Day 55. A trip to a fabric store uncovered the perfect opportunity to use Dale Carnegie’s principles

365 Days of Living the Dale Carnegie Principles

Day 55.  Thursday, May 19, 2011
I was walking aimlessly at a fabric store this evening.  I needed 1-2 yards of broadcloth fabric. 

I brought some fabric I found at the office thinking it might be broadcloth—I just needed someone at the fabric store to tell me if I was wrong or right.  I just needed a yes or no answer.  I didn’t necessarily need to buy fabric.  I did have a list of other items I needed at this store. 

The area where they were cutting fabric was very busy.  So I wandered the store—trying to find someone that might know the answer to my simple question. 

I ended up in a section of the store where they sell machines.  I asked the woman if she could tell me if the fabric I brought in was broadcloth.  She said yes it was—but she suggested I ask Cheryl in the multi-colored shirt.  So I went over to where Cheryl was standing with a customer.  I waited patiently. She looked at me and asked if I was just there to watch her demo the machine with the customer.  I said no.  I have a question.  She looked at me and said the clerks at the cutting table could help me.

To some of you—you might think of me as a meek, gentle, mild-mannered individual.  But that is not the full picture. 

My reaction to Cheryl was indignation—to say the least.  Yes, I was wearing jeans, a Johnny Cash, “San Quentin” t-shirt and my Doc Martins from many, many years ago.  But darn it.  There’s one thing that is sure to get my blood boiling… and that is making assumptions.

I wanted to put her in her place.  Here’s why.  I know people from the corporate office that employs this woman.  I help determine editorial coverage—including exposure for a variety of machines.  The last thing you really want to do—is underestimate me.  I said directly to her—sorry to bother you and I walked off—my heart pounding. 

I walked to the cutting table—but there was still an incredibly long line.  I didn’t need fabric cut.  I just needed to know if the fabric I had was broadcloth.

I circled back to the machine area—and I walked just close enough to make sure I got Cheryl’s name.  I didn’t say anything—my Dale Carnegie principles are drilled enough in my head that I knew better than to get into a fight.  I just wanted to be sure I knew her name.  (Principle 6 from How to Win Friends and Influence People:  Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important….”) Ha.

After verifying her name I walked back to the cutting table area and waited as patiently as I could in line.  The lady in front of me had a backorder but she told the clerk to help me first so that I didn’t have to wait.

Well—this jolted me.  Wait a minute—a considerate human being at a fabric store?

I smiled and insisted I was in no hurry. 

As the clerk, “Janet” went off to find the backorder—the customer said she was trying to make a jacket to wear with a dress.  But she wasn’t sure what type of fabric, what colors, etc.  She said she had the dress in her car.

I smiled and said—oooh go get the dress!  We’ll help you out!

So she did.  She came back, carrying a formal gown that she is planning to wear to her daughter’s debutant ball.  I made suggestions as did Janet.  I quickly scattered about the store looking for the perfect fabric for the dress.

Forget the fact that I was hungry, tired and ready to go home.  I let myself get caught up in the moment of helping this stranger.  Why?  Because she was considerate of my time when she had suggested Janet help me first.  I returned the favor by showing interest in her.  And given my disgust for Cheryl—this served as a pleasant way to diffuse my mood.

When we couldn’t find fabric—I told her of a fabric warehouse that would have plenty of options at more affordable prices.  I wrote the information down and we parted ways. 

Technically it wasn’t my “department” to care about this woman and her need for fabric to match her dress.  I don’t even work at this store.  I wasn’t getting anything in return.  But I did it anyway.  I point this out not to say look at me—I’m great.  I only point it out to contrast it with Cheryl’s behavior.  Cheryl the machine clerk only thought of what she wanted.

If I had spent the remainder of my time standing in line at the cutting table focusing on what I want—I would have spent that time in a grumpy, selfish mood.  I wanted to know about broadcloth fabric.  I wanted dinner.  I wanted rest.  I wanted to get out of that store.

Instead, I focused on someone else’s needs and interests. It made me happy to help her—and she seemed to appreciate having someone to bounce ideas off of and get reassurance from.  So in the end—I got what I wanted—a feeling of importance, respect, happiness in a human connection—and she got what she wanted—an attentive ear, respect, reassurance and happiness in a human connection.  Both of us won. 

(Side note, they messed up on her backorder… so odds are I probably diffused her mood too, thus keeping her from becoming an irate customer with Janet)

The Dale Carnegie principles I used are from How to Win Friends and Influence People:
Principle 2.  Give honest, sincere appreciation.
Principle 4.  Become genuinely interested in other people. 
Principle 9.  Make the other person feel important and do it sincerely.

Remember, it is inevitable that you will encounter foolish, inconsiderate people and annoying circumstances.  Sometimes you’ll feel your heart pounding and you’ll want to tell some fool exactly what you think of them.  Don’t.  Channel your energy into something positive.  When you do this—you are able to exercise self-control and you’ll derive far more pleasure in spending your energy in a positive way than in wasting it on someone’s thoughtless or careless behavior.

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