I think it started with Act 6: Listen. I thought I would try to pay particular attention to the words and mood of those with whom I came in contact.  It made me listen carefully – with my whole self – to people who take care of me and others through the day and night.  Clerks. Cashiers.  Receptionists.  Customer service agents.  The voice at the end of the line.  The person behind the counter. Service personnel. Nurses. Aides. Hygienists. Wait staff. Technicians.

Then came Act 8: Pause.  I admit that I tend to have high expectations; I can get a bit testy when I think someone should be helping me, but they appear to be putting up road blocks or just slowing my pace to get to my desired outcome.  I’m not given to yelling; I do turn icy, and I am clearly dissatisfied.  Now, I had to put the brakes on my tone and words directed toward people stuck doing a job and delivering a message over which they have little control.

Then came Act 9: Lean.  Now, I had to move from demanding that all those people be endlessly helpful to watching for when they needed help.  I saw the new guy, who was still struggling. I noticed a lot of workers who are given too much to do.  I felt for the all the people who have to follow policies they didn’t create. My heart breaks for those who appear distracted by burdens larger than their current job.

And then came Act 15: Influence.  I thought about the influence I have in all the communities – real and virtual – in which I operate, especially those in which I am the client, guest, customer, patron, or patient.  I stopped just being automatically, if sincerely, polite. I started speaking up.   I formed whole sentences and a few paragraphs.  I told people specifically what they did to be helpful or what I noticed about their difficult situation. I told them how they handled a transaction well, how their work positively impacted my day, how challenging their job must be, what I noticed about their way with customers or co-workers, that their effort makes a difference in the lives of others, how we depend on them.  I said it face to face, via email, over the phone, in checkout lines, in front of others, in quiet comments on the side.

The response has been a startling.  Overwhelming, to be honest. You would think hardworking people never got any positive feedback.  Person after person seems amazed to be told that their work matters. Eyes light up.  Bright smiles break out.  Handshakes are exchanged.   Tears have been shed.  An alarming number say: “No one has ever said that to me before.”

That’s a sad commentary on the state of our world and our work.  It’s a sad commentary on my self-absorbed soul.

I’m grateful for the wake-up call.  I can be generous with my words in just a few sentences.