A recent encounter had me reflecting on a quote by Jerome Bruner: “You’re more likely to act yourself into feeling than feel yourself into action.”
As I stood in a TSA line at the airport, I found myself behind a young man who was frazzled and didn’t seem to know what he was doing. I had been in a bad mood all day, and my fuse was pretty short.
I said nothing, but I can’t promise I wasn’t giving off “Are you kidding me?” body language.
As I felt a large sigh building within me, the young man looked at me and said, “I’m sorry. I guess it’s obvious I never fly. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do here… and I think I’m going to miss my flight.”
I slowly exhaled and faked a smile.
I told him, “I’m sure you’re okay.” He nervously said, “They say I have to catch a train after this? Is there a train around here?” I replied, “Well, it’s more monorail than train. It’s right around the corner and up an escalator. Let me see your ticket.”
He timidly handed me a couple of crumpled tickets, and I saw that he had about 20 minutes until his first flight boarded. I told him, “You’ve got time. Don’t play around…but you’re okay. I’ll point you in the right direction when we get through the line.”
I then coached him on what to pull from his bag and what he could leave in it.
As we stood in line, I found out he was heading to Detroit to see his kids who don’t live with him. They had spent time with him in the summer but were now back in school. He wanted to check on them and bring them things they left behind.
I asked their names and ages, and he began telling me about them as we put shoes, belts, and jackets back on. I finished first and began to point where he needed to go. He still looked nervous and confused.
I had more time than him and said, “You know, I have to head that way. I’ll walk you there.” He looked up and said, “Thank you so much."
As he grabbed his things and started walking alongside me, he said, “Man, I wish everybody was as nice as you.” I shook my head and thought to myself, “I wish I was as nice as you think I am.”
It was the highlight of my week. I spent the rest of that day in a far better mood than I’d been in prior to that encounter. And it came from behaving nicely when I wasn’t really “feeling” nice.
The next time you’re in a funk, maybe improve your own mood and outlook by simply helping someone else.
A shopping experience with my family last week caused me to ponder whether it was more annoying to see no store employees around to ask for help, or to see several and realize they’re not looking to help you, anyway. I’m thinking the latter.
We dropped into a local home and garden megastore to grab paint brushes for a project, but the gas grills caught my eye. We are in the market for a new one, and my wife and I began examining several and exchanging comments about each.
If ever there were customers giving signs that we had questions to be answered, it was us. We found ourselves standing at different areas of the department and reading grill specs out loud and calling out questions to each other.
I’m willing to bet the phrase, “I’m not sure…” was audibly spoken three or four times.
All the while, two employees stood about 15 feet over, having a conversation. They weren’t stocking or merchandizing or cleaning anything up.
They were having a personal conversation.
After a bit, I decided to test just how disengaged these guys were. I loudly spoke to my wife, “You know, I think (competitor’s name) may have a better deal on these. Maybe we should swing by there or look it up online.”
I glanced at the chatting employees a few feet over. One was animatedly telling the other about what a manager told him to do and why that manager didn’t know what he was talking about.
Sure, I could have walked over and interrupted them. But I found myself doubting that I’d actually want the advice or help of two guys so disinterested in helping in the first place.
We walked out intent on checking out the competitor’s offerings.
But, the older I get, the less I blame individual employees. Managers define and reinforce (or fail to) the cultures and behaviors customers experience.
I fully understand that there are times when it’s exceedingly difficult to drop everything you’re doing or interrupt an important peer interaction, when a customer enters our space. And (most) customers are reasonable enough to realize when that is the case.
They can also see when that isn’t the case.
I’m fond of reminding folks that the customers in our presence pay for everything from the buildings we work in to the salaries we receive.
Let’s make sure our behaviors today show we grasp that fact.