It’s summer – the season when Max Maxey, my beloved yellow Lab becomes “Porch Doggie” nearly every evening. He knows the command, “Max – want to be a porch doggie?” and he gallops to the front door and out on our old fashioned front porch. I sit in the chair and read or work, but mostly I just sit and watch my porch doggie in action.
Because we live in an urban neighborhood, there are lots of people for Max to watch walking by. He has a distinct reaction to each type. Some receive passing interest: a raised eyebrow, one eye open, or a sigh. These folks just don’t stimulate a stronger emotion. Passers by with their own dogs receive a bit more attention – a raised head, erect neck and ears and eyes that follow them along – sometimes with just a little growl of distrust. Then there are the friendly acquaintances who nod or say “Hi!” but keep walking. These folks get a “thump thump” tail wag. Next are the casual friends and neighbors whom we both know better – enough for me to make light conversation and Max to walk down a few steps to sniff – cautiously looking back at me to make sure it’s OK. And last are the good friends – the neighbors we know well – like Bob, who basically gets rushed as Max bounds down the steps, runs in circles around him, and sniffs his dogs and the front parkway grass. Only fully happy when he gets a pat on the head, he comes back up to the porch, but reluctantly, and only when called. Basically, after Bob, there are no better potential passers by of interest in Max’s book.
And so the evening goes until it’s too dark to see or I get bored; Max never gets bored of watching and waiting for whoever is coming by next – canine or human. So what do I learn from my “porch doggie?” Hopefully we humans will never lose the joy of interaction with all kinds of people – from surprise visitors to favorite friends. Hopefully we will look forward to getting out on the front porch as much as Max does – whether it’s a real front porch or the elevator to an apartment or a park bench. And hopefully, we won’t ever rely on only electronic connections to greet, meet, befriend, and know our neighbors. Happy Porch Sitting from me and Max!
Anyone who flies even infrequently on business knows that air travel is just not what it used to be when it comes to service, roominess, baggage, and the like. Well, actually, anyone who reads the news knows this. But has anyone noticed what’s really happening out there? Here it is: WE THE TRAVELERS have changed. And here’s how: a typical flight will steer us among lots of PEOPLE – waiting, standing and sitting people – at check-in, at the gate, on the plane aisle in and out, in the taxi line, in a restaurant, at the crowded bar, in a small store. In all these settings surrounded by other human beings we rarely look at anybody anymore. Most travelers are eyes down in smart phones, I-Pads, computers, Kindles, Nooks, and now and then the rare paperback or paper newspaper. It is impossible to strike up a conversation unless it’s something like, “What operating system is your phone?” or “Can you get WI-FI here?” Opening lines and icebreakers are forever stilted when you can’t get someone to look up. All in all, this is a depressing development and will damage the already challenged interpersonal skills of today. But I’m taking this all differently. I see this growing inability to look at others as a great opportunity to save money and time because I am going to
-stop putting on make-up
-avoid all clothing trends
-wear only the cheapest suit jackets
-never get my nails done
-stop going to the dentist
-change my hairstylist to the jiffy cut down the street
-refrain from brushing my dog’s hair off my pants before I leave
-no longer worry regarding matching shoes and clothing.
I’ll look forward to a very stress-free, humanity-free, and sadly interest-free trip.
Summer is the time of garage sales throughout America, and I am one of those who can’t help perusing other people’s stuff. This year I tried to be a discerning shopper, happy to return home from our local neighborhood event with only a barbecue utensil set and a shrimp devein tool. Since I have never cooked shrimp this item is under question, certainly.
The day after the neighborhood sale, the alleys were encumbered with various items which did not sell even at end of day cut rates. As I strolled through the alley near us after a morning jog, my eyes caught an unusual item: a post it note stuck to the top of a small three-drawer dresser. On closer look the little dresser was somewhat but not terribly worn, a bit warped on the top, and, upon a tug, doors that stuck just a bit. All in all it was a serviceable item, and I remembered seeing it with a $20.00 price tag the day before. Then I read the post it note, hastily written in ink, and stuck on the top of the chest by the previous owner, ” I love myself unconditionally,” the note said. And I smiled and picked up the chest and carried it to my garage. Surely someone in my family would find a use for an item so cared for.
I couldn’t help but thinking of the note and the chest and the warmth of the note the rest of the day. And so my wish to you and me and all of us is to mentally wear the same note…all the time, “I love myself unconditionally, ” no matter how the day wears us or warps us or tugs at our once nicely fitted plans.
