For some time I've been pondering the basics around the office lately, especially with regard to what is truly important to long-term personal and business success. Why do some relationships seemingly last forever, others never bond at all, while others fade away after many years?
These questions made me think of a character from Laguna Beach, CA known as The Greeter. Very few ever knew his real name. The Greeter was a red-coated, gray-bearded gentleman that stood just off Pacific Coast Highway at the entrance to the city, waving and saying, "Hello there!" to cars and pedestrians alike. Entering Laguna Beach became something special for many as they crossed the city threshold in a better mood. Inevitably, upon making your first stop, you were asked whether you saw The Greeter.
Mind you, he started doing this in 1963 and continued for 40 years. This local legend is now memorialized in statue as well as with a replacement, known only as Number One who may be waving today as you read this.
Now Laguna Beach must be one of the prettiest places with the nicest weather on the planet, so it shouldn't take too much to enter the town in the good mood. Nice places to live are generally expensive, and nice places in this locale are no exception. A nice hibiscus-covered home can run millions of dollars. So why greet people that already have driven many miles just to be in such an ideal place?
As any good host knows, it's good manners to properly welcome your guests, especially in such a non-confrontational manner. A proper heartfelt greeting can do wonders to make others feel welcome, far more than some corporate-enforced greeting by an ID-badged employee with multiple motivations.
It's also good for business. We intuitively know that it takes vastly more effort to cultivate a new client than to retain an old one, and a nice greeting can do nothing but help cement the relationship. Further, if that same heartfelt enthusiasm is granted to all I suspect there will eventually be many more new clients as a result.
Sort of that "Happiness is not perfected until it is shared" philosophy. When you create an environment where people look forward to visiting you, I suspect many new clients will come your way.
There are some things of which I am certain. Over time, business fortunes will inevitably cycle up and down. The very nature of our business often involves rivalries, jealousies, conflict and competition. Having earlier planted a seed that you are willing to communicate during times of anger and conflict may prove invaluable during difficult times. Perhaps the most important step is to keep the lines of communication open so that you can be aware of the nature of the conflict. No doubt each party has differing opinions on the nature of the conflict.
After all, what we sell is communication, and if we haven't learned how to communicate in a meaningful fashion perhaps we're in the wrong business. Each of us may have started out on this career path as an audio- or videophile, member of a garage band, 2600 aficionado, stagehand, computer geek, or perhaps even a gamer. Not one of these paths represents a stereotypical pathway for good interpersonal communication.
What binds us together -- or perhaps what keeps us from binding together -- as an industry may require little more than improving our manners (the politically correct name is interpersonal skills) and considering the needs of the others in our communication. After all, this year's competitors may be next year's colleagues.
In researching this article I found a nice Discovery Health website (http://discoveryhealth.queendom.com/questions/communication_short_1.html) that involves 10 questions to evaluate your own interpersonal skills. I scored a 60 on a scale of 100, and it automatically commented, "Way to go!" I had a couple of different reactions to this. The first was that my parents never actually congratulated me on a D- at any time during my academic career. The second is that my wife might well nod in agreement to that score.
Having no pretenses at being a shrink (especially one with a D- in interpersonal skills), I thought the synopsis supplied with my evaluation was more eloquent than anything I could write on the subject: "An absence or breakdown of communication can put even the best relationships in serious jeopardy. Poor communication often leads to feelings of betrayal, growing distrust, misunderstandings and even social isolation. Contrary to popular belief, the foundation of solid communication is not making oneself heard or expressing oneself clearly. While these are elements of good communication, the real core of communication is an understanding of where the other person is coming from."