Courage!

What is your biggest fear? I don’t mean a phobia like fear of heights, fear of spiders, or fear of public speaking. I’m asking about more common fears like the fear of loneliness, or the fear of rejection, failure, inadequacy, or the fear of being physically hurt or even the fear of uncertainty or meaninglessness. Fear unconsciously (or consciously!) blocks us from so much in life. Did one of those fears stand out to you when you read it? That, then, may be your biggest fear. But, this post isn’t about fear. It’s about courage.

Courage

I had to start with a brief mention of fear because fear plays prominently in the definition of courage. Courage, in the online dictionary,  is “The ability to do something that frightens one.” Or, as Theodore Roosevelt said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” That’s a powerful statement. Some people have said that courage is the willingness to act in spite of fear. No disagreement here, but Roosevelt’s quote seems powerful to me because it talks about why someone might overcome fear to take action.

That raises another question. What’s important to you? Another way of asking that question might be, what do you consider valuable? Setting aside for a minute valuable stuff, is your family valuable to you? Is safety and security? Your job? What about other valuable things also known as values, like integrity, love, honor, humility? These are questions we must answer if, by Roosevelt’s definition, we ever hope to be courageous. Which of us, after all, has never fantasized about being a “hero?”

Categories of Courage

Since the very definition of courage contains a clear reference to fear, it seems reasonable that categories of courage would align with a list of various fears. But, I think it’s helpful to consider them this way. Here are a few categories of courage:

  1. Physical Courage – this is when you assess that something else is more important than your physical safety and security. Our first responders and military, for example, have made a career out of this assessment.
  2. Social Courage – this is when you assess that something else is more important than your social comfort or sense of belonging. Leaders need social courage when they ask their people to believe in and follow them.
  3. Moral Courage – this is when you assess that your convictions are more important than your social standing, your job, or, in some cases, even your life. Religious martyrs and social activists require moral courage.
  4.  Intellectual Courage – this is when you assess that something else is more important than being right or being part of the “in” crowd. Truth seekers require intellectual courage.

Did one of those descriptions draw you in? Can you see yourself being a physical hero? Maybe. Or what about a social hero, or a moral hero, or an intellectual hero? And that’s not an exhaustive list. The point is that courageous people are clear on what’s most important to them.

A Call to Courage

It was after dark one evening 25 years ago. I was the brand new pastor of a small church in a small town outside Lincoln, Nebraska. Suzi, the kids, and I had just arrived home from a visit to central Illinois where we had lived and pastored previously. The drive was seven and a half hours so we were ready to settle in for the evening. Right after we arrived home we got a call telling us a dear friend who was a member of our previous church had passed away while we were driving home. We had just visited with him on our trip. He was ill but we didn’t expect him to go that quickly.

In the midst of our road weariness and grief, the phone rang again. This time it was a member of our new church. There had been a terrible car accident involving teenage boys from our small community. She was calling from the hospital, “almost the whole town is here,” she said.

“Are either of the other pastors there?” I asked. There were two other churches in town and I wondered if pastoral care was available.

“Yes,” she answered. But it was clear she wanted her church to be officially represented, too. I understood that, of course.

It would be a 25 to 30 minute drive to the hospital in Lincoln. That’s no big deal in and of itself. Being called upon to serve in these situations despite personal tiredness and grief was what I signed up for so that wasn’t part of my struggle. But I did struggle. None of the families involved were from our church and I was afraid that my showing up, the new pastor of the “other” church, might appear morbid. It might appear like I was trying to horn in on the community’s grief to benefit myself or our church in some way.

The Rest of the Story

I made a decision. Serving those people with injured children and answering the call of the person from my church was more important than my fears. I put those in God’s hands and headed to the hospital. By the time I arrived, providentially, everyone else had gone home. Only the parents of the injured boys were still there. I had uninterrupted access to the single dad of one boy and the mother and father of the other. I did my best to offer grace, compassion, prayer, and any other support they would need in the coming days.

It was a genuine tragedy. The single dad lost his son. The parents of the other boy eventually brought him home but he would never be the same due to traumatic brain injury. In the days before those outcomes were known, the people of our church stepped up to serve those families and the community in amazing ways. The result of their actions opened doors to ministry in that community that had previously not been opened. I was a small part of a big thing God did in those days. Had I not done my part, He would have found another way, but I’m grateful to have participated.

