Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Too Soon Old Too Late Smart

It was a while ago so I don’t remember the particular event, but it was one of customer service center phone calls. I think it may have had something to do with the estate bank account. We were hit with an unwarranted fee. It was going to be removed or the account would be terminated. Period. I was not a happy camper. After going through the phone tree and listening to several minutes of elevator music punctuated with apologies I had the opportunity to speak with a human being who could actually speak English. She removed the offending fee or fixed the problem. Then I hung up the phone. My wife observed, “You didn’t say thank you.” She then preached a little sermon on the virtue of saying thank you to people who actually do what you want them to do for you.

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

I think I was pretty good at saying thank you in the workplace, but I probably have been pretty bad about rewarding (through a simple thank you) behavior that I want even if I didn’t get the desired result or in the case where getting the desired result was a pain in the butt. Behaviorists have demonstrated that the most effective method of conditioning involves rewarding the desired behavior; not the desired result or punishing undesirable behavior. I think anyone who has ever tried to train a child or a puppy understands this concept.

I am trying to do better. I don’t like saying thank you to people who are just barely doing their job or who work for an organization that is manifestly not doing its job, but I am trying to improve. I am willing to admit that my wife and my mother are probably right on this one.

I like to really mean it when I say thank you. When a clerk goes to the storage area to determine if they have something that is not out on the shelf, I thank them profusely whether they find what I was looking for or fail in the attempt. Sporadically, throughout my life I have tried to put some teeth in my thank yous for really extraordinary performance. Most recently I wrote a letter to the president of my first alma mater, detailing the extraordinarily excellent performance of one of his ticket agents. One time she opened her office and fired up her ticket machine an hour early just for me. On the second occasion she gave me a free upgrade to better seats because she could not provide me with what she considered acceptable seats. If he had six more employees like that one working in his ticket office, I believe ever game would be a sellout.

Hey! It doesn’t cost you anything and it just might make the world a better place. Can you imagine a world where your boss noticed what you were doing and actually thanked you for desirable behavior?

Why do I have this memory of my mother saying in that tone of voice that mothers get, “Say thank you to the nice man.”

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