"Simon Says"

Quick Thoughts

I want to alert you to the word "contentment" and suggest that you rediscover it and use it frequently. Consider it a preferred word to use rather than "happy." Seeking "happiness" is a burden and causes us to measure our lives by a mood that should be fleeting, changing, and surprising. A contented life is better; it is a durable mood that contains the element of thankfulness; we can be content for what we have. Contentment allows moments of happiness to decorate your life. Happy is the butter; contentment is the bread. If you realize that you are content, you will be rewarded with moments of happiness.

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Surely it's the fear of embarrassment that causes so many people to avoid the speaker's platform.  Without adequate and precise preparation, the fear isn't misplaced.  One cannot be prepared for every contingency, but some really savvy, updated skills can, indeed, lower the adrenaline rush to contain the out-of-control feeling that most people identify as fear or nervousness.

It's reassuring to know that heart attacks happen on cruise ships, never on stages; perhaps it's also amusing to know how others have handled embarrassing moments.

During a debate, Stephen Douglas verbally attacked Lincoln, calling him two-faced. Abraham Lincoln had always been sensitive about his homely face and so he said, "I leave it to this audience to decide if I am two-faced; if I had another face, do you think I would wear this one!"

A client I was coaching was sensitive about his weight and shape. When he presented to the field sales force, they would welcome him back with enthusiastic applause and then tease him, albeit good naturedly, about his shape. He had trouble getting through their teasing comments and wanted a way to handle the embarrassment he felt. I gave him a line to open which pro-actively handled the situation: "Thank you for welcoming me back so enthusiastically - and I know that you're all pleased to see that my anorexia is in remission."

By making fun of himself, as Lincoln did, he defused the moment and won the audience to his side.

Another hint - if ever you lose your place, I suggest a forthright approach. "I seem to have lost my place, for which some of you may be very grateful." This worked so well for one client that she often loses her place on purpose, just to be able to use the line.

If you need a way to get through an embarrassing situation, just ask me. arynne@simon1.com

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Curiosity is often considered a vulgar habit - "Don't ask too many questions," "Don't look at those people," "Don't stare" are ways we've been trained out of a natural instinct to learn more.  If we don't indulge our curiosity, we cannot learn, we keep ourselves from knowing other people and building real relationships.  Worst of all, we will not have as much fun on an everyday basis.  Formal study, the reading of biographies, watching life from within a darkened theatre do not satisfy in the way I am suggesting.  We need to learn how to discover people and how they think in the way of Steinbeck (Travels With Charley) and William Least Heat Moon (Blue Highways).

I find that curiosity, once stirred, rarely sleeps until the appetite for knowledge is satisfied.  My seemingly boundless curiosity requires continual exploration and satisfaction.  I'm sure yours does, too; let's decide not to deny ourselves that pleasure.

I'm sure you can find non-offensive ways to ask questions so that the people you meet will tell you what they think, how they perceive the world, and how a problem can be solved.  You'll be amazed to find how very clever most people are - even though their solutions and conclusions may be very different from yours.  And while your curiosity is being fed, the people who have a chance to explain the workings of their mind will be validated... and upon this validations the best relationships are built.

There are people in our nation who think that there is only one side to a coin... that their way is the only way to think, to live, to behave.  For those of us who say we like to travel, considered that there is not a more exciting land to explore than the mind of another person.

Perhaps I could motivate you to explore the ideas of others if I offered mileage points.  But all I promise is that by asking quality questions (any question except "why") your every day will be a safari into unexplored territory and you can enjoy a fascinating life - wherever you are - without jet lag or packing or email build-up.

I describe curiosity as "lust of the mind." So far (and Hooray!) curiosity is not listed among the seven deadly sins.

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There would be few murders if it weren't for the circumstances that lead to them.

We know all too well how it feels to be taken over the edge by circumstances that cause aggravation, frustration, and anger. Learning to cope with the uncomfortable feelings that arise from negative circumstances is a slow and steady learning process.
How thankful I am to have received the patient role modeling from my extraordinary parents - training that now reliably separates my negative feelings from aggressive actions.  Many people never learn those basic skills at home but I believe they are the truest measure of successful parenting.

