More on the 5 C’s

 Hi There my Friends and Grateful Leadership Family! This story relates to the “5 Cs of Acknowledgment.”

I was recently invited to give a “Grateful Leadership” keynote address at an educational session “Level 5 Leadership” in San Diego at the Toastmasters District 5 Training for Leadership (TLI).  What a great opportunity and experience!

I was met at the airport by Heidi Martin, who is the current District 5 Program Quality Director.  She immediately took me sightseeing.  Our first stop was to share a wonderful dinner while overlooking the bay. It was a magical experience, with the sun setting over the bay as a regalia of sailboats filled the harbor. My story is not focused on the food or friendship Heidi and I shared, however, but rather on an interesting group of people I had the privilege of observing.  Directly in front of our table was a group of four men in a serious business meeting.  I will focus on each individual during my writing.

One was a young man who was intently expressing himself with a laptop in hand. The one facing us directly was an older man who seemed interested, but often looked like his mind was drifting.  His need to refocus on a regular basis was indicated by the way he fidgeted in his chair as well as his wandering eyes and droopy eyelids.  The young man with his back to us also had a lot to say, and actively participated in the conversation.  Although I could not see his face, his gestures were wild and emphatic.  He was probably one of the most expressive people I have ever seen from behind.  Thinking of what I observed now, I can’t help but smile because his passion for the subject being discussed was so great.

But the man who interested me most was an older man in his 60’s or 70’s.  I was in a position to watch his face the entire time, and was actually amazed by his listening skills.  He had sparse gray hair on the top of his head, but his large white mustache and bushy eyebrows made up for what was missing on top.  He had a ruddy complexion with reddish cheeks, a large nose and ears — his face was so full of character, it was hard to not SEE him.

His expressions ranged from raising his bushy eyebrows in surprise, to nodding frequently, smiling often, laughing out loud a couple of times, to sitting quietly in deep concentration.  He seldom talked other than to ask a clarifying question or acknowledge something that was just said by the other men at the table.  Often times I saw his chin resting on his hands as he leaned in to hear everything the young men said, or leaning back in his chair in repose to take a moment to contemplate what had just been said. At one point in the conversation, I noticed him pressing his fingertips together deep in thought, as he contemplated something the younger men had said, and a hush fell over the table as they waited in silence until he shared his thoughts.  There was a level of respect from the others that was palatable.

I had just begun reading a new book, The Culture Map by Erin Meyer a couple of days before, and I was interested in applying what I had read to watching these exchanges.  We are not great listeners in America, according to Meyer’s findings.  But this man seemed to be the exception to the rule.  In our culture, we feel a need to say what we are going to say, say what we said we would say, and then cap it all off by restating what we said.  I didn’t realize we did this until I was reading how differently we communicate around the world.

Did you know there are 7 times more words in the English language than there are in French?  Why, you might ask…  Well the romantic languages use inference and read facial expressions and body language, rather than using repetition.  In Asia as a culture, people are taught to read between the lines, and then read the lines between the lines.  This way of intense observation is called “Reading the Air.”  It is considered rude to repeat yourself in many cultures, because it implies the other person is too ignorant to understand what was just stated.

After Heidi and I had finished our dinner, I took a minute to approach the table and then worked up the nerve to ask if I might join their group for just a moment.  After being invited to talk with them, I actually pulled up a chair and sat down to tell them what I had observed.  At first, they were stunned to discover that they had been watched so intently, but as I acknowledged and complimented each of the men on their listening and communication skills (I didn’t say much to the man who had been disengaged), they were all smiles and handed out business cards to both Heidi and me.

There are two important lessons from this story.  One is we tend to think our way is the only way; however, we all have people we interact with from many cultures, even if it is within our own churches, professional organizations or offices.  It’s of benefit to all of us to understand that even if someone was born in America, their parents or grandparents probably passed on their cultural communication traditions to them unconsciously.  I invite you to take a minute to be the observer in conversations in which you find yourself.

The second lesson from this message is that as leaders, we are on display even when no one walks up and tells us so.  Try to make sure that even when no one sees us, that we are still walking in excellence and integrity.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Kind Regards,

Kathy Kest