Have you ever woken up at 3 am, knowing exactly what you should have said to someone earlier that day? You didn’t have the right words during the actual encounter, but later you found the perfect response.
Well, I’ve got good news! Here’s how to say the right thing at the right time.
What I did and said wrong
Last week in New York City, I ate at a Thai restaurant on Broadway. It was smack dab in the theater district — in fact, it was on the same block as the Richard Rodgers Theater, where the Hamilton musical is playing (which, unfortunately, I didn’t see. But I saw Chicago!).
At the restaurant I ordered panang curry with chicken. First, the waiter brought me a sizzling pork dish that looked and smelled mouth-wateringly delicious — but it wasn’t what I ordered. So I sent it back.
Then, the waiter brought me the panang curry with chicken. The aroma wafted up into my face, hot and spicy. My eyes started to water, my nose run. I took a bite, and my taste buds ran for cover. The curry chicken was so spicy I could barely swallow. I love spicy food and will load up my salsa, pizza and spaghetti with extra extra red hot chili peppers! But this dish must’ve been double or even triple-spiced, because I couldn’t eat it. I couldn’t taste the anything but fire.
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When I called the waiter over, he said I was given the wrong dish. Again. He whisked it away and brought me my third plate of the evening. At this point, I didn’t care if it was panang curry, pad Thai, or sizzling pork rinds. I just wanted to eat and start trekking back to my hotel.
My food was fine, finally….but after I’d finished eating nobody came to clear my plate. Or bring me the bill. Or even ask how dinner was. So, I went up to the waiter station to pay for my meal. The waiter gave me the wrong bill; it was for a table of four. No thank you! Then he gave me my bill, but it had two panang chicken curry dishes instead of just one. No thank you! Then, he fixed it in the computer but handed over the original four-person bill.
At this point, I was frustrated. When the waiter finally gave me the right bill, I counted out the correct amount of cash. Then he pointed out the surcharge: an automatic 20% tip. He asked me for an additional $4!
Are you kidding me? After all those problems, the waiter insisted on a 20% tip?
“A tip? No way!” I said. Then I turned and stomped out of the restaurant.
What I wish I said
I wish I would’ve reviewed the whole evening with the waiter. I wish I would’ve explained why I was so frustrated and angry to be asked for a 20% tip. I wish I would’ve told him that I waitressed for 10 years, and I worked really hard for 10% tips. I never expected an automatic tip — and never in a million years would I ever ask for a tip!
To me, tips are a “thank you” for good service. Originally, they were given in advance, To Insure Good Service (TIPS). Now it seems they’re expected and even owed.
But this isn’t about tips. It’s about saying the right thing at the right time so you don’t wake up at 3 am wishing you would’ve handled a situation differently.
How to Say It Right
When you’re facing a difficult situation, say this: “Let me be sure I understand. This is what happened….and now you’re expecting this…”
Then, verbally review what happened. Calmly and thoughtfully summarize the events out loud, with the intention of understanding and finding clarity. Try to come from a place of curiosity – not anger, judgment, or emotion. “Wait a minute, let me make sure I understand what just happened…”
In the Thai restaurant I wish I would’ve said, “Hold on. Help me understand this.” I wish I would’ve summarized the whole evening. This would’ve given me time to process the events and decide how to handle it. Instead, I reacted out of emotion.
Press the pause button when you’re upset, frustrated, or angry. Give yourself time to talk through the situation, and thoughtfully decide how to proceed. Do not allow yourself to be pushed into something you’re not comfortable with — even if it’s a little as an automatic $4 tip.
Why This Works
1. When you recall the events out loud, you give yourself time to understand what’s happening. This not only gives you clarity, it allows others the chance to see your perspective — and to clarify theirs.
2. You buy time to think. While you’re summarizing the events, your brain will buzz toward a solution. Talking through the situation with slow, clear, calm words will help you find a suitable response.
This response won’t come naturally; it’ll take time to develop. Keep practicing! Look for small situations that allow you to press pause, summarize what just happened, and respond from a calm, kind, thoughtful heart.
I haven’t had a chance to practice this yet, but I’ve been rehearsing the words, “Let me be sure I understand. This is what happened….and now you’re expecting this…” I’m ready, world!
What do you think?
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With His love,
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Laurie & Blossy