It was a hot day around the end of August and I had just returned to work to complete the second half of a double shift. I always find that I feel a lot more refreshed and prepared when I come back for doubles. The first half of the shift wakes me up and gets me into the groove of things and the break in between allows me to rest and recharge my batteries. Today was slightly different. I may have been tired or just not in the zone, but for some reason, today was just different. I walked down the stairs and through the restaurant doors. It was super busy already and that caused me to get into my head a little bit. My coworker was rushing to keep up, so we weren’t able to come up with a proper plan or organize ourselves as well as I would have liked to. I ultimately decided to just start taking tables. I figured I’d just figure it out and organize myself more as the shift went on. A gentleman walked in and sat down. I didn’t see him initially because I was busy helping other people and trying to make sure that everybody got adequate and equal attention. He also kind of sat off to the side where hardly anybody sits. I guess it must have seemed like he was being ignored from his point of view despite that not being the case. I was super behind and asked my coworker to take the table after I saw him, so I could catch up, but she was behind too. The man tried to flag me down a couple times as I walked by, helping other people. I stopped and told him that I’d be right over to help him and apologized for the wait. I asked my coworker if she could help him, so she took his drink order and then passed it onto me. I went to the bar, picked up his drink and went to go deliver it to him. I already knew he’d be mad going into this, but I wasn’t expecting him to make too big of a deal about it because I figured that he must have seen how busy it was. I get to his table and drop off his drink, apologize for the wait and am about to leave, when he calls me back over. I walk back over to his table and he gestures for me to come closer. I lean forward a bit, so that I’d be able to hear him properly. I was prepared for a few light complaints at this time and was already prepared to apologize and explain how we were busy and how I was sorry that he had to wait when my train of thought was unexpectedly interrupted by his angry words. “Do we have a problem?” He angrily asked me. “What do you mean?” I ask. I knew full well what he meant, but I also knew that he had made his mind up at this point and that my response ultimately wouldn’t matter. I didn’t have a problem with him, but that seemed to be what he believed in the moment. “No?” I respond in a polite, but inquisitive tone to prevent the situation from escalating while also allowing him to elaborate on how I already knew he was feeling. “Do you and I have a problem?” He asks again more angrily and I could see the anger and frustration in his eyes. I could sense that he was trying to get a reaction out of me at this point. “No, we don’t have a problem, sir. What makes you ask that?” I politely ask despite already knowing the answer. “I’ve been sitting here for a while and it took ten minutes for me to even be able to put in my beer order…” He explains. I once again apologized and explained how I didn’t have a problem with him and how he only had to wait because it was busy and none of it was intentional or directed against him. “No, I think you and I have a problem” He said in a still angry voice. At this point I was also starting to get annoyed because I wasn’t able to get through to him no matter how much logic and reasoning I threw at him. His mind was made up and there was nothing I could do about it and this pointless argument was not only slowing down how long it would take him to get HIS food, but how long it would take everyone else to get THEIR food too.
I had two choices; I could argue with him and try to prove my point, or I could let him believe that he was right and then slowly defuse the situation and maybe end up with a favourable outcome. He complained a bit longer and then paused and I used this short time to get his order. Now that I had his order, I told him I’d be right back. As I walked to the computer to put his order in, my coworker saw the stressed look on my face and instantly knew what had angered me. I explained the situation to her and then decided to challenge myself. I don’t come to work to argue with people or to prove that I’m right or that anybody else is wrong. I come to work to earn money and to provide people with an enjoyable experience. Why did the fact that we had a simple misunderstanding about something small and trivial have to change that? I decided to challenge myself to still somehow have this guy walk out happy despite the fact that he was so convinced that I had a personal problem with him.
