Empty words

Two men sit on stools at Pret A Manger, drinking coffee. Both are dressed in suits. One is a boss, the other an employee. They have dark hair, short-back-and-sides, and shiny pointy shoes. The boss man is American, and talks a lot, while his colleague says little.

‘You’ve been in this job for 18 months,’ Boss Man says. ‘You’ve got to work out what you’re good at and what you’re not good at.’

‘Yup,’ says the other man.

‘Don’t feel you need to work hard at what you’re not good at. You don’t need to prove anything. Sometimes it’s good to say: I’m not very good at those things, and then do the things that you’re good at.’ He pauses, waits for a response. ‘So,’ he says, when he gets none. ‘Lets do that. That’s our first step.’ He takes a sip of coffee. ‘Okay. I want to create a platform, right? You’ve got a job for the next year, right? That’s unless you find another job, in which case, you’ll tell me, yes?’

The man nods.

‘Or, unless Doug tells me we don’t have the budget to keep you anymore. If none of these things happen, I’ll keep rolling you over till next year.’

‘I don’t want to leave the company,’ the man says quietly.

‘That’s good. That’s good,’ Boss says, and straightens his tie. ‘Right. I feel I’ve a decent idea of what you’re good at. There are some things that you’re very good at, and other things that you struggle with. Let’s think about this, yes?’ He waits for an answer, but his colleague says nothing. ‘Okay, so let’s start here. Let’s think about what you like and what you don’t like. What are your strengths and weaknesses?’

‘In the job?’ the man asks.

‘Yes, let’s start with what you like doing in the job.’

‘Well,’ the man pauses. ‘I like people,’ he says. ‘I like working with people.’

‘That’s great,’ his boss says. ‘You’re a People’s Person. Yes.’ Boss Man pauses while he waits for his colleague to add to this. Then he launches off again: ‘You know, it’s always better to do what you like doing, because there’s a risk associated with doing what you’re not so good at.’ He pauses, and analyses his colleague for a moment. ‘It’s really interesting,’ he says, pointing. ‘You’re a really interesting person in this attempt to understand strengths and weaknesses, as there are things you’re really good at, and I’m like “Wow”, and then there are things that you aren’t so good at. I don’t mind. I mean, I do mind because they’re things I need to get done, but I don’t mind in terms of you being a human being.’ He laughs at himself, but his colleague doesn’t laugh with him. ‘Right,’ he says. ‘You’re a People’s Person. You’re good with people. What else? Let’s think about your personality traits. Think about the tasks you’ve done and what you’ve been really good at. What do you get excited about?’

The man shrugs and mumbles something.

‘It can be anything. It doesn’t have to be associated with work. What do you love doing?’ Boss Man stares at his colleague.

His colleague stares at his hands.

‘Come on, People’s Person. Let’s think about what you’re good at. What are your passions? What rocks your boat?’

The man smiles awkwardly.

‘It can be anything. Running. Do you like running?’

‘Not really,’ he says.

‘Okay, do you like socialising? You must like socialising.’

He pulls a face, looks embarrassed.

‘Okay.’ Boss Man glances at his watch.

‘There’s one thing,’ the man says, quietly. ‘I can tell you something, but you may not see it as important.’

The boss nods with renewed enthusiasm.

‘You mentioned something about six months ago and I’ve been really trying to improve on it, and I’ve been talking to people about it. Trying to get a review of things, and it crosses over from the personal to professional. And I’ve given it so much thought, and –’

‘Are you liking it?’ the Boss Man says, tapping his empty coffee cup on the table. ‘Is it getting results?’

‘It’s awkward,’ the other man says. ‘It’s got good results, but it’s awkward for me.’

The boss slaps his colleague’s shoulder. ‘It’s great that you find this outside of work,’ he says. He taps his watch, and springs from his stool. ‘I’ve got to get back for a call. But we’ll follow up on this. Remind me, yes? Remind me to take you for another coffee.’

The Boss walks swiftly out of the place, and his employee slips from his stool and follows.

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