My late mother was a pro when it came to relationships.
Born to an Italian immigrant family at the beginning of the Great Depression, my mother inherited the hard work, pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps ethic. Her grandparents were migrant workers, traveling to different farms to reap whatever harvest was available.
Eventually, her grandfather saved enough money to start his own produce company, which still exists to this day. Meanwhile, my mother went to school, learned more English than her mother, and worked in her family’s business.
When I was a young girl, she told me one story that impressed me so much that I have sought to replicate the effects of it whenever I can.
Kind Words: A Required Ingredient For Relationships
When my mother was younger, she was a bank teller. She told me that she enjoyed her job, but there was one man in particular who was just a grump. He never would smile. My mom told me that she made it her mission to make that man smile.
My mother had a very friendly, gregarious nature (which isn’t unusual for an Italian). She herself liked to smile and could often get others to smile without ever trying. But with this gentleman, she had to be more intentional.
She would comment on the beautiful weather or a positive news event of the day. But the key to thawing out this man’s demeanor was when she spoke positively about his fine wool hat. He face brightened and he immediately warmed up as he spoke about getting the hat from the best milliner in town.
And he smiled.
A Self-Absorbed World
Perhaps in no other time in history has it ever been easier to be self-absorbed with yourself.
We have mobile phone cameras that can either take pictures of ourselves or record our activities in an instant. Then we can upload the photos or videos to online platforms like YouTube, Instagram, or Vine in seconds.
Reality TV shows focus on how a person acts in a certain situation. They’re not trained actors, but individuals who auditioned to be observed while they make their choices on TV, for all the world to see.
No one has to wait for a publisher or agent to notice them. They can be a published writer or recording artist instantly by posting their stories or their songs on the Internet.
And the song everyone is singing, seems to be the same: Notice me! Tell me how awesome I am!
Esteem: A Basic Human Need
In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the second level next to the top one of self-actualization is esteem.
In order for a person to achieve their highest potential, they must have their basic needs met but also, they need to build their self-esteem. This isn’t done in isolation. Only through relationships is our esteem strengthened.
Everyone wants to feel important. William James, who is often called the “Father of American Psychology,” said, “The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to feel appreciated.”
Think of it. How many marriages have dissolved because one of the spouses didn’t feel appreciated? How many companies lost valuable employees because they didn’t feel appreciated? How many relationships fail because someone took the other person for granted? You already know the answer.
People, and I make no difference between your spouse, your boss, your client, your prospect and whether they’re 12 years old or 90 – all desire to be recognized as being important.
When you meet with someone, find something to admire about either his or her surroundings or perhaps a hobby of theirs.
Work the magic of appreciation into even the smallest of interpersonal exchanges.
For instance, take my local U.S. Post Office. Karen works the help desk, along with her co-workers, doing the usual tasks of weighing packages, selling stamps, and helping people with their mailing needs.
The thing is, Karen makes it actually a joy to be there. She smiles all the time, jokes with the customers, and is overall very pleasant. So I told her one day that she had a great smile. She smiled even wider.
“Thank you,” she said. “I find it makes the day go by more quickly and I enjoy my job when I do what I do.”
I’ve done this in several instances, recognizing a McDonald’s worker for their great service or a cashier at my local grocery store for their friendly efficiency. (i.e. “I have no idea how quickly you’re able to zip through all those items! You’re good!”)
Recognizing people for even the smallest things produces an amazing result.
First, the person will smile with pride.
Second, the next time they see you, they’ll smile again.
I think I get more out of it than they do.
And the reason I say this is because it always gives us joy to bring joy to others. It’s really no more complicated than that.
The key to this beautiful exchange is that you must be sincere when doing it.
Don’t fake it to get the other person to like you or give you what you want.
You need to be genuinely interested in that other person and genuinely make them feel important.
Do that and you’ll find that your relationships will improve without even trying. As long as you make the other person feel recognized and appreciated, just like my mother – you’ll never know a stranger.