Setting the atmosphere for conversations

robeToday I made my annual trek to the Ruth J. Spear Breast Center for my annual mammogram to have my chicken cutlets compressed to the width of my iPad. While I understand it’s a first world problem, I wonder, as I do every year, why the sum total diagnosis of a woman’s health is settled by reviewing photographs of her smashed breasts and cells scraped from her vagina. But I digress.

While waiting for my technician I made two observations:

  1. You can’t be shivering cold and have a meaningful conversation about your breast health.
  2. It’s difficult to have a serious conversation with a medical professional while you’re–let’s just say it–topless. There’s something about this state of undress that screams vulnerable.

These observations led me to draw some conclusions about conversational environments:
The best conversational outcomes are achieved when the playing field is equal. Everyone feels comfortable and empowered to speak up. Elephants have been ushered out of the room and the emperor is either fully clothed or admittedly naked.

Everyone understands the expectations. Everyone understands the rules, spoken or unspoken. And everyone is comfortable.

Makes me wonder what kinds of things are forgotten or left unspoken at medical appointments because the patient’s brain is preoccupied with insignificant details that matter not one iota to her health. And then I wonder the same about interviews, client meetings and team meetings.

 

There are no shortcuts to relationships

Cover of "The Slight Edge"

Cover of The Slight Edge

Over the past two weeks I’ve twice offered to connect people to individuals they could have benefitted from knowing. And who could have benefitted from knowing them. But, alas, it didn’t happen.

Let me explain why.

In both cases I offered to facilitate an introduction. I next reached out to the person with whom I was connecting them via email or Facebook message to ask permission to make the introduction. But, get this: before I had time to send the email requesting permission, the other people’s agent / hired gun marketer forged ahead and contacted my friend. And not in a gentle way. More like the proverbial bull in a china shop.

Needless to say, this didn’t go over well. Or, as the Germans say, didn’t go down well. The pushy, demanding emails were ignored and both individuals have, mostly likely, indefinitely burned bridges.

Let’s pause and consider what would have happened had I been allowed to introduce the two individuals.

Instead of a cold email, they would have been warmly introduced. The trust that I have established with my friend could have been transferred to the new relationship. Alternately, my friend could have declined an introduction and the pushy agent could have spared her client the embarrassment and blemish of a soiled reputation.

So what was the hurry? I have no idea. In both cases my request for an introduction was “scooped” by the marketer’s email in less than an hour.

The only conclusion I can draw is that, in both cases, the paid agents were protecting their perceived value above their clients’ interest. What a shame.

Last week I read Jeff Olson’s The Slight Edge: Turning Simple Disciplines into Massive Success and was reminded of those missed connections when I read these two sentences:

You plant, then you cultivate and finally you harvest. In today’s world, everyone wants to go directly from plant to harvest.

But that’s not the way it works. With plants or with people.

 

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Why I’m Done with United Airlines

Joe and JamesIt was a year ago last month that my nephew suffered the first of many headaches, which, after much persistence from my brother, landed James in St. Louis Children’s Hospital after the discovery of a large tumor in his cervical spine, later determined to be an aggressive anaplastic astrocytoma, which subsequently spread to his brain.

Over the past year I’ve made multiple trips back to the Midwest, always flying in and out of St. Louis, a short train ride to the hospital, so last month, when I made travel plans, there was no indication I shouldn’t do the same.

A few days after I arrived we were devastated to learn that, after leaving no stone unturned, there was nothing more the doctors could do for James. Despite every effort, the aggressive cancer would inevitably prevail. Knowing that there hadn’t been a single “positive outcome” using the cancer drug the oncologists recommended, James’ parents chose to bring their son home where he could be surrounded by love, familiar settings and, freed from the hospital’s impediments, a much more conducive environment for the sword fights that our little pirate loves.

Once the decision was made, the teams of doctors wasted little time in removing excess tubes, streamlining James’ care so that his family could better care for him at home. His parents were consulted on a Tuesday; by Friday the patient was home.

So what does this have to do with United Airlines? My return to Portland included two flights: St. Louis to Chicago followed by Chicago to Portland. It would be a lot easier for my brother to get me to Chicago, so I needed permission to ditch my first flight and just pick up the second one. I rationalized that United would be able to re-sell my first flight, so this seemed like a winning scenario for everyone involved.

I emailed United Airlines that Friday, hardly expecting a prompt response on account of the huge snow storm blanketing the northeast., but it was worth a shot. Saturday, desperate to expedite closure on the issue, I called.

After holding for thirty-eight minutes I was eventually informed that if I skipped the first flight, my reservation on the second flight would be cancelled. The only way to bail on the first flight was to pay $515.70, which included a “change fee” and the “difference in the costs of the flights. Here’s the irony: the flight that they were offering to re-book me on out of Chicago was the very same flight I was already booked on.

