Have you noticed that some people seem to have the knack of coming up with the right thing to say and do this effortlessly all the time? Consider the following story (taken from the book Flipnosis by Kevin Dutton).
Flight Sergeant: In the summer of 1941, Flight Sergeant James Allen Ward was awarded a Victoria Cross for clambering onto the wing of his Wellington Bomber. What made this feat special was that the aircraft was flying at 13,000 feet above the Zuider Zee at the time. He climbed out, secured by a single rope around his waist, to extinguish a fire in the starboard engine. That’s gutsy!
Some time later, Churchill summoned the shy, swashbuckling New Zealander to Number 10 Downing Street to congratulate him on his exploits. The meeting got off to a shaky start. This fearless airman was tongue-tied in the presence of the great man and was unable to field even the simplest of questions. Churchill decided to try a different approach.
‘You must feel very humble and awkward in my presence’ he began.
‘Yes Sir’ stammered Ward, ‘I do’.
‘Then you can imagine’ said Churchill, ‘how humble and awkward I feel in yours’.
Great Stories: Anecdotes like this fall in the general category of ‘I wish I’d said that’. Some people seem to have a gift with words that escapes the rest of us. And great store is put on this, as if eloquence is the ‘X Factor’ in executive success. In my coaching role, I’m sometimes asked to help executives craft sound-bite messages that can be dropped seamlessly into conversations or internal communications. Or to hone speeches and killer presentations which will result in the audience moving from 2nd into 5th gear. And, my usual response is…. don’t bother. Why? Because, people pick up on what you do, not what you say. If the TV picture is showing Channel 4 and the sound is BBC, they will zone in on the movement, not the words. Lets illustrate with a real-life example…
Limerick Manufacturing: Many years ago I did quite a bit of work with a first-class multinational company in Limerick. At the time, I was up and down to Limerick more often than the Deputy State Pathologist! The issue: customer services metrics had dramatically declined and a new MD was determined to turn the situation around. My mission was to figure out how to do this…
Big Sign: In the reception area, an enormous sign extolled the virtues of excellent service. We were off to a good start. But, as the project unfolded, I discovered several contradictory signals. The head of customer services was a guy who’d failed his accountancy exams and was ‘transferred across’. He was paid substantially less than the next lowest paid executive. The furniture in the customer services department was 2nd hand Steelcase, having formerly belonged to the Engineering Department (passed down when they traded up). The physical customer services office was in the Mezzanine area – the only space in the building where there was no natural light. And, as far as I could determine, no one had actually been to visit a customer for a number of years. The sign at reception, while interesting, reminded me of the line: “Some things are shiny on the outside, like Donkey droppings”.
What Can I Say? The MD was anxious to make inroads and asked me to come up with something to ‘say’ about customer service. I gave him my standard ‘what you do is more important than what you say’ speech. He bought it and subsequently led a revolution in that company’s fortunes (interestingly, using a few ‘tricks’ from my old employer Superquinn along the way, highlighting the fact that you can draw from many different wells of knowledge).
The Lesson: It turns out that the answer to the question: ‘Do you always say the right thing’? is not that important. But, when you change the question to: ‘Do you always do the right thing’? it occupies centre stage. Now you’re walking!
PS: Lighter Christmas Moment: Good King Wenceslas phoned Domino’s for a pizza. The salesgirl asked him: ”Do you want your usual? Deep pan, crisp and even?”
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