Whining and Connection Theory

The weather has been unusually bad this summer. Either rain or it’s too hot. Or too humid. And summer doesn’t last very long anyway. The price of gas goes up on long weekends. And don’t get me started on the dollar! When it hit + 10 percent over the US dollar last year I lost a huge amount on my big summer program.

 Hey, doesn’t this sound Canadian? To the outside ear, this may sound like whining, but what do they know? This is how Canadians connect! And connecting is important, right?

 A couple of weeks ago in Berlin, I greeted the general manager of the hotel where I was working. “Guten morgen Herr Ronald. Wie geht’s?” He smiled, looked uncomfortable, mumbled something and left.

 My local meeting planner Annemarie said, Shelle, did you really want to know how he is?” “Of course not,” I replied, “it’s just that in Canada we need to exchange at least two sentences.” “Well in Germany we only need one.”

 Okay then! One sentence. I can do that. But what about the traditional German need to be perfect? “I must be perfect at all times and so must the speaker.” How do I get rid of the Perfect Directive and connect to my audience? Through a translator? Without losing my credibility? In only one sentence?

 I gathered up my courage. Briefed my interpreters. Walked to the front of the room, smiled warmly and proceeded to screw up my attempt to use a traditional German greeting. My interpreter, standing beside me, screwed up her translation back into English, right on cue. We paused, looked at each other, both shrugged a “so who cares” kind of Gallic Shrug1 and continued.

 With one sentence we had lowered the expectations from perfect to human, made people laugh, and didn’t entirely destroy my credibility. Yeah, but something was missing. I still hadn’t quite connected to my group yet.

 “Isn’t it amazing how bad the weather has been this summer, even for northern Europe, especially when the summer doesn’t last very long?”, I commented to my group. Now everyone was shaking their heads in agreement.

 That’s it I thought! And I gave birth to The Connection Theory on the spot:2

 1. Each culture has a topic of conversation, to be discussed in a particular number of sentences or duration in time for the precise purpose of connecting rather that communicating specific information. To connect one needs to match the topic and required duration of conversation.

 2. Each culture has a precise “order of business” in their places of work wherein a specific number of minutes is taken for greeting, working, informal chit chat, smoking breaks (where still legal), etc., in a particular order. This order of business ensures that a personal connection will take place.

 But you know the problem with theories. They don’t always work in practice. So what do you do when in doubt? Whine about the weather of course. The Canadian Connection Strategy may just be the Universal Connector. There is only one way to find out, n’est-ce pas?

 Bon voyage.


Madame El Presidente

1 I first learned the Gallic Shrug while living and working in France. It is a one-shoulder shrug which is meant to communicate: “What the heck. Who cares?” It is not to be confused with the two-shoulder Jewish Shrug which generally signals “So who knows and why are you asking me anyway?” I now teach various shrugs as high stakes negotiation techniques.

2 I gave birth to the Connection Theory metaphorically only. If you were thinking that I actually gave birth, on the spot, in front of the audience, then perhaps you are reading this article a bit too literally.

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