I often do some writing and editing at several local coffee shops. There is something about the energy I get from being around other people, mostly strangers, that draws words out of me.
Most of my visits to those diner-style coffee shops are uneventful. Some, more eventful. Others, very profound. (Even if only in a subtle way)
Two days ago, I stopped by my favorite local haunt to spend an hour editing the final draft of my new book, read a bit, and get a few cups of java down in me. The place was nearly empty when I arrived. After 30 minutes, I was the only customer there.
As I edited, I heard the shift manager complaining to the cook about the state of some other employees who call in often, are late, or just no-call/no-shows. The two men commiserated a bit as they swept the floor, rolled utensils tightly in paper napkins, and did other tasks. Also, the manager called some servers on the phone in an attempt to shore-up the schedule for the rest of the week. He was only partially successful it seemed.
Then, a young (maybe 16 or 17 year old) waitress showed up. As she was walking in, the manager met her at the door, motioning with his arms in an “I don’t need you here” fashion. She walked in anyway, asking what the deal was. He explained that she had called in with only minutes notice a few days prior, put the rest of that day’s workers in a bind, and that he was considering firing her. She attempted to smooth the situation over, but wasn’t successful and left. A few minutes later, she came back in with a middle-aged man and both walked toward the manager. I thought to myself, “This may turn into a blow-out,” and readied my camera phone just in case a video-worthy event took place. I have seen too many things get out of hand over the years and I am a bit edgy when I see people possibly heading toward a serious contention. I figured this guy might be “dad” coming in to straighten the boss out on behalf of his daughter.
The man and the manager started talking about the situation… and I was wonderfully surprised. I am a sucker for civil conversation. I absolutely love engaging in respectful discourse, even if the participants don’t agree on a particular matter. Also, I so rarely observe disagreeing parties in person or on social media who are able to succinctly present their case, hear the other’s, discuss both sides, and then achieve an amicable resolution, respectfully disagree, or agree on something that was previously disagreed on. Beyond that, observing a person change his or her mind on a firmly held position in 2015 is nigh to seeing a unicorn at the park.
Due to my persuasions regarding discourse, I was very happy to observe the manager express his concerns about the server’s performance and reliability in a respectful way and with an even temper. Then, the father-figure apologized for the issues on behalf of the girl. He asked for a second chance for the girl and gave credibility to the manager’s concerns. Also, the girl assured the manager of her commitment to do better and genuinely gave heed to his concerns. After some more conversation and consideration, the manager allowed for a write-up rather than firing. He clearly shared his expectations, which were reasonable, and the consequences present if they were not met. All parties ended the conversation respectfully, amicably, having reached a common position, and asserting a common goal. Not one voice had even been raised through the whole parley. I had to pinch myself.
I know that was a boring, everyday type of story. But, there is a great lesson to be gained. That being, our abilities to deal with other people, have conflicts, argue, discourse, and find common ground (or not) are “everyday” skills. They aren’t just for a college debate class, the board room, marriage counseling, or when some aspect of a relationship breaks down. Those abilities are for the coffee shop, for Facebook threads, for our home, for our friends, and even for our enemies.
Witnessing that interaction between three strangers encouraged me. I personally hope to do as well the next time I have some type of disagreement. Fellow humans, we’ve come a long way. We still have a long way to go. Pass the love on! 🙂
Here is a related TED talk by William Ury that I very much enjoy. If you have a spare 20 minutes, it would be worth your time.