This upcoming Sunday is Father’s Day, so I thought I would write a bit about fathers and the impact they make on their families and thereby, the world. I was lucky to have two fathers – my biological dad and my step dad, both of whom I refer to as ‘my dad’. My time with each of them is filled with memories I will cherish for the rest of my life.
I send out a toast to all the terrific fathers I know-- some I call friends, and some are part of my family; the impact you are making (or have made) on the world through your children is incredible. In 2005, I lost my step-father; in 2015, we lost my father-in-law; and this year, I lost my biological father after a long illness. While their losses weigh heavily on my heart, in honor of the man who raised me, my step-father, I’d like to share the lessons he taught me about communication. Thank you for the lessons, JB. I love and miss you every day!
If you knew my step dad, you know he was a small-town boy from a tight-knit family, a college football star, a teacher, a coach, a referee, a city commissioner, a business owner and a tough-as-nails cowboy. You would also know immediately know that my storytelling comes from him. He was never one to miss out on fun and lived every day to the fullest. He was hardworking, optimistic, compassionate, and as generous as they come. My dad had so many one-liners and story lessons. My parents owned a small business in a small town and between them; they gave me the foundation of what would become my career as a manager, trainer, and consultant in the service industry.
Greet people sincerely and by name. This was the first way my dad made everyone feel special. I don’t know how he did it, but it seemed he never forgot a name. It is difficult to have a positive, productive conversation with someone without first setting the tone with a positive greeting.
Take an interest in people. To my dad, strangers were just friends he didn’t yet know. He took a genuine interest in people and always wanted to hear their life stories. He would ask open-ended questions and really listen to their response because he cared. My dad had a knack for being able to see things from someone else’s point of view. His ability to empathize with others gave him the insight to really understand their perspective, which made him a magnet for people.
Be quick to compliment. If my dad noticed something nice about you, he was quick to say it. What I also know now looking back is that he was always looking for positives – the best in people, and he found them. Alternatively, if one is looking for or expecting negatives, they will be found instead.
Connect with others. My dad always found common ground, an opening for a well-placed joke, or simply a way to connect with the person to whom he was talking. This is easy to do if you are listening to understand someone rather than listening to respond or to be heard yourself. It was even easier for my dad, who had a quick-witted sense of humor that could disarm anyone, and his infectious laughter and smile could certainly engage anyone.
Offer encouragement. Because he played sports, was a coach and a referee; my dad often used sports analogies for just about any situation, and the message was essentially one of encouragement. We would watch football together and he would talk to me about my own sporting events, offering encouragement by saying, “Tell me about your thought process there”. My answer and our subsequent conversation would help me learn to solve problems and see the silver linings in any situation and how to remain positive in spite of difficult circumstances or situations. At the end of these conversations, he would say, “keep your chin up, girl” and I still hear him say this in my head if ever I’m feeling down. His way of seeing the positives and encouraging me to do the same has been a lasting life lesson. As they say, life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond. Both of my parents taught me how to respond positively and always find the good in the situation.
Positive communication is often misunderstood because many people think it means that you deny anything negative or stick your head in the sand if something negative arises. That’s not true. It’s not a Pollyanna view of the world. Positive communication means that you take the time to communicate in an informed, relevant, and beneficial manner. Positive communication is taking responsibility for your own words and actions through productive conversations focused on a positive outcome.
On the other hand, negative communication is defensive, discouraging, sometimes mean-spirited, or overly sarcastic, and generally unproductive to resolving anything. This kind of communication can be worse and more destructive than simply not communicating at all.
One great thing about positive communication is that anyone can master it. And once you master it and it will make you a team player with whom everyone enjoys working. Like positive thinking, positive communication is contagious and brings out the best in you and everyone around you. You will find that through the power of positive communication you have more gratifying personal relationships, be able to resolve customer service opportunities effectively, and successfully coach employees if you are in a management position.
Happy Father’s Day to all the great dads out there, the moms who act as both mom and dad, and the step dads, who like my own, volunteered to be a dad to someone else’s children; loving them as their own. You deserve this celebratory day and I hope you make the most of it!