Every day may present an opportunity to overcome some fear. If we focus on what’s most important to us, get clear on that, I believe we’ll become more courageous.

A White Cop and a Black Kid

Suzi and I are doubly blessed to have five children. We are blessed once to have them and the double blessing is that we had them through adoption. Two of our children came through inter-country adoption from Guatemala. A third was born in the States but of half-Guatemalan descent. So, our older three (who self-identify as “Group A”) are Guatemalan. Group B, as they call themselves, came along ten years after the last of Group A. They came together as twins and are of African-American descent. Suzi and I, then, are the minority in our family. The kids are all grown now, but whenever we would go anywhere as a family we got interesting looks. Two white people with three Hispanic kids and two Black kids brought a mixed bag of reactions.

The Car

The two younger ones got jobs and so they needed transportation. They borrowed some money from their big brother and bought a modest sedan from a small dealer. That was just as the pandemic was shutting everything down back in March of 2020. The DMV was one of those entities that shut down. The dealer turned in the paperwork for the sale of the car by mail and paid the fees. For months no tags or registration came so the kids drove on the temporary dealer plate.

As I write this in August of 2021, they still have not received the registration and plates for that car. The DMV is conducting an investigation into what happened. The dealer paid the fees as his receipts show but somehow the system shows them still outstanding on the car so it won’t issue tags. It’s quite a mystery and it puts the kids in a quandary. The car is not technically legal but they still need to get to work. So, they’ve been driving it.

The Black Kid

Our Youngest son, Jordan, is a winsome and gregarious young man who seems like a natural at whatever he decides to try. He is an athlete musician. In High School, he ran track, swam, played water polo, and was in the band. In band he easily picked up and switched back and forth between multiple instruments, woodwinds and brass. He also loves helping children and was involved in a high school program that mentored children with disabilities.

When our family moved to China for two years, Jordan and his sister were nine years old. I guess that was just the right age for him to catch a bug for living overseas. He’s dreamed of moving overseas since then. A Multi-Country European excursion with two friends right after High School graduation only added fuel to that fire. He also has a knack for languages. I remember how funny it was to see this young black boy successfully hail a cab and tell the driver where we wanted to go … in Mandarin! In High School he studied German.

He recently completed a course in teaching English as a second language and has accepted a job offer to teach next year at a small school in Spain. Seems like a fitting combination for him. He’s very excited and is working and saving money to make the move. He even opened a Go-Fund-Me page to help raise moving money.

The White Cop

As a result of the car tag fiasco, Jordan has been pulled over no less than five times for the expired dealer tag. Each time has resulted in a warning to get the situation corrected. He has a court date later next month but still needs to get to work so he continues to drive, often late at night when he closes at the fast-food restaurant where he works.

On a recent stop, after the usual explaining why he’s driving the car like that, the running of the driver’s license, and the officer telling him to get it taken care of, the cop didn’t ask him to step out of the car or begin to search him or draw his weapon, instead, he started making conversation. During the conversation, he heard about Jordan’s plans to teach English in Spain.  Then he asked an unexpected question, “Do you have a Go-Fund-Me?” Jordan was a bit startled by the question but told him he did and the conversation ended shortly after that when the officer had to get on with his work.

Later that day, Jordan got a notification that someone had contributed to his Go-Fund-Me account. He looked to see who it was, and was surprised to find that the officer who pulled him over had donated to his fund.

That’s not what you might expect to read these days when you see a title like “A White Cop and a Black Kid” so thought this might be a good story to share in the current climate. Thank you for reading.

Another Super Star

Two weeks ago I wrote about restaurant staff who work hard to provide a great dining experience in the midst of all different kinds of customers. Just the other day I saw a picture of a sign someone had put up that said, “The whole world is short-staffed, be kind to those who showed up.” Great point! I kept that in mind last night when Suzi and I and another couple (different couple from the ones I wrote about before) did a progressive dinner date. We went to one restaurant for dinner and another restaurant for dessert (no, we don’t live our whole lives in restaurants). At dessert, I actually thanked our server for showing up to work today. That restaurant was busy and the wait staff was a bit harried and they did their best.

