Last week I held a communication skills workshop at the community center, a senior/youth center right in the heart downtown Olympia, filled with eclectic and unusual sights. As one of my participants noticed “it’s an interesting part of town”.
One of the first people to arrive at the workshop was a young women, I’ll call her Terry. Terry announced that she was told she needed to take this course. I asked her if she was with ESD, an agency that I had several attending from and the only one that I thought might send someone at the last minute. She replied yes. I asked her what division she was in and she gave me an acronym. That seemed good enough for me. I made a note on the registration list and moved on to start the workshop.
We did introductions and she gave a weird description of her work that ended with “and please don’t take away my job”. Then, we started in on some group exercises. I asked the group to pair up and talk about the qualities of the best boss they ever had. She said she didn’t want to talk about that. I asked her what she wanted to talk about and she replied “tulips”. Okay, now I was getting suspicious, but not enough to do or say anything.
Then, in our next exercise, she started wandering around the room. By the end of the exercise, she had picked up her workshop notebook and a copy of my book and left the room.
She never came back.
After the first break, I talked about it with the group. Everyone had some concerns that she didn’t belong in the workshop and certainly wasn’t sent there by her agency. One participant said she looked hurt, that she had some bleeding on her scalp.
So, why did we all let it go? Why didn’t we say something? Who was she? Did she need help?
After debriefing a bit, we came up with some communication lessons we learned from this odd experience.
1) When you get that weird feeling that something isn’t right, it probably isn’t.
2) Always ask for more information and clarity when you aren’t sure what’s going on.
3) Don’t be afraid to speak up if you have something to say that may be helpful.
4) Deal with issues sooner rather than later.
5) Sometimes we need to get out of our comfort zone and say what needs to be said, like, “Terry, are you okay?; Do you need help?”.
We don’t know Terry’s story. Probably never will. I wished I’d asked her what it was.
Betty Lochner is the Owner of Cornerstone Coaching & Training. She specializes in personal and organizational transformation and is the author of Dancing with Strangers: Communication skills for transforming your life at work and at home.