I have a gift. A talent actually – one that I execute at a world class level.
It is not a skill that I speak of frequently, in fact I try and hide it from those who know me and, I would appreciate it if what I am about to reveal stays between us.
I am a highly trained, exceptionally talented eavesdropper.
And so a few days ago I was sitting in a booth at a local coffee joint when I noticed two middle aged business types walk by and occupy the booth right behind me.
Their conversation – work, family, haemorrhoids – was the usual type of pleasant exchange between friends and I was just about to return my full attention back to my newspaper when one of them mentioned that he had invited a friend – actually a former colleague – who was in town for a few days, to join them for coffee.
The part that caught my attention was when he explained that “I really want you to meet him because of the powerful lesson he will teach us both.”
In due course Thomas arrived and joined the party behind me.
The usual pleasantries were exchanged and Martin, who had invited Thomas, explained to Robert that they had worked together many years ago and had not had much contact since then.
Thomas immediately launched into a monologue of his life’s work. He explained how he had entered the workforce at a young age, had immediately become aware of all the company’s shortfalls, had catapulted through the ranks at lightning speed all the while “revolutionizing” the workplace and changing the thinking of those “staid, dull, visionless morons” who had preceded him in senior management positions.
He told “us” of his epic struggle to change an entire industry and how he had single-handedly introduced sorely lacking leadership into a near moribund company and how, had it not been for his intervention, the company, if not the entire industry, would probably be extinct by now.
He told us, with pride, how he had been headhunted to become CEO of a similar company and how he had breathed life into that organization through the sheer strength of his vision and leadership, how he had been let go by a board of directors whose thinking was “stuck back in the ‘50’s” and how, tragically, the management that had replaced him when he left was now systematically dismantling all of his brilliant initiatives and that the world has a desperate lack of leaders like him.
Thomas droned on and on about himself for thirty-five minutes, barely pausing to taste his coffee and then excused himself with this wonderful exit line. He stood up, shook hands and said, “Robert, it was great meeting you and getting to know you. Martin, I’m glad we finally had a chance to get caught up. We must do this again.”
And then he was gone. Apparently off to share his heroic exploits with another awe-struck group.
As soon as he had left Martin asked Robert what he thought of Thomas.
Robert said something to the effect of “He’s a complete *##&^~!. I thought you said he was going to teach us a powerful lesson?”
“Yes I did,” Martin replied. “And he did. He taught us an incredible lesson. Sometimes the best teachers are those who teach us what not to do and Thomas is a perfect example of how to turn people off with deft rapidity.
“He has no idea of the number of people who won’t have anything to do with him. He is insufferably arrogant and oblivious to the effect he has on people.
“He only and always talks about himself. Unquestionably, it’s his favourite topic.
“His lesson to us is this. We prefer to hang out with people we like and, whenever possible, we will do business with people we like. If we want people to like us, let’s give them reason to do so and monopolizing every conversation with tales of your own accomplishments is not a good place to start.”
With that they rose from their booth and left the restaurant leaving me to ponder the lesson on my own.
I started thinking of people I know who constantly exhibit similar behaviour. Their sole topic of conversation is themselves and, I’m sure, they believe that the rest of the world is as fascinated by hearing the tale of their lives as they are by telling it.
Like most of us, I can probably name a few. We should be thankful to them for providing us with frequent, powerful teachings and a road map for us NOT to follow.
Everybody brings value to this world. Even if only to serve as a good example of a bad example.
I’m so glad I’m not like that.
Did I tell you about the time I single-handedly, heroically and brilliantly …
Till we read again.