The 30 Second Cash Register Connection

I work part-time at the UCC grocery store. It’s a cute, hipster-like place that carries anything from vegan kale salads to full fat sharp cheddar cheese and pepperoni snack trays. 

My position here switches around. Sometimes, I’m stocking the shelves with fifty pounds of  fresh broccoli, organic rice crackers and frosted brownies. Other times, I’m frantically slicing smelly, yet somehow delicious smoked turkey breast, while avoiding eye contact with the person who’s waiting across the glass panel. Last, but not least, I’m on the cash register either talking up a storm or making a mistake with pricing the weight of chocolate peanut butter pretzel clusters or some other crazy bulk concoction that I’ll probably end up trying.  

With the stocking and deli positions, I’m constantly physically doing something. This keeps my mind off of thinking about random stress and anxiety because I literally don’t have the time, as I’m too occupied with organizing broccoli on the shelves or sprinkling parmesan cheese on thirty containers of caesar salad. However, being on cash is much, much more slow paced. In fact, it can be too slow paced. It gets redundant because I’m constantly having similar conversations:

“Hi. How are you?”

“*grunt*”—if I’m lucky, I’ll sometimes get a mumbled “good” as a response instead.

“Great. Would you like a bag?”

“Mmmmmmm I dunno.” Then, they proceed to make what I think resembles a thinking face emoji and eventually say yes because they want to destroy the planet, but decide eating meatless vegan sausage hopefully will make up for that. 

“Wonderful. Would you like a receipt?” Usually, the above process repeats. 

“Thanks.”

After a while, I was really getting sick of working when I had cash shifts. I had so much time to think that I would just be stressing about what else I had to do for the day. I didn’t feel challenged at all; the negativity of the customers kept getting to me and all of the delicious food they would purchase would make my stomach growl, especially around lunch time. 

However, mama didn’t raise no quitter, so I had to adapt and evaluate how I could use the situation to my advantage. 

Thus, I created The 30 Second Cash Register Connection. The 30 Second Cash Register Connection is essentially a mindshift that looks at each transaction as a chance to make an interpersonal connection and to learn through a series of communication techniques. 

I’ve started to realize that the cash shift is one of the best opportunities to enhance my people skills. If you think about it, I come across an insane amount of people in just one shift. All of them are inherently different, and each transaction is a chance to understand something new about a person or how people act in general. 

I’ve started to focus on observing the details of people: how they walk up to the register, how they respond when I ask how they’re doing, eye contact, who’s wearing headphones, their age, their clothes, their gossiping about who matched with who on Tinder that weekend and, of course, which of my jokes work and which don’t. What I’ve learned from all of this intense observation has become way more than what I could have learned by being in my own head or by mindlessly inserting credit cards and clicking the same buttons over and over again. 

I’ve learned that it’s easy and quite efficient to have prepared responses, but it gets boring real fast and limits the depth of connection you’re able to make with someone. A specific example of this is when people would ask how I was doing or if they pulled out their loonies and toonies instead of a plastic card, I would end up saying the same response over and over again:

“I’m good. Just a bit tired.”

“Haha, wow! Cash? What’s old is new again, eh?”

By any means, these are not horrible responses. They’re definitely somewhat witty and cute with a few giggles added in, but it started to bring back that dreaded how-many-more-minutes-’till-I-leave feeling. However, as I’m committed to utilizing The 30 Second Cash Register Connection, I’ve decided to challenge myself to have different and more creative responses that are curated specifically to whoever the customer is. Since I’ve started observing all their details, it has become simpler to see if they’ll respond well to compliments, sarcasm, intellectual jokes, references to pop culture, flirting and, sometimes, nothing at all. There has been a lot of trial and error. Sometimes, I throw in jokes and the person just stares at me. Other times, someone winks at me. However, every time I try to speak with the person in the way that they want to be spoken to, I push myself to actively listen, improving my communication skills. 

Another aspect I’ve learned is how challenging it is to have a meaningful conversation under a time constraint, but it’s still possible! Most of the time, I have to initiate it by making a comment that I think they will respond to. Then, the person feels more comfortable and usually starts talking. Since most of the people that come in are university students, staff or professors, it takes a bit of warming up because everyone seems stressed all the time. However, it’s difficult to think of interesting responses and maintain the person’s patience, while scrambling to open plastic bags that love to stick together. This multitasking helped me learn how important it is to just remain calm and believe that you have it together. Whenever someone has a black plastic basket overflowing with groceries, I get a bit overwhelmed. I know it, but I don’t say it or show it because that would just make both me and the customer uncomfortable. Instead, I initiate a conversation and bag the items slowly. Throughout the process, I divert the customer’s attention to the conversation, so they don’t feel like they’re waiting for longer than they actually are, or if I end up making a mistake, they are much more empathetic. 

Although I’m early in the process of mastering The 30 Second Cash Register Connection, I’m confident that I will keep implementing these skills to keep growing both professionally and personally during future shifts. By taking advantage of the cash register, I’ve gained the skills of closely observing details, developing creative responses under pressure and positive thinking in challenging situations. The techniques under the The 30 Second Cash Register Connection can be applied to anyone’s career, and honestly, any type of conversation. They are transferable soft skills that can help anyone change their mindset to jobs that don’t provide much external stimulation or to someone who might overthink a lot. 

Life is all about connecting with others, so why not start in the places you don’t even think about making them in? 

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