It costs nothing to be nice.

by Paul Michael on 2 April 2008 30 comments

I was in McDonald's this morning, returning a RedBox movie rental. I've seen a lot more of this place since I started using RedBox actually, and although I don't order food I get to see many other people order their meals. And I am staggered at the way most people treat the staff. Has the milk of human kindness gone off? It certainly seems sour.

When I was young, one of the lessons my parents taught me was to treat people the same way I would like to be treated myself. I believe it's a Biblical reference and it's a good way to live your life, religious or not. No-one wants to be treated like crap, so don't do it. However, in the last month I have been actively taking notes about what I have seen on my travels. I'm sad that things seem to be so bad out there.

There were about 10 people in the McDonald's line this morning. I think only one of them managed to crack a smile at the cashier. Two were downright rude immediately, complaining about the length of the line. The cashiers and food prep workers were flying around at top speed, and it just wasn't fast enough for some people. There was grumbling, shrugging shoulders, blatant staring at watches and tapping of feet. I think most people had to wait around 2 mins in line and an additional 2 mins for their order. Under 5 mins in total. Is that so bad for a complete breakfast? (Well, let's not talk about nutrition, I'm no fan of the golden arches.)

I don't think one person in line stopped to think about what kind of a crappy McJob these people have. They work long hours for low pay and have to do it with a smile on their face. Give them a break.

It wasn't just McD's though. I have seen this everywhere. It seems people can't do a simple paradigm shift and consider the feelings of people who do jobs most of us would hate to do.

When my car was in the shop recently, most customers were ticked off about the wait, the bill, the service, or even the price of the coffee machine: "I should have FREE coffee when my car is being serviced, this is an outrage!" Maybe, maybe not. But screaming at the poor mechanic is not going to help. Talk to the manager, and do it in a way that is helpful and calm. Suggestions sit better when you're not a raging bull.

I saw a woman complaining at my local library, because she was 200th in line to receive a new movie rental. It's a free rental, what do you expect? The library shouldn't have 50 copies of new releases like the local Blockuster, that's a waste of money.

I saw cashiers at Target being treated like crap because people had to wait in line for too long, or that they wouldn't take back an item and give a refund because there was no receipt. Blazing at the staff for upholding store policy is no use at all. They can't change a thing.

I heard on the radio that there were more road rage shootings in California recently. People are shooting each other because they can't get where they want to go quickly enough. Or, someone cut them off. Is that a crime that deserves the death penalty?

I'm aware that road rage is caused by a build up of adrenaline that can't be released (our primal goal is to get from A to B, so if we're stopped, we want to get out and run...but, we can't). But we're smart, we have brains, we should be able to work it out and calm down. I know I've become angry from time to time, especially when I was late for a job interview. But I'm not going to pull out a gun and cap someone for cutting in front of me in an exit lane. It's annoying, but it's not worth getting so worked up over.

I think we have become an entitled society obsessed with instant gratification. And to me, living large should not come at the expense of other people's feelings. You may never be this way, and if you are a good person, good for you. But even if you occassionaly find yourself getting really angry with someone for something that is almost certainly out of their control, stop and take a minute. Think "would I want to be treated this way? Would I have deserved to be treated this way?" Put yourself in the other persons shoes, just for a second. And then maybe, just maybe, if we all do this we can live in a world that's less angry, bitter and on edge.

Below are links to two books I've been reading. They're more about being nice in a business world, but many of the lessons they teach apply to all aspects of life. You can get them through Amazon or order them through your local library at no charge. They've helped me look at many things very differently. Maybe they can do the same for you.

Nice book 1

The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World With Kindness

 

Nice book

The Power of Nice: How to Negotiate So Everyone Wins- Especially You!, Revised Edition

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Guest's picture
Alyson

And you didn't even mention those who leave all their crap on the tables, expecting someone else to pick it up.

Paul Michael's picture

I was just recounting my own experiences over the last month, but I've seen that. I often get the feeling people think "well it's not my table, why should I clean it?" or "it's not my toilet, why shouldn't I kick a hole in the door and fill it full of toilet paper?" Know what I mean?

