Ryan Harris talks about kindness.

How Do You Treat Your Garbage Collector?

It’s easy to give a gift to your boss or someone you’ve signed a business contract with, but what about the person who’s helping you through it all, regardless of your success or failure? What about your assistant, mail carrier, receptionist, yoga instructor, or the garbage collector you see every week?

One of my favorite coaches, Coach Willingham, always said to the team, “be kind to the people who serve you your food; they could pee in your food.” What he was getting at was to be nice to the people around you, especially the ones that you count on but whom you may not consider a part of your regular social circles.

Your garbage collector is a perfect example: Do you know the person you depend on to clear out all your crap, every single week? If they didn’t do it, you would be miserable. So how do you treat them? Do you know their name, or what is important to them?

The first holiday season after my wife and I moved into our new house, we wanted to give something to the person who literally collects our garbage. As we gave him a small thank-you gift—I kid you not—tears were forming in his eyes as he said “thank you.” We were amazed because we were being kind just once, while he’s kind to us every single week, and he doesn’t ask for anything.


To this day, we include our garbage collector in our holiday giving. And without it being his job, he walks our garbage can up our driveway. Every week.

1. Build a Community of Trust Wherever You Go

Are you conscious of those people around you whom you depend on? It’s amazing what happens when you build relationships with these everyday folks, especially those who aren’t typically appreciated. This action can return greater results than you would ever aim for.

How does this work? When you go beyond and appreciate someone who least expects it, you build trust and familiarity. You create a sense of community, which gives everyone a sense of connection and satisfaction.

Community is important to us as human beings and for enjoyment in our daily lives. Seriously, google “social learning.” Some of my favorite things to do are related to communities I belong to. I’m a part of the Notre Dame community. I’m a part of the Denver community. Everything from my favorite workout classes to my workplace are communities.

Everyone in these places—everyone—is part of that community. Get to know them.

The year we won the Super Bowl, Coach Kubiak would say almost daily, “It’s going to take everybody for us to win.” That’s why every player, every front office worker, and every member of the organization gets Super Bowl rings. It takes everybody. Plus, your kindness and recognition of your team will come back to you generously. In ways you might not expect.

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2. Spread Kindness at Work

There I was, standing in front of one of the legendary Colorado Rockies baseball players, Carlos Gonzalez, introducing myself and thinking, “How the hell did I get here?” I was able to land an awesome interview because I’d built a relationship with a sports reporter who had written about the Broncos when I was in the NFL.

Back then, I treated this Broncos reporter with respect and kindness, as an important person and a member of the Broncos community. We found out we both loved baseball, so we would talk baseball. Turns out, he’s also written about the Rockies for 15 years and has built relationships with all the players. He knew the ropes, and he walked me in to meet Carlos.

I was a new broadcaster who had never been in a baseball locker room. I didn’t know the rules, the procedures, or what we as press can and can’t do in the clubhouse. Instead of just standing there feeling awkward, unsure of what to do, I had a guide. He introduced me to key people who will give me great content for my radio show.

He didn’t have to do that. He did it because he wanted to. Back at the Broncos, if I’d been rude to him, taken him for granted, ignored him, or treated him as unimportant, who knows what would have happened later.

At this point in my life, I believe relationships where you spread kindness are more valuable than any results you may have in relationships you build “strategically.”


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Spread kindness around without expecting anything back. Strike up a conversation. Help someone. Be nice. Then see what happens.

3. Reach Beyond Your Everyday Interactions

When we gave our thank-you gift to our garbage man, that was outside of our normal interaction with him. Usually we leave our cans out for him to magically take away, almost never seeing him. Outside of your everyday interactions is where the magic starts.

Every year when I joined a new team or when I played next to a new teammate—I’d connect with them outside of work. At the NFL facility, I was locked into my work. I was focused on my goals, training, and how I could contribute. But I needed to build rapport with the new team or player. So we would head out another time for golf, bowling, or dinner.

The best teams I was on had dinner with each other weekly. Coincidence?

When you connect outside of work, outside your usual interaction, you increase the value of the relationship you’re building. First, you show that you care about a person as a person—beyond what they can do for you. That’s key to genuine relationships.

Second, you get a better sense of who they are. I’m very different in my spare time than I am at work. You too are probably more relaxed and open, more into your hobbies and interests.

Ironically, in the end, outside of work you get a fuller sense of what you two can accomplish together at work. And you add value and depth to your relationship. Whether you buy someone a cup of coffee or give a heartfelt thank-you card, when you go beyond your usual interaction, people go beyond their thoughts about you, and go beyond the norm for you later too.

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When people feel they have a genuine relationship with you, they often go above and beyond. Yet people will rarely act first to help others they lack that personal connection with.

But you can, now that you’re thinking about it. You can reach out right now and start the first act of kindness.

Say hello, smile, ask a question, give a high-five, offer help. Build community and enjoy the benefits.