WordFood - how we feed or starve our realtionships

- Julia Hubbel

Julia’s ability to get this group of type-A executives to engage in true networking was incredible. She is truly skilled at motivating the group to engage and interact with each other, and her openness and honesty really come through.

— Shelley Stewart, Jr.,
Senior Vice President of Operational Excellence and Chief Procurement Officer, Tyco

July 30, 2012

WordFood Affects Us Physically

The other night at my gym I was a little tired, and struggling with the chest press. It was set at a challenging weight, and I could hardly do one rep. I stood up to take a break and walked over to the free weights where a young Hispanic couple was working out. The man was coaching the woman who was clearly a novice, and she didn’t appear to be feeling very confident.

I asked him if she spoke English, and she did not, so I requested that he translate my words to her.
I told her that it took great courage to come to the gym. I explained that I had once weighed 205 lbs and that it took time, and work, to get in shape. She smiled at me. I put my hand on my heart and pointed at her and said in my lousy Spanish, “you are very strong.” At this she grinned, picked up some hand weights and went at it.

Energized, I walked back over to the bench and punched out ten reps on that bar, where not two minutes previously I couldn’t do one and a half.

There is no question in my mind that the exchange between us, those warm words, energized me completely. Her big smile put me on the moon and were a gift of pure positive force.

We underestimate the impact our positive words have on others, just as we all too often underestimate the damage our negative words can do. We carry great force in our words. When we use them to uplift someone else, they move through us and grace us as well.

Try this for yourself. See if paying someone a sincere compliment doesn’t lighten your step, put joy in your day. Feel how encouragement lifts you as much as it does the other person.

This is why I call it WordFood- nourishment for the soul.

July 23, 2012

WordFood Starvation Diet

Today I went to my chiropractor to get a laser treatment on my knee. The technician who was administering the service asked me what I did for a living and I told her about my book and the idea of WordFood, and how we all put each other on “diets.”

“Well I just stop talking when I get mad,” she proclaimed. “I shut down and clam up.” I told her that this was what I described as the Starvation Diet, where others had to talk to her hand, and she wasn’t forthcoming about what they had done wrong.

As it related to her significant other, I asked her how she expected him to figure out where he had gone wrong or offended her. “He should be able to figure that out!” she exclaimed.

“Well, people can’t read minds,” I said gently. “One of you has to open the door. Either you have to take 100% responsibility for your end and let him know what he did wrong and let him clean it up, or on his end, he can apologize in general and say let’s at least open the door to a conversation here.”

She laughed. “I’d love it if he’d apologize,” she said.

Chances are he goes along in their relationship having no idea he’s done anything wrong in the first place while this lovely woman is fuming, I thought as she labored over my knee.

The Starvation Diet costs both parties with its silence. Someone has to step up to the plate and offer the peace branch. You’re both 100% responsible. Primarily the one holding the silence- because that person alone truly knows what the issue is.

If this sounds like you, perhaps it’s time to be a bit more forthcoming in your communication. Let others know if they have hurt you. You may fear confrontation or conflict as this technician does, but the promise of a more honest and open exchange awaits if you the let sun shine on what’s troubling you. You give up nothing by talking but you may give up everything over time by withholding communication.

July 14, 2012

Soothing WordFood in an Emergency

Last night I was at my local Wells Fargo Bank making a deposit when I asked the teller for an updated balance. The balance showed only what had been deposited that day in my business account. I asked what had happened to the rest of the funds, and she said, you took it all out. I said that I hadn’t, and she turned the monitor to show me. “See? Here are your withdrawals.” My eyes nearly popped out of my cranium as I saw that some stranger had wiped out every red cent in my business account through cyber theft, leaving me with absolutely nothing. And vulnerable to more attacks.

I nearly went through the roof. Quickly the teller called a personal banker who brought me to her office and said precisely what I needed to hear. “We’re going to take care of you,” she said. “Let me handle this.” She was on the phone with the Fraud team in seconds and we closed the account. As it was late in the day on a Friday there wasn’t much else we could do except open a new business account which their business banker did right away.

I was given several numbers to call and that night I contacted the fraud lines. One of the young men I spoke with said, “Ma’am, I’ve been with Wells Fargo for four years. We’re going to get you through this, I guarantee it. You’re going to be taken care of.”

My business banker explained that Wells Fargo would take the loss in making me whole for the amount that I had lost. They aren’t insured for cyber crime like this. However I am working diligently with every law enforcement agency possible to help track down who did this, as I hardly think I’m the only victim. Likely this is a larger operation and I’m one of many.

That terribly vulnerable feeling that you have when the “house” you’ve built has been violated needs immediate attention. Whether you’ve had a theft, experienced a personal attack, like me had a cyber theft- you feel naked indeed. In that moment the most important thing is that those around you understand your need to feel secure and safe. You must hear the right words.

Wells Fargo has sometimes frustrated me in the past, and we don’t always see eye to eye. But every single banker who touched me yesterday went out of their way to ensure that I knew I would have my funds back and that I would be whole. That’s WordFood of the highest order and that is how you earn customer loyalty.

In your businesses, when you have a customer who is unhappy or in a jam, do your employees have the same authority and commitment to make sure they are kept whole? That they can feed your valued customers the WordFood they need to hear so that they will not only come back again and again, but tell all their friends how great you are as a company? No advertising is more powerful than this kind of word of mouth.