Guest's picture
Guest

Its not hard to be nice. I can never understand why others can't understand that the employee is not responsible for company policy, or the fact that everyone wants to eat at lunchtime! Even telemarketers dont deserve rudeness - a simple 'sorry im not interested thanks', and then hang up if they persist. Just yesterday a relief teacher at the school missed the bus, so I drove her to the train station - it wasnt a big deal to me (15 min out of my way) but it meant a great deal to her....I dont think she could actually believe that i'd do it, which is sad really.

Guest's picture

And that is why McDonalds employee's spit in the burgers, kick them around the floor before serving them to customers etc! :p

The last time I was in a McDonalds I was nearly punched by some dope for "que jumping" although as I told him "I am the que! The que starts at me and goes back! There is no que to jump!".

Like I say that was the last time. I think there's a definate connection between the sort of people who like fast food, bad manners, being angry and having poor personal hygene.

Guest's picture

I go out of my way to be pleasent to everyone I encounter because there truly does seem to be a lack of kindness these days.

In fact, I was at a Home Depot the other day when a staffer there started to yell at my husband because we needed a large piece of plywood cut and he was angry because he had "other things to be doing instead of cutting this wood". Even the clerk that rang up our bill didn't smile or even pretend to be nice despite our attempts at casual conversation. None-the-less, we were still really nice to both employees.

It made me really sad to see so many people so unhappy. I understand they are probably overworked and underpaid, but there is still no reason to be snarky unless you are provoked.

Guest's picture
Guest

I work as a cashier and yes, am underworked and underpaid. (Have to pay the bills somehow).

I think it is great that you and your husband made an effort to be nice to these employees. Believe me, it makes the day go by way better having empathetic customers. I apologize for the employees attitudes, but I don't know their situations either.

There have been several no call in no show up employees these past few weeks at my place of work, (which is a very well known outdoor sporting goods store) and you know what that means? I and whatever help can be mustered (the clerk in clothing if she has time to run to the front) must shoulder the load and the never ending lines. Customers don't know this. Then I am the target when they get to the front. Mumbling snotty inaudible words when I greet them (or not respond to me at all), throwing their merchandise, money, or credit card on the counter at me; grabbing it back out of my hand-- acting like I owe them something.
Great. Hurry hurry, you just spent two hours walking around and I am responsible for making you late to your meeting. What-ever.

I have seen customers say that I was "causing them trouble" because I had to call to get a price on something they brought up to me that didn't have a tag on it. Then outright lie and distort the situation to a manager I call, because they were trying to get me to give them a lesser price and I wouldn't, and act like I was the problem. Who's trying to cheat who here?

After being a cashier, I think differently than I used to about dealing with the public and how a cashier or worker acts to me unless it is absolutely uncalled for. If they are complacent I understand, if they roll their eyes at me for no reason at all, that is unacceptable.

While I make an effort to be nice and respective to my customers, what some customers on the other end don't get is that most people don't want to talk to the employee or even care about a response, they want to "get in and get out".

I have had customers take it personally just because I don't stop to give them my full undivided attention (I AM trying to ring out your merchandise and give you quick serivce here) and then start being crappy with me. Hey--there are other people waiting in line and they blame it on the cashier because you wanted to talk. The cashier knows this-but you don't.

Then there are the jerks who snarl at me because I AM nice. I have found that it is best to be in between, unreadable, but polite. You never know what kind of person you are going to be dealing with, or what kind of reaction is going to be obtained--all of a sudden. The stupidity and attitudes you get for no reason, are almost undescribable.
I have never had a job like this where nearly everyone (customers) thinks they are the expert and try to tell me how to do my job. (I have a Bachelors degree contrary to popular belief that most cashiers only have a high school diploma) Several times I have wanted to say "Do you work here or do I? Don't you think I know how to do my job?"
I have had saintly customers whom I thought I had a great rapport with suddenly turn super ugly (Exorcist style) because my register froze up (I guess in their perfect world they never have computer problems? Duh!), or their gift card did not scan properly (their wife put it through the wash--not me).

