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Can people learn to be nice?

With all the discussion about customer service and employee training in our industry, I have often wondered if you can teach people to be nice.

My experience tells me that people are innately nice or they aren’t. Some people see things as “glass half full” while others see “glass half empty.” Is it simply a matter of perspective and personality? In talking to workplace psychologist Dr. Jim Houran, he believes you can train actions and coach attitude but rarely change beliefs.

Given that, service training is about actions and reactions. You can train people to act nicely, handle conflicts with grace and find solutions. Unfortunately, sincerity is not a given. Most successful service professionals prefer to hire for attitude since they can coach an already caring person. These employees are also hard to find and retain.

Very rarely can you change someone’s belief system once they are an adult. Knowing this, your interviewing process should be much more about understanding a person’s beliefs, attitudes and capacities and less about their technical proficiencies. Keep in mind that while you can teach someone to act nicely, they can still be a rotten apple.

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