As a teen, I craved freedom and a car. Neither came at a price I could afford. So as soon as I was eligible to work, I secured a job at Kentucky Fried Chicken. Working there during my formidable years helped me to gain relationship-building skills that I continue to apply daily, nearly three decades later. Today I work in the field of organization development. In my role as OD Director, I help teams and individuals perform effectively by conducting assessments and designing interventions, and listening skills are crucial to my success.
After years of personal and professional reflection, I’ve come to realize that the skills I acquired while slinging fried chicken as a teen, I continue to exercise today.
Here are some of them:
1. Be in the moment
KFC was a hectic place. A bell fastened to the entrance door would chime as it opened. This was my cue to straighten my brown, polyester cap, force a smile and proclaim, “Welcome to Kentucky Fried Chicken!” Regardless of the constant flood of customers, I learned to stay focused on the customer before me.
Today, I juggle multiple projects, priorities, and key relationships. Instead of getting lost in the chaos of a jammed work week, honing in on a single task at a time is essential to my overall effectiveness in the workplace.
Working as a cashier at a busy fast-food restaurant meant communicating effectively. Each order needed to be understood so that I could repeat verbatim to the “Packer” behind me. The Packer ensured that each three-piece, all-white original recipe combo was right, without any rogue “dark meat” mixing into an order.
I’ve worked mostly in matrixed environments that require collaboration and the ability to influence others. It is imperative that I listen closely to fully understand colleagues and internal clients. I zero in on a conversation and not let my thoughts wander. This helps me to fully understand the other person, which helps nurture a strong working relationship.
3. Never assume the conversation is over
At KFC, it was company policy that every cashier utter the question, “Would you like anything else with that?” before closing out an order. During cashier duty, I sometimes received a creepy reply to this management-enforced line. But most of the time, customers appreciated the question, often ordering an extra sweet potato pie.
In work environments, we often try hard to prove our worth and quickly establish credibility. As a result of acting hastily, we may prematurely move toward action. When interacting with colleagues, I found it’s helpful to ask questions. Picking the brain of a colleague often opens a deeper level of dialogue and personal understanding.
Whether receiving a family value meal order to-go or interacting with a single peer at work, I’ve learned that people ultimately want to be understood and appreciated. And when looking back at my humble beginnings, it’s the simplest learned lessons that are still the most impactful.
Yon Na is a leadership and organization development professional with 20 years of corporate experience. She has worked with some of the most admired companies on the planet: Warner Bros. Entertainment, The New York Times, Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson. As a leadership development professional, Yon has helped hundreds of individuals fine-tune their unique talents through coaching and facilitating workshops. To learn more, please visit https://yonnaphd.com