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The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: August 2002

Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:

  1. Techniques for balance
  2. The Human Condition: Misguided Energy
  3. Musings
  4. The readers write

  1. Techniques for balance

    This month we'll look at subordinating ego in order to relate better to family, friends, and colleagues.

    • Refrain from correcting people unless the "error" is going to embarrass someone, seriously misdirect the conversation, or otherwise cause harm. Most minor correction is to benefit the person making it ("Gotcha!"). Does it really matter if it was July or August in which someone else's story took place?

    • Don't offer unsolicited feedback unless it's positive. I'm amazed when people are amazed when they are rebuffed after offering a gem such as, "Those shoes just aren't appropriate�" or "Can I tell you a better way to do that?"

    • Eschew one-upmanship. Topping someone does not add to the conversation, it diminishes the other person. (If it's done to you, don't respond, but allow the other person to dangle in his or her hyperbole.)

    • Try not to memorialize everything with your name, initials, logo, monogram, or other insignia. I struggle with this all the time, but I was helped on the road to recovery when a new acquaintance acidly asked, "Are you afraid of forgetting who you are?" (A woman in California, waiting with me prior to a speech and seeing my initials monogrammed on my shirt cuff, inquired politely if they were my notes.)

    • Develop your listening skills and make it a point to ask at least one follow-up question after someone's story rather than launch into your own.

    • Never start a story with your kids (or anyone else's, for that matter) which starts with any variation of "When I was your age�." My son did a comic riff off one such start once which went into my wife and I walking seven miles to school in the snow with no shoes and using coal lumps to write on a shovel in order to teach ethics to Abe Lincoln.

    • Acknowledge the fact (increasingly easy as we get older) that we won't realize quite all of our dreams, there are places others have been to that we haven't, and there's always someone with more "stuff" or better stuff than we have. That's a fact of life and not something to regret. We should rejoice in what we do have, because life is fragile. (At Queen Elizabeth's recent Golden Jubilee, the crazed rocker and new MTV star, Ozzy Osbourne, admitted that, with the Queen standing nearby, he would not be able to drop his pants on stage as he normally would like. Now there's a maturing man.)

    • Do not take rejection personally. Successful sales people (and the Mafia) understand this better than anybody. It's only business, it's not personal. Even when it's stupidity, it's not personal. The Augusta Golf Club, home of the Masters Tournament, still does not admit women to membership. That's nothing personal against a particular woman. It's merely the idiocy of some old guys who believe it's still 1912.

    • Remember that life is not a slow crawl through enemy territory, unless you see it that way. It's fine to compete on the tennis court, or even in the company quality program. But daily life should not be a competitive sport. If the other driver's move into a space before you are able to means that you or your driving is inferior, it's not the other guy who's making you feel that way.

    • When you're treated poorly, don't get even. Get better. Ego drives retribution, which is basically an energy loss that drags you down rather than builds you up. Living well is the best revenge. And loving well is the best elixir.

  2. The Human Condition: Misguided Energy

    One of the sociological novelties of our time is the phenomenon of people who want to sneak in the back door. We used to do this when we were kids at the movies and couldn't afford the $1.50 admission, but those circumstances were dire. Besides, we all figured that we'd have the buck and-a-half sometime later in our lives.

    But I'm talking about the adults who demand premium treatment for no other reason than they think they're entitled to "work the system." You've seen them and don't realize it. There's the guy who hangs out around the departure gate at the airport, schmoozing the agents, trying to get an upgrade. And the woman who brings back an expensive dress to return because "it didn't fit," yet there are deodorant stains inside and perhaps a wine spill outside.

    There are people who take three planes to reach a destination merely because it triples their airline points, or who actually slip into private clubs by walking rapidly behind members as if they're together. There are also "professional complainers" who either blow up a small point or actually invent a major point to gain a free room, free dinner, or free gift certificate.

    The "demand" for special services and treatment, normally reserved for only the best customers, has created such a burden for service providers that companies such as American Express and Hertz actually maintain unadvertised and unpromoted truly elite programs which can be accessed only through private invitation (e.g., Hertz Platinum and Amex "black card"). (Airline clubs used to be free and restricted to very frequent flyers until law suits forced a more egalitarian entry requirement�a fee�which has created over-crowded clubs with screaming children.)

