Give these guys a medal!

It occurs to me that the last few posts here on the Sparking Synapse have been, shall say, a tad on the cloudy side of the street.

Partly this due to the fact that I am a little more than three weeks into having to wear a very restrictive shoulder immobilising sling night and day for six weeks, and I am constantly uncomfortable, hot, and unable to function normally, with a side order of pain, random itchiness and boredom. This the second such period within five months, with a surgical repair thrown in for good measure, and I can’t even have a good slug of wine now and then because alcohol doesn’t mix too well with heavy-duty painkillers. So perhaps it’s forgiveable, but methinks it’s maybe time to haul on those bootlaces a little and cheer the fuck up.

So, with this in mind, and with a gentle reminder from Valerie over at A Mixed Bag, I am inspired to write this.

As we go about our daily lives we come across all sorts of people, and all-too-often, the ones that leave the biggest impression are the idiots, the rude, and the incompetent. We love to come home and say to our families and friends “You’ll never guess what a stupid woman in Boots said to me” or “the way some people park is (expletive of your choice) atrocious” or “it took me forty-five minutes to get home today, because some stupid idiot at the council thought it was a good idea to … (blah, blah, blah). And if we are angry enough, we follow it up with a complaint in writing, do we not? Or we get all hot under the collar and pick up the phone and give some poor lowly office worker hell. Yep. I know. I’ve done it myself. In fact, I am in the middle of a series of ultra polite, barely-sarcastic-at-all emails1 at the moment with a company who refuse to refund the shipping costs on some returned goods (but that’s another story).

The thing is, dear readers, that we so seldom remember to fill in those forms and write those letters – or even go home and tell our loved ones – when we are met with smiling helpfulness and efficiency, or outstanding service.

Basically, we do not thank people enough, or give credit where credit is due. I try to remember to do so but it’s so easy to forget, and if you’ve ever worked in the service industry, or in any job where you have contact with the public, you’ll know how one compliment or genuine smile of heartfelt thanks can brighten your whole day2.

So I’m going to try to concentrate on looking for the good in people again. To this end, at the end of my hospital appointment yesterday I filled in one of those feedback forms so industriously that the young lady behind the desk asked me if I was writing a book.

Despite the title of this blog post, the quietly efficient, the compassionate, the polite and the helpful don’t usually want a medal, and quite often they don’t even need to be commended3. But everyone does like to be appreciated, and we all feel better for meeting someone who knows how to smile without being patronising, or help someone in need without being pushy. A smile here, a word of thanks there, a bit of eye contact … and I’m told that the best way to show your appreciation for an employee – especially someone who works for a smallish company – is often a letter of commendation to their boss, which mentions them by name.

So go ahead. Make someone’s day! And it doesn’t have to cost you a thing.

1 I specialise in ultra-polite, barely-sarcastic-at-all letters of complaint. They are written rather passive-aggressively, I have to admit, and in the best and most polished prose I can muster, with perfect grammar and high-level language (Thank you, Mrs Learmont*). The recipient knows that I am probably being rude, although there’s nothing in what I say to hang that particular hat on, and they are left in absolutely no doubt that I know what I’m talking about. Of course this is never the first letter that I send, I only do this if I get stupid, misinformed or obstructive letters back in reply to my first letter, and the progress into veiled insult is gradual, and always well deserved.

* Mrs Learmont was my High School English teacher. She was a Scot, and she was fierce, but she gave me an enormous affection for our beautifully rich, complex, and absurd language.

2 There doesn’t even have to be money involved, though in the restaurant/cafe trade where the waiting staff are often poorly paid, it certainly helps.

3 Although some of them perhaps do, especially if they’re in the running for a “Volunteer/Employee/Etc of the Year” award. And why not, if they deserve it?

Brickbats and Bouquets

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It occurs to me often that people are very quick to throw brickbats1, but seldom offer bouquets.

Years ago now, there was a women’s magazine that I used to read which had a section on the letters page where people were invited to nominate someone who had gone above and beyond the call of duty. The story would be published in just a couple of paragraphs and the magazine would send a bouquet to the nominee. One might be a hairdresser, for example, who had stayed late to make sure that a client had the perfect hair for an important occasion. Another might be a dustman who had bothered to bring the empty bins inside a property for an elderly person and tuck them away tidily instead of leaving them in the middle of the path outside. You get the idea.

I can’t remember what they actually called this section, but the paragraph which described it said something along the lines of:

“We are all so quick to throw brickbats when someone has annoyed us, but seldom bother to send a bouquet to those who have made us smile.  Today, Mrs X of Anytown would like to nominate …”

And it’s so true. We grumble about things that happen in our daily lives. We send angry letters, and we ring the management, and complain to the newspaper, or the next door neighbour, or the lady in the Post Office, and we criticise freely.  But how often do we take the time to actually thank someone properly, let alone write letters of commendation?

Since reading that magazine, I’ve tried to make a point of doing that, when I think of it. This morning, for instance, while I was at the doctor’s surgery for my appointment, I called at the medicines collection counter to thank the pharmacist for sorting out my husband’s inexplicably delayed prescription so that he had it on Christmas Eve instead of having to wait until after the holidays.  Her face lit up, and she smiled and thanked me for bothering to call in and do that. It’s such a simple thing, and it cost me nothing, and yet it brightened her day just a little bit.

Once you start to think along these lines, it’s amazing what you see. Do you know how many people go through supermarket checkouts without even making eye contact with the person behind the till?  Is it any wonder so many of them look terminally depressed?  Imagine how much it would change someone’s day if everyone smiled and thanked them.

Even though I am aware of all this, I’m conscious that I don’t do it enough, so I think that maybe this will be what passes for my New Year resolution: I will make more of an effort to connect with people, particularly people in service jobs – waiters & waitresses, till operators, bank clerks, bus drivers etc – and simply thank people when they deserve it. Maybe a good thing to do would be to send people a thank you card in the post in the old-fashioned way if they perform their duties extra-well … or better yet, write to their manager and let them know?

What do you do? Drop any ideas in to the comments box, and let’s see what we can come up with.

1 For my non-native English speaking friends or those too young to know this one, a brickbat is a piece of brick or stone used as a missile. If you pick up half a brick and aim it at someone’s head – so tempting sometimes, I know – that’s a brickbat.