Don't Smile Until Thanksgiving

With each job that I've had, I taken away some long term practical advice. Being a bus driver in college was one job that didn't yield quite as many nuggets of wisdom as some jobs that came after graduation, but there was one piece of advice that I learned, applied, and saw results from. The sage counsel came from an Education major at Texas A&M, she said "Don't smile until Thanksgiving." Quick note: being a school bus driver in college is the best job ever. You make $12-15/hr, never work nights, weekends, or holidays, and get to watch kids get excited when they see you turn your Bluebird onto their street and flip open the flashing red stop sign. Fun times all around.

Not completely understanding the point of my friend's advice at the time, I follow it anyway. I was relatively stern with all of the kids on my bus routes. They wanted to listen to ghetto rap radio, I forced them to listen to country music. They wanted to play musical chairs, I stopped the bus and watched them go back to their seats. They wanted to hang out the windows, I put the windows up if they tried it. And, after the first couple weeks, they started telling me that "Mr. Casey (the other driver on my route) lets us...." to which I replied, "Then do it tomorrow when he's driving. Not on my bus."

Now, a funny thing happened. Sometime between Halloween and Thanksgiving, order had been established. Country music was understood as the soundtrack for Mr. Andy's bus, butts stayed in seats, and the windows stayed open because no one tried to throw their seat mate out while we wear stopped at a light. But then, in an unforeseen turn of events, the kids started complaining about Mr. Casey being mean. They things that he used to let them do, he now didn't and they liked riding with me better.

I found out that Mr. Casey had had a couple of parents call in because their kids were hanging out the windows when they came around the corner to be dropped off and may or may not have been singing rap lyrics as they walked in the front door. Mr. Casey had to crack down on his routes and the fun loving attitude had to change. Or, put another way, he smiled before Thanksgiving.

Now, ten years later, I'm not driving buses any more (though I do miss having a 36 foot vehicle under my control) but I am still following the principle of "not smiling until Thanksgiving." It is so much easier to establish respect and the ground rules for a professional relationship and watch a friendship emerge than to start 'buddy/buddy' and try to flip it to having professional relationship. I don't want a sales guy to be my friend. I want him to sell me on why his product is better than others and on the value that it creates for me and my company. If, in that process, a relationship develops beyond that, it's a bonus. But, when there is too much smiling and not enough closing, I end up listening to ghetto rap and trying to shove that sales guy out the window.