Wherein Joan takes the stage and tries not to embarrass herself.

Dear friends,

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Earlier this week I attended a statewide professional conference. It was a terrific opportunity to network with other professionals and it was the first such event I’ve attended since moving to the Show Me State.

A couple of months ago, I had agreed to be a panelist for a luncheon presentation even though I hate speaking in public. Despite years of speech and debate training in high school, despite performing in a good number of plays and skits, and despite majoring in broadcast journalism for a while (during which I served a short stint as a radio news announcer), I HATE PUBLIC SPEAKING. It makes no sense to me that I have years of training and experience and still dread opening my mouth in front of large audiences — but I do. I hoped serving as one of four panelists meant I wouldn’t have to say much and wouldn’t embarrass myself.

So . . .

The four of us assembled on the stage and sat behind a draped table, a microphone in front of each of us. The moderator introduced us and began asking a battery of standard questions. My answers were brief and respectable. “So far, so good,” I was thinking. Then came an innocuous question: “What traits do you look for when hiring a (insert my industry) professional?”

The other three panelists rushed to answer the question. And their answers were appropriate by all measures. They look for intellectual curiosity. Ambition. Persistence. Good communication skills. A commitment to continuous improvement. All good stuff. I nodded my head in agreement as each panelist spoke.

Then the moderator looked at me as if to suggest “Don’t you want to say something?”

I leaned into the mike. “I agree with the panelists,” I said. “The traits they mentioned are all necessary to be successful in our field.” I paused. I leaned back in my chair. I thought I was finished.

Then I leaned back in, right before the moderator spoke up to move us along, and said “Uh, I have one more thing.”

I picked up the mike. I paused. “This probably sounds odd,” I said, pausing again as I tried to find the words to express my sentiment. “But I also try to hire people who are . . . kind.”

There was an uncomfortable silence. Or at least I was uncomfortable as I imagined the other panelists rolling their eyes and wondering what I might say next.

“Look, we’ve all worked with folks who are great with customers but are miserable to their colleagues. That doesn’t work for me anymore. Life is short, we spend more time with our co-workers than our family members, and I want to spend my time with people who are nice to each other. So I try to find people who value kindness and who treat each other  with respect and dignity.”

I sat back in my chair and felt myself perspiring. I was the only female on the stage. I figured the crazy woman on the panel talking about kindness had just convinced everyone in the room that she’s no go-getter. I work in a field focused on the bottom line and I assumed I just signaled my bottom line must be laughable because I said nothing about goals, or strategy, or productivity.

“Oh good lord,” I thought to myself. “THIS is why I hate speaking at conferences.” As I shifted uncomfortably in my seat, I silently pledged to myself to never again speak at a conference.

Soon enough, my discomfort ended as the panel concluded and I quickly ducked off-stage.

As I came down the stairs, I was surprised by a line of people. All wanting to talk to me. To tell me how much they appreciated my comments. To tell me how grateful they were to me for speaking up. To tell me kindness matters. To tell me to keep spreading the message. At the end of the line,  one very animated man exclaimed “I want to shake your hand! I want to know you! I want you to be my mentor!”

I laughed out loud. And all I could think to say was “Goodness. Thank you.”

So “thank you” I said, over and over. “You are very kind,” I said. “I appreciate you” I said.

Which, when you think about it, is a pretty decent strategy for meeting team goals.

With gratitude {for kind people everywhere},

Joan, who doesn’t claim to be a paragon of kindness in every work interaction but believes trying is a great place to start