Archive for May, 2014

Protocol for awkward moments

An etiquette expert came to my city’s chamber of commerce recently to help us with our “awkward moments.” I’m pretty sure my fly was down. By the end of her presentation, I was convinced again of something I’ve long believed but don’t always remember: most communication is non-verbal.

At one point, she had us make circles with each thumb and index finger while holding our other fingers straight out. She pointed out that the “b” on the left hand stands for bread; the “d” stands for drink. Formal dinner stuff.

(I actually prefer “BMW”: bread, meal, water. But then again, I’ve never been on The Today Show talking about how to hug your boss’s wife.)

Then, she said, “Hold your ‘d’ above your head. Now, bring it down to your chin.” I brought mine to my temple. Most of us did. Why? Because that’s what she did with her hand. The non-verbal trumped the verbal.

I sat up straighter. I just knew this protocol princess was reading me like a book. She’s about to turn my hereditary awkwardness into a teachable moment for the group.

Somehow, I nodded and smiled just enough to fend off her inclinations to expose. Then she asked us to think of a word that summarized who we’re trying to be. Her examples: powerful, authentic, confident. The only word I could think of was “less-awkward.” (Powerful people hyphenate, by the way.)

She went on talking about greetings (use “hello,” not “hi”) and hand shakes with the opposite sex (men, no limp fish; women, no tourniquets). She covered hand placement (not over privates), feet placement (obtuse angle) and name tag placement (right side).

People who don’t speak at a meeting are more noticed than those who do, she said. When you smile, show your teeth – even if you don’t have any. When you interact, first be interested, then be interesting. In a business meeting, keep your hands above the table most of the time.

I noticed a tension at play. On one hand, we should elevate non-verbals, pay attention to them. They’re saying (1) more than we think and (2) more than our mouths.

On the other hand, we should minimize non-verbals. Get them out of the way as much as possible so that our words mean something. Don’t let non-verbals distract.

As in much of life, the goal is unity. Let the words your mind conceives match your bodily actions. And let your body act according to what your mind has decided you want to be.

And, as in much of life, this union occurs only with practice. The way to overcome uncomfortable moments is to be willing to be uncomfortable for a time.

For example, when I feel awkward, I put my hands in my pockets, subconsciously seeking protection. Instead, the protocol princess wants me to rest my hands at my side or clasp them gently above my waist. Doing so feels awkward but I can see how it communicates greater ease and confidence.

Feeling awkward to overcome awkwardness. I do love paradoxes.

The protocol princess was Diane Gottsman of The Protocol School of Texas. She addressed the graduating class of Leadership Boerne, a program of the Greater Boerne Chamber.


Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at http://www.kwt.info.

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To grow or not to grow

I need to grow. On several fronts. My employers have invested in a new office that I run. They expect it to grow. My family needs me to grow in leadership and provision.

By nature, humans grow. Throughout history, humankind moves forward with innovative technologies and sophistications that cure ills and improve standards of living. As a result, the world population has continuously increased.

Economies are also destined and designed for growth. Our expectation of the Gross Domestic Product, the stock market and other investments is that they will grow. Historically, they have. The trends, over time, are up and to the right.

Growth is the norm, not the exception. However, growth is not always a given. Just ask the fired employee. Just ask any number of rural, West Texas towns.

So, when people say, in effect, “Shut the gates behind me!” my eyebrows furl at their naivete. “Shutting the gates” is either a death knell or an exercise in futility. It is not an effective governing strategy.

Kendall County, Texas, made national news in March when U.S. Census data identified it the 5th fastest growing county in the country.

Of the four counties ahead of Kendall, 3 are in the oil patch and one is a master-planned retirement community in Florida. So, if you take out the counties associated with gas production- the roughnecks and the old farts- Kendall is the fastest growing county in America.

Kendall County and its seat, Boerne, located in the Texas Hill Country between San Antonio and Austin, have long wrestled with growth issues. Scenic landscapes, interstate accessibility, exceptional schools, proximity to shopping and services; all these drive attraction.

People want to live here; therefore, developers want to develop here.

With the uptick in the housing market, developers have dusted off subdivision plans. Five thousand residential lots are in the works in or near the Boerne City Limits. But let’s have some intellectual honesty about the development.

According to the City of Boerne Planning Department, only a few hundred lots will even be available to build on in the next twelve months. After that, lots will come online in units and phases over time.

It will take years before all the proposed lots, houses and people come to fruition. And who knows what might change between now and then?

In 2007, developer-bedevilling doomsdayers predicted the passing of Boerne as we knew it. The reports of Boerne’s death were greatly exaggerated, as Twain might say.

I know personally several of the developers who either have built or are now building local subdivision projects. None are the rape and pillage type. They themselves live here, after all. They see no good in biting the hand that feeds them.

Plus, the development process in Boerne is arduous. The margin for error is slight and not conducive to fly by nights.

In the short run, will some traffic spots get worse before they get better? Sure. Will growing pains plague us from time to time? Of course. But given the alternative of economic stagnation and the flight of our youth, I’ll take a sore joint or two.

So, when you hear smeone say “Boerne: No Vacancy,” think to yourself, “Brain: No Occupancy.”

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas Hill Country. Follow him at http://www.kwt.info.

