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.


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?


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

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.

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)

Out of the Box – Unexpectedly – #1

August 23, 2012 (San Diego)                 

             How often have I read: think or be “out of the box?”

            I had two experiences were the box I had my mind in was unknown to me until the fragile box was shattered by life. Scary but good for me

            I was in a learning session on the topic of optimal motivation. The program was promoting that motivation for the most part is a skill which I get to develop. I am not totally at the mercy of circumstance.

            As I was reflecting on my sometimes aggressive behavior, (not optimal motivation) aggressive is most likely the correct word, not assertive. I was asking myself what drives the aggression. POP! My thoughts went back to kindergarten. (Believe me that was a demonstration that my long term memory on certain emotional events was working just nicely.) In kindergarten I was often bullied by another classmate. (I have no idea of the metric of “often”. It may have only been twice in the entire year, but recollection was that the bullying was more routine than that.)

Anyway, back to the story  My mind immediately put 2 and 2 together I was being aggressive as a defensive measure to not let the outside push me around.

Down came the box of defensiveness. Well it did not totally come down but it is diminishing.

Wow, what an experience for the mind to flash back and let me know why it is doing what it is doing for better or for worse. Now I have the opportunity to do something to restore that aspect of me toward normalcy.

We will see how that works.

Permission to help another

July 13, 2012 (San Diego)

            Last evening I had a wonderful opportunity to help another person become a bit more self assured. The opportunity was presented at a Toastmasters meeting. I was scheduled to be the speech evaluator for another member. When I asked that person about the speech, she said she was totally not prepared. She only could give a speech if prepared. In fact she did not even want to be at the meeting she was so distraught. Not only that, but she hated giving speeches.

            Wow, that was a lot more than I bargained for. Take a breath David. What can I do for this person?

            I asked two questions:

  1. What is it that brought you to Toastmasters? Answer: getting better at my job.
  2. Is getting better at your job important to you? Yes, very important.

           I then made an offer. I could do a speech and she could evaluate me or she could do a speech and I would evaluate her. There was some time, so I asked her to give me a thumbs up/down as to whether she would do the speech or not.

            She did the speech and won the “best speaker” award for the evening. She felt good about her speech and the heartily acknowledged by the club.

            What a blessing to be able to help a person go from: “I hate giving speeches” to an award winning speech in 60 minutes. Love it.

            I know this battle for success in giving speeches is not over for her, but last night was a wonderful success for all.

“The Devil came a-courting

August 10, 2011 (from Jakarta) “The Devil came a-courting and discomfort followed” The Devil did get his foot in the door, my July 26th blog, on Friday, 5 Aug and the discomfort was felt, my August 1st blog, far and wide. Wow, did you hear the discomfort expressed in the “blame game”, finger pointing, and doomsday scenarios that ensued? What to do?

My personal best option is to learn from such events. What did I learn? 1. Breathe – take a deep breath before I even consider doing anything reactive like a massive adjustment to my meager savings or going crazy with anxiety.

2. Review my own history – what did I learn in the early 2008 precipitous adjustment in the nations financials? Do not do anything without thinking.

3. Listen / read multiple commentaries – I read several newspapers which was particularly useful as I was out of the country, so I was getting a very unique perspective.

4. Look at the bigger picture of global events – this is the USA’s immediate pain but there are many things of more urgent matter going on in Libya, Syria, and the horn of Africa. This event is important but on the scale of things pales in comparison to the famine in Africa.

5. I hope the Washington leadership team got the message from S&P and the global reaction to it. Being a reprobate family barrower has ended one way or the other.

6. I hope my fellow Americans “see” that the days of other countries paying $.43 on the dollar of our extravagant ways is finished and more pain will follow.

As I learn, I grow, and I am more able to deal with the next time the devil puts his foot in the door. Amen. .

Being Present at all times

Feb 8, 2011                                                        I saw a t.v. commercial about buying an automobile. The reason for buying the auto was because the great braking and 360 degree sensor system. What was most striking were the reasons they were showing for the need of the 360 degree sensors and great braking.

         A person texting while walking through a parking lot

         A lady doing her makeup while driving

         A kid riding his bicycle with no regard for his surroundings

         Hummm…. all situations where people were routinely “not being present” with their mind where their physical body was

          I just received this in an email from a friend:  “The list for today feels huge – lots to attempt to accomplish. Need to remove all distractions and hindrances. “ Remove the distractions and hindrances = put them somewhere so that the mind can be 100% present on the task at hand.

          How to keep your mind and your body in the same location = be present.

          I have written on the idea of “unloading the mental ram” before. If the need has reached the proportions that the “load” is so demanding that it is part of our culture and showing up in t.v. ads as a “negative”, the situation is huge.

           Today I will write a few notes on why worry about loading up the brain or not being present.

  1. 1.       The t.v. ad gives us a first warning. It is dangerous for everyone. I am sure you have seen the conversation that they want to pass a law that makes crossing a street with your ipod on as illegal.
  2. 2.       In the business world they have done the due diligence: stressed and/or distracted minds are more than somewhat underproductive.  A person may feel that they are being productive, but against potential, the feeling is an illusion.  You are very busy but not really productive.
  3. 3.       It is rude. When was the last time in the last few hours when you have been talking to someone on the phone and you could clearly tell they were not present. They were doing something else. Or perhaps it was you that was not present.

I understand that all of us suffer from the “oh my God, I have so much to do” syndrome.  We do have way

more to do than there is time to do it, just like my friend in the email noted. If having the mind do one thing while the body is doing something else is dangerous, underproductive, and rude: what to do?

                Next blog I will write some suggestions.

The power is in the presenter not the ppt

October 18, 2010

                                            Sao Paulo reloaded

                I was privileged to go to Sao Paulo again.  Love the people and their energy to learn powerful business applications. This time I was able to help energize their sales presentations skills when supported by power-point. Love it.

                It is amazing to see how much of the sales presentation is driven by the dynamics of the presenter and how little of the power of the presentation comes from the data. Of course that is truly ironic as most sales people agonize over the data and the beauty of the power-point and spend little or no time considering the effectiveness of the presenter.

Sep 30, 2009                         Enlightenment from Sao Paulo

               Last week I was in Sao Paulo presenting a program on time management. It really is a personal power program. As I was working with the participants, it became very clear that the maximum benefit toward personal power from this program is helping the participants unload the “mental ram.”

               When we attempt to keep a lot of thoughts, activities, to-do things, numbers, on our mind in active memory, we are loading down what I refer to as the “mental ram.” If those things that we are trying to keep in memory could be put somewhere ‘reliably in existence’ then the mind could be freed up to do something that it is really good at: processing information and creating new ideas. Your company hired you predominantly for your ability to think, not your ability to remember.  When those thinking processes are loaded down in the mental ram, then our key contribution to the company loses some of its ability.

               Free up the ‘mental ram’ by taking things off the mind and putting them reliably in existence. This is a powerful way to be more productive on the job and a lot less stressed: perhaps two sides of the same coin.