The Angel and Devil on your shoulders
We’ve all seen the cartoons where an angel and the Devil appear on the main character’s shoulders when they have to make big decisions. The Devil tries to make them choose the bad, evil option and the angel tries to make them choose the just and righteous option. We can metaphorically view our egos the same way. Your ego is like that one friend in your group who talks the most trash, but runs the fastest when shit finally hits the fan and they’re forced to put their money where their mouth is. Imagine your ego and everyone else’s ego’s as little invisible creatures that ride on one of your shoulders. Everyone else also carries their egos around on their shoulders. Although you can’t see them, they constantly whisper toxic things into your ear and try to create problems and conflict with other people’s egos. Everyone has an ego that rides on one of their shoulders, but they can only directly communicate with their host and the egos of other people around them. They can’t directly talk to other people. They whisper nasty things into your ears to make YOU do that for them. It’s almost like they’re in contact conflict with the egos of everyone else. These nasty creatures go everywhere with you and wreak havoc and get you into trouble. The only problem is that they get you into trouble and then hide when it gets serious. Just like that annoying guy with a big mouth that everyone knows.
Let’s look at an example; Imagine two guys bump into each other while rushing through a crowded subway station because one of them was texting. The guy who wasn’t watching where he was going apologizes because it was his fault and he knows it. He shouldn’t have been looking at his phone and should have been paying attention to where he was walking. The other guy’s ego sees this and feels wronged. The actual guy isn’t phased and is perfectly content with walking away when his ego starts doing what egos do best… getting us into unwanted trouble. It immediately starts whispering toxic, negative things into his host’s ear. “Don’t let that guy do that to you! Confront him! Push him back, don’t be a pushover! You got dis, bro! If he swings, I swear I got your back”. The host mistakes this for his inner dialogue and his own thoughts and before he knows it…. “Watch where you’re going, bitch” slips out of his mouth. The other guy who had originally planned to just apologize and go about his day is now caught off guard. HIS ego now starts whispering into his ear telling him not to take it and to stand and fight. Both guys listen to their egos. Their nagging and constant badgering are overwhelming and a fight breaks out. Where were their egos during the fight? On the sidelines telling their respective hosts to kick the other’s ass while conveniently not actually joining the fight that THEY had caused. Neither of these guys woke up that morning with the intention of fighting a random stranger in the subway station and probably getting arrested, but their egos, on the other hand, did wake up with malicious plans and unfortunately, these two guys weren’t strong enough to ignore their egos and allow their rationale and logic to lead them away from the fight. This is why so many fights and arguments happen. Neither party actually wants trouble, but their egos convince them that walking away would mean that they’ve somehow gotten slighted or wronged and that fighting or arguing more would be the more noble decision when we all know it isn’t. Think back to the last emotionally draining argument you had. Were you content with how the argument ended? If you listen closely, you can probably hear your ego telling you how IT thinks the argument should have gone.
The unexpected nose kiss
It was a sweaty, but buzzin’ night at a nightclub in 2014 and my buddy had just left to go to the washroom. I took out my phone and texted while I waited for him to return. As I waited, a random girl approached me with her friend and began flirting with me. I flirted back a little until a random and visibly drunk guy approached me and started getting in my face. I was super confused because I hadn’t done anything. “You’re talking to my girlfriend, eh bud?” He said to me in a super aggressive tone. It is NEVER my intention to fight and I don’t feel weak for walking a way, so despite my ego whispering into my ear that I needed to be super aggressive back to him, I ignored it and quickly tried to figure out a way to defuse the situation. “She came up to me, bro”. I said in a neutral tone while still standing my ground. I honestly can’t remember what he said next, but he was clearly trying to get a reaction out of me and also to intimidate me. I remembered that I’d actually recently seen a video on how to defuse situations like this. The guy in the video claimed that if you just match the other person’s energy, you can defuse it and walk away. According to the video, if I reacted more aggressively than this guy, especially in front of his girlfriend and the others around us, his ego would be bruised which would probably result in him trying to fight me to build it back up. Conversely, if I got on my knees and begged for forgiveness, that might also trigger a fight because that would stroke his ego and make him want to fight me because it would make him feel more powerful. This is going to sound very unconventional and I’m in no way promising that this will always work ( I was just going off of what the video said anyway), but I reached out and gave him my hand and introduced myself. He accepted the hand shake, but tried to squeeze my hand while staring me down. I squeezed his hand back as hard as he was squeezing mine while maintaining eye contact because according to the video, matching his energy would allow him to eventually be able to walk away without bruising or stroking his ego which would be the ideal outcome for both of us. He kept mumbling things about how I shouldn’t have talked to his girlfriend and I just kept calmly explaining how it was SHE who approached me. We’d been shaking hands at this point for at least 15 seconds and it seemed like it was going to crescendo when he leaned forward and I braced myself for him to swing or whatever he was about to do. He leaned forward and did that thing that some Inuit people do where they rub noses. He then walked away. I was both shocked that that’s how the interaction ended and happy that it didn’t turn into a fight. My buddy walked over right after all of this had ended and asked what happened after the guy and girls had left. “That… random stranger… just nose kissed me”. I explained.
