Posts Tagged ‘Leadership Development’
Posted March 24th, 2015 by The Steve Alexander Group
No more than 10 years old, the boy runs out of the surf with his new boogie board tucked firmly under his arm.
With a beaming smile, he shouts, “Dad, did you see me?”
And, during my daily barefoot run on the beach, as I glance at him out of the corner of my eye, I realize how much I yearn to ask my dad, long-since-passed from this life, that very same thing.
It’s amazing how young we are when we develop that hunger for affirmation from outside ourselves; how critical it is to developing our self-esteem. Yet, it can be our undoing if we don’t learn to affirm ourselves and gain assurance and re-assurance from the inside out.
I can still remember my dad teaching us the importance of inner-affirmation at a very young age.
I can hear his loving words, “Son, open your hand and spread your fingers wide and count ‘em.
If, when you die, you can count your close friends on one hand, consider yourself fortunate.”
Surrounded by his lifelong friends at the services for his final good-bye, it brought home the reality of that lesson. And in my own life, I count my friends (many of whom have grown from clients to friends over the years) among my greatest blessings.
And so I used that counsel when I eulogized my dad’s passing in October 1997.
Knowing his in-person counsel, and love, would be gone forever.
That, and many words of wisdom, coaching and encouragement, prevailed over the years of our lives together as father and son.
Another ‘Dad-ism’ – Grinning when I’d done something well, scored a goal in soccer, celebrated closing night in a school play or figured out how to get my car engine running again, he would sit in his chair and say, “Stand up and put your arms and hands straight out in front of you.
Now, wrap your right hand around in front and reach back over your left shoulder and grab your ‘angel bone’ (as we called our shoulder blades back then). Now, do the same with your left arm, and squeeze as tightly as you can.
Someday, when I’m not around, and no one else is there to pat you on the back, and you’ve done something you’re pleased about, you’ll always be able to hug yourself and pat yourself on the back, and know that you always have it within you to appreciate who you are and what you’ve done.”
How did he know his ‘arm-chair’ philosophy (pun intended – my dad would have liked that!) would shape my life’s work, my career, my relationship with the people I coach, train and team-build?
Along with a team of professional colleagues, I just produced a movie about how folks today can deal with our changing world in light of changes happening on our planet. [More on this new movie in my next blog, or, for an early look, check it out on YouTube, titled, “Answering the Call.”]
We brought together community, business and government leaders, along with world-renowned scientists, to talk about the impacts and opportunities that come from a region, a nation and a world facing drought, extreme weather, changing seas and other realities of our changing climate.
Whether you ‘believe’ (a term I’m told is like ‘believing’ whether or not the earth revolves around the sun – a concept still disputed by 24% of folks surveyed annually who still ‘believe’ the sun revolves around the earth) in a changing climate doesn’t matter; what does is that our world is changing. What matters is what we do about it, and how we work together, for future generations.
What’s this got to do with my dad? And a 10-year old boy on the beach?
Well, we just released the movie. And I was proud to be a part of a group of people – liberal, conservative, practical, theoretical, and all very smart – who came together to work on this production.
As I breathed in during my daily beachfront run, and saw this boy with that big (and hopeful) smile on his face, anticipating his dad’s acknowledgement – the proverbial ‘pat-on-the-back’ – I thought about my dad, and wondered if he’d be proud of me, too.
What would he say?
Would he give me that hug and pat on the back?
And remind me I could reach out my arms and do that when he was gone?
And in that little boy’s face, a stranger whom I will never know, I saw my own.
So many years ago, looking for my loving father, and then again, today.
Saying, “Dad, did you see me?”
Posted February 28th, 2015 by The Steve Alexander Group
An adorable Vietnamese ‘granny’ and I were comparing Cymbidiums.
We stood peering into the racks to see which we liked the most. And at various specimens that presented their blooms.
How to decide? Which to choose? No discussion. Just communicating non-verbally.
She must have seen my eyes drift to the one she was holding. I’ll never know.
“Okay, good-bye,” she says, as her opening comment.
I step away, surprised that she spoke, her having reached out with her arms with the most beautiful specimen in the store; the one she likes and has been holding the entire time.
