The other day I walked into Dandelion Chocolate. There was a bit of a line, but the second barista, who wasn’t taking orders, asked what drink I was going to have. Iced chocolate chai (seriously, try this thing), I said.
She waved me up to the front, made my drink, and said, “It’s on the house. I think you come here a lot.”
It was only the second or third time I’d been to that location, and she had never been there before when I was there. She did look familiar, though.
I found out that she used to be the manager at Samovar, which was my favorite tea house in the world for many years. I don’t think that we had ever had a proper conversation, but we had certainly had a dozen or more small interactions. We hadn’t seen each other in at least 6-7 years, though.
After over a year, Hawaii was finally open to visitors again. My first stop was Poke Market (best poke in the world). “Hey! Haven’t seen you in so long! Half brown rice half cabbage, yeah?”. After poke I went to get shave ice at Kula Shave Ice (best shave ice in the world). They didn’t charge me for the Haupia coconut cream I get on top because they remembered me.
Sometimes I shy away from writing about social skills stuff because it feels like bragging. I think that comes from the ingrained idea that social skills are who we are, whereas other skills we might learn are just abilities we have developed.
If I told you that I worked really hard to get good at tennis, I don’t think it would feel braggy. But saying that people like me certainly does. It always amuses me that we treat something with “skill” in its name as if it’s not a skill.
It is a skill, of course, and it’s one that I used to not have at all. One thing I like about social skills is that it’s largely the skill of making other people feel good. Who likes you? People who feel good around you. Who wants to talk to you? People who feel heard and valued when they talk to you.
How do you get the skill of having staff treat you well?
Whenever you have any sort of interaction with any sort of staff, look them in the eyes, smile, and try to actually engage with them rather than reading lines off a script. This sounds so obvious and basic, but I’m shocked at how few people do it. People treat waiters like they’re Siri or Alexa. “I’ll have hot chocolate, thanks,” they’ll say, without even making eye contact.
And hey, the person is being paid to take your order so you don’t actually owe them any sort of kindness, but what a missed opportunity!
Good interactions often start with gratitude. Nearly every time someone is waiting on me or taking my order I think about how incredibly fortunate I am that they’re there. They had to wake up early, put on their work clothes, clock in, deal with their boss, and wait around in case I came in to order. All I had to do was mosey over and ask for whatever I wanted.
Don’t take that for granted. We’re so lucky to be in a society that functions well enough to have people to help us out with stuff. Most service staff receive very little gratitude for what they do. I say thank you, and mean it, every time they do anything for me.
I try to be specific, too. To an Uber driver I might say, “Hey, thanks so much for being up early enough to take us to the airport. We really appreciate it.” To a flight attendant I’ll say, “Sorry for bugging you and asking for hot water all the time. I know you’re busy and I really appreciate it.”
Customer-facing employees often spend their whole days interacting with people but getting nothing out of it at all. How frustrating must that be? When they see that you’re friendly and actually engaged, they’ll sometimes see that as their only chance to have a real conversation all day. So even if it’s not something you’re all that interested in, being willing to listen can go a long way.
If you do all this, you’ll get treated really well everywhere you go. But, equally importantly, you’ll be treating people really well, too. In a world increasingly defined by impersonal connections, it’s nice to be the outlier. Plus you might get free hot chocolate sometimes.
Photo is from Formocha in Amsterdam. I came back after 7 years and the owner, Amanda, remembered me. She had us in for tea for 4 hours, made us lunch and literally baked us a cake from scratch while we were there, and sent us packing with amazing tea and refused to take any payment. I’d like to take credit for that, but really the story there is that she’s just incredibly kind.
Do I have any readers in Budapest? I’m here and have a bit of extra time. I might do a last minute meetup. Contact me here or by email.
Tea Time with Tynan #11 will be on June 5th. Please join me and my friend Nick Gray to talk about making friends and honing social skills. Please subscribe and turn on notifications or follow on Twitter so that I can do tea times without posting first.