Not too long ago, one of my friends ... I'll call him Josh ... took his family on a trip to Hawaii. It was a major undertaking, considering the economy, but he also knew it could be a major bonding time.
He only had one stipulation. Josh told each of the kids to save some of their money so they could buy their own souvenirs. Everything else was on him and his wife Bits. Josh knew that kids appreciate things a great deal more when they have some of their own skin or money in the game rather than everything being a gimme-gimme entitlement.
Unfortunately, the trip didn't start out well. One kid was a total grouch. She didn't like the restaurants, and she didn't like the food, water, hotel, or anything else. All she did was gripe, gripe, gripe.
So Josh took her aside and said, "Look, we came here to have a good time, and you're making this difficult for all of us. Why?" His daughter Sara said it was because she lost $5.00.
Josh tried to reason with her, explaining he had paid the airfare, the hotel, the meals, the car, the excursions, and everything else. She was getting a thousand-dollar trip and throwing it all away for a measly $5.00 loss. "Why would you do that?" Josh asked her. Sara replied, "It wasn't your $5.00."
When they got back to their hotel room, Josh took out a $20 bill, lit it on fire, and let it burn to ashes in the ash tray. He tried to teach her it was only money, and she could still have fun even if she lost some of it. So chill out.
Sara wasn't convinced and slumped off to her room. Five minutes later she came bouncing out of her room, all excited, saying, "Dad, Dad, I found my $5.00." Then Josh had to struggle with not being a grouch for the next 7 days.
The point is ... you have to live and work with other people. And you ALWAYS make the lives of others better or worse. You can be a grouch that inflicts pain at home or demotivates your colleagues at work. Or you can be a positive force that not only makes people feel better but do better.
Of course, my comments may sound a little soft or touchy-feely for some of my clients who are struggling with this tough economy. They're so focused on the money aspects of their business that they may overlook the human aspects of their business. But let me say this: it's not an either-or choice you have to make.
As a professional speaker and consultant who is focused on transforming the people side of business, over the last 25 years, I've learned that when the tough times comes, people skills can be more critical to long-term success than strategic initiatives such as innovation or cost-cutting. Commonsense practices such as listening, motivating, team building and change managing are always valuable - but never more so than during high-stress periods.
Well, we're in a high-stress period right now. Here are a few things you can do, relationally, to be a positive force at work and at home.
1. Bring a bright spirit to every encounter.
That doesn't mean you have to be friends with everybody at work. You don't even have to like some of your coworkers or relatives. But you ... and only you ... can decide what kind of demeanor you bring to your meetings or get-togethers.
When I was speaking to the Alaska Association of Municipal Clerks, one member of the audience, Julie Cozzi, the Borough Clerk for Haines, Alaska, said it beautifully. She said, "Everyone brings joy to a room ... some when they enter, some when they leave."
Julie learned how to bring a bright spirit to every encounter. And in a similar manner, you can do the same thing. In fact, in these high-stress times, we desperately need people who bring a bright spirit to every encounter.
But ... you must choose to do it NOW ... no matter what is happening in your life or work. Unfortunately, as one person pointed out, most people choose to do it later ... when everything is going well ... when they're feeling better.
No! You've got to bring a bright spirit NOW ... not as one person said, "We convince ourselves that life will be better after we get married, have a baby, then another. Then we are frustrated that the kids aren't old enough and we'll be more content when they are. After that we're frustrated that we have teenagers to deal with. We will certainly be happy when they are out of that stage. We tell ourselves that our life will be complete when our spouse gets his or her act together, when we get a nicer car, are able to go on a nice vacation, when we retire."
"The truth is, there's no better time to be happy than right NOW. If not now, when? Your life will always be filled with challenges. It's best to admit this to yourself and decide to he happy anyway."
"So stop waiting until you finish school, until you go back to school, until you lose ten pounds, until you gain ten pounds, until you have kids, until your kids leave the house, until you start work, until you retire, until you get married, until you get divorced, until Friday night, until Sunday morning, until you get a new car or home, until your car or home is paid off, until spring, until summer, until fall, until winter, until you are off welfare, until the first or fifteenth, until your song comes on, until you've had a drink, until you've sobered up, until you die to decide that there is no better time than right NOW to be happy. Happiness is a journey, not a destination."
