Thursday, March 04, 2010

Thank you, [name]. Have a good ["morning" || "afternoon" || "night"]!

Earth Day is just a little over a month away, and I'm unveiling the social experiment I've been brewing for a few weeks.

If you've watched Mythbusters, perhaps you've seen the experiment they did on driving while stressed. They found that driving under extreme stress burned a third more fuel than driving while relaxed. Stress and depression also cause people to binge on junk food, as well as making a host of other bad decisions that ultimately have a negative impact on the planet, like not recycling, or getting lazy with the light switches. Now, hold that thought.

Lots of Earth Day events focus on art, or recycling, or doing restoration work in natural areas--all worthy causes, no doubt. But, why not practice a little preventative medicine?

Bad moods lead to bad decisions, and these bad moods can also be contagious. It starts with one person leaving lights on and driving inefficiently, but eventually they snap at a coworker or customer, or people just pick up on that one person's negativity, and then those people start eating wastefully packaged junk food and throwing pop cans in the trash (or out the window).

Let's cut the problem off at the source.

Appreciation is a powerful thing, and sometimes that's all people need to feel like all of their hard work isn't for nothing. Surely you know what I mean. A big project at school or a challenging task at work utterly exhausts you, but then a boss or a teacher tells you that they like your work, or that you did a good job, and that gives you the extra boost of energy you needed to get through the day.

Let's do that for the people we encounter at stores, restaurants, or other places of business throughout our day.

To truly show your appreciation for someone, you have to zero in on them as an individual. Let them know that they're important, and that they're not just some faceless employee or "team member." How? Thank them by name, of course. This should be easy, as there are often two very easy ways to get a person's name without even asking.

First, check for a name tag. They're required at many stores and they're the fastest and easiest way to get someone's name. Failing that, check your receipt. Most modern cash registers require employees to sign in and their name will be printed right on your receipt. If neither one of those strategies pans out, and you're feeling especially brave, ask them! Otherwise, a simple "thank you" will have to suffice.

So, you've got the name down. "Thank you, Bob." Bob likely gets thanked by tens or hundreds of people each day, all of them running on autopilot, and few of them even stopping to think about what they're saying, just as people ask "How are you?" but walk right on by. But your extra effort in uncovering Bob's name shows him that you aren't just running on autopilot, and that you sincerely mean it when  you thank him.

The next step? A compliment would be a great addition, though optional. Did you order something complicated? "No cheese, no mayo, no onions, extra pickles, and Dijon mustard on the side?" Thank them for getting your order perfect. "Thanks, Bob. You got my order perfect." Of course, don't make a complicated order just to test them--that would only stress them unnecessarily. But, if you do have special dietary needs, or you have a particular distaste for mayo, thank your server for going that extra mile. Also, watch for other things you really appreciate: keeping your water glass full, brining you extra napkins, french fries, condiments, etc. Or, in a grocery store: bagging your groceries the way you like, getting you a discount you didn't know you were eligible for, their speedy service, etc. It can be hard for people to go the extra mile if they never feel appreciated for it. If nothing in particular stood out to you, skip the compliment and just thank them. If you try to force a compliment they'll notice and you'll seem insincere. Also, think about what you're saying! Unless the server is also the cook, it doesn't make sense to thank them because the food tasted good. Thank them for something that they did.

Now, the final step. You're leaving, and hopefully you're leaving the employee you've encountered in better shape than you found them. It's time to empower them to have a great day. Just say it. "Have a great day," or "have a fantastic evening," or "have a jolly good morning," or whatever else is relevant and strikes your fancy. It might seem like a little thing, but on our worst days it can feel like our lives are totally out of our control. All it takes is a "have a great day," if you really mean it, to remind someone that they have the power to make a bad day good, and that they have the ability to make good decisions despite all of the opportunities to make bad ones.

"Thanks, Suzy. If it weren't for you, that compost bin would have cost me an arm and a leg. You have a good evening, okay?

Hopefully you'll make Suzy's long day a little shorter, and as a result, she'll go for that local, organic apple instead of the half-gallon of Dreyer's. It'll benefit both Suzy and the planet in the long run.

And don't get infected yourself. If somebody is having a bad day, it could translate into bad service which in turn could cause you to have a bad day. But only if you let it. Remind yourself that you have the power to turn this person's day around by showing them some appreciation, and you could very well break the chain of bad moods that could have formed in your absence. Try to set aside your frustrations. We all have bad days. Allow them this one, but do what you can to turn it around.

So, when should all of this happen? Well, there's no reason you couldn't start now. I am, however, setting the "official" dates as the week of Earth Day. That means "Thank you, [name]..." would run from April 18th through April 24th. Don't forget to check out for other events taking place near you.

To find this event on Facebook and invite all of your friends, just go here:

Attempting to add it to the Earth Day website, but technical difficulties are preventing that at the moment.

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