Bubbles atop freshly brewed coffee in a french press. (c) Salimfadhley (CC BY SA 3.0)

Why No One Feels Beholden If You Buy the Coffee

Forrest ChristianOverachievers, Underachievers Leave a Comment

The last time I made a pass at the forthcoming book on how to get your career out of its rut, I took a part-time (36 hr/wk) job at a US retailer of consumer electronics. I learned a great deal there about theft and sales, but I also noticed something strange: no one ever minded when I bought them coffee.

Even the boss.

But if anyone else did it, chances were that they would be told, “Naw, you don’t have to do that — here’s two bucks.”

At my previous position, with an IT security boutique in Chicago, it seemed very important to people to make sure that no single person had bought too often. We would trade on a regular basis. There was even one guy whom others started to resent because he offered to buy too often.

What in the world was going on?

It has to do with these Work Levels that we have been talking about. And it explains some of the problems that you may be having in your social life.

The biggest person in the room has to buy the coffee.

“Biggest” means the person with the highest current capability. I was working a little below my capability at a Level 1 job (that I was only passable at). Even though everyone knew that I sat on the lower end of our commission ranks, the other salesmen weren’t threatened when I bought the coffee.

The biggest person in the room is expected to serve the others. Just like they teach the kids taught in Sunday School, the first must become a servant of the others.

This happens in other parts of our life. If you are the biggest person in your social group, you will find that you provide hospitality much more often than you receive it. You may even be left out of the invitation list on events, yet everyone expects to be invited for the events you host.

If you don’t know this, it can cause a lot of problems. You expect others to reciprocate your hospitality. They don’t. You feel hurt because the others aren’t including you.

And it’s not based on job role, although that plays a part. (People expect the king to provide feasts.) It’s based on the differential between current potential capability. People somehow realize this, even with all the obfuscation techniques that high-potentials will often deploy to “fit in”. (It’s just making you weird.)

Somehow, people can sense this. Maybe Glenn or Michelle can chime in with some comments about why this is true. All I know is that it is.

If you don’t pay attention to it, you’re going to be lonely because you are misrepresenting yourself. You aren’t stepping into the leadership roles that people expect you to play. People are looking to you to start something. And that may threaten them.

Because, as I keep saying, you are the killer app.

Bubbles atop freshly brewed coffee in a french press. © Salimfadhley (CC BY SA 3.0)

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