Charles Schwab was passing through one of his steel
mills one day at noon when he came across some of his
employees smoking. Immediately above their heads was
a sign that said “No Smoking.” Did Schwab point to the
sign and say, “Can’t you read.? Oh, no not Schwab. He
walked over to the men, handed each one a cigar, and
said, “I’ll appreciate it, boys, if you will smoke these on
the outside.” They knew that he knew that they had
broken a rule - and they admired him because he said
nothing about it and gave them a little present and made
them feel important. Couldn’t keep from loving a man
like that, could you?
John Wanamaker used the same technique. Wanamaker
used to make a tour of his great store in Philadelphia
every day. Once he saw a customer waiting at a
counter. No one was paying the slightest attention to
her. The salespeople? Oh, they were in a huddle at the
far end of the counter laughing and talking among themselves.
Wanamaker didn’t say a word. Quietly slipping
behind the counter, he waited on the woman himself
and then handed the purchase to the salespeople to be
wrapped as he went on his way.
Public officials are often criticized for not being accessible
to their constituents. They are busy people, and
the fault sometimes lies in overprotective assistants who
don’t want to overburden their bosses with too many
visitors. Carl Langford, who has been mayor of Orlando,
Florida, the home of Disney World, for many years, frequently
admonished his staff to allow people to see him.
clamed he had an “open-door” policy; yet the citizens
of his community were blocked by secretaries and
administrators when they called.
Finally the mayor found the solution. He removed the
door from his office! His aides got the message, and the
mayor has had a truly open administration since the day
his door was symbolically thrown away.
Simply changing one three-letter word can often spell
the difference between failure and success in changing
people without giving offense or arousing resentment.
Many people begin their criticism with sincere praise
followed by the word “but” and ending with a critical
statement. For example, in trying to change a child’s
careless attitude toward studies, we might say, “We’re
really proud of you, Johnnie, for raising your grades this
term. But if you had worked harder on your algebra, the
results would have been better.”
In this case, Johnnie might feel encouraged until he
heard the word “but.” He might then question the sincerity
of the original praise. To him, the praise seemed
only to be a contrived lead-in to a critical inference of
failure. Credibility would be strained, and we probably
would not achieve our objectives of changing Johnnie’s
attitude toward his studies.
This could be easily overcome by changing the word
"but" to "and." “We’re really proud of you, Johnnie, for
raising your grades this term, and by continuing the
same conscientious efforts next term, your algebra grade
can be up with all the others.”
Now, Johnnie would accept the praise because there
was no follow-up of an inference of failure. We have
called his attention to the behavior we wished to change
indirectly and the chances are he will try to live up to
Calling attention to one’s mistakes indirectly works
wonders with sensitive people who may resent bitterly
any direct criticism. Marge Jacob of Woonsocket, Rhode
Island, told one of our classes how she convinced some
sloppy construction workers to clean up after themselves
when they were building additions to her house.
For the first few days of the work, when Mrs. Jacob
returned from her job, she noticed that the yard was
strewn with the cut ends of lumber. She didn’t want to
antagonize the builders, because they did excellent
work. So after the workers had gone home, she and her
children picked up and neatly piled all the lumber debris
in a corner. The following morning she called the
foreman to one side and said, “I’m really pleased with
the way the front lawn was left last night; it is nice and
clean and does not offend the neighbors.” From that day
forward the workers picked up and piled the debris to
one side, and the foreman came in each day seeking
approval of the condition the lawn was left in after a
One of the major areas of controversy between members
of the army reserves and their regular army trainers
is haircuts. The reservists consider themselves civilians
(which they are most of the time) and resent having to
cut their hair short.
Master Sergeant Harley Kaiser of the 542nd USAR
School addressed himself to this problem when he was
working with a group of reserve noncommissioned officers.
As an old-time regular-army master sergeant, he
might have been expected to yell at his troops and
threaten them. Instead he chose to make his point indirectly.
“Gentlemen,” he started, “you are leaders. You will
be most effective when you lead by example. You must
be the example for your men to follow. You know what
the army regulations say about haircuts. I am going to
get my hair cut today, although it is still much shorter
than some of yours. You look at yourself in the mirror,
and if you feel you need a haircut to be a good example,
we'll arrange time for you to visit the post barber ship.”
The result was predictable. Several of the candidates
did look in the mirror and went to the barbershop that
afternoon and received “regulation” haircuts. Sergeant
Kaiser commented the next morning that he already
could see the development of leadership qualities in
some of the members of the squad.
On March 8, 1887, the eloquent Henry Ward Beecher
died. The following Sunday, Lyman Abbott was invited
to speak in the pulpit left silent by Beecher’s passing.
Eager to do his best, he wrote, rewrote and polished his
sermon with the meticulous care of a Flaubert.
read it to his wife. It was poor - as most written speeches
are. She might have said, if she had had less judgment,
“Lyman, that is terrible. That’ll never do. You’ll put people
to sleep. It reads like an encyclopedia. You ought to
know better than that after all the years you have been
preaching. For heaven’s sake, why don’t you talk like a
human being? Why don’t you act natural? You’ll disgrace
yourself if you ever read that stuff.”
That’s what she might have said. And, if she had, you
know what would have happened. And she knew too.
So, she merely remarked that it would make an excellent
article for the North American Review. In other words,
she praised it and at the same time subtly suggested that
it wouldn’t do as a speech. Lyman Abbott saw the point,
tore up his carefully prepared manuscript and preached
without even using notes.