Years ago, I worked in a community that was so small it had only one office supply store. If you needed paper, you bought it there. If you needed printer supplies, you bought them there. If you wanted to make copies, you made them there. The next closest outlet was twenty miles away. As you can imagine, their prices reflected their unique market position. As you might not imagine, so did the manager.
He was curt, unfriendly, snippy and sarcastic. In addition to those fine qualities, he was also prone to backbiting and criticizing. Any time I requested help with a particular order, it was obvious that I was intruding on his personal time and making an unreasonable demand by asking for help clearing a paper jam. It didn’t matter that he was charging me per copy; that was beside the point.
In spite of the lack of reward, I made a deliberate effort to be friendly and pleasant. Sometimes it worked, sometimes not so much. He could be semi-pleasant on occasion but he was never friendly. In fact, he was generally unpleasant and so I avoided going there as much as I could.
His co-worker worked under his supervision. She, by great contrast, was invariably friendly, pleasant and helpful. I could not understand why the owner didn’t fire the jerk and put her in charge. I could easily understand why she finally packed it in and sought her economic fortune elsewhere. I think the nearest salt mine would have been a good alternative.
Eventually, at least a decade or more after the change should have been made, the owner finally dismissed the employee and hired a new manager. Talk about contrast! The new manager was friendly, cooperative, helpful and pleasant. She also began to stock new inventory with an evident interest in customer satisfaction. The atmosphere changed so much that I not only no longer dreaded the necessary trips, I even began to drop in just to say hello if I happened to be going by the store.
Over the years, I have continued to notice how much effect one person can have on the climate in a store, an office or at a small school. You can have a group of three or eight really nice people; throw in one grouch and the whole place is affected. Even though my natural inclination is somewhere between old badger and sore-tailed tomcat, I have tried to be a positive component of the setting regardless of where I have worked or lived. I know that there have been times when I’ve failed and a time or two when the failure was pretty miserable.
But that’s not going to keep me from trying to act like a decent human being today. If I can keep up the act long enough, I think I might even start to believe it myself.