(Name used with permission)
I was impressed with my coworker the other day. At Japan Camera, we sell cameras once in a while, but more often we print out pictures of kids with Santa, family snapshots, calendars and festive mugs. Ben, the boss, shows up for a few hours a day, and Sue is my main coworker. Sue has red hair, the nervous energy of a hamster, and a long DSLR camera that she uses to take amazing pictures of waterfalls and mountains on the weekend. She and I get along well, I think. I like her. But one thing I’ve noticed is she doesn’t listen to me that much. She tends to cut me off in midsentence. On Mondays it doesn’t bother me, on Thursdays it irritates me a little. On Friday, we had a small disagreement. I took a photo of a young Brazilian guy who has been on the road for a while. By the smell, I’d say at least 2 months but not more than 6. He needed a photo for his Canadian visa, but had 10 more countries on his itinerary, so he asked for a digital copy. I took down his info order form. “You don’t need to do that,” Sue called from the backroom. “Do what?” I asked. I’m pretty sure I need to write down his email, she must be talking about something else. “Just write on a scrap of paper, you don’t need a full order form,” she said. “Ok, but I already did… ” I said. Another young guy came in, Chinese and needing a Canadian residency card. He wanted the digital copy as well. I took a scrap out of recycling and asked him to write his email down. He said, “Are you sure you’re going to send me that?” I gave him a pained smile and said, “Yep, I’ll just put it down on an order form so we don’t forget.” I grabbed one. “Don’t do that!” Sue called again. I ignored her and finished what I was doing. After the guy left, I asked, “Could you tell me why it’s so important to use a scrap of random paper instead of an order form?” “You can just tape it to the monitor and do it right away. If you make an order it’ll just get lost.” “That doesn’t make any sense,” I said. I don’t lose orders. “Look, I’ll show you how we do digital prints… ” She called up the picture of the Brazilian guy and started entering the Chinese one’s email address. “If only we had some way of keeping all the information about an order in one place,” I said. “Like, some sort of form, for example.” She ignored me. “Something slightly more professional than scraps of recycling, ” I continued. “You know, you’re told to do something in a certain way – ” She bit off her words and kept working. I pointed to the Brazilian’s picture. “This guy. This email address.” We didn’t talk much for the rest of the day. However, on Saturday morning, Sue flagged me down right away. “Come here,” she said, still ringing up a customer. “Just a second… okay, look at this.” She showed me how you can write a memo next to a line item in the cash register. “Put the email address here. Just get them to write it on a scrap of paper so it’s right, then put it on the receipt. Then they see that we have it, and you can go to the back and email it right away.” I nodded slowly. That was a good alternative to a full order form, I thought – faster as well. “Passport photos are done right away, so you drop whatever else you’re doing and finish the whole thing. Same for the digital copies, because people go straight home to work on their forms. If you put it on that stack,” she indicated a pile of 20 or more waiting orders, “It might get done tonight or tomorrow, and that’s too long. That’s why we don’t write up an order.” I was amazed. Not only that her reasons made sense, but also that she restrained herself from blowing up at me yesterday, even when I saw steam coming out of her ears. She went home, thought about it, came up with the words, and explained it to me calmly. Myself, I was passive aggressive and argumentative. I like to think that self-awareness means that I’m making progress. But anyway, that’s why I was impressed with Sue last week.