After traveling for work for the last week, Dave and I (and our dear friend, Glenn) were headed to Cabo San Lucas for the week, yesterday. I was so excited to be traveling for vacation, and we all met at the Tucson airport early Saturday morning, only to find out that one of the flight attendants had lost their security badge the night before and wouldn't be able to work the flight. Unfortunately, the substitute flight attendant wouldn't get to the airport until two hours after our flight was supposed to depart, thereby creating a domino-effect of trip changes for most of us on that flight. People clamored to get lined up in front of the gate agent who said she would help everyone get re-booked. I immediately jumped on the phone to try to get some help from the agent at the telephone customer service line. Once I told the agent my story, her response was, "It doesn't look good at all. I don't see anything at all to get you to Cabo today." (Did I mention it was 7:30 in the morning, still, at this point?) "Help me out with some kind of good news," I kind of joked with her, trying to get her to see that her words were not helping me feel the love for the airline. "I can't," was her response. "There just isn't anything. You'll have to try to go tomorrow, and that doesn't even look really good." Wow.
I get it that there sometimes isn't a whole lot of good news that we have to share. I remember, as a guidance counselor, needing to share IQ or academic test results with parents, and the results may have appeared bleak. I knew, however, that if I said, "It doesn't look like your child has very many brain cells that work", the parents might very well not respond in a favorable manner. Instead, I would make sure I shared the balanced version of what the test results showed, what the support was we were going to provide, and any other nice news I could (how polite their child was, or something the student had said to make me laugh, etc.). Why? Because people have a tendency to become negative when faced with negativity.
While Dave was telling me to hang up the phone and simply call back to talk to another airline agent, I felt I needed to share with the agent, in a polite way, the negative vibe we were getting from her. I said, "I know you can't probably hear this, but we are not feeling the love at all. I'm wondering about how we might react differently if you chose other ways to speak to us. In addition, I wonder if I might feel better if I at least felt you were trying." I know, I know, it's the whole "...falling on deaf ears" possibility, but I thought it might be worth it. She said, "There is no point in trying, there ARE no flights available." Alright, at that point, I succumbed to Dave's suggestion to try another agent. The next agent said, "Let's see what we can do for you." And within minutes, she offered us a couple of solutions which were vastly more preferable to what Grumpy Gills was offering (or not offering, as it were). What a difference a little change in attitude makes. I told her (her name was Julie (Angel Julie, I think)) she could teach a Master Class in customer service, and she laughed and told me I had made her day.
Later on in the day, we had the same type of above-and-beyond service shown to us by a gate agent who wound up putting both Dave and me in first class because "you've already had such a tough day". I smile and said, "Would it be inappropriate for me to hug you?" She reached over and opened up her arms to me, saying "Of course not. I love hugs" I thought of the times I had talked with a teacher or a parent about a tough issue and we parted the meeting with either a hug or, at the very least, smiles and good feelings on both our parts.
While working with administrators the other day in San Antonio, one principal shared with me and the group, "It's not always easy to talk with teachers about a classroom observation that doesn't go as well as they had hoped, but if we both keep the language we use positively focused on teacher growth, we can both leave the conversation happy people." Exactly!!
So, just for this week, perhaps when you have a tough conversation or have to deliver tough news, perhaps consider a way you can say that news in a way that might be less harsh and more palatable for the receiver.