Oil, salt and vinegar

OilA simple, sincere “Thank you” can go a long way at work. As this story beautifully illustrates, Thank you‘s are part of the “oil”, the social lubricant, that makes for good relationships in the workplace.

Oil, salt, and vinegar
By Pilar Cambra
Chief columnist for Expansión newspaper.

Try this one day – any day, any normal, run-of-the-mill day: add up the time you spend complaining, grumbling, moaning – tacitly or explicitly – and the time you spend thanking and praising. Is there more vinegar than oil?…

It happened some time ago, but the incident – as tiny as a grain of mustard- has remained in my memory…

One day I was in a hurry (and late) for work, and parked my car lopsided in the company car park… “It doesn’t matter,??? I said to myself, “the bloke who uses the space next to me normally comes in on his motorbike!… So there’s plenty of room for him to park…???. And off I went, thinking no more of it…

But it turns out that the colleague who parks next to me sometimes comes by motorbike, but others he comes by car. And on that particular day he had to choose his car: quite a large vehicle which, obviously, came nowhere near fitting into the small space I’d left for his motorbike…

After a while, by which time I was engrossed in more pressing matters, I got a call from the car park attendant: “Mrs. Cambra?: Would you mind parking your car properly?… The user of the place next to you says he just can’t get his into the space you’ve left…???.

I’ll confess: the sharp vinegar of bad temper surged up inside me… “I’m on my way!??? I told the attendant. And so I went down to the car park, huffing and puffing, of course, cursing the hassle, the interruption, and the bloody idea of my colleague to bring his bloody car instead of his bloody motorbike…

Anyway: I moved my car into the exact space which it should take up and went back up to the office breathing fire, like St.George’s dragon… A few minutes later, I got another call: “Pilar? it’s your car park neighbour… I’m just calling to apologise for having to bother you and, of course, to thank you for moving your car so quickly… Thank you!???…

I was so taken aback that I could barely speak… In the end, in the midst of a black sea of shame for my awful behaviour, my terrible thoughts and nasty complaining, I replied: “No, thank YOU – you’re a good person, there aren’t many left these days! I’m sorry and I promise you’ll never have any problems parking your car again???.

Do you know what?: thanking someone seems to have fallen out of common use, become old-fashioned, out of step with our straight-talking and somewhat brusque times… In fact, it almost sounds naff… “Thank you???, we say; and right away, we shudder at the prospect of hearing the slimy voice, 1950’s radio presenter style, coming back at you with “no, madam…thank yoooouuuuu???… How jaw-clenchingly awful!…

In the work environment the idea of “not owing anyone anything??? is held up and honoured: the more independent we are, the more manly (or womanly) we feel… Thanking people for favours, small or large; for support, minimal or huge; for services, inconsequential or decisive; is a bit humiliating: as if turning to others when we need them weakens us, undermines our reputation as a super-exec-who-goes-it-alone…

The oil of gratitude, gratitude which makes the cogs turn without squeaking, sliding smoothly and politely, falls far below the sharp vinegar of our complaining, protests, reproaches…

As if vinegar makes us stronger, less vulnerable, more invincible… And I’m not saying that complaining, if it is fair and necessary, is not a fundamental part of keeping justice in the workplace… But, just like in a salad dressing, a few drops may be enough. Mainly so we don’t drown out the salt, of our cordial lives, of working with a smile on our faces.

Thank you to Jaizki Arteagabeitia Perea for finding this article in Spanish, for telling me about it and for arranging to have it translated into English. And of course thanks to Pilar for giving her permission to reproduce it here!

The article was translated by the nice people at contentspanish.com. Thanks!!

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7 thoughts on “Oil, salt and vinegar”

  1. Dear Alexander: Very many, many thanks… Is a important gift see my humble text in your web. Best regards from Spain.

  2. A great reminder of how a little courtesy goes a long way to keeping relationships with people easy and warm. Why is it so hard to say things like, “Thanks,” “I’m sorry,” “That was my mistake,” “You did a great job,” etc.? But so worth the effort.

  3. Jaizki: Glad you feel that way :o)

    Rowan: Nice post on French politeness – merci :o)

    Pilar: I’m really glad you liked it. I’m only pleased to pass on such a great story :o)

    Gretchen: Exactly – why should it be so hard?It does take a little practice, but as you write, it’s definitely worth it!

    listr: Thanks for the tip – there are some good sites on there!

  4. It’s a sad fact that a child who went shopping for her mother in our village and said “please” and “thank you” to the shopkeepers was referred to as “the polite one”… surely everyone should say “please” and “thank you” as a matter of course and it should have been a “rude one” who was out of the ordinary…

    It’s also a sad fact that after a long argument with HM Revenue, we’ve finally got a series of interest and surcharges cancelled for a client – only fair because it was their mistake. But have either the client or the boss said “thank you” to the person who actually did most of the work? Not on your life. And those two little words would have gone so far…

    M

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