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How do you treat your waiter?


One of the great things about this job is that I get to meet and work with lots of people – I must have met and trained thousands – and a couple of workshops over the last couple of weeks have reminded me of the best and the worst aspects of working with people.

The measure of someone’s character is how they treat people they don’t “have” to be polite to. Watching the way someone speaks to a waiter or a cleaner can give you quite an insight into the way they think. Those who speak pleasantly to them tend to be good people; those who are rude and dismissive tend to have a fixed hierarchy in their minds and the way they behave will depend on where others fit into that hierarchy – nice to the people above, nasty to the people below. This isn’t a class thing and I don’t mean to be condescending by mentioning waiters and cleaners because I include trainers/facilitators in that group, too.

Most delegates understand I have a job to do and they cheerfully co-operate. A significant minority really throw themselves into the workshop and everyone in the group benefits from their attitude. They’re the people who make my job an absolute pleasure – they ask questions, they contribute examples, they engage with the material. Over the last few weeks, I’ve had a couple of groups from one particular organisation who have all been like that – I was genuinely sorry to leave because we’d had so much fun together. They were brilliant and I wish I could name the organisation because they’re clearly doing a wonderful job.

A minority of delegates, however, take a different approach and I had one of those groups recently, too, from a different organisation. They thought it was okay to be rude, arrogant and obnoxious. They didn’t want to be in the room and weren’t shy about showing it; for some reason, they thought I was responsible for forcing them to be on the workshop and so took it out on me, in the same way that some diners take out their frustration with their food on waiters.

I’m not complaining about delegates; that would be like a sailor complaining about the sea. Someone told me, early in my training career, that my two duties were to love my delegates and to serve the course objectives and I’ve tried to stick to that. I love meeting people in this way and, as I said, the vast majority are lovely.

When I was a teenager, I went on a school trip to the local theatre to see a production of King Lear. Being teenagers, we were undisciplined and noisy and at one point, the actors onstage stopped the performance and addressed us directly, basically asking us to shut up or leave. That was thirty years ago and I’ve never forgotten the shock of realising that the theatre wasn’t like TV – the actors were real people who could see and hear me and who had feelings about what I did. It’s the same with some delegates; I’m sure they think that we can’t see them reading newspapers, checking emails or sending texts, yawning, looking out the window or picking their nose at the back of the room (yes, honestly).

So the next time you’re on a course or a workshop, spare a thought for the man or woman at the front. If you don’t want to be there, take some responsibility and do something about it but remember: we’re not the ones forcing you to be there and we have feelings too. You don’t have to be pleasant to us and it says something quite fundamental about you if you’re not.

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