“Foot in Mouth” syndrome and the “Curse of Considerate Clarification”

Aside

I’ve been told a few times that I make people think exactly what I didn’t want them to think. Let me explain. For some reason, in addition to putting my foot in my mouth by accident, I manage to make others suspicious of hidden agendas in my words because of the very things I say.

Here’s a stunning example of “Foot in Mouth” syndrome:

I was at the art opening of a gifted photographer last night. We had been students together in graduate school. During our visit, I recalled that he had recently been married. I was preparing to ask how things were going when I recalled a previous experience with the same artist. Not three years earlier I asked, “How’s Suzzy?” after having met his girlfriend weeks before. He awkwardly replied, “We’re not together any more.” UG! The artist–being a quiet man–had nothing left to say, and I–dumbfounded–had nothing to say either. The next three years were filled with many uncomfortable visits in which I could never establish a good speaking rapport with this nice man.

So, here I am preparing to ask after his new wife, thinking, Oh dear, what if they didn’t get married or they’re divorced or something? I didn’t want to have the awkward silence again. All these thoughts were spinning in my mind as I said, “So, are you still married?”  Still?!  STILL!!!!???? Not, “How’s your wife?” or “How is it being a newlywed?” or “I heard you got hitched. How’d it go?”  Nope. STILL. I can’t believe myself sometimes. Perhaps I should strike the word from my vocabulary. Luckily he chuckled and said they had been married just a few months, and I backed out of it by joking I had no faith in marriage apparently. My husband comforted me later by saying it was nothing, but there it was. My foot. My mouth. Not what I had hoped to eat that night. I only had room for cereal when I got home after that feast.

And then there is the “Curse of Considerate Clarification,” or the 3-C problem as I call it:

I think I learned from my mother to be very mindful of my words–how were they making others feel, how do they sound to others? I have become very sensitive to peoples’ expressions, responses and actions in reply to my words, which often sends me in a day-long analysis of where I went wrong or where they misunderstood. This is very exhausting.  Changing the way you think is hard, but I’m trying to change the habit. Especially since my consideration for others has back-fired in my face.

Like last night. It didn’t backfire, but nearly so. Jake and I went out to dinner at a great Mexican-Irish restaurant (yup–and it’s an awesome pairing). The five-year-old joint is just a half block down the street from the New York favorite Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, which had just opened. Naturally the barbecue restaurant was packed every day. And we were benefiting, as here we were eating at this very popular place without waiting for a table. Surprised I asked the manager who seated us, “So, have you noticed your business dropping due to the new place down the street?” Immediately, as I glanced at the numerous empty tables I thought Oh crap, she might think that I think they are losing business, or that they are too slow for a Saturday! Quick! Tell her that’s not what you meant! So I said, “Oh! I hope you didn’t think I meant you guys would be losing business to them. I’m sure you won’t be affected–it being such a different market.” The manager smiled, agreed by citing how busy they had been thirty minutes before, and then went to seat another couple. I was relieved! It is this kind of situation that so many times has prompted the reply: “Well, I didn’t think you meant that originally, but now that you brought it up that’s exactly what I’m going to think.” Go figure!

What I’ve learned is that I need to trust that others will ask me to clarify what I meant if they took it negatively. I should hope they will consider my character and intent. I should also remember to pause before I speak to think of what I want to say.

But finally, if I feel like I need to clarify, I can avoid the 3-C problem by restating. Instead of: “I hope I didn’t make you think…” I can say: “Let me clarify. What I meant to say was…” or “That didn’t sound right, let me rephrase that.” By rephrasing what I say I remove the possibility that the listener will suspect me of ill-intent or veiled malice. I certainly won’t wind up prompting them to doubt my intentions! And perhaps with any luck I will spare myself a little exhaustive worry!

 

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Here’s your Hypocrite Certificate

There is one thing I can’t stand: people who complain over and over about things and then do nothing about it!

I have this problem sometimes too, but I acknowledge my hypocrisy so I can feel somehow slightly forgiven because I at least know I do it. Not the best excuse–I’m a work in progress–but I am trying. And usually I try to DO things to alleviate my frustrations by altering my behavior.

But man! People at work today. I just couldn’t handle it. It was a weird day in general, but the obvious hypocrisy of two particular women today was so silly and ridiculous that I was left speechless (quite a task)!

This afternoon, my facilities manager Carmen (name changed) was discussing how every workplace seems to deal with the same problem: people are slobs. They leave dirty dishes in the sink for days; they are too lazy to pick up a paper towel they dropped on the floor, or wipe off their crumbs from the break room table. They make disgusting messes in the bathroom and refuse to clean it up. The list goes on.

So here I am talking about this with Carmen and these two other ladies are also very passionately protesting such behavior: “Slobs!” “How inconsiderate.” “Savages!” After a few minutes of their complains (with which I heartily participated), I tried to interject my positive solution: “Well, I guess at some point though we need to move past our frustration and decide to model the proper behavior so other people feel pressured to do the same….” Before I could finish my thought, the two ladies were forcefully shaking their heads. Nope. I don’t think so! their faces said. They wouldn’t do that. “If everyone else breaks the rules, so can we,” they countered.

