Back in my dating days, I followed the sound advice, “See how a person treats service professionals (waiters, clerks, etc) – that’s how they’ll treat you in time.” If someone was rude, impatient, or simply didn’t acknowledge the person providing service as someone equally deserving of courtesy, then that was information about my date’s character.
This rule applied even if the service wasn’t great. My stance has always been, “You just never know – they could be having a really bad day.” People have to show up for work after all kinds of challenging events occur, from a death in the family to being abused at home or being served divorce papers that morning.
A couple of months ago, a friend of mine and I met at a local restaurant to catch up and talk shop (we’re both educators and wilderness leaders). I got a drink at the bar, and when he arrived, we went out to the patio to eat. We sat without menus or service for about 20 minutes, but we were busy chatting so it wasn’t a big deal. Finally, I flagged down the waitress we saw serving a table near us to let her know we’d like to order food. She was instantly apologetic – she saw that I had a beer and assumed we’d been served already. She continued to apologize profusely, and we continued to assure her that there wasn’t a problem and that we were just fine. She thanked us time and time again for our patience, each time she came to our table, in fact.
When we were ready to leave and in the process of paying our bill, she stopped to talk. She told us that the reason she was so apologetic and thankful for us being kind to her was that she’d just had a baby, and this was her first night back at work. Sleep-deprived and overwhelmed, she didn’t know how she would cope with waitressing again that night. She said, “If you’d been mean to me, I would’ve collapsed, cried and quit, so thank you.”
She walked away, and my friend and I stared at each other wide-eyed. We’d just been talking about how it was right to respond with kindness in our situation because, “You just never know.” We were stunned that we actually got to hear the back story from our server, affirming our actions and reminding us that it really is true – you just never know.
So the next time you’re feeling impatient, remember that you can choose to make someone’s day a little more hellish or a little more happy. For instance, I was at a café recently, and the man behind the counter was clearly new, and clearly having trouble ringing up my order. I kept smiling and being kind, and he thanked me for my patience at the end of the transaction. I just winked and said, “You know, it’s just coffee!” He broke into a huge laugh of relief and said, “Right? I wish more people thought like you.” We both enjoyed a laugh, I still got my coffee, and he got a break from the pressure.
Next time you’re out and about, or on the phone with customer service, see if you can provide a laugh and a smile. It costs nothing and will make you smile, too.