As always, your comments are appreciated!
If you’re standing up in a wedding this month – here’s another look at THE BEST WEDDING TOAST EVER… Deedee’s toast as maid of honor to her big sister, Maggie, the bride, and Paul, the groom. (Tips on how she did it at the end.)
“I wasn’t ready to give up my big sister Maggie. But I’ve had a year to think about it and I guess I can. When Maggie and I were very little, we shared a big yellow room and slept in the same bed. We had a witch in the closet. Yes, we were sure we had a witch in the closet. But Maggie, my big sister, would hold my hand and say it would be all right and I would fall asleep. (Pause) And so, Paul, (referring to the groom) make sure you hold Maggie’s hand at night and you’ll be able to sleep.
Then we got a little older. Now we had bunk beds—mine was on the bottom and Maggie’s on top. At this time we had a lot of stuffed animals and mine were always all over the floor (Sorry, Mom!) but Maggie’s were always lined up on her bed and she would kiss them all goodnight and call them each by name every night. It would drive me nuts. But finally she would end and all would be quiet – and at just that time I would ask her for a cup of water. Now I was on the bottom bunk, but every night (and I asked every night) Maggie would get me a Dixie cup of water. Why I never thought of doing it myself I’ll never know. (Pause) And so, Paul, if you get thirsty, Maggie will bring you a cup of water.
Then we got a little older. It was middle school and we were competing for things. Maggie always managed to leave the house with some clothing item of mine, and I never noticed until we got to school. (Pause) And so Paul, watch your favorite clothes because Maggie will find a way to wear them.
Then we got a little older. And as you all can see and know, Maggie is beautiful and kind and has a lot of friends. And so in high school she was everything: prom queen, homecoming queen – everything. Then it came time for Turnabout Dance Queen’s Court nominations. And I was nominated to the Freshman Court and Maggie was the Junior Court nominee. When the winner was announced, it was again, Maggie – but at that moment she came over to me and gave me the queen’s sash and said,” You’re the most beautiful one here. You deserve this.” (Pause) And so Paul, Maggie will always give you something if she thinks you deserve it.
Maggie, I thought I was not ready to share you. I missed the sister who held my hand. And then I realized, Paul, that Maggie has two hands.”
Thanks to Deirdre Sweeney for this winning example of how repetition can create the impact for a story. Like Deedee, you too can allow the storyteller in you to
• Fully explore the emotion of the story. A story ties head to heart. Use the natural heart-tug of the story to make your point. Never apologize for the emotion of the story.
• Let the audience experience it with you. Pause. Repeat. Use gesture. Connect with your eyes. Remember your kindergarten class – how you listened to the teacher as she made the pages come to life.
• Repeat a theme throughout the story. The listener likes the repetition.
Where and how can you develop new stories? Look at your life and your recent positive experiences. (Complaining stories are pretty boring.) Then add a bit of this and a bit of that and you’ll start to build a repertoire. Make sure to add details to the story such as “The moon was full” or “I was just sitting there looking forward to a quiet flight” or “She looked over at me with that arched eyebrow of recognition.” Details make the story.
(Check out THE PODIUM, a newsletter published for members of National Speakers Association – Illinois Chapter www.nsa-il.org where this article first appeared)
After a long, snowy winter, as I walked around our urban neighborhood with Max, my Labrador retriever, I noticed much that had been hidden beneath the snow – specifically: a white shirt, cans, straws, cups, baby toys, tools, bottle caps, and a child’s winter coat! I wondered: Why are people such litterers? Who is missing that small toy? Why would a white shirt be lying in the mud? How could a small coat not be missed? But now it’s April; the street cleaners have finally done their duty, and the answers to my questions are gone as are the items…forever.
There is a lesson here for speakers; we are people paid for sharing ideas and motivating others to change. It’s easy and natural to become focused on the TALK…on what we want to SAY. And yet, continued success in this business stems from our ability to seize opportunities to ask questions – to uncover what might never be revealed until it’s too late.
As a speaker coach, the standard two questions I ask speakers after they present is “What is one thing you liked about your presentation?” and then, “What is one thing that would make it even better?” They must answer in that order. This is not an unusual technique, but one that leads to truthful discovery and further spot-on work.
But what if we asked these same two questions of all our clients – all the time – about our work, our proposals, our approach, and ourselves? Most important, before we design or fine-tune the program? Here are some other questions to uncover hidden truths:
• If this is successful: what is the one thing you’d like them to do as a result of this program?
•Who else will be reading this proposal?
