Most everyone who knows me, professionally and personally, is well aware of my mantra, "It's not what you say but how you say it". I have recently experienced a number of times in which this mantra came to mind.
First of all, just last night, Dave and I were at a local restaurant. Dave asked for one type of beverage. The server said, "We don't have that one." Dave asked for another type. The server said, "Sorry, we don't have that one, either." Dave finally just said, "So, maybe it would be easier to ask what you DO have?" Of course, my jovial husband smiled as he said it, but the point was clear. Please don't just tell me "no", over and over again or what you can't do for me. Tell me what you can do for me.
In my work as an educational consultant working with schools and districts all over the world, I find this to be an incredibly helpful work ethic. Instead of telling districts what I cannot do for them, I want to reassure them in every way possible that I can help them with their educator and administrator effectiveness. A big part of that is building a relationship with them. I have schools and districts in which I can honestly say I love and adore the clients (that word "clients" even sounds way too sterile for how I feel about them). But it has taken work on both our parts from the very beginning, starting with emails and phone calls that are timely, respectful, and friendly. I start out trying to get to know the contact person and the district in which I will be working as soon as I can so we can talk freely and not rigidly. The more that happens, the more I believe I can help.
In a non-work related situation this week, I experienced something that broke my heart. Someone who was not technically a member of an organization was told they needed to leave. The person asked to leave did and was likely quite mortified because they didn't know the "rules" they were breaking. I began thinking about my preferred airline's lounge. In traveling quite a bit, I have come to rely on and be eternally grateful for the membership to the lounge in which I can take refuge during a layover between flights. Every once in a while, as I am entering the club, someone in front of me thinks they can come in without a membership. I have always watched the agents handle this with professional and courtesy, and even offer to allow the person to become a member for a day if they pay a fee. Yes, sometimes, the customers get frustrated because they thought they had access when they really didn't, but the agents are always gentle (even when you know they want to say, "How many times do I have to tell you that you have to BUY a membership???!"). The scenario I witnessed this week was not gentle, and it got me thinking about communication, again.
What if someone comes into a Costco when they aren't a member? What happens if someone enters a meeting where they aren't a voting member? Most of the time, it simply takes someone quietly walking over to the person and letting them know the "rules" or the rites of passage, or whatever the case may be. How those words are delivered, however, could honestly make the difference between someone ever trying to come back again or not. And it could honestly have an effect on the reputation of the club, store, business, company, etc.
My niece told me that she notices that I think before I speak (most of the time). She said she thinks it shows that I really want to think about how my words are going to impact others. I really appreciated hearing that, and I think that Dave started to argue with her but I shot him a "communicative" glance. :) I truly believe communicating can make the difference between people getting their feelings hurt or not; between people coming back to a restaurant or not; people staying married or not; and so many other instances, some more drastic than others.
Just for today, perhaps we can think before we speak and realize that our words really do matter---to us and to others around us.