Earlier this week I was pulling into a car park when I was stopped by a man who beckoned for me to wind down my window. I instantly thought he had some important information to disseminate regarding the use of the car park. He proceeded to let me know where he was from and that he was homeless and hungry. I was surprised that he had stopped me at the entrance to the car park to tell me of his plight but I politely said, let me park first, I can’t stop here.
I proceeded to park and eventually identified a somewhat awkward space. As I was straightening the car to fit into the space there came the stranger again seeking my attention. This was despite the fact that other cars were now entering the area and I urgently needed to clear the road. I found the stranger’s behaviour somewhat annoying as not only was I in the middle of parking the car but I was also responding to a phone call via Bluetooth. He was aware that I was busy on both counts but he was only concerned about his own plight. I ignored the stranger who eventually walked away. By the time I came out of the car he was nowhere in sight.
My attitude to people who ask for money in the streets is either I give them or I do not; I don’t over-analyse the situation. I don’t argue with them or criticise them and I don’t wonder whether they are going to use the funds to satisfy their vice or to buy food as they claim. In this case I might have given the stranger some money if only he had the manners to wait until I had parked the car and disembarked. On the other hand, was his hunger so dire that it made him lose the ability to exercise good judgement? In any case it made me wonder, how many of us miss opportunities because of what is perceived as a poor attitude.
One of the proverbs my parents drilled into me as a little girl was “manners takes you through the world”. At the time I wondered about the veracity of that statement, since in my view the word “manners” should have been replaced with “money”. I now understand that it’s all about one’s attitude to life; this is what opens doors and accesses opportunities. The stranger’s behaviour could have been due to a bad attitude, impatience or desperation. However, those behaviours rob us of our ability to apply good reason and limit our success in circumstances. We need to recognise that it’s not always about first mover advantage; rather it’s more about being ready for the move. We talk about being in the right place at the right time but I think it’s really about being “at the right place, at the right time armed with the right attitude. There is no point being present and unprepared.
I have a friend who is a landlord; he recently told me that he had a tenant who had lost her job, fell upon hard times and defaulted in the payment of her rent. He explained that the woman was thoroughly ashamed of her situation but engaged with him in a way that touched his heart. During the discussions he realised that she was particularly skilled in a certain field and for a long time she really wanted to start her own business but lacked the required capital. Eventually he provided the capital for the venture and became her business partner. The business helps her to pay her rent, and earn a decent living. It’s early days but the business has good prospects and both parties are happy with the partnership. Had the tenant displayed the wrong attitude she would have received a notice to quit and missed a golden opportunity.
I am fully aware that in contemporary Britain there is a lot of stress on many families and often something has to give; I submit to you, it should not be your manners. It is far easier for people to be kind to you if you have the right attitude. It can be difficult to maintain a good attitude when there are so many triggers to set us off. The French have a proverb that offers advice in this situation: Tourner sept fois sa langue dans sa bouche – Turn your tongue in your mouth seven times, i.e. think long and hard before speaking. Of course, your attitude is revealed not only in what you say but how you say it - your body language speaks volumes!
In maintaining the right attitude, do not forget to show gratitude – There is a Nigerian Proverb that says: Give thanks for a little and you will find a lot. Being gracious is a key ingredient in maintaining a good attitude. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step; be grateful that you are able to take that first step. One of the lessons I learnt from my parents is that they are kind to people so that people can be kind to their children; what goes around comes around. Consider that what you do impacts not just on you but also on the next generation; think about your legacy. The Jamaicans say – what drop off a head drop on shoulder. The next generation will reap the “fruits” sown by their parents – whether they be wheat or tares.
In the workplace how do we mind our manners? As managers or owners of organisations do we foster an environment of mutual respect or do we drive our employees into the ground? Do we exercise patience when they make bad decisions and do we take time to teach? Do we engage in power play and make our employees fearful of losing their jobs or do we encourage creativity and personal growth. Do we continuously remind them of our positions – I am the boss – or do they happily do their jobs well aware of who is who without it impacting adversely on their psyche? We should lead by example, if you find you have the “Do you know who I am?” syndrome then you should review your management style. It is easier to lead people than to drag them; no one wants to follow someone who has a bad attitude!
There is no shortage of situations and personalities that will rile our spirits, causing us to lose our patience. People may even take our meekness for weakness. There is a Spanish proverb: Al mal tiempo, buena cara – be positive even in the bad times. Since we are human first and employers later, we often respond in a “human” way which translates into “an eye for an eye”. However, if we can find it within ourselves to take the higher ground and maintain a good attitude we will ultimately endure.
Maintain a good attitude – “If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude” - Maya Angelou.