Tag Archives: Diplomacy

Smart Like a Golden Retriever

I’ve learned a whole lot of things professionally over the years, and one of them is this:  People at the top of the food chain can have some mighty fragile egos. I’m not sure why this is, but I promise you it is a true story.  I’ve been in the center of many insecurity-driven ego storms before, and if nothing else it has helped me to fine tune my diplomacy and validation skills.  Look, we all have insecurities, right?  To be successful, it is imperative to know how to best manage them – in yourself, and perhaps more importantly, in others.

There is a descriptor of a specific strategy of human interaction that refers to being “dumb like a fox.”  While that is all well and good, it seems to depict a cunning nature that is prone to trickery.  I’m not about that, because I do believe – naive though it may be – that authenticity is still the paved way to honorable success.  So instead of being dumb like a fox, I’ve decided that I want to be smart like a Golden Retriever.

I had a dog once who I had claimed was of the “big, dumb, yellow” variety.  He was actually half Golden Retriever and half Yellow Lab.  His name was Jethro, and he was 105 pounds of pure love.  It was impossible not to love Jethro.  He was happy, he was playful, he had an unbridled adoration for anyone in his midst.  No matter who you were, he liked you and he wanted to be around you and had only good thoughts of you.  It’s no wonder he was so universally loved by all. There was nothing not to like.

So I’ve decided that this Golden Retriever mentality – one of being pleasant, consistently loving, and maybe knocked down an intellectual notch or two – is really the way to disarm the fragile egos.  As I told my friend the other night, “Sometimes to be truly smart, you have to play a little dumb.”  That is very different than being dumb – I have no time for that.  But to display humility, to not need to be right all the time (even when you know you are), and to express an openness to learning from anyone who wants to teach you – that is the golden ticket, my friends.

And so, as much as I can, I am going to be just that.  I will be sitting faithfully by your side, wagging my tail, and hoping you will ask me to play.  I’m smart like that.

Searching for My Inner Kenny Rogers

I’ve been told – quite a few times in my life, mind you – that I don’t have a poker face.  Truthfully, if someone is annoying me, everyone in the general vicinity will probably know it.  This does not fare well with my position of great responsibility.  It would be best if I could always be the consummate diplomat. It would be ideal if no one ever suspected my feelings of wanting to put hot pennies in my eyes because I am so blasted bothered.  It would be wonderful if I could always be perfectly wonderful. But….I can’t.

So I am working hard to dig deep.  I need to work on this, and today I just pointed out to someone else who I love and respect very much that they could stand to work on their poker face, too.  I’m thinking that maybe we could work on it together.  We could hold up pictures of people, places and things that send us reeling and practice not having a reaction.  (“Look – it’s a picture of someone eating baby carrots in a meeting – go!”)  We could grade one another on our poker face performances and give honest, unrelenting feedback. We could keep working at it until we get it right.

Because right now, truth be told, I feel like my inner Kenny Rogers is buried deep.  I know he’s in there, I just have to find him and nurture him and get him to the surface where he can see the light of day. Because Kenny?  Kenny knew what was up for real.

He knew when to hold ’em.

He knew when to fold ’em.

He knew when to walk away.

He knew when to run.

Word on the street is he also didn’t count his money when he was sittin’ at the table.

So you see, Kenny was one cool cat.  Kenny had it all figure out.  I could stand to be a lot more like him.  I’m going to keep searching for my inner Kenny Rogers until I find him.  I’ll let you know when that happens.

Transitions: A New Business Model

Working as a leader in a public sector system – a system that is highly scrutinized, no less – has had its benefits.  One of those benefits is fine tuning some skills that can only come from opportunities made of sweating brows, churned stomachs, wringing hands.  Maintaining good ego strength on days where there is no love to be found?  I’ve got that covered.  Entering a room filled with an angry mob and turning the energy around?  No problem.  Solving two, three, even four problems with one solution? I’m a master at it.  Smiling on the outside when I feel murderous rage on the inside?  Believe it or not, most days I’ve got that one tucked away somewhere, too.

