It struck me as odd at the time. I was heading into work for the lunch shift, and the busboy was walking the other direction. But that really wasn’t the odd part. The odd part was that our new manager was following directly behind him.
“I was just kidding,” said the new manager.
I have seen enough interpersonal fights up close to know the telltale signs. One doesn’t bartend for long before one realizes that interjecting oneself into an argument is a great way to get two people to agree. To agree that they mutually don’t like you!
There’s an adage that domestic disputes are the most dangerous police call to go on. I don’t know the science behind that, but I do know from personal experience that a fighting couple will turn on anyone who attempts to interfere, be they a friend, a cop, or a bartender.
This particular sidewalk relationship drama had to do with a different dynamic: employer/employee. But the emotions involved were just as dramatic. The song “You can take this job and shove it” wasn’t a #1 country hit for nothing. And here it was playing out on a little cement overpass over a suburban creek.
Just like behind the bar, I pretended not to see what was happening. It can be comical to realize that people will only whisper if you are looking at them. They seem to not realize that if they can hear you, then you can hear them, even if you are looking in the other direction. Many a time I have turned my back to ring in an item on the register only to hear a comment while I am looking the other way. Just FYI, my ears are exactly the same distance from you when I am facing the other direction as they were when I was looking directly at you.
“You don’t have to set all the tables,” pleaded the manager, his arms reaching out like a jilted lover.
“I’ll do it! I’ll set up table 84 myself,” continued the manager.
The busboy pulled away physically from the psychology involved. Words like actions, can have physical consequences.
“I will buy your lunch!”
An aloof stare.
“You can go home early!”
A look away.
“I will do all your side work!”
The busboy slowed down. Having seen many interpersonal interactions, I knew the pleas were having the desired effect. In other words, it was working.
“I mean, I’ll get Sam to do it,” corrected the manager.
Funny how promises made in the heat of the moment get diluted the minute that moment cools down.
“Come on now, I said I was sorry. It won’t happen again.”
I have also seen enough interactions to know when someone doesn’t actually mean what they are saying. It can be pretty obvious to an outside observer when someone else is being manipulated. Odd that from the inside it can be so much harder to tell.
Apparently when one has pissed off the only guy who knows how to do his job and the thought of doing it yourself – and poorly at that – is staring you in the face, one might make some compromises.
The little tableau had played itself out on that little walking bridge and now the participants were walking together back towards the restaurant and I was following behind them awkwardly.
Sometimes in the restaraunt business, the focus of energy doesn’t go towards the actual problem. It goes away from it. Ask anybody in the business how many meetings they have sat through about behavioral problems or policy standards, where the biggest problem in either category doesn’t even show up. The stellar employee gets a lecture about trivialities while the waiter who nodded off during a meeting doesn’t even get a talking to.
“I’m sorry I asked you to do extra side work,” said that manager, literally hugging that busboy.
“We are down two people,” replied the busboy uttering the first words I had heard him say.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m sorry,” said the manager. “Just let’s get through this lunch.”
After that lunch there was an entirely different type of argument. First about an employee meal, then about side work, then about leaving early.
Leaving me with these thoughts:
-The following week we had a different busboy. And the week after that another one. Then another, and another, until finally we had no busboy at all.
-People don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad bosses.
-That manager also sent home our best server once for wearing navy blue socks instead of black ones. I say once because that waiter never returned.
-Seek out the people who value you, in both business and in personal relationships, and then make sure that you then value them too.