by Stacey Paretti Rase
a.,n. 'head to head';(meeting or conversation) of two persons; a. & adv. (in) private; confidentially.
From the moment we were born, others were trying to communicate with us. Even before we spoke, our parents attempted to discern our cries. (Does that one mean hungry, tired, or hurt?) As we grew, we chose our friends based on the ease with which we communicated with one another. And as adults, our greatest accomplishment is finding that certain someone who understands us completely.
To celebrate this Valentine’s Day, Inside Northside thought it would be interesting to peek in on successful couples to learn about how they effectively communicate. But we quickly realized that it wasn’t necessary to focus solely on romantic relationships—communication is the key to success in any relationship, whether it be business partners, siblings, public officials, or man and beast. Did I just say man and beast? Read on …
Ken Matherne and Christina Cooper,
owners of Global Wildlife Center in Folsom
Aladdin and Jasmine, Bactrian camels
During Christina Cooper’s final year of animal science studies at Louisiana State University, she was assigned to a lab class that took place at the Global Wildlife Center. She fell in love with everything at the free-roaming wildlife preserve: the animals, the landscape and, eventually, its owner, Ken Matherne. The two have been together now for ten years—married for five—and work side by side at the center. Ken handles the business side of things, while Christina has evolved from her early days as tour guide to her present work in animal care and public relations.
Do you enjoy handling public relations for the center?
Christina: It’s really easy for me to communicate about how much I love the center because it’s just a part of me. I feel so strongly about it. I know that’s what attracted me to Kenny in the beginning. I saw him and said, “Here’s this man that has basically done what I would have done had I had the means. He’s created this dream environment and amazing place for animals to live. I was in awe of him and all that he had accomplished.
Ken: When I was developing the center, people thought I was crazy. Consultants told me that it was impossible to have this many animals in a free-roaming environment and have them all get along.
C: But they do! It’s amazing. You know, there’s a lot of communication involved among the animals. And between the animals and us. I have to do a lot of tasks in the animal care department, such as administering medicine and getting them into pens, and a lot of what I do involves anticipating the animals’ actions. I feel like I kind of have a knack for it. Now, I can tell what an animal is going to do before he does it. They all have their individual personalities and habits, and you have to work with that. Camille, one of our giraffes, is very suspicious and challenging, while Slim, Camille’s mate, will do just about anything you want him to do. Of course, they’re all really motivated by food!
Ken, do you work directly with the animals?
K: My role is mainly advisory. I’m the link between the Board of Directors and the staff.
Is it more challenging to communicate with people or with animals?
K: Oh, the animals are easy. They really are.
C: They don’t get emotional!
K: They’re just so much smarter than we are. During the hurricane, we went out to check fences. The trees were snapping and blowing around. Then, I look out across the field and I see all these animals, just about all 3,500 of them, that don’t ever herd together. They were all huddled up with each other in the middle of a field out by the lake, where there are no trees around at all.
C: We lost over 500 trees on the property, but didn’t lose a single animal. They just knew what to do and where to go to be safe.
K: Human instinct would’ve told us to run for shelter. But they did just the opposite. It was incredible.
Tell us about the temperaments of some of the animals.
C: Aladdin and Jasmine [Bactrian camels] are very gentle, very tame. Aladdin will just about smile at you. I know that they communicate with each other. Once, when Aladdin came down with a cold, I had to get him in the pen to give him a round of shots—two shots a day for five days. So, I got hot dog buns, which he loves, to lure him in. It worked great. Well, after his round of injections, Jasmine came down with the same symptoms. The same day I let Aladdin out of the pen, I had to get Jasmine in it. I found Jasmine and started with the hot dogs again. We were halfway down to the pen when Aladdin saw us. He comes barreling towards us, and I’m thinking, “Oh, he wants some hot dog buns.” Well, he didn’t want to eat any of them. He was nudging her away from me as if to say, “Don’t do it! Don’t go with her!” When we got to the pen, he even got between her and the gate to block her off!
What parallels do you see in the ways animals and humans communicate?
C: Well, I think the key to being a good communicator, whether it’s animals or humans, is figuring out what motivates them and what makes them tick. And you can see a definite hierarchy among the animals here, just like in our lives.
K: Yeah, the wife runs the house! We men just act like we’re the boss.
Emily and Hillary Varnado, identical twins
The Varnado sisters of Amite are seniors at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Hammond. Emily plans to attend the University of Southern Mississippi in the fall to study performing arts, while Hillary will enroll at Southeastern Louisiana University to study occupational therapy. They are already agonizing over that separation, as they realize their late night pillow talks, which go on for hours in their shared bedroom, are coming to an end. It’s clear that they recognize and appreciate their unique relationship, which leads to a unique style of communication.
