Personal Finance, Relationships, Shopping

The Value of a Smile

When I was about twelve years old, I used to hang out at a bowling alley with about ten of the kids from my neighborhood. We played pinball and Space Invaders, which was the only stand alone video game in existence at that time (other than pong). We fed our quarters into those machines every afternoon and my friends would always make fun of me because I said “please” and “thank you” to the lady behind the counter when she made change for us.

That went on for two to three months, during which time my friends grew increasingly rowdy and rude. After two or three days of warning, the lady behind the counter shouted, “That’s it! You are all banned from here!” She then pointed at me and said, “Except you, because you are nice.”

At the time, I wanted to crawl underneath a rock and distance myself from the comment, as it served only to give my friends more reasons to poke fun at me, but in retrospect, it also taught me the value of being nice to people. I could be as loud as my friends, but I was never rude. The lady at the bowling alley was willing to forgive my rowdiness because I was always nice to her. That is a lesson that we should all carry into every store and every transaction that we enter.

I am polite and pleasant by nature – the product of a very loving upbringing. It was only when I was almost into adulthood that I began to realize that a lot of people are quite the opposite. I worked a retail job when I was in high school and I was shocked by the rudeness of many of the people I encountered – both co-workers and customers. They were clearly unhappy people and they shared their misery willingly. I also noticed that because of my naturally cheerful disposition, I received much better tips than my co-workers and the store’s customers often sought me out for assistance.

As an adult, I have tried to treat everyone I have encountered with the same friendly respect that I wish I had received as a retail worker. It has been a very satisfying experience because I enjoy bringing a smile to the faces of the people with whom I interact, but it has also resulted in many savings that make me wonder why even miserable people do not try to be more friendly.

For example, the other day, I went to have my car greased and oiled. I chatted pleasantly with the maintenance shop manager, waited patiently without complaints about delay, and was pleased to be rewarded with free service for the day. I would have been pleasant and cheerful even without the possibility of reward, but it was nice to walk out of the shop without a $49 charge!

On my way home from the maintenance shop, I stopped at the grocery store. There were unusually long lines at the registers, but a cashier spotted me and opened a new line. The woman in front of me, who I had directed to the newly opened cash register line, had several items that I also had, one of which was part of a coupon deal. The woman was not very polite and did not speak with the cashier at all. No “Hello” and no “Thank you.” Nothing. When it was my turn, I chatted with the cashier, as I always do, and she pointed out to me (but not to the other lady) that there was an in-store coupon for one of my products and she ran to get it for me.

The savings that day were both small (the coupon) and significant (the free grease and oil) but they were indicative of the types of savings that I have attributed to being nice. There have been countless times when I know that a pleasant demeanor has saved me money, headaches and/or time. Even when my instinct is to get angry, as when I am forced to make a return of a product for which I have paid a lot of money, I preserve an outward aspect of friendliness and understanding. As a result, I think a lot of sales people are shocked into being accommodating.

Of course, being happy is its own reward and the mental and physical health benefits are beyond material value. I hope none of us needs to financial incentives to be happy and friendly and polite. That said, if you are already, happy, pleasant and polite, it is nice to know that there are a few financial rewards that “come with the territory.”

Do you put on a “happy face” when you are dealing with sales people or service providers? Do you take the view that people are there to help you or that they are there to do things for you? When you encounter a difficult situation in a store or with a craftsman, are you inclined to yell until you get your way or to use a smile to melt away the difficulty?

6 thoughts on “The Value of a Smile

  1. Robert Heinlein has a line in one of his books (“Friday” I think) that goes something along the line of “the first sign of the downfall of a civilization is when people stop using the common courtesies — they grease the wheels of human interaction.” That always stuck with me, even if (particularly when I was in corporate!) I didn’t always practise it!

    A smile and “please” and “thank you”, etc. cost nothing and can really lighten another person’s day, which in turn lightens yours.

    When I was in my 20’s, I had a friend who was only 5 feet tall. I thought she was a terrible flirt, but she was always polite and smiling even in the worst situations. Watching her, I realized two things. First, that it was a defense mechanism — no one could continue to pick on her or be mean to her in the face of her constant “niceness” and she was so tiny that she needed that! Second, she could get her way when others failed. Interesting to watch and absorb even if I didn’t take the lesson to heart back then.

    I was working full-time in an accounting department when I went back to school to gain the courses and credits to qualify to sit for the cpa exam. I used to watch the attitudes of some of the auditors who came through and some of them were unbelievably arrogant — demanding that you drop everything and do what they want, not even considering what that would do to your workday. When I got into public accounting, my approach was a bit different. I’d ask people when they thought they could get it to me and then negotiate with them, explaining my time constraints and acknowledging theirs. The people I worked with would bend over backwards to get me what I needed and, frequently, even more than I needed. LOL My supervisors noticed and, when I was supervising, would frequently send me the “tough” cases — kids who thought they were god — to whup back into being human beings. (I didn’t tolerate superior, rude behavior from my “kids.”) When I left public accounting, I was touched to learn, as I was contacting my clients and letting them know who would be in charge and who they should contact, that four or five of my biggest clients wished that they’d known I wanted to leave ’cause they would have loved to have had me on their staff. That was one of the nicest compliments and I’ve never forgotten it.

    I’ll admit that in my last corporate job, my rougher side had a tendency to come out! LOL I’ll blame it on long hours and lack of sleep… and a tendency to think that the truth should be told, whether or not people wanted to hear it. I definitely wasn’t politically correct.

    Now I’m back to what I consider to be the “real” me. I smile and thank people and generally approach problems pleasantly. I thank people for their help and find things go much easier.

    The gentler attitude has another added bonus — it makes other people’s day! I recently had a techical assistant at a credit card company tell me that, in the five years he’d been working there, he’d never had anyone be so nice to deal with. I was surprised ’cause I’d had a problem and he’d given me a bunch of information that I hadn’t been aware of, that would make my life easier and I really couldn’t understand how someone couldn’t be grateful. I also found it a sad comment on our society that people wouldn’t be thankful for his help.

    The everyday common courtesies really do grease the wheels of human interaction. If the only result is to make your own life a bit easier — without monetary gain, it’s well worth it!

  2. I’m always polite and friendly(at least that is my intention). Undoubtedly, I’ve benefited from my courteous ways. There was a time, though, when I first joined the workforce as a professional when I was criricized for my smile and “Thank You” approach. “People won’t take you seriously if you’re not tough,” I heard. I wondered then why gruffness was equated with strength. I had always thought that rude people were unhappy and insecure. Long story short — I didn’t change my ways and I eventually earned the respect
    of my colleagues.

  3. Dave Not only does being polite work wonders but it is always the right thing to do. Often, when I am presented with a very curtious waiter or very polite checkout person, I make it a point to let the manager know how nice my experience was. I often find that the manager expects the customary bad news and it very pleasantly surprised with the good news. Although I don’t know for sure, but my guess would be that when it gets back to the waiter or clerk, their day is better and their service is likely to be better. A win/win for all. Thanks for the positive blog.

  4. Has anyone watched the recently added new show called “True Beauty”? It’s fascinating in its own way because, to the contestants, the show is all about which of the original 10 is the most beautiful. What they don’t know, until they’re kicked off, is that what they’re really being jusdged on is how they treat others and react to situations (thus, the name True Beauty).

    Ive actually gotten a kick out of watching it a couple of times ’cause most of the contestants haven’t a clue! To me, none of them are that drop dead gorgeous that they can afford some of the rude, egotistical behavior they’ve exhibited.

    In this case, though they’re unaware of it, being nice is what’s going to award one of them with the $100,000 prize at the end. LOL

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