•What can you tell me about the audience that I may not initially notice or ask you about?
•What’s one important trait I should convey in my professional manner and appearance during this program?
Recently I interviewed several consultants to help me with a client who needed help in an area I do not cover. They each portrayed themselves professionally, yet each began with a list of their experience and clients first. Had they asked me more about my specific needs – had they uncovered the intricacies of my situation, I would have been much more equipped to select the right resource for my client.
Author and speaker Marshall Goldsmith leads a great exercise in his seminars where people explain a “weakness” they have as professionals and then ask another for ideas on overcoming it. It’s an exercise filled with energy and wisdom because we all like to give our “two cents” and it’s a perfect example of how others can help us uncover what’s hidden – if we just ask.
This month I addressed a wonderful group of volunteer trainers for an association for Down syndrome on how to be good presenters. I knew they each had a Down syndrome child and that was their motivation to volunteer and share. What I did not realize until I was midway through the program was the intense desire they had to share their “story of acceptance” about parenting such a child. For some the story happened in the delivery room; for others it struck when teenage romance erupted. The energy in the room when “their stories” came forth was noticeable. Had I known this earlier, I would have allotted much more of the program to working on that one story – clearly their main motivator and what their audiences would love.
And so we learn and grow each time we uncover “what’s beneath the snows” – before the answer is gone forever.
Have a wonderful spring, and as always your feedback is appreciated! Cyndi
Recently I was coaching a talented young executive on how to better navigate the bogs and brambles of a conservative, highly technical, very large organization. In particular, we were discussing how to make the most of meetings which were either (1) teleconferences involving too many people – all multitasking with their phones and computers or (2) face to face meetings which were also challenged by continual Blackberry and I-phone use by attendees. In either case, it’s hard for a presenter to make eye contact – let alone make an impression!
When I asked her what percentage of people were texting and emailing in face to face meetings she said, “MOST! – INCLUDING ME!” We discussed how impolite this is, even when everyone is doing it. In frustration she quipped, “It’s such a habit…so addictive…maybe I need a “Blackberry Patch” to wear on my arm! Just like a Nicotine Patch!” With credit due to my clever executive, here’s a quick quiz to see if you too are addicted enough to need a patch:
1. Do you text before you get out of bed in the morning? Before you turn off the light at night?
2. Do you check your in-box more than you check your watch?
3. Do you have not the slightest clue what went on at the last meeting?
4. Do you spell in text language when you write formal letters?
5. Have you forgotten how to spell?
6. Have you forgotten how to respond to others using head nods and eye contact?
If you have answered “yes” to all of these, try designing your own “patch” of willpower to wear on your arm. Life is so filled with opportunities to communicate with self and others in the real time of the day, week, month, and year. Technology is a great supporter…but if you can’t live and love life without it, you’re addicted.
As always your feedback is welcomed. Cyndi
In this, our concluding stanza of FREE HOLIDAY gift suggestions, may you be inspired to STOP, LOOK AND LISTEN to and with the people who prevail in your life. Best wishes for a wonderful NEW YEAR from Cyndi Maxey and Kevin E. O’Connor.
When you Stop and Sense the world
You give yourself a gift
Of a number of surprising things!
…The people all around prevail
…There is still a place for written mail
…And memories coincide
With the turbulence of today’s tide
And caring, loving, supporting friends are at your side.
In our combined 60+ years consulting and teaching in the field of communication – one thing stands clear – the importance of the relationships we begin, build, and maintain in our life and work. Managers, volunteers, front line workers, physicians, IT specialists, project managers, teachers, sales people – all bloom and grow via healthy relationships. And the traditional vacation days that coincide with year-end holidays provide a gift to us all…the gift of special time to stop, look and listen – to appreciate those with whom we work.
The New Year provides a great natural excuse to do or say something special for the person in the cubicle next to you, the receptionist who greets you every day, or the lunch counter clerk who makes your change.
And as we spend time with our families this season, or perhaps without them, we are reminded of the precious connections and traditions that are the legacy we all can live and share. If you haven’t yet shared a fond memory with a family member, send a short note to the child, aunt, or grandparent you forgot to call in the hustle-bustle of December. Copy an old photo and enclose it or enclose a “coupon” for your services this year – hugs, notes, phone calls, listening ears, back rubs, or cleaning. Most important, let the people around you know you’re at their side.
BEST WISHES FOR PEACE AND JOY IN 2011! As always your comments are welcome.
