The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: September 2006
Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:
- Techniques for Balance
This month, dealing with people who are trying to hurt you with words and actions. Unfortunately, there are those who are malicious and hostile, trying to assuage their own demons by striking out at others.
- Understand this is the other person's weakness, not yours. If they had good intentions, they would talk to you and work with you, not try to undermine you.
- Use perspective. It's not the end of the world or even a major event in your life. Your true friends will recognize the malice and be more supportive than ever.
- Keep above the fray. Though it seems overwhelmingly satisfying to strike back, that's what the other person desires – to see that they've affected you. It's tougher for them to fight when there is no opponent. Authors who write letters to the editor about a poor review are really better off ignoring poor reviews.
- Use measured responses where appropriate. If it's slanderous, see your attorney. If it's accusation, go to the boss with the truth. Use evidence, not emotion. "Here's the memo, and here's what I wrote…."
- Stop the transmission. When I learned of someone spreading a fabricated story that I was ill, he told me the source. I explained that he should have called me to verify, but now that he knew the truth he was obligated to tell everyone to whom he had spread the falsehood that he had been wrong.
- Don't suffer alone. Get some guidance from a friend, a counselor, a member of the clergy, anyone you trust. We need feedback from those who are not emotionally involved and who can offer learned assistance.
- Take a deep breath (wait a day). If some response or action is merited, take some time to ensure that it's measured and proportional and not emotionally overwrought.
- Avoid chronic sources. If it's someone you see regularly on a committee or encounter at a social function, consider avoiding them or the event altogether. No one is a lesser person for avoiding unnecessary unpleasantness in life.
- Acknowledge the circumstances. If someone brings up the attack or gossip, simply admit that "I have heard it, I have no idea why that individual is so bitter, so there's nothing I can say about such ridiculous statements."
- React in person if you must. If it occurs interpersonally, use a response such as, "That was a deliberately hurtful thing to say, which indicates great malice on your part," or "That's an absurd statement, I won't dignify it by responding, and this conversation is over." Walk away if it makes sense. Find fresh air.
I've watched some people responsibly and maturely handle major setbacks, such as illness or business loss, and others fly into rants when you suggest that an email they sent was unclear. With the former, many of us assume it was something WE said, or a poor choice or words.
There is, however, a fragility which exists in many people which, ironically, is not manifest as timidity or reticence, but rather as aggressiveness and aberrant behavior. (Most bullies, for example, are vastly insecure, attempting to bring people "down" to their level through degradation, physical or emotional. Psychological studies have shown that bullying behavior often originates with childhood abuse.) I think the fragile egos and self-worth of these people require staunch offense, else an accurate piece of feedback may penetrate the defenses and cause the house of cards to collapse.
Strong people are capable of reviewing commentary and information and deciding on its accuracy, making responsible and mature decisions about it. They may make adjustments in their behavior, ignore the feedback as useless or inaccurate, or store it away to see if it is supported or negated by additional learning in the future. But they don't become some kind of misguided rocket, exploding all over he landscape.
One issue, of course, is to avoid fragility ourselves. It's a waste of time, a ridiculous expenditure of energy, and a block to learning. However, we also need to deal with it in others, and for that I have no ideal answers. I try not to be drawn into long arguments about whether or not they are right or wrong, because that just feeds the furor (though I'm not always successful). Ignoring the ensuing violent reaction is a good tactic for strangers. For friends, if you intend to help them, that doesn't work. Yet enabling the behavior is deadly.
There are few things in life, I suspect, that require a reaction equivalent to firing a broadside at the source. I think we have to help people gain a little perspective, which is why I am fond of saying, "The good thing about me is that you can always ignore me," to all of my mentor and coaching clients.
You don't have to accept my feedback, merely listen to it and evaluate it, especially since you've asked for it.
But if you're going to unloose a barrage of accusation and vitriol because I've suggested that your letter is not the right tone for a prospect or your web site is all about you and not about your clients, then perhaps you need to chill for a while.
Extreme self-defensiveness leads to extreme self-isolation, no matter how many people you think you're talking to. They don't want to set you off. After all, my "favorite" response to the suggestion, "Aren't you being a little defensive?" is "I am NOT defensive!!"
We walked into a restaurant at an inn where we've gone annually, for 14 years, always having dinner in the inn's restaurant the first night, with a reservation made by the concierge for us months ago. We book the most expensive accommodations, and refer people to the inn constantly. The hostess greeted us and then took us on a trek toward the worst table in the place.
I knew where we were headed, so I stopped her in her tracks and told her we wanted to be seated in the main dining room and, by the way (gesturing toward the best table in the room), was that table taken? "I guess not," she lugubriously admitted, and there we sat having a great night.
Why wouldn't you treat your best customers as, well, your best customers?
Customer service should conform to a minimum standard of excellence for everyone, but there is nothing immoral, unethical, or illegal about giving preference to those customers who best pay the bills. There is a reason that such entities as first class accommodations, preferred seating, and express lines exist.
In consulting, my best customers always receive priority in terms of dates and even best fees. Anyone who calls me gets the same rapid telephone response, but certain clients can also contact me on a weekend or ask for a sudden on-site appearance. Conversely, when I'm someone's best customer I expect not to be kept on "hold," to occasionally ask for a "rush" job, and to receive the most favorable prices.
While I'm all for egalitarianism in terms of opportunity and accessibility, I find nothing discriminatory in favoring people who are most responsible for your being able to pay the bills and feed the family. A great many businesses have "platinum" levels of membership ("gold" apparently not selective enough!).
