Curated Leadership for Today's World

Ready to Make Nice

Posted on 30 July 2010

Who taught you how to play nice? Was it your parents or your teachers? Did you read a book on manners? Did anyone teach you? John Wanamaker was known as “The Merchant Prince” because he was the prince of courtesy in his relationships with his customers.

John Wanamaker was a keen observer of human activity. He was a shy and awkward country boy. He would watch people and determined that if he ever owned a store, he would treat everyone as if they were special. The results speak for themselves. Wanamaker built a department store empire that people flocked to mainly because of the experience he provided for the customer.

I grew up with a father who had similar early experiences. He did not have the education, the family stability or the clothes that would allow him to fit in with other youths his age. He, too, became a keen observer. When you experience pain, it can manifest itself in two ways. It can fill you with a rage that you carry your whole life and reveals itself in your repeated desire to try and make others feel insecure to mask your own insecurity. The other route pain can take is to make you more empathic. You know what it feels like to be on the receiving end hence you make every effort to ensure everyone feels encompassed and accepted.

Smiling at and talking to people is so second nature to me it is more effortless than breathing.  And I erroneously just assumed everyone knew how to do this. It wasn’t until years later when my mother commented on my actions and said that no one had ever taught her how to make friends. She told me she was so painfully shy as a youth she would eat her lunch in the girls’ restroom so she wouldn’t have to interact with others. I was shocked, but her confession brought home a very important point.

There are many folks who have never had anyone actually teach them how to be nice to people. I can remember reading Dale Carnegie’s classic How to Win Friends and Influence People, marveling somewhat at the beautiful simplicity of his words. I kept thinking, “Doesn’t everyone know this?”, and soon began to understand that unless you are taught it, you don’t. I had taken for granted the teachings of my father and have only come to realize at this stage in my life that it was probably one of the greatest things he taught me.

So think about it. This does not hinge on whether you are an extrovert or an introvert. Learning to behave nicely to people is a trait to be learned just like any other. And it takes work to make it a habit, just like every other task. Trust me, although it is second nature to me, it does take work and you are never too old to learn it or improve upon it!

As Addison Walker so aptly stated, “It is not true that nice guys finish last. Nice guys are winners before the game even starts.”

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