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.