One of the most fascinating research studies from my college days involved restaurant waiters and the relationships they had with their managers. As some of you know, working as a waiter can be very stressful at times. Given enough time in this profession, most waiters make mistakes like being late to work, mixing up orders, forgetting to check on customers, spilling drinks or dropping plates. It is not a job for a thin-skinned employee who is sensitive to correction. Inevitably a waiter is going to make a mistake and usually a manager has something to say about it. The purpose of the university study was to examine the feeling waiters had about their managers.
Researchers examined how managers reacted when waiters made mistakes like dropping things in the dining area. When things like that happen most waiters feel pressure and embarrassment. The researchers discovered I believe has far reaching implications for anyone who wants to build close relationships with others. They found that when managers added pressure by making derogatory statements or threatening to dock pay, these waiters tended to dislike them. In fact, most had strong feelings of resentment toward their bosses. On the other hand, managers who responded to the waiter’s mistakes with kindness and reassuring words were greatly admired. Another interesting finding was that those who were corrected harshly tended to make even more mistakes than those whose managers were kind and understanding.
The implications of the study are obvious. This research does not just apply to the restaurant industry but to all of us. If we add pressure to someone who already feels it, that person will most likely withdraw and the relationship may be damaged. However, if we will be empathetic towards others and take pressure away when they feel it, that person will most likely be drawn to us and a closer bond will be created.
Let’s apply the results of the research to everyday life. Imagine for a moment that you were not paying close attention in the parking lot and you accidently hit another car. For some, you won’t even have to imagine that scene. You obviously feel horrible and embarrassed about it. When you come home, a close family member yells at you for your carelessness, which adds even more pressure. Would you feel closer to that person and tell them thanks for pointing out your mistake? What if the same thing happened and the family member said, “Don’t worry about it. We all make mistakes. I remember a time when I did the same thing. We can fix cars--I’m just glad you were not hurt.” In this case the person took some of the pressure away by being empathetic. Would you feel closer to that person for taking away pressure instead of adding it?
Years ago my friend named Jeff was a high school head football coach. One year they had a very good team that went to the state playoffs and reached the semi-final game. His team was winning the game with a few minutes to go when his return guy went back to receive a punt and accidently touched the ball and then just let it roll toward the goal line before thinking about what he had done. A player from the opposing team picked it up and then scored the winning touchdown. On the sideline an assistant coach yelled and screamed at the player for making the mistake that cost them the game. Jeff pulled the boy aside and comforted him. He then pulled his assistant aside and said, "There is not need to add pressure to this player. He knows he made a mistake and so does everyone in the stands, including his mother. Why state the obvious?"
To build close relationships with others, take pressure away instead of adding it.
There is no need to state the obvious since it only adds pressure.
Adding pressure to people who already feel it often causes anger and resentment.
Make it a goal to never add pressure when someone is feeling badly for an accident or mistake that they have made.