After 30 years, you'd think I've learned something about crisis management. But I clearly haven't.
You see, I'm trapped in an emerging disaster unfolding in real time and I don't know what to do about it. It started with a simple lie and then a cover-up. Now, it's out of control.
Roughly six weeks ago, I stopped by the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf near the gym where I work out in the morning. Because I often jog instead of going to the gym, and be-cause I travel frequently, I'm only in this Coffee Bean about once or twice a week.
The people behind the counter are very friendly. They know without speaking to me that I want a small drip coffee and an English scone. I know the price is $3.95, so it's unnecessary to actually speak to each other. But because it's California, we proceed through the dance of pleasantries and smiles.
When I lived in New York, it was understood that my interactions with the coffee guy in Grand Central were to be as silent and efficient as possible. The whole point was to never speak to each other.
We got off to a rocky start when I asked for a bran muffin, no butter. For two consecutive days, I got back to my office and discovered a bran muffin smeared with butter. On the third day, I opened the wrapping and pointed out to the man that I wanted no butter.
His face twisted into a livid mask: "You vant plain bran!" he shouted.
After that, everything fell into place. In fact, we made it through about nine months of wordless muted bliss until one day I paid (with exact change, of course) and the coffee man angrily said I was 10 cents short.
"It's always $2.50," I protested. "Price vent up," he spat back.
Happily, we never spoke again. And then I moved to California.
Which brings me back to the Coffee Bean and the crisis that began six weeks ago. After gathering my drip coffee and scone, I was heading out the door when the cheery man behind the counter called out, "Thanks, Bob."
I hesitated. Was he talking to me? He must have been. After all, I was the only customer in the store. But my name is Don. Should I correct him? But then I'd have to speak, and I don't really want to speak because I secretly like the New York system better.
I decided not to say any- thing and left.
You know what happened. Next time I was in the Coffee Bean, I was greeted with "Hi Bob." I froze with impotence. I rationalized in my head that it was no big deal if the people in Coffee Bean called me by the wrong name. Besides, I have a brother named Bob - it's a common mistake, right?
But the lie has begun to take on epic proportions. These people believe in their hearts that my name is Bob. And now I'm scared. What if I run into a colleague in the Coffee Bean and the people behind the counter start calling me Bob? How do I explain that to my wife and kids?
I'm now considering avoiding the Coffee Bean altogether. I could cross the street and go to Starbucks, but that would add about six minutes to the morning routine. And truth be told, I don't love their pastries. But I can't confront the Coffee Beaners with the truth. How do I explain my complicity in the cover-up? Haven't I, in fact, been lying to them these past six weeks?
I'm hereby issuing an RFP for crisis counseling. I've clearly lost control of the situation.
Don Spetner is EVP, corporate affairs at executive recruitment firm Korn/Ferry International.