It’s something that virtually all humans have experienced in our lives, especially those who work in guest-facing jobs in the hospitality industry when we make an authentic, personalized, and heartfelt connection with another human. For me, it seems to happen more often with strangers, rather than with loved ones we routinely see.
It is a mutually experienced feeling, felt across cultures, nationalities and languages. There is even a common gesture that humans around the globe use when the feeling arises, which is raising the right hand and placing it over the heart.
Recently while preparing for a conference keynote presentation, it occurred to me that perhaps there is a word for this feeling, whether in English or perhaps in some other language. So, I asked Google: “What in the name of that warm, fuzzy feeling in our hearts when we connect with others?” Sure enough, my search yielded the result I was looking for.
While we in Western Cultures apparently don’t have a word for this feeling, one can be found in the ancient Sanskrit language. The word is kama muta, which means “being moved by love.” It is written in as प्रेम्णा प्रेरितम् As I understand, Sanskrit is believed by many to be the oldest language in the world, dating back 3,500 or more years.
How amazing to consider that this uniquely human feeling has endured as long as the Pyramids of Egypt and Central America. Across the imaginary, man-made borders of country, despite language differences, regardless of cultural norms, it is a mutually experienced feeling we all still share today.
My earliest memory of this feeling is from childhood when a distant relative would come to visit and shower me with attention and compliments. I remember asking my mom what the feeling in my chest was. Having started in customer service at age 9, when my mom opened a small retail store known as the Kennedy Craft Shop, I remember having this feeling when customers thanked me profusely after I helped them find the exact supplies they needed for their holiday or gift project.
I experienced it while chatting up strangers as a bellman, while welcoming guests across a front desk, and even during conversations I had while working in reservations and hotel sales.
These days I get to experience Kama Muta almost weekly while conducting our KTN hospitality and sales training workshops. It usually happens during the part of our classes where we ask participants to share stories about when they had to go above and beyond to meet a guest’s special needs, or at the end of the day when I say my goodbyes to those participants whom I’ve especially connected with.
Now, as implied by the headline, I definitely do think that you can train your staff to initiate a mutual experience of Kama Muta. I know that many of my best clients tell me they firmly believe you cannot “train” someone to deliver hospitality, and to some extent, I agree.
Certainly, there are humans who fully embody the spirit of hospitality. Today social scientists call this Emotional Intelligence. In my personal life, I’ve met many people on both sides of the spectrum. On one side are those who have high emotional intelligence, who can easily identify emotional cues, lift everyone’s spirits, and bring out the best in others. On the other side, there are those who have virtually no people skills and seem to completely lack empathy, and perhaps those at the extreme of this side truly cannot deliver hospitality experiences.
But in the middle lies the rest of the human race, and when it comes to those, I definitely think that you can “train” the spirit of hospitality, although a better word is to “nurture” it.
As a hospitality leader, encourage your staff to better-understand the diversity of human travel experiences being lived out every day on the other side of the front desk, guest room door, on the receiving end of the phone call or chat exchange, or across the bar or restaurant table. Very often those who work the frontline jobs in hotels have very little experience staying in them. They may view travel as being fun, glamorous, and exciting. Their personal hotel experiences may be limited to family vacations or traveling to attend weddings and events.
If you’ve not experienced the loneliness of being a business traveler who is missing a child’s milestone birthday, yearning for home, or longing for the sad eyes of your loyal dog, it’s hard to understand why guests may seem cold, detached, and unresponsive to our gestures.
If you’ve not been the parent who has taken a long drive with a car full of young kids shouting “He’s touching me!” or “She’s doing it AGAIN!” or “There’s NO Internet here,” then it’s hard to understand why mom and dad are so cranky upon arrival. If you’ve never stayed in a hotel near a hospital while attending to a family member, or near a funeral home attending (or planning) services, you may wonder why guests seem so distant and distraught. If you’ve never experienced flight delays, lost luggage, bad rideshare drivers, and annoying seatmates, you may just see a frustrated, upset guest, or cranky guest.
By talking about the stories such as these that play out every day in your lobbies and guest rooms, you can help even the most hardened hearts sprout the seeds of empathy. If you take the time to water and fertilize those seeds, they can create cracks in a cold heart to the point that it begins to emit the hospitality vibe residing deeply inside.
The more we as leaders remind our frontline staff that the person on the other side is someone’s mother or father, someone’s brother or sister, someone’s son or daughter, or someone’s special someone, the more often the feeling of Kama Muta will occur naturally in our lobbies, restaurants, guest corridors, and even the locker rooms and back hallways.