The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: October 2004
Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:
- If someone says something to which you are diametrically opposed, don't immediately argue. Instead ask: "Why do you feel that way?" In understanding motive, you will have an advantage in rebutting the position. Never try to change the symptom, change the cause.
- Don't collect things for "completeness," collect them for fun. The former leads to frustration and obsession, creating "work"; the latter leads to gratification and fulfillment, creating happiness.
- Never sniff a wine cork. Check to see if it's moist on both ends, if you must, indicating that air may have entered the bottle, possibly spoiling the wine. But you might as well sniff the tablecloth if you're trying to determine quality.
- Tipping is part of the American culture (and some others). Get used to it. Refusing to tip, or providing only a pecuniary amount, harms the individual and does nothing to change the system.
- Reverse a conversational argument by saying, "Is that what you do?" Whenever a prospect says to me, for example, "Well, why don't you throw in those other services for free as long as we're working together?" I reply, "When someone buys one of your refrigerators, and they say, 'As long as I'm here and making a purchase, how about throwing in one of those washing machines?' do you do it??!"
- Living the good life is less expensive than you may think. For example, if you travel from Penn Station in New York to the Plaza Hotel (about two miles), the Plaza's limousine service will charge you a two-hour minimum for the ten minute trip of about $130. Carey Limousine will charge a one-way minimum of about $65. But local limo companies such as Tel Aviv will charge you $19, which includes a $5 upgrade to a luxury town car. (Yes, you could take a cab for about $12, but it will smell, be uncomfortable, be unavailable on a rainy day, and the driver will probably not know how to get to the Plaza Hotel.)
- If you read just 25 pages at a sitting of a 700-page, tough-sledding classic (War and Peace, Anna Karenina, and The Magic Mountain come readily to mind), and simply read it five days a week, you will finish it in about six weeks. That means you could read all of Dickens or Shakespeare within a year. Concurrently, you can be reading lighter fare.
- I'm willing to bet that 90% of you reading this have draws full of photos, slides, movies, and similar memorabilia which you intend to get around to sorting and organizing, all the while adding to the volume every year. The longer you wait, the more daunting the task. Get on it. The time? A couple of weeks. The expense? A couple of bucks. The family memories? Priceless.
- Do you know what "measure twice, cut once" means, interpersonally? It means that you should think long and hard before saying something damaging to someone else, because you can never "undo" the cut.
- If you borrow $10,000 from a bank, they will haunt you for repayment and watch you like a hawk. If you borrow $1,000,000 they will ask if you want more and investigate what they can do to make you happy. In the former case the bank is a lender, in the latter a partner. Find people who invest in you—emotionally, psychologically, financially, intellectually—as partners, not lenders.
In the first class car on the train to New York, a woman strikes up a conversation with those seated near her. In a stentorian voice, she manages to work into the conversation that her husband is a specialized heart surgeon; she is an executive with a recruiting firm; her last vacation was in Barbados and her next is in Antigua; her daughter is gifted and turned down attending a "Mensa school" in Providence; and assorted other odds and ends that established her in the Pantheon of Perfection.
Her behavior also established her in the Pantheon of Pretension.
Some people speak to converse. But a few speak to be heard. She was of the latter species, her voice ringing through the car, including when her phone rang and she conducted a bizarre conversation with her daughter, "angel eyes." Donna Reed, where are you when we need you? (By the way, I'm a member of Mensa--in disrepute, as you may suspect--and there is no such thing as a "Mensa school" in Providence or anyplace else. If there were, you would recognize it by the fact that the doors opened backwards.)
"Ego broadcasting," which I've dubbed the phenomenon of talking to advertise how good you are rather than truly attempting to engage in conversation, is conducted by people who are vastly insecure. They aren't content in their own good fortune and circumstances unless you know how content they are. They are not successful in business unless you know how successful they are. They don't sing well unless you hear them sing.
In other words, they are basically incomplete without an appreciative audience. And they assume, indeed, the audience will be appreciative. How could it not be in the face of such perfection, talent, and accomplishment?
