Little Bigs – Part 1

Terry Lieb God Finds, Healing Relationships, Living out your Faith, Mindfulness 5 Comments

As I have mentioned in prior posts, this is the most divisive, antagonistic and fear-driven climate I have experienced in my lifetime, and as a result, I have become increasingly more committed to identifying common opportunities for connecting and healing. I call these “little bigs” because they take little effort but can have outsized results on everyone involved.

One of my “go-to” little bigs is thanking folks! It is clearly an effective and low-risk strategy for connecting with folks. I’ve long been trying to make a habit of affirming any service provider who takes their work seriously and does a good job. This may be a waitress or waiter, an Amazon delivery person, the customer service representative on the other end of the line when I’m reporting a problem, or anyone else who is attempting to make my life journey more pleasant!  

Just the other day Rita and I had lunch at the True Blue Mediterranean Café. We enjoy a variety of ethnic foods and Greek is certainly one of them! The shrimp and lamb gyros, Mediterranean salad, and fresh-made hummus were delicious.

My kiss-blowing cook!

As I was paying the bill, I thanked the woman behind the counter and it dawned on me that as pleasant and helpful as she was, I was quite sure she wasn’t the cook! So I asked if it would be possible for me to meet and thank the cook personally. Her immediate response was, “That would be great! She never really gets to hear how much our customers enjoy her cooking.”

She led me back to the kitchen where I met this gracious and obviously highly-skilled lady!  

When I shared with her how much we both enjoyed our lunch, she literally lit up! As I left and thanked her once again, she began blowing me kisses! I cautioned her to be careful that my wife was standing just around the corner. This drew a huge laugh from all three of the employees!

It isn’t just low-level service workers who can benefit from appreciation, either. A few years ago, I was having serious shoulder problems and three separate orthopedic surgeons recommended replacement surgery on both shoulders. Knowing my concerns about surgery, a close friend suggested I get a fourth opinion! I contacted a young doctor with outstanding credentials and made an appointment.

He went over my X-rays in detail, did a very thorough physical exam, and located an extremely painful spot on the back side of each shoulder. He explained that it was my secondary bicep muscle, which it turned out I had recently overused swimming laps!

“I’m a surgeon who loves to do surgery but that’s not at all warranted in your case!” he said, recommending I try a steroid shot instead. I immediately became emotional and shared in detail the relief I felt and how much I appreciated his medical skills, honesty, and his practical, down-to-earth style!  

To my surprise, I could see him starting to get emotional, too! That first appointment not only touched him but also laid the groundwork for a much different relationship than I share with most doctors, all because I took the time to explain what his sensitivity meant to me!

This experience reminded me that everyone craves genuine gratitude, even high-status professionals who we often falsely assume don’t need affirmations or already receive their fair share. Based on the few occasions when I have actually taken the time to show my gratitude, it became crystal clear this wasn’t a common experience for them either!

A more recent effort I’ve been getting into lately is not just thanking someone directly but asking to speak with the person’s supervisor and let them know how much I appreciate their employee’s efforts.  A recent decision to talk with a supervisor eventually led to an interesting conversation.  

At my request the person at the service desk made a call in an attempt to locate the supervisor. “She is busy right now,” she said. I said, “No problem; I have time.” The woman then said she had no idea how long it would be. “Thanks for the heads up, but I have time!” I reiterated. I settled in on a plastic chair and began answering texts and emails.  

Within a few minutes the woman at the desk made another call and shortly a woman walked up and introduced herself as the supervisor. I briefly explained that two of their employees have consistently for over three years been amazingly sensitive, competent, and exceptionally personable.  

Initially she appeared confused, perhaps waiting for the “but” that never came. After a moment, she invited me back to her office. After I gave a few more details about my experiences, she broke in and apologized for not seeing me sooner, explaining that she attempts to avoid disgruntled customers because there is seldom opportunity for constructive discussion just their loud, demanding criticism!  

