Culture change: challenging behaviours effectively

The manager of a french café in Nice has started to price its coffee according to the politeness of the customer.

“It started as a joke because at lunchtime people would come in very stressed and were sometimes rude to us when they ordered a coffee” explained manager Fabrice Pepino.

Now, customers who ask for “un café” pay a whopping €7 (£5.80).  The magic words “s’il vous plaît” means the same drink costs  €4.25.  And those who bother to say “bonjour” before making their order pay just €1.40.

This news item, which appeared in the Independent on 11th December 2013 got me thinking.

The importance of politeness and making human connections

How important is it to be polite, and why?  What might be the benefit of making real connections with people – rather than mere transactions?  And what can we do to reverse the trend towards brusquer, impersonal and even rude exchanges?  I find that I have to consciously remind myself to be polite, to look someone in the eye, to smile when I address them.  And i find it’s easy to forget.  But I feel much happier when I remember, and I notice that the other person nearly always seems to also.

How to challenge negative behaviour effectively

The way we challenge behaviour – or give feedback – is critical to the challenge being heard.  If the french cafe manager had challenged a customer directly, in public, the challenge itself might have come across as rude and made everyone feel awkward.

The café’s strategy was to set the ground rules in advance, clearly and publicly – that everyone who entered the cafe in effect “signed up to” when they opened the door.  The notice clearly indicated what would happen if a customer chose to be impolite: they could be impolite, but they would pay more.  And the fact that it was done in this way also came across as humorous, provocative, yet gently confrontational.

Modern Toss Resto rude 551232_521904487890963_974802218_nThis cartoon from Modern Toss makes the point looking at it from the other perspective.  Here, the cafe owner chooses to forgo the possible service charge in order to be able to freely give the kind of (rude) service he wishes to give to his customers.


What about confronting people about trickier attitudes, like prejudice?

This video is about public displays of racism.  The customers who were filmed all said they felt uncomfortable – believing that the behaviour was offensive, unacceptable.  We see how some people feel unable to speak out, but that some consciously choose to confront the racist behaviour.  The video is one in a series which uses invisible theatre to challenge stereotypical behaviours and attitudes.

The most important bit is the last segment (from 5:40).  It is a brilliant masterclass of how to challenge negative behaviour in the most warm, loving and powerful way.  I can’t help thinking that this woman – an HR and diversity manager – could turn anyone around.


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