Last night, I took singing bowls over to Dar’s (a dear colleague of mine) house. I had ordered them for us to use in our trainings, as attention getters. Before we had dinner with our poor husbands (who have to sit through shop-talk, whether they like it or not), Dar and I tried to figure out how to make these bowls sing. We watched a youtube video of the proper posture, the proper hand technique, etc. and we ended up laughing and saying, “Maybe we will just use the mallet as a gong and ring the bowls that way.” I was thinking about this on Dave’s and my drive home last night, and I said, “That is the best scenario for collaboration, isn’t it? Good rapport between partners, an ability to laugh at ourselves and each other without egos getting in the way, learning something (or, in our case, trying our best to learn it) new together, and perhaps coming up with a new way of doing things, together).
Dar and I had experience working together several times and knew our personalities were nicely matched for collaboration. In addition, we have now taken long road trips (5 hours one-way) to go work together in Northeast Arizona. At the return of one such trip, Dave asked me, “Did you guys listen to the radio?” I laughed and said, “In the 10 hours of driving, we never once turned on the radio. We talked the entire time.”
Recently, Dar had a project she wanted to work on together. While she did most of the footwork ahead of time, due to our schedule conflicts, she came over one day last week and we spent about five or six hours putting together a one-day training. Several times throughout the day, we commented on how much we were getting done (yes, patting ourselves on the back) and I attribute that work production to the fact that I didn’t feed her lunch. I only allowed her to eat one banana throughout the day. As we finished our work for the day and actually assigned each other homework, we talked about what made the day so productive. Here are the top three things we decided:
This is precisely what happened with Dar and me. We each had some ideas, but I was the peas to her carrots and she was the bacon to my eggs (just go with it, and don’t ask questions---you know what I mean). When she would say, “We should get them into groups of four, don’t you think?” I would say, “Yes, how about we do it like this..”. When I would say, “I’m not sure what this will look like…”, she would say, “What do you think about…?” The danger is in believing we have all the answers, or perhaps that we have to have all the answers or someone won’t believe we are Captain Wonderful. In fact, people begin to trust us to work in groups with them even more when we show our vulnerability and group-work ability.
I’m grateful for Dar and for all the other dear colleagues with whom I have been given the gift of collaboration.
Two things, seemingly unrelated, happened today that really made me think.
The first was hearing a dear friend say, “I just need him to tell me he loves me.” I get that. I am one of those people who needs to hear how other people are feeling. So, if it is that easy to know that everyone, at some time or another, needs to be told, “I love you.” We simply need to feel loved, appreciated, and valued.
The other thing that happened was hearing a woman with whom we played golf tell me I was a good golfer. Just joking. That may not ever happen for me. I pretty much stink at golf. But, she did tell me, “I hope you keep working with teachers. They do so much good work and they need your help.” I almost cried. She is not a teacher but she has a dear friend who just retired after 30 years who has been diagnosed with PTSD after living though some hellacious school scenarios (students getting killed, students killing each other, etc.) I kept thinking about how much we need to be needed.
Dave and I have been through a good bit this last year. He had surgery on his foot, and, shortly after, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I am not going to sugar-coat anything and say it was a fun year. But I do know this: Dave appreciated how much I needed him before, during and after my surgeries to get rid of the cancer. The year brought us even closer than we were before, which we both believed was impossible to do.
What does it mean? I think we do a halfway job of telling other people how we really feel, but compound that with the obstacles we encounter at work, and you’ll likely find it nearly impossible to truly communicate in the workplace. Why?
Here are tidbits that people say:
“I don’t want to sound weak by sharing my feelings at work.”
“I don’t trust my boss. Why would I share anything with her?”
“Work is not the place to share feelings.”
“If I tell my boss I am in treatment for alcoholism, I may never get that promotion.”
“Guys don’t share feelings.”
But, what if….
What if we shared how we felt a little more…even at work? I know a place where that happens. I know of a school where many people come to work to get fed, spiritually and emotionally. I know of a school where parents say, “They actually know my name and seem to really care about me and my child(ren).” What difference does that make? you may ask. It makes a huge difference to those who are emotionally fragile or emotionally stable. People want to feel loved and people want to feel needed. One of my favorite Episcopal priests ever (Father Arnold) knew the value in making people feel needed. We had just moved to Florida and I was church hopping. You know what I mean. I was slipping in, quietly, to one church at a time, just to check it out but not wanting to be noticed. As the service was concluded at my first visit, the woman in front of me turned around and said, “You can sing. We need you in the choir.” The next thing I knew, I was being dragged (well, maybe not dragged, exactly, but stick with me) to Father Arnold (so much for quiet and subtle visit), who shook my hand and asked what I did. I told him I was a guidance counselor at a middle school. He smiled a big, broad smile and said, “Great. We need someone to help out with youth group. Can you come next Sunday and join in?” The next thing I knew, I was a member of the church, a member of the choir and I was teaching/advising youth group every Sunday. He had figured out the secret to getting people hooked: make them feel needed.
