Gerald (Jerry) Zezas

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Between Being Nice and Acting Nice-Which would you hire?


I went to visit my mother the other day in the nursing home where she’s been staying until she, hopefully, recovers from a recent illness. It gave me the chance to observe people who work in that environment and how they interact with the residents of that facility. It also gave me some insight into the type of personality who works under those conditions.
During my visit, I noticed that my mother was in quite a lot of pain, and went to see the nurse about it. The nurse, Reggie*, came to the room, listened to what I had to say, and went about contacting the appropriate personnel about changing or increasing her pain medication (it requires a doctor to change any medication).

Reggie’s reaction was serious, unsmiling, completely lacking in patronization or condescension, and yet I felt like he genuinely cared about my mother’s health. He maintained a perfectly straight, intensely interested demeanor, found out what he needed to know, turned on his heal and went directly to work, without any demonstration of what we perceive as “niceness” such as softening of speech, tilting of the head, or forced, sympathetic smiles.

He came back some minutes later to tell us that he had left a message for the head nurse, then proceeded to tell us specifically what he would be telling her. When finished, he allowed a gentle, reassuring smile to cross his face, tucked the sheets snugly around my mother’s neck as if she were his own, and asked if she needed anything else. As he was leaving, he let us know where he would be if we needed anything further.

Later, at the local restaurant with my brothers, the server took our order, smiled patronizingly, didn’t look at us while talking to us and never engaged us in any way. The manager came over later and, with a smile that looked like he was severely constipated, asked us if everything was OK. My reaction to that idiotic question should have been to complain about the economy, politics, the war, and the fact that I’m getting heavier every year (he did ask whether everything was OK), but I limited my wise-guy commentary to “if you mean the meal, yes it’s fine”. He looked relieved to not actually have to engage a customer on anything substantive (like the fact that that food was really sub-par) and moved to the next table to robotically inquire if “everything” was OK with them.

The difference is that the nurse, Reggie, felt no need to smile at first, since it was quite obvious that he did, truly, care about our needs. His smile was genuine and only showed itself when he felt satisfied that he had helped us as best he could.

The people in the restaurant did nothing but smile, and were quite obviously more concerned with getting our engagement over as quickly as possible than actually being nice to us. It was as if their feigned niceness was born of a requirement of their continuing employment or, possibly, an attempt to ensure a reasonable tip. It showed.

Which of those types of people work for you? Which ones engage your customers?

*I still cannot get my head around calling men “nurses”. The word has so many feminine connotations, partly because nurses were almost exclusively women for so many generations, as well as the fact that the word nursing is also a euphemism for breast feeding, a domain in which females obviously prevail. With all the political correctness in names we see today, one would think that a more gender-neutral name would have been in use by now. I’m just sayin’…


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