Quickly: Be Delightful!

On another trip to New York and, as usual, it’s providing plenty of fresh food for thought. Yesterday it came in the form of two very different flight attendants who made me revisit the question of what makes a really delightful person, and what infinitesimal factors go into our snap judgments of people. Continue reading “Quickly: Be Delightful!”

Complaining for Peace

Here’s a thought that’s going to sound very strange: The way to have harmony with others is not to reason ourselves out of being offended.

I know, it sounds crazy, right? Somebody does something to annoy you and it’s so natural to think, “It’s not worth making a fuss about such a small thing, so I’ll be the bigger person and will just put up with it.” But you put up with it for years and suddenly when you do mention it, out it pours in a heated tone nothing like what you intended, and now it is a fuss.

It’s tempting, too, to praise ourselves for patience. “I didn’t complain for so long!” But what has that actually gained?

And how often have we refrained from saying the difficult thing to someone about their own behavior because we’re afraid of offending them? It’s right to be concerned about their feelings, of course. But is it right to be so concerned about their immediate feelings that we doom them to stay in patterns that may well hold them back in life, or lead to less happiness in the long term?

It’s never pleasant to hear criticism of my behavior, but it is a greater favor to me to force me to hear it than to say years later, “I have noticed this bad trait you have for a long time, but haven’t given you the chance to do anything about it.” Does more peace result from grudgingly putting up with, say, a harsh and condescending tone, or from helping the person see and change it?

Granted, there are some – perhaps many – people who don’t accept this reasoning and don’t allow others to offer them correction. But they’re not doing themselves any favors. Everyone has at least one failing. Right? Anybody disagree with that? I didn’t think so. Here’s another poll: anybody happy that they have flaws? Anybody not want to be the best person they can be? Yeah, there are a few, like my old boss who told me he’d “earned the right to be a jerk.” But most people want to think of themselves as good people, rational people capable of acting in their own best interests. Isn’t it in your best interests to hear and consider what others have to say about you?

And it’s true, not every criticism is accurate. But most have a grain of truth that can be used. For instance, an acquaintance recently told someone something about me which, when repeated to any number of people who actually know me, was greeted by shouts of laughter and the comment, “You are the last person who would do that.” But on reflection, I could see why someone who didn’t know me would think that, and consider whether some aspects of my behavior could be improved.

As the sage says, “If one man calls you a fool, ignore it. If a second man calls you a fool, consider it. If a third man calls you a fool, believe it.” So if you are someone who doesn’t like to listen to criticism, consider: you can ignore it! But listen, so you’ll know if you hear the same thing again.

A final thought for those special readers who really don’t have any failings: please take pity on those of us who do. Most people are afraid of offering even the gentlest criticism because of the large minority (majority?) who don’t take it well. That is the direct cause of Well-it’s-not-worth-making-a-fuss syndrome. So the next time someone approaches you with an obviously wrong criticism, please, listen calmly. Hear them out. You’re still free to disagree. But respect the courage it took to approach you – even if you wish they hadn’t. That way, those of us who actually view constructive criticism as an act of friendship can have more friends – and maybe one day we’ll be as perfect as you.

The Secret Weapon

I finally watched all the Lord of the Rings films for the first time over Thanksgiving weekend. For those few of you more stubborn than I am, the story is a good vs. evil epic set in a fantasy world based vaguely on medieval Europe, and as you might expect, there are lots of battles complete with swords, bows, and horses charging into lines of lowered spears.

Somewhere around the 30th of these battles I began to wonder, “How did anybody ever survive in the days of hand-to-hand combat? No matter how great a fighter you are, there’s no way to maintain a 360° view of what’s going on around you and defend yourself from multiple attacks from every angle.”

But if you pay attention the question answers itself. The answer is, quite simply: have a lot of friends.

I don’t know how accurate these fight scenes are, but in almost every one, one of the main characters is saved from imminent unsuspected death by a friend who has conveniently just killed their assailant and is able to run to the rescue. And this does tie in with various historical records of great enemies fighting their way across the battlefield towards each other – in the sense that the good fighters were not only absorbed by their own immediate fight, but were keeping an eye on other people of importance to them. So the more friends you have, the more close-knit you are, the more likely you are to escape alive from battle.

“Oh, very useful,” you’re saying. “I’ll keep that in mind the next time I run into an angry band of Visigoths and Huns.”

But of course battle can be anything: for instance, the political maneuverings at a company, when the victor is usually determined by how many impressively-titled fans they have. In a lesser and looser sense, it could simply be those times you need a favor. It’s nice to have a close group of friends to choose to ask it of.

Nor is this advice as self-centered as it sounds. Aragorn, arguably the most popular guy on the battlefields of Middle Earth, earned that loyalty by taking up a fight that was not his own, fighting at the front line of every battle, and offering support, rescue or encouragement to others many more times than he received it. You have to be a friend to have friends – advice most often given to teens looking for someone to hang out with, but which actually has a much wider application.

You Just Don’t Get It!… and it’s my fault

The agency relationship I inherited from my very talented boss is a challenge on the best of days. On a day when a multitude of final decisions had to be hammered out seemingly for the third time, I started seriously considering where I could get a recommendation for a new agency. But, thanks to the hassle that is Corporate Procurement, instead I pulled up Google and typed in:

HOW TO COMMUNICATE WITH PEOPLE WHO JUST DON’T GET IT

The first result is very good and I recommend looking it up in its entirety. The first paragraph got right to the heart of the matter:

Early on in my consulting career, I remember having a hard day with clients and coming home to my wife, saying: “Those stupid clients just didn’t get it.” My wife, very gently, said “You mean that today, just today, you weren’t able to help them understand?”

