The facilitator at the couples’ conference told those sitting in a circle around him,
“Marriages grow stronger when two people take the time to really get to know one another. I mean,” he paused for emphasis, “you have to really know about that person you’ve committed to growing old with.”
Several couples exchanged blank stares at one another.
“Okay,” the counselor clapped his hands to show he wasn’t discouraged. “Let’s start with an easy one. Men, I want you to look at your spouse and prove to her that you observe her and that you know important things about her. Tell her, ‘I know you, honey! For example, I know that your favorite flower is…’. Go!”
A man sitting right in front of the counselor looked at his wife and said, “I know this one. It’s Pillsbury All Purpose, right?”
Sometimes we don’t even understand the question !
The concept of engagement causes just as much confusion. It’s hard to build personal or employee engagement when we don’t even understand the question.
When it comes to ENGAGEMENT, the question that matters most is this: Can I really create my own engagement and happiness?
Here’s a hint about the answer: Engagement doesn’t come from the outside in, but rather from the inside out.
The danger of the outside in perspective…
Years ago I heard about an older man named Walt who had been married to his wife, Virginia, for over 50 years. One morning Virginia announced that she needed to get some things at the store, and before leaving she asked Walt if he needed anything.
“No,” Walt said with a wave. “Have fun.”
Virginia made it to her car before she realized that she left her sunglasses on the table inside the house. When she entered the kitchen, she saw her husband Walt sitting in the family room with the lights off, and she heard him sniffle at the same time she saw him wipe his eyes.
Running to his side, she asked in a rush, “Walt! What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” he said quickly, turning his face to the window. “Just go to the store.”
“Don’t you tell me nothing’s wrong. I’ve known you forever, and you don’t just cry for no reason,” she said as she sat down next to him with great worry creasing her face. “Either you tell me what’s going on, or I’m calling for an ambulance!”
“Okay, okay,” Walt said in resignation. “But it’s nothing. I was just sitting here thinking.”
“About what?” Virginia asked as she searched for Walt’s eyes.
“I was remembering when we first got married,” Walt said with a sigh. “We had nothing. We bought this old, rundown house and somehow managed to raise three boys in this tiny place. And, well,” Walt paused. “You never left my side.”
“Then do you remember when I lost my job?” Walt asked.
Virginia nodded silently as her eyes began to mist.
“Things were hard,” Walt said heavily. “We cashed in my retirement, took out a second mortgage on the house, and eventually we decided to buy our own business and work side-by-side, just the two of us, best friends, husband and wife, business partners. Do you remember those days?”
In response, several large tears rolled down his wife’s face as she squeezed her eyes shut and nodded.
“We did that for what–seven years?–before we lost that business, too, and had to start all over again,” Walt paused again before continuing with a slight, humorless laugh. “And still, you remained by my side.”
“And now several more years have passed,” Walt continued, his voice beginning to quiver. “I’ve lost most of my hair and teeth, and my health is beginning to decline…”
“Walt…” Virginia began to say as tears freely flowed down her face.
“Let me finish, please,” Walt swallowed before continuing. “And still, no matter what, you’re right here, Virginia. And so when you came in a few minutes ago, I was just thinking….”
“What Walt?” his wife asked barely above a whisper. “What were you thinking?”
Walt lifted his face until he looked directly in his wife’s eyes before responding. “I’m beginning to think you might be bad luck.”
And that’s certainly one perspective! But Walt just as easily could have said,
“Thank you, my dear wife, for staying with me during the ups and downs of this glorious ride! I couldn’t have done it without you!”
What’s your excuse?
Are you like Walt, looking for excuses about why things haven’t quite turned out the way you hoped? Are you telling yourself, “I could engage and be happy if only…“
- Someone else occupied the White House…or the corner office at work?
- I had more money and less stress?
- My spouse would stop ____ …and start ____?
- I had fewer rotten kids in my home…or lazy coworkers around me in the office?
- My boss would praise me and give me more opportunities?
- I had a bigger house and a newer car?
Engagement starts with you!
Here are three things completely within your control that you can do today–right now–to kick-start your personal engagement:
1. Choose the right attitude.
Nazi Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl said,
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Perhaps you can’t change your circumstances. But you can change your attitude. Maybe your situation looks bleak today. But you can choose the story you tell yourself and what you dwell on.
2. Choose (carefully) the company you keep.
You’ve heard the idiom, “A man is known by the company he keeps”?
It’s true. Just as true is this principle I’ve taught for years:
Be careful who you rub up against because they will rub off on you.”
Wanna get in a foul mood? Hang out with complainers, whiners, and other discontents. Wanna stay up and encouraged? Spend time with optimists and grateful people. They will teach you to count your blessings instead of your burdens.
3. Choose to let go of yesterday…and tomorrow.
Last week I overheard in the coffee shop a woman say to her companion, “There are two days each week I don’t worry about: yesterday and tomorrow.”
Yesterday, someone slighted you. Okay, that hurts. Now let it go. Stop believing that you’ll be slighted again today. Let go of yesterday’s pain, because it might make you too skittish to live your life today so that it’s your best day ever.
Yesterday, you got promoted. Okay, that’s great! Now let it go. Don’t believe that you’ll be promoted again today. Let go of yesterday’s thrill, because it might make you too complacent to double-down your efforts to make today the best day ever.
4. What do you do to engage yourself?
I’m honored that this month, WalkTheTalk.com, chose to feature my book, Manager’s Guide to Employee Engagement, from the billions* of book on the topic of engagement (*my rough estimate). To learn more and see a short video about my book, follow me here!