Thanksgiving_HeaderEvery year, the Thanksgiving holiday serves as a laundry list of reminders to me. It reminds me that I need to get my annual woodshop project finished so that gifts can be mailed on time. It reminds me to update my company holiday card list and to get started on the annual family letter.   It prompts me to blow the dust off of my piano score of Nutcracker, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering kinfolk. Most important, it reminds me to remember to say, “Thank you.”

Those two little words – when spoken together and with sincerity – are among the most powerful in the English language.   Just last week I had cause to be reminded how important they are and how prone I am to forget them. My fifteen-year-old daughter is a pretty good sport about most things. Not least of these is helping me with the upkeep around the place. With her older brothers grown and gone, this can be a tall order sometimes. Long story short, I woke up in the wee hours of Monday morning last week with the realization that I had not said a word of thanks to her for helping rake leaves the afternoon before. The temperature was below thirty and we had been out for several hours raking up over an acre of wet, frosted leaves and hauling them back to the compost bins at the other end of the property. It was hard work and she had been a trooper. There was not much I could do about it at 2:00 in the morning, but you can bet that I made a point to thank her as I drove her in to school that day.

One might opine that words of thanks were not really necessary. After all, my daughter receives an allowance as well as food, clothing, shelter, and transportation in exchange for chores. That may be true, but words of thanks are an affirmation that her efforts have more value than a mere exchange of goods and services. The efforts of her body and mind contribute substantively to our spiritual as well as our material wellbeing as a family. It is not simply desirable to give thanks. It is beneficial.

The same is true in the business environment. Everyone there is being paid to do his or her job. Consequently, a leader, manager, or supervisor is under no obligation to thank anyone. And yet, consider the analyst who stayed late to finish a report or the two technicians who spent a weekend migrating the POS system to new servers. Each of them took time away from his or her personal life in order to provide value to the organization. Are they not deserving of sincere affirmation? How about the colleague who delivers work of consistently high quality, or the staff member who brightens up the office every day with her cheerful good humor? A heartfelt, “Thank you for what you do,” is a confirmation that an individual or a team brings value not just to the organization but to its people as well.

Meetings in particular have need for the genuine expression of gratitude. All too often, new ideas can be upsetting or even threatening to participants. A good moderator can use a well-placed thank you to deflect what could potentially be an emotional response by other participants. “Thank you, Jim, for that insightful suggestion. It’s clear that you’ve given this some thought. I know that it is a radical departure from the way we’ve done things before, but let’s take a couple of minutes as a group to point out the positive aspects of Jim’s idea before examining the challenges. Iris, can you start us off?”  Providing that Iris starts off in an affirmative way as requested, the moderator has just created another opportunity for honest gratitude. And it is infectious.

Facilitated meetings utilizing a formal structure offer even more opportunities for giving thanks on both the personal and the group level. “Does everyone understand how this exercise works? Great. Who’s ready to go first? Thanks, Bill, for taking the lead.” At the end of the exercise, it is time for acknowledgement all around. “Wow! Great job, team. You generated almost forty options in under five minutes. I know it looks messy right now, but you’ll see how important these are as we move through the next two games. Thank you for staying with me.” The use of honest gratitude at both the individual and collective level not only keeps the meeting energy high, but also brings people together.

In truth, we have reason to be thankful in all facets of our lives. I have touched on this theme before in these pages, notably in Blanket Order. We are so interconnected with our fellow human beings that we are receiving value in innumerable ways almost every moment of our existence. And so, if I have not said it before, thank you. Thank you for reading these musings. Thank you for what you do. Thank you for you. Which of course reminds me that I need to get another coat of lacquer on that woodshop project. Happy Thanksgiving.

Have you remembered to thank someone today? How can you encourage more spontaneous gratitude in your organization?


The Power of the Wave

Wave_HeaderSequim, 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?