The one skill I may have fine tuned the most, however, is that of delivering bad news.  I’ve thought about this skill quite a lot in the last few days because it’s everyone least favorite time of year – contract time. That’s right, it’s the time of year when agencies in our system learn their fate.  Will their business thrive or die?  Is it their time to shine, or is their day in the sun drawing to a close?  As a department, we have to deliver news to eager executives, and some of it is just no fun to deliver.  But that’s business, and if we are making and executing hard decisions, it also means we are being good stewards of the tax payers.  It truly is all in a day’s work.

So when you’ve built a career on the sad misfortune of expressing bad news, it would make sense to build further upon that skill.  Right?  So I present to you, the new business I am developing.  Please know, I invite your feedback for its worthiness and its possible applications.  It is my proud honor to share with you:  Transitions.

Welcome to Transitions.  Transitions is a business model built on doing your dirty work.  No, we aren’t a maid service.  We don’t come with Haz-Mat suits and we don’t do biohazard clean-ups.  Rather, we do your dirty work…of delivering bad news.

Have an under-performing employee who is sadly pathetic but needs to go?  Afraid to fire them because you know they have a slew of hungry children at home?  No problem.  Transitions will compassionately but decisively let them know they need to pack up their desk and move around.  We will stay on-site until they’ve assuredly left the building.

Need to back out of business with your partner who was also the best man in your first wedding? We’ve got it covered.  Your professional Transitions Team will pull the sad sack aside and let him know what’s what – and we’ll even deliver the papers your lawyer drew up for him, too.

Is it time to end that relationship that is literally on its last leg?  With just a quick phone call from you, you can arrange to have the Transitions van pull up to the house, ring the door bell, and let your future ex-girlfriend know “it’s not you, it’s me (which, in fact, is really you).”  For a small up-charge, we will even stick around to gather up your favorite hoodie, your Fleetwood Mac album, and your iPhone charger.

So there you have it:  Transitions.  “Let somebody else do the talking, while you do the walking.”

I think I could really be onto something here.

You Can’t Un-ring a Bell

Working in the position that I do, I’ve had to learn a thing or two to survive.  My job has such high visibility and high stakes, there is little room for error.  People’s lives….their very fragile, complicated, unbelievable-at-times lives, mind you…depend on me to do the right thing in the right way at the right time, all the time. Because of this, I have to keep relationships vibrant and healthy, I have to walk fine lines, I have to find a way to like people even when I don’t at the moment.  It’s not always so easy.

Being a public sector employee is an interesting experience.  Don’t get me wrong – I love what I do.  I have an opportunity that few have ever had.  I get to help steer the course for an entire system that I am incredibly passionate about.  The most basic things I hold to be true – that we must be good to one another so that we can be good to our patients, that everyone deserves help, that much of the world is deeply hurting and we can change that with our compassion – get to be addressed in part through my actions and my vision.  It is a tremendous privilege.

And yet, and yet.  Being a public sector employee also means every day I have the potential to face very open criticism that comes through in some very vitriolic and irrational ways. I have spent more days feeling misunderstood, defensive, or downright disappointed in the last five years than I had cumulatively in the forty years prior. Strangely, I’ve become mostly immune to it.  I think it’s part of the deal, when you are paid for by taxpayers. Transparency is expected and rightly so. Diplomacy is the high road and the only acceptable path.  It’s actually kind of amazing that it only occasionally gets to me.

Given all of this, I’ve had to fine tune some very specific skills.  Patience. Understanding. Listening. Reading between lines. Stepping in.  Walking away. Giving in. Holding ground. And last, but certainly not least, waiting 24 hours to click “send” to ensure I don’t say anything I will later regret. Because as the blog title says, you can’t un-ring that bell.  The job has enough problems on its own; heaven knows I don’t need to create more for myself.

Every skill I’ve learned, every opportunity I’ve had, every mistake I’ve made and every sucker punch I’ve taken…I promise you this:  I wouldn’t trade it for the world.  What I believe for sure is that I am making my corner of the world a better place.  Knowing that is what keeps my world right, even on days that feel all wrong.