“A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all other virtues.” – Cicero
Are you saying “thank you” enough these days? Expressing appreciation to others can have a wonderful ripple effect. As others feel acknowledged and respected, it’s often paid forward to the next person they encounter, and so on. Saying “thanks” reveals we see ourselves as part of a larger community, where we recognize we’re all interconnected—and strengthening that web can make us all better for it.
What follows are five instances in our everyday lives we should be saying “thank you” and may not be. Give yourself a point for each one you do.
When you walk through a door being held open for you
Many people fail to even notice that they’re walking through an open door. They’re engaged in a conversation or their own thoughts or I-don’t-know-what. The door-holder, though, is making a real effort to be helpful to others and deserves a “thank you” each and every time. Keep in mind they may have become trapped by a sudden swarm of people behind the mom with a stroller, but they didn’t let the door slam shut in front of you. They probably deserve an award.
When the car next to you lets you merge in front
We’ve all witnessed one specific gesture being used on the roadways, but there’s a better one we need to employ. It’s the universal handwave in front of the rearview mirror letting the driver behind you know that you appreciate them slowing down and giving you space. Don’t wave too soon, though. Make sure you’re exactly in front of them so your wiggling fingers are seen. I think we’d have less road-rage if we used more of the five-finger wave and less of the single-finger.
When the busboy refills water/clears plates/brings you anything
This holds true for anyone assisting your primary server (who also deserves a periodic “thank you”). These unsung heroes usually make less than the main servers, so saying “thank you” is especially appreciated. No one expects you to interrupt your conversation each and every time they appear. Just an occasional acknowledgement is called for.
When the grocery bagger is finished
The cashier deserves a “thank you”, of course, but the hardworking bagger has earned one, too. Be sure you make eye contact and thank them for taking good care of your eggs/cupcakes/bananas. For some, this is their first foray into the workforce. For others, this will be the only job they ever have. A little encouragement will mean a lot.
When the flight attendant hands you a drink
Here’s another stressful yet often thankless job. Yes, the engines are loud, your ears are plugged, your seatmate is hugging your armrest, and the person in front of you is fully-reclined, but make sure you at least mouth “thank you” to the attendant after they’ve served you. Placing our order for ginger ale comes easily; our thank you afterward doesn’t always.
“Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.” – Voltaire
We all want our workplaces to be havens from conflict, a refuge from the strife of the outside world where we can work together in harmony toward shared goals and objectives. In an ideal world, workplaces could be the model for the rest of society. But are they?
The reality is that workplaces are a melting pot, probably more diverse than the social groups we interact with and the neighborhoods we return to at days end.
Herein lies the problem:
• Can we all get along at work when the world outside is swirling with controversy?
• Can we hold those hot-button issues at bay and get our work done with people who may think very differently from ourselves?
• Can we find a way to discuss issues in a civil, empathetic and safe way as a way to open minds and build bridges?
What does “being civil” mean? The author of Rude Awakenings, which I had the pleasure of being a contributing author to, defined it this way: “Being mindful of the dignity of the human being in your sphere, taking care not to demean that individual in any way.”
Civility is linked to the Latin word civitas, which meant “city” and “community” and gave us the word “civilization.” The word itself suggests a larger social concern. When we’re civil, we’re members in good standing of a community, we’re good neighbors and good citizens. We have an active interest in the well-being of our communities and a concern for the planet we inhabit. Choosing civility means choosing to do the right thing for others, for the “city”.
The breakdown in civility begins when people start to believe they’re the center of the universe, rather than a cog in a big wheel. The seeds are planted when people start showing up late, blame others, fail to say “thank you”, or demonstrate a lack of sensitivity. Attitudes of “I don’t care what you think” or “That’s just how I am – deal with it” can have a ripple effect on others and turn workplaces into an “every man for himself” mindset instead of “we’re all in this together.” Civility teaches that every word you say and every action you take impacts others and care should be taken to make our “city” a pleasant and productive place to be.
So what can we do to make our workplaces more civil and the world a better place? Take responsibility!
There are three forms of responsibility to consider:
When you’re professionally responsibility, you take responsibility for the work you produce. You arrive on time, meet deadlines, and pull your weight on projects. You listen well and follow through. You send clear and unemotional emails, leave intelligible voice mails, and stay “present” on phone calls. It also means you do what you can to advance the company brand and make your organization successful. You do more than what it simply required.
Personal Responsibility means you take responsibility for yourself and your actions. You don’t blame or bash others and you admit your mistakes. You don’t yell, make derogatory comments, or spread gossip. You clean up after yourself in break rooms and bathrooms. You do the right thing even when no one is watching, like refilling paper trays, starting a new pot of coffee, or throwing away food leftovers. Those who display personal responsibility demonstrate a high level of emotional intelligence and personal integrity.
Social Responsibility is the type of responsibility where you help others. Do you mentor, support, inspire, coach, encourage, and show compassion? If you’re a supervisor, supervise. If you’re a manager, manage. Are you a leader? Lead! Jump in and do what you can to help those around you grow and succeed.
Take responsibility – and our workplaces and world will be better because of it.
Listening is one of the most important things we do as human beings and projects a well-developed Executive Presence. It demonstrates respect to others, it enables us to understand the other people’s wants and needs, and it can inform and improve our responses. All of us yearn to be heard and acknowledged by others. The challenge is that we think we’re listening to each other, but we’re not. We’re usually just formatting our responses. As Stephen Covey says, we need to “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Here are three strategies that can help:
1. Lower the “cone of silence”
Our world is filled with distractions, both external and internal. What pulls your focus away from the other person and their message? If you’re old enough to remember the ‘60’s TV show, “Get Smart”, you’ll remember the “cone of silence”. The cone would descend over two people who needed to privately discuss top-secret information. I know, the cone never worked and actually prevented them from hearing each other, but you get the point. When someone is talking to you, try lowering your own cone of silence to block out everything going on around you.
