Each year, more of us seem to be doing at least some holiday shopping online. Internet shopping undoubtedly offers a number of advantages—coming home to a UPS package at your door sure beats dragging a heavy shopping bag through the mall crowds and out to your car, a quarter-mile away at the far end of a massive parking lot.
Nonetheless, each year, physical real-world holiday shopping, as daunting and depressing as the prospect sometimes is, always seems to include some “Miracle on 34th Street moments”—pleasant surprises, mostly occasioned by the friendly behavior of at least one or two fellow shoppers undergoing the same trial by credit card.
This year, I enjoyed a number of upbeat chats with others waiting for service or combing the Toys ‘R Us shelves for the precisely specified grandchild’s gift, but one experience really stands out. I was in a line of about 10 people waiting to make a purchase at a centrally located department store service desk. There were two clerks efficiently handling purchases, discount cards, newspaper coupons, and all the other complications merchants add to the process as incentives, but the line was moving at a reasonable pace. And then it stopped dead.
Minutes passed, members of the queue shifted from one foot to the other, no one was waved forward to the counter, and the line grew longer and longer. It soon became obvious that the bottleneck was an elderly couple trying to negotiate a not-quite-even merchandise return with multiple mismatched sales slips. The intricacy of the transaction required a caucus of both clerks and a hastily-summoned manager. And still we all waited.
People on the line began grumbling to each other about the delay these people were causing until finally, after what seemed an eternity—probably all of eight or nine minutes—the problem was apparently solved and the couple gathered their bags and began moving away. And then the unexpected: The gray-haired gentleman turned to the line, tipped his hat, and said sheepishly, “I’m very sorry to cause you all to wait so long.” And we all looked at each other, smiled, and responded, “It’s OK. No problem. Merry Christmas!”
One simple act of courtesy defused a situation, turned aggravation into acceptance, annoyance into understanding. Whether you’re out shopping, running errands, or trying to deal with a thorny customer problem, why not keep in mind how remaining courteous, even in pressured situations, can help make every interaction more pleasant and more productive.