Smiles are nice. Cards are nice. Gifts are nice.
All the "standards" are nice--and all, at least in part, are somewhat expected.
If you really want to make someone's day, do the unexpected. It's not hard. Little things truly can go the longest way.
All it takes is a tiny bit of thought and a little effort:
Be thoughtful, simply because you can.
I pulled into a service bay to get my oil changed. As I got out of the car one of the techs said, "Man, those are nice wheels... too bad they're so dirty." He smiled, just teasing.
"I know..." I said. "My next stop is the car wash." Then I went inside to wait.
When I walked to my car to leave he was just standing up, filthy rags in his hand. "Took some work, but I got 'em all clean," he said. Every rim sparkled. Every speck of brake dust was gone.
"Wow, that's awesome... but you didn't have to do that," I said.
"We're not very busy," he shrugged. "I had time. Figured I would make 'em look better." Just then a car pulled into another bay so he hustled away, saying over his shoulder, "Have a good day."
That was four years ago. But I still haven't forgotten it. (It made such an impression that I got cupcakes from a nearby shop and dropped them off for all the employees to share.)
Instead of turning idle time into "me time," use your free time to do something nice: Not because you might be expected to, but just because you can.
Say something good about something old.
I was waiting to talk to the owner and couldn't help but overhear their conversation.
The man said, "A few years ago my daughter's fiancée was deployed to Iraq and they decided to move up their wedding. She needed a venue that could put the reception together on two days' notice. I told her not to get her hopes up because there was no way anyone could pull that off.
"But you and your folks did. You can't imagine what having a real wedding meant to her. And I can't tell you how much it meant to me to see her so happy. I just wanted to thank you again." They shook hands, the man walked away, and the owner's eyes stayed on him until he disappeared out the door.
It feels great to receive compliments for something you've just done. It feels even better when someone goes out of their way to compliment you for something you did in the past--not only do they still appreciate what you did, they went out of their way to say they remember.
Find a person you can thank or compliment for something they did a long time ago.
Everyone appreciates--no, everyone loves--to be remembered.
Say who referred you.
We all get recommendations from friends or colleagues. Sometimes we act on them.
When you do, say so. Tell the owner John referred you. Tell the manager Mary said the food was awesome and you just had to try it. Say Mark said you won't find better service anywhere else.
The person you tell will feel good because it's a double compliment, one from you and one from the referrer. They'll feel good because they'll know their hard work is appreciated, which is nice, and that their hard work is paying off--which is even nicer.
And John, Mary, and Mark will appreciate it because they'll know you respect their opinion and because you helped make their professional relationship with another business a little more personal.
Compliment for something you aren't expected to compliment.
I was third in line. The guy at the front of the line was huffing and puffing and threatening to blow the smoothie shop's house down because, I don't know, maybe because he felt he wasn't being treated with the deference due a Wolf of Industry. He left in a huff (albeit a huff insufficient to blow said smoothie shop down.)
The kid at the counter stayed nice, stayed polite, and stayed professional. It was an impressive performance for a high school student working a part-time job.
The woman in front of me placed her order. Then she said, "You know, you handled that really well."
The kid was startled. "Um..." he stammered.
"No, really," she said. "He was being a jerk. But you handled it perfectly. I have customer service professionals working for me that would not have done nearly as well as you did. You should be proud of yourself."
"Thanks," he said. He turned to make her smoothie, his shoulders a little broader and his back a little straighter.
Every day people around you do good things. Most of those people don't work for you; in fact, most of them have no relationship with you, professional or personal. Compliment them for something they would least expect.
Expected feels good. Unexpected makes a huge, and lasting, impact.
Notice when someone tries something different.
Status quo is often status safe. Taking a risk, however small, is hard, especially if you're insecure.
Insecurity feeds off silence, so mention when you see someone trying something different. Compliment the effort. Praise the risk.
Even if what they try doesn't work, they will know you noticed. Everyone likes to be noticed.
And they'll know, regardless of how it turns out, that you respect them for trying.
Give someone credit they don't deserve--yet.
I went out for wrestling in ninth grade. I was nervous, scared, intimidated... pick any fearful adjective and that was me.
A week or so into practices I heard the coach talking to one of the seniors. "That kid there," he said, meaning me, "Will be a state champion by the time he's a senior."
He was wrong--I wasn't--but in an instant I felt more confident, more self-assured... and incredibly motivated. Those feelings lasted for a long time; someone believed in me.
When you see a person struggling, give them hope. Let them know you see something in them that they don't yet see - even if, sometimes, you don't yet see it either.
Belief, founded or unfounded, is incredibly powerful--and when someone else believes in us, it's unforgettable.