Photo from another Jennifer with a blog post on being nice:
“Kindness is more than deeds. It is an attitude, an expression, a look, a touch. It is anything that lifts another person.”
- William Shakespeare
I’m a happy person in general; I wake up happy and chattering. My husband, I’m sure, wishes I wasn’t so very happy so very early. I think that a natural by-product of happiness is kindness which spreads more happiness and kindness in others. As a happy person I’m constantly shocked at all the effort that the perpetually unhappy put into remaining in their state of unhappiness. If I smile at you or wave hello, don’t you feel just plain silly staring at me or not waving back or acknowledging in some fashion that another of your species has just communicated with you? As I move through life I take these moments of encountered grumpiness as a personal challenge. A challenge to turn them around; I wear them down with kindness, jokes and sometimes pepper that with some hilarious (I think) sarcasm.
Customer service, for example: Do you know what it is? If you live in the District of Columbia chances are you don’t know what it is – it’s hard to find around here. Countless times, at local grocery stores, pharmacies and fast food restaurants I have gone through an entire transaction without a single word being spoken or even eye contact being made. I hate to call you out on it, but Rite Aid, you are consistently the worst offender of this form of…um…customer service. This is why stores like, Harris Teeter in Adams Morgan – where every single check-out clerk seems genuinely happy and the Flying Fish Café on Mt. Pleasant Street where they always remember me and my routine order, continue to get my business – I strongly suspect this is the key to a successful business. Perhaps Rite Aid feels they don’t need to waste time with smiles; perhaps they feel their customers have little choice but to shop with them – wrong, I go to the happy pharmacy people at Harris Teeter. When I am trapped into frequenting an establishment with constantly grumpy people I kill ‘em with kindness. I wear them down. I tell myself, something has made them grumpy or sad, maybe things aren’t great for them right now, but maybe I can bring a smile to their faces… or…who knows, maybe the grumpy feel affronted by my cheerfulness and they will never change, but a huge part of me can’t believe that. Every single time I come in and am affronted with their turned down faces and furled brows I smile bigger, I chat more, I say thank you a lot and you know what…after a while (some places longer than others) they come around. They kind of turn one corner of their frown up, and they engage in chatter, and in rare instances I gain total victory by being greeted by a huge smile and a “how are you?!”. SUCCESS!
Being kind can get you things too and I mean really, really good things. One of my first jobs in DC was with a startup. The nature of starts ups is everyonge pitches in. For me, one year, that meant helping set up for a big conference in Atlanta when our company found itself without a marketing director. I’d like to say it went smooth as silk thanks to my high intelligence and quick thinking but there were things I didn’t know – things that even someone as highly intelligent as me (that's some of that sarcasm right there) couldn't have known; only the experienced would have succeeded here. In arranging to have our booth shipped to the conference I had no idea that we were required to use Union crews to off-load our truck. So there I am, standing there the day our booth arrives in Atlanta for this giant conference and I have no way to get the booth off the truck and set up. Do I scream at the guy who is standing there forebodingly, who is clearly quite angry with me; seemingly determined not to let things move forward? It seemed hopeless, but, no, I don’t have it in me to bark at people. I’m the type that works hard to avoid confrontation. Instead I look him in the eyes and make the problem his problem as well as mine. I invoke smiles, I give apologies, I’m honest and tell him I had no clue this was the process and confess that I’m out of my league, in over my head and was pinch hitting for the marketing person who was no longer with the company. Then I said, “What do we do?” WE. What do WE do? Meaning me and him. During my chatter and jokes and smiles and admission of being at fault his crossed arms became uncrossed. His jaw loosened and softened and by the time I was done and asking what we should do he was patting me on the back and assuring me he could work something out. He did, too, and don’t think I wasn’t grateful either. I showed my gratefulness with a big fruit basket that was initially intended to be set out in our booth conference room. THAT’S how you get things by being nice; THAT’S how to be nice. No attitudes of entitlement, no barking and demanding, just a pleasant tone asking for help.
By being nice you make it easy for them to help you. That same guy not only helped me out of that pit but warned me of other pitfalls and basically held my hand through the whole conference right up until I was packed up and shipping the booth off to storage. He was the person I called when we had a problem with the electrical wiring in our booth and who I called when I had other random problems. He also got many more thank you gifts from me each time he helped. He liked helping me and wanted to help. Can you imagine that having been the case if I had gotten into a shouting match? I might have gotten the trucks unloaded after a long argument, but I certainly wouldn’t have gotten all that other assistance!
That same trip, after it was all over and we’ve all headed to the airport to fly home we find the airport covered over in people. People jammed into the hallways, sitting on the floors, standing in line at the ticketing agents’ kiosks. It turns out the entire north east was being hit by a massive thunderstorm and a kazillion flights had been delayed or cancelled. I get in line with the rest of the crowd to see what’s happening with my flight. I’m next in line and I watch and listen while an extremely well dressed man berates the ticketing agent. He’s screaming at her, red faced, spittle flying out of his mouth while he screams and bangs his fists. The agent, who clearly has seen this type of behavior before, continues to tell him over and over “Sir I’m sorry, take a look around you, all the flights are sold out.” Then, my favorite thing ever to hear big-ego-types say, the man actually said: “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?!” To which she coolly replied sir, I do, but it does not change the fact that the flights are sold out; can you move on so I can help some of these other people in line? He’s mad, but he’s finished. He moves on and up I come. I look at her and I say “did you help him figure out who he was?” She laughed, and so did the agent next to her. I then handed over my boarding pass and said, “It looks like my flight has been cancelled and I gather from that last conversation that everything is full. I’m happy to fly into any of the three airports in DC but if they’re all full I’ll just take whatever is the next available.” She looks at me, looks at the agent next to her, leans in and says “Honey, I think we have a flight we can get you on today. “ She does her thing, prints out a new boarding pass and as she hands it to me says, “thank you for being patient and kind.” I smile back and say “I do hope the rest of the day goes better. Thank you very much.” I walk away and look at my pass for my gate number and I realize she had moved me from my coach seat to First Class – WOW! I ran back and said with a huge smile – “OH MY GOD –thank you!” She whispers, “it was the last seat.” Meaning, the man barking at her could have gotten that seat had he been nicer; instead all he did was make it available for me. Thank you angry guy!Just be nice people…you will go miles and you’ll do it in first class too!