    Why do people seek something for nothing? Doesn't that produce a great deal of stress and grief? My observation is that if these wheedling and conniving people put as much energy into their jobs as their perks, they'd be promoted and rewarded to the extent that they could actually afford and qualify for the very benefits they're trying to otherwise latch onto.

    I think there's a prevailing attitude that everyone is entitled to a benefit, and that contribution (being a good customer), merit (qualifying for a benefit through achievement), and hard work (attaining a level through seniority and consistency) are too restrictive. We have a tendency these days to "lower the bar" to the lowest common denominator. (I belong to an association about which it is said, only half in jest, that its goal is "to make every member as unsuccessful as the least successful member, so that everyone feels alike.")

    Maybe it's simply the human tendency to try to grab whatever is out there, and maybe it's fair to allow people to use whatever techniques work for them. But I do know that no one is allowed to ride a bike in a foot race, or cut across the infield rather than run around the turn. It's more than unfair, it's rather distasteful.

    Even at the movie theater, as kids we knew we wouldn't have to sneak in when we grew up. Or, so we thought.

  3. Musings

    Why does everyone tend to insist they're doing well when they're not? Isn't there a point at which the need for support and help trumps ego? Professional services providers are hurting right now. People in consulting, design, architecture, training, speaking, accounting and related professions are experiencing a decline in their businesses. How do I know this?

    Because I ask how they're doing, disbelieve them, and then ask again. Sometimes I have to ask four times.

    When someone tells me "I'm doing great!" my immediate inclination is not to offer help, but rather to offer compliments and rejoice in their good fortune. And I have heard that response much too much, even after a combination of economic, geo-political, and social events have made it an unlikely reply from 100% of all those asked. So now I follow up with, "What do you mean by 'great'?" or "Specifically, what's going so well?" or "Are you serious?"

    My observation is that if our life is in balance, we tend to be honest, direct, and candid, not needing to project a false image or protect a fragile ego. But if we lack balance, don't have strong support systems, aren't fulfilled from a multitude of life's dimensions, then we tend to obfuscate and equivocate. Only about 10% of the professionals with whom I interact are doing better this year than last, and another 20% might be doing about the same. But somewhere between two-thirds and three-quarters and doing worse, and expectedly so. That's nothing of which to be ashamed. If you're doing worse in a boom economy the odds are such that you have a problem with your business; but if you're doing poorly in a down economy, that's not exactly a commentary on your skills or talents.

    Most importantly, however, when people lie to others they begin to kid themselves, as well. (Those famous writers periodically proved to have plagiarized others' materials really do think the work is theirs because they've been using the questionable passages for so long. I've seen speakers who claim a story or example to be theirs�and even threaten legal action to protect it�because they've lied about its origin for so long they've actually convinced themselves that they didn't appropriate it from someone else!) Thus, at exactly that juncture where a support system and commiseration are needed, there is no such infrastructure because the individual can't admit to the need.

    I think a balanced perspective enables us to reach out for help and to admit the need for assistance, be it advice, time, counsel, or finances. This is antithetical to weakness�the act of admitting to a need is an inherent act of strength, signifying an understanding of one's situation and a recognition of likely remedial resources.

    Failure is a sign of freedom. Anyone who claims never to have failed has either never tried anything daring; has failed and simply doesn't realize it; or is lying. But self-deception is a sign of slavery, and of subordination of improvement to ego.

    I'm much more responsive when someone honestly comes to me for help rather than disingenuously approaching me to boast of victories. The reason is that I know it's only a matter of time before I'm going to need help, also.

    We all will. And that's no lie.

  4. The Readers Write

    Thank you for another informative and worthwhile edition. A small point I wish to make as a response to your advice:

    You said, "At the moment, California wines are terribly overpriced, French wines are at bargain levels, and the latter travel quite well. That is especially true of white wines." This may be true, but the same may also be said for Australian Wines. At the present time they are great value (virtually half-price) because of the current exchange rate between the USD and the AUD. Try some!

    --Kerry King PNA - Managing Partner
    Prudent Accountants