Four Unexpected Ways to Make Someone’s Day

Posted: August 3, 2013

The Friendly City Files

Smiles are nice. Cards are nice. Gifts are nice. All the “standards” are nice – and somewhat expected. If you really want to make someone’s day, do the unexpected. It’s not hard. Little things truly can go the longest way.

All it takes is a tiny bit of thought and a little effort:

1. Be thoughtful, simply because you can. I pulled into a service bay to get my oil changed. As I got out of the car, one of the techs said, “Man, those are nice wheels ... too bad they’re so dirty.” He smiled to show he was teasing.

“I know ... ” I said. “My next stop is the car wash.” Then, I went inside to wait. Later, I walked to my car to leave and he was just standing up, filthy rags in his hand. “Took some work, but I got ’em all clean,” he said. Every rim sparkled. Every speck of brake dust was gone.

“Wow, that’s awesome ... you didn’t have to do that,” I said.

“We’re not very busy,” he shrugged. “I had time. Figured I would make ’em look better.” Just then, a car pulled into another bay, so he hustled away, saying over his shoulder, “Have a good day.” That was four years ago. I still haven’t forgotten it.

Instead of turning idle time into “me time,” use your free time to do something nice: Not because you might be expected to, but just because you can.

2. Say something good about something old. I was waiting to talk to the owner and couldn’t help but overhear his conversation.

The man said, “A few years ago, my daughter’s fiancé was deployed to Iraq, and they decided to move up their wedding. She needed a venue that could put the reception together on two days’ notice. I told her not to get her hopes up, because there was no way anyone could pull that off.

“But you did. You can’t imagine what having a real wedding meant to her. And I can’t tell you how much it meant to me to see her so happy. I just wanted to thank you again.” They shook hands, the man walked away, and the owner’s eyes stayed on him as he disappeared out the door.

It feels great to receive a compliment for something you’ve just done. It feels even better when someone goes out of their way to compliment you for something you did in the past — not only do they still appreciate what you did, but they went out of their way to show they remember.

3. Say who referred you. We all get recommendations from friends or colleagues. Sometimes, we act on them. When you do, say so. Tell the owner that John referred you. Tell the manager that Mary said the food was awesome and you just had to try it. Say Mark said you won’t find better service anywhere else.

The person you tell will feel good because it’s a double compliment: One from you and one from the referrer. They’ll feel good because they’ll know their hard work is appreciated, which is nice, and that their hard work is paying off — which is even nicer.

And John, Mary, and Mark will appreciate it because they’ll know you respect their opinion and because you helped make their professional relationship with another business a little more personal.

4. Compliment what you aren’t expected to compliment. I was third in line. The guy at the front of the line was huffing and puffing and threatening to blow the smoothie shop’s house down because, I don’t know, maybe because he felt he wasn’t being treated with the deference due a Wolf of Industry.

The kid at the counter stayed nice, stayed polite and stayed professional. It was an impressive performance for a high school student working a part-time job.

The woman in front of me placed her order. Then, she said, “You know, you handled that really well.”

The kid was startled. “Um ... ” he stammered.

“No, really,” she said. “He was being a jerk. But you handled it perfectly. I have customer service reps working for me that would not have done nearly as well as you did. You should be proud of yourself.”

“Thanks,” he said. He turned to make her smoothie, his shoulders a little broader and his back a little straighter.

Every day, people around you do good things. Most of those people don’t work for you; in fact, most of them have no relationship with you, professional or personal. Compliment them for something they would least expect.

Expected feels good. Unexpected makes a huge, and lasting, impact.

Jeff Haden lives in Harrisonburg and is a ghostwriter and Inc. Magazine columnist. He can be reached at

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