Or, in one phrasing I particularly liked from the comments:

“There are no stupid questions, only points that we have failed to explain properly.” Continue reading “You Just Don’t Get It!… and it’s my fault”

Gratitude and Apology

Last week at the office I made coffee, realized the creamer display was empty, refilled it, and spent several minutes unsuccessfully trying to get the box to fit back into the cupboard so the door would close. I finally gave up and resolved that I would mention it to the receptionist – duly apologetic, of course. Just then she walked into the kitchen to do the restocking so I mentioned it, she looked, saw it, and said, “Oh, thanks – I’ll take care of it.” Her tone was cheerful and there was nothing in the whole exchange that seemed to require a second thought.

Except five minutes later another member of the admin staff walked into my office. Apparently she had happened to be walking past as it took place and found it offensive. She thought my request was disrespectful – as if I thought it was the receptionist’s “job” to do that. She made a point of saying that she didn’t care about “whose job it is,” she just does whatever is needed, and would have kept working at the box until it fit. She then asked, in a tone that implied she already knew the answer and it wasn’t good, if I would have just left it that way [indefinitely].

Continue reading “Gratitude and Apology”

2,400

The original idea when I picked the theme for this blog was to tell stories of situations that presented a choice between the easy and the valuable, along with the decision I made, in hopes that knowing I would have to tattle on myself would keep me accountable in the moment. It’s an idea that’s much harder to carry out than anticipated, because I don’t always wish to share those stories. Sometimes they are genuinely too personal. Sometimes they involve other people, some of whom might be identifiable. But I still like the idea, and with attention – which after all was the whole point, to live attentively – I think I should be able to find one situation in the space of each week that I’d be willing to share. And it’s something I probably should do.

This is the story of the past week: I spent most of my time in a room filled with about 320 people, and as much as possible, I avoided the 300 people I didn’t know and talked only to the 20 I did. Every day I knew I should walk up to at least one new person and introduce myself, and on no day did I actually do so. It’s not to say I didn’t meet anyone new, but I think I can say that it was never through an effort on my part.

There are plenty of reasons for why that was, but the fact remains: I had 2,400 chances to succeed (300 people x 8 days) – and I didn’t take any of them. If I’d thought of it in those terms at the time, I certainly would have – it would have seemed such a small thing to do the right thing .04% of the time! Lesson: There are so many opportunities to grow, and if you’re not paying attention, it’s so easy to miss the fact that you’re missing them. Also, you can grow by making comparatively small efforts.

Reasons & Rhymes

Why this? Why now?

  1. Because there are only so many times it’s funny to walk into a social media panel discussion, or a blogger meetup, or …, and not have a blog. (Or a Twitter account.) Now when people ask me, “Do you have a blog?” I can say, “Why yes, I do, and it is…”
  2. It bridges that awkward networking gap when you talk to someone for 15 minutes and like them well enough to keep in touch, but not enough to be instant friends or justify hanging out. What are you supposed to do to forward the connection? A blog is a nice low barrier to entry: “Here, find out some more about me at your leisure and without my necessarily knowing anything about it. And if you’re comfortable, or if something I say resonates, we have a nice conversation starter already at hand.”
  3. To create. There’s a full post brewing about the emotional reasons, so I’ll save that for later.
  4. Related to #3, not to let life fly by unnoticed and, as the philosopher says, unexamined. For me, writing is fundamentally about curiosity, so a program of regular writing means I have to pay a little more attention to each day’s events and give a little more thought to their possible importance.

Why not before?

  1. Privacy. For me, the ideal blogging experience would be full or semi-anonymity. I don’t mind if a million people read my work as long as they don’t know who I am. That way you don’t have to worry quite so much about what you say – or who you say it about. If you say something personal, and nobody knows you’ve said it, are you really exposed?
  2. Commitment. The first rule of blogging (like so many things) is consistency at a reasonably high frequency. Which is just scary. What is the right frequency? I can definitely rule out a The Simple Dollar’s 2 posts a day; if I’m overwhelmed as a reader there’s no need to inflict that on anybody else. The short-and-sweet daily posts of Seth Godin or Jessica Gottlieb are almost perfect, but honestly, I’m probably not going to write in that style. What I’d really like to do is Rands In Repose-esque thoughtfulness. But he only posts every 3 weeks or so – not nearly enough, in my opinion, now that I’ve read the entire archive twice – and while I can see why that is absolutely reasonable and necessary, it wouldn’t give me the build-up of momentum I’ll probably need.
  3. Commitment. There’s nothing more pathetic than a blog that’s abandoned and left for years in stagnant loneliness. But the thought of adding this huge, demanding thing to my life for the next three to five or more years (or until the next big thing comes along) was more than a little daunting.

Since objections 2 and 3 were handily defeated by Scott Hulme’s suggestion that I do this as a 52 project – 1 post a week for 1 year – here we are. (Note that I will be doing my 52 project in 54 weeks, which gives me a couple of weeks of “vacation” to be used as needed.)