Perhaps we need to realize that telling people how we feel and telling them how much they are needed may save them and save ourselves, in the same breath. Last but not least, one of my dearest friends ever texted me today. Michelle is one of my girlfriend champions. She lifts me up when I am down. She said, “Where is your blog?” She missed me when I forgot to blog last week. I love her for missing me but I love her even more for telling me.
One of my favorite songs talks about not taking people for granted or we might just miss them when they are gone. Take a look at Anna Kendrick’s “When I’m Gone”. And then go tell someone how you feel about them!!
After sitting on the tarmac for 15 minutes into what should have already been our flight, the pilot came on and announced they were waiting for potable water for the galley and for the lavatory. Well, I guess that's a good idea, I thought. It’s always tough with an early flight to get too perky, but I had an hour layover in Houston, so all is fine. Not as bad as missing my connecting flight, right? 30 minutes later, we were on the runway, about to take off, when the pilot announced (in his best cheery voice) that the runway we were about to use had a plane on it. “Well, doesn’t it need to take off?” I pondered. He then announced. “That plane on the runway had to abort their flight and evacuate everyone on the runway.” Well, that isn’t great, is it? But the pilot assured us we would still be able to get to Houston close to on time. “It could be worse”, I thought. All of a sudden, I started giggling to myself. (Notice I said “to myself”. The guy two rows up is randomly laughing out loud every five minutes in what appears to be his own entertainment land. Good for him.)
My next thought was a great memory of a book I used to read the kids at the elementary school in Florida where I was blessed to be the guidance counselor and principal for a total of 14 years. The book was called It Could Always Be Worse by Margot Zemach. The book was based on an old Yiddish folk tale about a man and his wife who lived in a small hut. After having a few children who made a mess in the house, the man got exasperated and went to the local rabbi for help. “Dear Rabbi!” he cried. “With all the kids and the mess, our little house is too full and it is making us crazy.” The Rabbi looked at the man, thought for a moment while he tugged on his beard (this is clearly the universal sign for thinking, right?) and said, “Go and find a goat and take it into your home.” The man, trusting the Rabbi implicitly despite his inner doubts about the wisdom of placing goats in huts, did as he was told. As you can predict, the goat butted into everything in the house, ate the bed (Dave said it might be like living with Labs), and generally made a tremendous mess. Now the man and his wife were really in a pickle. The crowded hut was worse than before. So, after his wife nagged him for two days (that is Dave’s addition to this story (sigh)), the man trudged back to town to visit the Rabbi. “Rabbi, oh Rabbi, now life is worse than before! With the kids crying, the goat bleating, and my wife bugging me (Dave’s addition, again), I can’t even think. What should I do?” The Rabbi, who clearly had either nits or food stuck on his face, tugged again at his beard, and said, “Do you have a cow? A nice milk cow will do.” The man of course is reluctant to give up the goods as he likely sees where this is going. “Y-yes, I do”, he stammers. The Rabbi, of course, tells the man to put the cow in his little hut. The man must be thinking the Rabbi has lost his marbles but he does as he is told and, as everyone can predict, the cow made everyone moooooove over and shoved her way into the house. Between the cow chewing her cud and dropping it on the baby’s head, the goat had eaten the blinker and cruise control off the family’s brand new SUV (oops! That is not from the Yiddish folk tale but rather from the annuls of Dave and Shelly’s new SUV when L.N. was a puppy. No lie----she ate the gear shift and blinker and cruise control!). Of course, life was a mess for the man and his wife. And I’m certain you know the rest of the story. Every farm animal was soon brought into the home at the advising of the Rabbi (why the man didn’t change advisor’s, one may never know, but stick with me). When finally the Rabbi tells the man to take all the animals out of his house, the man dies of exhaustion. No, no, no, the man goes home, removes the animals from the crazy house and goes back inside. He and his wife exchange glances and, with heavy sighs, agrees the hut has never been so quiet.
Of course, the tale is all about perspective. It truly could always be worse, even when we think we have hit that “worst” wall.
I had the distinct pleasure of talking with a new but very dear friend of mine yesterday. We sat and drank coffee and diet coke on a swing in front of the local grocery store for two hours. She asked me how I made it through the cancer diagnosis last May and the subsequent 9 months of surgeries and diagnoses and waiting and recovery. At first, I looked at her, quizzically and said, “I don’t know. We just did it.” But then, I realized that my M.O. is, and has always been, to look at the situation and know that it could always be worse and deal with it (maybe as fast as I can to get through the tough part). I then said, “Three things got us through it: Dave’s and my love for each other, faith in God, and a sense of humor that is always aided by my dearest friends and family in our lives.
There it is: life could always be worse but if I put all my stuff (my good stuff, my bad stuff, my tough times, my great times) on the table with everyone else’s “stuff”, I will take mine back in a heartbeat. I am who I am because of all I have been through (despite feeling “less than a woman” at times----I think that may be an old BeeGees tune) and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Perhaps we need to examine how we look at our lives and our work and our families and friends and be grateful for all we have been given.
Happy Communicating and love to all,