We all know the scenarios in which people are trudging through life with a frown on their faces. Personal examples abound about going to restaurants and being served by frustrated waitstaff; checking out at the grocery store and receiving grumbles to our attempts at cheery chit-chat; gate agents at the airport who will not budge (and seem to do it with a badge of honor) on helping you get another flight. The list is endless, and we all have those stories. Whining at work and about work seems to be an American pastime. And when we aren’t the ones doing it ourselves, we are likely complaining about those who do.
But what do we do when we encounter those who are loving their jobs…and showing it? And what are we doing to pay the kindness or goodwill forward when we are faced with those employees who don’t often get to hear from happy customers?
As a frequent traveler, I have certainly seen my fair share of cranky customers as well as sullen service people, alike. I also happen to be extremely happily married (for 25 years!) to a man who knows how to turn the ice-cold waitress warmer with his charm. Over the years, he has taught me some tips of the trade that have helped me in times of frustration on the part of employees and customers.
1. Be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem. Consider the following scenario: I’ve asked for a diet coke with a lime (let’s really not talk about the fact that I had given up diet coke for a year and am now drinking it again---that’s for another blog. Please). The waiter is crazy busy and comes back with drinks for everyone and….no lime. If I am close to the bar, I might just go up and ask if I can get a lime on a napkin. Same thing if we don’t get ketchup----we might steal it from another table instead of asking the crazy-busy waitstaff. In other words, I believe some people take pride in being picky and making a stink out of “This is not how I ordered this” when Stephen Covey said we should seek first to understand then to be understood (I wonder how many times I used a Covey-ism in my blogs over the last few years---something to research).
2.Smile and be polite, even if others are not. Here is a common scenario: the flight is delayed; everyone is frustrated in the gate area and the gate agents are sweating because they know everyone is frustrated and worried about their connecting flights (Have I mentioned that I will drive to Phoenix to catch a non-stop flight rather than having to make a connection somewhere? I h**e connections! Oh wait, I’m smiling, and being polite---back to the story in progress). When we (finally) board, everyone seems to be glaring at the gate agent checking boarding passes as if that gate agent called the airline that morning and said, “Hey, I’ve got a great idea for today---why don’t we delay a bunch of flights today to see how many passengers we can frustrate?” When I scan my boarding pass, I try to look them in the eye and say, “Thank you for everything you do. I know it’s been rough. Hope you have a great day.” What does that hurt? It takes me about 3 seconds, and I would guess I get a relieved smile almost 100% of the time. Also, if there is someone who seems to be particularly enjoying their job, why not let them know how much you appreciate that? People, no matter the job (my hairdresser, the bagger at the grocery store, the custodian, the taxi driver, etc.), often say, “It is so nice to hear good news. People are always quick to share the bad news but not so much with good news. Thank you SO much.”
3.Be helpful, if possible. Here are some examples we try to do: stack the plates on the table when you know the wait staff is incredibly busy; stack the bins at the airport as we go through screening (yes, even though the clueless people in front of you left them on the belt) while waiting for our own luggage (it takes about 5 seconds and it helps the TSA folks a bunch); help lift a bag into the overhead bin (okay, in truth, Dave does this ALL the time---I was not blessed with that sort of vertical ability); and finally, speaking up when it might help others. My best recent example was while waiting for an update on a delayed flight. The three gate agents were standing at the gate talking among themselves, while the screens still said our flight was going to depart on time (when it was 5 minutes away from departure time and we still hadn’t begun boarding). Rumblings and grumblings began, “Here we go again”; “Come on!” “Let’s go!” You could feel a palpable frustration in the crowd that the gate agents either weren’t recognizing or didn’t know what to say. I stepped out of line, went up to the gate agents, and said, “I know you guys are super busy, and I also know you want to keep this crowd from growing more frustrated. It would be extremely helpful if you could just give everyone an update, so we know what’s going on.” They thanked me and one agent announced they were waiting for one more flight attendant and we should be boarding momentarily. All of a sudden, the tension in the crowd relaxed visibly. One little tweak.