Saturday, March 25, 2017

Priorities and Responsibilities

Today, I want to look at two different situations we all encounter in our daily lives. The first one is about the importance of being on time. How important is it to be on time? How important is it to teach children to be on time? In some cultures, the Dutch for example, value punctuality above almost everything else. In other cultures, such as our own, more flexibility seems to be acceptable.

The question arises after one decides that being on time really does matter. Why does it even matter? For one thing, being on time shows we have respect for other people’s time. For another, it enables us to accomplish goals that are attached to deadlines. However, becoming obsessed with watching the clock can lead to unnecessary stress, sometimes even panic. One reader was grappling with punctuality versus civility. He wonders whether ‘rushing the kids out the door’ to get to an activity is more important than actually enjoying the process more holistically.

The responsibility lies with the parents. Children do not yet understand how much time it takes to tie shoes, comb hair and pack school lunches. That is a fact. Even if you think they should know, it takes time for children to practice putting all of these moving parts together into a homogeneous action before ‘second nature’ eventually takes over. The process of practicing these skills takes time. Be sure to allow as much time as necessary to accomplish all of these small tasks without the stress imposed by the thought of being late. Potential tardiness is not an appropriate excuse for incivility. It is indeed during these times of everyday small actions that we learn to be kind and to integrate patience and compassion into our lives.

In some cases, being on time is very important. Business meetings, professional appointments, and cultural and sporting events usually begin on time. In business, if you want to succeed, being prompt helps. Most professional offices operate on a schedule of appointments; therefore, keeping on track is vital. Likewise, when going to a theatre performance, be sure you are comfortably and quietly seated prior to the curtain rising.

The second question concerns who takes responsibility for customer dissatisfaction. This situation can happen at a restaurant, a beauty salon, or even at a doctor’s office. Quite by surprise, we don’t like the way the chef has prepared our food; we are shocked and unhappy with the new look facing us in the mirror; or, we suffer further discomfort or develop new symptoms after a doctor’s surgery or treatment for an illness. The question is how do we handle these situations appropriately.

Depending on the seriousness of the situation, reactions can range from a mild reprimand to a tirade.  Or, we could play the martyr and feel sorry for ourselves. As the customer, we are well within our rights to express our displeasure, but doing so with civility. We are all human beings and face challenges every day. It’s important to consider the intention to displease you or harm you in any way. In most cases, these situations were accidental. But, poor skills at work can also create bad results. What each of us must do is differentiate between what was done badly out of malice and what is done because of a lack of ability.

Anytime we are confronted with an angry attitude, our natural tendency is to go on the defensive. When this happens, we can lose our cool if we become too upset with the situation. There is a shared responsibility, that when accepted can greatly aid in resolving the issue. The injured person is absolutely owed an apology and suitable restitution. In the case of a poor meal, the charge should be removed from the bill; in the case of a bad dye job or hair cut, there should be no charge. Once an apology is made, it is up to the customer to accept it and acknowledge it with an understanding, accepting reply.

As I write this column, today it is International Kindness Day. I ask each of you sit quietly and remember a time when you were upset by a bad experience as a customer. Think about how you reacted, if you held any grudge, if you left any scars. Replay the scene, substituting a kinder response. Hopefully you can sense a difference in how you feel, perhaps wishing you had handled it that way in the first place. Maybe the next time this happens to you, you will pause a moment before responding and consider the intention behind the situation. If we all approached stressful situations with more compassion, we would react less harshly. This form of kindness is very contagious. Try it; you’ll like it.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Common Sense and Common Courtesy

So much of what we do today is based on common sense.
Common sense is essential to showing that we are actually
paying attention to what we are doing in our business and personal
lives, and what we are saying through our various forms of
communication.  As decent folks, we are
naturally kind and friendly, primarily because that is how we like to
be treated. A healthy society relies heavily on these dynamics in
order to survive. It's just plain common sense to want to go through life
in a reasonable way, pleasantly interacting with our fellow human beings.

Occasionally, I am asked where and when the rules of etiquette started;
have they gone out of fashion; and are they really important? First of
all, the term was coined in the court of Louis XVI and meant simply
KEEP OFF THE GRASS, reminding the public to tread respectfully at Versailles.
Common courtesy was most likely practiced in prehistoric times though there is
nothing to document the practice.
Etiquette was nicely presented in the 12th century as King Arthur created a
chivalric order in The Knights of the Round Table. It was Arthur's wish that each 
knight of the realm have equal status and be treated with equal
respect. He was to be seated with his knights at a round table
which had neither head nor foot. In modern society however, the common
rules of courtesy evolved through necessity and were recorded by
ancient Romans and continued through George Washington and on to Emily
Post and a whole host of self proclaimed experts. These rules of etiquette
were originally developed as a safe way of communicating with dubious new
acquaintances, indicating peaceful intentions. They evolved into
musings of how polite society ought to behave and became almost like
doctrines by the early 20th Century. Make no mistake about it though;
these notions were fabricated by a variety of persons; and yet always with a
generous helping of common sense and an acute awareness of right and wrong.

