Posted in Big Thought, Business, People, Pulpit by Harsha on December 7, 2007

Just in case you doubted my empathy approach, here is someone you probably know (and trust) who apparently agrees with me.

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Posted in Questions by Harsha on November 30, 2007

Why is it that good values in life, especially empathy, are not synonymous with making large sums of money?

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Posted in New by Harsha on November 30, 2007

I probably stayed in more hotels this past holiday week than all of 2007. So I was able to get a crash course in hospitality.

The #1 question that kept popping up in my head was “Why are you in this job?” No, it is not rhetorical but a genuine one question to understand why that person across the desk is in this business. If one choses to work at a hotel, is it just because one needs a job, or because one wants to work in hospitality?

If you work at a hotel, then you’re in the business of being hospitable. says hospitality is “the friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers” or “the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way”

The fundamental tenet of a hospitality job is being friendly to strangers, not just people you know, but mostly plain and simple strangers – people you don’t know or wouldn’t generally care about. Now you’ve got to care. How many times have you seen hotel employees laughing and chitchatting with their coworkers but then put on their game face (trying to be “professional”) when you walked up to the counter.

More often than not, people behind the counter are there because they need a job. This is a major problem for hotels that want to hire people who love hospitality. Service roles are the toughest gigs out there – try being nice to people on an 8-10 hour schedule, day-in and day-out. It is the hardest role and at the same time, so many people seem totally wrong for the job. You’d ask “how in the world did they hire that person for this job?”

The solution can be simple. One of the fundamental problems that I observed in tough situations in hospitality or other service roles is the assumption that the service provider (hotel clerk, cashier etc) kind-of expects you to know the routine (like checking into the hotel, payment methods at a store etc). They obviously know the process really well due to repetition so it frustrates them when you walk in and fumble around or ask questions. Your questions may be and are probably completely valid, but it “irritates” them to no end because the process is simple to them yet you don’t seem to get it. How silly are you?!

This is a training problem. This assumption needs to be systematically exorcised from the minds of service providers. The front desk team obviously know the check-in procedure really well. You won’t if you’re not a frequent traveler. Most “silly questions” come from your ignorance on these things.

Hospitality means you want to be with people. You’re the cat that is cat friendly. You either like dealing with these people problems or you don’t. However, I feel that all of us are service providers (think of a marketing manager dealing with the engineering team). So all of us need people skills and the ones that don’t automatically will fall off in the wayside and that is the process of natural selection at work and life.

So to reiterate this problem and tying it with my people experiments, the next time you’re interacting with a service provider (waitress, hotel clerk, bellboy etc), keep this post in mind. This is not a complex problem so when I tell you that the solution is that simple, you’ll probably disagree with me. Humans value complex solutions more than simple ones – come on, the problem of “bad customer service” is universal and yet the solution lies within you and is just a matter of empathy? That is ludicrous!! I don’t mean to sound “new age” or offer you alternative treatment for what you believe is a complex situation that warrants a good ol’ walloping on the wrongdoer’s backside. This is the reality of the experiments that I run almost daily. This is the result of those attempts at understanding how I can improve the situation for myself. Simple.

Name Experiment – 2

Posted in New, Roadtrip by Harsha on November 28, 2007

This is always an interesting experiment for me. To address someone by name and see the reaction. We all lead fairly anonymous lives already, so a little recognition seems to go a long way. And it did seem to go so for Dante.

Dante is a bellboy we met while staying at the Hilton in the Historic District in Savannah, GA on our recent road trip. We checked in at around 9pm after a 6 hour drive from Atlanta. As we pulled up to the curb, no one came out immediately to greet us (I’m going to review each place we stayed in later posts).

Then this guy walks out of the hotel pretty casually, has a “yeah, whatever” look and demeanor about him. In a lazy tone, he asked if we’re checking in, the room number and if we wanted to self park or use his services – all short and I-don’t-care-for-your-reply type of questions. Believe me, after a long drive, the last thing you want is someone (who works in the hospitality business) to not care. My wife was livid, but I kept my cool as usual. I tried a couple of jokes with him, no luck. I handed off the keys to him with a tip, and checked in at the front desk. He was doing double duty as the valet and bellboy so he brought our luggage upstairs (with the same attitude at the door).

As he was exiting the hotel room after dropping off our luggage, I walked out with him and asked him for his name. Then I tipped him again and thanked him for helping us. I can tell you, I sensed an instant change in his attitude. Not that he was jumping for joy but it was the tipping point and it was clearly visible to me.

Next day, in the morning as we went down to have him pull our car out, guess what happens? I get a warm handshake from him and cheerfully says, “Let me get your car out for you Mr. Raghavan”. This is after a grueling 8 hour night shift – if you’ve never worked at night, then you will never know how lousy and horrible one feels the next morning.

This experiment is the most interesting and rewarding of experiments that I run. The pay off is instant and usually, exactly opposite of the initial treatment. Sure, I could have made a scene, complained to the manager at the desk only to make his already tough life more miserable. Yet, I took a minute out to empathize, assumed he was doing a good job and tipped him. However, the flip side is it might enforce his broken view of the world even more and not help at all. But that is a risk, I am willing to take. 9 out of 10 times, it goes my way. I am willing to pay that “1 time fee” for the happiness I get 9 other times.

This is a relevant lesson in all walks of business and life. If you want to get your way with someone, then I believe that this is the only route. Either that or you’ve got mafia backing. It does not matter to me if Dante remains positive after he serves me, selfishly I say because I have no control over that aspect of his life. I can only control how he decides to deal with me. Nothing else.

I personally like to deal with a tough situation without blowing my top, because I’ve found that I am paralyzed when I get angry (read my post on Cortisol) and am ineffective. My fight or flight instinct is mostly flight (relevant today as calmly dealing with the situation). We can get our way either by being a total jerk or by being empathetic – I choose the latter. True, there may be cases when the person needs a good dose, but then again, who are we to judge someone else, when that is reserved for their last day on earth? It may also be the case that the person is just a “bad” person (is that even possible?) and nothing can be done about them. I feel that we jump to this conclusion at the very first hint of an initial attitude like Dante’s and the reality is totally different when compared to your view of that person.

To be honest, I am still learning how to execute this experiment perfectly. Most times, I find myself not making eye-contact when I say the server’s name. It is an ongoing process that needs sharpening on my end. But I love this experiment dearly and don’t even think that I will grow weary of it’s results. It is also one of the very first experiments I ran.