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The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: April 2006

Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:

  1. Interludes on balance
  2. The Human Condition: Why can't we communicate?
  3. Musings
  4. ORTIYKMWOYBNT-O Department

  1. Interludes on balance

    • Airlines seldom apologize any more when they are late. It's become just another aspect of their daily routine. Don't allow your standards to similarly slip. We tend to get too rapidly comfortable at lower altitudes.
    • At the movie complex we often go to, every employee is trained to say "Enjoy the movie" or management will whack them. They dutifully say it, but clearly couldn't care less. One honest behavior beats three false sentiments any day.
    • When you're considering boasting or giving advice, consider the potential experience of the listeners, which you may be ignoring. The guy who thought he told the perfect story depicting the Johnstown Flood still had to contend with Noah in heaven.
    • If you don't provide people (and their management) with honest feedback about poor performance, you're relegating them to inferior status, because you don't believe they are interested in or capable of improvement.
    • Logic helps people to think, but emotion usually makes them act. That's why there is so much opportunity for impulse purchases in stores and on the Internet. If you want to change people's behavior, stop trying to spin tightly wound logical webs and begin finding out to which of their self-interests you can appeal.
    • Don't accept nonsensical positions. When the flight attendant says, "Our primary job is your safety," she or he is missing the point. Over 95% of the job is about passenger comfort. Safety is the primary job in an emergency, but passenger comfort is the primary job in normal flying conditions. But I guess those flight attendants sitting and chatting and not offering me a drink are too busy discussing evacuation procedures.
    • If you're spending a lot of your day angry, it's not the other people, it's you. And the great probability is that there is a common cause for the anger, simply manifesting itself in various situations as conditions permit. Find out what's really bugging you.
    • Learn one new word every weekday. Write it down, learn its pronunciation, use it in a sentence with other people. That's 260 words a year. If you do that, I will guarantee that you will have more influence and respect than ever before. If I'm wrong about that, you can subscribe to this newsletter for free for the rest of your life.
    • If you want to master one social skill that will improve your image immediately, learn to use silverware correctly. It's truly frightening watching people do battle with their food as if they had just dragged home a triceratops.
    • Let me take a very contrarian view: There is great opportunity in taking a vacation and planning nothing other than your travel and accommodations. Don't ask others for recommendations (Why live with their biases?), don't use a guide book (simply popular taste), and don't allocate your time (it's too much like work). Get there, roam around, decide randomly what makes sense. The best beaches in St. Maarten were found scrawled in chalk on walls and you had to descend rock steps, where locals cooked chicken and served drinks. One of the most hyped treks in Maui was a coast road actually dubbed "divorce alley" by the travelers because it was a four-hour trip in each direction and you were ready to kill each other upon the return.

  2. The Human Condition: Why can't we communicate?

    Why do people have so much trouble communicating? We can all speak, of course, but we don't speak well. We can all hear, but we don't actually listen very carefully.

    After exhaustive research (listening to a church homily in Sydney, Australia), I've determined unequivocally why we don't communicate well: We tell people what we want to say rather than what they need to hear. Simple as that.

    When I coach executives and even professional speakers, I always advise the following: Don't tell people everything you know, tell them only what they need to know. In other words, don't tell me about LIFO accounting practices if I really need to know why my expense account should be submitted in a certain manner. If you want me to join your association, don't tell me why you've joined it, tell me what's in it for me.

    Of course, this approach assumes that the speaker wants to help or support the listener, and is not speaking just for the glory of his or her voice. Is the example or metaphor or story you want to tell really relevant and compelling for my interests, or is it simply something you love to relate for your own satisfaction? You'd be surprised at how many people, seemingly intently listening to your story about backpacking through Madagascar, are simultaneously wondering what to have for dinner.

    We fail to communicate because we view the act as generated by our own current knowledge, rather than by the knowledge the other person really needs. I'm totally uninterested when my computer repair guy describes the vagaries of video cards. I just want to know when he can get my computer to read a CD again.

    And we fail to communicate because we use the process too often to merely inflate our egos and accelerate our own goals. That's why, at most meetings of professional speakers, for example, everyone is busy lying to each other about how much work they're getting and how much they're charging! And why, at family gatherings, we have to hear about one person's daughter who has a scholarship to medical school only to have that trumped by someone's son who was accepted into the astronaut program at age 13. (And people wonder why I don't enjoy small talk�.)

    If the priest helps parishoners to understand why moral behavior is correct, and the doctor helps patients to grasp why a different set of behaviors will prolong their lives, and the college professor (as a profession, the worst communicators I've ever encountered, and that includes lawyers) helps students understand why the hubris affects us no less than the early Greeks, well, maybe we'd have a more tolerant, healthier, better educated populace.

    I like to save my time, move fast, and alleviate my work load. So, when I'm working in a classroom, I drive for what the learners need to know, test whether they know it and can apply it, and move on. Whatever story I tell or example I use is meant to augment and facilitate that simple process. When the learning is complete, I stop and go home.

    I hope this has been worth listening to. Or, at least, you've decided on what to have for dinner.

  3. Musings

    It's five o'clock on the western coast of Aruba, and I'm watching a pelican sail home a scant few feet over a placid sea. A handful of people linger at the beach, eye level with the departing sun.

    I find I am content. But what does that mean? I think it means satisfied and happy without guilt.

    There are people "vacationing" here who work like demons to reserve the "best" beach lounges or pool locations. Others get upset when they gamble at the casinos and lose (which, as far as I know, is an inevitable long-term outcome). There are those who bemoan a sold-out restaurant, fish-less fishing trip (I always root for the fish), or five-minute wait for the concierge to arrange something for them.

    I love to compete in the business world, in sports, and even in some social situations. But vacations are off-limits. You can't buy an international newspaper here, for a variety of political reasons. I didn't miss them. They do have cable TV and I always have my trusty lap top.

    In my younger days (up to a few weeks ago), I would rush around trying to squeeze a vacation into submission, just beat it to death, not wanting to miss a thing. Now, I'm more apt to go with the flow.

    I dove again, for the first time on a sunken ship. It was fabulous. Scuba diving I find to be similar to skiing, in that it takes virtually forever to prepare for a relatively brief pleasure. By the time I used to suit up, get my lift ticket, get to the top of the hill, and prepare myself for the descent, I was exhausted (only to be exhilarated by the rush). Similarly, once you've obtained your equipment, tested it, stowed it, boarded the boat, and arrived at the dive location, you're wondering if you have energy to throw yourself overboard (literally).

    Yet the thrill is always worth it. You just have to be patient with the preliminaries.

    It doesn't make sense to wake at dawn, claim a preferred beach space, wolf down breakfast, then bury your face in a book on the lounge chair and never see the pelican. Nor does it help to allow your equanimity to be chafed by the vagaries of flights, immigration, customs, monetary exchange, and large groups of other people seeking what you seek.

    The sun is setting now. It will set again tomorrow. I heard recently about a turtle in India which passed away at what the authorities believe was 250 years of age, fairly healthy until the end.

    He saw a lot of sunsets. I don't think he rushed.

  4. ORTIYKMWOYBNT-O Department

    I was in St. Bart's and I thought I'd impress some of the hotel staff with my gift of language. So, at the beach one day, I said to the attendant in perfectly accented Spanish, "Donde esta el banyo?" ("Where is the bathroom?") He told me in very good English that it was behind the restaurant. It turns out that he was trilingual, because St. Bart's is French and I, an obvious American, chose to speak Spanish.

    "Merci," I said, and crept away.