As twins, did you have an unspoken means of communication?
Hillary: My mom always says that she knows when we figured out we were twins. She said that we were sitting in front of a mirror and we would look at each other, then we would laugh. Then we would look in the mirror, and we would laugh. And we would “talk” to each other before we could ever really talk.
Do you find yourselves finishing each other’s sentences?
Hillary and Emily (at the same time): Yeah. Well … (lots of laughter!)
E: It’s funny, because there are so many times when I know exactly what Hillary is thinking.
H: I just look at her and say, “Emily!”
E: And I just say, “Yeah, I know!”
H: We have some jokes that nobody else gets. We’ll just start laughing at something and we crack each other up. And we have pretty much the same opinions on things.
E: But we’re different!
H: Yeah, we’re very different …
E: I can’t play soccer to save my life. And she’s so good.
H: And Emily can’t sleep without the light on and the TV on. I like to sleep in the total darkness. And we share a room. It’s horrible!
E: But, we are alike in some ways. We’re both really outspoken.
H: And she’s the most honest person I could ever meet. She always tells me the truth.
E: But we don’t take offense when it comes to being told the truth. I mean, I’ll be walking through the halls and pass Hillary and she’ll just say, “Bangs.” And I know that means my bangs look horrible.
H: I just don’t want you to look bad. People might mistake you for me!
E: Like when [your boyfriend’s mom] saw me out on a date with someone and thought you were cheating on her son.
H: Yeah! But, with boys, we’re completely, completely different. We like totally different types.
E: We have different tastes in boys … different tastes in music …
H: I like country music. She likes alternative rock. Ick.
E: I’m eclectic, Hillary!
H: You know, none of our friends even think of us as twins anymore.
E: Well, she is a minute older. I see us as individuals. But sometimes people don’t get that. It’s kind of aggravating. Like, if Hillary’s not friends with someone, or mad at them, they automatically think that I feel the same way. Communication is tough that way. But Hillary always defends me. I’m so timid.
H: You’re like the most defenseless thing in the world!
E: I don’t know what I’m going to do when I go off to school without you. We’re best friends and I can tell her anything. But my relationship with her is also my most difficult one, because she knows just the things to say that make me cry.
H: Like the “Disaster of ’02!”
E: Don’t even say that!
H: I would never tell that. I love you!
E: I love you, too! You’re the best.
Mayor Eddie Price and Chief of Police Tom Buell, City of Mandeville
A city’s mayor and its police chief must be in constant communication. That truth was never more evident than in the days following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Mandeville Mayor Eddie Price and Police Chief Tom Buell found themselves in unfamiliar territory: dealing with a crisis of dynamic proportions, yet having no way to communicate to receive help from outside the city’s limits.
I’ll bet you learned a lot about each other during the extreme circumstances surrounding the hurricane.
Mayor Price: Yeah, after living with him for six weeks straight!
Where were you staying?
Chief Buell: The mayor was actually sleeping in a jail cell on the floor.
MP: After a while, I went to the lobby where it was a little cooler.
What was it like in those first few days?
CB: We had a lot of communication internally here, but we weren’t getting much from the outside. Nothing at all, really. People were trying to find out if they could come back home, and they couldn’t find out any information.
MP: We had so much we were trying to communicate to the outside world, but we couldn’t get it out. After a few days, we ended up sending Trilby (Lenfant, Mayor Pro Tem) to Lafayette and she’d get on nola.com and post a letter from the city telling them how far along we were in recovery.
CB: The only problem with that was you had to be staying with someone who had Internet access to get that info.
MP: That’s correct. But our computers were out. Cell phones were out. What were we going to do? Let me tell you how genius this is, okay? We have a cell tower over there (motioning out the window) and the company brought a generator, but they didn’t bring any gas. That generator is still sitting there, but has never been used to this day.
Were you in touch with parish officials in those first days?
MP: Our communication with the parish officers was unbelievably difficult. I mean, in those first few days, you had to dodge power lines to get through the streets, or try to get past state police or national guardsmen, even if you had credentials. And we were just trying to get to the OEP (Office of Emergency Preparedness, in Covington) to get the next update.
CB: After getting to the OEP, it was great. Everyone was there: parish officials, Cleco, Bellsouth, Red Cross … and we all felt comfortable saying what we wanted to say in those meetings.
MP: You know, Kevin (Davis, Parish President) did something those first two to three weeks that was great. He let no press in on those meetings. We did everything behind closed doors and then got the information out to the public afterwards. Because we were making difficult decisions in there.
CB: And the media was really cooperative about that.