Etiquette rules are flexible, however, and just as fashions, lifestyles, and
societies change and evolve, so too do the guidelines of accepted
behavior. Their importance does not diminish however. As the result of
some world events and technological eruptions, both the business world
and society at large have relaxed these rules, in my opinion, about as
far as they can go. Common courtesy is still effectively extended when
friendships are formed and are transformed into long term
relationships. People will never lose their innate desire to woo a
potential spouse; and this is true of both sexes. We like to be
treated kindly and soon come to discover that the easiest way for that
to occur is to be kind ourselves.

In business, especially in today's shrinking world, competitive
atmosphere and increasing markets, we have the luxury in many cases to
do business with people whom we like, feel we can trust, and who share
 common sense which is a human trait. Many a business deal is closed
on a golf course or during a shared meal. These venues reveal our true selves
to one another and speak volumes about our strength of character and
core values.

I find that if I take the time to slow down and temporarily leave the
rat race of life, enjoying a quiet cup of tea at the local coffee
house or having a relaxed chat at the local hardware store, 
these brief sojourns can be very therapeutic.
We have a chance to listen to what our
friends have on their minds, and it gives us a chance to be empathetic and
to share a bit of our time in a selfless way. This seemingly small act
speaks volumes for how we ourselves feel about the world in which we
live, be it local or global. The ability to express our opinions
freely is a cornerstone of a free and healthy society and one which we
too often overlook and take for granted.

Another indicator of whether what we are doing or saying is correct
and respectful is to look inside of ourselves. If we feel in our
hearts that what we intend to do is kind and thoughtful and not
solely self serving and hurtful, then we're probably on the right
track. This in essence is what etiquette is all about. After all,
being kind comes naturally to us as humans.

Being sensible about and mindful of courteous behavior is never going to
go out of style nor fashion. Flexibility in the rules governing what
is acceptable behavior will guarantee that. The underlying principles
of respect for all things including ourselves will preserve what we in
the Western world have come to know as normal. Common sense is within
each of us, let us apply it daily.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Easter Egg Toss and Other Fun

Easter is just around the corner!

One activity which is traditionally enjoyed by children of all ages is the Easter Egg hunt. As a child, this annual event took place at various friends' houses. All of us as youngsters would look forward with great anticipation from spring to spring when we would gather to decorate dozens of eggs. They were usually white, thereby making the muted colors as vibrant as possible. As we grew older we became adept at using wax pencils, stencils and other enhancements to create more spectacular eggs. I still can smell the vinegar and visualize the wonderful messes which we were almost encouraged to make for a change.  
Magically, the Easter Bunny managed to hide all of the eggs by the next morning. He is one busy avatar what with assembling all of those baskets and hiding all the eggs. By late morning, the boys were all dressed in freshly pressed shirts and trousers and the girls were resplendent in their Spring colored party frilly dresses and new patent leather shoes. Little seems to have changed. Mothers do still enjoy turning out their children nicely upon occasion.

Onto the adventures of the all important Easter Egg hunt! I can scarcely remember an Easter Egg hunt that was squelched by bad weather. The excitement of finding the first egg and feeling your eyes suddenly turn into purple or blue or orange egg honing devices. There were usually a few special eggs that might have coins taped to them. There might be some gold or silver dyed eggs that the Easter Bunny created and hid in unusual spots. For the most part, all the eggs are found. If the kids don't find them, the dogs or raccoons eventually do.
One of the more adult past times has been the famous egg toss. This is best played towards the end of the day. The eggs are not boiled, as they are for those wonderful dyed eggs, but kept in a lovely breakable state. Teams of two people are paired and begin facing each other about 5 feet apart. One tosses the egg to the other. If successfully caught (without dropping or otherwise breaking), the two  step back a pace or two. The egg is then tossed again and as this process is repeated and the distances increase, there is great anticipation as to just how far this can go. I remember one year successfully tossing one egg over the entire house to win the contest and the accompanying prize. 

Other fun games that I recall are the favorite egg race, where we would race from one point to a finish line carrying an egg on a spoon. If you dropped your egg, that would be a disqualification as would breaking any other rules such as holding the egg onto the spoon with a wayward thumb.
Of all of the memories of Easter, most involve many generations of friends and family getting together and for a day of fun, delicious food and a celebration of spring. Easter baskets would often times have packets of seeds to plant in the garden. After all, as we all know, Easter is an important Christian holiday  which celebrates the resurrection of Christ. It also serves as a symbol of rebirth and renewal of many forms of life.
There is an unfortunate custom of giving children small chicks or bunny rabbits as new pets. This is a cruel tradition on several counts. First of all, it traumatizes the small animals, most of whom wind up being grossly neglected or abandoned after the initial thrill quickly wears off. This mismatch of small children and small animals often leads to sadness on the part of the child too. With little effort it is easy to find more suitable ways to show our children that we love them. Please resist falling for these cute young animals. Stuffed toys animals are a wonderful alternative.

