Archive for the ‘Communication’ category

The secret to harmonious teamwork

August 21, 2017


Why do personal conflicts escalate so quickly with non-profit volunteers?  Why do factions form like tribal alliances on Survivor?  What’s the secret to harmonious teamwork?

I was asked to facilitate a mid-year review and planning meeting for a group of 15 active volunteers who rescue German Shepherds in Northern California. As each person introduced themselves along with a short success story, one thing became very clear: they are ALL extremely passionate about saving dogs.

Like any volunteer organization, they have occasional miscommunications and disagreements, a minority of the people doing the majority of the work, and shared responsibilities that often have fuzzy lines of definition.  Yet as each one of them spoke, it was so clear that the one mission… the one shared value of saving dogs… was far more important than any petty squabbles over how it got done.

As the leader of that meeting, my goal was to make sure everyone was heard and respected for their opinion and they were. By the end of the meeting, we came away with renewed enthusiasm and agreement on a harmonious action plan to save more dogs.

Afterwards, I couldn’t help thinking about the state of our country. Harmonious teamwork is at an all-time low.  Leaders deserve some blame but it’s easy to blame the leaders. Heck, I could have just blamed the rescue organization president for failings of individuals and the process, but that would have been a very short and unproductive meeting, right?

I know the country is more complicated than a dog rescue group, and there are many more values than just one.  But come on, can’t we agree on SOME values that everyone can rally around?  Democrats and Republicans both want national security, a robust economy, community safety, the right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. <Insert your priority here.>

No single political party has a monopoly on shared values. These are American values that everyone can rally around. What I see now is a whole bunch of people who care a whole lot about the country… but are not being heard and respected by the other “volunteers.” We are blaming and labeling instead of listening and respecting.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m NOT talking about cozying up to extremists from the far right or the far left. Fascists and anarchists get way too much air time as it is. I’m talking to you, the vast majority of citizens who are capable of reasoned thought and compromise.

Some of those who read this will already have their defensive comment ready to cut and paste.  Some will maybe stop and think for a moment, but eventually retreat to the safety of their chosen tribe. Some of you will actually take the risk to reach across the chasm and have a real conversation with your “opponent” about a shared value and then figure out how to move forward to make things better.

You may dismiss me as a pie in the sky optimist. Yeah… you may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. The secret to harmonious teamwork is NOT to divide the team. The secret is to listen with respect and work together.

Oh… and if you want to foster or adopt a German Shepherd, I highly recommend Golden State German Shepherd Rescue. Peace, my friends.



Alright, break it up

July 12, 2017


I am, and have always been, a peacemaker. Conflict makes me edgy.  I feel a personal responsibility to lighten the air with humor when two people are going at it in a heated exchange or hostile negotiation. Early in my career, I felt compelled to make others laugh so they would chill out on the arguing.

Here’s the problem. It wasn’t my fight.

I got once got admonished for cracking a joke in a staff meeting when two verbal combatants were debating in front of everyone before making a decision. “You’re not helping, David” is what I heard loud and clear. And honestly, I was embarrassed to get that reprimand publicly.

Afterwards, I received a helpful analogy from a colleague.  He said, “Arguments in the boardroom are like hockey player fights. The refs never jump in and break it up until the two players are exhausted from punching and fall down on the ice.  If you jump in too soon, you might take an unnecessary roundhouse to the jaw.”

So for all of you fellow keepers of the peace out there, perhaps you should take a deep breath, calm your soul and wait out the end of the fight next time.  It may be difficult, but take heart… you will be extremely valuable in the recovery process.


Put me in, player

June 28, 2017


I had two different managers in a large corporation who both achieved their management positions by first being effective individual contributors. They were star players who were naturally recognized by senior management as great examples to lead a team.

It was a good call. Both performed very well as managers and replaced themselves with other players, teaching them to do things they used to do. But just because they were able to coach, didn’t mean they enjoyed it at the same level as when they played “on the field.”  And sometimes… what felt like micro-managing was really just a frustrated desire to come off the sideline and play again.

In both situations, my solution as a team member was to go ahead and let them play a bit. I would invite them to creative brainstorming sessions and editing reviews, and listened to how they communicated with internal clients. I knew I could still learn something from them, even if I was fully capable of trial and error on my own.

If they started to take over too much, I had an honest conversation and asked them to let me take the wheel again. The key is the open and honest communication.

Try this, “I appreciate all the input because I know how important the outcome is for this project. Would you mind if I stepped up to lead now so the learning really sticks for me? I’ll keep you in the loop.”

Copping an attitude or complaining to peers is never productive. If your manager is micro-managing, talk to them about it… directly and privately.

I had these two similar situations in my recent career, so maybe it has been a challenge for you too.  Have you ever had a frustrated manager that got too much into your business because they missed playing?  How did you resolve it?

Pollyanna Pundit Predicts Pervasive Pandemonium

July 19, 2016


Early politicians had it SO easy. They literally stood up on a stump and gave a rousing speech to a couple hundred people, and reporters without a strong bias one way or the other reassembled it the best they could for actual “news” papers. It would take a few months for the story to reach the rest of the country and there was no critical blowback because readers did not have their own printing presses.