Every once in a while you run into a superstar like Bailey who I wrote about two weeks ago. She’s the one who put “orange juice” on top of our sundaes. This story isn’t mine, but I love it and wanted to share it with you.

Another Super Star

Several years ago I read a good book by John G. Miller called  QBQ! The Question Behind the Question: Practicing Personal Accountability at Work and in Life,  At the beginning of Chapter One he tells this story.

It was a beautiful day when I stopped into Rock Bottom restaurant for a quick lunch. The place was jammed. I didn’t have much time, so I was happy to grab the one stool they had available at the bar. A few minutes after I sat down, a young man carrying a tray full of dirty dishes hurried by on his way to the kitchen.  Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed me, stopped, came back, and said, “Sir, have you been helped?”

“No, I haven’t,” I said. “And I’m in a bit of a hurry. But all I really want is  a salad and maybe a couple of rolls.”
“I can get you that, sir. What would you like to drink?”
“I’ll have a Diet Coke, please.”
Oh, I’m sorry, sir, we have Pepsi products. Would that be all right?”
“Ah, no thanks,” I said with a smile. “I’ll just have water with lemon, please.”
“Great, I’ll be back.” He disappeared.

Moments later he returned with the salad, the rolls, and the water. I thanked him, and he was quickly gone again, leaving me to enjoy my meal, a satisfied customer.

Suddenly, there was a blur of activity off to my left, the “wind of enthusiasm” blew behind me, and then, over my right shoulder,  stretched the “long arm of service” delivering a twenty-ounce bottle, frosty on the outside, cold on the inside, of–you guessed it–Diet Coke!

“Wow!” I said. “Thank you!”
“You’re welcome,” he said with a smile and hurried off again.

My first thought was Hire this man! Talk about going the extra mile! He was clearly not your average employee. And the more I thought about the outstanding thing he’d just done, the more I wanted to talk to him. So as soon as I could get his attention, I waved him over.

“Excuse me, I thought you didn’t sell Coke,” I said.
“That’s right, sir, we don’t.”
“Well, where did this come from?”
“The grocery store around the corner.” I was taken aback.
“Who paid for it?” I asked.
“I did, sir; just a dollar.”

By then I was thinking profound and professional thoughts like Cool! But what I said was, “Come on, you’ve been awfully busy. How did you have time to go get it?” Smiling and seemingly growing taller before my eyes, he said, “I didn’t, sir. I sent my manager!”

The Point(s) Of The Story

That server was clearly amazing. And the author goes on to make his great points about asking the right questions like, “What can I do in this situation to make a difference?” rather than what he calls “incorrect questions” like, “Why do I have to do everything around here,” and, “Who’s supposed to be covering this area, anyway?”

I would also like to give some recognition to the manager in that story. How many managers do you know who would respond to their employee by actually going to the grocery store and buying that coke? That person understood their role in supporting amazing performance. In my book, that makes them pretty amazing, too.

One final point. There is a lot of complaining going on in the world these days, much of it is justified. But, there is also amazing happening. Keep your eyes open for amazing, acknowledge it when you see it. Better yet, be amazing.

When No One Is Watching

Christian apologist and well-known author of The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis, said, “Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching.” One thing about restaurants that I find fascinating is that each table is a separate little world where the inhabitants seem to believe that no one is watching them even though they are in full view of everyone else in the room. Ironically, that makes for some interesting people watching.

Once in a while, when Suzi and I are out alone, we’ll imagine the story behind a certain scene at a table. We’re not creepers but every once in a while a particular scene will be so obvious that we can’t help but be curious about “what’s going on over there?” That reminds me of a story I recently read. I thought it was interesting and had a great life lesson along these lines.

An Unexpected Interview

I’m reading a book by Richard Stearns, former CEO of Parker Brothers, Lenox, and World Vision, called Lead Like it Matters to God: Values-driven leadership in a success-driven world. In a chapter about integrity he relates the following story:

Early in my career, I was put to the test on this principle of private versus public behavior in one of my first job interviews. I was twenty-five years old at the time and had a full day of interviews set up for that entry-level marketing position at Parker Brothers Games. I was impressed that even for an entry-level job they had arranged for me to meet with several vice presidents, three marketing directors, and even a “drive-by” with the president. I really wanted this job, so I did my best to make a positive impression. Then at lunch, I was kind of surprised that they sent me out for almost two hours with a much lower-level employee named Clint, who worked as a marketing research analyst. I doubted that his input would matter much compared to the directors and vice presidents. but off we went to a local eatery.

