Ask Questions

Feb 5, 2017.

I wrote last, that to “take in all the ‘noise'” in the market: first pause to reflect and then read widely.  I would now add: “ask questions.”

Almost no one puts the full story on the table at the first sitting. Asking questions understanding 2draws out more of the story and allows a fuller reflection (pause) on the person’s point of view.

If we put the 3 together: pause, ask questions, and read widely = P.A.R. To stay on PAR follow throughwith the “course” of life or even the “course” of a conversation use the 3 skills.

Status Quo or the “Rut we are in”

October 24, 2015 (Riyadh) –

            In the previous few blogs I wrote on “fear” driven behavior, the paradox of fear driven behavior, and how at times others want to bludgeon opponents due to the fears they have about their opponents.

I wonder how many “fears” are held in place by one’s comfort zone? As the clique goes, “I would rather deal with the devil in know then take up something unknown.” Children of alcoholics who are sometimes abused and mistreated turn right around and marry alcoholics and are at times abused and mistreated once again. Why would someone go into such a tenuous marriage already knowing the possible consequences? Maybe because an abusive relationship is the “devil they know” and they would rather not flee to the unknown.

Another side of the story is the “fear of the unknown.” From my experience I am never afraid of the unknown per se. What I am afraid of is the mental stories from my past that I put in the unknown. The day before one attends their birthday celebration, though the specifics are not known, one is not afraid of the ensuing party. Experience has told you that it will be a good event. When one has some premonition of an upcoming event that things will not go well, we fill the “unknown” with all sorts of bad thoughts. Where did those thoughts come from? While the specifics of what is coming are unknown, the premonition of what is generally coming is bad. One starts filling the unknown with all sorts of “bad” things that one freezingthinks one deserves based on whatever their life’s story has told them.

The story of Watson as CO of IBM is illustrative. An employee made a $1 million dollar error back when $1 million meant a lot to the business. The employee walked into Watson’s office, an unknown, with his resignation in hand. The employee had a premonition based on the employee’s own history that such an event resulted in a dismissal.understanding 2 He had no idea what Watson would due but the employees “bad thoughts” were running wild. The employee goes into Watson’s office and hands him the resignation form. Watson’s response could be an entire blog in itself. Watson said, “I have just paid $1 million in training you. Why would I fire you? Now get back to work!”

How many times has your fear of the unknown with subsequent bad thinking proven to be baseless other than it was fed by your history and your sense of blameworthiness? Or worse still, you go into the unknown argument 2with such trepidation that those fears in and of themselves precipitate a bad outcome. An outcome that was not planned but happened because of your own fear driven hallucination of what was about to happen.

One aspect of Toastmasters is helping people with their public presentation skills. Going up in front of people is a huge unknown for many. As the story goes, for many there is such trepidation of presenting up front that if they had to chose between giving the eulogy at a funeral or being the person dead in the box they would chose the person dead in the box every time. What are many afraid of: exposure and subsequent rejection? Why do they think they will be rejected? To some extent that is what their history has told them about themselves. Anyway they go to the front of the room, and what do they do but all sorts of things that in any other environment would insure rejection. Their fears alone started precipitating behaviors in themselves that in any less of an environment would have insured rejection.

One thought that I have found that helps me deal with the unknown is being “OK” in my own skin. I do lots of public presentations; lots of opportunity to have trepidations before an event, in fact several every month. I do my preparations, focus on the gifts I am giving and move forward. Yes, I have been rejected but then I move on.  guy one I have not rejected David.

Here is an extract from Shakespeare which is germane to this blog:

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark

Act 3 Scene 1

To be or not to be…… that is the question

Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune

Or take arms against a sea of troubles

And by opposing them, to sleep….. to die…..

But that dread of something after death

The undiscovered country, from whose bourn

No traveler returns, puzzles the will

And makes us rather bear those ills we have

Than fly to others we know not of


That conscience does make cowards of us all

And thus the native hue of resolution

Is sickled over with the pale cast of thought

And enterprises of great pith and moment

With this regard, their currents turn awry

And lose the name of ACTION


March 15, 2014 (Washington, D.C.)

            How many of you are frustrated by low or total lack of responsiveness from almost any type of communications: VM, text, email, In Mail, etc? I ask this question because of the needs that a “new employee” has as noted in my March 8th blog.

When I am working with clients one question I ask often, “How many of you regularly experience talking with someone on the phone who you can tell is not really engaged in the conversation?” Wow, nearly everyone’s hand goes up. Getting a response of value must certainly start with being totally engaged the message sent. I am sure there are very “agile listeners” out there that can manage two simultaneous conversations, maybe. To check this reality, I ask another question, “As you observe people walking along talking on their phone, or as you walk along talking on your phone, what happens when you get to a truly serious part of the conversation?” They all say the same thing: they stop walking. Maybe the dual tasking skills have some serious limitations. From the anecdotal response I get, one could surmise that the conversation on the phone is not super important, since they are still walking. For a new employee this might prove to be fatal. They might get a “half baked” response or even a wrong response to the question asked since the other person is not totally there. Not good.

