Sunday, March 21, 2010

Gramfather Lecturer or Grampa Coach?

It's time, again, for Celebrity Apprentice. It's amazing the leadership lessons for Grampas and Grammas that you can glean from this experience. Cyndi Lauper was the Project Manager last week. The men won. This week Cyndi's the lecturer, make that weird unrelated story teller.

My late friend Ron Brown called that elderly tendency to bore your near and dear JIBBERING. Older people suffer from it. It's a cry for help; a direct connection between the unrestricted brain and unrestricted lips. Kids and gramkids of jibberers learn patience and how to divert attention to shiny objects to help them stop. It's a disease unsuccessful sales people become afflicted with, cuz after all, " if you're TELLIN' you ain't SELLIN'!"

Even gramparents who usually have all their faculties functioning drift into semi-senility starting with the words, "Did I ever tell you about the time I . . . ?" Grampas who take this approach generally don't wait for an answer--positive or negative they just jibber on, and the little gram rolls his/her eyes, tunes out, looking for cobwebs up in the corners of the room or something. More mature gramkids will "vote you off" their internal team. Trust and love suffer. It isn't pretty.

On the TV show, the comic Sinbad led the men's team this week, and though he is pretty loose and not well oranized, he had the wisdom to ask a few questions of his team. He could have used a flow chart and followed up on details--something his manager and personal assistant do for him.

It was too little too late. The victorious men's Rock Solid Team from last week lost this week. (The same skills that have driven Sinbad to the top as a ridiculing and really very funny comic weren't the same skills to manage a well motivated, well directed team. Sinbad ended up being voted off!)

Listening is the primary skill of a saavy, coaching grampa. If you're intense, learn to be easy, relax, develop trust and, when all the cues you sense coming from the small gram are right, ask a simple question (open ended if possible like a variation of the "How do you feel about that? question) then, respectfully, shut up and listen.

All Communication is "Sales"
Somebody always "buys" !

The story is told of a jewelry salesman who welcomed a couple into his store and invited them to sit down to review diamonds. In this situation, as he had done in thousands of similar moments he spread the stones out on a black velvet cloth and asked the couple to look at all the cuts and choose the two or three they liked.

Disaster struck when he lifted their first choice with a pair of tweezers to show them how it sparkled in the strategically placed mini-spot light. He squeezed just a bit too hard and the pressure on the diamond made it slip out toward the ceiling, as if it were jet propelled.

The three of them looked up, open mouthed as the diamond soared up and dropped, into the open mouth of the salesman.

If he hadn't swallowed it it wouldn't have been so bad. Everybody laughed tight little laughs and the couple left, never to come back. The stone? It eventually passed and was put back on the shelf after it was thoroughly cleaned. Eventually it was sold to another shop that didn't know it's history.

The moral to this story is simple for salesmen of every stripe and particularly Grampas prone to the occasional jibber: If you're gonna "make the sale", you ought to keep your mouth shut.

As Santa, I stumbled on a technique 30 years ago that still serves me well in many ways. I'll explain more about this when Santa's Electric Sleigh Blog gets up and going, but for now, consider this:


As I enter a family party as the Jolly Old Elf, I've learned to come in without saying a word.

So many Santas want to make a boisterous entrance with BIIIIGGGG Ho Ho Hos. It scares the little kids and intimidates the fragile senior citizens. Early in my senior elfin career I noticed that if I came in quiet little miracles almost always happen.

As a rule, I show up on the lawn and appear to be frozen through the front window. I ask the hostess to open the drapes early in the evening so the kids will spot me and gather at the window. The excitement is palpable. I'm at a distance. Little kids can be curious at a distance.

Then my hostess is coached to send out older kids to escort Santa into the party. ("I've had pre teens wading through the snow in their bare feet to do it! It's so funny to watch!

Soon I'm standing there as if frozen, holding all my bags of props and presents. I've tipped the adults to listen with me and the questions start.

Little kids often start with real concern: "Don't you tawk, Santa?" one cute toddler asked me once. "Are you sick?"

Such a question gives me important cues: This little girl is a true believer. Wavering kids especially babes in arms are intrigued by a silent santa. They follow the cue of the true believers and buy into the reality of Santa from the second I enter a room quiet. I didn't have to say one word while all this happens around me.

Any clues, Grampa? I don't recommend you, as yourself give your tiny grams the silent treatment, but let this anatomical hint guide you the next time you visit: Because you have two ears and one mouth, listen twice as much as you speak.

My friend, actor James Arrington, is currently head of the Film and Cinematic arts Department at Utah Valley State University. He and his kids used to call me the "Mystical" Santa because I woiuld show up at his home and stare through the window until the kids spotted me. The illusion is that I appeared, as if by magic. Excitement increases as I make my way to the door, slowly push it open and just stand there. Of course Santa has a mandate to do such things (with proper prior permission from parents).

To paraphrase another saying about the quality of church meetings, "In every Grampa-little gram relationship there should be better telling and less of it and better listening and more of it! Let love guide your ears, friend. JRH

By the way, the Joke's on Me!

Blogs encourage a little jibbering. Here's a post script: One night I popped into Dr. Omar and his wife Nancy Kader's home in Orem, Utah during the Christmas Season late in the 1970s.

It was late-ish (between 9:30 and 10:00 PM on a weekend) I hadn't called ahead. Omar was assistant dean of BYU's College of Humanities and has gone on to bigger and better things in Washington, D.C.. Nancy is a nurse who then managed the Scott Matheson campaign for Governor in Utah County. They had three young sons between 5 and 12 back in the day.

Though it was my first time in the Kader home, I knew enough to gently open the front door and then wander down the hall, drag the kids out of bed to the piano in the family room. I banged out "Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer" on the keyboard and got everyone to sing and clap. I went through a little dialogue with everyone. Nancy found a camera and took pictures. It was a great success, or so I thought.

Nancy got the kids back to bed and Omar walked me out to my VW Bus/Sleigh.

"Thanks, Jon, er I mean, Santa!" he began, " I don't know how to tell you this but, well, we had your helper Santa drop by about an hour ago. (and with a big smile he said," But you were BETTER!")

Have fun listening, Grampa! JRH

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