Thursday, January 31, 2013

Kill Them With Kindness

If you are functioning member of society, it is inevitable that you will encounter some less than savory human beings in your daily shuffle. It's never really a pleasant experience, but it is part of life, and chances are you have even been that person from time to time. We all know what I'm talking about right? A surly grocery store checker who grunts at you and throws your food around; a nasty coworker who makes your job more difficult; a customer service rep who provides zero service and may even insult you in the process... the list goes on and on. I know I usually feel pretty icky after dealing with these people, but then I can't help but wonder why they've acted that way. Is it their personality, or are they having a really hard time in their personal life? I was a sociology major in college, so I am always analyzing the reason people act the way they do, especially in their interactions with others. After 30 years on this earth I've come to realization that we should all try to give each other more breaks and the benefit of the doubt, because you never know what demons people may be battling. It's truly rare that people are evil just because they were born that way - I strongly believe that society has a pretty heavy hand in forming people's behaviors and personalities.

I've also found that if I am rude or nasty to the people who have been nasty to me, it only makes me feel worse and can possibly ruin my day. I don't like this feeling, and it's pretty ridiculous that a brief interaction can wreak such havoc. So, keeping my empathy for these strangers in mind, I've found that it's much more effective to just "kill them with kindness". The lovely Emilia is literally a PROFESSIONAL at this tactic, and I am not lying when I say you'd be blown away with her execution. We have come across some not so pleasant people together, and she isn't fazed by it one bit - in fact I think it fuels her fire to try to be even NICER to these people. As an observer, it feels a little awkward at first because it comes across as a little fake, but people are usually so shocked by her positive energy and response that they instantly lighten up! {E-ddition from Em:  This really is the truth.  People have a much harder time being rude to someone who is ridiculously nice and it makes them notice their nastiness.  I really love this game in fact, I even wrote my Master's Thesis on it!} The transformation is palpable - it's like these grumpy people just needed something to raise their spirits and pick them up out of their funk. I have even witnessed people go out of their way to thank Emilia for being so nice to them. It's been really inspiring for me, especially because I suffer from chronic "bitch face":

So now, I repeat this mantra in my head when faced with troublesome individuals. Here are some tactics to try the next time you find yourself in this situation:
  • Smile! This is a no-brainer, but very important (especially if you have bitch face like I do). Even if you are on the phone with someone, you can hear a person smiling when they talk. {E-ddition from Em:  They are free to give and always brighten someone's day.  Smiles are also contagious!}
  • Look them in the eye. Again, fairly obvious but people want to feel like they are being listened to. This doesn't work over the phone, but saying things like "uh-huh" "ok" "great" during the conversation should get the same point across.
  • Apologize. It doesn't matter if you didn't actually do anything wrong, or if you even know what you are apologizing for, just do it. I usually say something like "I'm so sorry to bother you" or "I apologize as I know this is a huge inconvenience for you".
  • Compliment them (genuinely). If you can tell fairly early in your interaction that this person is going to be sassy, try to find something to complement them on right away. But make sure it's fairly genuine as you don't want the person feeling like you are making fun of them. I can almost always find something that a person is wearing that I like, or the way their nails/hair is done. Everyone loves to be complimented, and this will go a long way to disarming them and may reset their behavior.
  • Thank them! Being gracious, no matter who you are dealing with, is a very important quality to have. 
  • Offer your own assistance. This is specific to people you will have interactions with for longer than a few minutes, like a coworker or fellow volunteer. You will immediately make that person feel like someone else cares, which can work miracles for brightening a day. 
I really don't recommend doing this, but it's definitely in the spirit of what I'm talking about.
Another important aspect of this is to know when to cut your losses. It's possible that all of your kind words won't get you anywhere or make an outward change in the person you are talking to, and that's ok because that isn't really the point. There is an excellent chance you made that person happier and they aren't showing it, even if it just meant you were one pleasant person they dealt with in a long line of nasty ones. Small acts of kindness really do add up! I can't tell you how many times just one short, but very positive, interaction has brightened my entire day. I remember one occasion recently when I was picking up dinner for TH and I, and the woman taking my order complimented my (in my mind) boring black shoes I had worn to work. She then saw that I have an ASPCA debit card and complimented me again, saying "you are just so cool!" and I couldn't help but grin ear to ear. I had been having a long and rough day at work, but her words and enthusiasm washed all of that away, allowing me to go home and be sweet and nice to my family. Chain reactions, people, I'm telling you.

What do you do when you come in contact with surly people? Have you ever tried to "kill them with kindness"? We would love to hear any other suggestions you may have!

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  1. You girls are the cutest, and this is so true!!! I have to go out of my way to smile at people so they don't think i'm grumpy!!!! xo

  2. Great post! ah, I too have suffer 'chronic bitchface'. lol

    xoxo Aimee

    1. Aimee,

      Thank you for stopping by! As I've told Nicolle, the best way to combat this "bitchface syndrome" is to plaster on that SMILE!

      Strive to thrive,


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