I read an article today about a French café where they came up with an interesting way to get customers to be more polite when ordering their daily cup of coffee. The owner adjusted his prices according to the politeness of his customer, a sort of sliding scale of politeness so to speak. So, if you came in and said: “Coffee”, you paid 7 euro, if you tried a bit harder and said : “A coffee, please” it would put you out by 4,25 euro and if you really brought your A- game and said : “Hello/Good-Morning a coffee please “, it would cost you 1,40 euro. So, what are the results of this experiment? People became more polite, took their time to order and smiled,sometimes even laughed more when ordering their coffee. The lovely thing about this ‘rudeness intervention’ is how simple it is and to me it underscores some key principles, which we all can apply when confronted with unpleasant behavior.
1) Find benefit instead of finding fault – The café owner was fed up of busy, stressed clients who were taking out their frustrations on him and his personnel by being very short with them when placing an order. Instead of finding fault and retaliating with even more rudeness he found a benefit for himself- more money from rude customers but ultimately a greater benefit for everyone as the simple nudge given by his price adjustment caused an attitude adjustment which benefitted everyone. This is the hallmark of an Optimalist. You can read more about this in Tal Ben Shahar’s book The Pursuit of Perfect.
2) Dispel the myth of separation– We live in an interconnected world and are dependent on each other. Successful and happy people realize that narcissism blocks our progress in life. The café owner showed insight into social connections when he made everyone literally accountable for their own behavior. No one wants to pay more for a cup of coffee than another, or be branded as being the only rude social ingrate who paid 7 euro for a 1,40 euro cup of coffee. By making politeness into a norm the café owner gave customers a gentle reminder that we all create an atmosphere together with the addition or omission of simple niceties such as Good- Morning, Hello please and thank- you.
3) Small consistent change gets lasting results– Buddha says in The Dhammapada: “Little by little a person becomes evil, as a water pot is filled by drops of water…Little by little a person becomes good, as a water pot is filled by drops of water.” The café owner made a tiny tweak to his menu, the ripple effect of which is potentially huge. Customers became more mindful, polite, pleasant, not only in the moment at the café but afterwards. The science behind this in terms of what happens in the brain is interesting. Serotonin is a chemical in the brain that affects our moods and the main ingredient in anti- depressants. Scientists have linked acts of kindness to the release of serotonin in the brains of not only the giver and the receiver of the generous act but also the observer of the act of kindness. In the same way, by making politeness a norm, the café owner engaged all customers in a collective act of kindness which opened the door for other acts of kindness at their place of work, at home , on the street or wherever.
So the next time you stand in line to order your food or beverage of choice, do yourself and everyone else a favor and remember the ripple effect of your negative or positive attitude in the moment.