“You take this one!” She sort of proclaims, almost commands it. And her proclamation touches my heart somewhere deep and unsettled.
She doesn’t see the tears well-up in my eyes.
Memories rush in.
As I turn my head, I’m transported back to 1969.
A country torn apart.
Innocent people dying.
And my friends, brothers… going off to fight. And die.
Protesting in the streets, “Stop this craziness!”
Walking out in the middle of Accounting 101, studying to be a stock broker.
Just having returned from Woodstock, a musical interlude, symbol of the peace movement and a brief moment in time in-between the fighting, protests and confusion.
No more war.
Leaving my scholarship and plans behind. Knowing, somehow, my path needed to be different. Changed forever.
Looking for life’s meaning.
Now, in my coaching and teambuilding, a major emphasis on ensuring, as we engage in dialogue today, we be mindful of our need to be ‘right,’ rather than doing the right thing. The importance of avoiding the ‘right/wrong’ paradigm (if one side is right, the other must be wrong).
Realizing how much of my work is affected by these memories.
And then, seeing her standing in front of me, again, back in 2015.
And in her weathered face… seeing family members lost. Forever.
And almost 50 years later we stand side-by-side.
Her new home; her adopted country.
One I take for granted.
And sharing love, and maybe even memories, and a kindness, on a moment of crossed paths.
And the tears won’t stop.
Posted January 26th, 2014 by The Steve Alexander Group
We thought we had been completely clear on our dinner order. Then everything quickly tumbled out of control, with tempers flaring and a rush headlong into the ‘right/wrong’ paradigm I teach about in my coaching and teambuilding training. “Okay, here it comes,” I thought to myself, as others around the table seemed to grasp for help.
We started out for our last dinner with the team I was training in Florida. I’ve been working with them for over a dozen years, so lots of history and warm camaraderie around the big round table. We asked, given it was an unusually nice French restaurant in seemingly the middle-of-nowhere, if anyone wanted or had ever tasted escargot. With mixed replies, some willing to try, some salivating and others with a nonverbal cue to keep it far from their plate, we asked the delightful French waiter – a short, squat, grey-haired 70-plus year-old gentleman who spoke his English with a great French accent – right out of central casting, if we might have enough escargot to share among nine of us. He wrote it down and disappeared into the kitchen.
The wine was selected, conversation deepened, time passed and out came the owner of the restaurant with nine separate servings of a half-dozen escargot in each dish!
Eyes widened around the table (no one of the decliners lurched for the restroom, however you could see it in their faces) and the nonverbal responses entered into a din of dialogue that quickly turned to finger-pointing!
“Who ordered all this escargot?” “I didn’t want any.” “We can’t eat all this!” The noise level rapidly shot up. And, of course, the level of ‘listening’ went down right along with the comprehension. After a brief point, everyone turned to me and begged, “Steve, you’re our facilitator, please fix this!”
I turned to the owner and said, “There’s been a misunderstanding. We wanted enough escargot to share among nine of us, not separate servings of nine each.” To which he replied, “No, you did not.”
Our journey begins.
I suggested, due to the miscommunication, how about he leave us with four or five of the servings, to which our delightful French waiter replied something along the lines of “You are wrong! You absolutely ordered nine servings.” (My command of French is slight; my study and reading of human body language allows me to conclude there are certain universal ‘words’ that are clear no matter the spoken word!)
He pointed to his pad and with great emotion told us we CLEARLY ordered nine servings of escargot.
At least the point of this post should be clear by now. How quickly communication can be confused, how miscommunication can arise. And how quickly we jump to that ‘right/wrong’ paradigm (if I am right, you must be wrong, and vice versa).
Of course, once the dialogue (shouting, pleading, etc.) settled down, and the Frenchman came over to me and confided how difficult it was to work for the owner, who was often quick to allow his temper to rise, and how much trouble he was in, I assured him we would do all possible to help.
After time passed and temperatures cooled, and the main courses were delivered and deemed with perfection, I called over the waiter and announced that we’d had the best service of any of our experiences while gathered in this little corner of the world, and felt a part of our Frenchman’s family. Our group gave him a loud, heartfelt round of applause, to which everyone in the restaurant turned to see what was happening. We thanked him profusely for his patience with our language, and left him with a warmth and gratitude that was as important to us as it was to him.
