Friday, September 30, 2005

Chapter 17


I used to think that the main task of a manager was to make other people do what they were supposed to do. I was disgusted with managers who couldn’t make their staff get to work on time, enter data in the computer correctly, or stop fighting amongst themselves. That manager is lazy, incompetent, or trying to be “friends” with everybody instead of doing their job, I thought.

When I became a manager myself, I knew that it was my job to make people do things. I would look the situation over, decide what needed to be done, and tell people what to do. They didn’t need a reason. I was the boss.

Over the years, though, I found out how people handle these kinds of delusions. They disagree with the way you have told them to do their job. So, they just don’t do it. (I never did learn to expect that.) You insist. So, they do it exactly like you said to do it. (This is the worst thing anybody can ever do to you.) They don’t adapt the instructions to the situation. They don’t do those steps that “everybody knows” you have to do but that you neglected to write down. They don’t bother to tell you the obvious, minor flaw in your plan that is going to make it not work. They don’t know what you mean, “Sabotage what?”

Even then, I was convinced that my boss should just give me the power to fire people at will. That would get compliance. But my boss didn’t understand. His response was, “Uh, I don’t think that would be a good idea.” And some of the people who worked for me did seem to be intimidated already. One woman always brought a backup with her when she came to talk to me. But she still didn’t do what I told her to do. In fact, I got the impression that her role was the heroine, fighting a cruel tyrant (that would be me) to get justice for the downtrodden (that would be her). I was just trying to get the job done. And I couldn’t even make timid people do what I wanted!

Eventually, I gave up on being a manager and became a computer support person. There were things I would have liked to make my customers do – not turn off the computer when the program is still running, come to training so they could learn how to use the software correctly, buy a new server before the antique they had been using for the last seven years finally crashed for good. But, everybody in computer support knows you can’t make customers do those things. We would tell each other stories about the occasional imprudence of our customers. And we always gave each other the same response -- a sympathetic nod, a shrug, and “All you can do is tell ‘em.”

So, we would make recommendations, tell them what we thought the benefits would be of following our recom-mendations, tell them what the consequences could be of not following our recommendations and how likely we thought they were, and leave it up to them. Actually, we treated them like intelligent people who could make their own judgments based on the facts. We did not pressure them. Only the truth of the situation pressured them. We did not tell them what to do. We just told them what they needed to know.

We wanted our customers to succeed. The success of our business depended on their success. We provided products and services they used on an ongoing basis. The nature of our business involved long-term relationships with them. If we had gotten them to buy something they couldn’t afford or that didn’t do the job, it would have had a negative impact on their business. They would have stopped working with us. What we tried to do, instead, was provide things that made their work easier, faster, or better in some way and contributed to their success. Then they were a good reference and told everyone they knew how great we were. They bought more computer equipment and software when they were ready.

This worked so well that I have used it ever since when I want something from someone. I don’t try to make them do it. That does not work. Even with a different personality or more power, I don’t think I can make anyone do anything. Even if I could, I know that it would not be the best way to accomplish my goals.

When you want people to do something, tell them what you want and why, even when what you want is required.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Chapter 16


You have to tell people what your goals are if you want their help. It’s true that they might not help you even if you tell them. But if you don’t tell them, it’s going to take a lot of luck for them to somehow stumble upon it.

It may seem like people should already know what you want. Take the time to put it into words anyway. Make what you say specific to each person. Let them know what you want from them personally. Explain what goal or goals this will help to achieve. You will probably notice that even you did not know exactly what you wanted before you did all that, so they really couldn’t have known.

It may be that, after you have done all that thinking, you feel that your reasoning comes from a certain level of experience or training that your audience does not have. You might think that it’s no use telling them, because they won’t understand. In this case, it is even more important that you tell them what you want and what your goals are, because it is even more unlikely that they will just happen to figure it out on their own.

Sometimes, you should explain things to people, even if they won’t understand now, because they will understand later. Sometimes, it won’t be for years. Sometimes, it just takes sleeping on it, or maybe a few days, weeks, or months, before something happens that brings it into focus. Sometimes, you can explain what you want and what the goal is at the beginning of a project, and the people you are talking to will not really understand it until they have started working on it or have gotten half way through it.

The other reason you should tell people even when you know they won’t understand is that, if you don’t tell people what you want and why you want it, they will come to their own conclusions. If they really don’t have sufficient experience or training (or good mind-reading ability), they will probably not figure out what you are actually thinking. If you have somehow given them the impression that you think they are too stupid to understand, they will probably not be in a charitable frame of mind when they are figuring out your motivation. But, if you have told them what you wanted and why, even if they didn’t understand, they know you did have a reason and that you didn’t mind stating that reason in public. They know they can get you to explain it again whenever they want. They know they can send people who need or want to know over to you for the explanation.

Of course, it’s not always other people’s lack of experience or training that makes it hard for them to understand you. Sometimes, it’s the way you’re explaining it. It’s not always necessary or desirable for people to understand things in the same way or to the same degree that you do, especially if it is not their area of expertise. Television writers are always trying to figure out ways to explain Einstein’s Theory of Relativity to me. And sometimes I even think I get it. But I don’t understand it the way Einstein did. Still, if you can’t figure out how to explain it in a way you think they will understand, tell them any way you can.

Sometimes, I remember thinking that someone wouldn’t understand, but what I was really worried about was that they wouldn’t believe me. This usually involved not so much what I wanted as why I wanted it. Whenever I feel that way, I know I need to make sure I understand my motives myself (both the public ones and the real ones). Then, I need to tell the truth about my motives and have no hidden agenda.

People will almost always help you achieve a goal that is good for you, good for them, and good for the group. People will sometimes help the group even if is detrimental to them personally. People will sometimes help you even if your goal is personal and what you want will benefit no one but you.