I never thought I’d say this but Wells Fargo has made me feel safe, and for that, they have earned my loyalty. Have you earned your customers’ loyalty? What have you taught your employees to say in an emergency?

This is one of the characteristics that make a good company great.

July 9, 2012

WordFood in our Messaging

The wonderful thing about technology is that it’s instantaneous. The terrible thing about technology is that it’s instantaneous.

Have you ever received an email, a text, a tweet or a voicemail that set you off? And then you fired off an angry response, hit the Send button and, moments later, realized what you’d done and felt instant remorse?

That message was already off in the ether, bouncing around like an angry bowling ball, doing its damage. We can’t take it back. And it’s part of our permanent legacy.


A few weeks ago I received an email in my inbox from a competitor announcing a webinar they were doing for a client that I had been working on for a long time. I had a lot of feelings about that email, and I whipped off a note to my client that said, in effect, glad to see you’re working with this supplier, they’re good people. However, my bruised ego slipped in a sentence that clearly let it be known I wasn’t happy about not being chosen as their supplier.

A few minutes later I got a terse email from my client that said they weren’t, in fact using this supplier and that the webinar was free. Uh-oh. My client was clearly in the office and I made a call right away.

It turned out to be a good idea. She was writing me an angry response. She was insulted and offended by my email, and I had some serious cleaning up to do. I had to apologize for my tone and my poor WordFood. It took some explaining but we got through it. Now whether I’ve lost this multi-billion dollar client because of a bone-headed stunt on my part remains to be seen. The sad part about this is that this client has been one of my biggest supporters, and with one badly worded email I hurt our relationship- and it happens just that fast.

In our fast-paced, do it now world where we so often feel compelled to respond immediately to everything that we receive on our devices, it becomes easier and easier to make this kind of mistake. Our emotions are swift as lightning and they inform what we write. If we’re whipping out a text while we’re walking down the street we’re not likely to be thinking carefully about content and impact. An email isn’t going to be saved to be rewritten later before it’s sent out, like mine should have been. We end up sending out toxic WordFood without realizing it and it can have devastating effects personally and professionally.

If there is a remedy to this, it’s to install an internal regulator or questioning system that automatically puts forth the challenge “How would I feel if I got this message?” Some kind of discipline that asks us to take a breath before we overreact to something we’ve received. In the moment, we may be feeling righteous, but with time and information that indignation often goes away.

Before you fire off an angry response, keep in mind a few key things:

  • chances are you may not know the whole story
  • without context it’s easy to read emotions into the words that may be inaccurate
  • re-reading the same message an hour later may give you an entirely different viewpoint
  • doing a little research could provide you with everything you need to know the whole picture

My email may have simply cost me some embarrassment, and it was a good lesson in keeping my ego in check and being sensitive to my client. The more sophisticated our devices become, the swifter the communications, the more vigilant we need to be in reining in our lightning fast emotional responses to the messages we receive.

July 3, 2012

The WordFood Ballpark Diet

Have you ever met someone who talks about one thing, and one thing only? You can’t get them off that one nut? I know people like that. Sometimes it’s high tech, or it can be a hobby, or sports. In WordFood parlance that’s called the Ballpark Diet, when people are a one trick pony. Sometimes this is when they use language that’s way over your head to lord it over you to show their superiority. Other times it’s when they really can’t switch off, and they are in a comfort zone. It’s nearly impossible for them to talk about much else.

I use the example of two male friends who’ve known each other for years but who only talk about sports. One friend’s wife gets cancer, and he wants to discuss this with his pal, but his pal is incapable of engaging him on this subject. It’s just too personal and deep. We all know people like this. We have to find new avenues to approach this person and ask them questions about how they might feel if this happened to them and make it personal and real, so that it engages the emotions. We have to touch a different part of their psyche so that they’re not running on automatic all the time, always in that zone. We need to take a chance to engage them in a neutral area, where there is a possibility for a different kind of exchange, a more authentic conversation. This takes empathy on our part, putting ourselves in their shoes, and considering their feelings, not trying to force them around to our way of thinking.

However, BallPark can work to our advantage at times as well. For example, a client of mine is a Bears fan. I happen to be a football fanatic, which he didn’t know. This client had been on the fence for a long time about using me as a speaker for an event of his. This time when I called him up I immediately asked him about aspects of the team’s performance and discussing my favorite Bear, Brian Urlacher. This took him by surprise, and we spent our first fifteen minutes happily engaged in football talk, aspects of the game, quarterback strategies. He was delighted to know I was a fan.

By the time things rolled around to business, there was a completely different openness to our working together. This time he spoke warmly about having me as a speaker, and since then events have moved forward.

It often helps to know someone’s Ballpark language to create the connection first. You don’t have to be an expert. It does help to do your homework. What people do appreciate is the effort to speak on their terms. If someone in IT starts using terminology that leaves you in the dust, gently remind them that you don’t have a degree in computer science. Most of the time they’ll revert to language for the rest of us humans.

If you’ve got a client who has a passion, it’s a great strategy to put a little effort into learning about it and engaging them on that topic. It can be a deal maker.

Where people are using the Ballpark Diet to keep others away, try finding that neutral ground where you can find something new to talk about and you won’t foul out. Be patient. There are good reasons they are playing it safe.

Powered by WordPress