, further down the line.

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