I brought him close and whispered to him that I would talk to the owner and explain as well.
When the owner came by at the end of the meal to ask how it was, we told him, out of everywhere we’d been (the irony being we had other dinner plans and only selected his because the place we were going didn’t seem suitable), this was truly the best, and what made it so was our delightful, personable, engaging and dedicated waiter, who, in spite of the miscommunication, OUR miscommunication, made our evening the most memorable of all.
Ms. Communication actually turned into a great hostess who gave each of us – team members, waiter and owner – a glimpse into our own ability to unwittingly make communication blunders. It became a positive experience in how, instead of seeking blame, fault or cause, we may instead focus on the desired outcomes and the purpose of our communication. We even perceived the broader context of why and how we were gathered together and the potential to learn from one another and our circumstances.
When we move to cause and blame, we too often lose sight of the bigger picture. And everyone goes away a loser. With a less-than-positive experience and a ‘having-missed-something’ outcome.
Our French waiter became our teacher. We, part of the classroom that now extended from the retreat center to our evening dinner. Each of us was in some way affected, appreciative and better for it.
What’s happened in your life recently where Ms. Communication has visited? Where are the opportunities, in both big and small ways, to take a breath, self-reflect and find your way, with others, to better understanding, patience, insight and growth?
We all have those ‘escargot’ moments in our lives. Keep searching for how you can better approach the moment so the outcome leaves everyone satisfied, even enriched for having been a part of the experience.
P.S. If you’re curious about how we actually resolved the escargot quandary, let us know!
Posted December 22nd, 2013 by The Steve Alexander Group
As I tried to make my way into Milt’s home, crammed with well-wishers and partiers, it was hard to imagine being surrounded by so many people, some there in person and some in spirit, making up a 100-year lifetime.
Imagine living for 100 years. The experiences you’d have. Births and deaths, changes in our world, growth of family and friends, changes in your own world, and so much more.
My old friend (and in this case that’s an apropos descriptor!), Milt, turned 100 last week, and I was honored to be at the celebration. We met through his wife, Jo, many years ago. She was the president of the California Association of Marriage & Family Therapists when I was its chief executive. And to know Jo, you had to know Milt, too. She left us a couple years ago, when we all thought Milt would be the one. And yet there he stood with that cherub-like grin of his, laughing among friends and family as would a new-born experiencing his first smile.
When asked what were the most significant changes he’d experienced in his century of life, he was quick to note two things: transportation and communication. He pointed out the obvious – commercial air travel, roads and highways for motored vehicles, the ways we get around now and the range of alternatives.
And communication. It goes without saying, even writing this piece that becomes available to not only you, the reader who subscribes here, but to millions of others throughout the world who can access it through a range of their own personal devices. Instantly. Just imagine by contrast Milt’s world in 1913.
That’s not what was at the heart of Milt’s insights and revelation, though. He talked, too, about the value of people and how it’s changed over time. He quipped that he asked someone recently what they were getting paid, and about the minimum wage being about $7 or $8 per hour. When he grew up, he was paid two dollars. Per day.
But his point was very much a metaphor. He wistfully talked about whether we value people in our lives, in our workplaces and just in general in the world. Do we make the time for them? Do they mean as much as time goes by?
Milt has learned a lot during his 100 years of life. Especially about how to care for and about people. Friends. Family. Co-workers. And expects more to come. That was obvious from the full house and the line of folks gathered outside who couldn’t make it in.
What about us? What has our lifetime meant? Where we work? Among family? And friends? And those whose lives we touch even casually?
My friend and I stood listening to Milt, and contemplated what the next 30 or 40 years of our lives would witness, were we lucky enough to have them. Changes in technology. Communication. And so many other aspects of our lives. And it reminded us of the value of our own multiple-decades relationship, and the changes we’ve experienced, with more to come.
As another year comes to an end, and a dear friend like Milt reminds us of what a lifetime really means, what about you? What has been important during your lifetime? And what do you imagine the next 10, 20, 30 years or more will bring? Not just to our world, collectively. To your own special world you get to create every day.
Thanks, Milt. For the reminder. For me. For all of us!
