I spent a week on vacation recently with a dozen family
members of all ages — children, teenagers, adults, and seniors — and along
the way we discovered a fun, easy activity to spark conversation and get to
know each other better.
The exercise is
simple: Someone thinks of a topic requiring them to identify “one of
their favorite things” that fits their chosen category. For example:
is one of your favorite movies, and why?” “What
is one of your favorite fast-food restaurants, and why?” “What
is one of your favorite animals, and why?” “What
is one of your favorite types of food, and why?”
They answer first and explain why
it’s one of their favorites. Follow-up discussion is
encouraged. Then the question moves around the circle to the next
Once each person in the circle has
shared one of their favorite things of that category and told why they
picked that, it’s the next person’s turn to initiate a round. They
think up the next “favorite thing” topic, they give the answer first, and
then around the circle it goes again.
This turned out to be a delightful
way to pass long hours on the road with my wife and three teenage
granddaughters. Our granddaughters live far away from us and we seldom
get to spend much time with them. This activity allowed all of us to
get to know each other better, and made the miles go faster.
We revisited this game on the last
evening of our week together. Our entire group gathered in a large
circle and we used three “favorite thing” questions to recall and appreciate
a wonderful vacation:
“What was one of your favorite activities or places we visited this
week, and why?" “What was one of your favorite foods we ate this week, and why?” “What was one of your favorite things you learned this week, and why?"
Of course, we all thought of
different things during our turns, and there were a lot of “Oh, yeah, that
was one of mine too,” or “You’re right, I forgot about that.” Whether
young, old, or in between, we had no trouble sharing wonderful
memories. We found this closing round of favorite things was a sweet
and reassuring way to bring our time together to an uplifting close, a
delightful reminder of good times shared.
* * * * *
How about you and your family or
friends? Is there an upcoming occasion when you could use this simple
activity to share memories, learn more about each other, or put a capstone
on a great time spent together? What about Mother’s Day or Memorial
Day or a summer afternoon picnic? Here are a few suggestions to get
“What is one of your favorite memories of Mother (or Grandmother), and why?" “What
is something you really appreciate about our country, and why?” “What
is one of your favorite picnic foods, and why?”
Try it; I’m sure you’ll like it as
much as we did.
"Feeling gratitude and not
expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it." William Arthur
I was recently the recipient of an
unexpected and generous expression of gratitude, and it felt so
wonderful! Here’s what happened:
Fifty years ago, I learned to speak
Portuguese while living in Brazil for a couple of years. Upon my
return to the United States, I completed my undergraduate degree with a
double major in Portuguese and political science. But then I lived for
many, many years in places where I had no opportunity to converse in
Portuguese. Over time I lost a lot of my vocabulary, my fluency, and
especially my confidence in this second language.
A few weeks ago, José and Nara, a
recently-immigrated Brazilian couple who speak very little English,
retained me to prepare wills and a trust for them. I was forced to
dust off my out-of-practice Portuguese in order to understand their wishes
for themselves and their sons, and then to draft (in English, thankfully)
the appropriate documents. Fortunately, they were very gracious and
patient with me and my rusty Portuguese. As we worked together, we
developed a genuine friendship and appreciation for each other.
During our last meeting, after I
had finished explaining a dozen documents for them to sign, and while
Angie, my paralegal, was making copies, the couple excused themselves to go
to their car. When they returned to my office, they were carrying an
enormous basket (pictured above) for me, and a separate gift bag for
Angie. Both were filled with an abundance of Brazilian sweets, treats,
and other goodies. Some were delights I remembered from my time years
ago in Brazil, while others were new to me.
This lovely couple’s expression of
gratitude caught me totally off guard, and the sheer enormity of the basket
completely blew me away. They said what they appreciated most was that
I pressed forward in Portuguese as well as I could, notwithstanding my
obvious difficulty in speaking in a tongue mostly dormant to me. That,
they said, lifted and encouraged them as they struggled to complete their
own daunting task of doing their estate planning in English, a language
equally difficult for them.
I took the basket home where my
wife and I opened and savored each delicacy, turning our impromptu tasting
party into a decadent substitute for supper.
Later, as I reflected on their
outrageously wonderful EXPRESSION OF GRATITUDE, I asked myself, how many
times have I missed the opportunity to demonstratively express my
appreciation to those who have served, sustained, or sacrificed for
me? How often have I overlooked occasions when I could have left
others with the same level of joy I experienced when I received this huge
basket of Brazilian gratitude?
Thank you, José and Nara, for the
sweet lesson you taught me. From being the fortunate recipient of your
gratitude, I better understand, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, that “silent
gratitude isn’t much good to anyone.”
I have resolved that I will more
attentively look for ways todemonstrate my appreciation to
others who have blessed my life. I realize that I can best say thank
you for kindnesses like José and Nara’s by paying it forward. “One
can never pay in gratitude; one can only pay 'in kind' somewhere else in
life." Anne Morrow Lindbergh
"To be prepared is half the
victory." Miguel de Cervantes
The story is told of a farmer who
decided to hire someone to help him care for his prosperous property. The
only applicant was an older man with a limp. The farmer, a little
disappointed, reluctantly offered the man the job, but expressed his
concern to the prospective employee that he couldn’t work as hard as
someone younger and without physical limitations.
“Don’t worry,” said the older
man. “You won’t be disappointed. I can work as hard as someone
half my age, and besides, I can sleep when the wind blows.” The farmer
was puzzled but didn’t say anything.
