When you checkout at a retail store, what do you do? I’m guessing it goes a little something like this:
It’s routine, usually emotionless. Did you even care when you asked how the clerk was doing? Eye contact is kept to a bare minimum, by both the clerk and us. Maybe both of us are tired. Maybe we are on our phone. It has been a long day. We just want to get what we came to the store for and be on our way.
A weird thing happened while checking out at Walgreens the other night: the cashier actually looked me in the eye. Not in a creepy way, but the kind of look that says, “I see you fellow human being.” Then he proceeded to ask how I was doing, because he genuinely wanted to know, and sent me off with a smile that felt like a hug.
I told my girlfriend about it. She mentioned this same Walgreens cashier to her friends. We’ve all had great customer service experiences that we just have to tell our friends about. You know what? It’s not a customer service experience. That’s a human experience. It inspires. It elevates the humanity within all of us. And it is becoming too rare. So rare, that we are surprised when it happens and compelled to tell someone about it.
How many times have you done the reverse? How many times have you said, “The Whole Foods cashier looked sad, so I cracked some jokes to brighten her day.”
We expect the employee to make the first move, for them to give us the remarkable experience. I’m guilty of this. Sure, we can all point to a situation in which we initiated a joyful interaction, but they usually just never happen.
Many of us talk about wanting to become more present. What about the everyday social interactions we miss just because we want to get on our way?
It’s much sexier to talk about tech gadgets like Headspace that offer mindfulness training and transcendental meditation, or learning to relax and embrace solitude while hovering over the water in a float tank. Things like this can be great, but the lessons learned from these exercises are supposed to be applied in the real world.
In her TED Talk, with over 4 million views to date, radio host Celeste Headlee talks about 10 ways to have better conversations. The number one thing is to be present. We’ve all been involved in conversations when we are mentally checked out as well as the person we are chatting with! Multiply this by the dozens of social interactions in which we simply go through the motions each week - and we wonder why we aren’t more present?
For example, take a job that would lend itself easily to mentally checking out, such as a comedian having to meet and greet fans after shows. This could easily become a production of looking at each person like a widget on an assembly line. Instead, comedians like Joe Rogan will stay after shows for hours making an effort to “reset” for each person. It pays respect to the person as a human being and also makes the interaction more enjoyable for you!
While pundits today want to point fingers at social media or cell phones, they are not the problem. Likely, more a symptom of the problem. People were just as busy, rushing through their days, not being present, before these technologies came along. The susceptibility to distraction is now a whole lot easier. Look at people in restaurants when their dining partner steps away. They cannot sit still, or even people-watch. They whip out their phones and ignore the world around them.
The solution is to care about the opportunities that come our way every day, the opportunities that we continually miss. From practicing “presence” with everyone we encounter to appreciating the small things that happen during our day. These are the mental building-blocks to become more present, meditation cushion not required.
I am issuing a challenge! This week, make an effort to be fully present with each social interaction you have, especially with employees or customer service people. For extra credit, see if you can brighten THEIR day.
I have found this to be quite a challenge. After you’ve had a long day, wanting to be “there” with a retail employee or not check your cell phone with an UBER driver can feel like torture. You need to think for a moment what THEIR day has been like. It’s easy to rationalize that it’s not that important.
However, as the saying goes, “How we do anything is how we do everything.”