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For the holidays, try being kind
Work with Marty Nemko

I would have figured that by this stage in my career, I wouldn't be ignored so much. Yet, when I sent a proposal for my next book to a dozen publishers, most of them didn't even give me the courtesy of a rejection. A week ago, I left a voicemail asking my supervisor at the San Francisco Chronicle to call me. I'm still waiting. I e-mailed my daughter a week ago and even she hasn't responded!

Being ignored is dispiriting, even to someone who is successful. You feel like you don't count. Imagine what it must feel like for a job seeker who's been looking for a job for months, who works her butt off crafting a careful job application and gets no response. Silence. As though she's not even worth a rejection letter.

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And imagine any of the millions of low-level employees, doing an unglamorous, thankless job day after day, year after year. How often would you imagine he gets praised? How often would you guess someone notices when he comes in wearing a hangdog expression? Or a new shirt? Or when he's sighing, frustrated with a task?

Even big shots get ignored. Many of my clients are senior executives, college presidents, doctors, lawyers and the like. Guess what? They too feel bad when they get a nice haircut and no one notices. Or that their supervisees, clients or customers rarely ask how they're doing. Not just a perfunctory, "How are you?" but asked in a way that shows real interest.

As we go through the holiday season, I can't think of a better time to promise yourself that you're going to be nice. Can I ask you to look for opportunities to pay attention to the human side of co-workers, customers and bosses? Bosses need love, too.

Hint: Consciously look for changes in people. If a person seems more upbeat than usual, say something like, "You seem particularly up today. Anything special happen?" Or if they seem unusually blue, "Hi, Joe. You look a little down. Anything going on that you feel like talking about?" If you notice an overweight person looking slimmer than the last time you bothered to notice, how about saying, "Hey, you're looking trim." Tip: If an overweight person looks bigger than usual, that's something you might refrain from mentioning.

The holiday office party offers particularly rich opportunities to pay attention to people. For example, walk up to a wallflower, say hi and ask a question that invites a personal interaction such as, "Are you looking forward to the holidays?" At parties, I make a point of striking up a conversation with the least attractive person in the room who is alone and looking uncomfortable.

Yeah, I know that sending rejection letters to job applicants won't improve your bottom line, but at least during the holiday season, might you want to be nice, even if it doesn't pay in dollars and cents? And can I push you even further? Add a line or two of feedback in that rejection form letter. For example, "David, we were really impressed with your ability to think on your feet, but we needed someone with a lot of industry connections."

And if you're one of those people who feels ignored, please take solace in knowing that unfortunately in our ever-faster-paced society, humanity is often a casualty. There are plenty of unquestionably worthy people who too are being ignored. The best thing you can do is to stop feeling sorry for yourself. Get out of your head and keep your antennae out for opportunities to show a little kindness. You'll feel better, I promise. It's corny but true that it feels better to give than to receive. It may even help your career.

I'm all for efficiency and productivity, but it's a little sad when so many of us feel ignored, especially around the holidays. The answer is simple. It's embedded in the holiday spirit: Make an extra effort to treat others as you'd want to be treated: with a little love.

-- Posted: Dec. 20, 2004

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