People need to be more compassionate on both sides for sure. I just try to take the good with the bad, but am looking for another job (NOT as a cashier) until I can get out of this.

Paul Michael's picture

I've had employees initially treat me like crap, but it can sometimes help to be nice back. Some checkout assistants just need a smile and an admission that you know their job is hard, and they suddenly can brighten up. But I agree...sometimes, a-holes are just a-holes.

Guest's picture
Alli

Having spent my fair share of time in the customer service world, I can safely say that my attitude towards the folks at McDonalds, Starbucks, Target, etc., get my nicest face, even when I'm not feeling up to it. Usually I ask how their day is going, how long they've got until they get off, or if it looks like a rough day, how they're handling the stress. The other day, a friend and I actually asked for the manager at a restaurant so we could lavish praise on a particularly kind waiter...and he was really surprised, which is kinda sad.

This kind of behavior can often earn you a little something extra--an employee discount or a free dessert--when you're not expecting it. I don't do it for the free stuff, but occasionally it happens. And being nice generally makes one feel good!

Paul Michael's picture

Not only does it cost nothing, it takes almost no time to say "hey, how's it going...what time do you get off, you must feel exhausted." What is that, 5 seconds? But the difference it makes to the other person, that you actually give a crap, makes a world of difference. Karma will be kind to you Alli, I hope.

Guest's picture
Relentless

My wife just quit McPoor's because of just that. Last years 1040 revealed she only made 10,000 at that sorrybutt job. ( you know what I want to say) She was more loyal than the not so smart teenagers that "worked" there. When it came for one of those teenagers to get a promotion to crew trainer - something my wife had wanted to do all three years she was there - the new crew trainer teenager started backstabbing my wife. With the manager's help as well. She started just this past Monday at a new job working with me, where things will get better for her. I know McD's is a place for a lot of people that have to work there, but folks, if its really bad, start looking for better opportunities elsewhere. They are out there.

Guest's picture
rob

I've lived five years in the United States and never really understood why the people there were so 'busy' and just so unhappy and rude all the time. Couldn't really figure out why, despite all the obvious material and luxury conveniences, people were just unhappy all the time, weird.

Try visiting a country like the Philippines, I think you'll find the people so much nicer and friendlier. The minimum wage clerks and staff at McDonald's and other outlets greet all customers with a "sir", "maam", and a smile. I think you'll find the experience very refreshing.

Guest's picture
Guest

oh and if your computer breaks, it is *not* the fault of the helpdesk :P

Guest's picture
Kin

big problem these days with people always being "too busy" to get "somewhere" for no apparent reason, or that they don't stop to think about it.

i'd even go as far to say a lot of our social/financial problems is rooted in that people don't think and have no hesitance to treat others like crap.

like loan agents sign loans to people who cant afford it to reap instant reap profits. like pharmaceutical companies market and cajole people about drugs w/ little effects and much side-effects. like toy-makers using hazardous materials in products.

like people who are too busy to be nice in order to get "somewhere" NOW. companies are trying to make money NOW. it's a general problem.

Guest's picture
eigafan

I found that I get better results emailing my complaints to corporate headquarters via their respective websites afterwards rather than confronting someone at the counter. I've worked in retail jobs before and I know what it's like behind the counter. Use a neutral, courteous tone in your email for best results and provide details like date, time, and a complete description of the incident. McD's sent me free meal coupons for a bad service complaint and I got free movie tickets for a projectionist's mistake at my local theater.

Guest's picture
Matt

One really easy thing to do, especially in the drive through, is to look the person in the eye with a smile. The natural thing is to hand them the credit card or cash and say an obligatory "thank you" without looking up, so it does take a conscious effort for about one second. But it adds a personal touch to your contact with the person.

Fast food jobs are not fun, and I've noticed the surprise in some people's faces when giving them this small, but appreciated, bit of attention.