As I recall, Clint and I had a good time eating fried clams somewhere in Salem, Massachusetts, and talking about what it was really like to work at Parker Brothers. A few days later I was thrilled to get the call that they were offering me the job. When I showed up for my first day of work a couple of weeks later,  I spent the morning with my new boss getting briefed. But his opening comments are the ones I remember to this day. He  looked at me and said: “You know why we hired you, don’t you?” Of course, I’m thinking it must have been my scintillating interview technique, my winning personality, my prematurely graying hair, my impressive Wharton MBA,  or maybe my solid twenty months of previous work experience. But no, he said, “You passed the ‘Clint test.’ We knew you would be on your best behavior with the directors and the VPs, but we wanted to see if you were a jerk when your guard was down, so we sent you out to lunch with Clint. You passed. Clint told us he thought you were a good guy, so we hired you.” Wow! And I thought no one was looking.

When No One Is Watching

Just like the people Suzi and I watch in restaurants, Richard didn’t know anyone was “looking” during his “final interview.” The real lesson for me is when I flip that around and ask myself who’s looking at me or at us? What story might they weave based on their observation of my behavior?

I’m a person of faith so I believe there is always someone watching. That both comforts me and keeps me on my toes. Whether or not you believe someone is always watching over you, C.S. Lewis’ quote about integrity is true. Character in general and Integrity, in particular, is what makes people, families, and nations strong from the inside. We seem to be experiencing a shortage of that these days.

Will you join me in self-reflection on the question, “Is there integrity between what’s on the inside of me and how I behave outwardly?” Am I a person of character and does it show? Because you never know who’s watching.

Eating On Purpose

No, this is not a post about dieting (as you can see from the picture). This is a post about eating out, on purpose. Suzi and I love to watch people in all kinds of settings. Restaurants are a particularly interesting study in human behavior. I’m sure you know what I mean. You often have the elderly couple who sit across from each other and eat without saying a word to each other during the entire meal. Or, you have the table full of 4 – 5 teens, each one on their phone seemingly isolated by that device from the person next to them. You may have the family with unruly kids running around making noise and a mess, or the table full of guys who’ve had a little too much and are laughing way too loud.

In the midst of all that is the restaurant staff. Servers, Bussers, Kitchen staff are all working hard to make everyone’s dining experience as good as it can be. These days, with short staff and restaurants opening to fuller capacity, that can be a tall order. Suzi and I have always made it our purpose to brighten the day of the restaurant staff when we go out to eat. Whether it was when we had all five of our young kids with us back in the day, or when we go now with just friends or by ourselves, we strive to make a connection with the staff and make their day.

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had servers tell us our group has been the best customers they’ve had all day, or that we’re so much fun or something like that. Another way they communicate their appreciation is by little extra things they do.

Orange Juice on A Sundae?

One example of that is Bailey at the “Rebel Grill.” I call it that because they never shut down during the pandemic. One evening a couple of months ago, Suzi and I and another couple who have the same mission we do when they eat out went to the Rebel Grill. We go there often but we had a new server this night. Her name was Bailey.

We had our usual fun and received our usual comments from her but she went a step further. We had been joking about toppings for a sundae for dessert. It went something like this, Bailey said, “I can put anything on your sundae that you want.” One of Us: “Can you put orange juice on it?”  She said, “If you want!” All joking aside, we ordered our favorite sundaes (with no orange juice). If you look closely at the picture I included with this post, you’ll see that Bailey made little signs, attached them to toothpicks, and put them on top of each of our sundaes. The signs said, “Orange Juice.” She actually did put orange juice on top of our sundaes!! You may also notice that she “Misinterpreted” the meaning of “Small Sundaes.”

Bailey was great fun but the interaction started out in the normal way. “Can I get you something to drink, etc?” As we two couples interacted with each other in a very positive way and drew Bailey into the conversation, she loosened up and had fun too. Those incredibly fun sundaes were her way of showing us that we had brightened her day.