Posted November 10th, 2013 by The Steve Alexander Group
I’m not sure who said that. My brother has reminded me of it in many of our conversations.
The more professional coaching work I do these days, the more I remind others of it as well.
We seem to want to focus on what others need to do. To make us happy. To give us what we want. To change to make our lives more comfortable. Easier. Less complicated or conflicted. And yet it’s these very expectations that leave us feeling like we didn’t get what we wanted.
As the old Zen lesson reminds us, “Have no expectations, get no disappointments.” What if we lived a day without expecting anything from anyone else in our lives? Instead, what if we asked ourselves what we might do to bring pleasure, peace of mind, some small gesture of caring and concern to others in our lives?
With friends last evening I watched the movie “About Time,” a delicate romantic comedy with a science fiction time-travel twist. One touching moment, upon realizing there were limits to his time travel, our protagonist had to learn something from his father (brilliantly performed by the masterful Bill Nighy).
Though he had the ability to travel to anywhere in the past, instead of looking for the big moments, instead live each day twice, once as he lived it and once again, going back and looking for those moments within each day to find and give to others some simple pleasure, some small opportunity for happiness in between the spaces of what we normally live through in the course of a day.
How the day changed. No expectations. No disappointments. Beyond that, giving without expecting to ‘get’ something in return.
Can you live a day like that? At work? Home? In line at the coffee shop while you’re in a hurry to get to where you need to be next? In spite of the problems or challenges you’re facing? Or the ‘important’ work you’re doing? Or the many things on that long list of ‘To Dos” you need to get to?
I know we’re all busy. How many times do I find myself rattling off a list of all the important things I’m doing with clients when others ask how I’m doing.
What if you took a day and made a conscious effort to expect nothing from anyone or anything. And instead focused on how you might fulfill someone else’s needs and desires. For a conversation. An extra bit of comfort. Time. Care. Love.
I’m going to give it a try today. How about you?
Posted October 6th, 2012 by The Steve Alexander Group
In the cacophony of this intense political season in the US, it’s worth taking a pause from all the noise to reflect on the values that matter in our lives. It’s easy to get caught up in the ‘rightness’ or ‘wrongness’ of this stuff. Even more, to become ‘righteous’ about it.
Hence, why the story I shared last time about this humble man named Sixto Rodriguez must have captured the imaginations and yearning in so many. I can’t otherwise explain everything that’s happened since.
We received so many responses to the last post about the amazing documentary about Sixto Rodriguez, it seemed a sequel was in order. And for those who thought it was just a movie review, this man’s amazing story serves as an inspiration to all of us who work, live, socialize and otherwise interact with others of the human species!
The story of Rodriguez is almost unbelievable of itself. What has happened in the short time since my last post is, to me, even more so. First, I sent my blog to one of the documentary’s main characters, Stephen Segerman, the person who really ‘started it all’ with his search for Rodriguez. Turns out there was a connection there with one of our strategic partners, Orit Ostrowiak, who was born and raised in South Africa, and who is a worldwide speaker, coach and professional development trainer. We discovered Stephen and Orit shared the same tennis club in Johannesburg (albeit a few years apart).
Stephen posted our blog on the official “Searching for Sugar Man” website, commenting that he felt it captured the spirit of Rodriguez and what they were trying to express through the movie.
Now, just a couple of weeks later, the latest news is this story appearing in The Wrap, was forwarded to me by my friend and Cinema Society of San Diego director Andy Friedenberg. The story’s title is, “‘Searching for Sugar Man’ Rodriguez: From Poverty to Carnegie Hall.” It’s a must-read and gives additional insight into why I was so inspired by this man’s story.
Now, it turns out, ’60 Minutes’ will feature a story about his incredible journey on Sunday, 7 October 2012.
I can’t help but continue to feel inspired by this story. I’ve come across numerous others who were in some way touched by his music, his life, and now this unfolding story. He is playing to sold-out venues throughout the country and is touching a part in all of us through his gentle, quiet, humble notions about his newly-reclaimed fame.
Worth a listen, worth a look; I encourage you to check-out his story. There’s a message in it that’s timely. And maybe, for if even for a short time, it will take you away from all the ‘stuff’ that tends to take over when we’re on the fast track of our typically full and often over-stimulated lives.
