Friday, 14 August 2009

What people want from you... and when.

Through good(?) fortune I discovered to my surprise that I was in Pret a Manger at about 8:30 this morning. It's actually embarassingly serene in there - like a nestling cocoon/halfway house between a commuter train and a cafe. People still want to do cafe-chat but they're considerate enough to note that people are still coaxing themselves out of sleep, not yet ready to enter the office proper, and so what you get is the hushed friendliness of intimacy. A loveliness I might go out of my way to experience again.

Anyway, what's interesting to consider is that these people were the same mix of businessmen, arty types &c. as at lunchtime - but with a different mindset. And some pret boffins have obviously worked out that this engenders different needs. Indeed, some people have very specific needs that early in the morning. So I was quite surprised and delighted when, before even picking anything, I was asked "any coffee?". I hate coffee. But this proactive approach was nice, and probably comes as a great comfort to monosyllabic dawn treaders who need only grunt their approval.

To ask that at lunch would waste time and annoy. To ask it in the morning lets the customer (most of them) know that they are understood, and extends a hidden hand of comradeship in the morning battle.

Conversely, I'm told (maybe it was Fast Food Nation that Fast Food places play high-tempo music at rush out to tweak people's subconscious in making them eat fast & get out. You might see that as evil. I don't know - maybe it's that same thing, knowing what people probably want at a given time, and facilitating it.

All I'm trying to say is this: people are different creatures at different times, in different places. So,talk to them in a way that acknowledges their current state. Interpersonal experts tell us to try and 'mood match' with our conversation partner, then you can steer the conversation your way.

Of course, perhaps the really clever-dick thing is to subvert that idea in a way that gives people relief from a routine they may not like. I like to think that the success of the first T-Mobile flashmob (and its ImprovEverywhere predecessors, yes) lies not just in its novelty, but also that it takes place at a train station - friendship and belonging, at the ultimate symbol of Gesselschaft:

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