A few weeks later, the farmer woke
in the middle of the night to the sound of a huge approaching
storm. He roused his son and told him to run and get the hired man
from the bunkhouse so they could tend to the animals, equipment, and
buildings before the storm hit with all its fury.
He rushed to the barns to see what
he could do to protect his farm from the dangerous gale. His son
caught up to him shortly and reported he couldn’t wake the old
timer. This angered the farmer, and he swore he’d take care of that
unreliable hireling as soon as his farm was safe.
But as he and his son went from
barn to barn and shed to shed, they found that all the animals were safely
within their stalls and corrals. All the tools and equipment were put
away and locked up. All the doors and gates were closed tight. Everything
was battened down; nothing was amiss. There wasn’t a single thing they
needed to do, except go back to bed. The farm was safely sheltered
from the storm.
Then it came to him in a
flash. He remembered — and finally understood — what the older man with
the limp had said in the job interview: “I can sleep when the wind
blows.” He shook his head in amazement and appreciation, then went
back to the house with his son. He climbed back into bed, but he
didn’t sleep. All he could think about was a hired man, wise with
years, who could sleep when the wind blows.
Can you sleep when the wind
Trouble will surely come to all of
us sooner or later, but we need not be paralyzed in its
path. Preparation is the antidote to fear. Anticipating and
addressing future dangers will give us peace of mind. Living lives of
integrity and service will give us fortitude and resilience in the storms
of life. As my boyhood scoutmasters admonished us, “Be Prepared.”
"Listening is a magnetic and
strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones
we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and
expand."Karl A. Menniger
“Never miss a good chance to shut
We all know what an expert is,
don’t we? That’s a person who knows a lot and gets paid to deliver
brilliant answers. The essence of what they do is talk, right?
The so-called expert who can’t or
won’t listen well — regardless of how smart they are — is, more often than
·They give the wrong answer because they miss important
·They give the right answer to the wrong question.
·They give the right answer but their answer is
incomprehensible to the client, patient, or customer.
·They answer the obvious question but miss the real
·They give the right answer but miss the human
implications of both the question and the answer.
·They give the right answer but their advice isn’t
followed because clients, patients, or customers don’t trust them.
A real expert is an expert
A real expert realizes that the
quality of their answer is only as good as the quality of the information
they hear. A real expert knows that if they don’t hear the correct
question or the real question, their answer — even though correct — will be
largely worthless. A real expert recognizes that until clients,
patients, customers, or friends or colleagues who need
guidance feel listened to and understood, their answers will be suspect
and their recommendations will not be implemented.
Great listeners are far more likely
to be successful, whatever their profession. As Bernard Baruch said,
“Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more
listening than talking.”
A real expert understands that when
they’re in the presence of a client, a patient, or a customer, there are
two experts in the room, not one. A real expert knows that to find the
best answers in today’s complex world, they must bring everyone’s
best thinking to bear on the issue at hand, not just their own. A real
expert has the temperament and the tools to do that.
A real expert practices what I call
Transformational listening goes
beyond listening for data, information, or knowledge; it is listening for
wisdom and insight. It goes beyond listening with the physical ears;
it is listening with ears of discernment.
Transformational listening is not a
set of techniques; it is a way of being with another person. It
is not based on some clever approach or device; it is based on the
deep-down way we see others and ourselves.
An outstanding example of a true
expert who practiced transformational listening in his work with clients
was Paul Laughlin. Paul was the bank trust officer in Hattiesburg,
Mississippi, who turned a conversation with Osceola McCarty, an 87-year-old
uneducated but generous washer woman, into a magnificent scholarship gift
to the University of Southern Mississippi.
Looking beyond her age, her
profession, her lack of education, the size of her bank account, and the
color of her skin, Paul listened to Osceola and saw a vision for her future
happiness and heard an opportunity to make a meaningful difference in the
world. Only after applying his expertise as a listener did he deploy
his expertise in estate planning and charitable giving.
As a result, Paul not only
transformed Osceola’s life but he also dramatically changed the lives of an
entire university community, of dozens of future Mississippi school
teachers, and of untold numbers of philanthropists and their advisors who
have been inspired by this story. Generations yet unborn will be
blessed by Paul’s transformational listening.
Paul and I were once colleagues
working in the trust department of the same bank. If you were to talk
with Paul, you would discover a man of great humility, respect, and
curiosity. These attributes are essential for a transformational
The transformational listener is
HUMBLE. They see themselves as constantly open to new
understanding. They know that, as much as they already know, they
still have much to learn about the customer’s world. They understand
that careful, attentive, and appreciative listening both with their ears
and with their heart is the only way they will learn enough about their
customer’s world to become an expert in it.
The transformational listener is
RESPECTFUL. Regardless of the apparent disparity in age, education,
wealth, achievement, rank, status, or power, they see clients, patients,
customers, or friends or colleagues who need guidance, as fellow human
travelers, each with unique experiences and exceptional
brilliance. They acknowledge their clients’ strengths and talents, and
honor their life journey. They know that every person they meet has
something important to teach them.
The transformational listener is
CURIOUS. They can’t wait to discover what lies within the clients’ every
phrase or paragraph or silent pause. They are fascinated by where
their customers’ minds will go next, by what stories or insights will
spring forth from their thinking if they are listened to generously and
As Paul Laughlin showed, being a
real expert is first about listening and only then about speaking. It
is more about what we are presently learning than what we previously
knew. It is more about harnessing shared brilliance than showing off
as a solitary shooting star. It is more about a way of seeing others
and being with people than the mastery of a set of techniques.
Great listening is TRANSFORMATIONAL. It changes both the
one who’s speaking and the one who’s listening. And over time, it
changes the world.