Whatever the situation, you need to tell the truth about what you want and what your goals are and let people make their own decisions about whether they will help you or not.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Chapter 15


You are the only one who knows what you want. Well, hopefully you know. Before you try to work with other people, you need to decide where you are and where you are going, and review often – every day is good. Looking at the situation objectively, think about your goals and the goals of the groups you belong to. Evaluate whether you still think they are achievable and desirable. See if they are still compatible. Determine how far along you are in achieving them. Review what you need to do yourself and what you need help with, what kind of help, and from whom.

Now you know who you need to talk to, if anyone. Sometimes, you need to talk to your team about the goals themselves or the means you have chosen to reach them. You will save everyone much agony if you readily admit to and give up things that don’t work (even if it did seem like the most brilliant idea you ever had at the time). If it was someone else’s idea (and you want them to continue to share their ideas in the future), remember that it doesn’t mean it was a bad idea and you don’t need to get them to admit that. The only relevant fact is that it didn’t work and you need to try something else. Sometimes, everything is on track and you just need to get to work.

I used to believe that the people I was working with were pretty much on the same page as I was. Even if we hadn’t talked about an idea before, they would know immediately where I was coming from and agree with me once I told them about it. I was sure the same things that made it seem good to me would make it seem good to them. When I became a manager, I knew that people would do what I told them to do without question. We all knew what the facts were, and I was the one being paid to do the thinking and make the decisions.

It only took about 20 years for me to figure out why my way didn’t work and how to get what I wanted. What I needed to learn was that most people want and need to know what you want and why you want it. This is good, actually. It means that they don’t do extra work or non-productive work just because someone told them to sometime in the past. It means they get appreciation for what they do, instead of spending time and energy on things that nobody cares about. It means that they understand why something is necessary and how it will affect them. For the good of the group, people may even do something that is going to have an adverse impact on them personally. But, they sure don’t like it when someone tricks or leads them blindly into it.

You can’t expect people to understand you without explanation. People will do the same job differently, even if it is meticulously defined and published in the job description manual for everyone to see. No one can know what you will do just because they know what your job is. You probably have a different agenda from the last person who had the job. The way you see your job is different from the way those that report to you see it and the way your boss sees it. What you want is usually not obvious to other people. Even when it is, the confirmation that what they think you want is actually what you want allows them to give up the time-consuming and stressful task of trying to read someone else’s mind.

The other non-workable part of my old style is that everyone that will be affected by the plan needs to have a hand in it. Your plan incorporates everything you can think of, but other people almost always have some piece of information that you don’t have, especially the people who are actually doing the work. And then there is the situation I hate most, when the defect you just fixed needed to be there because it was preventing something even worse from happening. Of course, everybody but you already knew this.

People will give you what you want if they understand and share your goals. Don’t make them read your mind.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Section 3


Now it’s your turn. You’ve thought about what you believe. You’ve listened and gathered information. When you speak now, tell the truth, do the right thing, and keep your goals in mind:

State Your Position Clearly and
Ask for What You Want Specifically

Tell Them Even If You Know They Won’t Understand

All You Can Do is Tell Them,
You Can’t Make Anyone Do Anything

When People Don’t Meet Your Expectations,
Change Your Expectations

Give them 100 Tries to Get It Right

If They Can’t Get It in 100 Tries,
There Must Be Something Wrong with the Procedure

Teach Everyone to Do Everything

Friday, September 23, 2005

Chapter 14


When people don’t understand you, it’s because you don’t understand them. If you had really known what they were saying, your statements would have responded to theirs (even if you disagreed) and would have made sense to them. Maybe you started making assumptions about what they were thinking or feeling and responded to that instead of what they were saying. Maybe what they said didn’t make sense to you, so you just said what you wanted to say without trying to understand them first. Maybe something else was going on. Whatever was going on, when people didn’t understand you, it’s because you weren’t listening.

Once you get into a misunderstanding with someone, it’s difficult to get out of it. You find yourself on uncertain ground. You don’t know where you got off solid ground. You could strike off in another direction to see if understanding is close. Most likely you will have to turn around and go back, possibly through a whole series of misunderstandings, until you get to the place where you understood each other. Maybe that was back where you said, “Hello, my name is . . .”

Besides being tedious and time-consuming, misunder-standings can be very counterproductive as well. You may have already started building a bond with someone, a foundation for working together, and have to give it up because you find out they weren’t really agreeing with you. They just didn’t understand you. Instead of having agreed on the method and being ready to get to work, you might be back discussing the possible methods. Or, instead of being ready to discuss the possible methods, you might be back determining whether they really want to do this.

It’s worse than just being at an earlier stage than you thought, though. The whole process has been negatively impacted, because it will seem to the other person that you have already made up your mind that you want to do this and how you want to do it. They no longer believe that you have an open mind and are willing to listen to their point of view.

It doesn’t seem to matter, either, how well you know the other person or if you have worked together before. One of the worst misunderstandings I was ever involved in was with someone I really liked, whom I thought I understood very well, and whom I had worked with very closely and very successfully in the past. I didn’t even ask him what he thought about my goals and my plan for accomplishing them. I was sure I knew what he thought. I didn’t tell him what I wanted from him. I was sure he knew what I wanted. It was quite a surprise to me when he cancelled the whole project.

The easiest way for someone to understand what you are telling them is for you to start from whatever understanding you have with them already and not lose them or get lost along the way. Assume nothing. They might not know who you are even if you know who they are. Even if they work with you every day, they absolutely don’t know what’s on your mind or why you’re interested in it. They might not know even if “everybody knows” -- they might not have read your e-mail or heard what’s been going on at the water cooler. They surely haven’t been thinking about it all day like you have. They’re probably in the middle of something else entirely.

If you really want to be understood, the first thing you have to do is find a time and setting when both you and the other person can pay attention to each other. Maybe you can just walk over to their work area. But if their work area is in front of a customer, their attention rightfully belongs on the customer. They can’t give it to you. Even if they’re not on the front lines, they might have a deadline or a meeting or appointment to go to. You have to tell them how much time you think you need to talk to them and ask them if they can give it to you. Then you have to listen to the answer and be willing to change your plans accordingly.

