I had a couple weird experiences within 24 hours, and I was surprised at how strongly they affected me.
And it ties back to a little knowledge nugget that’s served me well over the course of my career…
Kindness costs you nothing.
It can seem daunting and maybe even a tiny bit overwhelming to be kind… like letting a few people in and being nice to them means you’re suddenly responsible for all the cares and concerns in the world.
It doesn’t work that way and here’s why… kindness is contagious.
But on the flipside, so is snark.
We see it every day out there on the world wide web… folks jumping on the bandwagon and riding it all the way to Troll Town.
It’s become cool to be callous. Hip to show hatred. Trendy to take folks down a peg or two.
I can’t profess to be perfect. There are times in my life where snarking and snapping at other people just felt SO DAMN GOOD in the moment… but then I saw firsthand what that does to your reputation, and how it affects people and the way they interact with you in the long run.
Which leads me back to my reason for writing today… I had a couple odd experiences over the weekend.
At the risk of sounding whiny and entitled, I want to share those experiences (and how they could have left an entirely different impression with the tiniest of tweaks).
Experience #1: shunned at a shindig
I’ll preface this by saying… I have no way of knowing whether it was intentional or not. I choose to assume positive intent and believe that the folks involved were so into their conversation that they didn’t realize what was happening outside the circle.
I was at an event I’d never attended before. And as anyone who’s ever met me can attest… I’m not shy. Meeting new people is totally my jam.
So this particular night, I turned up a little early to a cocktail hour and found a few other early birds milling about in the hallway outside the event room.
I tried to approach the group and make a(n admittedly) lame joke about this being where they held all the early folks. They chuckled… and then literally turned their backs on me to continue talking.
Like, closed ranks and made a circle unto themselves… and it was very obvious I was not part of it.
My immediate reaction was, “oh, well I guess I’ll go over here and fuck around on my phone for a bit”.
I went from excited to upset in about 10 seconds flat, and sat by myself on a nearby couch, firing off texts to friends, and asking them to come early to rescue me.
Now, these folks weren’t the event organizers. I don’t know their names and probably couldn’t pick them out of a lineup. And I’m definitely going to the event again… I’m not one to let one tiny thing affect my experience THAT much.
But it’s still apparent (and pretty unfair) that I’ve now mentally associated this conference with being unwelcome… yet that’s exactly what happened with a few thoughtless moments.
Again, for the record: I really don’t think it was intentional, or that the folks who turned their backs were thinking, “ugh what a loser… go away”. I choose to believe that they were friends/more familiar with each other, and wanted to continue their convo, which I may have interrupted with my joke.
And yet… having helped run events, host events, and having coached folks who are shy…
I suddenly was on the receiving end of an experience I actively try to prevent at my events: being left on the sidelines.
I’m not shy by any means, but I see how even an unintentional slight like this could shut a shy person down. This is the kind of thing that can snowball for someone who’s a little too in their head… making them feel like they did something wrong and like they’re not likable or approachable.
So in my mind there’s a simple solution to this… it’s to notice that fraction-of-a-second impulse to “close ranks”. Be more aware when there’s someone on the periphery, who’s trying to break in but doesn’t know how.
One simple “hey, why don’t you join us? We’re talking about XYZ” could literally be the thing that convinces someone to stick with it vs quitting because they don’t believe they’ve got the right stuff to be successful.
And I say all this admitting that I can be a bit of an “antisocial extrovert”. I love being around people, meeting new people… and I also need plenty of down time/alone time/small group time to balance it out, or I get cranky.
But I will still go out of my way to invite people to join the conversation, knowing how big an impact such a simple gesture has made in my career.
Abrupt segue to…
Event #2 – penny pinching at the airport
Less than 24 hours after the rebuff, I came down with a bit of a head cold. It became very obvious when I arrived at the airport the following morning.
With several hours to kill until my flight, I kept to myself in the corner of the Delta lounge, watching episodes of American Horror Story that I’d downloaded from Netflix.
Eventually, the stuffiness reached epic proportions and people around me started to look at me like I was Patient X with the newest form of the plague. I decided it was time to medicate.
I set off in search of one of those ubiquitous airport convenience stores… you know them, the ones with all the snacks, magazines, travel pillows, and travel-sized toiletries. I was looking for DayQuil, which of course they didn’t have.
So I found some TheraFlu… which had the same active ingredients.
This one box of 5 packets cost me $14 and change, but whatever… I need this stuffiness to ease up a bit.
So I take it to the counter, and then asked the clerk if I could get a cup of hot water from the coffee station behind her.
I figured it was obvious why I was asking, given that I sounded like my face was full of cheese.
Instead, the clerk abruptly announced “no hot water” and rung up my overpriced box of medicine, looking at me expectantly.
I was baffled and looked behind her at the obvious hot water tank and bank of disposable cups.
Right as I was about to reply, another kinder clerk walked up and said, “don’t worry, I’ll get you some hot water” and walked off.
The rude clerk called after him, “how much to charge for hot water?”
The kind clerk called back, “no charge, don’t worry about it.”
He brought me the hot water… thoughtfully double-cupped to preserve heat and protect my hands, and told me he hoped I felt better soon.
The rude clerk glared at me as if I’d stolen the Declaration of Independence.
Once again, I was supremely uncomfortable.
So with two unfortunate experiences inside 24 hours, I was suddenly alone with my thoughts wondering…
What’s the cost of kindness?
Let’s think in terms of literal hard costs.
The split second it takes to turn toward someone vs turning away. The 10 or so minutes of conversation, even if it’s a bit awkward.
If I were billing for that, it’s less than $100 of my time. But the potential positive impact of someone who was uncertain about their career prospects before coming to the conference… who suddenly feels welcome and like part of a thriving community? I can see the ripple effects of that person confidently striding out of the conference, ready to do their best work. And it’s easily in the six figures over the course of that career.
Not a bad return for such a small investment.
For that cup of water… maybe the cup’s 5 cents. The lid another 5. The water itself another 5… MAYBE 10 when you account for the electricity to heat it. The few seconds it took the clerk to put it all together and bring it.
We’re talking less than 50 cents’ worth of hard costs.
And to the rude clerk, protecting that 50 cents was worth potentially LOSING $14 from me walking away.
Human beings do that all the time… let emotion override common sense and logic. I can’t say for sure that I would have walked away, but knowing myself and my pride, if the kind clerk hadn’t stepped in, I may very well have gone out of my way to find another store to buy my meds.
Investing in kindness is not only smart… it’s profitable.
It doesn’t cost you a whole lot in the long run, but it pays dividends in the way people remember you, interact with you, are changed by knowing you.
So do what you will…
As for me, I’m gonna continue to invest in spreading kindness.
I’m going to spend that 50 cents on a cup of hot water to make someone feel better.
And I’m gonna continue to open the circle and invite someone in, even when I’m feeling all peopled out.
It’s worth it.