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Success Harmony Newsletter
It is easy to get caught up with taking ourselves a little too seriously
at times. Nowhere does this happen as much as when we are in public view.
We then want to look good and in control of ourselves and our surroundings.
I believe that this is one of the main reasons why public speaking is
cause of such fear among so many people. We want to be so perfect that
it is easy to forget just to have fun.
I was conducting a 2-day management and leadership skills seminar in
New Jersey recently. Many of the people in the seminar are having tough
issues with their employees, with their superiors or with both. I take
pride in making my seminars lighthearted and yet full of ways of dealing
with the attendees' real life headaches. After all, that's why they come.
They want to learn something to deal with the person who has an excuse
for everything, for the person who gets defensive when hearing constructive
feedback, or for the person who creates problems by gossiping. Serious
stuff and I'm the "expert" in the room.
All went well until 10 minutes before our first break on the first day.
At that point, some little fuzz got into my breathing passages and wouldn't
leave. It's bad enough when you are the person about to die publicly of
loud cough in the back row. Going through this at the front of the room
with 35 people watching you gasp for air doesn't do well for projecting
expertise. We got through that episode, however, and moved on. That bliss
lasted another hour or so. At that point, two friendly but shy hotel workers
appeared through the door of one side of the seminar room. Politely but
with an aura of urgency, they waited to be acknowledged by me. When I
did, one of them shuffled towards me and asked, "We need to get the
popcorn machine in the room on the other side of the seminar room. Is
that OK with you?"
A few thoughts went through my head quickly. I suppose I could have asked
if this request really couldn't wait for another hour until we go for
lunch, but the look in the workers' faces told me that this weird request
really did have an important reason. I decided to let them go ahead and
said, "sure you can get the machine, as long as you bring us some
popcorn, too!" Everyone laughed and the workers went to their popcorn
machine room. All seemed simple enough until it became clear that moving
out the popcorn machine meant them spending five minutes shuffling things
loudly about and finally triumphantly carting the machine in the space
between myself and the rest of the crowd. I will admit that, by now, I
figured that my "management and leadership expertise" had been
completely discredited with every single participant in the room. There
was a little more distraction and we got back to the program.
So I thought. In the middle of the afternoon portion of the program,
the back door of the seminar room opened and the same two workers are
carting in the same darned popcorn machine. I was about to tell them that
bringing it back could surely wait, when they proceeded to lift the machine
on one of my back tables. Then I understood. Whether it was a practical
joke or a way of fulfilling their promise to me from the morning, I won't
know. Again, my mind quickly went back and forth with thoughts of extreme
embarrassment of my credibility when something told me to just give up
and give in. "Look at this, they really did bring us some popcorn!"
This seemed to take away all tension and discomfort in the room instantly.
All the participants looked in the back and started to howl. We had a
good time until then, but this transformed all of us from a group of well-behaving
adults into a bunch of happy kids reminded of a night at the movies.
I did attempt to bring the seminar back to order by promising we would
all get popcorn during the break, but I could tell that the popping machine
in the back held their interest way more than any of the cutting edge
management ideas I could share in the front. I turned it into a joke and
gave them all 5 minutes to go grab some popcorn and return to their seats.
They did and, for the rest of the afternoon, the seminar included the
unmistakable smell and crunchy sound of popcorn. Although the popcorn
machine was no longer there for the second day of the seminar, the energy
from the event sure stayed. We laughed and learned more as we made a few
references to the popcorn. The participants, strangers only the day before,
somehow bonded even more than a group normally does.
So much for trying to control things. Although I have always been a believer
in flexibility, this situation taught me how a seemingly distracting event
can in fact be turned into a better experience. If I had tried to "control"
the situation by fighting with the staff over their right to come in,
I may have elbowed my way into appearing the strong leader I was supposed
to be, but I would have lost the crowd. This way, I did lose control for
a few moments but the result was well worth it.
What is the take-away value from this story, then? Let's lighten up a
little. We have lots of people waiting around to be offended by us not
doing something right, but could it be that they are just as afraid of
losing control themselves? Could it be that we could all benefit by seeing
that losing control can actually give us a better experience at times?
So, next time we get cut off in traffic or told that the management report
we have worked on for the last five months will not be implemented after
all because the boss had decided to go with his own back-of-the-envelope
conclusions, let's not fight it. Let's see how to turn the situation around
into something good, perhaps even something better than if plans had gone
just as intended.
Sunshine and smiles,
"The more you praise
and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate."
"A positive attitude
may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make
it worth the effort."
"I hate housework. You
make the beds, you do the dishes - and six months later you have to start
all over again."