I preach and teach “validation” as one of the key constructive acts we can practice as cashiers. It is one of the three points of my self-created job description:
- have as much fun as I possibly can
- help my customers have as much fun as they possibly can, and
- validate my customers – say something that is genuine and fresh and directly appreciative, with a target of doing this for 100% of my customers, and a really good performance if I hit 80%.
It’s great if you can say something meaningful, but in a 2-minute interaction with someone you may never have seen before, you frequently have to pick up on something a little more surface: your sweater, your glasses, your hair-do, your choice of groceries.
When I teach validation (validation was at the heart of the 30-minute module on customer service which I designed and about four times presented at Earth Fare for 1-4 team members – before our personnel hours were cut and our front end manager could not find a way to pull people off the cash register for even 30 minutes), I never teach men to appreciate any aspect of a woman’s physical appearance. It’s too fraught – too risky for the average guy to attempt.
But I do it and almost always get away with it. In fact, I find it one of the most powerful ways I can validate a woman – especially in a short transaction: there is their physical being right there. I do it less with really beautiful women – who often know it already and are more likely to have been in various ways oppressed or harassed for their beauty.
I don’t actually say this to the younger male cashiers, but this is what I really mean: “Don’t try this if you are not as charming and intuitive and funny and genuinely not on the make (and able to subtly communicate that) as I am.” It doesn’t hurt that I am old: women, especially young women, are inclined to assume that I am probably harmless. And if somehow this approach is not seeming to go well, I’m really good at dropping it so fast that it’s almost like it never happened.
In four years, two women have gotten genuinely angry at me for complimenting their appearance. I told one woman she had great eyes and she said “Do you have any idea how sexist that is?!” I profusely apologized and I think she went away whole: she had spoken her truth and felt she had been heard.
In that same four years, maybe 8-9 women have not shown any response and may possibly have not liked my compliment. And dozens and dozens of women have absolutely lit up, have told me how much this appreciation meant to them – probably a dozen have been touched to tears.
I’m a big believer in “acceptable risks”: I let my dog drag her leash when we are walking downtown (except when I see another dog or we get near a street corner) and I say things to women like “You have a great complexion” – right up to “Do you have any idea how beautiful you are?” I rely on my intuition – on Spirit telling me what to do when – and it almost always works.
The other day I was checking out the groceries of my regular customer Joy. I’m fairly sure I had never before said anything about her significant beauty – I try not to go there twice with any woman, that could feel weird. But on this occasion, some intuition (Spirit?) coached me that this was the time. Without specifically forming or rehearsing the words, I checked with my Higher Power about whether to do this, got a “Yes” and let these words flow out:
“You know you still are the most beautiful customer in the store.”
Tears immediately popped into her eyes: “You have no idea how much I needed to hear that today.”
Me: “I often hold myself back from saying things like that – sometimes women don’t want to hear it.”
Joy: “That’s a shame – all us women need to hear it from time to time.”
I almost never compliment a woman’s appearance impulsively, without thinking about it. I always ask myself first (with or without using all these words – the question has become pretty automatic by now): “Should I do this?…Do I think this is going to be well-received?…Will it be helpful to her?” And at least 50% of the time, the answer I get is, “No – leave it out.” And then, no matter how much I was liking the compliment I was about to give, I let it go – and trust that, for some reason I don’t have enough information to understand – to say it would not have been helpful.