There is a wonderful story about a salesman who used to regale customers with the story of the great Johnstown flood. He told the story so well, and mesmerized so many listeners, that he left sales and earned his living by being paid to speak about the Johnstown flood. Well into his senior years, he could still be prevailed upon to tell the exact same story.
Upon passing away, he met St. Peter before the Pearly Gates. He was welcomed and told that on his first night in heaven he would be expected to demonstrate his talents for the assembled multitude. "Some people sing, some dance, others create art, we all have talents to share," noted St. Peter.
"Well, I do tell perhaps the best story of the Johnstown flood ever told," said the former salesman. "Would you anticipate any problems if I entertained all the heavenly hosts with that tale?"
"I suppose it will do," said St. Peter, "but remember that Noah will be in the audience."
I've noticed in a wide variety of meetings that, the more people who are present, the harder it is to make progress. Most people will tell you that consensus speed is in inverse proportion to the number of people present because there are so many different interests in the room.
Don't believe it.
My observation, over 25 years of sitting in meetings--sometimes leading, sometimes being led, sometimes wandering like a nomad in the wilderness--is that people process information with vastly different capacities. On a natural level, turtles process less information at a slower rate than, say, do dogs, and consequently dogs are more conscious, more aware, more "intelligent" than turtles. (See "Leadership and the New Science" by Margaret Wheatley for a brilliant discussion of this phenomenon.)
However, this is not solely an inter-species phenomenon. People clearly process information at differing speeds and volume, making some more "conscious" and more "intelligent" than others. This also varies by subject matter. A musician immediately processes information about tempo or harmony faster than I ever could, but I probably process information about decision making or problem solving much faster than the musician.
Meetings are confounded by people processing information in dramatically different amounts at substantially different speeds. Some are more "conscious" of the issues than others. In the attempt to bring everyone to the same level of consciousness a huge amount of time is burned, and great frustration results. (Have you ever felt you finally had an issue resolved when someone who had barely spoken a word raised a point that took you right back to square one, do not pass "go"?)
When I tell a hotel manager that my request wasn't honored, and she tells me about her problems with staffing, she is operating on a lower level of consciousness. She is concerned about staffing whereas the real issue is an unhappy guest who may represent a loss of future income. When I suggest that the vision of an organization should include some contribution to the environment, and someone comments that he is concerned about how much money is needed to invest in the environment, we're operating at different levels of consciousness (strategic vs. tactical, or conceptual vs. execution).
It is excruciatingly frustrating to try to argue with, much less influence, people operating at differing consciousness levels. That's why meetings should be attended by relatively few people, all of whom have had time to obtain a common level of understanding of the issues. And that's why arguing with a functionary seldom makes sense.
In New Jersey a couple of years ago, a policeman gave a ticket to someone who, at 11 pm, had stopped in a handicapped space in a closed shopping center in order to make a cell phone call safely. He had the only car in the lot, not a store was open, but the cop said he was in a handicapped spot, and the law was clear.
Well, it was clear only on a much lower level of consciousness, sort of like that turtle. And, no, it wasn't me involved. But I like to reflect upon the lesson. Because even lower levels of consciousness can wield power, inflict harm, and ruin your day.
(I originally meant this as a novelty insertion, but it has drawn huge support and interest, so it's a regular feature for a while....)
- These are proper possessive forms: Bob's; the Jones's; women's; horse's (one horse); horses' (more than one horse); company's (one company); companies' (more than one company).
- "None" means "not one." Therefore, it usually takes a singular verb form: "None is expected to attend," not "None are...."
- These little periods (...) are called "ellipses," which represent something before or after omitted. Three are used at the beginning or within a sentence, but four at the end. Hence: "...and he continued his monologue...until almost everyone was beginning to wonder...."
- Words like "media" and "data" are plural, and should take appropriate verbs: "The media are providing data which are false...." (Singulars are "medium" and "datum.")