I periodically receive a letter or email from someone who has never communicated with me but has written to me because he wants to complain about something I wrote. He usually starts out by saying that he has been reading my articles for a while and that he sometimes agrees with me. Then he drops the hammer on me by complaining about a topic I wrote about.
There are ordinarily two types of complaint letters that I receive. The first is from a well-meaning person who wants to set me straight on something that I said. I do not expect everyone to agree with me, so I ordinarily respond to those types of letters. I appreciate thoughtful, constructive comments from well-meaning Catholics and Christians who have a different opinion than I do.
The other type of letter I receive is from a person who is outraged and who viciously attacks me for what I wrote. I do not ordinarily bother to respond to those types of letters because there is nothing I can say or do to convince the person that I may have been justified in what I wrote. Instead of responding to the letter, I usually say a prayer for the person and his family members.
I have been publishing my weekly articles for more than 15 years. In all those years, I have never received a complaint letter from someone who previously sent a complimentary letter to me. Why is it that people who read what I write every week never feel compelled to let me know they liked something I wrote, but feel that they must let me know when I have offended them?
In reality, those people really aren’t much different from the rest of us. While we are willing to go out of our way to complain when we are insulted or offended, we generally do not show appreciation or thank someone for a job well done.
In September, my wife Georgette and I drove to Wisconsin to attend a wedding of one of my nephews. On our way to Wisconsin, we stopped to have lunch at a Culver’s restaurant. After we finished our meal, I told Georgette that I needed to go to the men’s restroom before we left.
When I walked out of the men’s room, I headed over to the counter where the orders were being taken and asked one of the employees if I could speak to the manager. The facial expression on the employee immediately changed and she asked, “Is everything okay?” I said yes and told her that I just wanted to talk to the manager.
She hurried around to the kitchen area and ten seconds later a man in his 30s walked over to me and said, “Can I help you?” I asked him if he was the manager and when he said yes, I told him what I thought of him and his restaurant. Here’s what I said:
I just wanted to tell you that you’re doing a great job. All your employees are courteous and respectful, and they do a good job of taking care of your customers. The service was quick, the food was good, and the men’s restroom was clean. I just wanted to let you know that I think you’re doing a great job of managing your employees and your restaurant. Keep up the good work!
The manager had a stunned look on his face and thanked me for letting him know how I felt about the restaurant and the service I received. When I turned around to walk toward the entrance door, Georgette was standing near the door waiting for me. She had seen me talking to the manager and had a worried look on her face. When I got to where she was standing, she said, “What’s going on?” I think she might have assumed that I was chewing out the manager for something that had irritated me.
In response to her question, I said,
I just wanted to tell the manager how good of a job he’s doing with the restaurant. All he probably ever hears are complaints. It doesn’t cost me anything to take three or four minutes of my time to tell him he’s doing a good job. I’ve been trying to make an effort to compliment and encourage people when they do a good job at what they are supposed to be doing.
A few weeks later, I did the same thing at another restaurant that we stopped at while we were on an out-of-state trip to visit our daughter and her family. The manager was a young woman who appeared to be in her 20s. She had a horrified look on her face when she came out to see what I wanted. I told her the same thing I told the previous manager. She looked like she was going to cry. She hesitated and then said, “Thank you so much. You don’t know how much that means to me.” I told her to keep up the good work, and then I turned around and walked away.
I knew that the managers would be nervous when they came out to see me because I have been told by other people that I am an intimidating person. Among Hollywood celebrities, there is a very lucrative side business that some of them engage in where they are hired to endorse one or more products or services.
When a company hires a celebrity to endorse their product or service, they start the process by contacting the celebrity’s agent. Among the agents, there is what is known as an “approachability index,” which provides a rating from one to ten on how approachable a celebrity is. The celebrities who are more friendly, likable, and outgoing are considered more approachable and command higher fees than the celebrities who appear to be more aloof, reclusive, or intimidating.
My wife Georgette is a 10 on the approachability index. She has a welcoming demeanor and everyone who meets her immediately senses that she is friendly, loving, and welcoming. Her dad, Dumit Ghantous, was high on the approachability index. My mom is high on the approachability index, and her mother, Cecilia LaHood, was also high on the approachability index.
On a good day, I might be a three on the approachability index. To strangers, I do not appear to be someone who is friendly, loving, and welcoming. Most people need to get to know me before they feel comfortable with me.
I’m telling you this so you will have a better understanding why the two managers that I talked to were probably intimidated and fearful when they came to see what I wanted.
The overall point that I’m trying to get across here is that because of our fallen human nature, we tend to make an effort to voice our complaints when we get irritated or angry about something, but we rarely bother to go out of our way to compliment people who do a good job of performing their duties. That’s why I’m trying to make a conscious effort to praise people when they deserve to be praised, rather than only cut them down when they do something wrong.
There’s an additional benefit to going out of my way to pay a compliment to someone. When I reward their behavior with a compliment, I have performed an act of love toward my neighbor.
I want to encourage you to start noticing and praising people who do a good job of performing their work. If you are willing to make the effort to notice the good things they do and then tell them what you noticed, you will find that you will benefit from the experience as much as they do. Why? Because you will be doing what our Lord told all of us to do when He said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:31; Matthew 22:39)
The Act of Love, the Catholic prayer I learned when I was a boy includes, “I love my neighbor as myself for the love of Thee.” When we honor God by performing an act of love toward our neighbor, we also show love for God at the same time.
You possess something that no amount of money can buy — the POWER to turn a person’s normal or bad day into a great day. All you need to do is sincerely and truthfully praise the person for something they have done. Are you willing to use your power to make a positive difference in other people’s lives?
Give it a try. I think you’ll find that it’s worth your time and effort to perform this simple act of love toward your neighbor.