How do you do all that when times are tough? The author concluded by saying, "Work like you don't need the money, love like you you've never been hurt, and dance like no one's watching."
And then, to be a positive force in your personal and professional relationships,
2. Be more of a giver than a taker.
Many countries are on the verge of economic collapse ... many organizations are barely hanging on ... many teams are not working well ... and many relationships are falling apart ... because too many of the people in those countries, organizations, teams, and relationships are takers instead of givers. They're focused on taking on what they can get for themselves, no matter who they take it from. But that always has been and always will be a recipe for disaster.
That's why it was somewhat controversial when William Barclay preached, "Give without remembering and receive without forgetting."
It's also a practice that Joan Miller, a Navy investigator and one of my audience members, follows with such warmth and compassion. She's a giver instead of a taker, despite her heavy load of challenges.
As she told me, she lost her dear husband unexpectedly when he was taken by a stroke on her birthday. Then her Mother died a short time later of kidney failure. In between all of that, she had 4 surgeries herself. Fortunately, Joan had 10 givers in her life ... some coworkers and some relatives who kept calling her, who checked on her, who cared for her at home, bathing her, and applying antibiotic ointments.
When Joan's next birthday came, she decided to be a giver as well. She wrote, "I woke up on my birthday with a strong need to express my thanks to the many women who showered me with their love and compassion over the last year. I sent living plants to these 10 women with the following message: I'm counting my blessings on this birthday, and you're a Top 10! Thanks for being there."
Joan continued, "It seemed like the florist bill cost a fortune. But guess what? It paid back 10-fold. All the loving messages, e-mails, phone calls, and hugs from those women were priceless. One of the most rewarding feedback messages was from my niece Barbara, a single parent of a 10-year old boy. Naturally she thought it was amazing to think I was giving gifts to others on my birthday, and her niece added, 'I haven't had flowers or a plant delivered to me in years. I absolutely love it. And I'll take such good care of it and think of you at the same time.'"
Joan finished her note to me by asking a question. "Now I ask you, how could I have possibly received a better gift on my birthday than all those loving messages and bits of feedback? I've learned that the kindnesses we give to others are the very things that bring lasting memories to ourselves and others."
I believe that when you and I and everybody else learn that same lesson, our workplaces and our relationships will be so much better. Be more of a giver than a taker.
And finally, in your quest to become a positive force in your personal and professional relationships,
3. Plant good seeds.
You're going to have some problems and frustrations in every relationship you have now or ever will have. That's a given. And those challenges may tempt you to give up on a person or a relationship, and they may tempt you to retaliate or get even.
At times like those, you need to remember what one Anonymous author wrote: "As we grow up, we learn that even the one person that wasn't supposed to ever let you down probably will. You will have your heart broken probably more than once and it's harder every time. You'll break hearts too, so remember how it felt when yours was broken. You'll fight with your best friend. You'll blame a new love for things an old one did. You'll cry because time is passing too fast, and you'll eventually lose someone you love. So take too many pictures, laugh too much, and love like you've never been hurt because every sixty seconds you spend upset is a minute of happiness you'll never get back."
The point is simple but important: you've got to do the right thing ... the good thing ... in your relationships ... whether or not you feel like it. After all, you are responsible for what you do in your relationships. How the other person responds to what you do is another issue and is not your reasonability.
It's like planting seeds. If you're a farmer, you are responsible for planting good seed, but the growth of that seed is somewhat beyond your control. Nonetheless, if you're a smart farmer you keep on planting good seed ... because chances are ... you'll eventually reap a good harvest. It's the law of sowing and reaping that works just as well in a farmer's field as it does in your relationships.
During this holiday season, or any season for that matter, take heed of this ageless advice:
So think twice about the kinds of seeds you're planting with your customers, your coworkers, your friends, and family members. It will determine the results you reap tomorrow. The seeds you're planting will make your life and your business better or worse.
To become a positive force, just remember relationship building is a lot like gardening. As Lynwood L. Giacomini says, "Like a gardener, I believe that what goes down must come up." And I say, what goes out must come back.
Write down 10 good seeds you will plant this week in your customers, your coworkers, your friends, and family members. And each time you plant one of those seeds, check it off the list.