Small gestures

Kathryn Crawford Saxer Career Management

“What’s the peppermint mocha?” I asked a beloved client. He looked at me blankly.

He was describing workplace conflict and hostility with another team. “They just sit there and obstruct,” he told me. “We need to get the work done, and they throw up endless roadblocks.”

I gave him the peppermint-mocha backstory.

“I was at my kid’s soccer game,” I explained. “It was cold. Raining. Early.”

The coach came over, I said, and asked me whether I like peppermint mochas, hinting that he wanted one, and then wandered back to the pregame warm up.

I headed to a nearby coffee shop and bought the coach a peppermint mocha, with extra chocolate. I did it because I’m a nice person, more or less, and I genuinely care about the coach.

And I did it because it is strategic: It is good practice for the coach to be happy. It is strategic to ensure he likes our team, and for him to feel like the parents care about him. We want him to stick around.

“Brownnoser!” a friend teased me. “You just want your kid to have more playing time!”

That wasn’t my intention, but so what? We get to have complicated motives — they don’t make the coffee less delicious or the act of bringing a peppermint mocha to a coach standing in the rain less caring.

“So where’s the peppermint mocha in the internecine mess you just described? what small thing can you give them?” I asked my client. “I don’t care about your ego or that you’ve got your back up or that you’re right or that this is unfair.”

The goal is to soothe this conflict that is threatening your career, I told him. “What is the peppermint mocha here?”

My client thought about it and came up with a task that the other team had been asking about. “I could just get that done for them,” he mused.

“That’s your peppermint mocha,” I said.

First published in The Seattle Times. Read my archive of Seattle Times Explore columns.