Valuable Words

I saw something the other day that I simply cannot forget.

A gentleman was retiring from our company, and when being recognized for his 30 years of service, he asked if he could introduce someone.

Typically, the retiring guys bring their wives, the ladies bring their husbands and sometimes their adult children; but this fellow introduced the man that suggested he come to work for us 30 years ago.

He told the story of how this fellow had heard they were hiring over at Metroparks back then and it sure looked like a great place to work. This soon-to-be retiree evidently followed his lead, inquired and got hired.

It was a heartfelt, sentimental moment indeed.

I thought to myself how interesting it is that people often don’t know the effect they have on other people with just a suggestion, a smile, a word, a nod of approval or even something as innocent as a gesture.

All of those signals can be read as encouraging and can virtually change the direction of someone’s life.

If someone is almost desperate or hungry for support, that little nudge can take on monumental meaning.

A few months ago, a friend of mine mentioned that his son had gotten a paid internship to a pretty solid company but was frustrated that he could not find a full-time job, as he had already completed his four-year college degree.

He took the internship as a post-graduate so it would add to his credentials, but it was to last only as long as one semester.

I told him I thought there was a lot of integrity in that move, and that likely he could make a good enough impression while serving the internship to have it turn into a full-time job.

My friend hadn’t looked at it that way, and he asked if I could pass that encouraging word onto this son.

This is what I wrote to him:

“I applaud your recent decision regarding your internship. There's a certain appeal to an intern that is really interested in what lies ahead. There's a sort of recklessness about such an individual and employers are anxious to hire it.

“You aren't expected to be loaded with precaution and apprehension--you are more impulsive about things and many times such a person reminds the employer of how he or she used to be.

“So if you work along with one of the company decision-makers, don't be guarded and careful. Take the ‘basket off your light’ and let it shine brightly. Your enthusiasm will be contagious, and when you get the call to do something significant you'll find them anxious to see what you got.

“Then one day you're a month into your internship and you happen to be around some decision-making types and you utter something that took a little insight, a little dedication and observation, and one of those guys says, ‘When that kid finishes his internship, send him up to see me.’

“Next thing you know you're working a promising job with benefits, and it all comes together.

“Put yourself in the right place, and once you find that groove trust the instincts and integrity that got you there. Trust that being yourself will most likely keep you there.

“Bill Gates once said our parents and grandparents had a different word for ‘burger-flipping.’ They called it ‘opportunity.’”

I got an email right back from the kid the next day, and he said, “It's been a really weird past few months being jobless and constantly scrounging for some sort of income. But I suddenly feel a new confidence thanks to your words and have already identified several opportunities where I think I can provide some valuable input to some pretty influential people.

“Thanks so much for even taking the time to analyze my situation and let me benefit from your experience. My dad is fortunate to have you as a friend. I would submit the same.”

Wow! That felt pretty good and really took nothing but a few moments of my time.

I think time is something we should all be more generous with anyway, so in that spirit, I present the following.

Here are my top three ways to convey encouragement without being phony or looking condescending. These are not out of a Dale Carnegie course or anything; it is just what has worked for me over the years.

When in conversation, if you build your point off another person’s thought, always credit that person before you make your point.

Example: “You know Tom is right, we don’t need to verify the contractor’s insurance because it is already sworn to in the specification, but I think it would be wise to secure his insurance certificate anyway to have it available in the file, should the question ever arise.”

Openly ask the question if others agree, as you are building your logic and assembling your argument.

Example: “So stop me if I am wrong, but what I am hearing is that most of us agree that moving the grand opening deadline back one month would ensure we pull it off professionally and without risk. So then we agree that I should inform the Marketing Department we cannot ensure an error-free event without more time; no less than a month?”

Find merit in other’s suggestions to keep team spirit alive and participation fully engaged even if the suggestion is totally inappropriate.

Example: “Aaron, I can always count on you to see things from an angle I never considered, but I think in this instance dropping balloons when the lecture is finished might send a mixed message. Let’s store that thought for another day, though. I could see that playing very well at the next retirement party. Thanks for that idea.”

You my not always be able to make someone’s day with your words. And alternatively, you may say something in passing you didn’t even know had power or verve behind it.

But if you take responsibility of your words, your reactions, your gestures and your impact on other people, you may just make all the difference in the value others find in the things that make up you.

Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at rdc@clevelandmetroparks.com.