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Devin D. Thorpe
Devin Thorpe

How I Will Stop Being a Jackass and Start Being Nice Instead

I have repeatedly confessed my guilt at being a jackass. I also think of myself as a humanitarian.

Yes, those two things are deeply at odds but they are not completely incompatible. You see, my career is entirely focused on helping to solve the world’s biggest problems: poverty, disease and climate change. I continue to work actively in several ways on each of these areas. I take them seriously.

Despite that, I think I inherited from my humanitarian father, either by close association or perhaps genetically, a tendency to dislike associating with people. Of course, I spend lots of time with people and love the time I spend with Gail, my wife. But there is little I hate worse than a reception where I am expected to chat up people I don’t know. This is true even though I have enjoyed meeting virtually everyone I’ve ever met at a reception.

What’s worse, is that I have long had a problem with all forms of customer service people, whether we are talking about “Peter” with the heavy Indian accent on the phone representing my airline or the order takers at McDonalds. Something in my mind always whispers, “They’re out to get you.”

(Yes, I am aware of the irony of treating badly people who earn minimum wage while advocating on behalf of low-income people and for social justice.)

Of course, this is absurd. For years, I have tried to address this by pledging not to be a jackass to customer service people. It remains my greatest personal challenge.

Today, I had an epiphany. Instead of trying not to be a jackass, I will instead try to be nice. Really nice.

I figure, that if I try to be in the top ten percent of customers as measured by niceness, then I’m not being a jackass. It also has the benefit of not requiring that I remind myself before every interaction that I have been a jackass in the past, which seems to have had the effect of reinforcing the idea that I am a jackass.

So, here’s my three-point plan to be nice to people, especially customer service people.

  1. Learn and remember names. It should be much easier to be kind to Peter than it is to the airline he represents. Peter didn’t lose my bag or foul up my reservation. The airline did.
  2. The older I get the more naturally a scowl seems to settle on my face. On the other hand, studies show that when people speak with a smile, the hearer can tell. This sounds like voodoo to me, but it seems worth a shot. People who can see me must certainly prefer to be greeted with a smile rather than a frown.
  3. Greet people. Wouldn’t it be better to start a conversation with, “Hi, how are you?” or at least, “Hello!” rather than, “I want…” This small sacrifice of efficiency for kindness seems like it would be of value to someone who faces an unending line of customers always asking for something.

My old list was pretty much limited to, “Don’t scream at people unless they really deserve it.”

Is it possible that learning to be nice to people can make it easier for me to enjoy a reception or even a sales call? I hate making sales calls so much I basically refuse to make them. Could it be possible to become a truly nice person with practice? This jackass hopes so.

(Maybe this will even be the last time I call myself a jackass.) Wish me luck. The customer service people I meet will thank you. Here’s hoping we connect at a reception!

6 Responses to How I Will Stop Being a Jackass and Start Being Nice Instead

  • Devin– I take your incredible editorials to heart and also have a suggestion to add– Pretend the young person on the other end is your child and treat them as you would HOPE Others Would: (ESPECIALLY the PJC—Potential Jackass Customers)
    “Giovanni, what a beautiful name, I’ll bet your mother thought of you as a young man and how distinguished this name will be to your clients” Thank you for taking such good care of my account at Fred Flintstone Printers– I know you will be able to help me—Bla Bla PROBLEM— no yelling or name calling. (surprisingly enough, problems solved, discounts applied, and I ALWAYS brag back to the company regarding what a Rock Star Stephanie was at Domain Names R Us, which continues the goodwill, and hopefully adorable Stephanie gets a raise, OR a Silver Star in her file– ) SO pretending MY child is on the receiving end of my problem call is helpful! Blessings to you for your marvelous advice we ALL can use! (Also made a funny comment last week to a lady who laughed when I said I had been a client since before she was born– and she was MY age– so I said– us old ladies have gotta stick together– again problem solved though solidarity) M

  • Devin, I have never thought of you as a jackass, so you are already ahead of the game with me!
    Here is a tip. When you see people- any people- but for example sales clerks, wait staff, etc. in your mind say, “I love you,” to them. It sounds silly, but no one will know you are doing it. No one will hear you doing it. You may even smile at yourself as you do it, (an added plus), but it will make a difference.
    When you put out the energy of “love” to everyone you meet it will make a difference.
    Let me know how it works out!
    Pennie Hunt

  • I work with the public and have convinced myself I don’t like people. However, like you am trying to be nice. Sometimes I stop and say “I might actually like this person”. Then I treat them like I do. It doesn’t always work, but it’s better than acting like I don’t.

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