If nothing else, I promise you’ll have ‘met’ a man who’s a modern-day soul that simply defines humility in a way I’ve not heard or seen in a long time.
Posted August 18th, 2012 by The Steve Alexander Group
Every now and then a film comes along that, from what you hear about it, promises a morsel of wisdom, insight and perhaps a message that will affect us and endure beyond its hour and 30 minutes. “Searching for Sugar Man” starts out as more than a morsel – soon delivering the whole cake – and ends up a banquet of emotions, messages and motivation that leaves no human heart untouched.
When I received the email from my dear friend and Cinema Society of San Diego Director Andy Friedenberg early Friday morning, I thought, “Hmmm, it’s rare that he’ll drop me a note this clearly telling me to see a flick, so it must be good.” I checked and found the local showings and set aside the afternoon to see what the buzz was about.
A small film about a songwriter musician with the talent of Bob Dylan and the gentle tenderness of a holy man, the story of Rodriguez will leave you in a daze long after the last of the credits roll. In fact, the theatergoers sat silently after the film, and much like the character memorialized in our hearts in that hour and a half, shuffled out in solemn reflection of what they just experienced.
Searching for Sugar Man is about the human spirit, humility and a brand of self-deprecation reserved for saints. You have to see the picture to understand it. And you have to experience it to receive the gift of the personal lessons it may hold for you.
You’ll probably never see Rodriguez, and the film that portrays his life, at the Academy Awards. Unless they include a new category for the Most Creative and Inspirational Film of the Year.
In today’s world, filled with so many recent senseless shootings, unpredictable violence, worldwide turmoil, economic uncertainty, name-calling and blaming, we find Rodriguez, and the many other real-life characters who fill the screen, to be refreshingly honest, open, and heroes in small, special and powerful ways.
The backdrop is the early 70s, an era in South Africa when apartheid was at its peak. Juxtaposed in a way that makes sense when you see the movie, the Detroit music scene, this talented, gifted musician and the songs he writes take on a meaning extending far beyond his failed commercial journey. It heralds the beginning of white South African anti-establishment awareness, since the National Party government heavily censored all media.
We ask ourselves, “Why we didn’t know about this?” And it helps us to remember that, even today, we get so caught up in the business of our own small worlds that we forget we are part of something bigger than ourselves. That there is a connectedness to things beyond our immediate sphere.
A common theme to my posts has been the encouragement, the urging, to take the time to look around, to see and appreciate the experiences of others, to touch deeply those around us, to hear their hearts and share their struggles… and their successes.
The irony of what happens in Rodriguez’s life, and how he and his family handle it, is a lesson for us all. The lesson is timeless, and it crosses generations, cultures, economies and countries. Each of us, in some way, big or small, affects the lives of others. Each of us has an opportunity to pause, take a moment and be present for those we love, those with whom we live, work and socialize.
Sometimes it doesn’t even require much more than a few simple words. A touch. A notion that someone matters. And that’s worth acknowledging. Who knows? You may leave a lasting impression, affecting someone in ways you can’t imagine. You can even change their world.
Just like Rodriguez.
Posted February 18th, 2012 by The Steve Alexander Group
In the communications world, we’re constantly looking for those anecdotes and stories that help others learn about the importance and challenges of communicating to our audiences. One recently occurred with a little friend of mine (‘little’ meaning 10 years old!) in trying to help her solve a problem. It helped underscore the importance of using language that has meaning to the receiver, and of making sure our communications are audience-focused.
She called me, as a family friend, from her mom’s mobile phone to tell me they were having trouble with their new television and video-streaming reception (not that I’m an expert by any stretch, however, I’m a practiced tinkerer and have some talent in unexpected areas beyond my day job!). It seemed like nothing was working. Because they had one of those full-service, one-provider arrangements, I asked if the house phone worked. She didn’t know (and rarely uses it), so I asked her to pick up the phone and listen for the dial-tone. Her response was startling!
“What’s a dial-tone?”
At first I thought she was teasing me (something she learned from me and at which she is now well-practiced). I repeated my question, and asked if she could hear the dial-tone on the house phone. For context, this is someone with an iPad, iPod and notebook computer, and who uses her mom’s mobile phone for voice communication. Once she knows your eddress, you’re a regular in her ‘Contacts’ list, and are sure to be updated on her life activities via email, texts, etc.
