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"Smile!" or The virtue circle of positive feedback attitudes

by Agnes a Paris Sat Jan 7th, 2006 at 09:49:04 AM EST

All of us did get to know, through the lessons of history or personal experiences, how mean, selfish, cruel, humankind in its collective or individual manifestations, could be. "Civilization at its extreme produces crimes often worse than extreme barbarism," wrote French 19th century novelist Barbey d'Aurevilly.
Well, I am not a lot of an optimistic myself. One of my favorite as it comes to political sciences is Th. Hobbes. Yet, this diary is about positive attitudes and positive feedback. Let me start with the anecdotes that prompted me into this diary.

Yesterday, I was running late for a critical lunch appointment and would have missed the tube had it not been for someone opening the door for me from the inside -on the Paris underground, most trains are not equipped with automatically opening and closing doors. That "someone" had the typical dress code of the youngsters who brought France to the press front pages worldwide end of last year.
Last night had been very cold in Paris and I was about to go for a ride when noticed a guy desperate to start running his motorbike, parked just next to my Suzuki Bandit 1200. The engine clearly seemed to protest been woken up in the brisk air of this early morning. I offered to help and instead of getting one of those "mind-your-business-will-a below 50 kg girl-teach-me-how-to-start-my-motorbike" looks, he smiled and a couple of minutes later, both our engines were running. True, not too often do I get a warm welcome from male bikers, but still...
Later, I was indulging into my ritual weekend treat, buying myself flowers, and spotted a young guy whose anxious instructions to the shop keeper for the selection of a fistful of red roses gave a clear indication on the identity of the lucky recipient. "I'm sure She'll love them" I whispered to him. And it was great to see his face enlightened with a shy yet relieved and heartfelt smile and hear him say "thank you, I was actually worried..."

I spent a good part of my time at (business) grade school voraciously reading all the books I could find in the sociology and philosophy sections of the library. I was much more attracted to P. Watzlawick, J. Weakland, G. Bateson, E. Hall, K. Lorenz, P. Bourdieu, H.Minzberg, E.Morin, H. Bergson, E. Husserl, E. Heidegger, and so many others than to J-M. Keynes who's actually the only one I managed to remember, having found his theories interesting, and all the financial stuff I was supposed to read. The Palo Alto school changed my approach to people and solving problems.

"Smile to people, and they'll smile back". True, simplistic way to put it. We will always find a ground to complain about how rude or uncaring people are, because they are. Yet it's worth trying. The tremendous amount of positive feedback you get when adopting a positive attitude towards people you come across everyday, well, I for one find it stunning. To those who are not responding accordingly, let us them go to hell with our blessing. It was not a great waste of energy after all.

You'd probably appreciate Kaos Pilot business school in Aarhus. Denmark.

There's a lot of smiling and dancing goes on there, as well as some of the toughest questioning discussions I've faced. ;-)


You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sat Jan 7th, 2006 at 10:30:09 AM EST
Game theory has proved it without doubt. The most successful behavior (and simplest) in life is tit-for-tat, starting with cooperation: i.e. you behave like the other does, but you start by being nice.

A smile is a good way to "start by being nice", and it works.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Jan 7th, 2006 at 11:38:31 AM EST
I always strike up a conversation with those in the check out line, or with the clerk in a store. I figure they are stuck in a boring job and could use a little human interaction. I usually try to say something humorous about the items in front of us.

Being an old guy, I don't run the risk of seeming to be trying out a pickup line or the like. Lots of old folks, who probably live alone, also appreciate the chance for a little conversation as well in check out lines.

My wife has noticed my behavior and now has started to do the same thing. I don't know if this will help cure cancer or prevent global warming, but you never know...

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Sat Jan 7th, 2006 at 12:11:33 PM EST
But being still essentially British, even after all these years in Finland - it is important to introduce creativity even in the checkout.

I think that if you sit in a checkout all day, it is difficult to smile even with all those 'customer courses' you undergo.

Beng in marketing (an essentially elitist activity), I have always thought it important to stay in touch with the people who actually pay my salary.

Yes yes, condescending I know. But I don't have too many choices.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sat Jan 7th, 2006 at 02:20:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Not that it has made any difference, but whenever I am going to the airport...and through all the checks, I expect the worse and try to be pleasant/non-reactive...and so far, I have always been treated respectfully and quickly.

Also, having been a manager in a Union shop for years, I developed a sense that not everyone (managers or staff) will like me, but nonetheless I would do my best to "kill them with kindness"! In a few cases, I actually won people over, the rest of the time I think had their begrudging respect...

