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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Antoinette Tuff: How Her Words Healed

     If anyone ever doubted the magnitude of words, this week's dramatic event that played out in a lengthy 911 call confirms that words are powerful weapons for justice.  Antoinette Tuff is a school bookkeeper at a charter school in Decatur, GA.  When faced with a mentally unstable gunman toting 500 rounds of ammunition and an AK47 that he actually used on occasion (fortunately without hurting anyone), she used words of compassion, healing, empathy, and love.  The greatest of these was love.  Too often when given the opportunity, we overlook the chance to speak love to others.  We may find it awkward when dealing with people other than our family members.  And yes, it is hard to love those who seem unlovable.  I'm not suggesting you go around to your co-workers and start saying wonderful things you don't mean.  You ought to always be authentic.  To be disingenuous will be very clear to those who can spot a fake.  But to speak love is to be compassionate, encouraging, humble. 
    Antoinette literally said the word to the perpetrator ("I love you") and she showed it in her tone.  Her words were constantly comforting to him ("It's going to be alright.") and empathetic ("We all go through something.") and affectionate with the use of words like "baby" and "sweety".  She seemed to mother him advising him throughout a harrowing ordeal as he had to make rapid decisions in a mind that he admits was unstable.  As a result of her composure and compassion in a highly stressful and dangerous time, no lives were lost including the gunman's.  She is being hailed a hero and rightly so because she helped to save lives.  Most remarkable is that she did it with words and not weapons.  She did it with love and not hate.  She did it without judgment even of her husband who had left her after 33 years of marriage.  She shared her pain but did not judge.  She did not judge the assailant.  She spoke in love.
     How can we follow her example?  When speaking in volatile situations where we are afraid or hurt, how can we stay calm and speak in love?  It can be a difficult thing for a person to do, but it is the most humbling and courageous thing as well.  For those of you who have a hard edge, a rough tone, a bad attitude, this might be a stretch.  But you should never allow your deep-seated hurt and insecurities to force you into a life where you play the victim and everyone else is the aggressor.  Take responsibility when you find yourself constantly at odds with other people.  If your life is more often in turmoil and filled with controversy, hold yourself accountable for how you may be contributing to the discord.  Stop blaming others.  What did you do to fuel the flames?  We can all learn from Antoinette.  What can you do differently in your every day conversations?  At work?  At home?  With your enemies?  How can you use healing words?  Share your thoughts.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Living Out "Loud"

     We've all been in the awkward position of being in a public place when somebody is speaking loudly to someone else.  It's awkward because in some odd way--at least for me--I feel a bit embarrassed for the individual who's doing the talking.  They are loud and somehow don't recognize how they may be an annoyance to others.  They may be talking to another individual sitting right next to them, but they are speaking loud enough for everyone within a ten foot radius to hear them.  Worst yet, much of what they are saying, nobody around gives a bunny's tail about.  The whole scene reeks of desperation.  I use that word because it seems as though the individual is trying too hard to get other people to engage them.  Isn't the person sitting right in front of them enough?  Do they have to be the center of attention?  And what about the poor soul subjected to having unwanted attention thrown their way because they happen to be the one the loud person is talking to?  When it's happened to me, I wanted to just disappear.
     Speaking loudly is not a sign of confidence, intelligence or boldness.  It says you're either deaf or unable to control your own vocal volume.  I dare to believe the second option is the one we experience most often.  Moreover, it's not that the volume can't be controlled, it's that the person doesn't want to control it.  They don't often see anything wrong with monopolizing the conversation in public.  Even when the other person is speaking in hushed or normal tones, it's like the loud person doesn't get it.  They stay at the same decibel--blaring out their half of the conversation to anyone within earshot.  It's enough to make a person bolt.  So what do you do when you find yourself in such a situation?  There are no hard and fast rules, but a few techniques might get you off the hook or make a way  for your escape.  Try these three things:
     One, say quietly:  "[Loud person], can we keep this conversation between the two of us?  I'm afraid everyone is eavesdropping.  Maybe if you spoke a little bit quieter..."
     Two, look around like you think the person is talking to someone else.  Then say to them, "Oh, I'm sorry, I thought you were including the rest of the people around us in this conversation."
     When they say, "No, I'm talking only to you."
     Then you say, "Well, I'm right here.  You can tone it down a bit."
     Three, end the conversation quickly and walk away.  You don't need to be subject to unwanted attention.
     Living out loud suggests you no longer hide yourself away from the rest of the world as if you are a secret.  Living out loud means you free yourself to do as you please regardless of who sees as long as you're not doing anything illegal, immoral or offensive to someone else.  It's about being open and sharing with others your great joys and successes.  It has nothing to do with speaking loudly.  Sometimes your actions will speak volumes to others, and people are likely to trust you more when they can see you doing what matters.  There are times when words aren't necessary, and you can share your message loudly without uttering a sound.  Therefore, try living out loud more.  Save the speaking out loud for the stage.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Your First Name is Not "Miss"

