Wintertime is trade show season for the tree care industry. During our so-called slow season, I try to attend as many of these winter trade shows and conferences as I can. There’s always something new to learn in this business or brush up on. At the shows, I shop for potential new equipment, attend seminars and catch up with old friends. Over the course of my career, I’ve come to know many fine arborists, foresters, and tree people. Catching up with them is one my favorite activities.

As an attendee, and sometimes a speaker, I’ve grown to have a great appreciation for the people behind the scenes. They are the people who make sure the coffee is hot when we arrive in the morning. They make sure we have something to eat for lunch. They are also the technicians who make sure the A/V functions properly. If you happen to run across them, be sure to say thank you.

Astronaut Chris Hadfield, author of An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Planet Earth, has some excellent advice about attending winter workshops.

He strongly recommends that we embrace training time, or “ground time” as he calls it. Part of the reason he feels that way is because ground time is where we spend most of our time. “You might as well enjoy it,” he says.

And he should know. I don’t know of any profession that trains harder or receives more education than astronauts do. It takes them decades to qualify as an astronaut and a minimum of five or more years to train for each mission.

Hadfield recommends we arrive at meetings or workshops or any new situation, for that matter, as a zero. He uses a binary scale for assessing his contributions. At team meetings, he considers a positive input is a Plus 1. Negative contributions are a Negative 1.

He says you can easily turn your positive value during training into a negative value by interjecting a comment or question too early. Aiming to be a zero when you enter the room prevents that. It’s like the doctor’s adage, “First, do no harm.”

When you arrive, speak only after you know the lay of the land, which he states is hard to do until you fully know what’s going on or being discussed. Don’t speak or ask a question until you have something intelligent to add.

I will be attending several conferences this winter and I will attempt to follow his lead. Listen first. Speak only after knowing the lay of the land. Speak only after I  have something positive to add.