Once you have the right time and setting, you need to say where you are starting from (the things you and the other person both already know). When you do this, you need to listen very carefully to the other person. They might not know what you think they know. They might have forgotten. It could be that they hadn’t said anything before, but they actually wanted to go over that with you because they really didn’t agree or had since thought of something that changed their opinion.

When you have established a starting point that you agree on, you need to take them with you to the next logical step, explaining and listening very carefully to whether they understand and agree that this is the best choice. And you have to be willing to listen if they disagree. If you don’t listen to and answer their concerns as they come up, they will not be able to get past that point. You might rave on, but they will be thinking about that point that was not complete for them. At least, you have to agree to disagree or make that point a condition of agreement.

It is also very important for you to be willing to change your mind based on what the other person says. “You’re not listening” is the same as something else I was once told: “I got the feeling that it didn’t matter what I said, you were so set on your plan that nothing I said could change your mind in the least way.” Of course, the other really good reason why you have to be willing to change your mind based on what the other person says is that they really might have a better idea.

It may seem more efficient to just get to the point, to tell people your conclusion. But that’s not the way you got there. Even if you didn’t consciously think the thing through, step by step, something happened in your head that took the disconnected pieces of information you had, identified the problems, chose a goal, and used everything you’ve ever learned and everything you’ve ever experienced to come up with the best idea. Probably it wasn’t as linear as step by step. Maybe different possibilities swirled around in your head and were rejected because of various flaws before this one coalesced. So, if you let the other person go through the same process and they come to the same conclusion, you won’t have to explain anything. It just might take a while. Or, you can show them the path you took that got you to your goal so they don’t have to go down every trail, like you did, to see if it’s the right one.

Besides, if you tell someone your conclusion first and they like it, they might agree without even thinking about it. Then you won’t get the benefit of their judgment, ideas, or suggestions. That might turn out to be a mistake. And, if you tell someone your conclusion first and they don’t like it – because it costs money or requires them to change or do something else unpleasant, you will have a difficult time convincing them that it is something they should do. In fact, they will probably fight you on every point you try to make, because they know agreeing to any part of it will help take them where they don’t want to go. If you take them, step by step, from where they are to the same conclusion, they will have already examined the other possibilities and the consequences of not acting. It will seem like the best alternative.

Sometimes when people don’t understand you, it’s your motives they don’t understand and not what you’re trying to do. Then, it really helps to be able to explain every step that got you from where you were to where you are. It makes you think about whether each step is logical and the best choice. It shows the other person that, too. Of course, there might be times when you, like me, have to abandon a course of action, because this kind of scrutiny reveals that there really is a hidden agenda. Sometimes, we say that people don’t understand us when, in fact, they understand us very well. We just haven’t admitted our real motives to ourselves.

Every time I started at the beginning and explained myself in logical steps, going from one idea to an associated one and then on to the next one, people have understood me. In fact, they could often see where I was going and agreed with me before I even told them my conclusion.

But when I told people my conclusion first, they often misunderstood me. In fact, there have been times when people thought I was agreeing with them, when, as far as I could tell, they were saying the exact opposite of what I was saying. That is, if I understood them, because they certainly didn’t understand me.

The best way to be understood is to explain well and listen even better.

Chapter 13


We do what we want to do. What we do helps us achieve a goal – have fun, be happy, make a living, be part of something bigger than ourselves.

It seems as if that’s not true, as if we can’t do exactly what we want to do when we want to do it. Because we coexist with other people, we have come to agreements on some things that we do and how and when we do them. But we make those agreements because we want to. We make laws to document our agreements with other citizens and the consequences of not sticking to our agreements. Most of us obey those laws. We obey them because we want to. We act in accordance with the law because we want to get along with other people and live without conflicts with our neighbors, not just because the police make us. That would take a police man or woman for every citizen who had to be forced to obey the law for as long as they were being forced to obey it. Making us do something we don’t want to do is very difficult and takes a lot of time and effort. If the force that makes us do it lets up for a second, we return to doing what we want to do.

We also make contracts with the people who employ us so that we can accomplish our mutual goals. We go to work and work on the tasks that are assigned to us. Our employers or managers don’t make us work. We work because we want to work, for a lot of different reasons. We work for money. But because almost every job pays money, there is almost always some other reason why we picked that job. We work in order to accomplish our employer’s goals, which we share. We work for the satisfaction of doing something that makes a difference. We work to express ourselves. We work for recognition or fame or power or because we need to be useful or because we want to get out of the house and see other people. Even people who don’t have to work for money work for other reasons.

People who are very good at what they do usually love what they do, or maybe they love what they do because they are very good at it. Either way, the best workers are the ones who most want to do the work. When what a manager wants from a person is the exact thing that person wants to do, management is effortless. When what a manager wants from a person is detested by that person, unless it makes some really significant contribution to something else they want, management is impossible.
Sometimes we are fooled by the fact that people do what is asked of them. There was a time when I was. I thought people did what I asked of them because they had to. I was wrong. They did what I asked of them because they wanted to.

If a person has picked a job to do, they probably have at least a general idea of what tasks will be involved in doing it and want to do those things. If they didn’t know and don’t want to do the job when they find out what it is, they won’t be any good at it. It is not enough to need a job, you have to want it. You can’t just “do anything”, at least not well.

There are almost always things that you don’t like about a job. Very few jobs consist of exactly and only what you want to do. But most jobs are part of a larger mission and you can do some things for no other reason than that they help to accomplish that mission. I don’t think you can do a job well that you don’t like any part of, though, not even for the best cause.

There were times in the past when I needed someone to do something that wasn’t part of their job description (except for that item that says “other tasks as assigned”, of course). Unless it was something they wanted to do, I would often hear, “it’s not my job” or its equivalent. I have never worked anywhere that people were supposed to be able to refuse to do things that were not in their job description. But I have never worked anywhere that people didn’t try to use their job description as a reason to refuse to do something they didn’t want to do.

