Being witty? Really?
BUSINESS MATTERS (BEYOND THE BOTTOM LINE) - Francis J. Kong (The Philippine Star) - March 28, 2020 - 12:00am

If you are familiar with a sales practice called “elevator pitch,” this one is a different version of it.

Agnes is an accomplished harpist who frequently plays for weddings, receptions, parties, and other such events. She also has blonde hair and an appropriately cherubic face.

She was on her way to an engagement at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, and she stepped into an elevator with her sizeable golden harp. Just before the doors closed, a distinguished gray-haired man stepped on.

As the elevator rose, he looked thoughtfully first at her and then her harp and asked, “And just how far up are you going?”

The virus scare is everywhere and before the quarantine, I spoke in a medical hospital. As the Ilocana and I went down to the lobby, a tall, lanky gentleman wearing a baseball cap, aviator glasses, and a black face mask stopped me in my track, “Hey Francis!”

I looked at him and took in all the details and said, “Oh hi, hello there,” expecting him to remove his glasses so I can see who he is, he did not.

In his muffled voice, he said, “Don’t you remember me?” I don’t know what came over me, but I immediately blurted, “You look like a burglar.” He laughed. My mind was rushing with this thought: “Are you kidding me? Do you think I have X-ray vision and can see through your aviator glass and mask?” But I caught myself and stopped the words.

And as quickly as I finished the thought, the gentleman laughed and said, “I don’t have the virus, but I came to the hospital to visit a friend.” He was in a hurry and guess what? We separated ways without even knowing who this mysterious gentleman was.

The ability to be witty and to speak extemporaneously is an asset. But this has to be tempered by tact and care. Corporate clients, HR practitioners, event organizers know how difficult it is to get a “deck” from me. Even asking for an outline is a pain. This is not because I do not want to give them, it is because I do not have one, and even if I do, I do not operate based on it.

I envy speakers who can memorize scripts like broadway stars in a play. Because I cannot. I do not memorize, I internalize, and then I adapt to the demands of the situation. Years of training and speaking has honed the skill, but most importantly, my involvement and understanding of business equip me with a repertoire of things I can say and deliver as the need arises.

There is no virtue in being fatally fluent. Sharp words delivered out of “wit” without tact and care can cut deep into the hearer. Tact has synonyms like: “prudence, subtlety, delicacy, judgment, and intelligence.” Whoa! This means not being tactful may mean that one is not intelligent, and I certainly qualify in that area. All the while, I thought I had dry humor but truth to tell those “witty” tactless outbursts of words that depart from my mouth is sarcasm that is designed to cut through a person’s pride and ego with devastating harm and can cost friendships, relationships, and respect. While sarcasm is defined as “the use of irony to mock or convey contempt.” This is not good. Yet I thought I was “being smart and witty.”

Sharp words from leaders cut deep into the hearts of the people and while some may dismiss it as “careless and insensitive words from the boss” others may not even recover from it.

The incident got me thinking. What was it that motivated me to blurt out those tactless words? Was I in a bad mood? Was I anxious? Was my mind occupied with a thousand ideas swirling? These are not reasons for me to be inconsiderate and insensitive. The gentleman was being friendly, and I behaved like a jerk. This made me wonder as to how many times I may have done the same with the people I have led in my years of corporate business experience.

Well, now that I have learned a lesson from it, I would remember the words of Zig Ziglar as he said, “It’s never too late to have a brand new beginning.”

And Jesus has something to say about this “Out of the fulness of the heart the mouth speaks.” Wow! This means I don’t just take a careful watch over my words; I need to check my heart too. I guess every leader does.

(Connect with Francis Kong in www.facebook.com/franciskong2. Or listen to “Business Matters” Monday to Friday 8:00 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. over 98.7 dzFE-FM ‘The Master’s Touch’, the classical music station.)

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