My mom didn’t have a college education and she wasn’t a professional speaker. She did once write a cookbook sharing recipes of popular Saddle and Surrey Guest Ranch dishes (the ranch I grew up on) but she gave out more copies then she sold. She also did some modeling and this is her on the cover of Newsweek Magazine in 1956.
Despite the lack of formal education and presentation experience, my mom was one of the best communicators I’ve ever been around. She was a people person and always looked comfortable walking in to a crowded room. She knew how to make her point and communicate her message as well as anyone.
Before my high school years, I played competitive tennis and practiced every day in the hot Tucson sun. My friends and I would travel all around Arizona and Southern California playing in tournaments. During these years I was ranked pretty high in the region for tennis players under the age of 14.
Anyway, there was a big Southwestern Tennis Championship in Tucson and I was schedule to start the tournament off against the top 14 and under player from Colorado. I had heard about his fast serve and was pretty nervous the night before about the next day’s featured match.
I remember my mom coming in to my room with the tournament schedule and talking to me about my second round match. She brought in some newspaper clippings about the guy I’d be playing if I made it past this Colorado champion. She acted as though my first round victory was a done deal.
The confidence she showed in my ability to beat this guy allowed me to get a good night’s sleep and arrive at the tournament ready to go. It’s not what she said so much as how she handled the situation—how she showed her confidence with her body language, gestures and eyes– that had me focused about not just getting past the first round, but winning the damn tournament.
As things turned out, the Colorado player failed to show up for the tournament and so I was given the victory by default. I went on to win my next 3 or 4 matches and eventually made it to the finals. I lost in close sets to another local player and good friend of mine.
Looking back, I remember how little my mom said to communicate how much confidence she had in my ability. It wasn’t what she said. It was how she acted that counted.
High School Football
Going in to high school I wasn’t the biggest guy in the world but I did have decent speed and good eye-hand coordination from playing tennis from the age of 5. As a freshman, I knew I’d be playing the #1 position on the varsity tennis team (which I did) but didn’t really enjoy playing competitive tennis anymore. I was getting burned out on tennis and decided I wanted to give some other sports a try including football.
My friends and I all showed up for freshman football practice and ready to take on the world. I had never put on pads before and had never had to catch a pass over the middle while being hit by a linebacker literally twice my size. There were guys on my team that looked like grown men with huge muscles and beards. I had no business being out on the field with most of these guys but, because of the support and confidence my mom showed and had in me, I never gave this challenge a second thoughts.
I remember my mom always telling me that I was a smart kid with good skills. That if I used my head and anticipated where the play was going, I would always be one step ahead of the competition. When I was black and blue and sore and starting to doubt myself before a Thursday afternoon or Friday night game, she always had all my equipment ready to go and communicated a “matter of fact” let’s make this happen type of confidence. I guess what I’m saying is that she always had my back.
I grew quite a bit my sophomore year and everything started coming together for me during practice and in the games. My mom’s nonverbal messages gave me confidence and because of her constant messages, I was able to enjoy high school football and play on a pretty good team my senior year that made some noise in town. To this day I still stay in touch with some of the guys.
She communicated by being there for me and always lifting me up on her shoulders when I wasn’t sure I wanted to play anymore. Her method of communication was by example and support. It’s hard to put what she did in to words but then again, she didn’t need to. I always understood what she was trying to say.
When I made bad choices as a teenager, the expression on her face said it all. When I occasionally, despite myself, did something she thought was original or even amazing, the smile on her face made me want to do it all again.
Communication is Much More Than Words
What I learned from my mom is that being a good communicator doesn’t always mean having to use words to make your point. All you need to do is figure out what you want your message to be and then figure out the best way to share the message. Sure, words are one way to do this but leading by example and showing your support behind a project or person is another effective way to make your point and impact others.
Sometimes during trial when a hostile witness makes an absurd comment from the witness stand, I’ll simply turn to the jury, smile, and move on to my next question. The jury get its.
In all negotiations, regardless of the issues, I always try to come across as a lawyer who is prepared, confident and ready for business. It’s an attitude that sometimes is accompanied with a slight swagger that is intended to communicate a calculated message.
You can follow my mom’s example and do the same thing. You too can make your point by letting your body language compliment what few words you have to say. It’s a dance. It’s an art. But anyone can do this so don’t be afraid to give it a try.
The next time you need to get your point across to someone about something, give some thought to how to do so before opening your mouth. To this day when I’m in trial and I’m trying to figure out how to make my next communication move, I’ll still ask myself, “how would mom go about making this particular point?”
People are listening and even more people are watching your every move. Take advantage of all the people who are listening with their eyes. Make your point by expression and example. Communicate in a way that builds confidence in others. Make someone else feel good about themselves. Doing so will almost always make the impact you’re looking to make and will help you communicate your special message just the way it needs to be communication.