Monday, April 8, 2013

Connecting in casual settings

Every day I'm trying a little harder to connect with people.

Sometimes I visit a local diner to pick up breakfast on my way to work.

The two people I meet most frequently there are the owner/manager, and one of the wait staff. Every time I go it's the same thing. I start with a friendly smile and a simple 'hi, how are you today'. Their response is pretty much the same every time - they cut me off and say, 'yes, what can I get for you' (although it comes out more like 'yeah whad-can-I-get-fur-ya', we are in New Jersey, after all)

So today I tried a different tactic. After I told him what I wanted, I waited a few moments for him to finish his tasks. Then I asked him how he was doing. He said, "Great, how about you" which was the best response I've gotten in three weeks!

I said, "hmm, good, I'm just looking forward to Spring'. His reply? 'It's already here'. I said, "Yes, and I'm waiting for the weather to warm up' and he replied, 'This is the weather we get, not worth complaining about'.

I thought that I should change topics, so I said, "Well this morning I'm just hoping that my car will start when I go outside." I'm thinking about that I'm trying to connect by sharing something personal about myself.

He replied with a solution to my problem. "Car won't start? Dead battery, replace the battery." I said, "Actually I think the battery is fine, it's the connection" and he replied, "Bad connection? Clean it. Baking soda and a toothbrush. Scrub scrub scrub."

I paid my check and left, thinking about the exchange.

It occurrs to me that there are some people who like to complain. They enjoy it, and find such banter light and easy to fall into. It makes them comfortable, and I've had some success with breaking into random conversations with this sort of opener. However, in this case he seemed to resent my (what I thought of as) harmless complaints. We seemed to be almost battling it out with each other - I said "A", he snapped back with "no, B". 

Later, reflecting some more on the conversation I thought about how negative my approach to the conversation was. Every one of my comments was a negative. I was just hitting him, as it were, with bad thoughts and feelings. I realized that I wasn't really feeling so good that morning, it was cold and I hadn't gotten enough sleep the night before. What I had done but laid my bad thoughts all on this poor man who was just trying to earn a living and have a nice day. He didn't want me to ruin his nice morning; and what right did I have to do that? None, I think.

He obviously was comfortable engaging, he had lots of things to say about my 'issues'. The problem seemed to be a combination of my bad comments and his reaction to those comments.


I want to find ways to connect with people, as many people as I can. Even though the 'casual complaint' does seem to work with some I can't assume it will work with everyone. I think it's more important for me to be open to the tone and emotion that a new person is bringing to the table before I choose an approach. I don't need to be positive all the time, just mindful.

Peace y'all



Anonymous said...

You are NOT from New Jersey.

Maybe he didn't really want to know how you are- or being at work, is a little stuck in problem-solving mode, and unable to downshift into pleasant conversation?

-Your Brother

susanthom said...

hi Janet,
i have learned to pretty much tell who wants to be friendly, and who just simply can't wait to get done with their work day, but i continue to be friendly nonetheless-it's me i am responsible for-not them.
this works either in person, or on the phone.
just as you thought you might have reacted because of not getting enough sleep, those who react back in a slightly or mostly negative ay, may not have gotten any sleep at all either, or got into an argument with their partner before work-there's no telling, just a feeling.
My husband and i talk to everyone we come in contact with. ha-i was actually trying to make friends with a huge dog who was barking in the passenger's seat of a truck we were parked next to at home depot yesterday:) i was waiting in the car-no need to walk all around that big store when he was just getting a 5 gallon bucket of paint.
i don't think i made much progress:)
i talk to people in line at stores, those passing by in the aisles, and i always comment on the cuteness of babies i see. i haven't gotten a negative response yet.
don't give up your quest to be a better person because others don't know how to respond-remember, you are trying to be a good and happy person for yourself, first, and your own spiritual growth.
my best to you,

Janet said...

Thanks Sue and Bro.

I continue to see this person regularly, and we've had a few more pleasant casual conversations. I haven't been pushing things with him since - maybe tomorrow!