By Mel Rappleyea, SPHR, CSP
James had a gun in his mouth.
He pulled the trigger. Misfire. He had loaded the gun incorrectly. He set the gun down and thought to himself “I can't even kill myself correctly”. He reloaded the gun and reflected on his last 90 days. He had gone through a divorce, his oldest daughter was struggling in college , he had a new boss that he did not like, his brother was very ill and his car was constantly having issues. Not much was going his way. The depression was consuming him. He struggled to get out of bed. Once in bed his mind raced and it took hours to fall asleep. He pulled out a old 9 mm pistol and stared at it for hours before pulling the trigger. After he reloaded he thought he would go for one last walk before returning home to finish the job.
Walking through the park he saw a tall man walking his two Siberian Huskies. The man sat down on the same bench as James and asked “You don’t mind do ya? The dogs wont bother you”. James just nodded okay. As the dogs drank water the two men struck up a conversation. The man with the dogs asked James “what do you do for a living?” James was hesitant but said “ Well I am a Assistant Controller on my third boss in 18 months!”. The man with the dogs said “That must be frustrating”. James was amazed that he actually opened up to someone about his frustration, especially a stranger. The two talked some more. James began to pet the dogs. They warmed up quick to him. “Dogs are excellent predictors of someone’s character” the tall man said, “ You have an awesome background James, here’s my card . I’m VP of HR for a company here in Orlando , send me your resume.” James thanked the man and as the man was beginning to walk away he said something that stuck on James. The man smiled and said “ You have a lot to offer James, any company would be fortunate to have you. The trick is finding the right chemistry. You put out positive thoughts and that will attract a positive company that appreciates someone like you. It was great to meet you.’ One kind word.
James had a new enlightenment in him. He rushed home and typed up a new resume and emailed it to the tall man. A few weeks later James had a new job and a new outlook on life. James went to the tall man with the Siberian Huskies a few years later and told him the above story. James told the man that he had not heard even “ONE KIND WORD” in over a year. That the talk they had, gave him inspiration to try one last time. It was the first time in a long time that he had heard a kind word.
How do I know that story? I was the tall man with the Siberian Huskies.
My best boss ever was my first boss out of college. I was at that company 9 years. Every Friday he would drop by my office and say “great job this week” , and then cite a particular event or task . Sometimes he would leave handwritten notes on our HR/payroll teams desks telling us that he appreciated our effort. We had a very large department. We had zero turnover in 9 years in the department. I believe that his ability to give a kind word and show appreciation was a huge factor. I didn’t really appreciate it at the time . When we downsized in my 9th year and I went to TJX companies, I saw how my TJX President would also give praise and offer kind words. We worked hard, don’t get me wrong. I traveled all 50 States and Canada. It wasn’t all Pollyanna, but I was constantly reminded by my Ops President that I was doing great work and it was appreciated. It made me work harder. I was thrilled to come to work every day. It was a blessing.
Then I began to consult with companies around the world. CEO’s would ask “Why is our turnover so high?” It usually was not pay or benefits or time off or even growth opportunities. The happiest people were the ones that felt appreciated. You may say that’s basic. Everyone understands that. Many people know this, but do not practice it.
One of the best recruitment tools I have found to gauge the real person is to take them to lunch or dinner. I took an executive to dinner at a very nice Italian restaurant. The day of interviews he had earlier went well. He was polite , knowledgeable and intelligent. At the restaurant however he “let his hair down” and became comfortable. The waitress came over and took our order. Now its okay to be high maintenance but his order was very complex. The waitress came back with his salad. He was visibly upset . “Miss! What did I say? No hard-boiled eggs or avocado”. The waitress apologized. Under his breath I could hear him say “idiot”. The waitress joked that the kitchen must have been confused because hard-boiled eggs and avocado are kind of what makes it a Cobb Salad. He became even more perturbed. Then she was a little slow refilling the water and he proudly held up his glass and pointed to the water boy saying “water please? Agua, Eau or whatever language you speak!” The rest of the meal was similar.
I then asked our receptionist how he was in the waiting area. She replied “He was on his cell phone a lot berating someone for misfiling a report” .
I asked him what his turnover was like at his job and he rolled his eyes “Horrible, we pay top wages, great benefits beautiful environment yet we can’t keep people. No one wants to work anymore.” Generally, the way you treat waitstaff and receptionists tell a lot about your character. Later that year (he didn’t get the job with the company I was assisting with the hire) he brought me in to find out why turnover was so high in his company. It was an easy assessment. Managers spoke down to employees. Very little was ever said in a positive manner. In fact I saw one Supervisor reply to a employee who said “ A little positive reinforcement would be nice” by saying “you have a great job that people would love to have. Be grateful you have this job. That’s your positive reinforcement.”. I did a quick survey of the 2100 employees and the vast majority said the same thing “We don’t even hear one kind word”.
I am not saying you have to bounce around with a huge smile constantly praising everyone (although that would be nice) I am saying that one kind word can do miracles. It maybe the only positive thing that person hears all day. Its easy to moan and ruin people’s day. True leaders and great human beings give up lifting statements. People crave praise. It motivates them. Not false praise, but sincere praise.
In these times of massively oversensitive people that are offended by everything its difficult sometimes to be kind as it is misinterpreted as an angle used for some personal benefit. I had a woman come into my office that wanted to file a sexual harassment charge. I asked what happen and she said a male employee told her she looked nice today. Be kind anyway. There are people who are offended by everything. Its more a reflection of their own insecurity then what you said. Be kind anyway.
Sally was having a awful year. Cat died. Moved to a new place she ended up not liking. Parent passed away. Relationship issues. Money issues. It seemed like a huge black cloud was hanging over her. She was busy filing reports as she stretched up to file,her heel on her shoe broke off. A small thing, but the combination of events sent a single tear down her cheek. Billy seeing she was having a bad day walked up and said, “Hey I can glue that back for you Sally”. She handed him the shoe and he fixed it. Then he said to her “Its been awesome working with you. I can learn a lot from you” Sally thanked him and before she knew it, there was a smile on her face and for a little while she wasn’t focused on her problems. It just took …….one kind word.