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The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: October 2006

Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:

  1. Techniques for Balance
  2. The Human Condition: Enabling
  3. Musings
  4. ORTIYKMWOYBNT-O Department

  1. Techniques for Balance

    How to maintain perspective and dampen fear of failure:

    • Ask "What's the worst that can happen?" and honestly ask if you can live with that. You usually can.
    • Take control. Set an agenda for a meeting, suggest the time frames, raise the first topic. Don't be solely reactive to others.
    • Prepare carefully. Rehearse, in your head, the intended course of action or event. Visualize alternative developments and how you will react.
    • Look good. Get in shape. Wear the right clothes for your body type. An expensive accessory will enrich any outfit.
    • Act appropriately. Obtain coaching on how to use silverware, how to order wine, how to reply properly to invitations, what "black tie optional" really means. (At least a third of the people I observe, irrespective of economic status and education, do not know how to use silverware correctly. That is correctable inside of 20 minutes.)
    • Be well read. Read the papers daily, news magazines weekly. If you can't see the movie or the play, at least read the reviews. Read some popular books as well as the classics. (One man recently commented at a dinner, "What idiot would write a book called 'The Idiot' !?" Well, only Dostoevsky.)
    • Ask others. Review the situation you'll be entering and ask trusted others if it's appropriate, what their response would be, how they'd handle resistance, and so forth.
    • Use environmental evidence and observed behavior. Don't get into shouting matches over opinion. Separate opinion from fact. Focus on the behavior (you're late every week) rather than a jump to blame and invective (you're not a team player).
    • Failure is a natural byproduct of initiative. If you're not failing, you're not trying. Consequently, it's situational, not omnipresent. You fail today in order to succeed tomorrow. People who claim never to have failed either have never tried anything worthwhile, are lying, or have failed and just don't realize it.
    • Jettison the baggage. You'll fail every time if you enter any situation believing you're clumsy, or unintelligent, or slow, or poorly-equipped, or tone deaf. Most baggage wasn't accurate when it was originally loaded, and certainly isn't today. Throw it off the train. You'll never miss it, and you'll be much lighter.

  2. The Human Condition: Enabling

    We all tend to enable dysfunctional behaviors without realizing that we're doing so. We tend to convince ourselves that we're "helping" or "supporting" or "defusing," but we're really pouring gasoline on the inferno.

    If you respect someone, it's simply dishonest and undermining not to confront him or her with the dysfunctional behavior you observe and/or experience. We usually refuse the confrontation and meekly ascent to the uncomfortable actions by rationalizing that to do otherwise would just make matters worse. But we're actually reluctant to confront the problem because we seek to avoid discomfort and awkwardness for ourselves.

    In other words, we hurt others by protecting ourselves, thus allowing them to prolong and intensify self-damaging behavior.

    If you don't respect the other person, then you're merely being sadistic and cruel, "striking back" by not alerting them to the problem. That might seem reasonable vengeance to some, but I don't think many people would allow even a despised opponent to walk in front of an unseen, roaring locomotive. Where is the line?

    I met a mid-level manager once who finished nearly every sentence with the tic-like phrase, "...and all that stuff." I saw his staff roll their eyes, and I watched his superiors exhibit grim tolerance. But I wondered why no one ever raised the issue with him. (Once it was raised, he kicked the habit very rapidly.) We've all observed people crunch ice in their teeth at meetings, use grammar incorrectly in presentations, drive at 35 miles-per-hour in the passing lane, and wear stained and ripped clothing.

    If their "friends" aren't telling them, will it be any easier when a stranger feels compelled to do so? Subordinates enable tyrannical orders from the boss when they don't explain that the workload is preventing basic quality checks to be completed. Students enable an unclear teacher when they don't raise questions about issues that were not explained well. We enable colleagues' poor responsiveness when we say, "Well, that's Kelly, and she just doesn't return phone calls."

    Make no mistake about it, we're hurting others by trying to protect ourselves from a "confrontation" or "retaliation" ("Oh, yeah, well what about the time you never let me know that the customer had called....").

    We shouldn't be harpies, criticizing every shrug and nuance that we don't feel is appropriate. But we should be honest enough with others and comfortable enough with ourselves to help them overcome behaviors which are causing them to be less successful than they otherwise might be.

    Dishonest politeness is trumped by honest and constructive advice.

  3. Musings

    I was the keynote speaker last month at a speaker's "university" presented by the Greater Los Angeles Chapter of the National Speakers Association. I've spoken at GLAC before, and they are terrific people, wonderful hosts, and an attentive audience.

    They had to choose a new hotel after their first choice abruptly closed, and they selected the Parker in Palm Springs, about two hours south of LA. For those of you who pay zero attention to California or to wealth, the Palm Springs area has probably increased in population by about 300,000 in the last five years, newer money joining older money, with the homes of media celebrities still in plain site. (My dinner companion, once an LA TV news anchor, and I dined at a wonderful restaurant on the grounds of the former Gary Grant estate. You get the idea.)

    The Parker is THE hot hotel in this never-never land, and it is a hoot. It's coat of arms would be a shield of pretension on a field of bombast. Clients have forced me to stay at many of the trendy spots in New York and Miami's South Beach – The Delano, W, The Royalton, The Paramount, etc., all so "in" that you feel crushed – but the Parker wins the arrogance sweepstakes.

    There is no self-parking, only valet. All the help are completely attired in white. There is no check-in desk, but rather a reception area where a combination bellman/desk clerk greets you and takes you to your room. Registration in completed in your room, once you have traversed the cute dirt paths among the buildings and pools. There are no signs anywhere, which of course would be déclassé, so finding your way from room to meeting facility to main building to wherever is like wondering in a maze built by a sadist. There is no exit.

    There is only one speed, and it is set by the staff. They don't hurry, they don't raise their voices, they don't get excited, they don't show emotion. There was more empathy in Westworld. It took five minutes to get change for a $20 bill once the white-clad person disappeared behind a white door. I assume he was ironing the money.

    I will never return, nor recommend anyone stay there, nor suggest anyone hold a meeting there. I can't fathom what prompts people to deliberately and voluntarily return to places where they are poorly-treated and ill-served. Is there a cachet, some kind of chic inside mentality, that lures people to hotels and restaurants where the staff is disdainful and the service dreadful? Is that like an army boot camp, where everyone loves to brag later that they endured it?

    I remember staying at the Royalton in New York one August, in a minimalist, ghastly, windowless, black room where I couldn't figure out how to turn on the bathroom sink (I am NOT making this up). After calling the front desk to get directions to wash my hands, I asked that someone be sent up to light the tiny fireplace in the bedroom.

    "But it's 80 degrees outside," pontificated the desk clerk, "why do you need heat?!"

    "I don't need heat," I informed him, "I need the fire to create some light in here."

  4. ORTIYKMWOYBNT-O Department

    We were taking the Coastline Express from San Francisco to LA, and I had reserved a first class cabin on the train. Since I'm a train buff, I was pontificating to my wife and kids about, well, everything. I pointed out that the shower and toilet were self-contained in the next room of the cabin.

    "I'll just test to see if everything is working," I said as the train prepared to leave, "because this is a car from the 1950s and it may not have been maintained properly."

    I found that the toilet worked fine, but I didn't—I pushed "shower" instead of "flush" and was instantly drenched. There was nowhere to hide. I emerged, fully clothed, resembling a manatee.

    "Of course," noted my kids, "you were made in the 1940s...."