Cycles in confusing times

There’s a full moon. As I walked my dogs last night, its brightness lit the ground even through clouds.

The cycling of the moon’s phases reassures me. Looking up to see its fullness again reminded me of the four weeks that have since passed.

Four weeks ago I felt bewildered. Covid-19 confuses everything. Who knew what would happen to our businesses, to our world, four weeks ago?

Now another moon has waxed and waned and I’m still here. Still working on and in my business. Still uncertain what the next 4 weeks will bring.

A couple things I do know for sure, though. I’ll continue walking at night. My dogs will agree to join me. And the next full moon will be there, bright enough to cast shadows.

Do customers believe you?

I’m here to take care of you.

I’m going to do everything in my power to keep you safe and see you through this.

You are my number 1 priority.

This is my customer experience as I’m wheeled into the ICU, greeted by nurse Juanita.

As important as these powerful first words was her tone of voice. It was the voice of conviction. And her eyes that held my own. I believed her.

Somehow she knew of the EMT paramedics’ comment in the ambulance. She assured me that all was not lost. But she needed my attention and cooperation for as long as I could maintain consciousness.

Sometimes there is a need for deference, for receptivity in how we relate to those we are serving. Sometimes its the opposite: they need our direction, our utmost conviction.

In times of distress, how do we meet the anxiety of our customers? How do we determine whether to give deference or direction?

This depends on our customers’ role expectations. It varies from ICU nurse to customer service agent, of course.

So while our response will be situational, one aspect ought be universal: all the ways in which we communicate deference or direction need consistently line up. We need to believe it before our customers.

Nurse Juanita expressed 100% congruence in words, tone of voice, and body language. It all lined up. This congruence, this consistency is what Al Mehrabian described as effective and meaningful communication according to his 7%-38%-55% Rule.

Belief doesn’t just come from words, from an optimal script. If your words communicate something different from your voice or body, you’ll end up with customer disbelief.

Imagining our control

As I lay in the ambulance, a vessel in my brain was leaking blood into my skull. My capacity to think, to be conscious was diminishing. My ability to direct anything at all would soon stop.

From a position of agency — as entrepreneur, father, athlete — I was moved to a position of utter dependence. From a preoccupation with planning for the future, I was moved to the terrible present.

What moved, exactly, I ask myself looking back from the other side?

Now it seems nothing changed about my circumstances more than my regard for them. It may be that as we mistakenly live in hope, so also are we mistaken in imagining our control.

A brain, bleeding slowly enough, focuses the mind before disabling it. What I took for granted of my children as infants is also true for my adult self: we are fragile, brief, and dependent.

You may want to qualify that conclusion. I still do. As I regain ability and capacity since my experience, I want to qualify it as I did before: If I do…. If I have…. Then I’ll triumph.

But nonetheless, we are fragile, brief, and dependent. So what to do with this conclusion?

If you felt dependent upon others, how might you work with them?

If you felt the brevity of life, what work might you do rather than defer?

And given our fragility, to what end, for whose agenda, are you working?

Hopefully mistaken

Is my neck broken? I asked.

Honey, with what you’ve got going on, you’ll wish it was a broken neck.

And with that reply, the EMT paramedic clicked the ambulance’s back door shut. Bound to the stretcher, I looked up at the green ceiling, searching. I felt the increasing speed of the wheels as we left the emergency room’s parking lot and turned onto the road.

This was my second ambulance of the night. I was going from one hospital to another, to the special-hospital-for-the-scary-serious-stuff. This is a moment the extraneous falls away. You wonder about your dependents. You hope it’ll be okay. Hope for “more time.”

This is the first blog post published at In those that follow, I’ll finish the story started in this one, being alive to tell it. But first, an observation that strikes me now:

For as long as I can remember, hope foolishly guided me. I planned ahead. I anticipated next year and the next many after that. Given more time, I would achieve some future outcome. Always did I assume my future self would be in a position to optimize it further. I would always be able to think, move, act.

Do you proceed along similarly?

How fundamental, how universal are our assumptions of a) more time, and b) a capacity in body and mind?

Do you expect to be able to get up tomorrow and work towards that for which you hope?

Hopefulness is a forerunner of endurance. With sufficient hope, we develop the capacity of endurance. This looks like self-discipline and is called a virtue.

But hope can be cruel. Hope can be the reason we tolerate what does not work, what should not continue, or what ought not be delayed. A bully whom we excuse. A missed dinner with the family. A deferred phone call to a friend.

Cruel also are hope’s ingredients, the assumptions of more time and continued capacity. They are cruel when untrue. They are always untrue at a point unknown to you or me.