A Follow Up To Orange Juice

We (all four of us) have been back to the “Rebel Grill” several times since then over the last couple of months but we hadn’t seen Bailey until just the other night. When we walked in Bailey was our hostess! We had a fun little reunion while she seated us then our server came to take our order. At first, we were a little disappointed it wasn’t Bailey. But, very shortly we were back in “Make her day” mode.  At dessert time we ordered with no unusual fanfare. But, when our sundaes arrived, there was extreme fanfare. Right in the middle of the whipped cream on each sundae sat a tiny paper condiment cup filled with … orange juice!

Bailey not only remembered our previous encounter, but she brought our new server into the story. How fun is that?! That’s just one story. There are many. Some are fun, others are touching, some others turned into long-term friendships. Here’s my recommendation. Go out to eat. Do it with a purpose to makes someone’s day and see what happens.

The Smartest Kid In the Class

If you’re the smartest kid in the class, you’re in the wrong class. That is if you want to grow. I’m not sure who first made the comment about surrounding yourself with people who are smarter than you but they sure were smart. The easiest way to grow as a person and as a leader is to surround yourself with people who know more than you do. In his famous book about the richest men in the world called Think And Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill wrote about Henry Ford, “Any man is educated who knows where to get knowledge when he needs it, and how to organize that knowledge into definite plans of action.” He was talking about the fact that Henry Ford had smart people around him.

David Ogilvy, widely revered as a founding father of modern advertising (and founder of one of its most famous agencies), is reputed to have once presented each of his board directors with a set of Russian dolls. When they opened the dolls, the smallest had a piece of folded paper inside on which Ogilvy had written: ”If you always hire people who are smaller than you, we shall become a company of dwarfs. If, on the other hand, you always hire people who are bigger than you, we shall become a company of giants.”

One Example

Several years ago I sat in on a meeting of the division presidents of a large national company with their CEO. The CEO was also the founder of the company.  He had started two other companies and had sold them both making many of his team millionaires. His reputation preceded him but this company was in an industry that was new to him. What I observed was interesting. Whenever the CEO said something or made a point all the division presidents nodded their heads like a group of bobblehead dolls, except one. That guy spoke his mind and if he disagreed with the CEO, he said so. “That won’t work,” he blurted out in one case. He went on to explain why. “That’s not what this customer is looking for,” he said another time.

The outspoken division president had spent years in the industry that was new to the CEO. He knew the business. The CEO recognized the value of that president’s expertise and soon after that meeting elevated him to a position of leadership nearer the CEO so he could more readily benefit from it.

The Point

I’ve been writing about personal growth over the last several weeks. If you have a fragile ego or something to prove to someone then this post isn’t for you. This post is for people who realize that they don’t know everything and can’t do everything but still want to be successful or even significant. Those are the people who want to grow, who want to increase their influence.

If you’re one of those people then it should make sense to you to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you and better than you.  That’s a growth environment. A growth environment like that will do at least three things for you.

  1. It will keep you challenged – challenges keep us engaged and, like in any physical training, we gain strength by doing a little more each time.
  2. It will keep you focused forward – you can’t drive a car looking in the rearview mirror or you’ll crash. A growth environment will keep you driving with your eyes on the road ahead.
  3. It will keep you out of your comfort zone – I recently heard John Maxwell speak on personal growth. He said, “Everything you want or need is outside your comfort zone.”

When I interview candidates for certain jobs I like to ask this question, “Could you tell me about a time when you were asked to do something you didn’t know how to do?” I’ve heard answers like, “I didn’t do it,” or “I don’t do anything I’m not trained to do.” I didn’t hire those people. I’m looking for people with the drive and ingenuity to find solutions. When they say, “I found someone who knows how to do it and asked them,” or “I found the procedure manual or I googled it until I knew what I was doing,” that’s when I believe I have someone who is in a growth mindset.  Those are the people I want to hire.

Take a look around you, at your colleagues and friends. Are they ahead of you, next to you, or behind you? If they’re all next to you and behind you, you need to find some new colleagues and friends. Put yourself in a growth environment.

That’s A Good Question

I attended a business conference last week where one of the plenary session speakers was a retired Navy officer. He made the assertion that your most powerful tool as a leader is questions. He talked specifically about what he called, “Depth-Charge Questions.” During World Wars I and II, a depth charge was a type of bomb that was dropped into the sea and exploded when it reached a certain depth. It’s purpose was to damage enemy submarines causing them to surface so you could capture or destroy them.

