A good friend of mine got a frantic call one Saturday afternoon from a next-door neighbor. The neighbors were having a dinner party that night for some business friends and needed extra help to serve their guests. They had far underestimated the number of people coming and asked if my friend would be willing to help out. He agreed, and that evening he learned a lesson about human behavior.
That night, my friend was struggling to carry a tray of dinners to a certain table. In order to get to the table he had to traverse a very narrow doorway. He called to the people at the table he was serving and asked for some help. He swears the people at the table looked directly at him and then turned their backs. He was aghast but asked for help again. No one lifted a finger. He finally maneuvered his way to the table and served them. But he couldn't get the experience out of his mind. It gave him a better appreciation of how waiters, waitresses and others in service jobs are made to feel when they're treated rudely or ignored altogether. Since my friend is a prominent attorney in Chicago and lives in an upscale suburban neighborhood, it also gave him some insight into the way some of his neighbors view the world. He wasn't impressed.
I'm sure we've all seen this before-people mistreating those they consider to be of a lesser station. I really wonder how they justify it to themselves. Is it because they simply don't know how to react, or do they really think they are so much more important than others? I think it has to do with good manners, something too many of us were obviously never taught.
When it comes to how people should be treated, my dad was my role model. He was a salesman all his life. He loved people, and people in turn loved him. No one was ever treated rudely by my father, especially those in what some consider "lowly" service jobs such as waiting tables or collecting garbage. He went out of his way to treat everyone he met with the utmost courtesy because that's what he was taught. And in his travels as a "peddler" in the '30s and '40s he, too, had been on the receiving end of heavy doses of rudeness and rejection. He made it clear to me that treating anyone badly was just about the worst thing you could do. Dad hated phonies and intensely disliked those who had inflated opinions of themselves.
Some of the biggest jerks I've ever met have advanced degrees and fancy job titles. They're very impressed with their own importance and every day find new ways to exhibit arrogance and insensitivity. But individuals who behave this way are usually masking insecurity. Confident people deal with everyone in a friendly and open manner. The world doesn't frighten them, and they take each day as it comes. Notice the leaders you respect the most. What characteristic stands out? I'll bet it's their ability to deal with everyone equally and fairly. And I'll bet they really know how to listen.
If managers would spend more time with their employees, I believe there would be less friction in the workplace. Many top executives are so intent on working on that consolidation plan or negotiating that merger they forget about their own people. Employees are kept in the dark, which is when the rumors start and morale starts to nose-dive. It's a vicious cycle.
My friend, the part-time waiter, got a taste of what so many people have to endure daily just because of ignorance and poor manners. Sometimes life's lessons come at us when we least expect them. When they happen, we should seize the opportunity and learn something.
Always reach out,
Charles S. Lauer