MP: And here was the most important part: Kevin would look at us in those meetings, point at us and say, “Write this down. This is important and we need an answer on this.”
CB: And he’d tell us when he couldn’t get the answer to something but promised to find it somehow. And he would. He did.
How did you stay in communication with the city’s residents and your police force?
MP: We had to physically go door-to-door and tell them things like, “Don’t flush your toilets yet.” The police force was staying up two and three days straight, patrolling the streets and trying to make people feel safe. It was really dark!
CB: Thank goodness for these things (pointing to a radio). It’s an 800-mega-hertz system that has a lot of capabilities. They never gave out on us.
MP: I just don’t think any of us thought we’d have no provisions for easy communication. We were lost. How in the world did we do it twenty years ago without cell phones?
Dan Stari, general contractor
and Sue Lavin, client
Anyone who has built a home can tell you this: You’d better like your contractor. And when your project is slated to last over two years, you’d better like him a lot. Lucky for Covington residents Sue and Tom Lavin, when they chose Baton Rouge home builder Dan Stari, they found the perfect match. From clearing the land in November 2003, to the anticipated move-in date of early spring of this year, there have been many decisions to make. Sue, who has taken on much of the responsibility and worked closely alongside Dan every step of the way, says that effective communication has been a must in their relationship.
The hurricane put a halt on much of the construction. Was it stressful for the two of you?
Sue: I’m sure he’s wanted to kill me these past few months.
Dan: I’m sure she has, too!
S: No, really … We had good communication from the beginning. He’s had a long relationship with Al (Jones, the home’s architect), and we had a lot of confidence in him. We wanted the plans followed exactly, and he assured us of that.
D: You know, I get a feel for the homeowners at the initial meeting, and they get to know me. If you have any bad feelings, you can call it off then. And I’ve done it. I’ve walked away from jobs because I didn’t feel it was going to be a good match. I mean, if the project’s going to be two or three years, why do that to yourself? You could say the relationship between [a client and me] is like a marriage.
S: He’ll get a phone call from me just about every day at 7:30 a.m.! He’s drinking his coffee and I’m here at the job site.
Are you checking in to see what his crew is going to be doing for the day?
D: That, and she’s checking in to see what she needs to be doing.
S: Yes! Like, what do I need to be planning, what do I need to choose next, what’s the next step … I always want to be on top of it for him. I never want him to be waiting for me.
D: Because there are some decisions that only Sue and Tom can make. But Sue’s been really good about knowing what she wants and letting me know that.
How important has accessibility to each other been?
S: Extremely! I’m always on my cell phone.
D: And when she calls, I respond right away—and vice-versa.
After seeing each other every day for so long now, have you picked up on each other’s personality traits?
D: I definitely know when she’s “off key.”
S: Okay, I’ve been a little bit stressed! I wear my emotions on my sleeve, for sure. But I think that’s good for communication. Like my husband says, every builder is used to neurotic females at the end of a job.
D: Well, they’re always anxious at the end. And I can understand that. But communication is the key. I say, “Just let me know when something’s bothering you.”
S: And I do!
D: Yeah. And I appreciate it.
S: We don’t take things personally. We just say, “Are you upset?” and the answer is either “yes” or “no.” It’s always the situation that’s frustrating, not each other.
If you had to do it all over again…
S: I’d do it in a heartbeat. We’ve been at this for so long, and we still like each other!
D: I’ve been very fortunate. I still keep in touch with many of my past clients. In fact, I have a lot of repeat customers.
S: Oh, that’s not what I meant! I don’t want to be a repeat customer!
Brigitte Gomane and Beatrice Germaine,
co-owners of the
Speak Easy Center in Mandeville
It’s essential for a language instructor to be an effective communicator. And when two women run a foreign language school together, it helps if they also communicate well with each other. Luckily, that’s not a problem for Brigitte Gomane and Beatrice Germaine, owners of the Speak Easy Center. The two met in New Orleans, where Brigitte worked as the Executive Director of the Alliance Française and Beatrice handled public relations for the French Consulate. In February, the two will celebrate the one-year anniversary of their business, which blends an international café (with to-die-for coffee and pastries!) with programs that immerse the student in foreign culture.
Working side by side every day, does communication ever get strained?
Brigitte: We have long days and we spend a lot of time together. We talk to each other a lot. We’ve had to make adjustments about things if we don’t agree, but it’s all about compromise, I think.
Beatrice: There is always a good day, a bad day. Some days the food is just not right.
Brigitte: We’re both French, so ... Our relationship might be different [if it were] a French and an American, because the way we do things might be much different. My husband is American. Sometimes he will question if I know what I’m doing ... (Beatrice laughs out loud) and I stop and say, “But, of course!”