That’s a perfect analogy for a retired Navy officer. The depth-charge question, then, is one designed to surface things that could be potentially dangerous to your organization. He went on to quote Voltaire who said, “Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.” John Maxwell (who was the keynote speaker at the same conference) said, “you can tell the size of a leader by the questions they ask.”

The Question Behind The Question

What makes a good question? That’s a good question! If you Google it, you’ll find 35 great questions for this and 101 questions for that, and even 1,001 questions for something else. So, it depends on the conversation and the purpose. I sometimes like to ask, “What’s the question behind the question?”

People will often ask a timid question as a way of putting their toe in the water to test the temperature of the topic. “Who did this task?” They may ask. If I ask what the question behind the question is, I may learn they are really concerned about the training program. That’s what we need to talk about. Good questions probe reality. They dig beyond the surface to discover motives, issues, genuine concerns, etc.

QBQ – The Question Behind The Question

John G. Miller wrote a book entitled, QBQ – The Question Behind The Question: Practicing Personal Accountability in Work and Life.  A second sub-title is, “What to Really Ask Yourself to Eliminate Blame, Victim Thinking, Complaining, and Procrastination.” Someone recommended this book to me years ago. I read it and, admittedly, borrowed and slightly re-interpreted the title for my approach in the last section. But, I highly recommend the book.

Personal accountability is a growing deficit in life and work. More and more, people are living and working below the line of accountability and engaging in the victim cycle. They play the blame game, they pretend they don’t understand, they CYA, they avoid responsibility, etc. Miller suggests that if we ask different questions we can turn that around.

One of his chapters is called “A Poor Sailor Blames the Wind.” Bingo! That about says it all. The first chapter is an amazing account of someone who took personal responsibility to the next level. I’ll leave it to you to get the book and read it. Hint: if you follow the link I provided it will take you to a Nook sample of the book and you can read the story there.

Good Questions Have an “I” In Them

Don’t ask this kind of “Why” question:

  • “Why is this happening to me?”
  • “Why do we have to change?”
  • “Why don’t they communicate better?”

Don’t ask these other kinds of questions:

  • “Who dropped the ball?”
  • “When will we get what we need?”
  • “When will leadership walk their talk?”

You get the idea. Good questions have an “I” in them:

  • “What part of this [problem or solution] did I contribute to?”
  • “What can I do to make things better?”
  • “Who can I help today?”

There are literally thousands of other examples of good and bad questions. Here’s my question for myself, “Am I asking the right questions?” Here’s my question for you, “Are you?”

Send, Dial, or Walk?

I just devoted three posts to the importance and content of good “Company Communication.” Now I would like to talk about the mode of that communication. Communication, especially effective communication, most often involves dialog or conversation rather than a monologue. What difference does the mode make?

I’ve participated in many interview panels for management-level candidates where one of the questions was, “How do you prefer to communicate with your employees?” 100% of the time the answer includes the phrase, “face-to-face” or “in-person” or “one-on-one.” No one has yet preferred a phone call or text message.  Why? Again, what difference does the mode make?

Send

Even the word “Send” seems to imply distance. I send a package to someone or I send a letter. These days we send emails and text messages. Written communication has an important place in our lives. For example, Suzi found all the love letters her father had sent to her mother before they were married. She displays them in a 3-foot high apothecary jar. It’s quite beautiful to look at especially when you consider all the love that’s memorialized in those words. She treasures them especially now that both her parents have passed away.

Written communication is important when we want to memorialize a conversation for future reference or for legal or sentimental reasons. Writing also gives us the chance to consider our words before delivering them. We can be more clear and organized in our communication when we write it. Written responses also allow us to pause, if need be, before responding to someone. Sometimes that pause can save a relationship.

But writing is less personal. What we email, text, or post on social media happens mostly inside our own heads without the benefit of the other person’s presence to help us form our communication appropriately. That can be impersonal at best and dangerous at worst.

Dial

When I hear the word conversation, I think of hearing someone else’s voice and talking. That leads me to the next consideration for the mode of conversation. Dial. I used to have a bunch of people’s phone numbers memorized. Not any more. Now I just press the speed dial button on my office phone or say, “Hey Google, Call Suzi on mobile” and within seconds I’m talking to her.

