“Stepping out of the Box”             

Issue 22

By:  Ron Brounes    

February 1999


About a month ago, something out of the ordinary happened to me that undoubtedly will have a positive effect on my life forever.  (Or, at least, until next week.)  I arrived at Transco Tower, one of those tall Houston office buildings, for a Monday morning appointment.  I was quite apprehensive about this particular meeting, and was not overly confident about the nature of the discussion.  The elevator doors opened and I got on along with another 10 or so equally grumpy people, preparing to start their new week.  There were very few smiles, very little chit chat among the group.  It was, after all, 8:30 on Monday morning. 


Luckily, I was able to dart to the corner and take that much sought after position in the elevator.  Everyone else quietly entered and immediately turned to face the closing doors; we all looked up to watch the numbers change as the elevator moved to the 51st floor.  However, instead of monitoring the numbers, only a giant “X” appeared on the display.  In this building all passenger must go to 51 and then take separate elevator banks to reach their final destinations.  Still, we all stood silently and stared at that “X”.  Unfortunately (for me), one of the passengers, an elderly women, chose not to follow proper elevator etiquette that morning.  I sensed her presence, facing me instead of the door, and staring at me instead of the “X”.  I acknowledged her with that necessary but unfriendly nod we give to those we do not wish to speak with.  I then went back to the “X”, trying to guess what floor we were passing. 


And then the unthinkable occurred.  “Did anyone ever tell you that you have the most beautiful brown eyes?”  the old lady asked, while still standing right in front of me.  I thought about ignoring her, but feared we still had about 25 floors to go.  I even contemplated a sarcastic answer like “Lady, if I had a dime for every time I heard that...”  But on Monday morning, I did not have the energy or desire to carry on a conversation.  So I shot back that same rude nod with a very quiet “thank you” that I hoped no one else could hear. 


But the lady was far from finished.  “Do you know what would go great with those brown eyes?  A great big smile.  I bet you have a delightful smile.”  I don’t know what came over me, but all of a sudden my Monday morning blahs had disappeared and I could not help but return a smile from ear to ear.  I had been in a bad mood, nervous about my appointment, mad about having to wear a suit, not to mention, it was Monday morning.  But somehow now I felt great, all because of this lady’s kind words.  She continued, “Did you realize that the great thing about smiles is they are very contagious?  Look around the elevator right now.”  So I did, and she was right.  The other equally grumpy occupants forgot about their hectic schedules for a minute and were all smiling and laughing at me, at the lady, and at each other.  I sensed they were simply relieved that she had not been picking on them. 


As the elevator door opened, everyone was talking, saying things like “have a nice day.”  I guarantee they each shared that story the minute they reached their offices with their bosses, their secretaries, their associates, and, then again, with their spouses when they got home.  That “young at heart” lady taught me a valuable lesson about maintaining a positive attitude and “stepping out of the box” periodically, by doing something so out of the ordinary that she had given us a story to repeat while brightening up our days in the process.  




The office environment represents an excellent place to occasionally “step out of the box” by varying daily routines and surprising some co-workers.  Such practices do not need to be of a grand scale, but rather something quite simple, yet also out of character.  The cranky sour-puss of the office could start wishing associates a very good morning, and complimenting them on their attractive outfits. (Been there.)  The cheapskate of the office could start bringing doughnuts on Fridays mornings or occasionally throwing in a buck or two extra at lunch without waiting for change.  (Done that.)


Management can participate by contributing to an enjoyable work environment (if that is possible) and improving office morale in the process.  Standard casual days have become the norm in offices across the country.  Even senior level managers should take part in this new “time honored” tradition. The same principle holds true for Halloween and “Go Texan” day. (Out-of-staters should disregard.)  Perhaps the “big boss” could even dress as Santa to entertain kids at family oriented Christmas parties.  Don’t wait for special occasions to cater in an office lunch; don’t wait until secretary’s day to send flowers; splurge every now and then, just for the heck of it. 


Schedule periodic lunches between senior managers and junior staff to share ideas and gather input.  Not only does this allow all employees the opportunity to feel important, but occasionally the most successful ideas are relayed in such settings.  Managers need to interact more often with the actual folks that run the show, instead of initiating a caste system and only associating with the other “suits.”  (Then, be prepared to “steal” these ideas and “sell” them as your own in actual management meetings.)




Eager to try this new “stepping out of the box” strategy, I returned to Transco Tower a week later and followed the exact same routine that the lady had done to me.  I approached some good looking 25 year old blond “chick” standing in the corner of the elevator who hauled off and slapped me when I told her she had nice eyes.  Still, the results were the same.  Everyone else in the elevator stood smiling and laughing and had a story they could tell their friends and co-workers.  After all, that was really my true objective the whole time. 


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FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH is a publication of Brounes & Associates focusing on business marketing and general communications strategies. Please call Ron Brounes at 713-432-1910 for additional information. “SOOTB” strategies are taken at your own risk.  Ron Brounes is not responsible for any harm, either physical or emotional, received as a result of such outrageous behavior.  Bear in mind, not everyone has beautiful eyes and a nice smile.