I was a bit taken aback and started to describe what a dial-tone was when I realized she was of a generation that had no real experience with the concept, and that I’d lost my ‘audience’ because I was unable to speak in a language and with words, symbols and substance that she understood. In my inability to explain and attempt to grasp for comparisons, this thought came to me: How often do we communicate in a language, at a time, with an emotion or intent that makes complete sense to us, but leaves our audiences, our listeners, totally disconnected (pardon the pun!)?
We act based on what WE think WE know, rather than taking the time to understand what our audiences/listeners know and need. It’s a focal point of a lot of the professional coaching I do as well. Often my counsel (when clients present a challenge in communicating with someone) is to slow down, think about the person they are communicating to, and ask them to apply the old ‘put yourself in their chair’ exercise. For example, what is that person thinking? What experiences do they bring to the conversation? What are their needs, wants, desires; fears, apprehensions, anxieties? Apply the “Seek first to understand, rather than to be understood” lesson. In other words, focus on your audience.
When we train speakers, it’s the same advice. Ask, why are folks sitting in their chairs listening to me? Why are they there? What do they want? (Rather than the classic speaker’s mistake of asking: What do I want to tell them?)
This little 10-year old is pretty sharp, and eventually I was able to help her with her problem. It made me aware that a mobile-phone generation may NEVER hear a dial-tone, and that word, like so many others, illustrates the need for changing language, symbols and substance as we communicate to others who may have a different perspective, background, culture, history, etc. than we do. We need to understand what others need and want from the communication, presentation, meeting, or other interaction they’re having with us, and help understand their ‘language,’ and where they are coming from in the midst of their challenge, or solution-seeking.
And remember, we may be speaking ‘dial-tone,’ and they may be speaking ‘mobile phone,’ and we both may lose out on making an important connection!
Posted November 18th, 2011 by Steve Alexander
I recently attended another Cinema Society of San Diego event run by my friend Andy Friedenberg. I’m not sure how he does it; his timing is impeccable when it comes to delivering movies just right for our times. Thanks, Andy!
After posting my recent blog about dysfunctional group dynamics, and receiving so many responses about how useful it was to folks, personally and professionally, Andy delivered with a touching, tender, poignant and timely movie called “Being Elmo” that was right on point!
So, why Elmo? The movie (releasing late December 2011, and you won’t want to miss it) is about an eight-year-old boy’s dream; a dream to become a puppeteer. More than that, it’s about the soul of this boy and how his character, whom we later learn is Elmo, reaches full expression in his life. Through Elmo, he touches a world of children and adults with love, compassion and care. His message is one of acceptance without judgment. No labels, criticism, put-downs or name-calling. How refreshing. And how timely.
The heart and soul of Kevin Clash, the tender, compassionate, caring boy whose dream actually becomes Elmo, is the heart and soul of this character we see develop on screen. We learn how congruent this is for Kevin and Elmo’s lives, if you will. By the way, Kevin is not a ventriloquist, putting a voice into a lifeless puppet, he’s a real, live human being putting his own heart and soul into Elmo. Touching lives. Caring. Carrying a message that says, “We’re basically all alike, regardless of who we are and where we come from; take the time to see that in others, see their dreams and hopes, and encourage and care for them.”
I never watched Sesame Street, Elmo’s home, only because I was from a different era. Learning about Kevin Clash, and his “Elmo,” gave me an appreciation for how much we could use his message in our tension-filled world, and in our distracted lives. How much we could all use a little compassion, unconditional acceptance and positive regard.
And maybe a re-visit to Sesame Street.
One of the many benefits of Cinema Society is we often meet the writers, directors, actors, producers and others connected with a film. We did that night. And also met 51-year-old Kevin Clash, who fulfilled his dream, and still carries that heart and soul on his sleeve, and, of course, in Elmo.
Listening to him talk, watching him connect with the audience, both in and out of character, was an inspiration. I’d like to take him to a few meetings with me; the tough ones I facilitate, where opinions and egos get in the way of sharing, caring and collaborative, mutual gains problem-solving. Kevin (in the character of Elmo) has a lot to say, and do, to help us in these challenging times, when communication has become so tragically dysfunctional.