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia

by whataboutbob on Sun Jan 8th, 2006 at 03:38:22 AM EST
oh, and I'll add another thing...again from my past as a manager...it always mystifies me that most managers don't know that one of the most powerful things they can do for any employee...is to tell them when they have done a good job. It doesn't cost anything, takes but seconds, and the employee feels appreciated for their quality work (as they should). Positive feedback is very powerful. I have always been blessed to have very loyal employees, and I believe part of that has to do with my showing my appreciation of them.

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Sun Jan 8th, 2006 at 03:41:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
  1. I engage in conversation with any clerk, or at any checkout line. It's a habit actually, not really a decision I make.

  2. Whever I walk past a policeman in the street or a customs officer, I start feeling guilty. To cover the Midnight Express type of heart-pumping stress this causes me, I try to smile and be normal, but I end up acting all superior. It's horrible. And I've never had anything to feel guilty of! So, like I said, this stress makes me act so weird that I end up being unpleasant. For instance, I was once asked by a customs officer, while she was going through my bag, at the Eurostar terminal in Paris: "sir do you consume any drugs?". I replied "What do you mean?? That's none of your business!!". She started being offended: "it is my business". Me: "No, it's not. If you asked me 'are you carrying any drugs?' I would give you an answer, no that is, but do I consume any drugs? That's an invasion of my privacy!". She was by then very annoyed, still going through my things, and brought out a dozen or so VHS tapes I had in my bag. She called her superior: "look" (holding/showing tapes for him to see), "isn't this a problem?" (asking him). The superior, in a really bored-sounding voice: "no", and he went back to what he was doing. She then grudgingly told me that I was free to go. Conclusion: I guess I start looking guilty as soon as I start feeling guilty.

  3. Whenever I go biking in this forest outside of Toulouse, I say hello to everyone I meet (actually I even do this in some parts of town too, but that's another story). And although I generally try not to mind it when people don't answer back, I still find it incredible that someone you cross on a forest path, at a place where you know that there's no one around for a kilometer or two, will not say hello with a smile in return. I forgive the joggers, who are short on breath, but of the walkers and bikers I generally think "what an idiot". Now, when someone does answer with a smile, or says hello before I do, you're right Agnès, it just feels so good.
by Alex in Toulouse on Sun Jan 8th, 2006 at 10:05:59 AM EST
in the Eurostar terminal in Paris 2 last year.
I had been travelling to and back form Poland as a child throughout the eighties, and then to and from Eastern Europe (including FRY and Russia) in the late nineties for business purposes. The rudest and most invasive question though I did get on this Eurostar terminal. The customs officers asked me questions such as "what's your occupation in the UK ?" "your husband's ? "does he consume drugs ?". I had been taught not to respond aggressively, but inside I was shaking with offence. I thought afterwards that if I had responded and expressed my disagreement with the way I was being treated, I would not have felt so demeaned and bruised.

When through hell, just keep going. W. Churchill
by Agnes a Paris on Sun Jan 8th, 2006 at 11:47:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well I did feel good, but if I had been a little bit more rational, I would have abstained from making any comments. Or would I tried humour maybe ("I don't think so, does chocolate count as a drug?"- with a big smile in order not to sound ironic/sarcastic). Because the comments I made are not the type of comments you'd want to try on a customs officer in some countries, which I won't name here. You'd end up with a body search at the very least ...

I understand you were shaken, I hate intrusions on my privacy (not that I consume drugs nowadays anyways, though back then I did have an occasional puff on a joint but didn't consider myself a "consumer").

by Alex in Toulouse on Sun Jan 8th, 2006 at 12:06:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You and me know that astress and being rational seldom belong together. I never tried humour on a customs officer, I doubt whether they are not just immune to it altogether.
One thing that shocked me is the difference in treating foreigners with a green card and those without, last time I was at JFK airport 6 months ago.

When through hell, just keep going. W. Churchill
by Agnes a Paris on Sun Jan 8th, 2006 at 12:18:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I never tried humour on a customs officer, I doubt whether they are not just immune to it altogether.

Excellent, hehe, I think you're right, they along with visa clerks in embassies, and this works with a few other similar professions, are probably recruited on the basis that they have no humour.

by Alex in Toulouse on Sun Jan 8th, 2006 at 12:27:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Code word: Body language....truly simplistic.

When you smile you are saying you are nice and you force the other to be nice with you..and poor of the the insane who answers back angry....you just have to smile to other people and you will get the cover to kick him out...some kind of western movies shooting with smiles.

Dosis: As much as you need

Advice: the smile better seem real..otherwise it can have some contra-indications...

And recall that it is not and smile in all cultures...just recall that other peole have other rules to show strong-kind-cooperative interaction

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Sun Jan 8th, 2006 at 03:09:08 PM EST
Thanks - made me smile!
by Alexandra in WMass (alexandra_wmass[a|t]yahoo[d|o|t]fr) on Thu Jan 12th, 2006 at 10:34:32 PM EST

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