Balancing Act: The Newsletter (No. 169, September 2013 )
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I'm writing this in the Madaket section of Nantucket Island, off the Massachusetts coast, in the study of a house about 50 yards from the beach. The long grass is swaying in the wind, the gulls are soaring without moving their wings, and the sun at my back brings the light and hope of a new day.
I'm staring at the deceptively clear horizontal boundary of sea and sky. I suppose that if I were to follow my gaze I'd wind up in Portugal or Spain. No matter what boat I was given, I couldn't make that journey, knowing nothing of seamanship or navigation. Yet nearly six centuries ago, men made the trip from Europe to these coasts, not only uncertain of what to expect, but having learned others tell them of a flat earth, sea serpents, and unknown dangers.
As if rickety wooden ships in 20-foot waves with limited supplies traveling for months wasn't dangerous in and of itself.
My father was in the first parachute regiment ever formed in the U.S., and jumped without a reserve chute into enemy guns in New Guinea. Many people in his unit never returned. He told me someone had to do it, and it seemed like a good idea at the time! He's 97 today, living independently.
I mention these seemingly disparate facts because no one is asking you to sail into uncharted waters on flimsy vessels, and no one is shooting at you. You may face, over your days, peer pressure, your own fears, ego needs, unfamiliarity, and even discomfort. But no one is trying to kill you.
There are no sea serpents under the surface of your daily life.
What's stopping you from trying new ventures, overcoming fears, daring to be different?
That unalterable horizon I'm watching right now will appear exactly the same tomorrow, and the day after that. But I won't, because I'm different each day in ways of my own choosing. After all, I just wrote this.
And now, you've just read it.
The human condition: Motives
I observed a man in church the other day kneeling while staring at his iPhone. My first thought was, "What's so important?" But then I realized, he was undoubtedly reading a prayer on the screen. (I was correct.) Later, at breakfast, I very politely asked a woman standing near me at the counter where were seated to move a few inches, since her hair was very close to my food! She gave me a dirty look and explained she was there only because she was trying to stay out of the waitresses' way.
I was disappointed that I didn't assume a more positive motive at first glance for that man, and I'm discouraged that so many people take even polite requests as personal affronts.
Recently, I posted on my AlansForums.com, "Why did the chicken cross the road?" (You'll see my eventual answer at the bottom of this column.) There were scores of responses, from humorous to philosophical, from cynical to supportive. I was taught in my first consulting firm to never jump inside a person's head and assume you know what's going on. Even the psychologists aren't all that good at it, and lay people are simply guessing, often with poor frames of reference themselves.
My mantra to the consultants I coach globally is to never start by assuming the other person is damaged. Assume they are healthy and searching for appropriate answers and actions. Similarly, don't assume someone else's motives are suspect. Of all places, I should be giving someone the benefit of the doubt in church! And a simple request to mover a few inches shouldn't be interpreted as an unwarranted display of force or power.
When you're dealing with a relative, prospect, colleague, superior, subordinate, friend, merchant—whomever—don't assume skeptical motives or, worse, evil intent. You're free to believe the worst once you have evidence, such as being lied to or undermined or fooled.
A man once approached me to coach him but refused to tell me the nature of his intellectual property because he was afraid I'd steal it. My motives were immediately suspect to him. I of course turned him down, and I've never heard of him again.
I suspect no one else has, either.
Once again: Why did the chicken cross the road?
Answer: Who are we to question the chicken's motives?
New Workshop: KEEPING YOUR MONEY
THE GAME CHANGER FOR MANY OF YOU:
I read a hotel contract and saw that it had the wrong number of rooms and times. I put in an exasperated call to the sales manager, and left a message that the details had to be changed, and this had to be done immediately.
He sent me an email telling me he was having the contract rewritten, but that he had followed the terms in my earlier conversation with him, and thought he was following my specifications.
I was about to blast him when I looked at his signature file and realized I was making my demands of a hotel sales manager in Florida for an October program, but that the specifications I was using were for a New York hotel in September—where, I found, they had it exactly right.
I left a message for the Florida guy that what he sent me was fine and made more sense than what I had wanted changed. I then forwarded my phone.
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