Can You Talk Your Way Out Of A Scary Situation?
Happy Halloween! How do you accept the unacceptable? Seems appropriate to write today about a time I got scared and how it taught me the power of words in the art of persuasion.
This story is about an elderly friend of mine, we’ll call him Max. He’s a wonderful gentleman, a perfect gentleman, really. He’s not very tall, fairly thin, and very old. He wears glasses that seem a bit large for his face, with thick rims that make his eyes look like TV screens. His hair has thinned quite a bit. He’s fond of checked pants and striped shirts as a style choice. He’s the kind of person that when you see him, you want to hug him. He’s got a big, almost goofy, smile, and even at an advanced age, he has a remarkable spring in his step. Now this story takes place some years ago. He was younger, but even then he looked older to me.
Max was unable to make ends meet on his fixed income. This forced him out of retirement, and into a job. The only job he could find at that time was at a fast food place. He took orders, called out numbers, and made people feel welcome.
Now I confess that when I heard he had to go back to work, somehow that offended me. Here we are in the wealthiest nation in the world, and my elderly friend, who paid his dues to society, served in the military, had a productive career, all of that, and he can’t enjoy the latter years of his life because of money? How’s that make sense? But such is life. My heart went out to him, and when he told me where he worked, I decided to go there on his first day and surprise him, let him know he was loved, and offer some moral support to him. He didn’t ask for this, but I felt moved to do it.
It was about 11:10 in the morning. When I got there, he was behind the counter taking an order. He saw me and smiled that smile, gestured to me to hang on a second, finished the order and then asked, “What are you doing here?” I told him my reasons, and he laughed. “You forget one thing, my friend.” “What’s that?” I asked. “I have to work.”
Oh heck, he was right. I felt embarrassed now, and he felt bad for me But he quickly offered me some comfort. “I have a break in just a little while. Have a seat at that table over by the door, and I’ll come sit with you on my break.”
I headed over to that table, took a seat and waited a while. And as I waited, I watched the customers come and go. One customer was supersized. Big in every dimension, and about 6’13” to boot. He was scary looking, tattoos on his head, tattoos on his face, heck, tattoos on his tattoos! Now for some reason, this big scary looking guy was unhappy with his happy meal. And of all the people he could take this out on, he chose my friend, Max. Frail, small, elderly Max.
This guy got up in Max’s grill, in his face, nose to nose, jabbing his finger at him, gesturing wildly, and talking loudly enough you could hear him in a stadium. And part of me wanted to rush to my friend’s defense. Part of me wanted to get between them, separate them, and tell that guy, “Hey, you, yeah you pal. BACK OFF!” Most of me remained seated, wishing my wife, who knows a bit about martial arts, had come with me.
But Max didn’t need my help. He had this totally under control. The whole time that guy was making a scene, Max just stood there, acted like he was dealing with someone reasonable, nodded his head in understanding, and basically let the guy vent. Eventually the big guy ran out of awful things to say. And in that first moment of quiet, Max said these words.
“Thank you, young man, for being honest with me about how you feel.” Then he just stood there, looking sympathetic.
The clock on the wall stopped ticking. My heart skipped a beat. The whole world slowed to a crawl, and I watched that guy’s face as he wrestled with the moment. Then, as everything returned to normal speed, the guy backed out of the restaurant, looking, I might add, extremely paranoid. I watched Max wave goodbye, and then Max came over and sat down with me. He was as cool as a cucumber. I, on the other hand, was shaken, not stirred.
“How did you stay so calm?” I barely managed to get the words out. And Max just chuckled, as a smile spread across his wisened face. He said, “You know Ricky, I just told myself that that young man was doing the best he could with the limited resources he had on board.”
So I guess that guy wasn’t so scary after all! Have a happy halloween, a great weekend, and remember to vote for the least scary future!
Rick is a best selling author and the founder of the Art of Change Skills for Life. His book titles include, Dealing with People You Can’t Stand: How to bring out the best in people at their worst, Life by Design and Influence and the Art of Persuasion. These days he is spending quality time away from the spotlight enjoying the company of his wife and practicing his electric guitar.