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The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: May 2005

Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:

  1. Techniques for balance
  2. The Human Condition: The Non-Listeners
  3. Musings
  4. ORTIYKMWOYBNT-O Department

  1. Techniques for balance
      This month: For those times when you are legitimately angry (a promise not kept, a dangerous behavior, a stubborn pet, etc.).

    • Immediately apply perspective. Is this life-threatening or career-ending? If it isn't of that magnitude, then put the incident in the proper light.
    • Act rapidly only if you can prevent further harm. If the behavior is already past, then reflect on what action you should take.
    • Ask for insights. Go to a few people you trust who you know will provide candid feedback, and see if there is a commonality or pattern to their advice.
    • Don't beat yourself up. You're probably not to blame and, even if you could have prevented the problem, it no longer matters. Deal with the present and future, not the past.
    • Don't generalize a specific. Failure to meet a commitment does not equate to difficulty dealing with women, and a poorly chosen word doesn't mean that someone else is out to destroy your career. Separate isolated incidents from repetitive patterns of behavior.
    • Act logically, not emotionally. Cool down. Leave your ego out of the decision making process. Take some time. Disagreements are usually about objective differences, but feuds comprise blind hatred caused by emotions run amok.
    • Learn to apologize, accept apologies, and get over it, especially within the family. A thrice-divorced man once asked how my wife and I could have avoided arguing through 30+ years of marriage. His assumption was that, once you argue, things are never the same, which might just explain his personal divorce rate.
    • Create and/or identify your anger relief outlets. They may include walking the dog, reading some favorite literature, going to the movies, or working on a hobby. The outlet will channel energy and calm you.
      (Not recommended: driving, performing surgery, contact sports, or running heavy equipment.)
    • Look for a positive. Can you be seen as a peace-keeper or a problem solver? Are you now able to raise an issue that heretofore was off-limits? Can you alleviate some stress? There usually is some silver lining.
    • Learn something. How can you avoid being in the same position of causing anger and pain? What's the gift you've been given in terms of preventing this from happening to you or someone else again?

  2. The Human Condition: The Non-Listeners

    I've always marveled at how hearing-impaired people listen so well. Whether reading lips or signing, they pay close attention. I remember kidding with such a woman once who was in the front row of my audience, using a signer seated below me. I would speed up and slow down, causing the signer to go crazy. She thought it was a hoot, and didn't miss a nuance.

    Why is it then, that so many people with perfect hearing don't listen? I have to admit, I've had it with people cutting off my sentences, anticipating my next presumed thought, and generally barging into my communications as though they had a search warrant to knock the door down and move in. It's presumptuous, obnoxious, and almost always inaccurate.

    I've actually had people ask me for advice, and then proceed to start talking again before I've had the chance to finish my first sentence. These are the people who claim you never gave them instructions or directions, but in actuality were so busy reflecting on the timbre of their own voice that they ignored everything you said. (And these are the selfsame people who claim that you never sent an attachment or other document, because they simply ignored it or lost it. One woman on my teleconferences gets in touch with me prior to every single one, as sure as the tide comes in early or the dog chases a squirrel late, and informs me that she has not received the instructions.)

    One time I said to a rambling person, who was charging full throttle through our conversation, "Isn't that a meteor on the horizon?" About two minutes later he said, "Did you say something before?"

    Maybe that explains the Great Extinction of the late Cretaceous Period. No one was listening.

    There's a new trick among customer service people on the phone these days. If someone's upset (Why else would they call, to chat about the latest John Irvingnovel?) they say, "Sorry, I can't talk to you if you're going to take that tone," and they have no compunction about interrupting you to repeat robotic-like instructions. It's as though they should be outraged that you've called them. They are among the great non-listeners, despite the fact that they are paid precisely to, er, listen.

    A man complained to me that he was getting the run-around from a prospect. I immediately intuited that he was not dealing with a buyer, which he admitted. "Didn't I tell you," I asked, "that all bets were off with my advice if you weren't dealing with a buyer?" "Oh," he mumbled, "I didn't think you meant every single time�."

    I now tell people, "I haven't finished," and "You're interrupting me," and, my favorite, "Have you begun speaking because you know what I'm about to say? If so, can you let me know what it is?" I've had it with people with such poor listening skills, socialization, and common courtesy that they think they can ignore anyone who isn't, well, them.

    Too bad they can't be forced to read lips. But then again, they aren't hearing-impaired. They are listening-impaired, and there may be no treatment or help for that dire human condition.