Another angle I take on “responsiveness” is from this question, “Do you experience some people who will not respond to your first email unless you follow up with a phone call or send a second email. For a new person this can also cause serious problems: “did I send the message to the wrong person?” “Should I bother that person or my boss to find out the right action to do?” Time gets wasted, the new person can become frustrated, or errors can happen.

In short, lack of or poor responsiveness can cause a new employee to move “sideways” in their growth and development rather than forward. This is not good for anyone nor for the organization.

Check yourself: am I engaged and responsive when people reach out to me? Am I part of the communications problem or part of the solution?


“How to connect with others?”

July 25, 2013 (San Diego

            From my vantage point there is no particular formula for connecting with others, other than to connect with self first: Who am I being? What am I up to? When I am obsessed by these two questions or other related questions I am more worried about how I appear when around others. The focal point of my thinking is “me”. As such I am minimizing my ability to connect with others.

How can I become more comfortable with “me”? Be totally OK with “me” so I can aim my mental energy towards engaging with others. I will propose two things that have made a difference for me.

guy one

  1. Have a mission statement. See my April 1, 2010 and November 8, 2009 blogs. A mission statement helps me be clear about who I am and what I am doing. Helps me be a person of integrity by making my “yes” mean “yes”. A “yes” that is not at risk of negation by a subsequent more appealing opportunity. My mission statement also helps me sort out “good”, “better”, and “best” for me. This helps me say “no” with greater clarity and less worry: “will I miss out on something?”
  2. When connecting I am in a gift giving mentality rather than a “what is in it for me” mentality. I become a giver rather than a taker. A guru of time gone by said, “Help enough people get what they want and you will get what you want.”

In summary I am now clearer about who I am. I am giving a lot more than I am taking.  This allows me to get out of my head and my worries so I can connect with other people who are stuck in their head with their worries.

Being Intentional when making presentation can be scary.

June 6, 2013 (San Jose, Costa Rica)

                As noted in my May 31st entry being intentional in general has risks, but being intentional when you are making a presentation can be more frightening.

  1. You are up front of the audience and everyone heard what you said
  2. People can take your words out of context and say all sorts of things about “what you said” and spread it around the world before you have even completed your presentation.

From my perspective the risks and benefits are the same as I noted below but they can happen very quickly and in real time. The benefits are enormous as you can present clearly and persuasively. You are open and transparent in front of the group. You do not need to hedge your words or way “what to say” since you are not being obscure or devious. As I guide people in how to present this way I find that they are very open and relaxed in front of the audience. They can pay attention to enrolling the audience in the conversation rather than being worried about what they are thinking about the presentation.  There is wonderful peace for the presenter.

Being Intentional about important but not urgent elements of one’s life

March 28, 2013 (San Diego)From my viewpoint as a time management consultant I have seen a growing trend towards “cloud calendaring.” There is nothing on the calendar except that absolutely fixed “in cement” items like a weekly required business meeting. All the rest of the calendar is wide open so that the person can be responsive the cloud of demands that come their way on a daily basis.

How are decisions made: personal priorities and proximity of the demand to the designated time. A business colleague has a monthly discretionary meeting. As the meeting time draws near the frequency of reminder email increases exponentially. It is very clear that the organizer is not expecting anyone to put the item on their calendar which would preclude the need for constant messaging and the event coordinator believes they are competing with 3 or 4 other viable alternatives.

Suppose though a person was intentional about what he/she was doing with their time and life? In the case of one meeting that puts out incessant reminders all that would be guy oneneeded is to make an entry in “Outlook” and mark it as reoccurring monthly: one email for an entire year.

Being totally flexible and thus not intentional about a single meeting is a miniscule issue. However when I teach time management and I look at people’s “Outlook” the entire month and the ensuing months only have a few entries.

This absence of calendar entries is often accompanied by comments about “no time” to do this or that. Of course what they mean is when they think about one of these “no time to” items there is no white space in their life to do it. Their life is full of the urgent “fire fighting” items.

How does one create time for the important but not urgent elements in one’s life when constantly surrounded 7 X 24 with firefighting? Things like the son’s soccer match or the daughter’s birthday party or time away with the one’s spouse.

  1. Be intentional about getting to these events. I am going to do it.
  2. Put it on the calendar. The time is occupied. It is not available.quill
  3. Be ready to say “no” or “let’s do it at another time” or “I am booked then” but I am open at…
  4. If it is a large time commitment that can be broken down into pieces then attend to it for ½ hour twice a week, or something like that. I do this very practice when I am working on several book research projects. Assign myself 30 minutes of time twice a week or what is necessary to meet my own deadline and away I go.

When I first started doing this for myself I found I was a bit clumsy in the conversation about saying “no.” I was not particularly elegant about saying it and sometimes I just could not get the words out of my mouth. Practice, practice, practice and sure enough I have become better at getting the important but not urgent items moving forward in my life.

