Workplace Wisdom

A Thirst to Engage

Another flight, another aisle seat. We’re on time, the middle seat is empty, and I’m happily organizing myself for a week with my lovely client in Southern California, anticipating blue skies and pleasantly crisp mornings instead of ice storms and punishing cold temperatures.

A flight attendant at least 15 years younger my junior, wearing the most amazing expanse of blue eye shadow, comes down the aisle with a plastic bag, collecting trash. I drop my water bottle into the bag.

“Thank you, Dear!” she says brightly, and pats my arm. “You’re welcome,” I respond, smiling back.

Mutual Appreciation for Good Behavior

“I just have to tell you,” she continues with great goodwill, “you were so polite when you came and got your water bottle before. You reached for the bottle and said, ‘Excuse me.’ No one does that anymore! I was drinking a cup of tea, do you remember? I turned to see who you were and I only saw you from the back.”

“This is the front,” I say. She pats my arm again. “I don’t know why people aren’t polite anymore,” she goes on, “but it was so nice that you were.”

“I’ll tell my mother,” I say. “You do that,” she says, smiling and patting me one more time. “She’ll be glad to hear it.”

“Open” for Service

Now the funny thing is that when I went for the water, I made a mental note that it would have been very much nicer if she had been positioned toward her customers in a more physically open way instead of standing, sort of hunched, reading over the counter. I’m sure most people assumed it was the typical self-service operation in which no words are exchanged.

And yet she clearly yearned for a certain kind of graciousness and a traditional exchange of pleasantries.

Taking the Risk of Connection

Perhaps you occasionally put yourself in the same bind — like not going out of your way to speak to someone you might have argued with recently, leaving you both thinking the other one is too distant to approach; or feeling shy about approaching someone you don’t know well, and because they respond in kind, no connection is made. Ah, opportunity lost for fear of a little interpersonal risk and exposure…

How sad! By protecting herself from the disappointment of unsatisfactory or uncomfortable interaction, the flight attendant may actually have prevented exactly what she craved. When you shy away from contact or hide from engagement you also eliminate the chance to experience the positive, the delightful, the inspiring.

So how could you make yourself more open? Who are the people you’d choose to engage?

Onward and upward,

LK

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One thought on “A Thirst to Engage”

  1. Thanks for the reminder Liz that we create our own reality by our defenses, by the assumptions we make about other’s intentions and by the way we invite them (or don’t) to connect. Your observation that the stewardess was actually preventing the opportunity for the kind of connection she craved was touching.

 

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