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Developing Your Emotional Intelligence

Even In A Coffee Shop


Over the past several years, coffee shops have become more than just a place to grab a drink to jumpstart your day. Most coffee shops have become a remote office for a hybrid workforce, a central meeting location for organizations or study groups, or for others, they are a place to decompress, relax or go for a change of scenery and inspiration. Coffee shops can also be great locations to develop your emotional intelligence.


First, You Notice

Notice Derrika Dominance standing in line tapping her foot impatiently because there seems to be more people here than usual today. There is no need for her to look at the menu because she knows exactly what she wants, and she spends her time in line focused on her phone. The line is moving quickly, until the person in front of her can’t make up their mind about what to order because there are just too many options. You notice Derrika’s slight eyeroll and sigh from where you’re sitting. When she finally makes it to the front of the line, Derrika states her order politely – a large caramel macchiato in a venti cup with 1/3 whole milk, 1/3 almond milk, 1/3 soy milk, double the amount of vanilla syrup but make it sugar-free, add 1 extra shot of expresso (decaf) with cinnamon sprinkled on top. She skips the chit-chat with the barista, steps to the side, and checks her phone again while she waits for her drink. When her name is called, she makes eye contact with the barista, says thank you, and then walks quickly out the door.

A couple of tables over, you hear someone asking a fellow patron about the book they’re reading, and realize that Ian Influencer is about the easiest style to point out in a public situation. It’s clear he’s found someone he knows or is simply striking up a conversation with someone based on the book they’re reading. After a moment he meanders to his place in line, and you notice him talking to the person behind him, using hand gestures and smiling while they chit chat. When he gets to the counter, he asks the barista how her weekend was, shares a story about his, and then places his order – a nitro cold brew with sweet cream. He tips generously, thanks the barista, and goes to wait for his drink. While waiting for his drink, Ian continues to scan the shop for someone he knows, and spots one of his running buddies just getting in line. He goes over to ask the friend how many miles they put in this morning. When his name is called, he excuses himself from his buddy, thanks the barista, and offers her a cheery, “have a great day” before walking out the door with one final scan of the shop, and a smile on his face.

As Ian leaves, you notice a gentleman get up from his chair by the back corner window, and deliberately make his way to the counter. There is still a bit of a line, but Caleb Compliance is giving the person in front of him the appropriate amount of personal space, even if he is not receiving the same courtesy from the person behind him. You can tell he’s uncomfortable. When it’s his turn to order, he asks how long it’s been since the pot of breakfast blend was brewed. The barista’s answer seems to meet his expectations, and she pours him a mug - black. Before going back to his chair, he asks if a free refill is included since he paid for a medium. She confirms it is, and he makes eye contact while thanking her in a low tone of voice. He then makes his way over to the condiment station, selects 2 packets of white sugar and a stir stick, then settles back into the chair, with his legs crossed.

The final person you notice is the friendly barista that has been serving customers all morning. Shanna Steadiness has been calm and relaxed amid the harried morning rush. You’ve noticed her friendly demeanor, how she makes eye contact and the methodical way she goes about serving customers.


I’ve Noticed, What Do I Do Now?

Obviously, people are much more complex than these clues, but they can provide insight into how they prefer to communicate and what’s important to them. Think about entering into a conversation or working with each of these people. Given what you’ve seen, ask yourself: What’s likely to go well? What might be challenging? How might I need to adjust (not compromise) my preferences to give them what they need?

Let’s start with Derrika, who appears to have a direct and “get it done” approach. Being in control is very important to someone with high dominance behavioral tendencies. They fear loss of control or being taken advantage of, so it’s important to get down to business, to be efficient, on time, and get results. Often their directness gets confused with rudeness, but that typically isn’t the intention.

Ian’s enthusiasm is obvious, as is his need to be sociable and involved with other people. He wants to be liked and fears rejection or loss of approval from others. When interacting with someone with high influence tendencies, it’s important to involve them and get to know them. Allow them time to share their stories. Show support, recognition, and appreciation for their work.

As someone with high compliance preferences, Caleb values accuracy, order, logic and has high standards. It’s probably safe to assume that his presence at the coffee shop is like clockwork most days, and that he’s particular about the standards to which his coffee is being prepared and what he’s paying for. And, if those standards aren’t met, he’ll make sure someone knows (respectively, of course).

It’s obvious that Shanna is good at her job because a bustling coffee shop needs someone who is patient and predictable. She’s been working at the shop for over 8 years, and appreciates the security and stability of the work, the processes of operation, as well as the casual environment. Sudden change can be hard for Shanna and her staff realizes that if there is a change, she’ll need time to understand, prepare for it, and be assured that support will be provided.

Who knew that watching people at coffee shops could be a great way to develop your emotional intelligence? Consider giving it a try the next time you grab your favorite pick-me-up. Observe the line. Read the room. You will likely see a lot of people in a short amount of time, and it can serve as good practice for observing behavioral styles. The more you do it, the better you will be at it. And the better you can be at identifying a person’s dominant style, the better you can be at adjusting for different situations and environments to move toward the best outcome or experience possible.


Faye Howard is a trainer for YCNS and loves to drink a good cup of coffee every morning. Typically, a flavored brew with half and half will do, but occasionally she’ll splurge with a flavored breve or cold brew and sweet cream.

Check our website to learn more about Faye and her role within YCNS, as well as upcoming events to attend some of her training!





Topics: Sinikka Waugh, Communication & Collaboration, Growth, Emotional Intelligence

Faye Howard

About the Author

Faye Howard

Faye has a master’s degree in training and development and has held multiple roles in training, curriculum design, customer service and marketing throughout her 25+ year career. As a trainer and facilitator for Your Clear Next Step, you’ll see her energy come through as she teaches people the skills to be a better version of themselves, motivating them to leave a positive, lasting impact on others. Faye has made her home in Pella, IA with her husband, Seth, and their 3 boys since 2005. Faye is an encourager and intentional about influencing those around her. Therefore, in her free time, you’ll find her in the stands cheering on her boys in various activities, enjoying a walk or cup of coffee with a friend or immersed in a good book pulling out nuggets of wisdom.








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