Ego vs. Ego! Fight!!!

by Dan on June 6, 2009

hippofight.jpgToday I was at my favorite coffee shop in the neighborhood, when I got to witness an interesting confrontation between my favorite barista and a customer.  The barista was my dearest coffee lady, Mary.  Mary is a young, tall, slim, curly-haired barista with a sweet sass to her.  She always makes you feel welcome, and is pleasant to talk to.

Later in the afternoon, I was chatting with her while she was serving a customer in front of me.  Let’s call him Ted.  Ted is a sixty year old male, out of shape, slumpy posture.  While I was discussing some playful job stuff with Mary, Ted interrupted loudly with “Hey, can you not put so much ice in there?!”  It was a little jarring.

Mary surprised me by responding to the man with, “You don’t have to be like that,” while reluctantly pouring some ice out.

He said, with an annoyed tone, “What do you mean, be like that??”

She said “That was disrespectful, that’s all.”

He responded with, “How should I have said it?”

Mary started to talk a bit more to me instead, and didn’t answer him.

He repeated, “Excuse me, I asked you a question.  How was I supposed to have said it?”

She handed him his coffee and said “Have a good day, sir,” while clearly ignoring his question.

He said “You’re a bitch!” and walked out, probably never to return.

What went wrong here?

Who is responsible?

A) Mary

B) Ted

If you answered both, you’re correct.  Any angry altercation is a two part transaction.  If someone says something out of turn, it’s up to you whether you take offense, and if you do take offense, it’s up to you from there whether you respond back with anger and escalate

In my opinion, my beloved Mary was out of turn first.  Someone in the service industry shouldn’t criticize customers for not requesting something in the proper tone.  In my opinion, he did the best he could getting her attention.

When she said something rude, however, he didn’t have to be offended.  He could have nodded, got his coffee and left.  However, this wasn’t an option for him.  His ego was challenged, which means he now has to face off with her ego in a battle for who’s right.

When two egos engage in combat, it can get very ugly.  Egos thrive on stability of current beliefs.  They want to be right at all times, and will escalate to a literal shoot out if necessary, to keep their current views.  Ted had to win this battle.  Mary had to win this battle.  In fact, if I wasn’t behind him in line, she might have kept arguing with him until it was settled to be won in her favor.

While both parties were socially out of step, Ted committed the biggest social violation by calling her a nasty word, “bitch.”  This proved him to be the one who truly lost this battle of egos.

Does that mean she won?  No, it means her ego won.

While I will love her just the same, my former picture-perfect view of my favorite barista is forever tainted by this incident.  Whenever you win an ego battle, you still lose face in public.  What’s more, you lose control over your own happiness and being.

You only feel compelled to fight ego battles when something’s at stake.  Mary and Ted both felt something could be lost.  Mary could have lost her self-image of knowing how to talk to people.  Ted had at risk his view of how strangers treat him, or even his view of how he deserves to be treated.

Next time you get into an ego battle, with nothing tangible, try letting the other person win.  Say sorry for a change, and see how you feel.  What did you lose?

The way I see it, ego validation is fed with an unlimited supply of monopoly money.  You can give someone $20,000 in ego points, and they will be overjoyed.  You’ve spent nothing.  They can go on their way, thinking they are super-powered, while you smile knowing you have your peace that no one can touch.

Mary could have said “Sorry sir, can I help you with anything else?” and been fine.  He could have said “My bad, thanks for the drink,” and been fine.

At the end of the day, however, Ted has one less coffee shop he can go to without feeling angry and down about himself.  If he lives a block away, his life just got a lot less convenient.  On Mary’s end, if she cares, she lost the coffee shop potentially thousands of dollars in the customer’s lifetime potential, if he was to become a regular.

You never win an ego battle.  Only your ego does.

This does not mean you let someone walk all over you.  The way to tell if you’re in an ego battle is this, “What is at stake here?”  If it’s something you can put into monetary value, or something physical, maybe there is something that needs to be worked out with the other person in a win-win situation.  If it’s nothing but pride, principle, or your feelings, then you’re better off just letting it go


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 DJ Fuji June 25, 2009 at 2:21 pm

Awesome article, Dan. Your wisdom has been responsible for much of my own personal growth. Now update your blog more often. You update less than me. :)

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