Distractions generally fall into one of these four categories:
• Your physical comfort – you’re hungry, thirsty, cold, hot, or tired.
• Your psychological barriers – you’re bored or daydreaming, or their topic triggers thoughts of your own past experiences.
• The speaker’s style – they have a monotone voice or accent you don’t understand, or their personal grooming presents a challenge (bad breath, body odor, etc.)
• External interruptions – phone calls or notifications, outside noise or activity, visitors.
Listening takes energy and focus. You must first decide to listen, then work to eliminate all distractions. Stop multitasking, maintain eye contact (where the eyes go the ears will follow) and lower that cone!
2. Clean out your filters
Every message we hear is run through our personal filters, which can include our opinions of the person or issue, our past experiences, prejudices about the idea, and personal agendas. They’re stored in our subconscious and prevent us from being truly present. These biases can distort the message and even trigger our emotions. Develop an awareness of your filters and don’t let them get in the way of true understanding.
Take responsibility for interpretation. Words mean different things to different people, so you might need to ask for definitions (“What did they mean by ‘in the running?’”. “Are you talking about the A Project or B Project?”). Ask clarifying questions if you’re confused (“Are you referring to…?”, “I think I missed something, can you go back to…”). Most people don’t add enough specifics when they speak, so instead of making assumptions and creating a disconnect, make it your job to help them communicate more clearly before you respond.
3. Summarize occasionally
A few summaries as you listen will not only help confirm your understanding of their content, but allow you to also figure out their intent. “So what you’re saying is…”, “So you’re suggesting…, is that correct”? You’re floating ideas for confirmation and direction—and what they answer will help you formulate your next question or comment. Your summaries and questions can also help them figure out what’s missing, what’s possible, and what isn’t.
As you can see, effective listening often requires you to do some talking, along with focusing like a laser. Incorporate the three techniques above to their content—and your content will be better as a result.
“You never have a second chance to make a first impression.” You’ve heard that for years, but there is a lot of truth in it. We size up others quickly because it helps us make sense of our world and feel safe in it. Research conducted by Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital suggests that people judge competence, likeability, trustworthiness, and attractiveness in 250 milliseconds based simply on what they see before them! And good or bad, we tend to cling to our initial judgments of others and view them through that lens for a very long time. So try to always put your best foot forward!
Here’s what not to do:
It’s hard to lose points by overdressing, but you certainly can by underdressing. As Hamlet said, “The apparel oft proclaims the man.” So, what is yours proclaiming today? How you dress tells the world just what you think about yourself and those you’re with. Why not convey intelligence, respect, and confidence? Do your homework, figure out the dress code, then kick it up a half a notch and choose accordingly. You can always lose the jacket, tie, or extra accessories once you scope out the room, but it’s hard to make those things materialize out of thin air.
Focus on Your Phone
You can only have one quality conversation at a time, so if you want to make a positive first impression, you’re going to have to put the phone away. On silent. Or better yet, off. You never want people to think that anything is more important than the conversation you’re having with them right here and right now. If you must make or take a call, excuse yourself and move away to talk in private. Then return and hope they haven’t moved on to someone more present and personable.
Use Negative Body Language
Our body language is another element that conveys how interested we are in others. Eyes that constantly dart around or focus on the floor, slumped postures, crossed arms, and grim expressions tell others you’re probably bored, angry, depressed, or all of the above. Face people heart-to-heart, make attentive eye contact, smile occasionally, and others will find you fascinating because you found them interesting.
Shake Hands Like a Limp Fish
…or a wet noodle or a bonecrusher or fingers-only princess style. Yikes! Your handshake sets the tone for whatever follows. Don’t gross them out with a handshake that creates questions instead of confidence. Offer your entire hand, move in until web meets web, grasp firmly, shake lightly (no pumping!), then release. Add to that a smile and eye contact, along with something pleasant like, “Hello, it’s nice to meet you.”
Having Nothing to Offer
Here’s another reason to do some homework ahead of time. Research the people you’ll be meeting as well as their companies, industries, and current issues. Prep some questions and insights you could share that would demonstrate your interest in them and knowledge of what’s going on in their worlds. But you can’t be all business either. Prep for lighter conversations, too. Books, movies, sports, theater, food, museums, and travel are all fun topics for small talk, so be ready to share your experiences and recommendations.
Americans love to combine food and business. Whether it’s breakfast, brunch, lunch, tea, cocktails or dinner, we enjoy merging these two activities and eating while we also brainstorm ideas, finalize deals, nurture relationships, even make hiring and promotion decisions. Here are some tips for handling the business conversation properly.
If you’re meeting over breakfast, you’ll need to get down to business quickly, perhaps even before you’re seated at the table. People usually can’t linger over a long breakfast, so get the discussion going while you’re standing at the hostess stand or even on the way to the restaurant.
When meeting over lunch, it’s best to wait until all parties have ordered. People often need more time to read through this menu (compared to breakfast), so don’t interrupt their decision-making process with business talk. Otherwise, the orders will be delayed and lunch will run late for everyone.
When you’re combining business with dinner, it’s proper to wait until the dessert/coffee course before bringing up the issues at hand. In some cultures, it’s taboo to talk business at all over a meal. They use these settings purely for building and solidifying relationships, not to talk shop. But stateside, if you do want to talk business, wait until the final course. Of course, if your guests bring the subject up earlier, take the cue that it’s okay to talk now.
Final Tip: When you’re the host, be sure to choose restaurants that take reservations, so you can respect your guests’ time.