Sitting near the back of the bus, I had a clear view of the girl, as she sat at the front. Her face was as busy as it gets, as she thought through various possibilities, reactions, memories and events. It was hard not to smile. She was doing what I do – her mind was processing at a mile a minute and the results were clear on her face, as she frowned, smiled slightly, turned her eyebrows into questions.
It was disappointing to see her get off of the bus early. I would have loved to have had a chance to chat with her.
The ability to read people is both a blessing and a curse.
The curse involves knowing all the possible responses to a suggestion or idea ahead of time, and knowing that you have to incorporate all that knowledge to mitigate those responses. It’s trying, and tiresome. Once you read someone, you can’t unread them. It doesn’t work that way.
You have an idea for a project, but it’s going to cost money. The people you have to sell this to are your colleagues. People you’ve read over the last few months. So you know going into it that Alex won’t commit unless he knows every last little detail. He is uncomfortable with surprises, and is the one person in the group who is least risk-tolerant.
Jamie will enthusiastically endorse your idea, until someone else disagrees, and then she’ll back down and reconsider. She just wants to be loved, validated. She’s protective of her self-esteem that way.
Eric will reserve judgement until upper management has spoken, and then he’ll go for whatever they think. If they approve, then he’ll approve and he’ll step in, willing to lend a hand to make it a success. If they don’t approve, he’ll provide a white paper, outlining the pros and cons – while making sure the latter outweigh the former – and then conclude it was a great idea, but not to be. Eric is upwardly mobile. His agenda isn’t yours. It’s not even his bosses’ agenda. He only knows one word: up.
Pamela is there to work. And anything that can make the job easier or more fun is something she’ll get on board with. She has no room for boring people, or people who will bog down the process. She and Alex are passive-aggressive mortal enemies. She’s also your best supporter.
So you have to form your idea carefully, making sure there’s something in there that will cater to all personalities. You believe in your idea, so you’re willing to spend the effort. You don’t have all the details but you bow to Jim’s need by offering to set up a working group to iron out the nitty-gritty stuff. You ignore Jamie for the moment. You make sure your idea has enough buzzwords to satisfy management (thereby satisfying Eric) and you bring Pamela onside as a co-sponsor. And you do this in a short meeting so that she won’t lose interest too quickly.
It’s a tough deal, but fun once you understand it.
The blessing is that you get an instinct for what will resonate with people in real life (in the blogging world, not so much). You know what that girl you’re into really likes, and you find inventive ways to show her your appreciation. And then she rewards you in a brilliant way.
It’s an ability, this being able to read people, that you know can be misused. It can be used to manipulate, and you’re so completely aware of this that you take steps to be as transparent and as sincere as you can be. After all, you have to look at yourself in the mirror every day.
Sometimes, the gift can make you a little crazy.
Like the other day, when I read an email response from someone on Craigslist who wanted to buy my e-reader. We had dickered back and forth, finally agreeing on a price. In one of her emails, she had said “but I can buy it quickly, and take it off of your hands” – a ploy she used to ask me to lower the price. Or so I thought.
Once we agreed, she replied back “Ok I shall ask a friend of mine to meet you at a coffee shop. He’ll be wearing an old black cap”.
No one in Canada uses “shall” unless they’re old-school British patriots. So I made the (correct) assumption that for this person, English was not her first language.
I replied back. “Ok done deal. What’s your friend’s first name?” I really didn’t want to go with “hey you”. And I understand the valid paranoia of the internet, which is why I didn’t ask for his last name.
Her response: “oh you won’t miss him.”
I shrugged. She was paranoid.
Later that day at the coffee shop, an Asian gentleman walked up to me, tentatively, and said “e-book?”
I started to rise from my seat. “Yes. I have it here.”
He said “ok I’ll get the money” and with that he scurried off to another section of the coffee shop.
Then he brought out the cash and quickly laid it all out on the table, instead of into my hand. I started to explain about the attachments, and the website you could go to, to download the software for it, but his nervousness grew. I could tell in reading him that he wasn’t interested in any of the details. He just wanted the transaction over and done with.
“It works, yes?”
I nodded. “It works.”
He nodded, grabbed the e-book reader and scurried away again.
This behaviour puzzled me until later that night, when I finally had my “A-HA!” moment.
He wasn’t being anti-social, and neither was his girlfriend.
They thought they were dealing with a black-market guy; a guy who sold stuff from off the back of his truck; stuff that had fallen off of *other* trucks. He thought the e-book I was selling him was “hot”.
If I wasn’t working for The Family, then maybe I was a narc, and that’s why I wanted the guy’s first name. Start there, and work out exactly who I was dealing with.
It was entertaining, if nothing else.
And in the end, it didn’t matter. He got what he wanted, as did I.