My family spent a wonderful eight days on a cruise ship, sailing north, relaxing and hoping for whale sightings. The best part of a cruise ship? No Internet access! Back at home for a whirlwind suitcase change, and I was off to the National Recreation and Park Association Congress in Charlotte, N.C.

I returned to work to find 214 unread emails, a frantically flashing answering machine and an aquatics staff that hadn’t seen me in two weeks. Everyone welcomed me back with great enthusiasm, and had stories to share, questions to ask and, most of all, wanted to know “How was it?”

I knew my first day back would be busy, but it wasn’t until partway through the morning that I realized I would be busy in a very different way.

I stopped trying to catch up with email, stopped trying to hear the answering machine, and stopped making the endless list of things that I needed to do. Instead, I put my pen down, put my chair back, and started to listen.

For the rest of the day, the staff shared with me all the things I had missed.

I discovered that a staff member had been late, but a head guard had already dealt with it. The leak in the spa? It was still there, and getting worse. A regular patron, who always had a smile for everyone, was in the hospital, and there was a card to sign. I found out that several of my staff were very excited about my experience at Congress, and they wanted to know more about NRPA and what it could mean for them.

The emails waited, I cleared the answering machine the next day, but for that day I gave my staff the most valuable thing I had — my time. They wanted to reconnect, and I needed to hear it all!

Our communication with one another is our best asset, fostering team spirit and loyalty. The busywork will be there another day; the opportunity to reconnect may not. Having the patience to listen well does not come easily to me, but I learned a lot that day about why it’s important.

The Lessons

1. Give your staff your full attention. If you can take the time, take it all the way! Put the pen down; don’t try to text or wade through emails while chatting. Give the person your full attention, keep eye contact, turn your body toward them, and make them feel as if what they have to share is important to you.

2. If the work can’t wait, find a quiet time or place to catch up. Another work station perhaps, dialing into your voicemail from somewhere else, or even coming into work at odd times, before the rush of the day.

3. Schedule a time to talk. Last resort? Explain to the person asking that you would like to chat, but may have to wait until you have cleared your in-box. Promise to find them to catch up, and then make sure you do.

Getting back into the swing of things in an aquatics center is more than just the details — it’s in our connection to one another. Make that a part of your welcome home!

Sandra L. Kellogg is aquatics operations manager at Mount Vernon RECenter, part of the Fairfax County Park Authority in Virginia. She also runs an outdoor pool in the summer.