If In Doubt, Be Helpful

April 1, 2019

I attend conferences frequently and I find myself not being able to head into a windowless room too many times or see too many keynoters before I just need some sunlight and friendship!

Such was the need a few Saturdays ago in Chicago at ASCD where I and 7000 educators descended upon McCormick Place for three days of workshops and speakers. Serendipitously, I connected with my friend, Jeffrey. Jeffrey Benson is the wonderful author of, among many books, the book, Hanging In: Strategies for Teaching the Students Who Challenge Us Most. I use his beautiful and inspirational Ed Leadership article, 100 Repetitions, in my workshops to encourage others to be optimistic when times are tough.

Jeffrey and I decided sunlight and a spot to connect would provide us just what we needed and so we walked to a quieter spot in the conference center. We found two chairs and a table on which to put our coffees and began to talk. Jeffrey lives in Boston and I live in Palo Alto so we often don’t get an opportunity to chat and as we were getting started, we realized that sitting behind a table must have given off the vibe that we were ‘somebodies.’ Somebodies who had information. Knowledge. Guidance. And so our hour of catching up turned into something unexpected and quite delightful.

Between my Midwestern niceness (!) and Jeffrey’s grey beard, which gives him an ‘Uncle Jeffrey’ persona, everyone and their mother seemed to stop by. And we, having nothing formal to do with the conference, nor knowing anything more than anyone else about the locations of sessions, or what time the doors opened for lunch, or the location of the closest restroom, we tried to be helpful anyway!

We met a director of a school from Florida, a publisher from Boston, a woman doing workforce development in Nebraska, a principal of a school in a small town of 400 in Canada and a few others – just because we were sitting behind a table. Our smiles and our question, “Can we help you?” in response to their looks of lost-ness might have had something to do with it too. 🙂 We had moments of helping and, in between, we reconnected. It was a sweet way to spend an hour.

That evening I got my daily Gaping Void email. Gaping Void is a culture design group that produces these terrific graphics that I often retweet because they say so much so easily. That evening’s visual included the words, “If in doubt, be helpful.” I took that advice seriously and the next day I facilitated my workshop and ‘left it on the field’ – meaning I gave my attendees everything I had on Having Hard Conversations – the whole of the materials in digital form to what I hope were a bunch of tangible and immediate takeaways. Given that we need real support from each other in the immediate moment now more than ever, please don’t turn away from someone in need, don’t shirk your responsibility to assist, or decide it’s ‘not your job.’ We need to be there for one another even when the request comes at us at an unexpected moment. See you in the hallways. I promise I’ll try to help you get where you are going.

If you have any questions, comments or topic suggestions, please feel free to email me at Jennifer@jenniferabrams.com. I look forward to hearing from you!

Cool Resources

Nuance: Why Some Leaders Succeed and Others Fail – Amazon writes, “Break the cycle of surface-level change and failure. How do leaders become clearer as complexity increases? We live in a world where decisions require judgment, getting people on board, drawing on local knowledge, ingenuity, and commitment. As leaders, how do you get beneath surface-level change to tackle complex challenges with depth and clarity. Nuance is the answer. Michael Fullan returns with an eminently readable, compelling and practical guide on the three habits of nuance: joint determination, adaptability, and culture-based accountability.

Weekly Coaches’ Roundup – The Launching Pad blog at Teach Boost
Teach Boost has these weekly blogs called The Launch Pad that include some terrific links to articles about coaching and collaboration. Check them out.

Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman. Amazon writes, “Navigating the challenges of long-term commitment takes effort—and it just got simpler, with this empowering, step-by-step guide to communicating about the things that matter most to you and your partner. Drawing on forty years of research from their world-famous Love Lab, Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman invite couples on eight fun, easy, and profoundly rewarding dates, each one focused on a make-or-break issue: trust, conflict, sex, money, family, adventure, spirituality, and dreams.”

About Jennifer Abrams

Jennifer Abrams

Jennifer Abrams considers herself a "voice coach," helping others learn how to best use their voices – be it collaborating on a team, presenting in front of an audience, coaching a colleague and supervising an employee. Jennifer holds a Master's degree in Education from Stanford University and a Bachelor's degree in English from Tufts University. She lives in Palo Alto, California. Jennifer's latest book is Swimming in the Deep End: Four Foundational Skills for Leading Successful School Initiatives. Her previous publications include Having Hard Conversations, The Multigenerational Workplace: Communicating, Collaborating & Creating Community and Hard Conversations Unpacked – the Whos, the Whens and the What Ifs. She has also created a Corwin Press e-course by the same name.

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Praise for Jennifer

“I hope you are well. I approached you right after your morning session on hard conversations to thank you for the amazing workshop. I shared that I am tough to impress. Equally, important, I never smile. Nonetheless, your approach elicited a genuine excitement and passion for the work.”

John Wilson, Curriculum Director
Atlanta Jewish Academy, Atlanta, GA