Dave and I went to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico this past week. I like to say that Cabo is good for whatever ails you. Beautiful ocean breezes, tranquil ocean views, the sound of the thundering surf on the shore, and our toes in the sand. And that is just there at the resort. We also adore going into town for a delicious meal or taking a tour of the local area. We are never disappointed with the customer service we receive. On this trip, we took a daytrip to the Sea of Cortez town of La Paz. Our tour guide was delightful and attentive and funny and totally bilingual, even though it was clear Spanish was his first language. He joked before making our first stop that we would be able to sample some local tamales, quesadillas and “the best, best, best, best, best coffee in the world”. Now, we all knew this was likely not completely factual but he had us laughing at the practice of telling people your wares are the “best” of all times. When he was describing the history of a local town, I found myself gazing out the window, imagining this place in the early 1600s. He cleared his throat and said, “Miss Bonita, pay attention. I’m right here.” We all laughed. On the way home, he offered to stop at a blanket factory, and several of us asked, “Will they have the best, best, best, best blankets in the world?”
In summary, you might say that on this trip, he lied to us and he rudely pointed out when we daydreamed. In contrast, I believe he knew what many folks who work with the public often miss. People want to build relationships and our words matter. He knew it was important to give the Spanish-speaking tourists the same information he gave to the English speaking participants. He knew when to joke and when to get serious.
On our way back into the U.S., Dave and I flew into Phoenix. As usual, we had to clear customs before we could retrieve our luggage and head to our car. Since we both have Global Entry (the system which has expedited re-entry so you do everything on a computer versus seeing an actual agent), we entered our information, received our ticket and headed for the Global Entry exit. As we exited where the sign indicated, a woman in a booth hollered (I don’t use this word lightly, but “hollered” is precisely what she did) at us, “You can’t just walk through there. You can’t go through without holding up your ticket.” Okee-dokee, we both complied and held up our tickets that said we were good to go. She then hollered again, “Ma’am, it doesn’t help if I can’t see your ticket as you wave it in the air. And don’t keep walking without stopping to look at me.” I will be honest. I felt scolded. We both said we were sorry we did not see a sign indicating how we were supposed to exit while holding up the ticket, and we asked, “Can you tell us how we were supposed to know how to walk through this exit?” She grumpily replied, “You should have read the directions when you were first approved for Global Entry.” Wowee. I felt scolded again. I literally bit my tongue to avoid saying something that might have delayed Dave and I getting home to our dogs in a timely fashion, but we both talked about it as we waited for our luggage. What could she have done differently? Oh, so many things, but the main thing was: simply word it differently. A simple, sweetly called, “Yoo-hoo! You can’t slip past me without your golden ticket” would have sufficed. I told Dave the main thing we need to remember in these cases is that people should assume ignorance, not belligerence. What I mean by that is, people who work with people need to assume that people who make a mistake are doing it out of ignorance of the rule instead of jumping to the conclusion that they are being rude or disrespectful and should respond in that manner. Certainly, if she had initially said the above, nicer version, and we kept walking or made an obscene gesture towards her, the next reaction would necessarily need to be different. But the first one? Let’s assume people need help and they aren’t trying to be ugly.
When working with students, parents and staff in schools, I believe we have an obligation to do the same. During assemblies to honor our students for grades or good character, parents would inevitably want to clap for their children. We always tried to let them know to hold their applause until the names of that group of students (Kids With Character, etc.) had been called. I would say, “We know you want to be able to hear your child’s name called. Everyone feels that same way, and if we all hold our applause until the five names are called, we can then wildly applaud after all names are called and we can hear everyone’s name.” Notice I didn’t say what NOT to do (“don’t clap until the end” because it sounds a bit more negative), but it really made a difference. You can call it wordsmithing and you can say, “You’re just putting fancy words on the same thing---shut up until all the names are called.” I say “au contraire”. It makes a huge difference in how people perceive the words.
Take two teachers in the same hallway. One is constantly shushing her students and saying, “stop that noise” or better yet, “Who is that making that noise?” (as if…)
The other teacher looks at her line of students and simply says, “Thank you for remembering to keep your voice quiet in the hallway.” You tell me which one has less discipline problems. What we say and how we say it makes a difference.
I am still reeling from the brow-beating I feel we got at the Global Entry exit, but we are letting it go after I blog about it today. I am also still fondly remembering our sweet tour guide, Dionsio, who will likely earn our business on our next trip down to Cabo.