That’s the key for this mode. We get to talk to the other person. I get to hear the inflections in their voice, their pauses. Emotion comes through. Their level of interest or understanding comes through much more clearly in a voice conversation. The conversation is also much more immediate. It’s in the moment which is important when what you want or need is urgent. Dial when you don’t have time to wait for the other person to formulate their response or just get around to checking their email or texts. That makes the words, “You’ve reached my voicemail …” very aggravating. Voicemail ranks lower on my list of preferred modes of communication than snail mail, and that’s pretty low.  Are they away from their phone or just screening?

My side of the family lives in Minnesota and I live in California. That’s another huge value to dial technology. It shrinks the world so you can talk to people you can’t be with. Zoom, Skype, and other platforms have made that even more personal with video calling. My Dad and brothers and I get together periodically on a “Thomason Boys” Zoom call. I treasure the chance to see their faces and hear what’s going on in their lives.

Walk

I said walk, but it could be drive or even fly. Face-to-face, in-person communication takes effort but it’s worth it. The difference in value between “dial” and “send” is huge. But the difference in value of in-person conversation over the others is like a race between tennis shoes and a motorbike. There is no comparison.  The clarity of the visual, the audio quality, and the 3-D effect, you don’t even need 3-D glasses!

Okay, I’m being silly, but you get what I mean. There is nothing like an in-person conversation. Just ask a teacher. Our daughter-in-law who is a 5th-grade teacher was able to join Suzi and me for dinner while our son was at an event the other evening. We talked about the difference she feels between online learning and in-person education. Just the ability to move around in each other’s space, to physically go to a student who may need a little help is exponentially more valuable than any online platform.

So, I say send when it’s necessary. Dial when you can. But, by all means, whenever it’s an option, walk.

Six “Cs” of Company Communication – Part 3

This is the final installment of a 3-part series on company communication. So far we’ve discussed four “Cs” that make communication more effective. We said communication should be Clear and Concrete, Concise and Complete. I didn’t realize until I finished the last post that those rhyme. That may help you remember the first four. Sorry to say, though, the rhyme ends there. Though the next two don’t rhyme, they are equally as important as the last four in conducting effective company communication.

Collaborative

Collaboration literally means “co-laboring,” working together. We’ve all heard the saying “Teamwork makes the Dream Work.” On the other hand, have you heard the saying, “A camel is a horse designed by a committee?” Both can be true and often the difference is communication. The team that realized the dream most likely had much better collaboration than the committee that somehow put a hump on the back of a horse!

Celeste Headlee, NPR radio host and author, listed the following 10 pieces of advice in her TEDx talk on how to have a good conversation. Good conversations is how collaboration happens.

  1. Don’t multitask – be present in that moment, all in
  2. Don’t pontificate – enter every conversation assuming you have something to learn. Bill Nigh said, “Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t”
  3. Use open-ended questions – Who? What? Etc. not yes or no questions
  4. Go with the flow – thoughts and stories will come to mind while someone is talking. Let them flow right out. Let the conversation be about the other person.
  5. If you don’t know, say you don’t know
  6. Don’t equate your experience with theirs. Conversations are not promotional opportunities
  7. Do not repeat yourself – It’s condescending and boring
  8. Stay out of the weeds – no one cares about the names and dates you’re trying to recall.
  9. Listen – the most important skill you can develop. Buddha said, “If your mouth is open, you’re not learning? Calvin Coolidge said, “No man ever listened his way out of a job.”
  10. Be Brief – “A good conversation is like a miniskirt; short enough to retain interest, long enough to cover the subject.”

I think we would agree that most great work is accomplished in teams. Following Celeste’s advice on good conversations will help your team avoid the hump and achieve the dream.

Contributive

My late father-in-law had a way of telling the truth about food he didn’t like without hurting the feelings of the person who had prepared it and asked, “How do you like it?” He would say it was “tasty.” That was true. It definitely had taste. Everything we say should be true, but not everything true should be said.