I have always believed that my job was “whatever needed to be done”. I’m afraid it might have something to do with being a busybody, but I am sure that it also has to do with knowing that my part is just that -- part of a larger goal that is more important than my part, and that my part has no value if the larger goal is not achieved. But I have also refused to do things, like make coffee (hey, I don’t drink it). I did make coffee at one job, though, because nobody else seemed to be able to function until they had a cup and I was the first one there. They were very grateful and went right to work. At that job, I wanted to make the coffee.

When I needed someone to do something and they didn’t want to do it, I was always quick to point out that it was their job, that they had to do it, and I expected that to be an end to it. But it never was. I would have to threaten their jobs or they wouldn’t do it at all. I would have to watch them the whole time or they would do it badly. I had to remind them when they had to do it again, even if it was every day, or they would “forget”. It was always more trouble than it was worth.

Sometimes, I had other people telling me I had to make someone else do something they didn’t want to do. But I never could convince myself to go through the agony of it, unless I also believed it needed to be done. I procrastinated. I didn’t do it well. Unless I wanted to.

There came a time when I had to get people to do things and I couldn’t make them do it because they didn’t work for me. Actually, I just had to give up the illusion that I could make anyone do anything. So, what I did was try to get people to want to do things. Sometimes, all I had to do was remember what made me want to do things – it was fun, it made my job easier, it was good for the company. Sometimes, especially if they were anxious about doing something new, I might call upon some enlightened self-interest.

But the most important thing in getting people to want to do something was to be on their side. If I wasn’t on their side, they would not listen to me or do what I thought they should do. They knew it was possible that I was trying to get them to do something that wasn’t in their best interest. I would never tell anyone, not even an enemy, to do something that I thought would set them up to be hurt. But I’m the only one that knows that for sure. And if I don’t care about someone, maybe I don’t give quite enough thought to what might hurt them? So people are right not to listen to me if I don’t care about them, even though I am an honorable person. I don’t do what my enemies tell me to do either, no matter how much power they have. I have never found one that could “make me” do anything. The same is true even for a boss that I normally want to do things for, if I know that my enemy is passing a request through him. It seems a lot of people are like me in this regard.

So I learned that if I want someone to do something, I have to first get completely on their side. It isn’t enough that I am their boss or their boss has agreed to it. I have to think about them, what they are doing, what they say they want. I have to try to foresee where the actions I ask of them will lead and how it will affect them. I have to tell them what I see. I have to care about them and look out for them.

Of course, these are the things that I do for myself when I contemplate a course of action. And I have always done them for people I know and like before I ask them to do something. What I learned was that I also have to do these things even if I don’t know the person very well. And I have to do them even if I don’t like the person. I have to be completely on their side if I want someone to do something, whoever they are. If I am not on their side, I should not be asking anything of them. If I am on their side, they can safely listen to me and decide if they want to do it. And once someone had decided that they wanted to do something, I never had to threaten them (which was good, since that never worked), watch them, or nag them. All I had to do was teach them and help them.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Chapter 12


I have said and done evil things, although I didn’t think they were at the time. I did intend to do harm to others, but that was justified, I thought, because they were bad people who had to be forced out, or at least neutralized. I have also been the target of evil intentions and been forced out and been neutralized. A few times, I have spoken with or tried to recruit onlookers, who said they couldn’t tell who was in the right and who was in the wrong because both groups acted the same way and used the same weapons against each other. They were cowards, I thought, afraid to take a stand. I was wrong.

You do evil when you attack another person. When the thing that you criticize is an integral part of a person – their race, their religion, their background, their personality, their intelligence, their sanity -- you are attacking the person. When the thing that you criticize is something they can’t change, you are attacking the person. When you fight that way, there is no way that they can ever agree with you. It is a fight to the death. One of you must be destroyed. That is evil, no matter who is doing it, no matter why.

You do good when you attack a problem. When the thing that you criticize is something a person has said or done, they can listen to you and agree that they should not have said it or done it, or not. When the thing that you criticize is something they can change, they can listen to you and decide to change it. When you fight that way, there is a possibility that they can agree with you. You can talk until one of you convinces the other or until you know that neither of you will convince the other and adapt your plans accordingly. No one has to be destroyed.
It is all right to criticize or disagree with what someone says or does. What they say or do can even be “unacceptable”, as in, “I can’t live with that” or “I can’t work with that”. It may seem like it is the same as attacking the person, if you believe that they “can’t help it”, but it is not. Everyone is accountable for what they say and do, no matter what their limitations are. And everyone deserves to know what is required in any given situation and to have the opportunity to meet the requirements, if they can.

It is evil to try to achieve a goal by attacking someone, no matter how much they seem to be obstructing the goal, no matter how noble the goal is. It is wrong to save yourself (or your goals) by destroying someone. Your goals must not require someone’s destruction. I don’t mean that you should give up a goal if someone opposes it. You should fight for your goals. But, a good fight has a way out for both sides and, if they get in trouble, a way for them to redeem themselves and be forgiven.

Sometimes people in a business or a relationship stay together even when their goals are so far apart that there is no way that it can work. At the time, breaking up seems unthinkable. There aren’t enough assets to put everyone in a comfortable position if they split. It would be so costly. It would be so messy. But that is what must be done. Because what happens if they don’t is so much more terrible than that.

Evil words and actions are easy to identify. They are targeted at a person. Saying that someone is evil (or stupid or lazy or whatever), is evil. Saying that someone has said or done something evil (or made a mistake or did not complete an assignment on time), is not. Abraham Lincoln said, “The best way to get rid of an enemy is to make him a friend.” If you attack only the things that come between you and the other person, you allow them to be your friend. If you attack the other person, you make it impossible for them to be anything but your enemy.

It is especially dangerous for a good person to do an evil thing, whether it is intentional or not. If you are good, you cannot use evil for any purpose because it will destroy you. If you have achieved any power or prominence because of the good things you have done, the consequences will be that much swifter. Power is not something you can get for yourself. Power is given to you by other people, for a reason. If people have been attracted to you and support you because of the good you do, it is those good people who will be right there to confront you and expose you for any evil you might contemplate. At the very least, people who care about doing good will leave you. Then the only people around you will be the ones who are attracted to you because of the evil that you do.

