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I have never been able to find out who first uttered that quote, but it’s one I enjoy. My Dad used to say, “Kill ‘em with kindness” but working in the service industry I always thought it a bit strong as a motivational quote. I will admit that my many experiences with colleagues and customers alike have taught me that remembering to take time to smile, and even to see the humour in a situation, can be far more useful than falling prey to the dramatic side of things.

This sentiment is echoed all over in service training, as a smile is essential equipment for anyone working in the service industry. I will focus today on the hospitality sector in particular, in honour of the tourist season being about to start… To be clear:

Hospitality is defined as

1. the friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers.

2. the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.

A smile is defined as

1. to assume a facial expression indicating pleasure, favor, or amusement, but sometimes derision or scorn, characterized by an upturning of the corners of the mouth.

2. A pleased, kind, or amused facial expression, typically with the corners of the mouth turned up and the front teeth exposed.

Simple logic says that if service staff can remember to adopt the facial expression mentioned, they will be indicating a friendly reception to whomever graces the door of the business.

So smiling sounds like a simple enough act to guarantee (excepting those “sometimes” scornful applications which I will discuss later), but humour is a bit tougher… especially when you consider that there is a disconnect between offering high-brow or high-level service and including humour.

Humour is defined as

1. the quality of being funny

2. Also called sense of humour the ability to appreciate or express that which is humorous

3. situations, speech, or writings that are thought to be humorous

Humour is known to be an excellent way to relieve stress, and to bring people together, often promoting understanding of differing opinions or values. A recent study by the Bell Leadership Institute showed that the overwhelming majority of workers perform more effectively and with more enthusiasm and operate better as a team when their leaders have a sense of humour.

Of course, humour only works when it’s honest and true to character; individual character and corporate character. That also garners respect, which is another handy leadership quality. If any superficial or out of character efforts are made at humour, then the smiles become ones of derision, as mentioned in that earlier definition.

So, at the risk of sounding too serious about having a good time, I just want to say it’s worth a try. If you can’t think of how to get started. I recommend two experts that often talk of how humour fuels employees in providing exemplary service.

Rick Segel recently posted a fantastic piece called Words that Make a Difference. It combines humour and praise for a one-two punch.

Mike Kerr hosts a blog called Humour at Work, full of fun and crazy ideas to inspire a more engaging workplace. Even just talking about his topics might do the trick.

You shouldn’t need to have a reason, really. Smiling is a good thing. Even clinically depressed people feel better when they smile. When it’s sincere, a smile can disarm the angriest of customers or grumpiest of colleagues. It really is the best revenge to winning the  war on bad service.