There. I’ve said it. Perhaps, I should have said: I try to be kind. I’m not perfect. There are times when my patience is short, when I need food or more sleep or I’m bothered by something in my life….when I faulter in my effort to just be a kind, compassionate, civil person.
There are areas of business where “kindness” is a dirty word, where it is equated with weakness. In the non profit world, I have seen people look at me suspiciously if I talk about compassion or kindness or if I express a view that is devoid of blame or irritation with our customers.
While living in Portland, OR, I had various chores that brought me to the Post Office. I know what you are thinking I’m going to write, outside of the DMV, the Post Office has the crankiest, rudest civil servants. You would be wrong. Here is a snapshot of one such experience.
I enter the Post Office with my girlfriend and there is a long line right up to the double glass doors that lead to the rental boxes and self serve kiosk. I assess the line and look at the service area. There are two workers helping customers and two empty spots where workers could be helping customers. I figure I have time, so I settle in for the wait. It isn’t long before I tune myself to the various grumblings around me. The woman behind me is talking loud, hoping to engage someone in conversation. A man comes out from the back, sees the line and asks if anyone is there to pick up mail. A man steps forward from the back of the line and hands the man a slip. “Why don’t you just help the next person?” Someone yells out. The worker comes back with a package, hands it to the man and again asks if anyone is waiting for mail. When no one steps up, a customer says, “You could help us!” loudly, and in an angry tone. He turns red and says he doesn’t know how to do that job and escapes to the back. The woman behind me took this as fuel and started talking loudly enough for everyone to hear, “This is ridiculous. I’ve never seen such poor service” and various other obnoxious grumblings. I could literally feel the stress level in the room go up. Now people in the line are getting egged on by the one or two loud customers and everyone seems to be loudly complaining and trying to engage the workers.
Okay. Let’s look at this situation. Is it the worker’s fault that they don’t have enough staff at that moment to handle the line quickly? Is it benefiting anyone, including the grumblers to get angry about the situation? Does the woman behind me realize that she is setting the tone for the rest of her afternoon?
You’re probably wondering what I was doing during all of this. My girlfriend and I looked at one another and just naturally fell into a loud, pleasant conversation about our favorite stamps. We engaged the 3 people immediately in front of us when they casually looked our way and before we realized it we had passed 10 minutes having a lovely conversation with strangers. I finally, as I got closer to being helped, turned to the woman behind me and said, “They can’t help it. Don’t you think they wish there were more workers to help them get through the rush?” I shrugged my shoulders and smiled. She looked irritated but stopped talking.
The other thing I did was talk directly to the worker. I told her I was sorry the crowd had gotten rude and hoped it didn’t spoil her day. I thanked her for doing a good job and wished a her more pleasant afternoon. She had a great attitude as did the man working next to her. Neither one of them let the crowd get to them. They both maintained their heads, managed to serve everyone as quickly as they could while also providing great service. The male worker, took the time to save a customer extra money by carefully measuring the package and suggesting an alternative method of shipping for her. He didn’t have to do that and instinct might have motivated him to just do as she asked and ship in the manner she requested and move to the next customer.
I applaud service workers such as these and I encourage you all to have a little compassion for overworked retail and service workers. Make the unpleasant experience fun. It really is your choice. Think up a game, start a conversation with a stranger, thank the worker. It really isn’t their fault that the express line is 20 people deep and the guy in front of you has 30 items in a 15 item line.