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The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: July 2007

Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:

  1. Techniques for Balance
  2. The Human Condition: Second-sourcing
  3. Musings
  4. ORTIYKMWOYBNT-O Department

  1. Techniques for Balance

    • Understand that there are minor annoyances, temporary setbacks, major obstacles, and outright calamities. Don't automatically escalate your impediments. Downgrade them.

    • This is an increasingly casual society, though some businesses are beginning to revert to more rigid dress codes. We have a wide variety of quality, casual clothing. There are few things as pathetic as someone dressed in attire too young for them.

    • BOTH red and white wine glasses are held by the stem. Only a brandy snifter is held in the palm.

    • Barring making a tight connection, exactly what does rushing to your feet as the plane stops at the gate gain for you?

    • The wireless cards for a lap top, which enable email and web surfing virtually anywhere, are huge productivity enhancers. My Verizon USB gizmo works great with my Mac.

    • If you want to understand marketing, branding, positioning, and the creation of consumer excitement, just think about Apple's launch of the IPhone. (Let alone the appreciation of the stock price!)

    • I received some Barnes & Noble gift cards, which motivated me to browse the aisles, and I picked up a couple of outstanding books I never would have otherwise found on Amazon or in the newspaper reviews. I remember when I would do that regularly. Maybe we should think about doing it again?

    • I saw a bizarre letter to the editor recently from a parent claiming that summer reading lists for her daughter were silly. After all, the kid didn't want to read the books, and shouldn't she have the benefit of a leisurely summer without "adult reading"? By all means. Let's keep lowering the standards until no one knows anything. It's called "blissful ignorance."

    • I've found that people have adjusted just fine at airports to low-volume liquids, taking off their shoes, removing metal objects, showing their ID, etc., etc. So why is it so difficult to merge in traffic or follow directions in assembling something? Perhaps because if we don't comply at the airport, we just don't travel?

    • A distinctive ring on your cell phone DOES make a difference when you're in a crowd.

  2. The Human Condition: Second-sourcing

    For years I heard from innumerable speakers that our words are only 7% of our influence from the stage, and our gestures and non-verbal behaviors are over 90%. It was accepted as gospel in the speaking profession, hence, we all had to learn about hand gestures, eye contact, crying-on-demand, dramatic pauses, and all kinds of emotionally manipulative hogwash.

    Virtually none of the speakers claiming these statistics had a clue as to their origin. They were all "second-sourcing": using someone else's reference. I finally tracked down the second source and asked him who the first source was for his claims.

    He cited a social psychologist by the name of Albert Mehrabian. The plot thickens. I had read some of Mehrabian's work while studying for my Ph.D. and had never seen reference to influence from the stage, so I dug out my old books and guess what I found? Dr. Mehrbian's work concerned people in social settings--how they reacted to non-verbal behavior when others broke in line or asked a favor. That's it, nothing about professional speaking.

    Our second-sourcer had simply read him wrong, or more probably, never read him at all and simply made some poorly-founded assumptions from a title or two. (My wife is fond of saying about some speakers and me, "He quotes Nitsche, but you've READ Nitsche.")

    I find this all the time. My son once had a very mistaken impression of the Middle East immediately after World War II. "Where did you learn that?" I asked, "because the facts are wrong." "Oh, several of my friends were explaining it to the rest of us," he told me. I gave him a couple of history books and that was that.

    We all scoff at gossip (though we all engage in it) yet ill-founded bases for our beliefs and pronouncements are no better than gossip. We owe it to ourselves�and our clients, friends, families, acquaintances�to be better informed. The speaker's volume isn't a substitute for verisimilitude. It's often a subterfuge for uncertainty.

    Old rubrics and flawed conventional wisdom are one thing: don't go swimming for an hour after eating (we used to wait religiously for that final minute); cats always land on their feet; bumblebees ought not to be able to fly by the laws of aerodynamics. All false, all harmless.