And that, my friends, is why so many people never find actual solutions to their problems.

This would change your community. Seriously.

Hour Exchange Portland logo

Listening to PBS NewsHour today as my fingers drummed mindlessly away at my work keyboard, I came upon a most wonderful idea and I wanted to share it with you. This is the kind of thing that could work in any community, anywhere in the country. It would help people keep their professional skills honed while unemployed, and help individuals keep their homes and lifestyles maintained and enriched. The PBS feature “In Maine, service time swapped to help stretch dollars in recession” details a project called “Hour Exchange Portland,” founded by an actual Rockefeller–Richard Rockefeller. Here’s how this thing works: you first make a deposit in the form of your time — donating your skills to someone else. For each hour of your time you volunteer, you earn a “time dollar.” You can spend these dollars when you want by asking for services offered from other members of the program (there are around 600 currently in Portland). By doing this act of “generosity,” people get their leaky faucets fixed, their mufflers attached, their doctors visited. Pretty simple, definitely straightforward. And those are always the best ideas (look at the Post-It). Amazing, right?!  How much better off would we all be to have this in our communities?

I encourage you to check out the newscast video (just 7 minutes), and share this with your friends and relatives! (There are “share” functions at the bottom of the post.) Start one of these in your town! We could change the world, our society, and our economy and get back the same that we give and it could be SO easy! 

Click HERE to see the video.

Click here to visit the foundation’s website:Hour Exchange Portland

Farting and Pooping

Finally! I’m done! Five months of planning, sewing, photographing, and I am done! My newest completed Be Nice. project piece is ready to be reproduced into a brochure (8.5 x 14 inches, with four panels, double-sided. It will fold like an accordion.), and I am so excited!

The piece is about one of my favorite subjects: bathroom-related etiquette. It is a never-ending fascination to me how people behave in the public restrooms, and what they decide to leave behind (why, oh why do they leave anything behind?!). Even more surprising is what people do with their loved ones in private, and what some do in public! I am amazed how something everyone does on such a regular basis is so taboo (I daresay more so than sex), especially when one considers how poo can tell us the quality of our overall health. I just couldn’t resist–I had to make a piece on the subject! Talking about poo was one reason that contributed to my 65 pound weight loss in 2005, and it is even the reason I made one of my best friendships here in New York (yes, talking about poo gained me a friends)!

I present to you: the Be Nice. Guide to Farting and Pooping!

Be Nice. Guide to Farting and Pooping (outside panel; left section is the back cover; right section is the front cover)

Be Nice. Guide to Farting and Pooping (inside panel--this is the entire inside section)

The images are small, and may appear a bit fuzzy, but if you click them they will open slightly larger and more readable!

Once I print them, I am going to have distribution in the works. If you know a place that would be perfect for it, pass it along by emailing me! This project is completely self-funded so in the near future I am planning a Kickstarter campaign to aid the publication costs. If you have any ideas/suggestions, please pass them along!

I sincerely hope you get a chuckle out of this piece! Thanks as always for reading and supporting this project!

(And if you like this topic, you might enjoy the fabulously funny book What is your poo telling you? by Josh Richman and Anish Sheth, M.D. They have a website here.)

Being nice can give you free stuff

I’ve been gone for a while. Sorry about that! I have no really great excuse. I moved to a new apartment awhile ago and I have been nesting. That’s it. Just making art, and nesting. Working on the next Be Nice. piece actually, which is in its final stages of completion. I hope it will make you laugh.

Anyways, in that spirit, I have a game I think you should play. It’s free, easy, and sometimes you get cool rewards, like free dinner, discounts, or free dessert. Usually you just get a warm fuzzy feeling, so I would let that be your motivation if you choose to play it. People can sniff out others who are looking for a freebie handout, so best to keep your motivations pure. Anyhow, it’s a one-player game, though you can involve your friends. My friend Katie and I like to compete for who can “out-nice” the other in pretty much any situation. Seriously, we do. It’s a blast. But this game is one that you can do whenever, wherever you like, with whomever you choose. And it’s great. It’s called the “Be awesome to customer service professionals until they are smiling, laughing, and happy” game. Not the best name–I’ll have to work on it. But you get the idea.

The rules are simple:
1. Be yourself, be friendly, and be genuine.
2. You cannot know the person–they must be a stranger.
3. Don’t plan it, just do it at the drop of a dime, when the opportunity comes up.
4. Pay attention to the game’s effect on the other person and how awesome it makes you feel (trust me, this game makes it feel great to be you, which is pretty cool).