Guest's picture
Aithnea

When it comes to fast food, or any other Customer Service job it seems as if people forget that the person behind the counter is a real person. At times it honestly feels as if workers are expected to be robots. No matter how hard we try it is never good enough. I've had people come into my work and tell me that because they are a customer I should bend over backwards for them, even if it means breaking company policy and risk losing my job. I have even had people tell me how much money I must be making because of where I work. For some reason people seem to think that those in Customer Service make a lot of money. Generally we don't. More often than not a Customer Service job is minimum wage (at least up here in Canada, I'm not sure about in the states).

That being said, to all of you people who do smile and are nice to us, you really do make our day. Sometimes it just takes one nice person to make the job a little more bearable. Plus if you are nice to us we are more likely to do things for you.

Guest's picture
Margaret

I work in fast food (working to get through school) and I am so appreciative when people actually treat me like a human being. I hate the impression that people have that people that work at fast food are uneducated losers who can't get any other job and thus they can be treated like garbage.

If you had particularly good service at any one of those minimum wage paying places, please, don't hesitate to either tell the person who did the good job or their manager. Nothing lights my day up and makes me want to continue the good work when someone recognizes that I'm trying to make their visit as pleasant as possible.

I love your blog Paul, and thanks again writing about this!

Paul Michael's picture

I don't think I could ever work behind the counter anywhere, I don't have that kind of incredible fortitude. Big thanks for what you do.

Guest's picture

I guess I've been lucky. Here in San Diego most people I come into contact with are really nice. I have to take the occasional trip back to britain just for a dose of sarcasm and bitterness!

My husband often does very well out of being nice and having a british accent, we often get upgrades wherever we go and people seem to bend over backwards to help us with things.

Paul Michael's picture

My British accent has helped me get a lot of extra stuff. I have no idea why.

Guest's picture
Cindy M

guess I must be hitting these places when folks aren't so hateful, but actually, that's no accident. I've always worked 3-11 p.m., preferring to have the daytime to get out there and get things done, hating crowds and the morning and evening rush. I've worked from home for years now so I guess I'm even more out of it. Can't say I've ever been mistreated by a clerk or a fellow customer anywhere but have witnessed bad behavior. Nobody has to put up with personal bad behavior and shouldn't for any reason. I did see a cardiac surgeon throw a cup of coffee at a fellow employee once back in my hospital days. She calmly got up and just walked out of the room. He ended up sending her flowers and tickets for some concert, but man, what a jerk, and nobody in the office forgot it. I know I never will. Hey, I'm glad not to have to be out so much in the "real" world anymore, ha-ha.

Guest's picture
sylrayj

I'm in a position where I get to be yelled at and insulted and ignored and trash-talked, in my role as someone helping to keep the rules followed and sometimes providing story-times. I also get to be on the 'other side' where the same people spewing vitriol and resentment are jovial and charming to 'their kind.' Needless to say, it's such a shock for newcomers who join those of us trying to keep the rules obeyed. They can't believe that their dear buddies would have the gall to treat us the way they do.

Is it simply that they feel entitled to have everything changed to suit them because they've been around a long time? Do they not think that we're also people, with feelings? Is it just that they are 'generation X' or whatever it is, raised with instant gratification responding immediately to their every action, so they anticipate that when they say they want something, we'll instantly comply?

In some cases, I'd say that familiarity breeds contempt. I adopt an artificial saccharine firmness when dealing with them, so I don't swear at them for having no idea that they're breaking rules that haven't changed in over a dozen years. I try to treat them with respect, to model what I think they should be doing. I strive to understand their perspective, in case it's not actually just that they think everything should be easier for them because they are "clearly better than everyone else."

Every other year, or so, someone will say thank you. It makes me want to cry, because you never can tell if they're sincere, in which case it's a heart wrenching beauty, or if they're trying to play the 'good friends' card, in which case the sentiment should be smashed flat like a rattlesnake in a kindergarten playground.

Guest's picture
Lucille

This post has been on my mind since you posted it yesterday. I think there is sort of a pattern to where people really get treated lousy as workers. I think it happens in those positions where the person that is the customer feels they are socially superior to that person based on the work role that person is in. I'm not applying any right or wrong to that behavior, personally I think you should treat everyone decently.

