Article Date: 2/1/2006

lessons learned
Christmas Lesson
How not to win friends and influence people.

While writing a Christmas column for our local newspaper, the Rome (GA) News Tribune, I was reminded of a basic communications skills tenet. Part of the column went like this:

Some philosopher, whose name escapes me at the moment, has stated that there are three stages of life:   

Stage 1: You believe in Santa Claus.

Stage 2: You don't believe in Santa Claus.

Stage 3: You are Santa Claus.

I think I'm in a fourth stage. This has come about as I have aged further, and find myself becoming less loveable and more cantankerous. This has tended to make me more Scrooge-like at Christmas time.

The newsletter

The wife of a deceased distant relative, whom I've never even met, sends me a Christmas card and a two-page, single-spaced newsletter every year. As best I can tell, none of her children or grandchildren has as yet received a Nobel Prize. However, this seems to be about the only honor they have not achieved.

In addition to the detailed description of all the remarkable things they have accomplished over the past year, she further brightens my holiday season with a blow-by-blow description of her recent surgeries and health problems.

The poor lady is just attempting to get people to see that she's important. Everyone wants to feel important. But she obviously doesn't realize that a basic tenet of communication is that you don't communicate your importance to people by boasting about it.

In return

As a stage–4 Scrooge, her newsletter sure didn't convince me of her importance. I suspect even younger recipients, much less crotchety than I, were also turned off. I was tempted to send her the following newsletter:

"We've had a real good year since last Christmas. We're right–proud of our granddaughter, Lavonia. She was elected president of her sophomore class. It's the first time in the history of the school that anyone has been president of the sophomore class three years in a row!

"Our eldest son, Ezra, received a reward for good behavior! It got him out of prison two years early. And we're right–proud of our little granddaughter, Tessie Lou too. She was selected as the poster child for the Zero Population Growth movement.

"Also you may remember Clem, who was an unwanted child? He's really come up in the world. Now he's wanted in 12 states!

Our youngest daughter, Rachel Lou, has graduated from high school in just three terms. (George Bush the elder's, Clinton's, and George Bush III's.)"

I may also tell her about my hemorrhoid surgery in detail (no pun intended). That ought to brighten her holidays, just as she brightens mine.

He was lost

A Christmas present I received reminded me of another communications lesson: the necessity to make certain your questions or statements are not misunderstood.

The present was a Carl Hurley audio tape. One of the stories he told was about the man who got lost while driving through the hills of Kentucky. Coming across an elderly farmer by the side of the road, he stopped and asked him, "How do you get to Louisville?"

"Wal, mostly," the old man drawled, "my son-in-law carries me."


Optometric Management, Issue: February 2006