Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.
- Leo Buscaglia

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Well-Deserved Compliment

     As I was flying from Minnesota to Houston today (through Chicago), an unusual thing happened on the airplane.  I came across a flight attendant who was human rather than a robot.  Let me tell you more.
     Having been on as many planes as I have over the past months, I think I can recite all of the typical flight attendant messages by heart - from the safety routine to when to turn off your electronic devices to being careful "when removing your personal items from the overhead bins as items may have shifted in flight."  These messages are almost always either read from a sheet of paper or are recited as if they're being read since the messages are memorized word for word.  The bored, almost sing-song voice they use as these are recited makes them sound more like a machine that a real human being.  I'm sure they're trained this way so that they achieve a consistent standard, but in the process, they lose all the humanity.
     Well on tonight's first flight, the head flight attendant was a woman named Patti.  From her first message to her last, she sounded like a real human being!  She spoke clearly and in a natural tone of voice.  She conveyed the usual message, but she did so in her own words, rather than using the memorized script.  When she thanked us for choosing United Airlines, she actually sounded like she meant it.  It was such a pleasure that I had to say something to her.
     When we landed and were disembarking, I stopped to chat with her.  I told her that I wanted to compliment her both on her clear voice as well as the human way she communicated.  She seemed so pleased by what I said, and she explained that though she's supposed to read the script, she much prefers to convey the intended meaning in her own words so that she can make it feel more "real."  I told her to keep it up and how much I appreciated it.  She couldn't stop smiling as I think I affirmed for her what her own instincts told her.  I suspect the affirmation was important and she may still be smiling now. And I'll bet she'll keep doing it, knowing that it's noticed and appreciated.
     Two quick thoughts here:  1) I'm reminded of how important it is to be human.  When we memorize our "lines", no matter how nice the words may be, they tend to lose their humanity.  As Patti said, it's important to keep it real.  That humanness is what connects people with each other.  And 2) I'm glad I made the extra effort to let her know that what she was doing mattered.  It's easy to think about these things and to miss out on the opportunity to provide some meaningful appreciation and acknowledgement when it's deserved.  I'm trying to stay more conscious to those opportunities and to act upon them.

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