An outcome of this process for me is

  1.  the important things in my life are being advanced.
  2. I am a person of integrity: when I say I will do something I am thereStronger
  3. I “forget” very few things because everything that there is to do is reliably on the calendar
  4. I am much more decisive

Leader Communication – pause, breathe

November 15, 2012 (San Diego)

            When I am in a stressful communications environment and I am feeling anxious and stressed, if I pause for a moment and breathe my system settles down and I am able to think again.

            Funny, as noted on Nov 8th, when I am stressed and anxious I stop thinking and start reacting. When I am in react my options all seem to diminish to two: one of which is bad for all parties and the other is bad for sure for me. I recall that Covey wrote: “There needs to be at least 3 options for there to be perceived choice.”

            I was leading a training situation when I got into a confrontation with one of the participants. It started off innocently enough: a disagreement over a word.

Soon I could feel my competitive juices switching over to “my way”, “I am going to win.” I kept pushing my position while acknowledging the other position. I was getting “amped” up.

            I started talking to myself: “David you are getting way out of hand here. Do something before you look like a raving idiot!” My mind only wanted to press on and win, but I was not persuading this person at all.

            I stopped talking, paused, took a drink of water, which centered my thoughts, acknowledged that the other person did have a point, and moved on.

            The confrontation ended before the fool in me got loose.

            Pause, breathe, proceed.   

Critical Conversations for leader effectiveness

October 18, 2012 (San Diego)            Wow, did you watch the debates? Did you just have a wonderful win-lose conversation with a family member or neighbor? I just had one with my neighbor. Lovely experience and it was over an inconsequential thing. What raised my ire was the feeling that he was taking funds from me without my permission and inferring I had no choice in the matter. Well, that will get me up on the step fast. 

            I have done several negotiating skills programs for a local utility company. I was helping craft conversations to work with customers. In one situation the utility company needed to have access to the metering box for safety issues. (The remote reading boxes take care of billing but not safety.) 3 acres of land around the house and a dog  No way was the owner going to have the dog restricted from the one location of the meter even though the law requires that the utility have access.

            By managing a critical conversation vi sa vi negotiation skills it was resolved that the meter would be moved to the edge of the property at the utilities expense so that ready access was available. Problem solved. This was arrived at by consensus. All parties felt that it was a win.  

            When the conversation are not managed well then there usually is resolution but by compromise. Compromise: we all can live with it but no one is happy.

            How much better and sustainable is the consensus over compromise and with lower blood pressure.

Test of Out of the Box theory

September 6, 2012 (San Diego)                   

 Out of the box theory noted on Aug 30th: when presented with an unexpected dilemma when I am up front and moderating a group, do this:

  1. just stop
  2. breathe
  3. get centered
  4. get clarity
  5. deal now or later ( for me it is mostly later)

I was presenting a leadership session yesterday and up popped one of

those “wow, where did that comment come from?” Truthfully the comment did not hit me at the soul level as noted on Aug 30th but it was deep enough. As Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet when Mercutio was run through with a rapier: “’tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church-door; but ’tis enough, ’twill serve

           Anyway I did what I wrote above: stopped, breathed, centered my thoughts and gained clarity. Miracle upon miracles it worked. I was able to help the questioner understand the point which was being challenged.

            For me keeping my sanity and centeredness is more important than prevailing in the conversation.

Out of the Box – Unexpectedly – #2

August 30, 2012 (San Diego)        

            Out of the box #1 is posted below on August 23rd.

            Have you ever been giving a presentation and someone asks one of those questions that totally catches you unprepared? FYI: I think some people are just good at intuiting those questions others are just inquiring without any specific motive.

            Anyway, the other day I was closing a meeting when an event not on the agenda but good for the group “popped” up. I in my “please everyone mode” worked to field the “pop-up.” I was going along OK until someone asked a particularly, for me, pernicious question. I could feel my entire body and soul react to the question. In my mind I asked “why was that question asked?” “I am having a difficult enough time dealing with the pop-up and now one more “pop-up”.

            Well off I go working to solve pop-up #2 while #1 is still pending. Wow, why did you not finish #1 before taking on #2? That is a reasonable question. Well when I get knock-off my game plan I start becoming dysfunctional and it shows. Pop-up #1 knocked me off my intended trajectory for ending the meeting, while #2 just did me in.

            In this situation I was “saved” by another group member who postponed the immediate needs of both “pop-ups”. The meeting ended and we all lived happily ever after.

            When it happened once before I saved myself by taking a deep breath, a drink of water, and agreeing with the “pop-up” and we lived happily ever after.

            Lessoned learned for me: when I am knocked off my game plan, stop. No heroics, no mental gymnastics, nothing elegant:

  1. just stop
  2. breathe
  3. get centered
  4. get clarity
  5. deal now or later ( for me it is mostly later)