Sequim, the community in which I live, is a friendly place. For a town with a population of just around 7,000 people, we are surprisingly diverse culturally, ethnically, politically, and economically. Nevertheless, the friendliness of its inhabitants transcends this multiplicity. Strangers will start a conversation at the drop of a hat. Neighbors not only know each other, they share tools, recipes, vegetables, and more. If you step into any bank to make a deposit, all of the tellers know you by name. It is simply that sort of place.
By far the most striking manifestation of this friendliness is the Sequim hand wave. Everyone waves. Neighbors wave. Strangers wave. This is not merely a passive nod of the head and a grunt. This is a full, active wave of the hand with arm raised into the air and moving. And like as not, it is accompanied by both words and eye contact. Even where those are not possible, the wave persists. The crossing guards wave to the passing motorists. Motorists wave to folks out walking their dogs, and the dog owners wave back. Out on the tractor in the south meadow, I exchange a wave with every passing vehicle. No place else that I have lived has exhibited this phenomenon.
The Sequim hand wave is a powerful gesture that resonates unconsciously among the citizenry on many levels. It is worth considering a few of them.
- Affirmation: A wave of the hand requires active energy to perform and is therefore a strong affirmation to the recipient that he/she deserves that effort.
- Inclusion: A wave of the hand, particularly between strangers, is welcoming and says, “You are one of us, even if you don’t reside here.”
- Trust: The hand wave is at least as strong as a handshake in establishing a bond of trust between people.
The hand wave as practiced in Sequim breaks down the social and cultural barriers that might otherwise separate people. It is uncanny, and I have no idea why it happens here. It is not to be found very much in neighboring communities. But beyond a purely academic curiosity, there is probably not much value in trying to discover why. Rather, consider it a fortuitous phenomenon that is one of the elements that makes this little corner of the globe so special.
What I find particularly fascinating about this cultural idiosyncrasy is that it demonstrates one of the key elements in the facilitation of meetings and planning retreats. This has to do with the power of non-verbal communication and physical involvement. Consider the following scenario.
A consultant is leading a meeting of Finance and Accounting Directors at a Fortune 500 company. The objective of the meeting is to articulate how a particular product line will aggregate in a new financial system. The consultant is at the whiteboard trying to diagram what the business people are saying. It is not going well and frustration is mounting. One Senior Manager is particularly excited, unconsciously gesturing as he speaks as if to draw a picture with his hands. It is at this point that the consultant does what he should have done in the beginning. He throws the marker to the Senior Manager. “Show us!” This transforms the meeting. The Senior Manager is able capture the essence of what he was trying to say using his own imagery from his own point of view. More important, the physical act of standing at the whiteboard and creating the diagram himself has changed his role as well as his level of participation in the meeting. Allowing others to leave their seats and add to or modify the diagram keeps both the energy in the room and the quality of the information high.
The importance of participating physically in a meeting or other interaction cannot be understated. It is why I use copious amounts of white butcher paper when I facilitate planning meetings. I want the participants on their feet, interacting directly with their information. And for longer processes such as full day retreats, I typically begin with a physical exercise to break the ice and to engage the body as well as the mind. My favorite is called “Business Cards.” It requires the participants to perform a series of physical and verbal actions with each of the other attendees in the room. The game necessitates not only coordination, but also an awareness of both the individuals and the collective body of participants. The results are energizing.
The Sequim hand wave is a powerful analog to this mutual stimulation between body and spirit. It is vitalizing – to the point of making one’s day – to be driving along and have an utter stranger wave. It is equally gratifying to return the wave. It is a simple gesture that shines a momentary light in an often-dark world. It sends the message that we may not be so far apart after all. In fact, our ideas, our backgrounds, and our beliefs may be much more easily reconcilable than we think. We simply need to say, “Hello.”
How do you engage your meeting participants? How would you harness the power of the wave?