Recently it was pointed out to me that there is a vast difference between criminals who are damaged and those who are not whole. In the years ahead, forensic psychological research may be able to accurately identify and separate those who are damaged and can be retrained, from those who are not whole and must be locked away forever.

Yes, even damaged people can be re-taught to separate their feelings from their actions.  We must all work towards constantly improving a natural inclination to act out our feelings with angry words, by taking revenge, or by use of force.

We should continue developing that ability and support programs that help less fortunate people find ways to learn.

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Resolutions Twice a Year

Those of us born into the Jewish tradition have two chances each to make New Year's Resolutions.  Getting my resolutions ready for New Year's Eve usually takes at least a week of part-time thinking about what I could add to a list that seems to be virtually the same, year after year.  The Jewish New Year is more like confession, and insists that I face the error of my ways.  My list seems to focus on what I haven't done rather than what I will do; together they seem to work for me.

So here's this year's list of what I've been thinking about -- some of the things I didn't do.

  1. I didn't cut down on the junk mail I receive.  All I had to do was send my request to be taken off their lists back to them in their own postage-paid envelope.

  2. I haven't had a tetanus shot in years, and I read somewhere that it's important to do periodically.

  3. I didn't eat even one sweet nectarine this summer and that particular fruit comes in 150 varieties and is particularly high in vitamin A.

  4. Despite all the advice, warnings, and prodding, I still haven't begun a regular exercise program -- except for dragging my paper-stuffed attaché case from airport gate to my rental car.

  5. I don't have any idea what a factory-outlet shopping mall can offer in the way of savings.

  6. I wanted this year to be more outdoors, less indoors -- but it's still more in than out.

  7. New York City tap water, known to us NYC cognoscenti as Guiliani water, is the best tasting water in the world; I wanted to find a way to have it bottled and distributed to displaced New Yorkers.  Where can I get bottles pressed to look like the Empire State building?

  8. Tofu is still a stranger to my kitchen.

  9. Why is it so hard to drink eight glasses of water every day?

  10. My son says that my voice when I leave a message on his answering machine changes to sound like I'm talking to a little boy.  Last year I promised to stop that -- but I hear myself, and he's right; it's embarrassing.

  11. I promised myself I would try buttermilk but am still resisting.

  12. I really thought I'd re-read everything by novelist Willa Cather, especially My Antonia and Death Comes to the Archbishop. I didn't.

But I did keep my enthusiasms and ideals in place; my mother warned me that people grow old by deserting their dreams.  "Years wrinkle the face but to lose enthusiasm for ones ideals and dreams wrinkles the soul."

 Happy New Year to you - Shana Tova.

- Arynne

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The Style of Dynamic Disagreement
It isn't so much about who's right and who's wrong.  Sometimes it's more about the aggressive ways we try to convince each other that our way is best. In holy wars of one kind or another, fanatics typically fought each other for the right to be right. But every issue is not a holy war - or at least I hope it isnít.

It's only human to think our way is best, that our choices are the right ones, that our ideas are better and our solutions smarter.  But if we insist on always being right, we will sacrifice the extended benefits of meaningful relationships. In addition, we will miss the pleasure of exploring each other's minds. Sometimes I wonder if such explorations may be too intimate for most people.

Self-righteous extremists take to podiums and use microphones with absolute certainty that they have the only right answers. Self-righteous leaders, parents, managers or teachers use their articulate skills as weapons of verbal violence ó often killing valuable interactions between people.  But a civilization does not grow on ideas alone.

When communicating ideas it's important that you not measure success by how many people you clobber to convince. Consider this an act of verbal violence.  The criminal says, "My life is more important than yours." Are you thinking that your ideas or solutions are more valuable than someone else's?