It is pretty unusual for the “customer” to be friendlier or nicer than the worker, but that is what makes this game so effective. It catches people off guard. And when you do that, you have a better chance of really having a positive impact. Not to mention, when you cheer up that worker, they’ll pay that forward to future customers and friends. Here’s my most recent example of how this can be done:

Last night I was watching Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix. I’m on a big kick and I’m re-watching ALL the old episodes while I sew. I was excited because my husband was off in his studio working, so I had the computer all to myself and could watch my show (he’s not such a fan) for the entire evening. Just me and some tear-jerking drama. I had fully immersed myself in the beginning of season 6. I was invested. Then, out of nowhere, Netflix had a server error. NOOOOOOO! I checked my internet, my browser. Nothing fixed it. How could this happen?! This was my Grey’s night! In a last-ditch effort, I called the customer service number on the screen and after three tries, I got in touch with a customer service rep. At this point I think many people would be pretty miffed. But how could I be? The guy on the other end of the line sounded super friendly, animated, and totally helpful. And I later learned it was his last call of the day, and he was still courteous. I love this kind of Rep.

Naturally I started to chat the guy up: “Where am I calling you?” “Portland, Oregon,” he replied.  “Oh! I am so jealous! What an awesome place to be I hear!…” From there we just rattled away at each other, and it was great. He was just getting off work, and I had the pleasure of sending him into his evening smiling and laughing. Being cheerful–even though I had a reason to be grumpy–had managed to make his night end on a positive note, and it made my little video viewing inconvenience not even matter!

I have plenty of examples like that; a credit card rep in India who I had more in common than I knew–AND who told me some sweet places to go if I ever get a chance to go to his country; an electric company rep originally from NYC who was putting herself through school while working full-time–she was a blast to talk with. An ice cream shop clerk who laughed herself red when I told her about growing up on a farm as a child, chasing giant cattle into their pen with a stick. It can make your evening, it can change your mood. Have fun!

Red (Faced) Tape at the DMV

In the DMV the other morning, I noticed the most appalling behavior. A  DMV worker, let’s call her Sally,  was managing a customer’s routine request (let’s call her Ronda). Sally told Ronda  to fill out a few specific forms in an informative tone, which should have resolved her problem. Immediately Ronda threw her hands on her hips and became very snippy with Sally. Speaking to her like a child, Ronda indicated she had filled out the forms and said, “If you would stop and listen to what I am saying instead of jumping to conclusions, maybe you might understand what I am saying.”  Unphased by Ronda’s tone and courteous still, Sally said, “I’m sorry. Please explain what you need.” The conversation continued and within a few moments Ronda snapped at Sally again , “That’s why I’m here! I didn’t step into line on a whim. That guy over there told me to come here and speak with you. And don’t you think I’m about to keep running back and forth because you all don’t seem to know how to do your jobs.”  The conversation continued from there, with Ronda continually growing angry at the ever-calm Sally. I phased out at that point to tend to my own business, but it left me with a lot of thoughts about what transpired.

First, since when did adults believe it is acceptable to behave like toddlers? Ronda threw a tantrum in the DMV fully expecting everything to go her way because she expressed her anger. In my opinion, I would think being kind and courteous would have facilitated the resolution to her complaint much more quickly.

Second, when Ronda grew upset from the start, it was clear to me that she would have gotten angry at anybody. Sally was just the first face to come along. That isn’t very considerate of Ronda. It is fine to be upset with the red tape in our law system, but the people behind the counters don’t make the rules. They are likely as frustrated as you are with the system. What would have been better in this situation would be to ask questions to clarify what Sally meant while including the fact that Ronda had indeed filled out some forms.

My third feeling about this event was admiration! Sally kept her cool with Ronda, even after Ronda insulted Sally’s ability to listen and do her job. Amazing. Sally is an example of a terrific employee and person. Rather than accelerate the situation by reacting to Ronda, Sally provided information and assistance clearly and calmly to her and managed to get the frustrated customer out of the DMV without any major incident.

Bigger… Better….

I like to be nice to everyone that I can. I make a point of getting know the familiar faces in my life. I have a growing rapport with the guy at the gas station, the clerks at the grocery store, the guy at the Wine store, the waiter at my favorite diner, Maria at the bank, Jason our postal carrier, Krystal, Mary and Donnie at the gym, the gals at the fabric store, the staff at the art supply store, Jen at the camera store, and the workers at the post office.

These relationships have been built over time through consistently pleasant exchanges in which I seek to relate to these folks in a way that surpasses a concern with what they can do for me as their customer.  I sincerely ask how their day is, I tell them excitedly about my new projects (to include them in my life/activities), I make chitchat about normal, superficial things. It’s hard to stay indifferent to someone who is upbeat and positive, who is taking a specific interest in relating to you. And typically, I can engage them in a conversation and walk away knowing that perhaps their day is a little less mundane and a little brighter. Mine  is certainly sunnier.

But there’s an added benefit to all this: my world is bigger. My days are  better. All my routine tasks become invigorating experiences. If I am having a bad day, I could run to the store and see one of the workers I know and have a better attitude after talking with them a bit.  

When you reach out positively to others, people are naturally inclined to help you and/or respond nicely in return. When you form mini-relationships with those people that are in the background of your daily routine, the events of the day are more interesting, more rewarding and enjoyable.

 

© Be Nice. Creator and Be Nice. (somethingsonice.wordpress.com), 2008-2009.