I walked away that night with a refreshing sense of hope. I was touched by Kevin, even more, his Elmo. And it made me wonder if he couldn’t inspire in all of us a little more, to find that place in our hearts and souls, for reaching out to someone, friend or foe, and practicing in our own lives a little more… of Being Elmo!
Posted October 30th, 2011 by The Steve Alexander Group
It’s a shame that phrase has become so trivialized and impugned because of the circumstances under which it became part of our modern-day vernacular. Otherwise, it could truly serve as a plea for sanity at a time when dialogue between reasonably intelligent, well-intentioned people has veered off into a world of unbelievable disrespect. I’m not the first to comment about the condition of today’s public discourse, and I won’t be the last. Hopefully, however, with some easy-to-apply tips, we all might challenge ourselves to a higher standard.
I was recently asked by a reporter to comment on a situation involving a community planning group and the level of apparent dysfunction they’ve reached, including personal insults, name-calling, nasty emails and the like. The article, “Political infighting plagues Alpine panel,” appeared in The San Diego Union-Tribune and explains the kinds of behaviors that often occur in today’s public arena, whether it’s an advisory group, governmental body, in blog posts in response to news stories, etc.
I recently read somewhere that much of what has happened is that, due to the growth of electronic communications, we’ve learned to treat ‘people’ represented at the end of those communication venues as if they were themselves machines. Unfeeling, unconscious, unaffected machines. Thus, an email isn’t to a person. It’s the pounding away on a keyboard, with all the anger, frustration, ill-will and worse that gets conjured up inside us at times. Were folks sitting in the same room, face-to-face, it might just temper the words we use and the sometimes strength of emotion we use to convey them.
A few questions to ask yourself next time you communicate:
- How would I treat this person if they were my best friend?
- What can I say or do that would actually help in this situation?
- Is it possible I’m not seeing something that might give me a different perspective on the issue?
- What can I learn from someone who doesn’t think like me, doesn’t share my values, life experiences and world-view?
- If I let go of who’s right and who’s wrong, and instead focus on doing the right thing, how does that change my actions and words?
A few tips, many you’ve heard before, however, worth repeating:
1) Stop, take a deep breath (or three) before saying or doing anything. Just this pause alone will give you time to think, maybe even lower your blood pressure and act more kindly and thoughtfully.
2) Consider the difference between a reaction (quick, thoughtless, emotional, gives control and responsibility to the other person, blames, diminishes the likelihood of a resolution to conflicts, etc.) vs. a response (strategic, thoughtful, unemotional, seeks resolutions, puts you in control of your emotions and actions), and seek always a response to events and conflicts.
3) Take FULL responsibility for your part of the interaction and relationship (more on this in another post) instead of blaming or seeking change in the other person.
4) Remember, you are emailing, talking, blogging, tweeting, etc. a REAL HUMAN BEING, a person with feelings, albeit their world-view may be different than yours, they are of the same species, and like you, they mostly want to be heard, understood and appreciated for who they are.
5) Avoid the right/wrong paradigm (if they’re right, I must be wrong and vice versa), and instead, look for the nexus in your ideas; in the case of this story about Alpine, for example, what do we have in common in our love for our community, our vision for the next generation and what they’ll inherit from our hard work and dedication, etc.?
6) Remember, you can’t always be right. Sometimes you have to ask yourself if being right is more important than being happy and protecting your own serenity. After all, being at peace with what’s happening is within your power and it’s your decision, not someone else’s.
Granted, it’s not easy to be the first one to take the high road. However, with a new way of approaching our discourse, perhaps we’ll have healthier discussions, greater self-respect as well as respect for others. If it even nudges us slightly away from the aggressive tone we’ve adopted in our public discourse, won’t it have been worth it?
Interestingly, guess what the most common response is to my comments in this recent article from friends, colleagues and clients who read it! “Can’t you and those who do what you do descend upon Congress and get them to practice this stuff? They really need your help!” Well, we may not be able to do that. What each of us can do, however, is make an individual commitment, and since, as it’s said, ‘we elect the government we deserve,’ perhaps we can make a change in the discourse there, too. It can’t hurt to try.
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