Chapter 11


There are at least two reasons why I do something: the reason I tell other people and the real reason. I don’t think it’s bad to be multiply determined. In fact, the more reasons there are for doing something, the more confident I feel that it is the right thing. Except that (as I finally figured out), the real reason and the public reason must both be good reasons, and they can’t be in conflict with each other.

In the past, I was barely aware of the real reason I said or did things. The real reason was more like an emotion than a thought. Whenever someone suggested doing something or I thought of something to do, I immediately responded with either “I want to do this” or “I don’t want to do this”. Now I know that whether I want to do something or not probably depends on whether it is going to get me something I like –laughter, fun, companionship, love, recognition, power, and money are some of my favorite things – or something I want to avoid.

There was a time when I was completely alone. I felt that I had none of the things I wanted. It was then that I discovered (and I never really forget) that self-respect is the ultimate necessity for me. With it, I can live with myself in any circumstances. Without it, my own company is unbearable and I feel hopeless. Therefore, I have sometimes also done things because I had to, because honor demanded it, and not because I wanted to do them.

The real reason I do something is almost always because it satisfies one of these wants or needs. It is not always necessary for me to tell people the real reason I am doing something. Sometimes, as they would probably say, that is too much information. Other times, people need to know the real reason, because I am “overreacting” to the public one. Then, if I don’t tell them the real reason, they will make one up for me and, more likely than not, they will think of something pretty unflattering, since they can see I am trying to hide something. Whether I tell other people or not, it is very important for me to be aware of the real reason at all times.

If I am not facing my real reason for doing something, I will look like I am hiding something, because I am. People won’t know or care that I am hiding something from myself. They will know and care that I am hiding something from them.
To do the right thing and achieve your goals, you have to know what is motivating you.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Chapter 10


There are times in life when you are hurt and there is nothing you can do about it but endure. There are times when you are hurt and you have to take action to keep from being hurt more. But there are times when you have a choice. Whether someone is trying to hurt you or whether what someone says or does hurts you even though they don’t mean to, there are times when you can choose how you take what they are saying or doing, when you can choose to be hurt or not.

The first time I consciously chose not to be hurt, it was because I wanted to stay in the “game”. The people who cared about me suspected that I was “out of my league”. They didn’t want me to play if I was going to get hurt and I knew it wouldn’t be fair to expect them to patch me up if I did. Because I wanted to play so badly, I just decided not to let the person I was playing with hurt me. He did “win” and I did “lose”. There was a price to pay. But it was such an honor to be allowed to play at that level, I learned so much, and the game was so much fun, I never regretted it because of that. Sometimes, you know, when you play with the “big boys”, the “big boys” whoop you bad!

I tried to do things I had never done before in order to learn, to grow, to be who I wanted to be. I risked failure (big, splashy failure). I put myself out where there was no one to help me because the people I would have normally relied on didn’t know if I could do it either and had never done it themselves. Out on my own in that beautiful, exciting, dangerous place, I figured out what things you need to keep from being hurt. They turn out to be the same things you need to keep from being hurt in everyday life, doing the things you normally do in places where you expect to be safe, but where things happen, too.

You have to know who you are. You have to know who you want to be. You have to think about what you are doing and do what you do on purpose. You have to know what your motivations are. You have to do the right thing. You have to know what your strengths are and how to use your strengths. You have to know what your weaknesses are and how to compensate for your weaknesses. You have to see how to succeed at your goal and know that you can.

To achieve your goals, you need help from other people. You have to be honest about your goals. You have to say what you intend to do and do what you say. You have to ask for what you want. You have to be honest about the risks to other people if they help you. You have to pay attention to what is happening. You have to adapt when things don’t go as planned. You have to warn people when they are in danger and help them adapt.

When you fail, you have to accept it, admit it, and pay the price. You have to let the people who tried to help you pay the price, too, even though that is often harder than paying the price yourself. When you succeed, you have to generously acknowledge the help you got and share the rewards. Whether you succeed or fail, you have to keep pursuing your goals, learning, and growing.

If you do all those things, you don’t have to be hurt, even if you take great risks and fail. You can learn what you need to learn from failure without losing the things you need the most to succeed (your self-respect, self-trust, and the respect and trust of others). You can listen to the criticisms that are true and adapt. You can listen to the criticisms that are not true and answer them, even though you were wrong about something else.

It seems natural to feel hurt if you are rejected, abandoned, betrayed, insulted, criticized, or ridiculed. But you don’t have to be. If someone says something that is negative and true about you and you already know it, you can just agree. They say, “You have a terrible memory.” You say, “You’re right.” If it is something that is necessary to achieve the goal and one of the weaknesses that you have had to compensate for, you can explain how you have compensated for it, “That’s why I write everything down.” If someone says something that is negative and not true about you, you can explain if you think they just don’t know. You can’t make them change their minds, but you can tell them. Sometimes, though, those are the times when it is not about you.

Of course, I have made it about me at times, by reacting badly. I have sulked, complained, and loudly criticized everything another person did to pay him back, going to ridiculous extremes. All that didn’t hurt him a bit, of course, it just confirmed for everyone else that he had been right about me. If I had chosen not be hurt, although I don’t know if I could have stopped him from doing what he set out to do that I didn’t like, I know that at least I wouldn’t have helped him make me look like an idiot so that he could do it.

Sometimes it seems like we feel hurt just because we think someone intends to hurt us. It is not what they say that hurts us, it is the fact that they say it. We all mostly observe the unwritten rule that, if you’re on my side, you will not say anything negative about me. Therefore, if you do say something negative about me, whether it is true or not, I think that you are no longer on my side, and that makes me sad. But you can refuse to be hurt just because you think someone wants you to be hurt. That is a choice that you can make.

