Balancing Act: The Newsletter (No. 181, September 2014 )
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I find myself dealing with many people�as a coach or confidante�who sacrifice their well being because they are afraid of being disliked or unpopular. Their self-esteem is such that they won't risk ruffling the feathers of a parakeet, an eagle�or of a dodo.
One stereotypical scenario is the solo practitioner who won't even ask a friend for a referral to an important third party, a potential customer. In other cases, a secretary or assistant is sufficient for a delay. I've seen people wait months because they don't want to "inconvenience" or push anyone to take (what I would describe as) expectable professional action. Instead, they bide their time.
And grow old.
People attend events they'd rather not, eat food they detest, and tolerate conditions others wouldn�t because they don't want to "upset" a friend, or host, or stranger. They wonder why the situations keep repeating, which is not really a mystery, since their actions (or lack of actions) enable the very behavior that bedevils them.
We help others most, I'd think, through candor. I don't mean caustic feedback, but honest communication which describes why something shouldn't be delayed, is unpleasant, or is inappropriate. (We met someone here in Nantucket who agreed to everyone that his house could be visited by extended families, and it was wall-to-wall sleeping bags. He had to go out on the beach alone to get some piece, leaving his very expensive rental in the hands of the invaders. But, he's the one who opened the gates.)
I hear, "That would put her in an awkward position," or "He just needs more time," or "What difference does it make if we agree to do what they ask?" I'm not suggesting that we demand to always have our way, not that we should never compromise.
But you can't take your likeability index to the bank to pay the mortgage, nor can you tell the electric company that your payment should be ready in the next three months.
The biggest favor we can pay people is to be honest, open, and represent or own interests in addition to listening to theirs. Otherwise, you may have a strong wind, but you have no rudder.
The human condition: Validation
In the speaking profession, one sees a great many speakers perform metaphoric back flips on stage in order to get the highest ratings on the evaluation sheets (smile sheets) and/or the standing ovation (no matter how tepid0 at the conclusion. You may think this is merely ego or misplaced emphasis, but it's something else: a need for validation.
When we need others to validate us (prove truth, validity, accuracy, and so forth) we intentionally or unintentionally try to manipulate them. Like German Shepherds, we try to nudge and direct people toward what we perceive to be validation�the high rating, the ovation.
In business, we hear people rapidly jump on others' bandwagons to show they are early supports. Many senior people are surrounded by "yes men" who show unqualified support, no matter how daffy or loony the project may be. We manipulate our spouses, colleagues, children and others to help validate us. Sometimes we bribe them, sometimes we set up situations where we can "shine," sometimes we actually try to prompt the applause. (Did you ever watch Jay Leno start the applause after a joke by clapping his own hands? I was always shocked that such a star never lost the habit.)
There are people who can't offer a suggestion or make a comment without citing two Greek philosophers, a Stanford medical study, three government reports, and a psychic. They feel their expertise isn't sufficient by itself, so they need other sources to help in their validation. They come armed with backup support!
The resolution here, obviously, is to be comfortable validating ourselves. I've never needed an audience to tell me whether I'm effective, and often I'm hired specifically to provoke and incite a group (I know that's hard to believe, but there you have it). We have to be comfortable in our own skin, to know who we are, to recognize poor, average, good, and great and to be comfortable with having done our best. We should expect others to accept our opinion based on past relationships, the wisdom of the argument, and/or civility.
I think it was Emerson who said, "Your behaviors are so loud, I can't hear you." I'm impressed by who you are and how you comport yourself, not by a pile of smile sheets. In fact, whenever I see ratings consistently at the top, I know that person was simply pandering to the audience.
Pandering is not valid.
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During the summer, there's always a line at the pool store on a Sunday to have water tested. I couldn�t avoid it, so I drove to the store early, arriving 15 minutes before its 9 am opening time. I tried to occupy myself, listened to music, then read all the signs in the window. As I came to the door, there was a notice of operating hours, which begin at 8 am on Sunday.
I went inside and got on line.
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