This “solution,” by the way, was all they could offer, even with the knowledge of the extraordinary circumstances surrounding my request. Unbelievable!

Incredulous, I turned to Twitter. And I receive this very “pat” response from @United:

United 1

 

10:48 a.m. @United’s “FM” called to tell me that the Chicago to PDX flight is “more expensive” than the flights I’ve already purchased, but she’d be happy to “waive the additional cost” and I can just pay the $150 “transfer fee,” you know, because of the circumstances. When I pointed out that I was already booked on the flight she was attempting to re-sell me, she agreed that I was.

My Twitter community, growing by the minute, followed the status of my situation, asking questions and offering support. Scott Stratton, “kind of a big deal” on Twitter with 143,360 followers, jumped in with support.

United 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So what do we learn from this? What could have been an incredibly opportunity for United Airlines turned into a PR nightmare as more and more people heard of the story. They failed to provide exceptional customer service, to protect their brand reputation and to build their community. Most important, they had an opportunity to excel and both customer service reps failed miserably.

Here’s what they should have done: The first person I spoke with should have said, “I’m so sorry,” explained that he’d need to re-book my flight, and then taken care of it.

My guess is that since this didn’t happen, the customer service representatives weren’t totally to blame. They probably weren’t empowered by the airline to do that. And that’s a shame.

My brother had a whole lot of things on his mind; this was an opportunity for United to take one thing off his shoulders. Instead, they chose to add to his burden.

Do you think anyone in our family will ever forget this? Do you think any of us will ever fly United again if there are any other options? Do you think, whenever United Airlines is mentioned in conversation, we’ll ever not tell this story?

United 3.

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Joy Abounds

falkorThe best part of having survived a shitty childhood is that it makes for a grateful adult. Of course the downside is that you also have a tendency to be anxious ’cause you know what kinds of serious shit can hit the fan. The stuff of movies. The stuff you don’t even see in movies.

So when I heard Brene Brown talk about fear at the World Domination Summit last summer, I got it. Yes, I’m the spouse who said to her partner, what if…? Buzz kill.

Switching gears…I’ve always loved flying. Actually I am almost always overwhelmed with tears as the plane accelerates down the runway and the nose lifts. The possibilities are endless. I could be anyone going anywhere. And for a brief moment I am.

But sometimes before I can relax into this bliss, I am overtaken with anxiety. The “what if” scenarios are endless.

But not today. Today joy abounds. And I slice through the clouds on the back of Falcor, the dragon in The Neverending Story. And the joy of it makes me smile. And I cry. Because the possibilities are endless and I am flying.

If you really knew me, you’d know that…

behind the curtain

  • I make good things better.
  • I’m not the best writer I know, but I’m a great editor.
  • I love being the girl behind the scenes. Some people covet the spotlight. That’s not me. I prefer to be the wind beneath that person’s wings.
  • I deconstruct everything, even sitcoms. One of the side effects of being an English major.
  • My super power is that I see the rock star in everyone and mirror it so they can see it too.
  • I’m an introvert, but I play an extrovert most of the time which means I’m an Oscar-worthy actress.
  • Whether Klout recognizes it or not, I have a lot of influence. When I talk, people pay attention and take action.
  • I’m a third culture kid. When I was nine our family spent a year living abroad in France and Austria.
  • I intuitively know people.
  • I hate jelly beans, amusement parks, scary movies and Vegas.
  • My strengths, as identified by Strengthfinders, are Maximizer, Discipline, Developer, Relator and Individualization.
  • I’m magnetic; people are drawn to me.
  • I can talk to anybody.
  • I’m the ultimate connector. My friends say I’m what you want LinkedIn to be.

P.S. I obviously need someone to edit my writing. Thanks, Pup.

What I learned about indirect communication at the Main Cafe

Ours was the third booth from the back on the left. A young widow with two preschoolers, my young widowed mother had no propensity for preparing balanced dinners for us at home. The chicken fried steak and meatloaf meals that Harold prepared were so generous–and at $1.29, so well priced–that my thrifty mother ordered a single meal which we shared. My earliest memories of dinner were served by Harold’s brother Jim or Jim’s wife Ruth at the Main Cafe.

Looking back, so much of my early education in indirect communication was acquired in this small southeastern Iowa cafe on 7th and Main.

A look or a nod to Jim would yield a refilled coffee cup or a scoop of butter brickle ice cream served in a sundae glass.

While the ancient menu might contain tempting items like grilled cheese sandwiches, Harold expected everyone to order from the specials, and he had a less than subtle way of bringing noncompliant customers around to his way of thinking.

