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When it's good to go to work contagious


(MoneyWatch) I love being in an office surrounded by contagious people. Not the sniffling, sneezing, coughing kind who don't stay home when they should, but the kind whose enthusiasm and attitude towards their products, customers and company is absolutely infectious.

Many use the term "evangelist" to describe this, but I think there's a distinction: Evangelism (which I also love) is mostly unidirectional -- true believers, preaching and hoping to spread the good word to the masses, whereas contagiousness is more personal and subtle. When you're truly, "professionally" contagious, the people you deal with catch the fever just by interacting with you.

Carriers of these positive contagions make every business better in virtually every way: Customers are happier, they buy more and are more loyal; employees work better together and are more productive; creativity has a more fertile breeding ground; projects, products and services are made better.

Here are a few great ways to pass the bug:

Infect people with affirmation, by using your own experiences and opinions to make them feel good about their choices. I love it when I buy something and the salesperson volunteers some genuine*, personal feedback or advice from her own experience with the product. Not scripted, not cheesy, not move-in-for-the-kill stuff -- just a decent person spontaneously offering her own thoughts and making me feel like I made a good decision.

My company makes laptop bags and other stuff for techies and travelers. Everyone here uses what we sell -- the more the better -- and likes talking about it. So when a customer owns something we made, one of us might have the opportunity to say "I just flew on a puddle-jumper with that bag, and I liked the size; you mentioned you take a lot of commuter flights, so I think you'll be really happy with it." Or we might comment about shared gadget or travel interests, or ask for their own thoughts, obviously always being sensitive to cues from the customer and not overstaying our welcome. The point in this case is not to sell something. It's to give uncontrived, personal affirmation that the choice he made -- both of company and product -- was a good one.

Spread contentment cooties, by showing pride and satisfaction with your job and your company. It's great to hear someone speak well of what they do and where they do it. It makes customers feel good about dealing with the organization, it sets a tone and standard for colleagues and it's good for your career. Contentment cooties also have a well-known side effect: They make the day go faster.

Of course, this assumes you are indeed proud and satisfied with your job and your company, and needless to say, plenty of people aren't. But in my experience, truly great companies generally have happy, proud, satisfied employees; the two go hand-in-hand. And since my point of view usually comes from observation of great companies, this commentary on contagiousness isn't the prescription for people who are sick of their jobs.

Contaminate them with kindness, by letting true care and concern for others show through in everything you do. This is, of course, the most elemental building block of great customer service, inspirational management, teamwork, and other business relationships. If you contract only one "good illness," let it be incurable niceness. When you are afflicted with it, it spreads virulently to everyone you deal with. That doesn't mean you will be able to make everyone else nice (fat chance), but it does mean that your dealings with almost everyone are likely to be better, as are the results of your work.

When I've written about kindness in the past -- as I often do, if you've been keeping track -- I've often gotten comments about nice people getting the doormat treatment, being taken advantage of, and as the cliche goes, finishing last. But being nice and being a pushover are not mutually exclusive. You don't have to be naive. You must deal with people and situations as they warrant, you have to be be mature and professional in your work, and tough when needed. But my suggestion is that a baseline disposition of kindness (or call it "decency," if you prefer something less touchy-feely) will yield better long-term results.

*As I've said in past columns, this kind of interpersonal behavior cannot, and must not be faked. If you don't have genuine enthusiasm, empathy, and a real desire to make people happy, then your efforts to be contagious will be transparently phony. If you fake it, you won't infect people with happiness -- you'll just make them queasy.

Image by Flickr user mcfarlandmo

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