May 3, 2012

You know, a good friend of mine (who is a waitress, herself) once commented to me that one of the things that separates a good server from a mediocre one is eye contact. Even if you cannot immediately give people what they want, making eye contact, when they are attempting to get your attention, and acknowledging that you see their need, and plan, if not at that second, in the future, to meet that need can go miles. A simple nod, smile, a mouthed “sorry, be right there” will allow people to wait twice as long with half the anxiety and aggression.
And we’ve all been there: at a bar, at a restaurant, desperately trying to get the attention of our server, who, because they are overwhelmed just as desperately avoids eye contact or acknowledgement that you are standing, right there, in front them. Inches away, with an empty glass or an open wallet. Really. It is incredibly frustrating. Especially when you want something small. Do they see me? Do they know I am here? Will I ever get a salt shaker? A refill. How do I just get the check?

There is an escalation of anxiety when our requests are met with a black hole. this is not just confined to our dining experience. We’ve all been on hold for an unreasonable amount of time. Or sent out a bunch of emails to complete to utter silence. And a simple “Sorry, I know you are on hold, but can you wait a bit longer” would totally suffice. Or an acknowledgment email “I got your message, I don’t know the answer, but I will in the future” makes you feel a little like an ass and a nag.

So we are addressing courtesy right? Put very simple: Pretending people don’t have needs in your daily interactions does not make them go away. It isn’t just rude, it is essentially dishonest.
Even more to the point, ignoring people can create greater need.  So just don’t do it.

But it is more than that, of course. In general, pretending another’s needs do not exist because you are not prepared to meet them never turns out well. Not in a restaurant, not in office, and not in a relationship. You can stall, you can placate, and you can even very much not deliver, but you must acknowledge if you do not want to de-validate.

I think we live in a very nervous and callous world that is quickly losing not just its manners, but also its consideration. A certain laissez fair attitude combined with an expectation of intense independence allows us to not just ignore others but blame them for needing and wanting in the first place.  A fear that our needs may not be met allows us to de-prioritize to such an extent that we sometimes force them off our radar, into the static, behind our backs, inaudible over the fingers in our ears and the la la la.

And while it is very true that you can’t always get what you want, it is incredibly powerful to have that want acknowledged and even, sometimes, validated.  Sometimes, actually, that is what the real need was, anyway.

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