I’ve sometimes had to be creative in linking a thought or experience to a communication lesson or principle. It’s worth the effort in this case, so that I can tell you about how I accidentally drilled my 10-year-old daughter in the butt while golfing last week.
My wife and I had bid on a golf package offered at our church’s annual silent auction—and won. It covered greens fee and cart for a foursome at the same golf course where my company holds its annual charity golf outing. We decided that it would be fun to take our 12-year-old son, Kevin, and daughter, Caitlyn, for an afternoon of non-competitive golf. It had to be non-competitive because my wife had only golfed one other time, my kids were beginners, and on my best day, I have a bad day in terms of golf shots.
Communication lesson #1: Explain the rules clearly and before your son decides to tee-off. My friendly conversation with the starter turned ugly when my son decided that he was ready to tee-off—without waiting for the elderly gentleman who was about 75 years away on the near fairway, taking his second shot. As Kevin’s ball whistled past the elderly golfer, the starter began to yell, “Tell your boy to wait until the golfers are out of range!” I was so rattled, my subsequent tee shot dribbled about 20 yards.
Communication lesson #2: Establish the proper order for tee-shots. How many times have the best communication ideas gone flat because someone decided to jump out of order and messed up the timing or message flow? In this case, as the only member of the foursome who was hitting from the back tees, I should have hit first, while the rest of the foursome stayed behind me until after the shot. Their failure to do so resulted in Communication lesson #3.
Communication lesson #3: It doesn’t help to yell “fore” after the ball has tattooed your daughter’s rear-end. Yes, crisis communication needs to be ready in advance. In this case, my family had decided to take positions on the front tee before I had shot from the blue tees behind them. I was upset that they didn’t know the basic rule of golf etiquette that tells you to stay out of the way of a golf shot. I was about to say that, when my wife started driving herself and Caitlyn toward the rough on the right. The cart was moving slowly away from me, and was a little over 100 yards away, when I decided to tee off.
It was my hardest tee shot of the day, and it sailed straight toward the cart carrying my wife and daughter. Kevin said he yelled “fore,” but I was mesmerized, watching the perfect trajectory of the ball as it traced the path of my wife’s cart, and then caught it. We heard a loud crack that I thought was the sound of the ball bouncing off of the cart. But when I saw that my wife was hugging my daughter, I rushed over in my cart. Somehow, the ball had cleared the golf bags and the cart frame, and had struck my daughter’s butt on the fly. Kim was muffling Caitlyn’s cries, which was good, because anyone who would have heard Caitlyn crying at full throttle would have thought that we had amputated her leg without anesthesia. That gets me to the final point.
Communication lesson #4: People don’t want to hear facts when they are hurting. As it became clear that Caitlyn would survive the golf “spanking,” I grasped for words to express my feelings. Unfortunately, my feelings were less than sympathetic. “That’s why proper golf etiquette tells you to stay behind someone about to hit the ball,” I said, in as kind a tone as I could muster. In retrospect, I probably should have been clubbed myself for that comment.
Anyway, after some more hugging (with me reminding them that we were holding up the foursome behind us), we continued. My family stayed a respectful distance behind me on every shot that followed—even the putts. My daughter eventually forgave me, and stopped trying to hit me with her golf ball. My son enjoyed the day, because he constantly out-drove me and sometimes out-putted me.
My wife is still trying to figure out why she bought me golf clubs for Father’s Day. Next year, I get a tie, or something else equally soft.