The Business Types You Meet When You Spill Coffee on the Train

It can happen to any of us and this morning it happened to me. I spilled coffee on a crowded train. Like a business mistake or problem the folks on the train reacted somewhat similar to the way they might if a colleague or teammate screwed up on a project or deliverable unintentionally.

Here are the Six types of folks I encountered today:

The helpful if asked individual. After the spill an attempt to clean up without proper paper towels, I asked ” does anyone have napkins or tissue”. She jumped up handing me 2 napkins – not enough to clean the mess, but it was a start.

The you screwed up and it bothers me individual. The man next to the napkin lady gave me the look of indignation. Had I caused a major catastrophe. It wasn’t his coffee all over my shoes and he wasn’t affected by it directly. I said to him as he sneered at me “it was a mistake and I am cleaning it up”. He just kept looking at me like I had committed a felony on the train.

The I will help as I see you’re in trouble individual. Nice lady came over with tissues, helped me clean coffee off my shoe and put tissues on the floor. Nice gesture and she had no skin in the game, but she wanted to help someone because well they needed help. Selfless and appreciated.

The I will ignore the entire situation and hide behind my paper and cell phone individual(s). Pretty much the rest of the train. A couple of folks looked to watch like voyeurs at a ball game or event.

The appreciation from afar person. The woman behind me said after I cleaned up: “you know most people would have left it and walked away, but you took responsibility, thank you!”

The I don’t care you spilled your coffee as long as you’re doing something about it person. The last guy on the train wanted a seat, after I told him there was a “coffee spill”, he stated I don’t care your cleaning it up and that’s good enough for me”.

Think about the behaviors of people you work with when you make a  business mistake, or have an accident, right in front of them. Do they help, hurt or ignore the situation. So much for team work, collaboration and caring. However a few people did behave in a positive if not helpful way.

I will be adding an important what if question to my  candidate interviews at work in the future. “If someone spilled coffee next to you on the train, what would you do?

I know my answer already….


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