Saturday, October 10, 2009

Friendliness vs. Friendship

Last night I stopped by my local supermarket to get a whole bunch of groceries. Since moving there a couple of months ago, I've shopped there many times, and gotten to know a few of the people there - particularly a supervisor who gives great service.

So while standing in the checkout line, I happened to see him with his back to me and said "Hi Bill, good to see you again" (not his real name). He turned around and shook my hand, and asked me for my name, which of course I gave.

He said "Great to see you here all the the way, is all this stuff yours?" "Yes, it is." "OK, great to see you again." "You too, Bill!"

Next thing I know, some announcement comes out that my checkout line got some award. I figured the cashier just got a prize for handling so much stuff well (this was a major shopping trip for me). Imagine my surprise when another worker (whom I also recognized) handed me a durable cloth bag full of stuff. It seems it was their way of thanking me for doing so much business there.

And it was indeed for buying lots of things, not for being "buddies" with anyone there. Would the supervisor have noted how much I bought if I hadn't recognized him and called him by name? Maybe...maybe not.

There's a few lessons here:

  • Merit is necessary but not sufficient. You also need to be noticed. And getting noticed means reaching out to be people and being pleasant to be around.

  • This is business friendliness - not friendship. It's not like we know each other well or would go through a lot for each other. They appreciate the fact that I spend money there (and that I recognize them and conduct myself sociably). When interpreting how people appreciate you, note the context. In particular, if you're spending money there, they don't necessarily appreciate you the same way as if you and they were personal friends. A friendly manner makes life more pleasant; you can't buy actual friendship (though people will be happy to take your money to give you a pale imitation).

  • It's how you're expected to behave on the job. You need to separate people's friendly behavior toward you from how close they actually feel - particularly when you're spending money. Conversely, when people are giving you money (or giving money to others who pass some of it on to you), you need to separate how you actually feel about them from how you act towards them professionally.

What do you think?

1 comment:

Corrie Howe said...

I wish in understood these principles when I was younger and in service jobs. I look back on how I treated or felt about people and wondered how I managed to keep my jobs.

Of course, it also gives me some greater understanding when I'm dealing with teenagers, college students and young twenty somethings in service positions.

As I get older I do appreciate people taking time to know my name. For example, the local librarians know me by name and by my children's names and even remember things about them. (Of course, I've made myself know because I do ask a lot of questions and for help finding materials.)