The woman customer in front of me was maybe ten years younger than my 71, very attractive – and, for reasons I cannot really recapture, was immediately amazingly interesting. I asked her, “Are you really tremendously alive?” She got a little momentarily unglued – maybe a bit embarrassed by the strength of the compliment – but then quickly found her moorings and said, “Yes, I would say that I am tremendously alive.”
Then I went to my most reliable provocative question for customers, “What’s been a highlight of your day?” – and for some reason I don’t remember her answer. But then she asked me the question back – I knew she would – and I do remember my answer. “My highlight has been this exchange with you – I just feel totally energized by it.” I wanted to put everything I could behind this flirting. I really wanted to be bold and ask for her phone number, but that felt like too much and maybe actually was too much. I could have given her my card, but couldn’t get myself to do it. I just relied on lots of smiles and eye contact and a hope that sometime she would find her way back into my grocery line. I really did trust that this encounter had power for her too.
And then she was gone. I spent the next couple of customers trying to integrate what had just gone on. Those customers probably didn’t get the best service from me, but sometimes it’s just like that. The third customer, a couple about my age, I asked my “highlight” question. They gave uninteresting answers and then failed to ask me the question back, so I basically asked it to myself:: “Would you mind if I vent a little about a customer before you?” I sensed their mild alarm and reassured them, “It’s not a bad vent – it’s a good vent, just something I need to chew on.” They ok’d the plan, but not enthusiastically. So I told them about what an impression this woman had made on me, and how I was still rattled from it. They thanked me for sharing and went back to talking with each other about their plans for the afternoon.
But the good had been done – I had more integrated my experience with the “Alive” woman. I want to call her Susie, even though that’s a pretty vanilla name. Maybe it’s really her name. While I was talking with this couple, I kept noticing that the woman right after them – a very attractive 40 year old – was nodding and smiling, seeming very connected with the whole story. When the couple left and she moved directly in front of me, even though she had just a few items and there was a line behind her – restless because I had had a long conversation with the previous customers – I was struck by her big-time emotional availability and wanted to engage her, even if briefly.
“I was telling that couple about a customer before them who was tremendously interesting. You are obviously very interesting. What would you say is really interesting about you?” Now that’s asking a lot of someone in the supermarket checkout, given 90 seconds to respond. But she fussed in embarrassment for just moments before she really leaned into her answer. She lit up: “I’m learning how to smile with my eyes – it goes all the way back into my head.” When she finished, she looked totally pleased with herself. I gave her a big, “Wow, that’s awesome” and she was gone. I hope she comes back through my line again, too.
I took the next couple of customers to integrate that exchange – not even offering my “highlights” question, much less the blatantly intrusive “What’s especially interesting about you?”
The third woman had just a few items and I was inclined to let go of any attempt to engage. But right at the end of her transaction, for some reason I couldn’t restrain myself. “Don’t be a wimp. This question has surfaced some amazing stuff. Go for it.” I asked her, “What’s especially interesting about you?”
“What’s interesting about me is that I’m really hungry and really in a hurry.” And you know, it was just fine. I thanked her for being so honest and focused all my attention on finishing her transaction.
Trying to engage in these deeper exchanges in the checkout line is a crapshoot: sometimes it works and sometimes not. Sometimes my intuition about where to offer deeper engagement seems right on the money, sometimes not. But the game is totally worth it – otherwise you’re just swiping groceries.