By Tom Martinez, June 6, 2017
My team was ready to travel to the other side of the world. More than that, we were prepared; prepared with all the tools and materials needed to build four churches in 7 days. This other side of the world is Togo, Africa. Getting prepared with all the equipment needed to build the churches was only a small part of our mission. This trip took over 20 hours to complete each way and traveling through different airports in different countries is quite a challenge when you don’t know if the security personnel speak to you in English, Spanish, French or Ewe.
The members of my team are well prepared to build the structures in any type of location. Especially when we had an advance team that set up and cleaned the land before we arrive. We are always reminded that our mission is not only to construct a building, but to build relationships with the people in the different villages we visit.
Now, our mission was in the Akebu Region. The Akebu people speak some French but mostly their Akebu language, which would be completely new to us. We had an interpreter but we were twelve men and he could not be with all of us at the same time. Imagine finding yourself in front of a small group of men, women and children who are wondering what you are doing in their village. It would be easy for me if I could speak their language, at least a few words! Or I could just walk away and ignore them using as an excuse that they could not understand me.
Well, our advance team leader taught us a few words – Orru! (Good Morning!) Mankesa! (My Friend!). This was enough to get their hands waiving back at me. However, my mission was to connect with them; to make them understand that I was their Mankesa, that I was there to assist their church leader to provide a place of worship.
You see, anyone can learn a few words, a whole language, but that does not mean you can CONNECT. The skill of connecting with the people around us is something that we can lose if we are not intentional about it. I learned during my trip to the Akebu Region that a smile would make friends quickly. When the Akebu folks first met me I knew they had questions in their minds – Who is this big guy? What is he doing here? Does he speak my language? Is he my friend? Would he care for me? Can I trust him?
These and many more similar questions are the same ones our customers, our clients, our coworkers and partners have. See? It is the same anywhere. The world became so small during my trip. I confirmed that our smile is our first impression and will open doors, will open minds, will lower egos, will dissolve any doubts, will truly connect with others.
Your smile is seen from many feet away. It is even “seen” through our phone conversations. When you smile the person in front of you will mirror you and the endorphin will start doing their work in our brains. There is a feeling of good and acceptance. There is a sense of friendship and being on the same side.
Try this, as you are reading these words SMILE! Take a selfie while smiling. Com’on! I know you are smiling! You see? This is what we do when we meet people we do not know; when we meet a customer for the first time – on the phone, or in person; when we meet a co-worker; when we meet folks who might not share our ethnic background or our personal preferences. This is our first step to connect! And you need to be intentional about it. Do not expect to do this by accident or coincidence. Be intentional.
You must likely have a very diverse organizational culture in your organization. There are people with all kinds of backgrounds and personal preferences. I guess that’s good… isn’t it?
Now, diversity is nothing without real inclusion, which starts with connecting with each other. The first step to connecting with anyone is SMILING. Let’s start a Smile Revolution!
Keep Smiling My Friends!