People are going to let you down

Have you ever been let down by someone? How about someone you consider a very close confidant? How about family? Most people would answer yes to one of these questions and if you’re like me, all three. Today, I want to share a simple story about how three examples from my past taught me about the imperfections of people.

I have an amazing family and an amazing father. In 7th grade, my class was asked to write a one page paper on a “Hero” in their life. This person could be historical, an athlete, or even a mentor. I wrote my paper about my dad…and so did four of my other friends. During childhood, my dad was my baseball and basketball coach, Boy Scout leader, and best friend. He even took me and my brother out for a weekly ‘Special Breakfast’ where we just talked about what was going on with girls or school or anything else on our minds. He also wanted me to know all about chivalry with girls and doing the right thing in tough situations. I can remember three such times he was looking to show his son that doing the right thing, although hard, always pays off. All three backfired.

The first of these opportunities appeared during a baseball game. Baseball was my favorite sport but my coach that year had made it a living hell. During a game that was particularly frustrating, I gave him a piece of my mind and walked off the field into the parking lot. My Dad stopped me and after a talk, made me go back and apologize to my coach. The second time was during a Boy Scout meeting when this tool of a ‘leader’ came down on me out of favoritism to his own kids. I went OFF, calling him and his sons a joke among other expletives and walked out. Again, my father came and got me and made me go back inside and say sorry. The final instance happened at school under very similar circumstances. I ate the proverbial humble pie once again. I say that all three backfired but not on me. They backfired on my Dad. All three of the men that I, as a young boy, apologized to, lashed out at me even with even more severity. They poured into me with things like, “You better be sorry! You should be ashamed of yourself! You obviously were not brought up right and are headed for more failure.” My Dad was shocked. He went back in each instance and told them what kind of an example they were showing that a sincere admittance of wrong gets you in the world. As a child, I watched with delight as my Dad stood up for me. Now, as an adult, I think of the true lesson hidden between the lines of these instances. People aren’t perfect.

My Dad thought that these men would show me that saying sorry is necessary when we screw up. Instead, I learned that the world isn’t fine tuned to some explicit moral code of conduct. I learned that people screw up because we’re all human. I had to re-learn this principle later on when, as a senior in high school, I saw my Christian parents go their separate ways. Our family fell apart. A comment from my younger brother helped me during this: “When I stopped looking at mom and dad as parents and more like people, I forgave them. I understood that they’re just as human as you or I and have their own lives, their own worries, and their own choices to make.” I assure you, both of my parents have let me down since that time and my dad did very recently. It’s why I’m writing this now.

People deal with this in different ways. I hear girls say, “All guys are a@#holes! I’m never dating again.” I hear about examples of families where resentments or grudges have kept siblings and parents apart for years. I hear about individuals who have been so hurt once, they will never let anyone else in. How many close confidants do you have in your life? Want to guess what the most common answer is, according to a 2012 study? ZERO. I disagree with all of these options. People can be just as  wonderful as they can be mean. They can be encouraging, generous, outgoing, courteous, thoughtful, considerate, motivating, and sympathetic influences on our daily lives. BUT! Lets not forget that each and every one is human. Prone to mistakes. Programmed to think of themselves first and others second. If this doesn’t sound familiar, just go find and a mirror because De-Nile ain’t just a river in Egypt.

Just like recycling, it starts with us as individuals. You can be sure that when I have a little kid say, “Thank you,” I return it with a smile and, “Your welcome.” I even go out of my way to compliment him in front of the parents on his wonderful manners. I’ve heard that when you have kids, the way you raise them will either be the same as your parents or the exact opposite. I was blessed with wonderful parents! Even though they let me down at times, I’m reminded that we’re all human and if I want to see a change in the others behavior, that starts with my own first.

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Connecting with people

I was at the Laundromat by 7am this morning because I still needed to get to the gym and then work a double shift at one of my two jobs. The only other person there was a heavier woman organizing dry cleaning for the day. I threw my wash in and politely asked her if she could watch my bag while I ran to grab some coffee. Her face lit up at the word coffee. I can relate. She jotted down her mocha latte order and gave me money and I walked the couple blocks to Dunkin Donuts, happy to help another person. I remembered times as a manager at Hollister that I would send my employees off to DD to bring back coffee and donuts for everyone. When I got back, Jill (her name) and I had a 20-minute conversation about coffee, busses, and minimum wage jobs. We talked about things we connected on and could relate to. We established a connection when only an hour before we had been complete strangers to each other.

 

A little later I was safely seated on Bus 30 on my way to the gym. I like to fill my travel time with more than music so I turned on one of my podcasts. Coincidentally or serendipitously, depending on your optimism, it was about connecting with people. Specifically, the talk concerned the instant connections in daily interaction that are more impactful in the long-term than we think. The podcast brought up three factors associated with connecting with other people.

 

The first of these was vulnerability. If you want to break down the façade of a ‘keeping up the with the Jones’ attitude, bring up a weakness of yours. Friendship is made in the moment that one person says, “What? You too? I thought I was the only one.” According to this talk, bosses and leaders are trusted much more when they show some vulnerability to their employees. Examples? Yesterday I got coffee at Starbucks from a nice young girl. While giving me my change, she knocked over a small display and blushed with embarrassment. I immediately said, “Don’t worry, I’m probably more clumsy than you on a daily basis.” She smiled and told me she had already poured coffee on a customer that morning- she wins. INSTANT CONNECTION. My mother related a story of a waiter she had two nights ago. After he dropped off the food he said to raise a hand if she needed anything else because he “wasn’t very attentive and it was busy; but he wanted to make sure she was taken care of.” That vulnerability gained the waiter a good tip and trust from my mother. It also had nothing to do with his service or the restaurant’s reputation.

