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The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: April 2002

Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:

  1. Techniques for balance
  2. The Human Condition: Let's talk about me
  3. Musings
  4. Negotiating made easier

  1. Techniques for balance

    How to handle setback, defeat, reversal, and other results you'd rather have avoided.

    • Learn something. The positive in any defeat is that you can learn how to improve the next time. West Point's future officers spend more time studying defeats than victories.

    • Face the music. Don't engage in contortions to try to make the reversal something other than what it is�a normal part of the human condition. Maintaining a fiction is far more stressful than simply confronting the truth.

    • Batten down the ego. This has nothing to do with self-worth or personal makeup. One of my favorite quotes: "Strong people always have strong weaknesses, too." (Peter Drucker)

    • Don't generalize a specific. If you made a presentation that bombed, it doesn't mean you're a lousy manager, and if your child whacked another kid in school, it doesn't mean you're a poor parent.

    • Use a "wailing wall." It's fine to vent, so long as it's private. (I use my den.) Scream a bit, throw something harmless (not a loved one), lament "Why me??!!" Then get on with your life. Physical venting is an effective stress reducer, which leads to...

    • Engage in some physical activity. Work out, or row a boat, or wash the car, or walk the dog. Exhaust yourself. You'll feel better.

    • Use your mentor or sounding board. That can range from a friend, to a spouse, to a therapist. (Hint: Find someone who will empathize, not sympathize, that is, know what you feel but not feel what you feel. That way you'll have prudent counsel and not company for your misery.)

    • Remove yourself from further stress. Don't make a critical client call, postpone an annoying meeting, neglect a daily routine which drives you crazy. Give yourself a break.

    • Compare for perspective. Ask yourself, "Is this really the worst thing that could have happened to me? Is this a position from which there is no recovery? Am I really alone in this defeat?" The answers are almost always, "No."

    • Reward yourself. Who says that only victories deserve reward? Do something that pleases you, make an impulse purchase, After all, keeping a setback in perspective and dealing with it constructively is a victory of the spirit.

    Above all, don't wallow in remorse. As humorist George Ade said, "Don't pity the martyrs, they love the work."

  2. The Human Condition: Let's talk about me

    I've just returned from another Ian Schrager hotel, The Hudson, after having promised myself I'd never stay in one again. (I've been to the Royalton and W, for example.) But my client was having a meeting there, and the convenience overruled my better judgment.

    These hotels are so minimalist, that if they were any more minimal, they would cease to corporeally exist. The lighting is very low and the entire staff is dressed in black, so that on the one hand you can hardly see them, and on the other they often scare the pants off you by emerging from the gloom like the mole people in the old Flash Gordon series. Where is Ming the Merciless when you really need him?

    The rooms are reminiscent of those Japanese overnight "residences" in which the occupants are semi-interred in sarcophagi. Everything is tiny and mysterious. You feel like a giant as you try to manipulate the tiny controls and sit in the diminutive furniture. And it's always dark, since the management has discovered rare light bulbs which apparently function like electric black holes, sucking in all available ambient light. You shave by feel and comb your hair by memory. (In the Royalton, I had a teeny fireplace in my tiny room. I called for a bellman to light the fire. "But it's August and hot!" said the manager. "I don't want the heat," I said, "I want the light.")

    You would swear that you're in a Fellini movie gone bad.

    The hotel has no sign whatsoever, as if only those sufficiently in the "know" should even deign to find it. The doorman looks like a mugger. When he grabbed my bags out of the limo, I pounced on him the way any true New Yorker would, and a serious battle ensued until a security guy�who looked like a bodyguard for a rapper�intervened and calmed me down. When I gave the guy a huge tip and apologized for the misunderstanding, he mumbled, "It's not the first time..."

    The Hudson does not provide newspapers, which would apparently be too much of a concession to the bourgeoisie. However, it does provide a special guest pass because, "Our bar is so popular that our bouncer will deny entry unless you can prove you're a guest." I wondered if he would also provide The Wall Street Journal.

    What is the story behind this nearly terminal dose of hipness? I'm convinced that Schrager actually built these places as a huge joke, to prove that a sufficient amount of cachet will motivate people to discomfort, humiliate, and otherwise abuse themselves. Why subject yourself to such indignities?

    Of course, this is simply the old high school "in crowd" on a grander scale. I remember the football players and their biker chicks determining what you should wear, where you should hang out, which classes to dismiss and which to disrupt, even how to carry your books. I always resisted the in crowd, not out of great courage, but really out of the fear of sharing their future, which was usually dismal, and chronicled by Billy Joel far better than I could ever describe it.

    The same goes for the currently, ardently, bizarrely "hip." I understand that Schreager has already had to cut back on his hotels, and that the pernicious novelty is finally wearing thin. Life's not about being "in," it's about being "out": Out in the world fearlessly striving to be yourself in a culture and environment often hell-bent on trying to make you into something else.

