Someone once said that we judge ourselves based on what we’re capable of doing but others judge us by what we’ve already done.
This comment seems to address our reputation and unfortunately, our internal measure of reputation is not always in sync with the external evidence. I think of myself as a kind, witty, and easy-going individual. But I’m not sure my wife would always agree. Two recent incidences reminded me of the need for congruence.
A few weeks ago, I traveled to upstate New York for a speaking engagement. When I arrived at the airport, I called the hotel to request a ride from their shuttle. The woman at the front desk, in a somewhat scolding manner, said, “You were supposed to schedule the shuttle ahead of time. But it just so happens it will be there in twenty minutes for another passenger. So you can ride along.”
I was a taken aback by her comment. If the shuttle was already scheduled to be at the airport, why did she have to reprimand me for not pre-arranging it? Further, when I looked at the hotel website to better understand the get-me-to-your-hotel process, it said that the shuttle was available on a first-come basis. No hours of operation nor requirements to make a reservation were listed. That suggested to me that customers simply call and the hotel will send the shuttle. Of course, I didn’t study hospitality math when I was in college, so my logic may have been faulty.
Ultimately, the shuttle took forty-five minutes to get to the airport. And when I finally got in, I explained to the driver how confusing their shuttle system was. He said, “Yeah, we are still relatively new at this and need to work out a few of the kinks at the hotel.”
Again, I was taken aback. I thought it was a bit odd that the shuttle driver would be that concerned with the hotel’s procedures when his only job was to drive the shuttle. But I figured that’s how things worked in these smaller hotels—everybody knows a little bit about everything.
Over the next couple of days, I kept seeing the shuttle driver doing odd jobs in the hotel. In the morning, he was cleaning the breakfast area because he said he “was concerned that it wouldn’t get done.” Later, he was organizing the area behind the front desk and then in the afternoon, he actually went to my room to check on a noisy heating unit.
When it came time to return to the airport, the same man drove me. During our conversation in the shuttle, I discovered that he was not only the shuttle driver but the owner of the hotel, the restaurant, and the conference facility. His family had run businesses on that property for several decades. So his concern for the shuttle, the breakfast area, and my heating unit was because he cared about a business that he owned!
I was glad we had the conversation about his role and that I learned about both his history in this community and his commitment to the hotel. But I must admit that I also did a quick inventory of everything I had said to him when I thought he was the shuttle driver. I would have regretted making a snide remark about the inattentive management of the hotel.
Then, as if that surprise was not enough, I arrived at the airport to find that my flight had been delayed. When I approached the ticket counter to inquire about the status of my flight, the ticket agent yelled, “Ron!”
I was taken aback once again. I live in Virginia. I was flying out of New York. I didn’t know any ticket agents in New York. She could tell I was confused so she explained that this was her evening job but that she had been in the audience of my presentation earlier that day. I told her I was so glad that she let me know me before I said something rude about the airline, the flight delay, or the world in general. She laughed, and I cringed.
On the flight home, I kept thinking about my behavior throughout this trip as it related to the two people I encountered. What if I had said something terse to the ticket agent right after speaking to her colleagues about balance and a positive perspective? And what if I had treated the owner of the hotel differently if I thought he was a shuttle driver, thinking he might have his own gripes about the way the hotel was run? If I had done those things, my behavior would not have been congruent with who I want to be.
Once, after speaking at a conference to several hundred people about finding humor in life and work, I was heading back to my car. I guess I was tired or perhaps deep in thought (probably not that deep). As I walked through the parking garage, many of the participants who had attended the conference were also leaving. I must have been frowning because one man lowered his window, stuck out his head, and said, “Hey, Ron, lighten up!”
It made me laugh. He was practicing what I had taught—but I was not.
The phrase “walking the talk” means doing what we say. If we tell our children to say nice things, then we should also say nice things. If we complain about poor customer service, then we should give good customer service. And if we hate all the negativity in the world, then perhaps we should be more positive.
I want to be a kind, witty, and easy-going individual. So, every day, I should work at developing those qualities. If I’m a grumpy old man, as I sometimes can be, I’m clearly not walking the talk.
Essentially, our behavior should reflect the congruence between how we want to be viewed and how others truly see us. Then, hopefully, we won’t be taken aback by the way we act.