Parents make the difference

Have you ever wondered why Father’s Day is six weeks after Mother’s Day? It took that long for a bunch of dudes to go, “Hey! Wait a minute!”

Welcome to the parent-honoring season. With 31 years of parenting experience, I must be qualified to advise parents. (Okay, I’m really not that old or that qualified; my kids’ ages just total 31.)

No topic generates more longing for a silver bullet than the topic of parenting. Unfortunately, no bullet exists. No particular act or activity will set a child on a trajectory toward prosperity, tranquility and harmony. Still, we think:

“If I can just get my kid into the right (fill in the blank), everything will work out.” (school, church group, sports team, after-school activity, friend group, relationship, hobby, college)

“If I can just get her before the right youth minister, coach, headmaster or tutor…”

“If I can just orchestrate the right tapestry of influences, experiences and knowledge…”

To quote a certain boy band of the 1960s, wouldn’t it be nice.

I once worked for a Dallas real estate executive who bumped into Beach Boys front-man Brian Wilson at a Grammys after party in 2001.

My gregarious boss quizzed Wilson on his very interesting life. My boss was not ready for Wilson’s reply: “I really just wish I had spent more time with my kids.”

For all the tutoring programs, radio ads promising behavior modification by Friday and enrichment opportunities that keep moms and dads and kids on the move, I am convinced only of this:

The parents make the difference.

I know both bratty kids and respectful kids that attend expensive private schools. I also know both lost kids and engaging kids at free public schools.

I know a successful business leader who proficiently uses financial leverage in his company. He has no clue how to use leverage in parenting.

I know a restaurant caterer who refuses to cater to the demands of his sixteen-year-old. The customer is not always right; neither is the child. Both can be illogical.

Poor parenting often comes from parents’ unwillingness to accept the consequences of a child’s poor choices. They don’t want to miss the party themselves.

It is also rooted in the fear that discipline will alienate a child. The opposite is actually true: Appropriate discipline makes a child feel loved.

Relating well, striking the right balance between full throttle and full coast, expecting excellence while giving acceptance – these are the touchstones of good parenting.

Chauffeuring sounds a lot easier.

A friend’s corporate employer once challenged him to encapsulate his life mission into 6 words or less. He took that challenge and formulated this one:

“World’s best dad and getting better”

This simple line promises presence and connection, not more running around town.

Modern life brings many enemies of healthy parenting: divorce, absenteeism, schedule strain, the temptation to shirk duties because one is providing financially for the family.

We feeble humans can only do so much. “Fatigue makes cowards of us all,” Lombardi once said. Let us give our first fruits to the kids we were given. No one else can make the difference.

 

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star. Follow him at www.kwt.info.

Granules for Graduates, 2014 edition

Dear Grads,

I now have spent more years not under my parents’ roof than under it. That makes me twice your age and doubly qualified to offer this unsolicited advice. I know you’ve been waiting for it!

  1. Get a tattoo – in a place where only a very few people will ever, ever see it. Big tattoos shrink the pool of people who will one day hand you money.
  2. Caffeine is the accepted drug of the age. Don’t get hooked. If you need it a lot, your life is out of balance.
  3. Don’t smoke cigarettes. People will think you can’t read. And don’t smoke e-cigs. I don’t care how clean they are, they reek of restlessness.
  4. You’ve been told you can do anything. You can’t. Work your tail off discovering a few things you do well that you also enjoy.
  5. Don’t stall out trying to find the exact school, major, job or mate. There are many right ways to maneuver through life and only a few wrong ones. Just keep moving.
  6. Wherever you work, create. People who create things are more valuable to employers than people who don’t. In other words, you’ll get paid more.
  7. Budgeting is simply deciding where your dollars will go before you spend them. Start budgeting while you have little and it will be easier when you have much – and you WILL have much – if you budget.
  8. Learn to say no. Responsible people will always be in demand. Never be afraid to forego an opportunity if it takes you off your focus.
  9. Time, not money or geography, is the greatest limiting factor of our age. Treat it as your most valuable asset.
  10. Don’t over-schedule. Notice the rhythms of the earth. God created days, months and seasons. Humans created seconds, minutes and hours, often to our detriment.
  11. Go to bed before you’re exhausted and without the TV blaring or the iPhone buzzing. Someone may speak to you.
  12. You are not alone, nor will you ever be. The One who made you loves you. Draw near to him and he will draw near to you.
  13. The people you spend time with will shape who you become. Choose wisely. Screen carefully.
  14. The music you listen to will also shape who you become. Don’t assume the “artist” on the other end has a good plan for your life.
  15. When in doubt, end the relationship. If it’s quality or meant to be, it will come back around.
  16. Sex is not for entertainment. It forms a bond that lasts forever, and it creates children whose lives last forever.
  17. You are responsible for yourself. No qualifiers. No matter what you did or didn’t do, no matter what anyone else did or didn’t do, you are still responsible…for yourself.
  18. You are not responsible for others. People will want you to be responsible for them because they lack the maturity to be responsible for themselves. Don’t give in. It will make you miserable.
  19. With mature people, give and forgive. It will make you happy.
  20. In the end, your life will be judged by how you relate to others. To God, your family, your friends, your enemies, yourself. Relate well and you will have lived well.

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.


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