In some ways, this is a rephrase of several of my other ramblings, but it was brought strongly home to me recently when a change in circumstances had me considering which service providers I would use. I went straight to Nick* and Andy*, two providers who’d stayed in contact on a personal level over the last couple of years, despite me never having made use of their services. There are quite literally hundreds of others who would love my business, and make constant overtures – but precious few of them have bothered to maintain an ongoing relationship after my initial “no”.
Nick and Andy had both invested the time to get to know me a little, regularly sent me articles they thought I’d be interested in, kept me up to date with industry happenings, followed (and sponsored) my charity efforts, offered support where possible, and just generally acted like decent human beings.
I get it, honest. We’ve all gotta make a buck, and we can’t be spending all of our time catching up with our buddies and making sure everyone is OK. We’ve got to chase new business, take care of existing clients, look to the future, pick up our kids, and so on. Life is rich and wonderful and complex. But surely we can put some effort into just being good people?
I was fortunate enough recently to be almost-randomly picked on by a job-seeker who’d been having a really hard time. Marge* was at the end of her rope and didn’t know where to turn. The world was a horrible, hostile place. My immediate reaction was “I’ve got to find a way to help”. I stood to gain nothing at all from doing so. Actually, that’s not quite true. There’s a very real increment in self-worth when you help somebody else. Listen to The Money Song from Avenue Q if you haven’t heard it recently. It’s a bit of a giggle, which is always welcome.
But I digress. Marge really needed somebody to speak with, a safe place to express the frustration she’d been facing, and some pointers in how to lift herself out of the funk. She’d looked me up because she’d seen that I’d been going through the same difficulties (I was), but had visibly remained positive and upbeat about it (I wasn’t; maybe more on that at a later date). So we talked it through, and she relaxed a little when it sank in that somebody understood. Not just the situation, but all the worries that go with it. There’s nothing more terrifying than not knowing the answer to “how will I support my family?”, for example. So while we’re on the Avenue Q theme, It Sucks To Be Me. It’s a horrible place to be.
Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with the whole story. Short version: we had an ongoing text-chat dialogue on LinkedIn, eventually managed to get together for a video call, and I heard just yesterday that she’s landed a great new role. I take no credit for this! Marge worked damn hard and got to a place where she could make it happen. I was a spectator. What’s the benefit to me? Well, I made a new friend, for a start. Honestly, that’s enough. And I also collected a new business contact. If I ever need to hire a PCB design specialist, I’ve now got one in my network.
If you’re asking where/when the payback comes, you’re asking the wrong question. It already happened. Marge climbed out of a deep, dark hole, and got a job, woohoo! I got to witness this incredible thing happen.
Why would I give up my evening time to coach people? Wrong question again. I can help, so I do help. No, I’m not blowing my own trumpet. I’m trying to put this as simply as I can: it’s nice to be nice. It makes me feel good, and sometimes it helps others feel better too. So think about this? Maybe reach out to somebody (I claim to hate that phrase but secretly love it) who might appreciate a call, with no agenda other than checking in. “Are you doing OK?” is a wonderful thing to be asked.
And moving back into the professional world, there is massive benefit to just being a good person. People will recognise your positive energy, and be drawn to it. Think about this? Imagine you need to hire a training provider. Seventy-two of them have contacted you over the past year, trying to win your business. Most of them went away after being rebuffed. Some of them persist with weekly messages until they get drop-kicked into your spam-filter. And just a very few made the effort to understand why you wouldn’t use them at that time, learned a little about your business, let you know about a free course you’d be interested in, shared an appropriate cartoon occasionally, and so on. Who you gonna call?
We’re all just people, trying to figure out this increasingly bizarre world we live in. Treat people the way you’d appreciate being treated.
*Names, professions and possibly even genders have been changed to protect the awesome. No puppets were harmed during the making of this essay.