Do you always speak French to each other when you’re here?
Brigitte: I have two kids who are bilingual. It’s half-and-half with them. Sometimes I start in English and end up in French. There are words that my children didn’t even know how to say in English for years. My son goes back in forth. But he usually curses in French!
Beatrice: Teaching here, Brigitte does more of the method work and I run the conversation classes, so I have to be careful not to use English words. Even when people walk in, I have to remember not to say “hello” but to say “bonjour!”
Do you find that learning to communicate in a foreign language can be a social outlet?
Brigitte: Some people come because, in the group classes, they bond. They are learning, but it’s always fun. We always incorporate games or activities that make it more relaxed, and they really enjoy coming.
Beatrice: And they also bring pictures from their travels to share with one another. It’s interesting. I don’t think of the relationship as teacher and student; it’s more like equals. So, with the coffee shop here, we can bring them in and have social events that are centered on the French, or the Italian, or the Spanish, you know?
Teaching in Louisiana, do you find that any of your students know a bit of Creole French?
Beatrice: People from Louisiana say things like, “We’re going to make the groceries.” That’s really a translation from the French. People say to me, “Oh, my mother says that” or “My grandmother used to say that.” That makes teaching French here so much more interesting than maybe up North, where it doesn’t relate to their environment so much.
In what ways is communicating in French different than in English?
Beatrice: In our culture, we argue more and discuss more. In America, you’re more willing to say, “That’s your point of view, and this is mine.”
Brigitte: Yes. We are quicker at wanting to have an argument. Americans are quick to settle things.
Beatrice: When we fight, my husband says, “Can’t we just stop?” and I say, “No. I have to say more!” I just have to express myself.
Randy and Barbara Moffett, Southeastern Louisiana University’s president and School of Nursing department head.
Randy and Barbara Moffett are quite an inspiring couple. They have raised three children (Jeff, 30; Melissa, 28; Julie, 25), all while maintaining successful careers in education. Randy has served as SLU’s president for the past four years, and Barbara currently teaches nursing at the university. Their communication style is much like what you would expect from a couple who have been married for 34 years—a relaxed flow of give and take, in which they often complete each other’s sentences, yet always show respect toward each other during conversation.
How is communication between you and your children? Do you give marital advice?
Randy: Well, Jeff and Jennifer dated for over a year. My only advice to him was just not to let her get away. I think they understand that relationships have give and take, pluses and minuses. Somebody has to be more tolerant than the other person. In our case, that person is Barbara. She’s much more tolerant than I am, and I think they’ve seen that. Some of us are more ...
Barbara: Intense. He’s always been very driven. Which is probably a positive thing, because I can sometimes be too laid back. Randy used to tell me in the summers, when the kids were little and I didn’t teach, “It’s time for you to go back to work.” I could be a slob!
Is it hard to stay connected when you’re both involved in so many different activities?
R: We’ve been involved over the years, but you know, our children were born within five years of each other. That’s probably good in certain ways ...
B: Now you can say that!
R: Well, they enjoy each other now as adults. But we’ve always been involved in community things. I really think it’s important that you give back, and I think Barbara does, too. We like to do things that help others. We do host lots of things at the house. But we’ve been able to balance children, family, school, other things. Barbara’s very organized.
B: Now you’re being facetious.
R: No, we just accomplish things in a different way. She gets her things done more by doing, and I delegate a lot. I don’t know that we have a magic formula for marriage or communication. Mostly, it’s ...
R: Well, I think you have to be patient with each other. Barbara’s very patient. And you have to have a common interest. The kids were one of our common interests. When they were growing up, we always tried to have a daily family meal. I used to try to make breakfast until I realized they didn’t care. They just wanted a Pop-Tart. There sometimes wasn’t a lot of conversation.
B: Especially when they were teenagers.
R: But we tried. Nowadays, we deal with people all day long. I think we kind of enjoy the days when we come home and don’t really have to talk to anybody.
B: I think we really value that. Much more now than we ever did. But don’t let him fool you. Randy is really an extrovert. He may value his quiet time, but then again, he’s very social and he’s always looking for a group.
R: If I don’t have one, I’ll make one!
B: And I could sit for hours and just read.
How has your marital communication style been influenced by your work?
B: Well, Randy still likes to be in charge. It takes time to learn how to switch gears at home.
R: Barbara accuses me of being a manipulator, and I probably am. But getting along with people isn’t rocket science. You have to treat each other with respect. And once you realize that you’re not going to agree with each other all the time, it gets easier. Right?
B: (Silence, then a smile.) Right.