Make The Call

by Michael D. Hargrove     

This story you are about to read is true and is dedicated to the memory of Gayle Belnap.

“Make The Call” is an exercise in which I ask the audience to imagine; you are on a 747 en route to Europe. You’re traveling alone. It’s a normal flight in every way. You settle down for a pleasant but rather long flight. About fifty minutes into it, you notice a slight vibration in the plane, but it’s barely noticeable, as a matter of fact, no one else is noticing it so you don’t give it any more thought.

An hour later, you notice the vibration again. It seems to have gotten a little bit worse, but then again maybe not. You figure it’s nothing and let it go. You don’t even think of the vibration any more until it suddenly gets a lot more severe, and then there’s a loud POP! and the plane makes a sudden and violent dip to the right and then levels off again under control. There are a few screams and some panic among your fellow passengers until the captain gets on the intercom and explains that you’ve just lost an engine but not to worry because this plane is designed to fly safely with the remaining three. You can make it to Europe without any difficulty whatsoever.

This seems to calm everyone down and after a minute or two, the flight again becomes a perfectly normal one.

That is until the captain gets on the intercom once more, “Folks, we have discovered a problem. Evidently, when our number two engine let go, it did so in a very violent way. It has severed a fuel line. It’s obvious now that we won’t have enough fuel to get to Europe or to turn around and land. So we will be forced into making a water landing.”

After a seemingly endless pause, he continued, “We’ve decided to proceed on to Europe as this will be the shortest distance for safety efforts to reach us. We’ll continue to fly as long as we can to shorten the distance for rescue and to rid the plane of as much fuel as possible to help reduce the risk of fire. As we get closer to the time, we’ll go over all the safety procedures you will need to survive. Until then folks, please remain in your seats and try to stay calm. Thank you.”

The first thing that strikes you as odd is how very quiet the plane has become. With the exception of a couple of muffled sobs, everyone is surprisingly calm. That is until some genius decides to grab one of the phones and start to dial feverishly which triggers a mad dash for the remaining phones. Several arguments and even two fistfights ensue. The captain bursts out from the cockpit and orders everyone to get off the phones and back into their seats.

He retreats to the cockpit for a few minutes, returns, and announces; “Okay folks; we’re going to do this in an orderly fashion. Everyone will get the same chance. We have determined, that with the fuel remaining, the rate of fuel loss, and the number of passengers aboard, each of you will be allowed to make one phone call. It can be up to two minutes long but not any longer. And that does NOT mean two one-minute calls or four 30 second calls. One call per person and one call only. We’ll do this alphabetically within each row. Our stewards will assist you.”

I then ask each of the workshop attendees to commit to paper who it is they’d call. And once everyone’s written down the name of their special someone, I then ask them to commit to paper exactly what it is they would tell them.

I wait several minutes until everyone in the entire room has completed the exercise.

Then I ask them, “So what are you waiting for?”

I point out that we don’t really need to be on that plane to make this call, do we? Then I give them their homework assignment: “Today . . . make the call.” I gently remind them that they’ll get out of this only as much as they put into it and not to blow off this opportunity to truly make a difference.

One morning, before the beginning of one of my workshops, Mike Belnap (who had attended this particular workshop twice before) came up to me with something really important he had to share. He said that it was private, however, and asked if we could find the time to break away from everyone for a few minutes. I told him that perhaps during one of the breaks or during lunch we could be alone. An opportunity didn’t present itself, however, until after the workshop was over and everyone else was filling out their evaluations.

Mike approached me at the front of the room and first commented on how I hadn’t done the “Make The Call” exercise like I had the previous year. I immediately plunged into a well thought out, thoroughly competent explanation of how that particular exercise wasn’t really appropriate for a large group of sales people, who after all, only came for closing skills, objection word tracks, or the like. I told him that I had only used “Make The Call” sporadically around the country, and simply wasn’t convinced of its relevance to this type of audience.

While I was spouting this professional trainer’s insight, Mike waited patiently without comment or facial expression until I had finished. The only remark he made was a mild, “Oh, I see.” He then proceeded to tell me his story.

He tells me, “First, I want you to know that I have an absolutely wonderful marriage. As a matter of fact, a few weeks from now, God willing, my wife and I will celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. My marriage has always been strong.”

I smiled and said, “Congratulations.”

Mike went on, “So when you asked us last year to write down what we’d say during our one phone call, I have to admit that I felt really silly. I was thinking to myself that she knows all of this already. But I trust you Michael, so I did it anyway. After the workshop, I pulled off the road to actually make the call, like you suggested, and both my wife and I had a good chuckle but I got it all out and told her everything I had written down.”

“Later on that evening we had a fabulous time together. What a wonderful night! We spent three or four hours just hugging, laughing, reaffirming our love and telling each other how much in love we have been all these years. It was a very special night in an absolutely wonderful marriage.”

By this time, two female co-workers of Mike’s had joined our conversation but he didn’t seem to mind much. I also noticed that he had started to noticeably tear up as he was telling me this story. Actually, the ladies were too. I had just started to worry about that when Mike hit me with it.

“Five days later, five days from the day of your workshop last year Michael, my wife and I were in a terrible car accident, a really bad one. I was in the hospital for several weeks. My wife, Gayle . . . well . . . Gayle is still in a coma.”

With that, all four of us broke down, and cried. We sort of group hugged each other for a few moments. I couldn’t begin to imagine the pain Mike must have been feeling.

When we eventually pulled away from each other, and after drying his eyes, Mike spoke again, “Michael, I want you to know something. I’m not crying right now because I may never get to speak with Gayle again. Frankly, I don’t have any more tears left for that. I’m crying because I’m so very grateful that I had the chance to tell her how important she is to me. No matter what happens, I know that she knows how much I love her and will always love her. And I want to thank you for that. You gave me the opportunity to tell her.” I thanked him. He hugged me again.

Now the question as to whom actually creates opportunities and who is merely the tool of the One who creates opportunities needs no debate as far as I’m concerned. And I don’t ever remember feeling as small as I did at that moment. I felt like a thief. I felt that I had just stolen from the rest of the audience that day (not to mention all the other audiences) for not including the “Make the Call” exercise.

Later that week, I ended up personally buying back the entire inventory of newly revised workbooks we had just printed and then I redid them to include the “Make the Call” assignment. This past year, I’ve made a point to apologize to everyone who had attended this particular workshop before, just in case I had chosen not to do the exercise in their city. I’ve also been able to recount Mike’s story (with his permission) so nobody dismisses this activity as simply trivial.

So, friend, now it’s your turn. Take a moment right now and ask yourself, if you were on that plane, who would you call? Then, what would you tell them? And, how soon will you make the call?

© Copyright 2013 by Michael D. Hargrove and Bottom Line Underwriters, Inc. All rights reserved. Michael D. Hargrove is the founder and president of Bottom Line Underwriters Inc.

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