Just last week I had a person who works with a large number of Santas tell me that in his office they often talk about how rude and ‘un-Santa-like’ many Santas are.
I’m not talking about when Santas are performing… although that can be an issue too. In fact, on jobs, both at malls and private parties, I’ve had clients mention that their prior Santa was grumpy, not jolly… or a jerk.
The person last week was NOT talking about Santas in character… he was talking about the men who portray Santa when they’re just ‘being themselves’. He and his co-workers were shocked by the incongruence, and he didn’t say it, but I suspect they were a bit disappointed as well.
Like me, you’ve probably seen this grumpy side of Santa portrayers in Facebook groups or heard about it from your clients.
Of course, I know we’re all adults, and none of us are perfect… and I have no problem with people being rude or communicating like jerks if that’s the way they want to communicate… to each his own.
My concern is there are Santas out there who have no idea they are being perceived as ‘not Santa-like’.
Are YOU being perceived as grumpy, or even a jerk, and NOT EVEN KNOWING IT?
We all fall into habits of all sorts… including our vocabulary and patterns of communication.
You’ve seen people who talk too loud, use tones and inflections that are too aggressive, use language that’s off-putting, rude or even offensive. When the person is ‘over the top’ it’s very obvious to everyone… including the person talking.
It’s when it’s NOT ‘over the top’ that I think it can be the most harmful… and you’re likely not even aware of it. You’re just “being yourself.”
In verbal communications, our pace, tone, and volume add emotion to our words… and these things are INTERPRETED by our listeners. In other words when we’re talking to a small group, say 2 or 3 people, each of them can walk away with a different understanding and feeling about what we said.
To communicate more effectively we must gauge our communications to our audience. We already do this all the time when we’re portraying Santa. As Santa, we recognize children who are a bit frightened, shy or perhaps on the autism spectrum… and we adjust our communications accordingly. We lower our volume and use a softer more inviting tone. We slow our pace. We customize our communications to the needs of this particular individual.
As it turns out, customizing our communications for adults is a good idea too.
In person with adults, we don’t usually get the obvious visual cues that we get from a bashful 4-year-old. This is where being acutely aware is helpful. Watching and listening for very subtle signals can benefit us immensely. In person we can see micro facial expressions, tensing, loosening, a hint of a smile or creasing of the brow.
Over the phone, we can listen for a change in tone, or pace, or a pregnant pause prior to a response. These are all signs that we may want to modify the way we’re communicating in order to be more effective and considerate of the person we are communicating with.
In writing it’s all about the words and sentence structure. In fact, it was written words that prompted the conversation I started this post with… the person who works with Santas. It was after reading a message from a Santa that he brought up the topic of grumpy and ‘not very Santa-like’ Santas.
To increase the likelihood of having our written communications interpreted as being nice, kind, considerate, thoughtful and all of the other traits that we associate as ‘Santa-like’ we can use words and sentence structures that convey or imply a ‘nicer’ tone.
If we write (or say), “I was not happy when I saw that you…” it conveys a message.
If we write (or say), “I was disappointed when I saw that you…” it conveys a different message.
If we write (or say), “I was surprised when I saw that you…” it conveys yet a different message.
“I was not happy when I saw that you charged me twice for the same thing.” VS
“I was surprised when I saw that you charged me twice for the same thing.”
Does one seem nicer or more ‘Santa-like’ than the other?
Of course, we also think with words. When we changed the words we use verbally we often also change the words we use for thinking. This also works in reverse. When we begin to use different (or additional) words in our thinking we tend to use them in our written & verbal communications as well.
Let’s say you use the words mad and angry pretty consistently. Of course, these words are rather intense.
What if you added some words that provided more of an incremental scale. What words convey an emotion that’s less intense than anger? How about upset? Unsettled? Peeved? Disappointed? Hurt? Surprised?
By spending a little time identifying words that are more precise and words that convey different levels of intensity and then using these words as tools we can better adjust our communications just as we would do with that frightened child.
With some thought and practice, we can modify how we communicate, we can change old habits, and we can create a better experience for both the person we are communicating with… and for ourselves.
The fact of the matter is that many of us Santas derive a lot of personal satisfaction from turning what could have been a negative experience for a child and their family into a positive experience. We often credit our sensitivity and our skills with this positive outcome.
My hope is that by applying this same sensitivity and perhaps some new, or dormant, skills we can become more ‘Santa-like’ in ALL of our communications… and even change our thinking so it too is more Santa like all year ‘round.