This week my wife and I attended a graduation exercise. I’d rate it just below running naked through an apiary. Don’t get me wrong, the music was lovely. The student speakers were refreshing and on point. But the adult speakers . . . whew. It’s hard enough to listen to hundreds of names of total strangers being read aloud—by other total strangers—but to throw in speeches that were positively sleep-inducing—it wasn’t fair. And I wasn’t the only one who grew bored. Two minutes into the first non-student speech and, I’m ashamed to say, hundreds of crass audience members turned to their phones for entertainment. They merrily played games as the speakers plowed on. It was embarrassing. It was rude. I racked up my highest Tetris score ever.
I mentioned my frustration with graduation speeches to a former university president and he explained that speakers who are brought in from the outside are rarely selected for Finish reading
What do you do about someone who is so self-centered that everything is all about him? This happens to be my 14-year-old son, but I’ve also seen this pattern with co-workers and managers where I work. Sometimes, I wonder whether the world is filling up with egotists.
Dear Fed Up,
I have some real-life experience with this challenge, because my mom and dad faced this same problem with their eldest son—me. I’ve used their ideas with others and I think they have value.
As a fourteen-year-old, I was an okay kid, doing well in school and staying out of trouble. But I was the center of my own little universe. It was pretty much all about me.
My parents had a saying, “If you think you need help, go help someone.” And that became their prescription for me. They signed me up to spend a summer 100 miles from home, working for a nonprofit that rehabbed houses in Kansas City.
Suddenly, I was on my own, with a lot of freedom and responsibility. I had to find transport (Greyhound Bus), luggage (dad’s old duffle bag), and supplies (I arrived without any toiletries—oops!). There were eight of us volunteering Finish reading
Our company was recently acquired and I was asked to be on the transition team to merge the two companies. This project required that I work with several members of the parent company throughout the weekend and late into the night. I was trying my best to be chummy and start the relationship on the right foot, but people from the new company spent much of our time together making crude, sexual jokes and using very foul language. Not only did it really offend me, but it certainly didn’t feel like appropriate workplace humor or decorum. How can I make it known that I don’t appreciate their humor (or lack thereof) without seeming like a prude or threatening my ability to work with them in the future?
In Crucial Conversations, we teach a concept we call the Fool’s Choice. It is basically this: when we face a crucial conversation (when the stakes are high, our emotions are in play, and there are differences of opinion), we tend to devolve to binary thinking. We assume we can either be honest or respectful. We can be candid or kind. We can stand up for ourselves or roll over.
What I love about your question is that you are rejecting the Fool’s Choice. Sure, you might not know what the third way is, but you know there must be Finish reading