It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.
Everywhere I speak, I hear people say such things as “I hate my job … My boss doesn’t get it … Some of my coworkers are slacking off … Customers are expecting more than ever … My relationships at home could be a great deal better … and … Besides all that, I’m sick of the weather we’ve been having.”
If that sounds like you or some people you know, you would be well advised to remember the motto for the Outward Bound survival programs. They say, “If you cannot get out of it, get into it.”
In other words, if you can’t “get out” of your job because the economy is difficult, if you don’t want to “get out” of the relationships you have with some difficult bosses, coworkers, customers, or family members, then you had better learn to “get into” them more effectively. I spend one, four, and even seven hours on that topic and the corresponding strategies in my program called “The Partnership Payoff: 7 Strategies For Better Relationships And Greater Teamwork.”
To get you “into” your relationships, to start changing them for the better, often times the littlest things can make the biggest difference. Start with these four strategies.
1. Share a kind word.
No one ever seems to get enough … let alone too much … praise, affirmation, and validation. Everyone seems to be hungry for a kind word. Oh sure, it may take you ten seconds to say it, but the other person may remember it for ten years.
Tom Ziglar, the son of the famed author and speaker Zig Ziglar, talks about that. He said he and his dad were playing golf one day when his dad turned to him and said, “Son, I don’t think I tell you often enough how proud I am of you and how much I love you.” They hugged, and after that, they expressed similar sentiments to each other almost every time they talked or got together.
2. Write a positive note.
Pastor Chuck Swindoll tells of the time he dashed off a quick note to someone on a yellow pad of paper, thanking them for something. Not too long after that, he found himself in their home and, to his surprise; he found that note framed on their wall? “The first thing I did was check it for spelling?” Swindoll shares. “You have no idea how much impact a simple note in your own handwriting can mean to someone.”
Jerry Slaymaker takes it one step further. As one of my “Tuesday Tip” subscribers and a leader at the Clarinda Academy, a residential treatment facility for troubled youth, Jerry sent me a note saying, “I really appreciate your weekly newsletters. They have valuable information and techniques that I share with all my coworkers. Some of them even print the newsletters every week and take them home with them. I encourage my staff to share the techniques from your newsletters with our students.” His positive note made my day.
You see … one of the great things about written notes is the fact that they have lasting value. As Slaymaker demonstrates, “Whenever I receive an e-mail from one of my supervisors or coworkers praising me for a job well done or commenting on my positive attributes, I save them to a subfolder in Outlook. When I am having a bad day and I’m doubting my self-worth, I open this directory and re-read a couple of e-mails. It lifts my spirits and gives me renewed confidence in myself.”
3. Take time for the other person.
Yes, I know you’re busy, but who isn’t these days? And yes, I know some of you are very important people who are also very high up in the organization. Well, that simply means your taking time for the other person is all the more powerful and will have more impact. The actress Ann Margaret knew that.
As one lady tells the story about her husband Richard, who never talked a lot about his time in Vietnam other than he had been shot by a sniper. However, he always kept a rather grainy, 8″ x 10″ black and white photo he had taken at a USO show of Ann Margaret with Bob Hope in his office. It was one of his treasures.
Then, a few years ago, Ann Margaret was doing a book signing at a local bookstore. Richard wanted to see if he could get her to sign the treasured photo so he arrived at the bookstore at noon for the 7:30 p.m. signing.
When he got there, the line went all the way around the bookstore, circled the parking lot and disappeared behind a parking garage. Before her appearance, bookstore employees announced that she would sign only her book and no memorabilia would be permitted.
Richard was disappointed but wanted to show her the photo and let her know how much those shows meant to lonely GI’s so far from home. Ann Margaret came out looking as beautiful as ever. When it was Richard’s turn, he presented the book for her signature and then took out the photo. When he did, there were many shouts from the employees that she would not sign it. Richard said, “I understand. I just wanted her to see it.”
She took one look at the photo, tears welled up in her eyes and she said, “This is one of my gentlemen from Vietnam and I most certainly will sign his photo. I know what these men did for their country and I always have time for ‘my gentlemen.'”
With that, she pulled Richard across the table and planted a big kiss on him. She then made quite a to-do about the bravery of the young men she met over the years, how much she admired them, and how much she appreciated them. There weren’t too many dry eyes among those close enough to hear. She then posed for pictures and acted as if he were the only one there.
Later at dinner, Richard was very quiet. When his wife asked if he’d like to talk about it, her big strong husband broke down in tears. “That’s the first time anyone ever thanked me for my time in the Army,” he said.
That night was a turning point for him. He walked a little straighter and, for the first time in years, was proud to have been a Vet. As Richard’s wife said, “I’ll never forget Ann Margaret for her graciousness and how much that small act of kindness meant to my husband. I now make it a point to say ‘Thank you’ to every person I come across who served in our Armed Forces. Freedom does not come cheap, and I am grateful for all those who have served their country.”
Taking time for another person is one of strongest affirmations you can ever give him or her. After all, everyone seems to be short on time. Giving some of yours to someone else tells them they are important.
4. Give a hug … if appropriate.
My colleague Carol Schmidlin reinforced this point for me when she shared the story of President Ronald Reagan.
As you may know, very few people ever saw the former president after the onset of his Alzheimer’s disease. And even though his son Michael continued to visit, it was very frustrating for him to not be able to carry on a conversation with his dad as the disease progressed. Michael’s wife suggested that he just give his dad a hug. So although neither one had been a big hugger, they did that every time afterwards. One time, after a visit, Michael was already out the door before he realized that he had forgotten to give his dad a hug. As he turned to go back inside, he found his dad already walking toward him, arms outstretched.
5. Project an attitude of “niceness.”
Be nice. People with positive attitudes tend to bring out the niceness in others. That’s why human relations expert Earl Nightingale called attitude the magic word. Just as flies are drawn to honey, people are drawn to people with positive mental attitudes. People want to do business with positive, cheerful people. And that’s why the most common word used to describe the most popular salespeople in our sour society is “nice.”
Sure, some hard-hearted, friendless chap may equate being “nice” with being soft or being a loser. But he’s wrong. If you think about your personal business dealings, the stores and businesses you frequent, the restaurants you dine at, the doctor, dentist and hairdresser you see, you’ll realize that you are drawn to “nice” people. You’ll also realize that you simply refuse to do business with people who are not “nice”, pleasant, and cheerful. You’ll walk away from them and never go back. That’s why almost 70% of all lost customers are lost … someone in the organization was not “nice” to them.
To “get into” your relationships more effectively, be nice. You’ll seldom go wrong.