Airlines once had clubs for their most frequent flyers, but that was stopped when the lawyers sued for everyone's right to join. The results are overcrowded clubs no longer able to enforce a dress code, often noisier and more crowded than the gate areas on the concourse. So we achieved an equality that denied airlines the ability to reward their best customers and created a now-expensive recreation area packed with cell phones, computers, and screaming kids.
I wrote a letter to Shell Oil a year ago. I mentioned that I had been using their gasoline for 20 years, had paid my entire bill in total every month, and had never received so much as a "thank you" from Shell for my business. I estimated
I had to be in a rather small group of high-paying, faithful customers. They never bothered to answer my letter. I'm no longer very partial to Shell, though I am to my local dealer, who cleans my windows, will come to my home to charge a battery, and gives my dogs biscuits when they ride shotgun.
If the best seat in the house is taken, or someone was smart enough to reserve it ahead of me, good for them. But if it's not, and I'm a good customer, why on earth wouldn't you offer it to me? What kind of seat are you offering the people most important to you?
This month, contributions from readers!
I traveled to Stowe in late May for a conference and during our free afternoon, a few of us visited the Ben & Jerry's factory twenty minutes away. It was a staid tour of steel machines and lost folklore before it was handed over to multinational Unilever. However, the gift shop had maintained its quirkiness about it that no combo of corporate mango and caramel could match. Cow ties, socks, shirts, and a baseball cap that I knew was mine for the upcoming yet not physically buffed beach season. It read "Body by Ben & Jerry." I was convinced the many sessions I missed with my trainer would be vindicated.
In July, we escaped the Arizona heat and went on our yearly sojourn to Nantucket where I had the first chance to wear my new cap. We ventured into Murray's and perused the men's red shorts (only known to mankind west of the Hudson) when my buddy says that the man across the aisle from me looks familiar and is a California TV guy. I looked up and yes, as luck and cosmic strength have it, it WAS Body by Jake. He laughed and commented that I had a nice hat. The cap remained in the hotel room for the remainder of my vacation.
-- Doug MacKenzie, Scottsdale, AZ
January is a harrowing month for travel to Chicago. It's inadvisable, foolish and shows a lack of planning to make the trip twice in one week. I'll paint myself the victim of circumstance and not wanting to miss a school program, and I did it anyway.
On the second trip, the weather turned foul and shut down the runways.
Seeking relief, I checked into the World Club along with about four hundred other people. The club was packed, but I spotted a chair by the window and made my move. The floor was cluttered with luggage and appendages. I plowed across, undaunted, in three-inch heels, lugging my roller-bag.
Suddenly, I clipped a table and a foot. Before I could steady myself on my ridiculous shoes, (What was I thinking?) I went flying.
Time stood still as I fumbled and flopped. Someone tried to catch me, but it was no use. I landed head first into the lap of a sleeping man. He awoke with a start and as I extracted myself from his lower half he said, "Wow! I don't wake up with a woman in my lap very often!" I replied, "And I do expect to be paid!"
-- Jennifer Atkins, Rossford, OH
During my first year of service as a police officer in British Columbia, Canada, I was investigating a minor two-vehicles accident on the highway. It was a beautiful summer day with not a cloud in the sky. I was having a good day in my crisp uniform.
After filling out the necessary paperwork, I handed the drivers their copies of the forms, driver licenses and vehicle registrations. This was accomplished on the shoulder in my most professional demeanor (some people would have said I was cocky). I made a smart about-turn and proceeded towards by police vehicle. Immediately, I found myself looking at the pavement which was about three inches from my face (I was in a push up position). I had tripped over a one-and-a-half-foot cement barrier that I had not seen.
I got up and speed-walked to the vehicle with my eyes downturned. I got in the vehicle and told my partner "Let's go!" I thought that I was going to become part of the accident as my partner was laughing so hard when he drove off. -- Greg Doucet, Dieppe, NB, Canada
I admire adventurers, and love to hear their stories. When I learned that Canada's first astronaut, Marc Garneau, was coming to speak in my home town, I knew I'd be there.
On the night of his presentation, we arrived in plenty of time to nab great seats. As it turned out, our timing was more than perfect. Just as we approached the building, a van pulled up, and out stepped the man himself. Thinking this would be my best chance to shake the hand of a bona fide space traveler, I charged immediately in his direction. Stopping squarely in front of him, I stuck out my hand and declared, "Hi! I'm Marc Garneau!"
My energetic approach must have looked threatening – my enthusiastic expression, alarming. And my statement was clearly bizarre. The astronaut's security detail closed ranks, surely wondering, "Who is this crazy person?" As my own words echoed in my ears, I wanted nothing more than an instant one-way trip to outer space.
To his credit, my hero retreated only slightly. Then, with a sparkle in his eye, he waved a finger in my face, and laughingly replied, "I believe you're mistaken. I'm Marc Garneau! – Patricia Katz, Saskatoon, SK, Canada
It is a Sunday evening, am at a health club with my wife and friends. I brag to my company (two couples and their three kids) about my swimming skills (I used to swim in the open waters of Lake Albert, while a lad). In a typical big brother fashion, I conclude, "Prepare your kids for a swimming lesson later after my exercises."
After some exercises, I get a bath and head to the swimming pool. I see the kids playing at one of its ends and don't even bother to check out the deep or shallow end. I head mindlessly to the side where the kids are playing, and onto the waters, I step.
Later, I am lying down on the swimming pool edge. Everybody is on me. My wife explains "You couldn't 'move' in water, the boys saved you." The boy adds, "Uncle was just raising the hands in water, he couldn't swim." With nobody to face directly into – I face it: I had drowned and was saved by the kids I had promised swimming lessons earlier. Fast forward two hours. As we drive home, my wife whispers in my ear "Love, I didn't intend to laugh, at least I admire your swimming skills."
-- Mugisa Mustapha, Kampala, Uganda