“Do you know how rare it is for me to get this type of feedback?” she asked. She actually got emotional as she continued, “I don’t understand because I believe most of our employees are just what you described. Why do customers only voice their, often petty, complaints?”

That is a question worth contemplating!! Why do we tend to focus on criticism instead of affirmation? These seldom-asked questions are critical for us to be asking both ourselves and the folks around us!

I have to admit that while most times giving thanks is a straight-forward, low-risk endeavor, occasionally things go in an entirely unexpected direction! Another practice that I have been committed to for several years is thanking folks who have served our country in our military. The opportunity presents itself on a regular basis because of their hats!  

Usually when I offer my “Thank you for your service,” I get “You’re welcome” or occasionally, “Thank you for acknowledging my service.” On a rare occasion I get some sound I can’t decipher but several weeks ago in the grocery store I received a response I’d never gotten before.

“Thanks, but it was one of the dumbest decisions I ever made!”

 When you are accustomed to primarily one consistent response it can catch you “flat-footed!”! While I was trying to gather a response, he proceeded to tell me how he was “snookered” by the recruiter.  The man—who said to just call him “Kick”!—explained that he had been in a vocational training program in high school for auto mechanics and also worked weekends and summers in his uncle’s auto repair shop.  The recruiter told him the Army needed mechanics and he would be a valuable asset by keeping the equipment running. 

“That turned out to be all bull—t; nobody cared about what I was promised and I was assigned to infantry just like everybody else. I saw some nasty stuff in ‘Nam!”  

I asked if he had explored resources through the VA to work through the difficult things he had experienced and his immediate response was that the VA was just “more government crap” and he wasn’t going to trust the government ever again!

I left that conversation—eventually! (Kick is a talker!)—realizing Kick and I had a very different view of many things and life in general. If we had met under different circumstances, we might have been unable to bridge the gap, but this moment of appreciation had forged a bond. I was left to wonder where I would be today, what my take on life and the world would be if I had spent three years in his combat boots?  

I bump into Kick periodically in the same grocery store and he will always greet me with, “How’s it going, Buster?” Not at all sure where “Buster” came from but unless I’m in a hurry and can’t spare time for the inevitable 15-20 minute conversation, I have come to look forward to that greeting!

I expect all of God’s creatures long to know they are appreciated and have made a difference in some way. On those occasions when I can recognize an opportunity for gratitude and make the time to authentically express my gratefulness to someone else, ironically I always get a subtle internal affirming message myself. I wonder, could it be my Sneaky God’s appreciation for the fact I’ve finally begun to get it through my thick skull the importance of not only feeling gratitude, but expressing it, too?

 

QUESTIONS FOR DEEPENING THE SPIRITUAL JOURNEY

  1. When was the last time you got excellent service? Did you tell your server? Why or why not? Have you ever sought out a manager or supervisor to praise their employee?
  2. Reflect briefly on the last time you can remember expressing gratitude or showing appreciation to someone. What was their response? How do you remember feeling afterwards? If it was someone with whom you have an ongoing relationship, how did it affect your relationship?
  3. Do you remember the last time someone took the time to show appreciation for something you did? How did that make you feel? Has anyone ever praised you to a manager/boss? If so, was that different than getting direct thanks? If not, how do you think it would have felt?
  4. Based on the manager’s question, why do you think we offer criticism so readily and affirmation so seldom? Is this true for you? Do you leave online reviews and if so, are you more likely to make the time to leave a good or poor review? Are you happy with the ratio of affirmation-to-criticism you express to both strangers and loved ones?
  5. How could we create a culture of gratitude and encouragement? Can this type of behavior subtly encourage others to do the same? Do you believe that if we were more intentional about showing appreciation to each other we could have a healing effect on our present divisive, antagonistic, and fear-driven climate?
  6. How does expressing gratitude fit into your faith?
  7. Are you willing to make an explicit commitment to “catching people doing something right” and expressing your thanks (for instance, once a day for a month, five times a week until it’s an ingrained habit, etc.)?

 

Banner Photo by Howie R CjI on unsplash.com

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