Keegan’s birthday. The decision is that he can take a select few to a movie and that mom and dad will act as chauffeurs for the occasion. The select few turn out to be the entire rugby team; well, so it seems. Cars packed to make a sardine tin look like a spacious condo, we set off to see Jim Carey’s Ace Ventura. Once there and having safely escorted the rugby team into the cinema, the remnants (Tamryn, Sipho and me) decide to watch the movie Santa Claus staring Tim Allan. No prizes for noticing which part of the family carries the sensitive, artistic genes. Mom was left to guard the cars.
It is on the way home that the real telling of the tale begins. Movies watched and popcorn eaten, the happy team is back in my car – it seems I have most of the forwards. In the midst of the chaotic din that has me wondering if the monastic vow of silence would have any appeal for little people, Keegan pipes up: ‘Dad, what’s a virgin?’
Monastic thoughts disappear quicker than you can say ‘Augustine of Hippo’. A what? Where is Vicky when I need her? (I make a quick mental note to check whether or not I have untied her from the bumper before focusing on the matter at hand.) Should I just play deaf? Perhaps try the old distract and forget tactic or fake an asthma attack? What kind of question is that anyhow? What do they teach these kids at school? What kind of movie was that and why didn’t they just come to Santa Claus like all sane people?
As these questions race around my head searching for some clue of adult intelligence, a quick glance in my mirror shows a row, well actually two rows, of fully attentive faces and total silence. What wouldn’t their teachers give for this moment!
Very coolly, I bypass the cranial chaos and effectively employ the SAGMF (pronounced SAG-MUFPH) tactic. The SAGMF tactic? Sure you know it and I bet you have even used it to good effect yourself. It’s the old ‘stall and gather more information’ ploy. Anyway, I get some garbled story about a white bat (how should I know? go and see the movie) which doesn’t help me at all. An expectant silence follows, signalling my turn to speak.
No need to worry, I’m not going to tell you what I said (no free education here, although should you wish to purchase the video series you can speak to my agent), suffice to say that I thought I did a pretty reasonable job.
Well, at least I thought I did.
A pensive silence follows my last technical but not too graphic point. Keegan then says somewhat dismissively, ‘Nah, I must have got the wrong word.’
It turns out that it had something to do with a white bat in the movie and so perhaps using the ‘birds and the bees’ analogy might have been a better ploy. The other twist to emerge from this tale was the challenge surrounding the parental debrief as they collected their now sex-educated offspring from our house. What to say? What not to say? What would the kids tell them when asked the standard, ‘so how was the party Champ?’ during the drive home.
It wasn’t easy!
But nor is communication easy within the context of leadership. The questions of what to say and what not to say are as relevant for leaders as they were for the parental debrief. Despite multitudinous books, seminars and workshops, problems concerning effective communication still exist. However, thanks to the virgin bat I have learnt to:
• Remember who it is that is asking the question
• Ask clarifying questions to align the response with the enquiry
• Be prepared to have to explain more than once – and maybe to a hostile audience
• Check the movie out first, and if I can’t, be sure I take and not fetch in the transportation chain!
PS My concerned Editor asked me, ‘Why was Vicky left to guard the cars and not go to the movie?’ Of course Vicky wasn’t really left to guard the cars and nor was she tied to the bumper to ensure that she didn’t neglect her duty. That’s just a bit of poetic licence to colour the story. No, seriously – go ask her yourself.