The Advantage Letter by Dave Martin
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Thursday, August 01, 2013
Volume 19 | # 437
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When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it. » Henry Ford

Coming Into Focus

While sitting in my home office a couple of weeks ago, I began fiddling around with the camera on a new smartphone. I played around with the zoom and various settings while snapping photos of the closest thing to me, my desk.

After reviewing a few of the pictures, I came to a startling revelation, but not about the camera.

Wow! My desk was a disaster area.

Now, I could argue that I was in the middle of lots of changes and had good reasons for the assorted piles of paper, various electronics chargers, two laptops, two iPads, four coffee mugs, 3 stacks of DVD’s that I have no use for, a football, a roll of duct tape, a box of Nutri Grain bars, an electric blood pressure monitor, a box of light bulbs, and a rock.

Okay, two rocks.

Would it help to point out that I have a very large desk? (I didn’t think so.)

The funny thing to me is that all of that stuff and more (sadly, there was more) on my desk had become relatively invisible to me. When I’m at my desk, I’m typically looking at a computer or smartphone screen.

Everything else is a backdrop, and I only really notice whatever I’m looking for.  But looking at those pictures brought the disarray into focus – literally and figuratively.

I couldn’t help reflect on a practice I’ve used and encouraged folks who run branches to adopt. Every now and then, and with no particular agenda, step away from a branch and randomly snap photos of it.

Don’t pick up things or clean beforehand, and don’t have folks posing.

Simply capture at that instance what the branch or lobby or drive-thru or ATM looks like, and share the photos in your next meeting with your team. “A picture is worth a thousand words” is one of the oldest clichés in the book. It’s also a fact.

Staring at a picture in that scenario brings focus and attention to things that we too often train ourselves not to see.

But more objective folks (customers and potential customers) do.

And this practice is not necessarily a negatively focused one. Often, there are really positive things you’ll see that you probably haven’t commented upon or complimented enough lately.

We humans are very adept at looking past many of the things we are surrounded by every day. But customers aren’t.

Try picturing what they see.

A Heightened Appreciation

Every now and then, I have to laugh and tell my wife that I am definitely not the optimist in our household.

After an especially unpleasant phone conversation with an irrational person last weekend, she suggested that maybe I needed that in order to better appreciate the nice people I get to deal with.

It had come to my attention that there was an individual causing great conflict in the youth basketball league in which I volunteer to coach.

It may be a testament to my ability to exist in a bubble sometimes that I had not become aware of this person’s misconduct and bad behavior. But many others were.

As the season was almost over, the easiest thing to do would be to say, “Oh, some people are just that way. Try to ignore it.”

Then I remembered the hundreds of times I’ve told managers that it isn’t fair to others if we allow a chronic malcontent or terrible attitude person to ruin everyone else’s experiences.

Sure, we can ask folks to ignore and forgive infrequent and/or minor incidents. But when you can set your watch by the next time a malcontent will do something rude or disrespectful, it isn’t fair to others.

And when I learned that some folks had become hesitant to volunteer because of this person’s behavior, my jaw clenched.

While this wasn’t a manager/employee issue, I did have enough involvement with the situation to feel bad for the people being made miserable. And looking around, I knew no one else was going to do it.

So, I picked up the phone, called the individual, laid out the problems we were having, and dug in.  It has been years since I’ve been in a true, angry yelling match.

My initial goal of remaining calm lasted about 30 seconds. Two minutes in, I realized the person was just…nasty. Five minutes in, I decided I’d match this person’s volume and venom. After fifteen minutes, the bully’s ranting had diminished. I felt like a cowboy trying to ride a maniacal bull until it just sat down and quit.

I have no idea what the long term impact of that episode will be. But, I did soon find myself paying more attention to and thanking the nice people I do get to deal with every day. (Go figure.)

Yes, malcontents need to be dealt with. But it’s the many more good and decent people we get to interact with every day that deserve a little more of our attention and gratitude.

Are we giving it to them today?


I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions. » Stephen Covey

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these columns are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of any affiliated entities or sponsors.
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