A friend treated me to a birthday dinner the week before last. I was enjoying a three-week vacation in Naples, Florida, at the time, and with his being from three-and-a-half hours north in Clearwater, we were in unfamiliar territory. So we decided on Italian and then just asked Siri to present us with nearby options.
Upon arriving at our destination, we entered the rather posh dining area of the restaurant we’d chosen. The maître d’ was dressed to the nines as were all of the wait staff, and each spoke with an undeniably Italian accent. From the lighting to the wall art, this place was authentic. We knew we had chosen well before we were ever seated. And though our dishes bore names one could have ordered at any Italian chain restaurant, the quality of the food was far from franchise fare.
As our main courses arrived, I noticed what appeared to be a tipsy patron annoying the kitchen crew. He was dressed in a garish Hawaiian-print shirt with four buttons undone. The lower buttons strained as they did their best to hold back an ample gut. Draped unevenly across the surfeit of chest hair was the expected cliché: a large gold chain. His bald pate was encircled by a too-long horseshoe of badly-dyed hair. It was hard to make out exactly what he was saying, but he was definitely harassing the cooks, who, I noted, were handling it pretty graciously (though I did wonder why no senior staff were making an attempt to intervene).
A few moments after we were into our meals, the blustering bald man approached our table. He smiled broadly, placing one hand casually on my shoulder and one on the low dividing wall to my right. Not much causes me to feel awkward in life, but I’ll admit that my adrenaline surged a bit as I prepared for how best to mitigate the situation.
“How you guys doing?” the man asked. “Everything good? Anything you need?”
It was then that the realization hit me: this was no patron. I don’t even think he was a manager. No, only one person could have gotten away with his appearance and approach with the staff – the owner himself.
We raved about the food and service, which was met with much nodding of head and replies of “Good, good”; and soon, the owner was off to another table, continuing his rounds.
This man was clearly successful to some degree. He owned at least the restaurant where we were eating, if not other restaurants or properties. The ambiance was just right. The staff were excellent. And the food was outstanding. I couldn’t help but wonder how, then, this man internally reconciled his own appearance with the overarching goals for his establishment.
One thing is certain: he believed he was putting forth a positive persona. We do very little in life without a perceived gain. But this man’s perceived gain did not appear to be aligning with reality; therefore, it does not appear it was helping him reach the goal he intended. He seemed like a genuinely nice guy with good intentions; but the image he was portraying was a deterrent to finding that out.
In a previous post, I talked about the power of nonverbal communication – the ability to speak clearly without using words at all. The items covered in that post were choices we make in the moment, after communication has begun. However, some very important facets of nonverbal communication (for lack of a better category) must be decided well in advance of communication encounters. And these decisions speak volumes about us within the first five seconds of being in the presence of others. Assessments will be made. Judgments will be passed. And based on these, our verbal message will either be more readily received – or potentially hindered altogether.