My mother has a superpower that puts her on a level with Superman, The Flash, Wonder Woman and Miss Marvel all rolled into one. My mother has a politeness superpower, and any of the skills I have in talking to people are from sitting at the foot of the master.
My mother can go into any room and charm the folks in charge. I have seen her charm a DMV worker on a hot summer day just by kindly asking about their day. Restaurant workers have recognized me as her daughter and have offered me free desserts. This is the power of my mother: Free lava cake level-people skills.
To some, the idea of politeness can sound old-fashioned and stuffy, gone the way of white gloves and cucumber sandwiches. This is such a shame, and not just because cucumber sandwiches are freakin’ DELICIOUS! But it’s actually very simple to be polite and connect with others, especially important connections like work colleagues.
By following these three tips you’ll be amazed at the difference in your professional relationships:
1) I see you: Everyone wants their effort to be acknowledged and appreciated. Something that may not seem like a big deal to you – like filing, or working the cash, or stamping forms at the DMV – is almost certainly a big deal to the person doing it. Especially since they spend a lot of time having people roll their eyes or speak rudely to them. A simple, “Hey, how are you?” or a genuine “Thank you” can go a long way. I learned years later that I was hired at one of my first jobs because I was the only person who was nice to the receptionist. Turns out she was who chose what resumes went to the boss and which ones got filed under “Nope!”
2) Show interest: Is this a person you’ll be seeing often? Get to know them a bit. Ask them some questions about things you observe. Does someone have a cubicle full of cat pictures? Find out a bit about Fluffy. Do they have a stack of P90x books? Ask about that when you have two hours to spend listening (kidding! I’m sure it’s great. Please don’t talk to me about it at parties anymore). If this is a business contact, I highly recommend writing something you talked about on the back of their business card later that day and filing it to look at before you see them next. It’s always more fun and natural to be able to talk about something that interests someone.
Warning: DO NOT FAKE IT. If you are bored by stories about Fluffy’s new exercise routine, gently guide the conversation to a new topic. Also, if your mind is a blank about what you talked about, then just ask about their day or traffic or something simple. People can smell fake and it does not smell good.
3) Kindergarten Rules: Saying please and thank you and sharing remain as important today as they were when you were four. I talked about the importance of “thank you” above, but tone is just as important. Remember when you were a kid and some other kid did something crappy and gave you a fake “sorry.” Well, imagine that, but from an adult who knows better. Show others respect, and they will likely show it back. And just as importantly, even if they don’t, others will see it and take note. Relationships are contagious: one good one (even if it’s one-sided) usually leads to others. While both my mother and I have dealt with our share of difficult personalities, our calm, respectful communication almost always results in matters getting resolved. Or at least not getting escalated.
And sometimes there’s that free cake.