Trust me when I say that this advice is just as much for me as it is for you. I have written books and articles on communication, and yet I still have the capacity to get myself into trouble with my smart mouth if I am not careful. I come by it honestly. My grandmother had a biting sarcasm that caused me, as a little girl, to often wonder if she was being serious or just joking. So, suffice it to say, I possess the sarcasm gene (is there really one of those?). Before I delve into the need for others to think before they speak, I should tell you one of my latest ones. Yes, I'm telling on myself. Isn't that better than someone else telling on me? I was en route from Tucson to Saskatchewan two weeks ago. Let's just agree that this is an all day affair, consisting of three flights and then a bit of a drive. My first flight out of Tucson started off just great (as great as a flight at 5:30 in the morning can be)...until we stopped just short of taking off. The captain's voice came over the intercom, telling us that she knew we had probably realized we hadn't taken off yet (really?). She continued by telling us that the maintenance crew had filled us up with too much fuel. How does one even do that? I wondered to myself. If I were to overfill my car's tank, it would simply spill out all over the ground. How could this be? "No problem", she assured us, then she continued to tell us that we would just need to sit on the tarmac for a few minutes and burn some fuel before flying to San Francisco. Some guy next to me must have had the same grandmother gene I possess and said, not too quietly, "Can't we just burn it up in the air by flying a little faster?"
No worries. We were on our way within 15 minutes. Apparently, 15 minutes is about the time it takes to burn enough fuel to get our jet into the air. I checked my phone---no worries, still time to spare before my flight would land in San Fran and I would need to board for Vancouver. Au contraire, for as we landed in the Golden Gate City, the pilot once again came over the intercom telling us, "Well, the good news is we landed at the time we were supposed to get you in here." Oh no! Did nobody ever teach her that you ALWAYS lead with the bad news? Apparently not. "The bad news..." she continued, as I smacked my forehead with my palm, "...is that there is still a jet sitting at our gate. What this means..." I tuned out at this point because I am fairly certain that it means we cannot park at OUR gate, which means that short little layover time I had is dwindling rapidly. She continued, as if we needed the end, "...we will need to wait for that jet to leave the gate then we will get you in there as soon as possible." Don't give us a time, for we will hold it against you. They have to be taught that in flight school. Sure enough, we got to the gate and I exited the plane as my connecting flight was supposed to be closing the flight. I ran anyway (I will never learn), only to have the gate agent literally shutting the door as I felt myself in slow motion calling out "N o-o-o-o--o! I'm on that flight" to no avail, as they had already closed out the flight and given up my seat. I tried to explain to her that I really needed to get on that flight (like she hasn't heard that one before), and she said, "Sorry, it has left already". Ummm....no, actually, it hasn't. The plane is sitting in plain sight of me. But no matter---no point in stating the obvious to her. I simply did the walk of shame to my airline club where they booked me on a flight that would give me a very tight layover in Vancouver --- did I mention I am flying into Canada, so I have to go through customs, get my luggage, and re-check it? So much for NAFTA. All in all, it worked out just fine, leading me to once again remember that the things I worry about are often the ones I simply can't control or the ones that don't even come to fruition. But I don't mind sharing with you that I was terribly glad I had put on deodorant that morning, as I ran through the Vancouver airport to catch my connecting flight to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. When I arrived at the gate (my app said I had five minutes until the doors would close---I wasn't ABOUT to go through that again), the pilot was standing by the door. He looked at me and said, "Relax. The folks from the last flight haven't even de-planed yet. You have a few minutes." I wanted to hug him but I thought it might be inappropriate, but also because I figured he had me sized up as someone who quite likely needed to do a bit of freshening up before I hugged anyone. In fact, his "You have a few minutes" was likely accompanied with a glance toward the restrooms where I might actually go wash the sweat from my face and hands and hair and....well, you get the point.
This week, Dave and I took the dogs on what would become a month-long vacation---first to Ruidoso, New Mexico then to Taos, NM for some cool weather. While in Ruidoso, Dave was fed up with the dust and grit that covered the SUV. I tried to reason that it was likely to get even more dirty over the next few weeks, but he convinced me. So, we set off to find a car wash. Near our cabin was a car wash that advertised "hands-free wash" with "drying by hand". Wait, what? Okay, never mind. I will play the game. The guy that came over to our car could clearly be an auctioneer, as he spouted off our options in record time (he must not be getting paid by the hour but rather by how many cars they can get through the wash). We both said, "Just the classic car wash will be great. We just need to get the grit off the car". He chewed on his lip then said, "Well then...for five more dollars, I can promise to get it really clean for you." Wait, what did he just say? I dared not look at Dave as we would likely both erupt in simultaneous laughter. "Ummmm...." I ventured, even while Dave squeezed my knee to get me to hush. No dice. This had to be done (plus, I'm sure my grandmother was looking down, thinking, "You go, girl!"). "Ummmmm...I just want to be clear. What happens if we don't pay the extra five dollars?" Without missing a beat, the guy says, "Well, it will get clean. The $5 just makes sure it is really clean". So, apparently, five dollars is the going rate for "really".
I love to laugh, and, as we drove away in our clean, but not really clean vehicle, we continued the potential dialogue that would catapult this scenario into a comedy routine.
Just for today, maybe we can just think about the way our words come across (and, failing that, how our body language and facial expressions can give away what we don't even say). I am blessed to be working with the Albuquerque Public School administrators on Tuesday (yes, on vacation, but I can't wait!) on communication and trust-building techniques in working with teachers. I pray that I don't say anything that makes them walk out of my sessions wondering, "Does she have any idea how that sounded?"