I think People Watching should be an Olympic Event

Scott Adams says, “People are idiots.”

Scott Ginsberg says, “People are fascinating.” (Although some of them are idiots too.)

But today I observed an intriguing example of human behavior at Starbucks. I sat in a corner chair with my Grande Carmel Apple Cider – the perfect drink on a bitterly cold day in St. Louis – and while I journaled and listened to some tunes on my Ipod, I noticed a table of three sitting directly in front of me.

The man was 40ish, handsome, and dressed in one helluva suit. His tie was perfectly creased. His shoes glistened in the track lighting. And his watch looked like it was worth more than my car.

The two women were in their mid to late 30’s, casual dressed in jeans and looked much more blue-collar than their corporate counterpart. They looked tired. Frustrated. And not particularly enthusiastic to be there.

Three Grande drinks sat on the table. No books, no papers. Just the man’s Blackberry.

And here’s the interesting part: because I was rockin’ out to my favorite journaling album at full blast, I couldn’t hear what they were saying. My observations were 100% nonverbal. And I found myself trying to analyze, figure out and imagine who these people were based on their actions.

What can I say? I’m a people watcher. This is the kind of stuff we do!

Anyway, here’s what I saw. Try to imagine the scene and draw your own conclusions:

  • Friday. Noonish. The Starbucks is located in the middle of a busy, suburban, business-lunch type area.
  • The man did most of the talking. He leaned forward a lot. His hand gestures were excellent, slightly animated, although not overly distracting. Most of his comments were directed at the older of the two women, who sat closest to him.
  • The women sat there like stones. Their arms, legs and postures rarely changed. They listened attentively. Their hands were clasped together and rested on the table. The younger of the two appeared to be less involved based on her distance from Mr. Nice Watch.
  • Then, this amazed me: the man took 5 incoming cell phone calls during a 20 minute period. The calls were short. He looked at the women while he chatted. Almost as if the phone calls had a bearing on their conversation.
  • A few minutes later, the man put his hands on his mouth and touched his nose. Which reminded me of an article I just read called When Negotiating, Look for Nonverbal Cues.
  • At one point during a song change on my Ipod, I heard a few snippets of their conversation. Without starring or prying, I heard the man say, “If you would’ve called ME, you never would have lost that money!” Then he leaned back in his chair. One woman laughed while the other crossed her arms for the next five minutes.

    Unfortunately at that time, I had to go. My drink was empty. And I almost wanted to stay and listen, but I didn’t want to keep my friend waiting. Still, I wondered who these people were…


    What’s your hypothesis? What do such nonverbal cues tell us about people?

    * * * *
    Scott Ginsberg
    Author/Speaker/That guy with the nametag

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