Instead, citizens discussed the issues facing their city, state and country in bars, places of worship and actual, not electronic, town halls. The trolls yelling insults from the back of the room were few and inconsequential. I’m sure they had spirited debate but didn’t shoot people over them, and the mainstreamers likely listened to others’ opinions before deciding how to vote.

Eloquent, positive and inspirational words travelled farther and faster than mudslinging, perhaps because people were looking for vision and strength in potential leaders… and could see past the rhetoric and dirty tricks. I don’t know it as a fact, but I imagine people even switched parties occasionally depending on the strength of the candidates and the most pressing issues of the time.

And now we’re doing this.


Only human

August 13, 2014

jonathan_RobinI’m grieving the tragic loss of Robin Williams and it reminds me of the time I met his idol and mentor, Jonathan Winters. You young whippersnappers may not remember Mr. Winters, but he had a frenetic, multiple-personality delivery style that inspired the young Robin to let go and play so hard on stage.

I was an extra in a Noble Roman’s Pizza commercial in Indianapolis in the late 70’s, and Jonathan was the celebrity spokesperson. He came in to the restaurant smiling and shaking hands. He was a comedy god to me, and it was so cool to be in his presence. We all sat at our tables pretending to talk and eat pizza while he delivered his lines to the camera.

Everything was all light-hearted and fun until Jonathan started having trouble with his final line. He kept dropping key words and transposing letters. “When a Roble Noman’s pizza truck comes up to your door…”

Time is money on a video set. The director was getting impatient and the star was becoming agitated. They even collected all of our silverware so the clanking wouldn’t be a distraction. Jonathan got frustrated to the point he had to leave for 20 minutes to collect himself.

They eventually got the shot after about 15 takes, but that scene changed my outlook on celebrities. We usually see their final, polished performances up on the screen, but rarely see the outtakes and struggles they go through. And I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, the comedy god is human.”

Like his mentor, Robin Williams was also human. He was extremely talented and generous and hard-working… but still human. He made us laugh for so many years and will never be forgotten for that work, but he also had an internal struggle we did not see. I can’t imagine the pain he must have felt to not be able to make it through one more day. I just can’t. I suppose being loved by millions does not ensure being loved by oneself.

The only silver lining I can see in this tragedy is the discussion on depression circulating throughout the socialsphere right now. Perhaps someone else’s struggle will NOT end in tragedy. Perhaps another human soul will reach out for help before it’s too late.

If you think you might be that soul, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for some free and confidential help. And above all my friend, hang in there… you are loved, and you matter.

Unforced Perspective

May 28, 2014

unforced_perspective2Things are not always what they seem. And to all young people reading this, regardless of your upbringing or environment… I’m telling you social status is a myth. The kids you label popular are mere humans with the same dreams, doubts and insecurities that you are feeling. That’s right, everyone has to struggle with something. It’s just not always readily visible.

I was NOT a “popular” kid in school. I went to a large high school with 1100 in my senior class, and felt fairly anonymous in the big scheme of things. What I DID have were several good friends who I trusted and who helped me feel like I belonged. When I needed someone to talk to, I reached out for it.

I have since reconnected with many of the so-called popular kids on Facebook and had conversations that revealed this truth:  Everybody hurts… it’s what you do about the pain that matters. I also know now that someday you will look back on your gigantic problems and realize they were relatively small in hindsight.

There is no permanent peace in a pill or a bottle. Reach out and talk to someone when you’re down. Join a team or club or volunteer for something that gives your life purpose. There are more people who love and care about you than you could ever imagine. Trust me… things are not always what they seem.

Please share this with another young adult if you find it valuable. Peace.

Who matters more?

July 6, 2013

phonesLet’s face it. We are not alone anymore. I don’t mean alien visitors. I’m talking about the smart phones in our purses and pockets, which carry around our best friends wherever we go. With so many friends there is no way to keep up, especially through old-fashioned live voice conversations.

So we drop asynchronous breadcrumbs… posts, comments, likes and private messages to let our friends know we care, ask for help or trash talk during the game. So much activity draws us down into our devices, even in public places that used to be known for talking face-to-face rather than face-to-Facebook.

It’s ironic that I am posting this in social media to caution against overdoing it with social media, and I must say I am an equal offender in all of these claims. But please bear with me for the point.

All people matter… the people in your phone and the people in your immediate physical proximity. You have to decide at any given moment who matters more, because you make a choice to ignore one when you talk to the other. Note: online people don’t always know when they are being ignored, but present company see it immediately.

Back in the day, I was taught to greet anyone I passed on the street or stood in line behind with a hearty hello. And to abandon a face-to-face conversation by looking down and away would be considered just plain rude. Yet this is commonplace behavior today.

If you are surrounded by boring or scary people in your physical proximity, I don’t blame you for diving down into your device to talk to your BFF’s. And yet I can’t help wondering if you may be missing opportunities to make new BFF’s by not looking up. One hello and a smile could change your life.