One of the young women who works for me has become increasingly sour towards the general public.
This is a problem, since, you know, we work with the general public.
To her mind she's encountered too many rude, arrogant, difficult, unbalanced people. ("What the hell are you complaining about, it's me they wind up melting down on." I thought. "Oh, you poor dear." I thought.)
"Ok. Here's what I want you to do. Take this piece of paper, and divide it into three columns."
She took the paper, and then she made a face.
"Did you just roll your eyes at me?"
"Yes you did, you rolled your eyes at me."
"I did not!"
"Well, you made a face."
"No I didn't."
"Yes. You did. You made the teenage daughter face. But..."
"Well, it wasn't a very good one."
"I did not make a face!"
"Yes you did, you made a totally lame teenage daughter face."
"What does a totally lame teenage daughter face look like?"
"Like this." I said, making a totally lame teenage daughter face, rolling my eyes up, blowing my imaginary bangs up out of my eyes and making a sound which my mother once called a "toots."
She laughed, because I am a large, somewhat ridiculous and mildly flamboyant middle aged man, thus a teenage daughter face on me looks... well, at the very least we can call it out of place. But the laugh was the point, and now we were on track for listening rather than shutting down.
"It's a magic trick and a scientific experiment. Trust me. You have the paper with three columns. On the top of one you write "mean" and in the middle one you write "neutral" and in the last one you write "nice."
"You want me to keep score on how people are."
"Sort of, that's only the first part. Do it for an hour and then I want to see the paper."
-- one hour later --
"Show me." I demanded.
The score: Mean - 16 Neutral - 23 Nice - 8
She gave me a careful look. "This is supposed to help me how?"
"Hush. Now, for the next two hours, you keep score, but you do something that you haven't been doing."
"Smile really big before you say anything to each guest."
"I have been smiling!"
"No, you haven't. I've been watching. You've been offering people a tight-lipped grimace which makes it look like either you would rather be doing anything else other than smiling at them or that you have a thumb tack in your shoe. You don't, do you?"
She did not dignify such silliness with a response.
"Do it and then in two hours I want to see the paper. And I will be right over there, writing the schedule, watching to see you don't cheat."
I got another face, but as I watched, she gamely smiled away.
-- two hours later --
The score: Mean - 5 Neutral - 9 Nice - 88.
"Ok, you made your point." She said.
"What was the point I was making?"
"That if I smile big at people they will respond better."
"No, that wasn't the point. That's true, but that wasn't the point."
"Then what was it?"
"That you have the power to change your perception and your experience of the world. That you can do that simply and easily. That if you find people are difficult you might be better served by looking at how you've been treating them rather than how they've been treating you."
"And there's one more thing, too."
"If you go back to the snarky grimace, our next conversation won't be anywhere near as fun as this one. Ok?"
She laughed a little but had the grace to look chagrined, too. "Ok."
Off she went to her break. Another employee had been around during this whole exchange, and sidled up to me after she'd left. "Can I ask you something?" He asked.
"You're the boss. Why all the rigmarole? Why not just tell her to smile or you'll write her up?"
Because AA has irrevocably changed me for the better. I thought.
"Because that wouldn't have stuck. She'd have done it for the first couple of customers and then she'd likely be right back to sourpuss."
He thought about that. "She still might."
"Yes," I conceded, "but maybe not. And maybe she learned something. And if so, then it was three hours well spent -- two of them with better customer service happening, too. I'm gonna call that a win."
He shrugged. "I guess. Be easier to write her up."
"Have you ever written someone up? Have you ever fired someone?"
"Okay then. Take my word for it, this is much easier."
And this is helpful. I thought. This is a way to be of service. And that's the point for me.