A few weeks ago, I was driving along a suburban street when a bicyclist turned onto the street, hit a patch of loose sand, and, fortunately, fell onto a lawn. I stopped the car, backed up, and got out to make sure that the person was OK. The person turned out to be fine and with a wave they were off to finish their ride. When I got back into the car, I faced a wave of questions from my kids. Did I know that person? No. How did I know that they would fall? I did not. Would I be stopping again to help someone else? Maybe.
Today, more than ever, we face the challenge of how to have positive interactions with others, especially strangers. Many people either disregard or do not understand the importance of these singular interactions to our own well-being and the well-being of others. These singular interactions clearly define the people we are and the type of person we aspire to become.
The military taught me the importance of singular interactions and how they define your character. When I was in Iraq, I was just coming out of the chow hall with a steaming breakfast tray after an all-night planning and re-planning effort regarding Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attacks. I was distraught, dead tired, frustrated and hungry. I ran into a young Marine who had driven for hours with some prisoners for interrogation. The Marine passed off his prisoners and then had to guard his vehicle. Without him saying anything, I asked if he had eaten anything. He said “No,” and with no more words between us, I gave him my breakfast and headed back to another 18 hours of work. I never saw the Marine again.
In the military, events like this are common, unspoken and far from unusual. In the military, every interaction you have is an opportunity to help another person, make them better and demonstrate yourself as a leader. When I was in Bosnia, I helped a young sergeant carry about 10 boxes into our headquarters in the dead of night. Years later, that same sergeant, now an incredibly skilled special operations soldier in one of the country’s elite units, contacted me to say thanks for inspiring him to continue his Army career. What inspired him about our interactions? It was 20 minutes of carrying boxes when no one else would help him. In our daily lives, we need to act, understand and appreciate how me can make other people’s lives better through the power of our singular interactions with others.
Polite conversation is the foundation of a positive interaction with everyone. Today, everyone is rushed, overburdened, trying to wear their mask correctly, tired and often at wit’s end to get things done. These circumstances are why polite manners and positive conversation are vital because they set people at ease and make even stressful conversations easier. Good manners and polite conversation show appreciation for the demanding work and effort of others especially businesspeople, service technicians, and, most importantly, your package delivery person.
When it comes to social media use, if people just read a single interaction from you in a year, what would it say about you? Positive and productive interactions with people we do not know on social media are a way to take politeness, civility and personal leadership into the digital space. I try to make every post or comment I have on social media a positive interaction. Even if someone never reads anything I post again, they will have received a tip, comment or article that will make them better.
Helping others be successful at their jobs is another idea that few people take the time to do. Helping set up a video meeting room, providing some competitor research or pointing out a typo before it gets to the boss are all simple, meaningful, short and positive interactions that we can take at work. It only takes a minute, a smile and direct effort to make someone’s day at work just a little bit easier.
Saying hello and giving a smile are effortless ways to be polite and cement an interaction. I grew up in a small town in the Midwest where not saying hi to everyone would get you a phone call to your father. Next time you walk around the neighborhood, go to a child’s sporting event or cut the grass, give a quick “Hi!” to everyone.
My military career taught me the power of positive, singular interactions are often the defining characteristic of all our relationships. Most of our daily interactions with people, social media, businesses, government and other organizations are characterized by short, immediate and seemingly inconsequential interactions. Simple, polite and positive conversations with teachers, repair people, grocery clerks and store attendants (and on social media platforms) transform from a burden to a constructive encounter when we understand and demonstrate the positive power when can have on others.
Chad Storlie is a retired U.S. Army Special Forces officer, a mid-level B2B marketing executive, and an author on leadership, logistics, marketing, business, data, decision making, military and technology topics. www.combattocorporate.com