It was such a simple exchange and yet it left an impression on me. I was sitting in a crowded food court, working on my laptop. It was lunchtime, and there was the usual din of people eating, laughing, shuffling chairs.. Amidst all the office workers, I noticed someone on the maintenance staff wiping down tables after people left, getting them ready for the next group.
When he cleaned the table next to me, I offered my appreciation for what he was doing. He nodded, smiled awkwardly, and kept wiping the table. A few seconds later, he walked by me, leaned in, eyes averted, and quietly said "Thank you for saying that."
I think it was the earnestness in his voice that struck me. It was as if my simple comment was something especially valuable to him, something rare.
A simple test (and the worst blog title ever)
Almost two years ago, I wrote a blog post with the odd title of “The Corporate Bathroom Test.” I wanted to describe how exchanges like the one I had in the food court could be part of your Working Out Loud practice, helping you “gradually build a capability and a mindset of deepening relationships through generosity.”
“Some of the most powerful gifts you have to offer - contributions that are universally valued - are recognition and appreciation. The point of this post is that even mundane interactions are opportunities to practice offering these gifts…Each time you do it you gain subtle insights into your motivations and reactions.
Today, as you meet someone you might normally pass by, say ‘hello’ and ‘thank you.’ Be mindful of how that makes you feel. Watch how it makes the other person feel.”
Sparks of joy
Since I wrote that, I've continued practicing offering appreciation to people throughout the day. I’m careful to do it without expectations of a reply, and I try to be mindful that they’re busy and may not be in the mood to talk. (After all, I’ve taken The Generosity Test too.) Usually, it's people I notice working - restaurant workers, landscapers, crossing guards. It's a way of saying “I see you and I appreciate what you're doing.”
A woman serving food at a corporate event whispered, “You are very kind” simply because I thanked her and offered to help her move a table. When I asked a flight attendant how she was doing, she was genuinely surprised at the question. “Thank you for asking,” she said. “That’s very nice of you.” A taxi driver and I had a long talk about his home country of the Dominican Republic, and we shook hands after the ride.
The truth is I’m not especially kind or generous. I just practice paying attention to people around me, putting myself in their shoes for a moment, and offering sincere appreciation. Many people are hungry for such a gift, and in return I get sparks of human connection - even joy - throughout my day. “The Corporate Bathroom Test” is now an additional exercise in Week 2 of the WOL Circle Guides. I hope you’ll try it.
“The more you practice, the more comfortable you become offering small gifts in a variety of circumstances till, over time, it becomes a habit that makes you happier and more effective.”