Patience is like good health: You can never have too much of it. We can all stand to work on developing more patience. Personally, I have to make conscious efforts every single day to practice patience, which means I have to also be hyper aware of the opportunities to flex my patience muscle. A waiter forgetting to bring my food out after several reminders becomes an opportunity to improve my patience skills. A client who missed our second rescheduled call is an opportunity to turn patience into a professional practice. An internet company that puts me on hold when the Wi-Fi keeps going out is also an opportunity. An important thing to remember is that patience is a skill; we aren’t born with it, but with reinforcement and training, it gets stronger and stronger. Think of it working the same way exposure therapy does for an arachnophobic who surrounds herself with spiders. In order to develop patience, we need to put ourselves out there, in the thick of what tests us most. That’s why I choose to look at all of those annoyances and inconveniences as opportunities, because without them I would never be able to increase my patience threshold. Instead of resisting the bad moments, be grateful for the opportunities to cut your teeth on some pesky interactions. After all, the more you sit on hold listening to Muzak, the more you will be able to tune it out. Long lines at the grocery store become no big deal, and the more traffic you endure, the more acceptance you will have for the fact that the roadwork won’t be done any time soon, so you should just enjoy your satellite radio.
What’s even more critical to remember is that the ability to recognize the situations in which patience will be your only problem-solving source enables you to witness the cyclical nature of patience. Responding with patience is the epitome of kindness. It shows others you are composed, respectful of them regardless of differences, and want to solve a problem without finger-pointing. Founder of Purpose Makers, Ole Kassow, uses the example of a woman offering an old man her seat on a bus to say “Typical thinking would say she’s worse off, but he’s physically and mentally better off, and she’s also better off. All the other passengers witnessing it experience an emotional elevation as well. This why a kindness movement can spread. People get inspired when they see other people do kind things.”18 So when you practice kindness you can see it benefiting not only you but the other person. That is quite powerful.
I have never known anyone to be punished when acting with patience. In fact, as a customer and patron who has had to complain for various service problems, I have been rewarded for my patience. Most of the time when a manager says “Thank you for your patience,” it is followed by retributions and extra special care. Patience is extremely memorable because, unfortunately, it is so rare.
What I have found is that practicing patience, whether as a business owner or a patron, is a pathway to getting what you want. Patience allows me to seize the moment and ask for what I need. I call it being “patient in action.” You can be patient, but ask the question, “What are you going to do to solve this?” I am able to say, “You’re welcome. Now, this is what I need from you…” We can do this with employees, vendors, and clientele, just as they can do it to us.
An initiative to be environmentally responsible led the parking lot at my local airport to offer free battery charging for electric cars. So, when I return from business trips, I can be sure that the car is all juiced up to take me home—except for that one time when I got off the red eye. I was fuming as the parking attendant broke the news that my car was dead, but somehow I dealt with it patiently. I called Uber to take me home, and the next day I spoke with the owner of the parking group. The owner was patient with me, as he validated my feelings of anger and made me feel heard, and that alone went a long way. He was apologetic and grateful for my patience, telling me to send my receipt for Uber and consider it reimbursed. He also threw in a week’s worth of parking on him. Problem solved, relationship maintained. Most of all, I felt like I mattered.
Similarly, at a new restaurant hot spot, I waited for my dinner for far too long. The party I was with had almost finished their food while I began to feel nauseous from a hypoglycemic attack. After several failed attempts to light a fire underneath the waiter, I went to speak to the hostess. I was angry and not feeling well and was not very impressed with the place, which I had never been to before. The hostess patiently listened and allowed me to vent my frustration, and minutes later, the manager was at my table. He explained that the waiter was new and still training, but it was still no excuse for what happened. The entire tab was covered by the restaurant with his sincerest apologies. We were square, and I felt good about it. And then the restaurant owner came out, which was completely unnecessary, especially since the issue had been resolved, but he wanted us to know that he was saddened that our experience at his establishment was not a positive one, and wanted us to return to give it another try. Therefore we were welcome back any time as his personal guests. Then, he thanked me for my patience and for my willingness to give the hostess feedback about the waiter. Although it’s hard to hear complaints, they are gifts to business owners because criticism allows them the opportunity to tend to glitches and make improvements where necessary. My complaints were going to help the waiter in training, and that was a good thing, the owner told me. By the way, this is also a perfect example of how patience and humility intersect. Because the owner was humble and realistic that he is not above slipping up, he is open to criticism and admitting mistakes. The aplomb, patience, and humility of the hostess, manager, and owner still resonate with me, and not only will I return to the restaurant, I will recommend it to others.