  3. Musings

    Years ago, I was hired by Mercedes to help improve service in local dealerships. The arrogance of the past was being replaced by a newreality: Lexus was eating Mercedes' lunch at the point of sale. Although taken by surprise, the company was eager to respond.

    My advice was to find the best Mercedes dealerships and first establish their own best practices within the network. At the time, one of the most highly rated dealerships was Viti Mercedes in, of all places, Rhode Island, about 45 minutes from my house (and where I had purchased a car a year earlier, despite a much closer dealer).

    When I met with the owner, Nick Viti, I was expecting to hear about his home pick-up and delivery system, or his immaculate service area, or his periodic open houses for customers. But what he said floored me: "We're good because of our response to problems," he told me. "You can't avoid problems in this business, so the key is how you react. In fact, you can turn them into opportunity. No one ever went home raving because the hotel delivered the room service order on time. But they do rave when the order was late, and the hotel apologized, picked up the tab, and upgraded the room for the next visit." Long before "The Tipping Point," Nick was very sensitive to positive word-of-mouth and referrals.

    I learned a great deal that day (consultants are in the learning business, and I'm constantly surprised at how stupid I was two weeks ago). Life is about success, not unobtainable perfection, and our response to problems, setbacks, and vicissitudes is the key to success.

    The other night, my wife and I were rocked out of our seats and drenched when a server tumbled our second round of drinks on us during dinner. She apologized profusely, the staff moved us to another table, and order was restored. We were both tolerant and polite. Mistakes happen. We finished our dinner damply.

    However, when the manager appeared with the bill and explained how he was generously taking $25 off for the inconvenience, I began to lose some of my tolerance. The server had made an honest mistake, but the manager had made a consciously bad choice. Whether we're good customers or first-timers, the restaurant has to pick up that tab and then invite us to the bar for a drink (or to a microwave to dry out). It's one thing to make an unfortunate error, it's another to reflect on what's happened and make a poor choice. (If an athlete makes periodic errors on certain plays, he or she is certainly not doing it on purpose. But if the manager or coach leaves that athlete in the game at sensitive times when an error could spell disaster, then the manager is the one at fault.)

    The best leaders I've ever met have always maintained that when they see someone who is not performing well they head right for that person's superior, because it's at that level where the fault resides. Errors in performance, especially in the maelstrom of a tough job, are bound to occur. Errors of decision making, after reflection and weighing of facts, should be far rarer creatures. Nick Viti turns inadvertent errors into advertent opportunities.

    Fouche, on Napolean's murder of the Duke of Engheim, observed, "Cest plus qu'un crime; c'est une faute." (It's worse than a crime; it's a blunder.)

    I don't mind it when you spill something on my clothes, just don't blunder all over me.

  4. ORTIYKMWOYBNT-O Department


    (Note: A reader wrote me a polite letter opposed to the title of this section, saying that I shouldn't apologize for my life style, people assume that I've eaten in a Sizzler, and I clearly lack confidence. My response was that I thought the title was cute, I actually had never eaten in a Sizzler having been a Big Mac kind of guy, and his psychological analysis suggested that he might want to apply to get his college tuition back for any psychology courses he passed.)

    My wife met me at the airport, as I returned from that rare business trip requiring a suit and tie. She had dressed accordingly, since we were heading out to dinner. She had been running errands, so she had driven the truck, which meant that our Shepherd/Husky, Trotsky, and his companion terrier, Phoebe, were riding along.

    I had the distant, vague sense of something amiss, but I hit the gas so as not to be late for our dinner reservation, and was anxious to tell my wife about my highly successful trip. She, in turn, had some questions about a board on which she serves.

    We parked outside one of our favorite restaurants and were greeted by the staff as we entered. I noted a bad odor as soon as we were in the door, and debated as to whether to tell the owner. As we were seated at our usual table, my wife and I looked at each other, realizing that the odor was worse at the table.

    Then we understood perfectly, in a sickening moment of simultaneous comprehension: The dogs had somehow been skunked before they got into the truck, and now my wife and I smelled like Pepe le Pew.

    The staff tried to be polite and pretended not to notice. Finally, the owner, who was also the chef, came out and told us that his staff thought a skunk had sprayed his front door and wanted to know if we had smelled anything.

    Then he paused a beat as he stared at us, neither of us attempting eye contact.

    He departed, and when he returned he had a bowl of basil over a burner usually used to warm garlic. He told us that the heated basil would cover any scent, and that his servers were drawing straws to see who would take care of us. This episode was constantly relived until, at long last, he sold the restaurant.