Looking past your first instinct on how to respond to conflict and why you will be better off

by Kregg Nance, MA
Author of “Get the F Out of My Life: A Men’s Breakup Survive and Thrive Guide”

A few years ago, I was going for my favorite morning ritual of a coffee and at the time, the best place nearby was a local Starbucks. I would often see friends and, of course, get the nice morning buzz going. One reason Starbucks has been successful is the vision created by Howard Schultz that a coffee shop could be a friendly gathering place. He had traveled to Italy in the early 80’s and become fascinated with the romantic nature of the coffee experience there. He wanted to create this welcoming “third place” between work and home. They thought of it as “a place for conversation and a sense of community”. I always enjoyed this idea. And what made it so welcoming was the well-trained baristas, who always try to remember your name and what you order. They are friendly and look directly at you, unlike many establishments where the people behind the counter are more interested in their co-workers than the customer.

However, on this day there was a barista I hadn’t seen much who had a sour attitude. No big deal for one day. We all have bad days. But his mood was like this every day, and when he happened to be the one taking my order, he had this same crappy attitude and I got more bothered by it. It was unlike the other employees and it was messing with my friendly welcoming feeling about the place. Then one day, I was taking a few extra seconds to decide what I wanted, and he looked at me with his arms outstretched in that “what’s taking you so damn long” expression. Now I was feeling angry.


He was ruining my Starbucks experience. After I got my drink, I went over to the area where they kept the manager’s business card. I had decided I was going to go home and write a letter to the manager and tell him that this guy was not at all what Starbucks is about and that it might even affect if I would still come to this location. My first instinct was to get him reprimanded or even fired. This seemed reasonable to me, since he was not living up to Starbucks own standards and it was going on all the time.

I was in the middle of my graduate studies in conflict management, which was teaching me how to approach conflict in different ways and how to look underneath to interests rather than positions. I started to realize that my interest was to have a good experience at Starbucks, even though my position might be to start a campaign to get him fired.

So, I decided to try something new and go with my 'second instinct', meaning given some time to think I could be more creative on how to respond. I decided to try to win him over rather than confront him or write the manager.

The next day, when I went up to the counter and he was waiting on me, I said “What is your name? You guys always try hard to remember ours, but I don’t know your name.” His tone immediately changed and he became friendlier and said his name. I reached out my hand and we shook hands. Something magical happened. From then on, he was different with me. He would say hello and greet me. My Starbucks experience was restored.

If I had gone with my first instinct, he may have been fired and I might be known as a person who writes letters. He probably had friends at that location. The fallout could have been worse for me, as well as bad for him. And I also never knew if he had an unseen stress going on in his life that could have affected his mood.

By going with my second instinct, it was truly a win-win. I don’t exactly know if I really changed him, but it might have made a difference and my good feeling about going there was fully reinstated.

I now check with my second instinct before I approach a conflicted situation if possible. It brings forward in my mind to control my first instinct, which usually produces a better outcome for me and maybe even for others.

According to Dr Roy Baumeister, who wrote a bestselling book called “Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength”, the most successful people in life and relationships are those who have good self-control. Think of your Second Instinct as creating a better outcome than your first instinct and it will become worth it to control yourself.

It makes sense to work toward the best outcome possible by using self-control rather than continually dealing with the fallout from always going with my first instinct. Next time try your Second Instinct and see what happens.