Of course, if someone seems to be trying to hurt you, you might want to try to find out why they want you to be hurt. If someone is trying to get your attention, it is usually a good idea to give it to them. They might go away if you ignore them, which could be bad enough. But they might also escalate until it is hard to remember that you weren’t going to be hurt. Respond to the BB gun. Don’t make them think they need a howitzer.

A person who says something negative about you that is true may still be on your side. You need to know what your weaknesses are so that you can compensate for them. Sometimes they are hard for you to see yourself. A person who tells you about a weakness that you weren’t aware of does you a service. You can get people to help you that way by reacting to criticism that is true with gratitude. To do the right thing and achieve all your goals, you need people to tell you the truth, even if it is not always what you want to hear.

A person who says something negative about you that is not true also does you a service. You cannot correct a lie that you don’t know about. You can get people to help you that way by reacting to criticism that is not true with composure, information, and positive action. If you are so hurt or mad that you only make things worse, people will hesitate to tell you what you need to know.

It is hard to think about doing the right thing and achieving all our goals when we are hurt. Although we sometimes wish other people could make us feel better, getting over a hurt is something we usually do alone. It takes a lot of energy. And it seems like we never really get over it completely. There’s always a scar there. Whenever possible, choose not to be hurt in the first place.

Chapter 9


There is nothing more important for doing the right thing and achieving all our goals than having information. Information is essential. Wherever you want to go, you have to figure out how to get there. You have to know which road will take you there and which leads you in the wrong direction. You have to recognize the nature of the obstacles you encounter and find the resources to overcome them. You have to know who can or will help you and who might try to stop you. In anything you try to do, there is so much you need to know. You have to welcome information always, however it comes.

I have ever had any trouble listening to information that I wanted to hear. If my boss told me I was doing a great job, I said, “Thank you for telling me.” If my coworker let me know that new procedure worked great, I kept that procedure and improved upon it. If my customer said I really helped her, I remembered and tried that method with the next one. As long as people told me what I was doing right, I had no problem being successful.

I have always had trouble listening to information that I did not want to hear. If my boss told me I made a mistake, I thought he must be wrong (What does he know about it anyway?!). If my coworker said, “That new procedure isn’t working”, I thought she sabotaged it. If my customer didn’t like my suggestion, I thought her boss should fire her and hire someone more intelligent.

It was like there was a filter on my hearing. Compliments got through okay and contributed to my store of knowledge. Complaints were reflected back on the speaker and didn’t teach me anything. Except for the really big ones. If you constantly ignore all the hints, clues, and outright statements that there is a problem, and just keep right on doing the thing that is causing the problem, sooner or later the problem gets big enough that somebody feels like they have to do something about it.

Usually, my boss wanted to talk to me about it first. By then it was such a big issue there was no way I was going to admit to it. I mean, I might agree to a few tiny areas for improvement but I sure didn’t have any major flaws! My boss would usually have to be content with me agreeing that certain people might think I had said or done some such thing (although they were wrong, of course) and that I would try to keep from giving that impression in the future. That might keep me on my best behavior for a while, but sooner or later I would have to leave.

Usually, leaving didn’t matter to me very much. I have always loved my job, whatever it happened to be. Leaving a job was just an opportunity to get another; usually one that paid more. I even liked going to interviews (I still do). They gave me a chance to show off. But sometimes I really didn’t want to leave. Sometimes the misunderstanding was with someone I really cared about. Those hurt, a lot. They got through the filter. I knew there was something I needed to learn.

I learned that the filter (refusing to listen to criticism) doesn’t keep you from getting hurt. I learned that I’m not perfect and that’s okay and nobody else ever really believed I was. I learned that it is better to find out something isn’t working sooner rather than later. I learned that if you ignore problems, they don’t go away, they get bigger.

The easiest way to find out about problems is to listen when people complain about them. In fact, the fastest way to find out about problems is to encourage people to tell you when something is wrong (I never thought I’d do that!) and reward them for doing it. “Thank you for telling me,” I find myself saying (and meaning it). “I needed to know that.” “This could have turned into a real problem if you hadn’t told
me, thanks!” “I’m so glad you caught that!”

In fact, problems are so much easier to fix when you catch them right away, you can usually turn what would have been a failure into a success. Therefore, criticism that helps you find and fix a flaw is better than flattery that ignores the defects in your work. Sometimes, criticism is a compliment and people tell you something is wrong because they believe you can make it right.

Sometimes, when people criticize you, they do want you to feel bad, or they don’t care how you feel. It really doesn’t matter. You need information. They’re giving it. Listening to them doesn’t mean you agree with what they are saying. Letting them say it doesn’t make it so. They might have it all wrong. But there is information there, just the same. By listening, you might see that your actions can be interpreted in different ways and you need to explain yourself. You might see that you left some people out of the loop that should have been in it. Or, you might see that they do have a hidden agenda and you need to take that into account in your planning. Probably, though, they didn’t fabricate their criticism out of whole cloth. Even when people insult you, they usually exaggerate your flaws instead of making them up. There is information that will help you even in an insult intended to hurt you. It is very important that you ignore the insult, at least long enough to get the information.

Knowing how they feel about you (or at least what they say), you can try to clear up any misunderstandings. If that doesn’t work, at least you know that they are not yet on your team and, if you need help, you need to look elsewhere.

Don’t filter your information for desired content. You need it all.

Chapter 8


To do the right thing and achieve all your goals, you have to tell the truth. To know what the truth is, you have to listen very carefully. It’s a good way to get to know people. It’s a good way for people to get to know you. I am beginning to believe that really listening is what is known as charisma.

Recently, a man listened to me better than anyone I have ever met. It was a joyful and rewarding experience just having him listen to me. I listened to him right back, as best I could, so that I could find more things that I could say that he would want to listen to. I wanted to discover the truth for him and tell it to him. I wanted to do good work for him so that I could report back and he would listen to me some more, because he would know exactly how valuable what I said and what I did was, he listened so well.