The big fad at our house recently has been Japanese TV. There are two of their game shows that are playing on cable right now. Ninja warrior and Banzuke. Both focus on completing a challenge, not winning money. But each contestant has their name and occupation listed before they take their attempt. What I have gleaned from these is that they seem to treat every occupation as equal. Student, gas station attendant, sports star, banker or fishmonger there seems to be a bit more respect for work or life roles there. Can someone who has lived there add to this? Am I right or wrong? If this is the case that everyone's work contribution is treated as an equal and valid contribution to society maybe there is something to learn there.

Guest's picture
Lucille

If you have not read fast food nation please do. A large chunk of the book talks about the reality of people working in places like McDonalds, pizza delivery and meat packing plants. When you see how some of these megacompanies have stripped these jobs down even further than they were, you understand how hard they must be. People have been made utterly replaceable in these jobs. I can't imagine living with that kind of job insecurity.

Paul Michael's picture

...it's worth reading alone for the story of the loyal meat-packing worker who went through hell for decades, had multiple injuries and was eventually laid off because of them.

When money is your master, people rarely count for anything. 

Guest's picture
Barbara

I try to be as nice as the next person, no matter who I'm dealing with. But am I the only one here who's had bad experiences with (for example) people who work at McDonald's because they act like they're doing ME a huge favor by ringing up my order?

I've definitely had my share of employees giving me a brusque "what can I get you" that's had plenty of attitude in it. And sorry to say, I'm not exactly nice if they're going to start off by giving me attitude first.

Guest's picture
Misa

I completely agree with what you're saying. I try to say thank you, tell the people behind the counter to have a nice day, etc. Those kind of jobs can be really crappy. You're in a hot, small space with people yelling at you because you're not going fast enough, even though it is often the people in front of them that caused the problem by not knowing what they want or just being slow. Be nice to these people. They deserve it, just as you do.

There are some places that I frequent where, I'll admit, I do little more than say "Thanks". Why? These people are consistently rude. I understand that they're rushed and that it's hard. I've been there myself. However, that doesn't give them any right to be rude to their customers - this is something that is happening more and more often. I don't care if you only make minimum wage, you should still be nice to your customers.

Guest's picture
Guest

I'm a college student who works at a semi fast food restaurant during summers,on breaks, etc. I've been working at this particular place for two years now.
I loved reading this so much because I REALLY love people who just go that extra effort to just ask how I am....
Us workers have a big job to do. As a 19 year old girl, I'd probably rather sleep in than go to work at 5:30 in the morning, pay for parking while I work because our employee lot is typically reserved for managers, have a shift until 2:00 pm, go outside to find out I have ANOTHER parking ticket...
Not only that, but I have to close on Friday nights, coming home at 10-10:30.... and by the time I get to sleep and get into a shower, I have about 4-5 hours of sleep before I have to wake up and get ready for work again.
We're so alienated from any of our work and repeat the same questions (anything to drink?) (anything on the side?) (everything on it?) (what size?)
that it just gets obnoxious. not only that, but we stand ALL day. at your desk job or in that drive thru, you're probably sitting down digesting. It's stressful on your muscles, feet, legs, entire body.
Imagine repeating the same questions over and over again without seeing a smile, while you're forcing one all day. Imagine getting no real satisfaction from your job whatsoever, and imagine having to "always say yes". welcome to the fast food industry, kids.

Guest's picture
fc-lukoil

Where at you it is possible to look Football? The league of champions interests - Spartak - FC Kiev 13.08.
In advance thanks.

Guest's picture
fc

In the beginning when i started working in customer service i was very nice until i started to see how selfish, arrogant some people are, some of those people think you owe them something, or they act is if they are doing you a favor. You can say have a nice day to some customers and they flat out say uh huh or nothing.

People are not nice in customer service is because they may have dealt with a few jerks ahead of the time you came in, we are only human at the end of the day.

When i work on my job i expect no results, i take my day as it comes, i try to nice, sometimes customers are annoying.