Effective communication should help in some way. It should add value to the person or to the conversation. Some people speak seemingly just to hear the sound of their voice. Their comments are irrelevant or counterproductive. Don’t be that person. The value you add may indeed be constructive criticism but the key word there is “constructive.” Our communication should aim to build up the other person or the group. In the wise words of one ancient ambassador, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” He was saying you will be prepared to respond to anyone appropriately if your words are always gracious and salty.

Gracious Words – our words should be courteous, kind, and pleasant. The “grace” in gracious implies we behave this way especially if the other person isn’t or doesn’t seem to deserve kindness. Some people refer to this as being professional.

Salty Words – (not the cussing-like-a-sailor kind of salty) Salt does several things. First, salt preserves food. Second, it enhances the flavor of food. Third, salt makes you thirsty. Salty words preserve relationships regardless of the content of the communication. Salty words are delicious, people desire them.  I remember a man coming out of my Dad’s office and saying to me, “Man, that’s the first time I’ve ever been reprimanded where I actually enjoyed the conversation.” I’m sure he was ready to hear whatever my Dad had to say to him after that. Finally, have you ever heard someone say, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink”? The follow-up to that saying is, “No, but you can feed him salt!” Our words can and should invite people to ask questions, explore, grow and contribute. Our words should make people thirsty for more.

The Six “Cs” of Company Communication are Clear, Concrete, Concise, Complete, Collaborative, and Contributive. If you master those, you may be on your way to the “C-Suite.”

Six “Cs” of Company Communication – Part 2

Last week I started this series on company communication with some definitions (imagine that!). I shared the definitions of the words “company,” “communicate,” and “Inform(ation).” I also pointed out that the “company” for which these “Cs” are relevant is any group of people. These are just principles of good communication.

When I arrived at my last job I interviewed each of the leaders on my team with the same questions. One of those questions was “what one thing could we improve that would make the biggest difference.” People gave several answers to that question, but the number one answer was “communication.” That would be the answer in many organizations.

Research shows that time spent on calls, emails, and meetings has increased by 25 percent to 50 percent in the last two decades. It also reveals that while companies host an average of 61 meetings per month, an estimated $37 billion is wasted annually due to employee misunderstanding (including actions or errors of omission by employees who have misunderstood or were misinformed about company policies, business processes, job function or a combination of the three) in … corporations in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Last week we talked about good communication is clear and concrete. This week we look at two more Cs of good communication.

Concise

The definition of “Concise” is – “giving a lot of information clearly and in a few words.” In fact “Clear and Concise” are often used together. Clear speaks to how understandable the communication is while concise is about how long it is.

Summarize your point. Provide background or additional information upon request.  One communication technique I learned in healthcare is the SBAR. That stands for

  • Situation – a brief statement of the problem
  • Background – pertinent information about the development of the problem
  • Assessment – analysis and consideration of options (what you found or think)
  • Recommendation/Request – action you want taken

That’s one guide to help you organize your thoughts. Organized thinking is easier to make concise. I found a writing guide put out by Stanford University that offers great tips for writing clearly and concisely. It’s geared toward technical writing which is often the most unclear so it’s helpful for those of us trying to communicate non-technical information. Some of their tips, to whet your appetite, include:

  1. Avoid unnecessary fancy words; use straight-forward words
  2. Replace vague words with specific ones
  3. Eliminate unnecessary words
  4. Replace multiple negatives with affirmatives
  5. Use active voice construction when appropriate

There are more tips and they all have examples. I downloaded the paper and plan to use it as a reference in the future. You’ll have to let me know if my writing improves!

Complete

This might sound like a contradiction. I just suggested using as few words as possible to be concise. Now I’m suggesting you leave nothing out. Which is it? Well, it’s both.  the definition of “Concise” was “to give a lot of information . . . in a few words.” Complete communication is about what you choose to include.

We sometimes skew information by leaving parts out. When we do that our communication is biased in favor of our point of view or of what we want. Biased communication is often detectable and diminishes trust. You may have heard the term “fake news.” That’s what people will think of you if your communication is found to be incomplete, especially if your omissions tend to alter the hearer’s perception of reality.

Concise is about sharing as much as you can in as few words as possible. Complete is about making your communication as real as possible. The more accurately your communication reflects reality, especially if it doesn’t put you in the best light, the more people will trust what you say.

Be clear. Be Concrete. Be Concise. Be Complete. Next week we’ll finish out this series with the final two Cs of Company Communication.