This is how he listened: Whenever I would go to talk to him, he would stop doing anything else, even though he was usually very busy. He would turn toward me. His face and body would relax. He would look me in the eye and smile. When he smiled, he always smiled with his eyes as well. Then he would look down and wait for me to speak, with the fingertips of his hands pressed together in front of him, absolutely still.

When I started talking, he would look up again and watch me intently. He would listen the whole time I was talking. When I stopped talking, he would repeat it back to me. He would say it the way I meant it, checking with me to see if he had it exactly, not changing it or turning it into something else. “Hmmm,” he would say, “I see what you mean.” He would think about it silently then.

At this point, I would never know if he agreed with me or not, because he always did this first. He didn’t reject anything out of hand – he tried it on, walked around in it, felt of it, and looked it all over, before he decided.

If he agreed with what I said, he would say so and smile at me. Then he would say what I had said again, with something of his own added -- a slightly different slant, a story to illustrate. We would both smile at each other and sit there for a minute, smiling. To be understood and appreciated is a very great thing.

If he disagreed with what I said, he would say so and explain, touching on the parts that he thought were right and saying at what point he thought it was wrong and why. He would take me with him every step of the way from where I was to where he was. So we still understood each other, even if we didn’t agree. Sometimes this was even better, as we always took some action and so found out who was closer to the truth. And he was always just as pleased when I was right as he was when he was right, because getting the job done was the important thing, not how we got there.

If you listen really well, people will be delighted to tell you what you need to know.

But sometimes people don’t just come out and tell you the truth. Maybe, like me, you are not as good a listener as the man who listened well. Maybe people don’t know they have the information you need. Maybe they don’t want you to have the information. But you still need to know the truth.

Then you must listen even more carefully. There are always clues that what people are saying and doing, what you are saying and doing, is the truth or not. As in Boolean logic (if-then-else), if what someone says is true and their actions are consistent with what they say, then their actions will produce certain results. If what they say is not true or their actions are not consistent with what they say, the results will be different.

Sometimes the truth is not in what people say, but you can know the truth by what is happening all around you.

Section 2


To do the right thing and achieve all your goals, you need lots of information. Here’s how to get it:

Listen Very Carefully

Welcome Information, Criticism is Information

If You Have a Choice, Don’t Choose to Be Hurt

Examine Your Motives

Targeting Problems is Good, Targeting People is Evil

If You Want Someone to Do Something for You,
You Have to Be Completely on Their Side

When People Don’t Understand You, Listen Better

Friday, September 16, 2005

Chapter 7


If you had asked me, at any point in my life, I would have said that I always had a good reason for everything I said and did. Sometimes, it was that it was the right thing to do and helped me achieve one of my goals. I still consider that to be a good reason. Other times, you might have had to be a little more broadminded about what “good” meant.

In the past, I have often done things because other people “made me mad” or “hurt my feelings” or “tricked” me into thinking it was OK. At the time, those were good reasons to me, too, although I don’t think they are now. Sometimes, I did things without even consciously thinking about why I was doing them. But, it never took me long to think up a “good” reason after the fact, if questioned.

It is interesting, then, that it was often my opinion that other people said or did things for bad reasons, or for no reason at all. Maybe I thought I was different from other people. Or, maybe I was willing to believe that someone else might make excuses or hide their true motives but not that I would do those things.

As I slowly learned to recognize my own motives, I knew that I had not always had a good reason for everything I said and did. But when I realized that I had been fooling myself (and not many other people, most likely), I tried to stop doing those things for which I didn’t have a good reason. I still wanted to have a good reason for everything I said and did, even though I thought differently about what constituted a “good” reason. At any point in time, though, no matter what I later thought about whether I was right or wrong, I have, at the time, thought I had a good reason for everything I said and did.

I believe now that most people are the same. They say and do things for what they consider to be good reasons, whether or not they seem like good reasons to anyone else. And, they are justified in what they say and do, at least in their own minds, at the time that they say and do them.

It has been important for me to believe that people have a good reason for what they say and do, even though I don’t know what it is, not just because it is true, but also because, otherwise, I have a tendency to blame anything other people do that I don’t like, on some character flaw or intentionally bad behavior. When I believed the worst about people, I got mad at them or gave up on them as hopeless. Then they didn’t want to work with me any more than I wanted to work with them. Believing that everyone has a good reason for what they say and do allows me to approach them as reasonable people with a difference of opinion. I can possibly convince or be convinced by these people. We have a chance of coming to an agreement.

I started believing that people have good reasons for what they say and do because it worked, first with people I liked (which is not hard to do), then with people I didn’t know (giving them the benefit of the doubt), and then with people I didn’t necessarily like, because it gave me a way to talk to people when we had differences and come to an agreement. I am sure now that it is true, because people have always been able to give me good reasons for what they said and did whenever I was willing to listen. Even when I thought that there could not possibly be an honorable explanation for someone’s “bad” behavior, I have invariably found that things look completely different from the other side.

You can’t do the right thing and achieve all your goals by fighting with other people. You need other people. You need to talk to them the way you would want them to talk to you if they didn’t like what you were doing. You need to assume the best about them and make it easy for them to explain by understanding their point of view instead of thinking badly of them or getting mad at them.

People often say that someone else did something “for no reason”. Although I believe that everyone says or does things without giving it a lot of thought sometimes, I also believe that people do things for a reason most of the time, especially when they put emotion behind what they say or do. I think that sometimes this sense that it “comes out of nowhere” happens when people make you feel what they are feeling, a very interesting phenomenon. Sometimes it is inadvertent. An anxious person will make you feel anxious by some kind of osmosis. But sometimes people will set out to make you feel what they are feeling. If you insult them, they insult you, so that you can see how you like it. I’ve done that myself. However, I have never found it to work. The other person never has developed an instant empathy and stopped insulting me. They just get hurt and angry at what I said and insult me more.

Assume that everyone has a good reason for what they say and do, because they do. Assume that everyone has a good reason for what they say and do, because it is that assumption that will allow you to really listen to their point of view, negotiate with them, and reach an agreement. When it seems like people are doing things “for no reason”, question if you are doing something that someone is reflecting back to you.