Last minute FREE HOLIDAY GIFT IDEAS…part 4…inspired by “Joy to the World” from Cyndi Maxey & Kevin E. O’Connor
…And your direct report really is dear
…And your leader has led without fear
To all who are VP’s, Chiefs, managers, supervisors, and front line leaders: Amidst the bustle of year-end deadlines and vacation plans, don’t forget to thank your team! One savvy manager we work with just surprised his team with a new email newsletter citing their good work and using their names and dates to remind them.
AND LIKEWISE…To all who are direct reports and volunteers: There is no better time to thank a leader you know – someone at work or a volunteer you admire. Leadership is never easy, often unrecognized, and sometimes difficult to define. Let a leader in your life know specifically what you admire about them.
Cyndi’s friend, Pastor Joey Watt, sent us a great book called Try Giving Yourself Away by David Dunn. Written in 1947, its treatment of 100 simple things that you can do to make your life and others’ happier still works today. A snippet from author Dunn: “When some people express their appreciation it seems to have a special quality which I have come to think of as depth. At first I thought depth was a matter of sincerity or warmth. But the more I studied the most successful appreciators, I saw clearly what it was: their appreciation was always specific.”
So what specific appreciation can you give to another? Here are a few ideas: how much you liked a phrase from one of their great handwritten letters, a specific reminder of their ability to ease conflict in the face of difficult clients, or a memory of specific happy moments of a fundraiser event.
The CEO and the C-Suite are often the first to know the complaints and problems and the last to know how pleased people are. Since most of us are NOT in the C-Suite, what we can do is send messages UP…through our actions and initiative…to let them know we are behind the plan.
…And relatives, and your pets too, would like your ear
Yes, the traditional paper Christmas and holiday card is slowly on the wane but there are many other ways to let those people and pets dear to you know you’re listening and thinking of them. Your pet most appreciates your attention… or more time being petted and walked…both FREE! How about doubling the attention you normally pay to that pet that you sometimes forget is around? And to those relatives you know you have been lax on reaching…how about one post card a week for the next three weeks? Or a Facebook “Hello” right now?
Stay tuned for even more FREE gift ideas next week! As always your feedback is appreciated.
Even MORE FREE Holiday Gift Ideas you give TO and OF yourself…A continuation of our version of “Joy to the World” from Cyndi Maxey & Kevin E. O’Connor
Listen to the world
And you will hear
A number of surprising things!
…The water cooler news is – you (!)
…The question from your kid is cool
The rumor mill holds more true information than one may initially guess. It’s not all bad and it’s usually not all good either. Your rumor mill may be on Facebook or the old fashioned face-to-face encounters in the employee cafeteria or the hallway at work.
Really listening at the water cooler at work is a gift to yourself in several ways: (1) it is a chance to practice the “no gossip” rule. And that is, first measure if what you are about to say will HURT someone or HELP someone. How will your comments benefit them if uttered in their absence? If you ask this question every time you are tempted to add fuel to the gossip flame, you will stop an ugly habit that does no person good. (2) And it’s also a good time to find out what you’re doing wrong! Most often we are least aware of our own potential areas for change and improvement. Why not use the water cooler setting to ask others for help? (3) And, last, if the water cooler news is misleading or false in some way about someone else, correct it immediately or say you’re uncomfortable hearing it…and leave!
John Buchanan, the pastor at Cyndi’s church, in Sunday’s sermon referred to the celebration of Christmas as the celebration of “… raw, earthy, worldly human life” and indeed there is such life out there if we listen to the world.
…The question from your kid is cool
Remember when your child was very, very little? The questions that were so endearing were often the ones you couldn’t answer well.
Back in those days you smiled at these questions, bluffed your way out of them, and cherished the mind that framed them.
And then the questions seemed to get less and less. Sometimes we parents were the ones with questions about school, friends, texts, and Facebook. We were inquisitive and they were sometimes the bluffers.
But there is a new day we can manufacture with our children no matter how old they are nor how distant from us. We can do what Dale Carnegie recommended over 76 years ago: focus on being interested in them – not to get something from them, but to learn about them.
Children know when we think they are cool people and they know when they are being investigated and judged. When we are interested, truly interested, this they cannot ignore.
When we show real interest to our adult peers they feel affirmed.
The same is true with our children…when we do it.
And that is very cool.
STAY TUNED FOR MORE FREE GIFT IDEAS NEXT WEEK. Your feedback is always welcome.
Kevin and Cyndi
Business & Professional Communication
DePaul University, Chicago, IL
College of Communication