I had the opportunity to go sailing last week in the British Virgin Islands. I went and left behind work, deadlines, and the everyday stresses of modern living. In the Islands, life took on a different hue. The air was warm and the ocean a clear turquoise blue. Each day we anchored the sailboat off a sparsely populated island in a cove lined with white sandy beaches. Between the heat and carefree days, my mind began to check out. It was then, that I got coached.
On one of the Islands, a large man with shoulder-length dreadlocks sat behind a folding table stacked with t-shirts printed with his artwork. As I passed him on the hot sandy trail to a hilltop bar, I stopped and asked how much further it was to the restaurant. He stood up from his chair, now towering over me and asked. “Did you read the credo of the Islands?” I felt myself shrinking from embarrassment. I had read the credo. It was printed all over the travel guides.
“In the Islands,” he said, “we greet people first.”
I looked down at the sand. The week before, I sat across from an executive leader and had given her the same advice to help her soften her abrupt communication style. Greeting people first, before asking questions or giving directions communicates respects for others. Not doing so, is one of those unintended errors we often make when we are focused on getting something done, or getting someplace we seek to be. I quickly apologized. And he graciously accepted.
I brought home some seashells from the trip and a lesson that is now my credo. In the Islands, and in everyday life, it’s best to greet people first.