It’s Raining Dandruff

May I make a request? It’s a simple thing.

When someone presents an invitation, it’s a kindness. And to repay this kindness, this “hey, I want to include you in my dinner party or an important meeting,” you might respond quickly. Acceptable answers are “yes,” “no,” and sometimes even “maybe.” If you want to leave a lingering positive opinion in the other person’s mind, you might begin with “Hey, thanks for including me,” even if your answer is “Count me out,” or “I don’t have the bandwidth,” or even “This just can’t be a priority for me right now.”

I love California and life in the Bay Area in particular. In fact, I can’t imagine a better quality of life to be had anywhere in this country, maybe top five in the world. Whenever I’ve traveled, for work or fun, I would always smile when I looked out the airplane window and saw the clean air, the fog, the bridges, mountains and redwood and eucalyptus forests, the ocean, the white toothy silhouette of our Financial district and North Beach with the beacon of Coit Tower. We have superlative food of every stripe, wine, coffee, nature, culture and most importantly of all, many brilliant, kind, inspiring and creative people.

Though a handful of friends insist this flakiness is even more epidemic in New York or Los Angeles, the problem seems to be an especially big one in the Bay Area, and one that’s gotten worse since I first moved here from New York, thirteen years ago. Please allow me to explain.

Flakey pseudo-commitments are the opposite of the blunt and bold New Yorker of old, the people I remember working with and partying with in lower Manhattan. A meeting to chart our company’s course, big decisions, and you want me there? How about an immediate response? I know you’re checking those e-mails. Go for a kayak up at Point Reyes in two weeks? Yes, I need to know ASAP who is in, because I’m volunteering to get us a camping permit and reserve us the kayaks ON MY OWN CREDIT CARD. When is it ever okay to respond to an invitation to a home cooked meal with “I’ll try?”

Is this absence of consideration an outgrowth of having so much fun on tap that many of us are holding out for something even better? The tyranny of endless options? Do new comm channels so overwhelm us with possibilities that we shut down and forget courtesy? Are you too afraid to hurt my feelings by kindly saying “no” (again, would argue this “being nice” is particularly epidemic in non-confrontational SF)? Are we too overbooked to even respond?

Those who flake out on commitments seem perpetually unsure of even their own wants. Unarticulated agendas are unlikely to produce the desired results. In fact, not much good happens until trust and rapport are established, through generosity, competency, honest communication and good follow through. And that takes face-to-face time, curiosity, listening, sharing and treating one another with the respect that we all deserve.

Friendships and business relationships that last are those built on trust—a powerful correlation between commitments and expectations set, and what the person actually does. When a person who has my loyalty says no, I’m grateful. And when they bow out, they do so reluctantly. When they say yes, whether stakes are high or low, you know they’ll be there. In work, we call this professionalism. In our personal lives, this integrity translates into loyal and enduring friendships. Friendships require and deserve the time, energy and commitment that we more often give to our professions.

Trust works wonders.

When we can count on people, there’s not much that can’t be achieved. A group of people who trust one another on even the small commitments are a powerful force. We can make huge advances in our career or industry without the distractions of mistrust and uncertainty. Trust also allows for gaining comfort with appearing foolish or vulnerable, accepting each other’s fallibility, and understanding that in any relationship that endures, some conflict is inevitable. It might even be an opportunity to deepen our trust.

When we make commitments, let’s all follow through. Correlation between speech and action builds the foundation of credibility — not doing this is like social quicksand.



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Raman Frey

Raman Frey

Good People and Meaningful Conversations