    But advising others and even planning our lives on the basis of secondary and tertiary sources is outright dangerous. In the last month alone I've heard, publicly, the wrong explanation for the validity of psychological testing; incorrect explanation about the rise and fall of the Ottoman Empire; and the mistaken belief that the U.S. gained Texas from Mexico through force of arms (Texas was an independent republic).

    If someone tells you to go see a move because they liked it or avoid a restaurant because the service was bad, and you trust them, take their counsel under consideration. But if that same person tells you that they saw on the Internet that large screen televisions tend to blow up after 100 hours of viewing, I wouldn't be in a hurry to trash the plasma playthings.

    Trust me, I'm your primary source on the dangers of second-sourcing. After all, you can't see my non-verbal behavior now, can you?

  3. Musings

    I've done about 50 free appearances for various professional speaking and consulting chapters all over the country (and the world). I think it's part of the "payback" we should engage in when successful and blessed in our careers.

    Recently, I informed a program chair at one such chapter that an appearance later this year may be imperiled because a unique business opportunity that same week might eventuate, and it would be worth over a quarter million dollars. I apologized for any inconvenience (the date was seven months distant) but felt sure she could appreciate what this meant to my family, loved ones, and charities which I support.

    She could not, and after I had to follow up because she didn't respond, she informed me that I clearly did not appreciate the meaning of "commitment," and that she was too disappointed and shaken to respond. She whined that she and the chapter would now "look bad" because they had already noted my appearance in their materials.

    Shift gears to today. I'm writing this on a United flight (heading to another free chapter appearance!) and prior to takeoff I spilled coffee on the seat of the man next to me. I apologized profusely and offered to switch seats. "No problem," he told me, "I'll just put this blanket over the seat. No harm done." And that was that. He was eupeptic where the woman was dyspeptic.

    What is the difference between these two people, one of whom had over half a year to adjust, if even necessary, and for whom this isn't personal; and the other, who was immediately and personally discomfited but quickly adjusted with no hard feelings?

    I'll tell you what it is: The difference between feeling that you have "claims" upon life and others, or feeling that you roll with the punches, knowing life can occasionally slap you upside the head.

    It is a myth that people "don't like" change, or are reluctant to change. We change every day, adapting to traffic jams, unexpected family demands, cable outages, misunderstandings, and all sorts of technological terpsichore. Without such adaptation, we'd starve, drown, and be run over.

    However, many of us change within the belief that we're meeting and overcoming challenges, which make us stronger and more resilient. Some others, though, see this as some kind of cosmic revenge, an unfair poker hand, a short straw in life's choosing of sides.

    I was clumsy in spilling coffee, and my seatmate no doubt remembered that he has done the same thing, it was hardly fatal, and there was a quick remedy. He needed neither vengeance nor vindication. The chapter programmer felt personally cheated, one of her "claims" abrogated, privately undercut by my lack of consideration for her entitlements.

    We have a choice as to which guiding philosophy we choose to utilize within our value system. You can take seven minutes to adjust or seven months to stew. It's up to you.

    That's just my opinion. Don't take it personally.


    My wife and I went to a very popular Polynesian restaurant that did not take reservations. We checked our coats, took a ticket for our place on the seating list, and repaired to the bar for a Mai Tai. My number was 93, and I noticed that it was taking far longer than usual. But at least I wasn't the fool holding number 48, who wasn't around when they kept calling that number. I couldn't wait to see his face when he returned from wherever he went, having missed his place in line.

    Finally, after more than an hour, they called 93. When we arrived at the manager's station, he said he had just seated number 93. Angrily, I showed him my ticket, telling him that someone had stolen our place.

    "That is your coat check ticket," he pointed out. I reached into my pocket desperately searching and found, you guessed it, seating ticket number 48.

    We became number 93.5, and he seated us out of pity, as the super-polite Asian hostesses kept their eyes averted.

    "Who knows what coats we'll get," muttered my wife as we made our way to the table.