I'd like to pass along something I've been trying out that's been surprisingly helpful in dealing with others. It's quite simple: I've combined Nicholas Boothman's idea of a Really Useful Attitude (from the book How to Make People Like You in 90 Seconds or Less ) with smiling when I approach someone new. This approach (RUA+Smile) has resulted in amazingly better interactions with people, especially folks with "problems."
Briefly, here's how it works: First, before an encounter with someone I establish the useful attitude I want to bring to it. I usually pick two, such as curious and needing help. Then I put a smile on my face and jump right in.
Here's an example: Recently I took a family trip to Colorado to visit friends and, because air travel is not one of my favorite activities , I wanted to avoid my typical anxiety about delays, problems, etc. Usually I'd go in expecting problems, but this time around I tried out the RUA+Smile approach. Before checking in at the ticket counter I put on an attitude of compassion (for the overworked employee) and gratitude (for the privilege of being able to fly), fired up my smile, and waited my turn. The woman who helped us was clearly having a bad morning, and wasn't quite uncooperative with the ticketing and luggage. However, we got through it, brought the bags to the big X-ray machine, and learned that only three of the four had been checked; the fourth was missing its tag.
OK, so I went back to the desk where the same person stated (somewhat aggressively) that I had only asked for three bags to be checked. I recalled differently, and normally would have argued with her to show that I was right and the fault was hers. However, I instead told her I thought it must be hard for airline employees these days with pension troubles, skyrocketing fuel costs, and general financial insecurities. Boy did she agree! Among these and other problems, she said she's manning the desk and training her (lower-paid) replacement whom she's loosing her job to. Ugh! I expressed my sympathy (trying to place myself in her shoes), all the while getting the final bag checked.
This is a small example, but I've had a number of other situations come up like this, and the RUA+Smile approach has helped in them all, especially with low-pay, high-stress jobs like customer service. Keep in mind that I'm really trying to think of the other person, not just think "How can I act to get what I want?" But you'd be surprised how often you can make things go more smoothly when you adopt one of these attitudes before interacting with someone. From page 41: Really Useful Attitudes:
- Laid back
In contrast, consider these Really Useless Attitudes:
See any you've had on before? Sadly, when I first read this, I recognized a bunch of them.
So why does this work? Here's how Boothman puts it:
Attitudes set the quality and mood of your thoughts, your tone of voice, your spoken words. Most importantly, they govern your facial and body language... Once your mind is set into a particular attitude, you have very little ongoing conscious control over the signals your body sends out.
He concludes with:
In face-to-face situations, your attitude precedes you. it is the central force in your life - it controls the quality and appearance of everything you do.
So next time you're about to interact with someone, I encourage you to try this out. And I'd love to hear any stories about your results.
-  I talk about Boothman's book in A review of "How to make people like you in 90 seconds or less", and in A geek "gets" networking: The strange magic of connecting with others.
-  First, I'm apparently a Highly Sensitive Person, which means I get cranky, tired, and very unhappy when exposed to changes in lighting, smells, etc. Second, I find appalling the post-911 security changes that the Bush administration has enforced. As a result, I've doubled my usual contributions to organizations the ACLU.