Each of us has to work with people at some point in our lives. We have to interact with them in school, in groups such as sports teams or projects; we have to say hi to the cashier at Starbucks so that maybe she’ll get our order right. Out of the gate, our first jobs should ignite our brains to develop a more astute form of communication, language and cognitive reasoning, but when the world is spinning how do you truly absorb the most important cues of communicating. Those first jobs are critical to our progress in critical behavior evaluation; we have to be able to recognize and respond appropriately to the needs of others without taking their projections personal. This is not easy, and more surprisingly not the norm. People seem to be innately unaware, in a daze of self-assessment and in a hamster wheel of irrationally wondering about the skewed details of their day-to-day life, they don’t instinctively notice what’s (or who’s) in front of them and are able to be in the moment enough to respond appropriately.
My life changed when I started working in guest service, drastically. I started as a hostess of a little Italian restaurant in a teeny secluded affluent neighborhood in LA, that didn’t take reservations. Immediately I was bombarded with everyone’s feelings, because, as most of you know people feel everything when they are hungry, late, or nervous (all of which come with going out to a restaurant). It doesn’t help that I’m a sensitive person and take on other people’s feelings. I had to grow a thick skin, learn how to say sorry without apologizing and manage multiple energies at the same time. Not only was it pivotal for me to gain confidence in communicating for future experiences, but also it was vital for me to be able to understand and empathize with those who are taking care of me, those who deal with my hangry and nervousness when they are in the midst of their own “in the weeds.” This delicate dance between those in it and those who are able to understand and empathize is the most beautiful thing you can truly experience while you are out, because we all know how much the ambiance makes the date. And ambiance is two sided. The recipe for experience is overflowing with a seemingly infinite amount of ingredients that each person can manipulate. An awareness of these details will put you in the perfect position to set the tone for your experience and that of the other person, whichever side you find yourself on, because in order to be a better guest, you must first master service.
Service is first and foremost People. Everyone is people. Every single face that you see walking around in life is a person that is affected by your energy or of those around you. You have power to adjust your behavior and inversely adjust someone else’s feelings or perceptions. People are sensitive (trust me sometimes I wish they weren’t), but they are beautifully and wonderfully susceptible to any minor factor that alters their projected ambiance. This understanding is your game changer, this is your touchdown pass, and this unadulterated observance of someone else’s body language, feelings and energies will put you in the power seat. You’re now outstandingly capable of creating magic, if you are truly willing. Being in this position is not solely selfless, it’s rooted in ego, you want your night to go well too, you want to be tipped well and make a connection with people. It’s notably rewarding to soothe someone’s energy, meet their needs and respect their space, when you feel like you are doing a great job; you naturally work harder and smarter. It’s called balance. Ego isn’t the only one getting stroked either, your core values are being exercised in such a way that when fully developed and acknowledged will lead to impeccable communication in any circumstance. People teach you how to be empathetic; this is the platform on which you build strength of self.
Empathy is indispensible; in order to connect to any person and understand any individual you must first be able to feel where they are coming from, truly grasp how someone else may feel independently of your own feelings. This is a skill, it takes practice tapping into your own senses in order to feel another’s. When you see someone exhale deeply and are able to acknowledge that they may be under stress, your ability to interpret that information and adapt your own decisions to take a more patient action could save you your own stress, maybe even help bring their energy down and even find a shared smile, a connection. You feel good, they feel good and the whole experience is better! It’s a gift you can give, as a guest or in service.
Hospitality is all about how you make the guest feel, even if there is no reward, no tip, no nada. And the proverbial “what you do for someone who can do nothing for you shows your character,” rings all too true here. The majority of your time in hospitality is doing everything for people that will do little to nothing for you. It is not reciprocal, altruistic or even unified, it is up to you as the serviceman or woman to be true to the development of character and put others ahead of yourself. Yes it is sacrifice, but character is a value that is applicable in any relationship. People will always judge how you treat others, and make decisions about their experience with you based on this judgment. Equally, how you treat your colleagues (those that can do something for you) and how you respect your environment and their development is testament to integrity. Your integrity and character go hand-in-hand; they are mutually dependable and esteemed qualities that contribute to your overall attitude and behavior towards others. This is how you are seen and in return how you’ll be treated.
The guest service industry isn’t solely demanding upon the core values in communication that you possess as an employee, they also require high functioning critical thinking skills. Working in the service industry is like an independent sport on a team, like baseball. It’s not group-think, there is no one to bank on when you are given the buck, no passing the buck…you must do with the buck what you believe is best and in order to succeed you must figure how to critically evaluate and initiative. I first really learned this when a manager said to me “don’t come to me with a problem, come to with a solution,” and “do first and ask forgiveness later.” Called to action, to take action, to evaluate the situation, determine the best response and do it because you believe it’s right for the company and more importantly best for the guest. Take these sayings to heart, use them everyday. In any company, circumstance or environment, it’s more important to show your care in your capability to create solutions and make things happen than it is to be book smart. People appreciate efficiency.
Last, but certainly not least, the ability to fail and fail greatly is the most epic skill of all. Failing greatly is when you mess up, you muck something up so bad that it was more a waste of time than anything, but you showed valiant effort, uncompromising care and a true certainty that can not be faked. You went for it, with all your best and for the best of the guest or the best of the cause. Don’t be afraid to fail greatly. Your skin will thicken, your knowledge will solidify and you will absorb the lesson in such an honest and open way that leads you to think more critically the next challenge and make fewer mistakes moving forward. And when you get it right, it makes the embarrassment and weirdness fall away, it becomes the right kind of mistake, not a regret, but a stepping-stone to your success.
I have always naively assumed that everyone wants to be a better human, a kinder, efficient, successful person, partner, lover, employee, serviceman etc. Maybe that’s not true, but for those of you who do, take this in. Breathe deeply the idea that people out there who serve you are learning these things; they are the ones developing the exceptional skills for communication with difficult people. They are taking care of you! Their success is pivotal to making our progress as a community stronger and our bound as a culture more permanent. If you aren’t going to learn what it’s like to be in service and gain these valuable character practices, then treat those in these services with respect. They face each of us everyday, with impeccable control and generosity; they deserve our attention and our appreciation. They might even be able to teach you a thing or two. And, if you so are interested, at any age, take a job serving people, learn about them, learn about you and take consideration into how this can benefit the rest of your life.
Manet, A Bar at the Folies-Beregre 1882