Griggs: The Postal Service, fast bikes and arrogance

meditate while on a bicycle. Friends tell me that quiet, mindless time on a mat or bench works for them. I need to pedal.

My favorite cycling jersey is from the former U.S. Postal Service cycling team. The jersey and my carrier, I admire — the service sets an example to avoid.

In 2011 I made the mistake of entering my local post office three days before Christmas. The line stretched around the utility counters, past the shipping envelopes and out into the lobby — there was little holiday cheer. All I needed was a $44 (at the time) roll of stamps. Two of the service windows were open and four were closed. That’s when the stamp vending machine came into focus — I had no other option.

A decent college education hadn’t prepared me for what came next. Confused, I timidly pressed buttons for “4-4-d-o-l-l-a-r-s.” No stamps fell. Slowly, a single white slip printed and dropped into the bottom tray. I became the owner of a single stick-on stamp for a 44 dollar letter or envelope. Several minutes and eye rolls later I was finally able to speak with the office manager.

She said that I was out of luck; it was my fault and there was nothing she could do.

Arrogance is in the customer’s eye. I’m good at empathy. In fact, I memorized something from Richard Carlson’s book, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.” He advised to “assume innocence” in dealing with others. Maybe their day started with a crushing family event. The car ahead cuts you off rushing to the hospital. That day in the post office I strained not to sweat the small stuff. But, I smelled arrogance.

Just like your customers, I get to interpret what I observe. A customer’s filters aren’t always accurate but they remember what their eyes see and what their ears hear.

Arrogance is never forgotten. Each time a news anchor or a reporter updates an audience on the dismal state of our mail system, I recall the lady who told me to suck it up and wait until I needed to mail a large package. In leadership trainings, I do a team simulation where participants must send ambassadors to negotiate with the opposing team. It’s shocking how long a team will remember arrogance or betrayal and how subtle phrases or facial expressions can incorrectly telegraph “dastardly” motives. In most businesses it’s rare to get the opportunity to correct these misperceptions.

Arrogance will sink your dreams. Mailing hand-written notes is a good habit to groom and it brings refreshing joy to whomever opens a real letter or note. Today, I write fewer notes with my own hand. No matter how many stamps I buy, one day I’ll run out and find myself shuffling and clenching in a place that raises my blood pressure. Multiply me by many other disappointed patrons and someone’s dreams are heading down.

If you care, do whatever you can to root out possible displays of arrogance. This matters with your partners, investors and employees. If it’s genuine arrogance you have a problem. If it’s misperception you have a chance. Teach your team to help one another to recognize and discuss actions that might turn a customer off forever. Worse yet, beg your people to dig up and dispose of anything that can turn a customer into an enemy. A turned-off customer strikes a match — an enemy lights a blowtorch.

The cycling jersey still fits but I never used that $44 single stamp — It’s a memento to remind me what arrogance can do to my own business.

Rick Griggs is the former Intel Corporation training manager and inventor of the rolestorming creativity tool. or 970-690-7327.