What Eavesdropping at Starbucks Taught Me

6 lessons from listening to others' conversations.

While waiting to have lunch with a friend last week in Franklin, TN, I sat at the local Starbucks to do some work. At 9:30 in the morning, the place was packed.

What Eavesdropping at Starbucks Taught Me

(Photo: Starbucks in Franklin, Tennessee)

The busy coffee shop had a small footprint, so I sat at the only available place —a wide table by the door. Usually I work at Starbucks with my earbuds plugged in, but I forgot them. So I heard every conversation at the table.

In the two hours I sat there, I overheard 6 different conversations.

I’m glad I did.

A Personal Trainer with a Personal Agenda

The first person to sit down sported a tee shirt stretched over his muscles. I asked him if he had enough room, and out flooded his words. He told me all about his morning, his girlfriend, his work as a personal trainer, and how he had lived in Nashville for years but had never come to see the Civil War sites in Franklin.

After some cordial interaction, he asked me if I live here. I shook my head. “The Dallas area,” I answered. “I’m just in town to have lunch with a friend.”

His face sagged, disappointed. After a few moments, he got up and moved across the room. He inserted himself in another group’s conversation and discovered those folks were locals. He seemed thrilled. He started over about his girlfriend, his work, and his desire for the day. They told him all about the sites.

A guy who seemed social really only wanted information. And that’s fine—really. But I got to thinking.

How often do I use friendliness only as a ruse to get what I want?

coffee cup

(Photo: By Ewan Munro from London, UK. Fidel’s, Wellington Uploaded by tm. CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

A Manager and Her Employee

On the other side of our table sat the coffee shop’s manager who engaged her employee in what seemed like a performance review. (How would you like your review done at a table for strangers to hear?) The review involved the manger asking her employee some questions. One struck me more than all others.

“What do you feel is the greatest asset you bring to Starbucks?”

Silence. More silence. Finally, his answer: “I don’t know. The other employees can answer that.” I turned her question to myself.

Do I know myself well enough to understand my unique contribution to my work?

A Blind Teenager and Her Teacher

I heard the click, click, click of her white stick before I saw her. A young teenager made her way to the table under the watchful eye of her teacher.

The blind girl took her seat, and with an incessant smile spoke with joy about many things. The good food, the good day, the good time together. When she knocked over her cup, some water leaked from the lid. Without making a scene or shaming, the teacher calmly said, “Your water spilled,” and wiped up the water.

I felt moved to tears when I observed the skill, love, and compassion of the teacher—as well as the genuine joy of the blind girl.

Am I joyful with the life God has given me—my own disabilities notwithstanding?

Two Physicians and the Great Physician

Two guys in ball caps sat down next. I could tell by their conversation they were doctors. They described how to diagnose a particular malady and the best way to care for their patients.

“My brother died last year, and it tore me up,” one of the men blurted. After an awkward silence, the other physician spoke. His words absolutely shocked me. The doctor effectively used Scripture to encourage his friend, citing verses that hallowed the sovereignty of God and the comfort of God. His words were rock solid. Honestly, I couldn’t have answered the man any better.

As the grieving man spoke, he sounded choked up. But when I stole a glance at him, I saw a toothy grin instead of tears.

God has His faithful servants in many, many places. Why do I often assume they only lie inside my circle of influence?

coffee conversations

(Photo By Carli Jean Miller. Courtesy of Unsplash.com)

Two Beautiful Women Who Weren’t

The seats had barely gotten cold when two beautiful young women sat down. I looked up as I heard the first word from one woman’s mouth: “Sh$#!” She was squinting at a text message. Her friend never reacted but thumbed nonstop on her iPhone.

What a contrast I noticed in this young woman, clearly uptight about life, compared to the blind girl who sat there not long before them.

Do the words that come from my mouth match the exterior I display to others?

A Group of Laughing Irishmen

Things got cozy at the table when a group of 6 Irishmen wedged themselves into a space meant only for three people—including me. One sat so close I could feel his warmth. They came to Franklin to sightsee. As they sipped their mochas, I enjoyed their thick Irish brogues.

As it turned out, these 6 men had another Irishman with them—but he had gone to another place in town. “Mick went to church,” one man said of the friend. “For confession.”

Another man responded, “Aye, then—I guess we’ll be here a long time!” The table roared—and I lent my laugh to the Irishmen.

Funny how laughing has no accents.

At our core, we’re all the same. We all laugh and we all need to confess to God.

What Eavesdropping at Starbucks Taught Me

These conversations prompted some good reminders for me. Six to be exact:

  1. How often do I use friendliness only as a ruse to get what I want?
  2. Do I know myself well enough to understand my unique contribution to my work?
  3. Am I joyful with the life God has given me—my own disabilities notwithstanding?
  4. God has His faithful servants in many, many places. Why do I often assume they only lie inside my circle of influence?
  5. Do the words that come from my mouth match the exterior I display to others?
  6. At our core, we’re all the same. We all laugh and we all need to confess to God.

I think I need to leave my earbuds at home more often.

Tell me what you think: Has eavesdropping ever reminded you of something important? To leave a comment, just click here.

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