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The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: February 2004

Balancing Act® is in three sections this month:

  1. Techniques for balance
  2. The Human Condition: Bullies
  3. Musings

  1. Techniques for balance

    • Take a day or a weekend, go to a nearby hotel, order room service, have breakfast in bed, and use the spa.
    • Choose three minor annoyances in your life and change them. (My phone cord kept tangling, so I changed it. Makes me feel better every time the phone rings.)
    • If you travel by air, choose a "security outfit": Shoes without metal, belt without metal, briefcase from which your laptop readily can be extracted and replaced, photo ID in a convenient place, pouch or purse into which all change can be emptied.
    • If you're going to a play, opera, ballet, or symphony performance, read about the production, the originators, and the origins before you go. (This also applies to art exhibits.)
    • If you're uncertain about tipping someone who's provided good service, tip them. If it's inappropriate, they'll tell you. If it is appropriate, they'll thank you.
    • Think about using your cell phone as an "outward-bound-only" communications device. Don't leave it on and don't accept being constantly available to whomever chooses to call. You won't miss a thing, and you'll be less hassled, less harried, and less of a pain to everyone around you.
    • If you want to appear more confident and self-assured, then stop worrying about failure. Very few conditions and decisions represent fatal outcomes or desperate setbacks. If you stop focusing on failure, you begin supporting success.
    • If you want to stand out in a crowd, control a meeting, and/or influence others, don't offer your opinion or viewpoint too early. Listen to others, allow everyone else to speak at least once, and then offer your view supported by facts and summarizing what others have said. Options: Stand up when you speak, and draw a graph or other visual aid to highlight your points.
    • When your day has a bad start--car wouldn't kick over, torn article of clothing, bad news about a business deal, etc.--don't simply keep going. Take a break, change your routine, take some time for yourself, and "begin" the day again.
    • When you've stuck your foot in your mouth, don't try to dance. You're only on one foot as it is. Admit the blunder, apologize and move on. Otherwise, you'll be worried about it far too long and its effects will liner. They make dental floss, but not toe floss.

  2. The Human Condition: Bullies

    We've all met them. From the schoolyard to the executive suite, from physical abuse to verbal torment, the bullies try to win through intimidation. From what I've seen and read, there is no gender differential--women are as likely to be bullies as are men.

    Psychological studies have shown that most bullies are from dysfunctional or abusive homes where they were effectively disempowered. This feeling of powerlessness persists through maturity, and the bully tries to alleviate it by forcing others to feel similarly powerless.

    Bullies may use manipulation (it's me and you against "them"), threat (you'll never get that promotion), omission (you're not informed of events you should attend), rumor, charm, harassment, insult, and an assortment of other behaviors. It's a much more common dynamic than usually believed, and is particularly insidious in many corporate settings. I've observed people who have been psychologically tortured by bullies who are superiors and even colleagues at work, and family members at home.

    How do we deal with people who are trying to overcome their own demons by figuratively beating us up?

    First, make allies and cite actual behavior. Find people in your family, civic group, social circle, or business environment who have the power to influence or even control the bully's behavior, and acquaint them about what's happening using factual examples and observed behavior. They, themselves, may not be victims, so they won't automatically assume you're right. Provide proof. Don't become isolated or allow it be a personal vendetta or battle.

    Don't shrink or disappear. As hard as it may seem, stand your ground and use firm posture. Keep your voice controlled and speak clearly. Maintain eye contact. Don't resort to nervous habits, such as playing with your hair or jiggling change in your pocket.

    Be heard. Bullies will often use volume or a rapid succession of purported "facts" to prevent others from being heard. Make your points. Don't stop talking. Discriminate between fact and opinion. Do not allow interruptions. State that unless both sides are heard, then there is no debate. Remember that it is more powerful to be standing than sitting when you debate.

    Ironically, fighting back or trying to play the same game doesn't work. When you abandon your native behaviors and match your style to the bully's, then you've already lost because you've demonstrated that you are worried or even desperate. This just feeds the bully's intent to deprive your of power. Retaining your usual demeanor and tone demonstrates that you are still in control and have not lost any power.

    Similarly, don't give in. Bullies don't go away. If they think they're depriving you of power they will push to see how far and how permanent they can make the condition. You are empowering them by disempowering yourself.

    We are all intimidated at time, ranging from mild discomfort to outright fright. But that's different from having to deal with someone who is intent on-- in fact, NEEDS to--continually intimidate and threaten you.

    It was one thing to surrender the playground to the tough guy who took over our games. We could always go down the block. But it's another to surrender our lives and futures to the harasser and intimidator who prevents us from reaching our potential. Only you can surrender your own power. No one can unilaterally take it from you.

  3. Musings

    I always believed my calling was to be a Doge, ever since I saw the Doge's Palace in Venice. There are problems with that, of course, though the position is vacant. The Palace is drafty and poorly lighted, and the entire shebang is run by the government. As Lincoln Steffens once observed, "If we had had good kings, we'd all still be monarchists."

    My fallback position is to become a pundit. Pundits, as you probably know, quack, waddle, and paddle like ducks, but deny they are ducks. (Even if ducks could talk, I doubt they would try to convince us they're eagles, but who knows?) Pundits are those rare folk whose responsibilities bear no accountabilities. That's right, their occupation has no performance evaluation because they are never held accountable for poor performance.

    Even ignoring the more egregious ones, such as the New York newspaper with a front page, banner headline declaring Dewey the winner when Truman was in fact elected President, we are surrounded by people making serious money prognosticating on politics, sports, entertainment, societal trends, and every other thing which can be guessed at with no credentials whatsoever.

    Remember when computers were going to create the "paperless office" and the "checkless" society? I don't know about you, but a large part of my Staples bill represents paper and the people printing checks have had a succession of banner years. Nothing adverse happens to the commentators who incorrectly choose sports outcomes (I'm not talking about bookies, who at least are honest about what they do) or financial analysts who consistently predict the wrong trends for the economy. (Or who utter such deep evaluations as, "People are waiting to see if the employment numbers are real and the economy proves sincere." Do you know what that means? I don't.)

    Shouldn't there be a weekly television show called, "Reality Pundits" or "America's (fill in the appropriate country) Most Wanted Pundits"? Perhaps "Funniest Pundit Home Videos" would be the right venue. My thinking is that every week, before they get a chance to cover their tracks and sweep bad predictions under the rug, we expose the sorry state of punditry by exposing the track record. I agree that it would have to be in Prime Time, after the youngsters have gone to bed.

    I am utterly convinced that most financial analysts have no idea what the economy--or even a given stock--is going to do tomorrow or next month, and that they have no valid means for making their determinations. Even those temporarily successful would fail to impress over the long-term. I think that most art critics haven't a clue about any objective assessment, and merely vote their gut, or their bias, or their sense of humor, not unlike Olympic figure skating judges. Occasionally, some pundits get it right. Nesbitt was correct about "high tech, high touch" 25 years ago, but I've found that if I place the stock quotes flat on the floor, my dog, Koufax, will sometimes put his paw on what I think is a very attractive issue. That doesn't mean he's ready to work for Charles Schwab in any capacity other than security, where at least he knows an intruder when he smells one.

    Lacking these accountability trials for pundits, the job is really starting to appeal to me. The Doge had no higher power to which to report, and acted pretty much on whim. As long as they were fed and protected, the Venetians didn't seem to mind.

    So here's my next prediction: Some of you will like this column, and some of you won't. I'm absolutely certain of it. And you can hold me to it.