     Last week I trained front office professionals in a school district on, what else--front office professionalism.  They were a dynamic group of women who have tough jobs dealing with--among many things--angry, unyielding, and in some cases, scheming parents.  Being a parent of school-age kids myself, I'm not talking about the rest of us who go to schools willing to help and to be cooperative.  I'm talking about the ones who aren't.  The front office staff have to be master multi-taskers it seems in an effort to keep everything rolling at once.  Talking to people who walk through the front door, directing children back to class, finding paperwork, making announcements, and answering the phones have to be done all in a matter of minutes.  One of the discussion points in our training involved answering the phone.  The interim superintendent was adamant about this one pet peeve of his, and I think it's worth addressing.
     He doesn't want the office staff to use titles before their names when answering the phone.  He has a PhD, but he'd prefer not to use Dr. to introduce himself.  He finds it somewhat pretentious and unprofessional.  I agree.  Many of you may not, but etiquette suggests that you leave it up to others to call you by your title.  You don't--dare I say--arrogantly give it to yourself during introductions.  Consider this phone conversation:
     "Good morning.  Ultra-Fantastic Elementary School.  This is Miss Jones.  How can I help you?"
     So what "Miss Jones" has said to the caller is that you must call me "Miss Jones".  She hasn't given the caller the option to call her anything but that because she hasn't given her full name.  It's almost as if her first name is "Miss".  The appropriate way is to give your full name and allow people to choose to call you by either or give only your first name if you're not stuck on having someone address you with a title.  It would sound like this:
     "Good morning.  Ultra-Fantastic Elementary School.  This is Melanie Jones.  How can I help you?"
     "Good morning, Miss Jones.  This is Miss Smith, Tracy Smith's mother."
     If Miss Smith wants to be formal, then she should be allowed to be formal.  The front office staff should always address the caller as Miss, Mrs., Mr. or Dr. unless the individual gives them permission to be informal with them and use their first name only.
     Here's one reason why this is important:  It would be very awkward if the front office person is 30 years old, and the caller is age 55.  No 30-year-old should be requiring a person 15 years her senior to call her "Miss".  Likewise, someone my age should not require me to call her "Miss".  We are contemporaries.  You are not my elder so the respect of age is not built-in.  Where the staff member is older, say 60ish and the caller is 30, the caller should be keen enough to hear the maturity in the staff member's voice and know not to address her by her first name.  Thus, a young parent should not call an obviously older staff member by her first name even if given the option.  Some of this is common sense, even though the caveat here is that it's not always easy to detect a person's age over the phone.  Therefore, the default response for the person calling in if they're not sure of the age is to always address the staff person with a title.  For clarity, it's only when you're not sure of a person's age when you're calling in, default to using a title.  For the front office person, always give your full name so that you give all callers the option to choose.  The worse that can happen in any of this is that you get called by your actual name.