That guy was drunk and obviously listening to what his ego was whispering into his ear. I, on the other hand was luckily not listening to what my ego was trying to get me to do. It tried to make me feel like I needed to be tough and that walking away would be weak. I ignored it and thanks to that, I was able to enjoy the rest of my night and didn’t get kicked out over a stupid, pointless fight over a misunderstanding.
But wait… What does any of this have to do with what was happening in the restaurant?
My ego was telling me to continue arguing with that guy and that guy’s ego was telling him that I had a problem with him and that he should keep arguing with me. I’m not going to lie, I did want to argue back, but that wouldn’t have gotten either of us anywhere. It would have ruined his meal and it would’ve created more problems for me. My ego wanted me to win this battle(The argument), but I wanted to win the war(Have the man leave happy). I ultimately brought the man his food and treated him nicely despite the fact that he kind of still seemed mad and like he wanted to get a reaction out of me. I continued serving and checking in with other guests. The night slowed down and I noticed that the man’s mood improved as the night went on. I’ve learned over the years that the root of people’s anger towards others doesn’t necessarily directly involve the people that they’re angry at. Anything could have happened to that man that day. He may have been in a bad mood before he even entered the restaurant. I checked on him as he ate, but didn’t talk to him more than I had to. I figured that that would allow him to work through and deal with what ever external or internal forces were angering him and to calm down.
It worked, I came back to check on him towards the end of his meal and noticed that he was reading the writing on the table cover which talks about first nation’s history. We started talking about that in greater detail. We started connecting on history and talking. I began to enjoy the conversation and so did he. His whole demeanour had changed. We went from what seemed like the brink of him yelling at me, to now talking on a very friendly level. I had some downtime, so I talked to him a bit more and apologized about the misunderstanding from earlier and repeated that I was sorry that he had to wait and that he thought it was personal. “No no, these things happen. No worries, it was just a misunderstanding and I see that now”. He said.
He eventually asked for his bill and paid. We shook hands and I wished him a safe return from his trip and he also wished me a good trip. When I went to go input the amounts on the receipt into the computer, I noticed that he’d tipped quite a bit more than average. I was very surprised. The tip wasn’t the important thing here. It was a bonus, but I mostly wanted to see if I could turn the interaction around and end up with a positive outcome.
I lost the battle, but won the war
Although one could argue that I lost the initial battle ( The initial argument), I still won the war in the end! (The interaction ended positively). Winning the war and getting a positive outcome is all that matters at the end of the day and I know that it’s easier said than done. Your ego will try to steer you off the highway and in the wrong direction. Don’t listen to it! It wants to see you mess up. If I had listened to my ego, I would’ve just argued with that man for no reason and nobody would have left the interaction happy. I would’ve been stressed and the man would have probably just left even more angry than when he had originally walked in. Who wins in that situation? Nobody! Next time you’re preparing for battle, just ask yourself; “Do I want to just win this battle or do I want to win the war?” I think you know what the answer to that question is!