    In fact, maybe the ultimate hipness is being so unhip that you refuse to follow or belong to the pack. There may be predators out there, but somehow they seem less of a risk than surrendering yourself to the herd.

  3. Musings

    There were actually nine muses, sisters, in Greek mythology, from whence the name of this ongoing column. When used with a capital�Muse� the term refers to an ultimate arbiter on things artistic and aesthetic.

    I'm musing about whether women are inherently better at reflection, introspection, and pondering than men. In my experience, at least in the world of consulting, they are.

    Women seem to have less to "unlearn" than men. That is, they have no ego-driven stake in the ground, holding desperately to past beliefs and emotional bonding. They seem much more willing to surrender an approach or tactic in the light of reason and pragmatism than do men, who often stay the course simply because, well, it's the course. The old bromide about men resisting asking directions wasn't germinated in a vacuum. There must be some recessive gene still archaically dealing with the hunt and courage, now finding its meek outlet in fearlessly and independently locating the correct on-ramp to Interstate 95.

    I've also found on average�and I'm painting with a broad brush here, but bear with me�that women are more sensitive in business situations. That is, they listen more carefully and empathically. They appreciate nuance better, and can interpret the "gestalt" of the situation well, blending tone, body language, what wasn't said, and other factors into an accurate interpretation of what was intended.

    So why, then, do women seem so often to struggle against "glass ceilings" and nonsense stereotypes (e.g., "He's assertive when he's strong, but I'm a bitch when I speak up!")? I think it's often because women are their own worst enemies in the business world.

    I'm conducting a featured workshop at a major convention soon, and a woman wrote to the chair to ask him why there wasn't a single female keynoter among the five of us on the agenda. The chair wrote back that the convention chair, program chair, half the committee, and half the concurrent session speakers were female, so why not ask them? (A couple of years ago I learned that two-thirds of the meeting planners in New England were female, yet 80% of the speakers they hired were male. What to make of that?) On another occasion, an excellent piece on executive compensation in a major magazine was taken to task by a female correspondent who pointed out that the pronoun "he" was used more frequently than "she" or "he or she." That was her major learning point from the article.

    After a speech at General Electric, one woman told me that I was the best speaker she had ever heard in terms of using "gender neutral" speech. Twenty minutes later another woman berated me for "not giving the same attention to women's questions as men's questions." I ignored the both of them.

    When we have an all-encompassing, overarching, highly emotional agenda, it tends to trample everything in its path, including rationality, inquiry, and civility. (I'm just as unhappy with that "gender neutral" comment, because that woman should have been listening to my management points, not my pronouns.)

    Please don't send me letters, I just work here. But perhaps women should revisit their Greek sisters who set the standards for positive reflection, and realize that they have everything going for them, and should stop getting in their own way. It's usually not about gender, but about confidence.

  4. Negotiating made easier

    Negotiating--anything--can be highly stressful, before, during, and after the fact. I acknowledge that there is a myriad of courses and workshops on the topic, all run by people who should know far more than I on the subject. But for what it's worth, here's my experience, regardless of the content and the culture:

    • Allow the other person to open the discussion. Don't state your own position too early. You might just find you're in a better position than you had imagined.

    • Be reasonable, low key, and calm. Emotionalism sill hinders more than helps, and volume sways almost no one these days.

    • Know your "musts" and your "wants." Feel free to negotiate away or compromise the latter in order to preserve and protect the former. (A "must" is something without which you will not be successful, is reasonable, and is measurable. Therefore, a 10% pay increase can be a must, while a 500% pay increase can't be.)

    • Stay factual and focus on observed behavior. Don't be judgmental. "You're offering me less than half of what I'm requesting" is a far better statement than, "You clearly don't respect me."

    • Practice first. There is no objection we haven't heard. You may not be able to effectively rebut every objection, but it's inexcusable not to at least be prepared for them. If the other party says, "You're asking for something which no one else has ever been granted," the response, "Oh..." is not going to help you, but the reply, "That's because we've never had similar conditions to these," keeps you in the game.

    • Use humor. If at all possible, promote civility and mutual respect. People are far more willing to make concessions and sacrifice their own ego for others whom they respect and like, but far less so for those they find objectionable, rude, and obnoxious.

    • Live to fight another day. Don't take an irreversible position ("Then you'll have to fire me," "Then this relationship is over," "Then I'm not going to be there.") unless you have a genuine problem with values and ethics, and that's going to be rare. Otherwise, you've lost more than merely the current negotiation.

    • Understand the other side. What is their self-interest? What are potential points of mutual agreement, and what appear to be unalterable opposing positions? Steer toward common ground, not antipodes.

    • Provide options. Stay away from "take it or leave it" positions, and give your counterpart alternative ways to meet your needs, some of which may be far easier than others for him or her to accept.

    • Tuck your ego away. This isn't about your worth as a person (usually) but rather about a specific transaction. If you view these as unalterable victories or defeats, you'll neither avoid the latter nor really rejoice in the former, since another contest is always just around the corner. Whatever happens, your self-esteem should be consistent (and high!).