Jim sitting at the bar behind his old Royal, typing up tomorrow’s menu, meant that he was not to be disturbed.

A customer standing at the bar near the front would invariably prompt Ruth or Jim to materialize, accept payment and add the bill to the stack on the metal spike next to the register.

metal spikeEach evening, after a leisurely dinner, the crosswords and dessert, my mother would carefully stack all of the dishes and position them to the side of the table nearest the server. Jim would respond with a measured smile and a nod, his expression of thanks


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Your customers are going to lie to you

There are two reasons I didn’t go out on a date until I was 20. 1. My parents wouldn’t allow it and 2. The pool of eligible men was miniscule. But make no mistake: reason number one trumped reason number two, rendering it null and void.

Of course, that didn’t stop guys from asking me out. Not many, but there were a few. And do you know what I told them? Continue reading

Coaching 101: Guidelines for working with new clients

I’ll never forget the first time I sat down at my future in-laws’ kitchen table intent on learning how to play euchre. My (future) husband launched into a monologue about a new world order in the land of playing cards where jacks, renamed bowers, were the highest-ranking cards. The “right” bower was the jack of trump. The “left” was the other jack of the same color…

And he lost me. If I am to be perfectly honest, I contemplated feigning food poisoning after the second sentence. You can change the order of cards?! The highest card changes depending on trump?! {whatever that is} So how often and when does trump change?

Not only were all of the concepts new, the terminology was the equivalent of Czech to me. And the “explanations” only added to my confusion because with them came the introduction of even more new terms. Help!

Just because a person has information doesn’t mean that he is adequately equipped to relay the information to someone else. Simply put: not everyone’s a teacher.

Here the guidelines I use when I’m coaching new clients:

  • Begin at the beginning. To borrow from The Sound of Music’s Maria, it’s a very good place to start. You have to start where the learner is and move forward from there.
  • Break it down. Define all new terms in common language.
  • Explain the goals first then the basics. People want to know where they’re going. After that they only want to know enough to get them started and get them on their way to the goal.
  • Examples are key. Most people learn from observing. I know I do. They see an example and then they’re able to transfer the information gleaned from the example to their own experiences later.
  • There’s nothing like learning by doing. Talk is cheap; most people need to get behind the steering wheel and drive.
  • Strategy and exceptions can wait. There will be plenty of time for that later. Let them play a few hands first. A good student will pick up some strategy along the way.

So what happened with me and euchre, you ask? I sat at my mother-in-law’s elbow and watched her play hand after hand. Eventually, she sat at my elbow and coached me. Eventually, we played side by side, me with the occasional question. Now I love the game and play every chance I get.

If you’d like to hire me to coach you to use content or social media to connect with your customers, give me a jingle. Or if you’re up for a game of euchre. I’m game for either.

Like C.C. Chapman, I prefer smaller groups

networkingA couple of years ago when I read C.C. Chapman’s article, Yes, I’m Going to SXSW, But Not to Your Party, I nearly jumped for joy. He wrote that he prefers small gatherings where he can get to know people. It’s O.K. to admit that? If, C.C. Chapman can put that out there, so can I, and so can you.

When I first launched my own consulting business I was told that networking events were a must, so I attended most of the local events. And how many meaningful connections did I make, you ask? One. Noland Hoshino, with whom I’d conversed on Twitter, stalked me at an event, and we hit it off, the beginning of a wonderful friendship that even led to a business collaboration, SMO Books.

But the connection started on Twitter, and I found that if I invited my local Twitter connections to coffee, I’d be in my comfort zone, and we’d be able to have meaningful conversations. So that’s what I started to do. And I met a lot of amazing people that way.

So here’s what I’m saying: No matter what your personality type, there’s a way for you to connect with likeminded people. It may not be what everyone else is doing. Make it work for you.

 

http://www.cc-chapman.com/2012/yes-im-going-to-sxsw/

It’s gotta make sense

You’ve seen it. The recent U of O journalism grad reporting “breaking news” at 11:00 from remote, long-since-deserted shooting locations. Shattered glass was swept up hours ago. Since the witnesses have tucked into their dinners, and probably even their beds, there’s no one to interview. Even the reporter appears clueless as to why she’s here.

Viewers aren’t fooled. Reporting from a location long after the fact doesn’t give credence to a news report. It’s just gimmicky reporting.

On the other hand, Today’s Savannah Guthrie reported from Charlotte this morning because reporting from this location, vs. the studio in New York City, is relevant. She’s in Charlotte to prepare for tonight’s opening of the Democrat’s Convention. Her producer wisely used Guthrie’s early arrival as an opportunity for her to interview Democratic contender Elizabeth Warren on the state of the economy.