Speaker wins over crowd with ‘medicine’ for better living

Posted: February 15, 2013

Jean Gatz speaks Thursday at the Caring for a Woman’s Heart seminar at the Winchester Medical Center Conference Center. (Photo by Ginger Perry/The Winchester Star)
At left, Jean Gatz from Baton Rouge, La., speaks at the annual Caring for a Woman’s Heart seminar. Now in its 12th year, the program is sponsored by Valley Health in partnership with the Winchester Medical Center Foundation and the Spirit of Women program. (Photo by Ginger Perry/The Winchester Star)

WINCHESTER — When dealing with difficult people in your life, don’t take their abuse personally, make sure you get the “squirrels out of the attic” and if all else fails resort to the secret weapon used by all Southern women.

That was the advice of Jean Gatz from Baton Rouge, La., the keynote speaker Thursday at the annual Caring for a Woman’s Heart seminar.

Now in its 12th year, the Valentine’s Day program is sponsored by Valley Health in partnership with the Winchester Medical Center Foundation and the Spirit of Women program.

Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of women and is more fatal than all forms of cancer combined. The luncheon seminar featured a panel discussion with health care providers on heart health along with personal stories from patients.

But the mood of the day was more festive than worrisome. If laughter is the best medicine, the more than 100 women attending the seminar in the WMC Conference Center benefited from the maximum dosage.

Gatz, an author and motivational speaker, sprinkled her life-management tips with personal stories about marriage and parenting that kept her audience laughing. (“If you had known you would have grandchildren, wouldn’t you have been nicer to their parents?” she asked her fellow grandmas in the crowd.)

As for handling difficult people, Gatz offered this advice:

Stop taking it personally. The difficult person probably treats everyone the same way.

Stop making excuses for them. Maybe they don’t realize how they’re coming across to other people. Or maybe they do, but you shouldn’t let them get away with behavior that hurts others.

“It is the responsibility of a leader to hold people accountable for their behavior,” she said.

Distance yourself both physically and emotionally. Don’t carpool with the toxic coworker. Don’t go shopping with the negative sister-in-law.

Deal with the “squirrels in the attic.” Some years ago, Gatz said, she heard a noise in the attic. It wasn’t loud, but she asked her husband to take a look.

He poked his head in the attic and said he found nothing.

The noise grew louder.

Again she complained, and again her husband found nothing.

Then one night the TV cut off and the power went out.

Gatz said she told her husband that she was staying in a hotel until the problem was fixed.

So her husband conducted a more thorough investigation around the attic, where he discovered a mama squirrel and her two babies.

The single squirrel had turned into a family of three that was quickly gnawing every wire in the attic.

“If we had dealt with the problem when if first developed, then we wouldn’t have had such expensive repairs,” she said.

The lesson for corporate America to learn, she said, is that little problems often grow into big problems.

Be willing to admit your mistakes. Accept responsibility for your role in the problem.

Use your Southern secret strategy. Southern women, Gatz said, have learned they can say almost anything about someone as long as they follow their criticism with “bless your heart.”

The phrase — best said with hands folded demurely and head tilted to one side — can be used in numerous situations, such as “You certainly have a bad temper, bless your heart” or “She holds up every meeting with her constant questions, bless her heart.”

And that might be the best lesson of all, she said, on how to deal with difficult people: Keep your sense of humor.

Contact Robyn Fontes Taylor at rtaylor@winchesterstar.com