Sensational Living®

June 2004
© 2004 by Bret S. Beall

Communication Solves Problems

One of my favorite lectures that I’ve given was “Communication as a management tool.” You’ve heard the gist of it from any number of self-help gurus, and management gurus, but my twist (as a lifestyle “guru”) was evaluating different types of communication for different purposes.

In this column, I want to share some assorted thoughts outlining the role of communication in solving problems, and the clarity and peace of mind, body and spirit that communication can offer. I’m going to combine it with one of my other mantras: Respect. Use Respect and Communication together, and you’re in a good place!

One of my bugaboos is “victim mentality,” and I do everything in my power to avoid being in a position where I could conceivably be a victim (real or imagined). One such situation arose in mid-May when I saw what was most likely a typographical error in a newspaper ad. I made a special trip to the store with circular in hand, and requested the item; the assistant store manager told me she could not honor the published price. I informed her that she had to, as “bait and switch” is illegal, and she told me that the cash register would not allow them to …hmmm. I could choose to be a victim, to complain silently about the lost time and gasoline, or I could communicate the issue to the appropriate individuals. I returned home, and sent a very matter-of-fact email to that store’s corporate headquarters. After a few days, I received a call from the regional manager who apologized profusely, and told me the price would be honored if I contacted the store manager upon my visit. I returned, was given the items at the printed price, received another bonus gift because of that week’s in-store promotion, and also received a $25 credit (which I used in part this week to replace my computer keyboard that I drowned with iced tea). I was satisfied. Communication is good.

Recently, while traveling in Orlando, I dined twice at a particularly nice restaurant (Everglades), and had a particularly competent and friendly server. On the second night, my bison filet turned out to be cooked considerably more than it was supposed to be. I confirmed this with the server, who offered to replace the meal. I hate to waste food, so I declined, hoping silently that there would be “some” adjustment to the bill. When the check came, I learned that the server had removed the entire entrée cost, far more adjustment than I had hoped for (and I told him that; he was gracious). To express my gratitude to the server (beyond leaving a nice tip), I sent an email letter of praise to his supervisor at the hotel. The supervisor wrote back expressing her gratitude. Lots of communication led to lots of good results.

Of course, communication doesn’t always offer the (perceived) desired results. On that same trip, I dined at a restaurant where the asparagus had clearly begun to decay; when I pointed that out to the (usually absent) server, I was met with indifference. At another restaurant, I had the absolute worst meal in years; I communicated my initial displeasure to the restaurant manager, who appeared to correct the situation, though in reality he faked the correction. Upon returning home, I emailed the restaurant’s top management, and was sent a ridiculous email assuring me this would never happen again (they had a meeting!), and stating that they hoped I would return … when Hades freezes over. At least with the travel planning aspect of my business, I can make sure no client ever has to endure what I experienced! Another benefit? I’ll have the motivation to investigate new dining options the next time I return to that area, and then pass that information on to my clients. I do look after my clients as if they are family!

Sometimes you encounter a situation where you know it just doesn’t pay to communicate. One such example was a recent column by a nationally syndicated advice columnist. She offered advice soundly rooted in judgment and moral superiority on a very complex issue most likely rooted in personal pain, yet she was clearly unaware of anything except that she equated an illegal activity with an immoral one. I don’t need to write to her; I also don’t have to waste my time reading her column further, as she is irrelevant to my life (and the lives of healthy people).

A similar situation arose with a television advice show host. I had actually liked his folksy, commonsense approach to problems. Then, one day he said something so outrageous that I immediately questioned his judgment. He clearly had not misspoken, because he repeated the outrageousness in several ways throughout the rest of the program. He is now off my radar. I no longer watch his show. I no longer pay attention to his sound bytes. I now have time to do more positive activities (like helping people live better lives!).

How does one learn when to communicate, and when not to? Some of it is intuitive judgment, and some of it is learned from personal experiences or other external educational processes. In this category, I can think of one encounter from my days as a healthcare manager. My supervisor was not the most proficient executive in the company. One day, HIS supervisor asked him for a document, and my supervisor indicated he couldn’t find it. When this information was conveyed to another executive who had provided the original information, she went on a tirade, screaming, “I told you not to give anything to Bret and his supervisor; they lose things.” I could not understand why this person would implicate me, so I went up to her and told her, “I wish you would not lump the two of us into one category when I am not part of the problem.” Her response? “Well, you lose things too!” My take home lesson was a confirmation that this woman was a truly damaged individual, and I had no reason to take anything she said seriously. I do wish that I had learned that lesson earlier, as it would have made life easier for me. But, “better late than never”! If you know someone is already psychotic, it doesn’t really pay to communicate explicitly with him/her.

Most importantly, please have enough respect for yourself and others to communicate directly to people. Talking behind backs, or worse, backstabbing, is evidence of the lowest self-esteem, that you don’t have enough self-respect to confront someone with whom you disagree (though a little “venting” is healthy). At one point, I was truly surprised when I learned a trusted paleontologist was making lying statements about me IN WRITING! I “knew” this had to be some sort of misunderstanding, and that he would not “intentionally” say what he said. So, I communicated with him via telephone, but instead of indicating I had direct evidence of his comments, I allowed him an “out” by telling him I had “heard” he had written some things. His response? Blatant lying. Do you see a pattern emerging? It took me quite a while to put the pieces together to realize his self-esteem was so damaged and so easily threatened that he would lash out at others with baseless lies. Realizing this allowed me to “let go.” Fifteen years later, were we to compare our respective health and happiness, guess who would be the winner? Yep, yours truly.

Now that I am basking in my personal health and happiness, and now that I live each day helping others achieve their own greatest health and happiness, I hope you can see the role of communication in achieving that health and happiness. I hope that you will communicate with me regarding your experiences with communication, including those lessons you have learned. If the concept of “lessons” seems a bit abstract, tune in for a future column on that very topic. You can communicate with me at 773.508.9208 or email me. Be healthy and happy!