My friend’s daughter recently became a doctor. When I emailed Natasha a note of congratulation, she shared with me the excitement of beginning her clinical rotations. “I saw two babies be born this week, which was amazing! I was actually on the verge of tears in the OR (c-sections), which is probably not very appropriate, but it was so cool I couldn’t help myself.”
I smiled at the idea of this intelligent, thoughtful, and comfortably confident young woman becoming overcome at the miracle of birth. She was exactly the kind of doctor I would like to have. And so I wrote her this little story to illustrate that “appropriate” isn’t necessarily what she needs to bring to the workplace.
The Tale of Two Repairs
Once upon a time there was a woman who was both a mother and a writer. In the same week, she had two essential tools of her trade breakdown: Her car, which she fondly referred to as her Vintage Subaru, and her fairly new Apple laptop computer.
The car went first. She left it at the shop for a diagnosis, hoping that the problem was something minor and inexpensive. But when she returned later to talk to the mechanic, he looked grim. “Seems you have a blown head gasket,” he told her.
She winced. The little she knew about car repair included the knowledge that Subarus, although usually wonderfully reliable, have a reputation for blowing their gaskets. “We have to order the parts and take out the engine,” he explained. Even to her untrained ear, it sounded extensive and expensive. She sighed and muttered dejectedly, “Bummer.”
He nodded his head and looked at her sympathetically. “Yeah, total bummer.” They stood in silence a moment, grieving the fate of her car, and then scheduled an appointment to get her Subaru fixed.
Shortly after she received the news of her car repair, she woke up one morning to discover that her computer would not turn on. When the problem could not be solved by Apple’s telephone support technician, she and her laptop were scheduled for an appointment at an Apple Store Genius Bar the next morning.
Since the nearest Apple Store is several hours away, she got up before the dawn even thought of cracking, and headed north. When her name was called, she handed her laptop over to a technician, and described the problem. The technician said he would see what he could do in their allotted fifteen-minute time period. As she explained that she’d driven four hours one way for this appointment and hoped they could extend the appointment if necessary, he plugged her laptop into some kind of master command center and began tapping keys. He politely repeated that he’d see what he could do within the fifteen-minute time period, and then turned to the customer sitting nearby and began servicing his computer as well. Apparently, one appointment was shared between several customers.
After ten minutes of multitasking with mind-blowing efficiency, the technician announced matter-of-factly that the hard drive in her laptop had crashed beyond repair and needed to be replaced. Any data that she hadn’t backed up (which turned out to be most of it), would be lost. They could not replace the hard drive there; it would have to be sent to an Apple service center. Upon hearing the news, she had to fight back tears, uncertain how much of her work she would lose. Without another word, the technician handed her some paperwork to fill out and then turned to the customer on her left.
“Wait,” she asked in an attempt to get his attention. “Can you tell me why this happened? This is my first Apple computer and it isn’t even three years old yet.”
The technician studied the screen before him and typed a command on the keyboard before replying breezily, “Oh, it could be a number of things. But two-and-a-half to three years is really all you can expect from a hard drive.”
“Really?” she asked, astounded. In all her years of PC ownership, she’d never lost a hard drive.
“Besides,” he said. “Apple doesn’t manufacture the hard drives for our computers.”
Apparently that absolved Apple of all responsibility, and their appointment was over. Her laptop was whisked to lands unknown and she was replaced by another customer. She was sure that her technician, although extremely polite and efficient, would not have been able to pick her out of a lineup.
It turns out that the car repair ended up taking four weeks. Besides the head gasket, the clutch also needed to be replaced and there was a mix up when the parts were ordered causing lengthy delays. The mechanic apologized profusely and shaved some cost off the bill, but it was still a hefty total. Regardless, when her Subaru was finally returned, she felt grateful for the work the mechanic had done and didn’t begrudge him the expense. She felt he’d been more than fair and honest.
On the other hand, she was astonished to receive her laptop only two days after leaving it at the Apple Store. It was completely wiped of all memory, but ran as good as new. The cost, including shipping, was zero because the repair was under warranty. Still, despite the speedy turnaround and cost-free repair, her experience at the Apple store had left a bad taste in her mouth. She wasn’t sure she’d purchase an Apple product in the future.
While polite efficiency seemed to be the key to the Apple Store technician being able to service so many customers at once (and make a good profit doing so), it wasn’t enough. It would have made all the difference if her technician would have stopped multitasking for 30 seconds and said, with a touch of sincerity, “I’m really sorry that your hard drive crashed. It’s a pain, even if you do have everything backed up. I know it is inconvenient to be without a computer for even a few days, but the service department will have your laptop back before you know it.” Eye contact would have been an added bonus.
It would have made all the difference if he had reached across the professional distance, as her mechanic had done, and offered a human connection. It would have been a much more tolerable experience for her if he had remembered to bring his heart to work as well as his brain.
Bring your heart to work. That is the moral of the story, a moral that I hope Natasha will hold close to her breast as she moves through her rotations. Be willing to meet the world with not only your expertise but with your love as well. While polite efficiency might be the standard for “appropriate” and, on paper at least, seem the best policy for making money, I believe the cure for our ailing economy is more compassion and more empathy in the workplace. We need to tear up more often at the miracles. Utter a few more heartfelt “bummer”s.
Imagine how different things might be if politicians, insurance policy makers, and investment bankers made decisions based on heart responses instead of the bottom line. How would the world change if presidents, oil executives, lawyers, and even waitresses, construction workers, and shoe salesmen went to work with their hearts open and available to awe? I think things would be better. I think the world economy would boom. I think life would feel a little easier.
This is my appeal to Natasha, who is the hope and future of this country: Toss “appropriate” in the waste basket, pack tissue just in case there are tears, and always remember your heart on the way out the door.