Not Killing the Messenger or the Message

In Jerry Seinfeld’s excellent web series, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” Seinfeld meets up with Michael Richards, his old cast mate from the classic series, “Seinfeld.” During the episode (titled “It’s Bubbly Time, Jerry”), the drive to the coffee shop is hilarious and displays not only the comic genius of the two men, but also makes you wonder how far off from Richards the “Kramer” character really was.

The most interesting (and touching) part of the video, though, comes at the 14-minute mark when Seinfeld and Richards discuss an on-stage incident Richards’ had several years ago. While doing stand-up, an audience member began heckling him and Richards ended up directing a racial epithet at the man. He expresses his appreciation for Seinfeld’s support during that time and confesses to him that the embarrassment of the event still affects him. Richards says that it was so devastating that he hasn’t done stand-up since, even though he has new material he’s been wanting to try out.

It’s at this point that Seinfeld gives his friend the excellent advice to just let it go:

“That’s up to you, to say, ‘You know what? I’ve been carrying this bag long enough. I’m going to put it down.’ ”

After watching this I began thinking about great advice and lessons I had picked up along the way and two examples that I use often came to mind.

One was a story I heard from a former supervisor about something he had read in a book concerning customer service. In the anecdote, a businessperson was going a presentation at a hotel and found that the room he was presenting in didn’t have a dry-erase board. The first person he saw was a passing bus boy from a nearby restaurant and asked the employee if he could find a board for him. The item was delivered and the presentation was delivered without a problem, but the businessperson noticed that the bus boy would stick his head into the room from time to time.

At the end of the day, the hotel manager stopped by to check to see how everything went and the businessperson mentioned seeing the bus boy several times after requesting the dry-erase board. The hotel manager replied that part of his customer service policy was that no matter who you were or what you did at the hotel, any request by a guest was owned by that person to the fullest. As a result, the request made to the bus boy meant that he needed to check back on the situation and had the power to fix the situation to customers’ satisfaction.

Another lesson came in a discussion with several other photographers about how the advancement of digital photography seemed to have made some people think that it didn’t require as much skill and talent. One photographer made the comment, “It seems that people have stopped wanting good and started settling for good enough.”

To me, both these lessons are great, as they illustrate that while many people have lowered their standards, good customer service and extra effort still is, and will always be, valued.

The thing that really made these great pieces of advice interesting, though, is that I couldn’t stand either person that gave them.

The supervisor was put in charge long before he was ready and instead of being a great leader, was petty and immature in the way he played favorites with employees and caused rifts among the staff.

The photographer, while great at his craft, was extremely egotistical (even for a photographer, a group known for egos!) and felt he needed to shove his opinion on any subject down your throat and you should thank him for the experience. He was so disliked, that employees at other sites within the company often responded with, “You have to work with [insert photographer’s name here]? Geez, I’m so sorry…” when they discovered the location where I was based.

My advice from both of these examples is this: Great advice comes from all angles, even those you might not expect. Although you might want to kill the messenger (or maybe just rough them up a little), hold off because their message might be worth hearing.

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