People need to resist and reject before agreeing so it's up to you to state your views in a way that leaves plenty of space for resistance.  Do this and, amazingly, you will be heard better and more accurately and will stand a much better chance of influencing others.

The old nugget that "the operation was a success but the patient died" fits well to this Simon Says lesson. I suggest that you learn to express your ideas in a style that suits the audience, measure your communication success by whether you have shared your ideas AND retained relationships.
If you insist on powering your perfect ideas then I hope you will have the courage to ask yourself, "Would I rather be right or be happy?"

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I believe that it was Henry James who described the three most important qualities a person could have.  The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind.  And the third is to be kind.  Yet many people are afraid that kindness will erode their power, their position, and their effectiveness.

Consider then the difference between tough and hard.  If a piece of granite is hit with a hammer it will, because it is hard, shatter into pieces.  If a piece of leather is hit equally hard with a hammer it will not even be dented because it is tough, not hard.  The leather is flexible, malleable, elastic, supple, and resilient and therefore in many ways more durable than a hard substance.

I would urge you to consider how much more valuable and durable your leadership can be when kindness becomes the core of toughness.  Be tough about the quality of work you expect but kind in the way you express yourself to people. Putting toughness and kindness together takes real skill; together they will produce the quality of leadership most needed everywhere.  Kindness will enhance not diminish your personal power.

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Surely you were as impressed and touched as I was by the eulogy eloquently written and so simply delivered by Charles Earl Spencer.  One golden line is now added to my list of favorite quotes: "Genuine goodness is threatening to those at the opposite end of the moral spectrum."

A "favorite" quote is one that pushes my brain beyond its boundaries; the words automatically appear at the front of my mind without any seeming cause.  A favorite quote is recalled to mind by some greater force to guide my behavior or to push me forward into broader thought patterns.

Let me offer that same idea of Spencer's from an Arynne Simon vantage point - "True excellence of thought or performance is threatening to those at the opposite end of the intellectual spectrum."

Perhaps it explains what causes mediocrity to be so acceptable and comforting; there is no threat, no unpleasant reaction, when comparisons are made.

Beyond the high end of the spectrum of goodness, Princess Diana was much easier to love than the royals because she was far from perfect and therefore so very human.  She had her areas of excellence and kindness, but we came to love her because she was a fallible human being.

The royals, typical of many forceful leaders, think that hiding their flaws and faults is the way to maintain control.  Traditionally brought up to rule and to maintain their monarchy, royals are taught to value power, NOT love.  Therefore they are schooled to be non-emotional, non-responsive - to be contained behind emotional walls and to value the awesome respect of their followers above close personal relationships.

 Perhaps Princess Diana will go down in history as having successfully influenced the  British royals to accept human values. It will be interesting to watch and see how they combine their heritage and training for power with a new awe of giving and receiving love.  If they can't manage to do both and still retain their leadership position, the Princess may also have sown the seeds for the end of the British monarchy.

 By the way, there are lessons here that clearly apply to corporate leadership.

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Put this next sentence up where you can see it - and pay attention to it.

I am as of today making up my mind
to raise my voice in laughter,
in extolling someone's good points,
or in defense of a friend.

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Arynne SIMON SAYS ...

... that you not send memos or E-mails when you're angry or have something negative to communicate. Use your FAX and computer to share facts and express praise; wait until the uncomfortable situation has cooled and schedule a face-to-face conversation.

Don't have fingertips too eager to keystroke emotional words, or you will write things that would be better kept in your head until you can find appropriate ways to say things. Precision of communication is a worthy goal.

And the faster you can move the communication into the future tense - the more quickly you'll solve any problem. After a few moments of describing or discussing a problem, in the past or present tense, it would be better to say, "Okay - let's move ahead. How can we prevent this from happening again in the future?"

Or, "What have we learned that can be applied to the future?" Most people spend too much time thinking in the past tense. Living in the present tense is somewhat better. But true leaders move quickly into the future tense.

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Copyright ©1998-2006 Arynne bySimon Skill Systems. All rights reserved.