Out of the Woods: It's August: Don't expect much more than civil

Posted: Sunday, August 11, 2002

Nita Nettleton can be reached at nitan@alaska.com.

Perhaps you haven't noticed, but everyone around you is tense, edgy and drinking triple-shot coffee drinks at all hours of the day. And it's August. Coincidence?

Gradually, over the last few weeks, even the gentlest, least likely to hurt a fly worker in the tourism biz has grown some fangs and taken on a very direct manner. By now, the absolute sweetest of us can no longer form the words, "Sure, I can break a hundred for you and I'd be happy to watch your backpack for a few hours." Mentally, we have burned our fat and are starting to lose bone mass. Civility is about all we can manage.

Now may not be the time to ask a coworker to fill in for you on the weekend or to help you move a few pallets of boxes, but there is a raw purity of communication in the air that you don't find earlier in the summer. You are much more likely now to get an honest appraisal of your haircut, for example, than you would in May. Now is the perfect time to canvass the crew for feedback to improve the way you do business. They are worn down and don't care if you fire them, so they are ready to share their insight with you.

Try asking your staff how it went this year with the new inventory tracking elements in the cash register. In May they said it was great and they thought they were getting the hang of it. Now, they freely admit that they never understood it, entered any old numbers to get it to go through the fields and open the dang drawer, and they always just calculate the change in their heads. Aren't you glad you asked? While you've got their tattered attention, ask if they thought the store's chipper, guaranteed-to-sell ambient music was effective. In May, of course, they popped the CD in the player each morning with relish. Now, steel yourself for a less than thumbs-up review.

Those of you out of the retail arena and in an office setting have your own August reality to deal with. The saddest cases among you forgot to take even a short summer vacation and are scrambling now to work one in before Labor Day. You roam about with keen, though sunken, weasel eyes, clutching trade goods in your arms, looking for someone slightly more worn down, vulnerable and willing to sell days off. I would hold out for an ergonomic chair with all wheels working and in a good color, myself, but we all have our price. Fresh, unscented highlighters might buy a day or two. Anyway, the communication in the office this time of year is as stressed as it is in the retail community. It becomes wonderfully simple and direct and I love it. OK, so I take advantage of it, is that a problem?

Take my boss. I can dart into his office as soon as he hangs up the phone from an unpleasant August-type situation and blurt out my plea in the simplest words, no window dressing. He won't waste any energy on questions or sending me back for more work. He says yes or no. In May he asks me a whole bunch of questions, has a long list of ideas and suggestions and wants to tie everything into long-range planning. Everyone in my office has gotten into the bare bones spirit. People come to me lately with very succinct questions. I say yes or no, they go away. Any other time of the year I have to explain, justify, convince, cajole, all that. If I weren't so worn down, this simplicity would be refreshing.

Say what you will about August; it's touchy, sharp-tongued and in no way nice. But count on it for direct, no nonsense talk and action. Hey, you folks in the store - before August gets away, be bold and march right over to the coffee shop for a triple-shot whatever and give it to a coworker to slip the store's peppy music CD into the microwave oven and be done with it.

Nita Nettleton can be reached at nitan@alaska.net.

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