Never say you’re sorry…and other lessons applied from my days in hospitality.

[Posted on LinkedIn]

It seems like a lifetime ago, but I worked in the hospitality industry for a while, making my way from hostess to trainer to a management/supervisory role. The hospitality industry is unique for a number of reasons, and I often tell people that everyone should have to work in it for at least six months…enough time to get through a few seasons and some highs and lows. Who knew I would be applying the things I learned there today?

My experience has benefitted me (and my work) in my business career in many ways. I learned many things from this industry, and I carry a lot of it with me today and apply it in different ways. Here are just three things that I carry with me in my day-to-day and how I apply them…

Don’t say ‘no problem.’

Early in my days as a hostess, I was told to replace “no problem” with “my pleasure” when interacting with guests.

The reason?

It’s two-fold, and it’s because of the two words in the statement – both of them are negative. The word “no” is negative. When a guest asks a question or says something that deems a “you’re welcome” type of response, it’s not a good idea to begin with “no.” When you say “no problem” that word “problem” may stick with a guest. It may cause them to ask themselves if there is, in fact, a problem. Problems should be the least of their concerns while in your care.

Although I use “no problem” in some of my more causal conversations with coworkers I don’t say it often and, when I do, I think about how it is not the best phrase. I avoid it when working with clients and stakeholders.

Anyway, I learned a better phrase while in Jamaica (and apply it daily): “There are no problems, only situations.”

“Everything is fine. Everything is wonderful.”

One of my managers wanted this to be our go-to answer when the big wigs stopped by and asked how things were going. It was not unusual for the GM or his direct reports to pop in, and they would usually speak to us. So, when asked, this manager directed us to respond with “everything is fine, everything is wonderful.” At the time I questioned this request of hers because I didn’t understand why she was asking us to lie at times. Things were not always fine and wonderful.

As I reflect on this today I realize that the point was not to lie, even though sometimes at was a blatant lie. The point was to never vent any frustrations or share too much with the people at that level of authority and power. Her point was to keep the details (and the real answers to their questions) between her and you.

As a manager she wanted to be the first to know about any issues. She wanted to be the one to determine appropriateness and delivery of information to those (much) higher-ups. She certainly did not want to be the last to know and did not want to hear about something from them before hearing it from you.

I apply this frequently in my career in the business world as I interact with a variety of stakeholders. For example, it would not necessarily be appropriate for me to discuss or escalate things with someone over my boss’ head without my boss’ knowledge of it. I also would not share new info with a client without my boss or other stakeholders knowing about it first, depending on the project.

In general, the moral of this one is to be judicious and, secondarily, – as cliché as it is – know your audience.

“Never say you’re sorry.”

Think, for a moment, about what it means to say you’re sorry.

It was an interesting day when I was told: “When you say you are sorry you are admitting fault for something.” I marinated on that for quite awhile. In fact, I still think about it.

The moral of the story was not to place yourself at blame for something that may be entirely out of your control…maybe something that absolutely cannot be changed. Do not apologize to a guest if you cannot seat them immediately since there is a wait…there is nothing that can be done to fix it. They must wait their turn.

Let’s flip this a different way. Think about what it means if you’re in a car accident and you get out of your car and say “I’m sorry” to the other driver. I’m thinking your insurance company might drop you.

I definitely think twice before I say “I’m sorry” in business. I run all sorts of filters: Am I really sorry? Could I have done anything to prevent this? Can I do anything to change it?

Your turn! What lessons do you carry with you from other careers or other jobs? How do you apply them?


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