 

The second factor discussed was touch. Touch has been long displaced in our digital world and culture. It has not been replaced though. The speaker brought six volunteers from the audience to sit in a circle as if they were having a meeting. They instinctively sat about arms length apart and began by personal introductions. He then told them to move closer to each other until their very knees were touching. “Now what did you have for breakfast?” The group went around again, knees touching, and he asked them how they felt immediately after. You guessed it. Each felt much stronger connection to the person next to them. The NBA conducted a study on all teams’ group interaction throughout a season. They specifically monitored how many times individuals touched each other through high fives, celebrations, or huddles. They found a direct correlation on the season between winning percentage and amount of touching involved on the team. Crazy right? My guess, and it is only a guess, is that maybe there is some subconscious trust involved. Touch may trigger a sense of trust. A teammate passes you a ball because he’s more confident you will catch it and you trust that he is a more able passer and that it will be catchable. It’s only a guess at our subconscious but you’ve probably heard the phrase, “90% of the game is mental.”

 

The third and final factor concerns people who are born with this as a natural trait. These people are referred to as high self-monitors. These people naturally meet us where we are instead of bringing us to where they are. We are inclined to naturally like these people because they mirror us. When I was just a kid my dad asked me what type of person I am: a nerd, a jock, a hipster, or my own category. As a confident 11 year-old, I responded with, “Depends on who I’m around.” He and my brother got a big laugh out of that but I felt embarrassed. I had responded truthfully. I have not thought about that again until I heard this speaker bring it up. It’s not that high self-monitors are schmoozers or fake. They simply have the ability to mirror their environment in a fluid fashion. These people make these instant connections much faster than others under similar circumstances. How interesting! Not only with a genuine interest in others help create relationships but it can be helped by these other tools. Vulnerability and weakness inspires almost instant trust. Touch and proximity can be a major factor in collaboration. It’s the reason why face-to-face interaction is so much more powerful than any Skype or conference call will ever be. Finally, certain people are born as high-self monitors. These people create instant connections because of their ability to mirror people and situations. Some food for thought. Hopefully it was interesting if you chose to read it. This is the stuff I LOVE J

A Person of interest

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming genuinely interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

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 These famous words should be set in stone. They should be placed on every nightstand, desk, and front door in America. Dale Carnegie said these profound words in a book published almost eight decades ago- How to Win Friends & Influence People. They are even truer today.

Every act since the day you were born was performed because you wanted something. Did you ever think about that? Even those that give to charities or volunteer at shelters are getting a feeling of importance or goodwill. When I wake up in the morning I am full of selfish ambition: What do I want to do? What do I want to accomplish? What can I do to help someone else I meet today? Wait a minute. That last one doesn’t sound as familiar as the first two. It’s not. It stands out because it goes directly against all we are programmed to be as human beings. Certainly, it separates us from animals.

You may be thinking, “Enough of the “Golden Rule” talk Drew. We all know it and few of us do it. How does it help me?” I would agree. This is about you. See I have stumbled through this life just as selfish as the next guy. At the end of a long day of work I want to do something for me. I think, “I can’t wait to go out with friends. It will be so much fun, I will feel better, and I won’t be thinking about work.” Do you ever find that the event itself falls short of expectations? In other words, you’re not as satisfied or happy as you thought you would be if you did so-and-so. Here is my point. I find it’s hard to make myself happy. As two sides of the same coin- I find it’s EASY to make someone else happy. Let me illustrate.

One of my jobs is serving at a restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. I had a young couple come in for lunch the other day. As they were ordering, the husband casually asked the wife what was for dinner. She said they were having salmon; he ordered pizza and on the meal went. A week or so later, the same couple came in and sat in my section again by chance. When I walked up to them, I welcomed them back saying, “Great to see you again! I remember you had me hungry last week. How was the salmon dinner?” They were confused for a second until the wife realized what I was talking about. Her face lit up as she told me the marinade she had used, how she had cooked it, and even the side dishes prepared for her “specialty.” They both could not believe I remembered and left me a very generous tip. The two have requested to be served by me ever since.

That story is simple but there are hundreds of similar ones I could share from my own life experience, let alone others. The point of it is not the reward of a tip or a loyal customer. The point is happiness. I find it much easier to make other people happy with a kind word or gesture. I also believe this happiness is just as real as anything I could do for myself. Sometimes the best way to help yourself is to help someone else. Sometimes, for you to have a better day, try to brighten another persons. Be genuine. Be interested. Try to see the world from their point of view as well as your own. Again, this does NOT come naturally. I have to work daily to develop it similarly to a muscle. It has incredible rewards though.

I will end this train of thought with another Carnegie quote, “The world is full of people who are grabbing and self-seeking. So the rare individual who unselfishly tries to serve others has an enormous advantage. He has little competition.” Would you like an advantage in your life? I would. Practice this perspective shift on the people you meet tomorrow. Think of relationships in your life where you might not of thought about where the other person is coming from. Perform a random act of kindness for a stranger. It will all come back to help YOU one way or another. I promise. This is education of a different kind. “Most people go through college and learn to read Virgil and master the mysteries of calculus without ever discovering how their own minds function.” What we can learn from others will teach us a lot about ourselves.