No matter how you celebrate Easter, remember that to many people it is an important holiday.  Be respectful of those who celebrate by attending church services, dressed in their spring finery. Easter is a time of year, a punctuation mark on the calendar, when families and friends join together as a community, demonstrating civility and kindnesses which we can hopefully carry throughout the year, or at least until the next punctuation mark comes along. Happy Easter everyone!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Dismissive Remarks and Etiquette

How many times have you been told to ‘buck up’, or ‘that’s just the way it is’, or ‘get over it’? These are dismissive remarks that can make you feel worse than you did before sharing your discomfort about a situation or fear you were experiencing. One of the guiding principles of etiquette is to put other people’s feelings and comfort ahead of your own. Although their advice may mean not taking whatever is bothering you too seriously, what you hear may not alleviate the discomfort you are feeling. The disconnection comes in not knowing where to take your next step. How do you “just get over it” when what is troubling you is very real and painful? The person making the remark may have the best intentions, but your reality and their advice don’t match up.

When someone is stressed and comes to us for comforting, support, or some advice, the best thing we can do is to listen. Sitting down with a friend, who is feeling alone, confused or in pain and offering them a chance to share their troubles is the mark of a true friend. Such a time often allows them to reach a calm solution. Occasionally, it gives you a chance to offer some advice or more tangible assistance. Listening is the most important thing we can do initially. Putting an arm around their shoulder, literally or figuratively, is also a form of comfort that most people respond to when they’re feeling overwhelmed.

When we listen with the intent to understand what is on the other person’s mind, we gain a new perspective; we can have empathy; and we can be compassionate. Too often, we are so insensitive to the pain or fear a person is suffering and expressing to us that our listening is focused on how we will respond. Frequently, a dismissive remark is the result of such insensitivity. We need to filter our thoughts before they become words. Doing so gives us enough time to establish our role as friend and supporter and to reconsider what we will say.

Because a phrase or untoward remark can disrupt a positive social interaction, I am encouraged to notice a renewed interest in the subject of treating children with respect. This can be observed within a group of childhood friends, where peer groups establish a flexible congenial pecking order, or it can between teachers and students, coaches and athletes, or parents and children. The result of paying attention to our children and working to maintain integrated relationships teaches children how to respect others because they are being respected.

New schools of thinking are evolving that show just how critically important respect is to a child, from infancy into adulthood. In fact, our society is built on respecting one another, following The Golden Rule and applying common sense when we think of it. Now we are beginning to realize that dismissive remarks are incredibly painful and damaging to children as well as adults. It is an opportunity to become more sensitive to children’s feelings and fears, and to move from a disconnected, dismissive attitude to an encouraging and connected one.

Within families, dismissive remarks can be very painful. With enough regularity, they can destroy a person, leaving them with little or no self worth. Civility and polite speech suggest that we should be as aware as possible of how we affect the people around us, not only how they affect us. There is a cooperation here that has evolved over the years and helps us maintain a civil society. Obviously, sometimes it works better than others. Within our homes, we can provide a safe and civil environment. With care and attention, we take this with us to school, to work, and throughout our communities.

In business, when we work to our potential, we are justifiably proud of reaching our goals. Part of civility in the workplace is an atmosphere of encouragement. We have a right to work in a place where fear and bullying are not acceptable.  In his new book From Bully to Bull’s-Eye – Move Your Organization Our of the Line of Fire, Andrew Faas focuses on the importance and significance of psychologically safe workplaces, and how a supportive work environment can erode the staggering numbers of stress-related deaths we currently cope with. And, in her new book, The 30% Solution - How Civility at Work Increases Retention, Engagement and Profitability, Lewena Bayer explains exactly how to achieve significant gains from the holistic perspective of incorporating greater civility at work.

We are responsible for what comes out of our mouths. We are the ones who spit out hurtful, dismissive remarks. We can stop saying them. We need to pay closer attention to our thoughts, our speech, and our actions. We should follow the fundamental principles of etiquette – to put the other person ahead of us, and to take the high road whenever possible – and it’s always possible.

We start with ourselves, taking the time to find a quiet place everyday, where we can reflect, understand the need for self-compassion, and for inner healing and rejuvenation.  It’s almost springtime. There’s no better time than the present to begin to be kinder and gentler in our words. Perhaps adding a smile to our vocabulary might be our best comment.