Randy Pausch wrote that great book called “The Last Lecture”. He was tasked to write a last lecture to his students at Carnegie Mellon, where he was a professor. It is one of my favorite books, for so many reasons. What started out as a last lecture to college students became a last letter, if you will, to his sons and his family, as along the way, Randy was diagnosed with cancer that ultimately took his life. But it couldn’t take his spirit or his extremely thoughtful writings about life, love, dedication, loyalty, and communication. One of my favorite pieces of his book is his take on how we say things. As a lover of communication and how it impacts relationships, I have written two books on this critical subject.
Communicate and Motivate
Building Trust in Teacher Evaluations---It’s Not What You Say But How You Say It
Randy tells the story of how all Disneyworld employees are trained to talk to visitors to the park. While the natural response to the question, “What time do you close?” might be “We close at midnight”, Disney employees are trained to answer differently. When someone comes up to an employee and asks, “When does the park close?” the employee has learned to answer, “The park will remain open until midnight tonight.” Now, let’s face it. No matter what, that amusement park is closing at 12:00. But how does the Disney way change the outlook and attitude? Just by putting a positive spin on the answer.
My first two years of teaching were in an inner-city school in San Antonio, TX. My kids were labeled “Emotionally Disturbed” and they had some serious behavior issues. Richard’s outburst could set off Jesse in a heartbeat and even if Mario was joking, Michael didn’t react well to anything Mario said or did. So, I often joked that I wished I had a double-decker classroom, so I could create more space between these volatile students. In order to motivate them to complete work without hurting each other, particularly when I wanted them to complete tasks in a group, I would often say, “Let’s make sure we get this done so we can go out to recess on time.” How differently would they react when the words were turned around to something like, “You better stop that or you won’t be able to go out to recess today”? I can actually answer that question, as unknowing or untrained substitutes and classroom assistants might say those exact words, to which some of the students might get frustrated, mad or worse.
How we say things makes all the difference in the world.
As I approach the day of some very major surgery on Tuesday, June 30th, I am reminded of a conversation I had with one of my surgeons. I was curious about the recovery period after having the surgery. She answered, “You are in great shape. You should be back up and walking and somewhat normal routine in four weeks, I think.” Another health care professional, when asked the same question, answered, “You won’t be able to drive for two weeks and you definitely are not going to feel like doing anything besides sleeping that first week.” The difference? The first response focuses on the pushing forward of getting better. The second, which contains two “not”s, by the way, is focused on the limitation.
For today, I would like to focus on the propulsion forward to getting well. I welcome positive thoughts and well-wishes and also know that people around the world are going through difficult struggles that are hard to bear. My fervent hope and prayer is that we can make time to lift up those going through tough times and be the spark to help them see words, thoughts, and prayers in the most positive light.