Chapter 6


I used to believe in perfection. In fact, perfection was what I expected, from myself and everyone else, all the time.

If a mistake was found and it was mine, I immediately started making excuses for myself, usually at someone else’s expense. But I always felt bad about making a mistake, even though I never believed it was my fault. I was disappointed in myself for not being perfect (I should have spotted it, after all!) and afraid that I would lose my position or at least my standing, because being perfect was my job.

If a mistake was found and it was someone else’s, it made me mad. Everyone else owed me the same perfection I owed them. Failure to achieve perfection interfered with getting the job done and, if the culprit worked for me, made me look bad. I never thought, then, that any mistake was tiny or that you should expect a certain number of errors in any work done by humans. I always demanded an explanation for the outrage (at least by my demeanor if not by my words). And I always knew that any excuse they would come up with would be inadequate.

When I started working with customers instead of coworkers, I came to understand that I could not hold them to the same standard of perfection that I had always demanded of others. First of all, they were already perfect in their own way, just because they were my customers. (They chose me, didn’t they!) Second, if they did not do everything perfectly, it was not going to be their fault, is was going to be my fault (in their eyes, at least) – I didn’t teach them what they needed to know, I didn’t set it up properly, the software wasn’t “user-friendly” enough. And last, if I insulted them or made them unhappy, they would go find someone who treated them better, immediately.

I found out that customers don’t care about your perfect procedure or your wonderful software, they care about getting their work done. I learned to focus on the goal and not worry about people’s little idiosyncratic ways of doing things. Whatever works! And if they did have to learn to do something a particular way for it to work, I didn’t mind telling them how to do it a hundred times or a hundred different ways. Most things, they would end up doing thousands of times. It didn’t matter if some of them were slow to pick it up at first. All my customers got faster and better than me eventually. I just had to get them through that first hard part, until the gears meshed and they took off on their own. Whatever it takes!

There were many times when the customer did something (or failed to do something) that caused a problem. But blaming the customer was not an option. Getting mad at my customers for making mistakes was counterproductive and eventually I didn’t do it anymore. I retrained them or set up the software so they couldn’t make that mistake any more, or helped them develop a procedure for checking the work before it went out.

When you blame someone for something, they defend themselves. They either start looking for someone else to blame (such as the person who trained them) or they shut up and won’t tell you what happened. Then you can’t get the information you need to troubleshoot and fix the problem. I had to make it safe for them to tell me what I needed to know.

Eventually, I not only didn’t blame them, I made their excuses for them. I made their excuses for them so that they didn’t feel bad (an upset software user can’t concentrate), so that they knew I was on their side (they could tell me everything), and so that they could give an explanation to their boss and coworkers (a grateful software user tries harder).

Out of necessity, I had stopped trying to figure out what was wrong with my customers and had started assuming that they were doing the best they could. My job wasn’t to find fault, it was to help them. This new way of doing things worked even when, I suspect, the person wasn’t really interested in learning what I was trying to teach them or when they were distracted by personal problems or whatever else prevents someone from learning. Even though I was willing to tell them how to do something 100 times, I never found anyone who wanted to keep calling and asking me more than three or four times.

Of course, I tried this new understanding and sympathy with my coworkers, too. And it worked just as well with them, maybe even better. It’s a real relief, I guess, when your coworkers are trying to help you do well instead of trying to catch you in a mistake.

When I found something that didn’t seem right, I would try to start the conversation in a way that didn’t accuse, let me give and receive information, and didn’t make the other person mad. The one that worked for me was, “Can you take a look at this for me?” Then I let them look it over for a minute or two. Many times, they would see what was bothering me right away and say, “Yep, that’s a mistake, I didn’t mean to do that.” If they said something like that, then I said something like, “I’ve done that, too, it’s easy to miss that.” If it wasn’t a mistake, they might explain why they did it that way and convince me their way was better. If not, I might say something like, “I see what you mean, but wouldn’t it be better if we did it this way?” and show them what I thought. Whatever we decided to do, no one had to feel bad and no one had to get mad, which only gets in the way of this task and everything else we need to do together.

If they did see what they have done as a mistake, I allowed them any explanation that they cared to give. It didn’t matter to me if their explanation was “lame” or if they didn’t give one. I didn’t need for them to admit anything. If there was something that either of us could do to make it easier to do the task correctly or harder to make the mistake, we could talk about it. Otherwise, it was enough that they knew about and corrected the mistake and kept an eye out for it in the future. They didn’t have to explain why they were not perfect.

Giving people a break had an unexpected side effect for me. I realized that I could give myself a break, too. I came down hard on people for making mistakes (sure it was character flaw) and I felt really bad when I made one (same reason!). Now, I could see that they didn’t have to be perfect and neither did I. For the first time in my life, it was easy for me to admit that I had made a mistake, figure out what I needed to do to keep from making it again, fix it, and move on.

The energy I used to use (and it felt like a lot) trying to make other people feel bad about their mistakes, making myself feel bad about my mistakes, is now spent more wisely. Identifying and fixing mistakes quickly and adapting procedures and processes to minimize mistakes is much more efficient and effective than demanding perfection.

Assume everyone is doing the best they can, even you, and that everyone makes mistakes, even you.

Chapter 5


What we say and do are choices that we make. Although we sometimes say we “have to” say or do something, that’s not really true. We choose to say or do something and also to whom, what, where, when, and how. When we make that choice, we are accountable to other people for our words and actions, not because we have to get their permission, but because they will react to us.

If we want to do the right thing and achieve all our goals, we need to really think about the choices that we make, what we say and do. What we say and do affects other people. With our words and actions, we can help or hurt, inspire or discourage, anger or bring happiness, and everything in between. We need to choose our words and actions with care for their effect. We also need to pay attention to what other people say and do and make choices based on those things.

At the beginning of a relationship, a job, a project, we need to explain what we are trying to do and why. We need to explain again when we say or do things that seem contrary to our stated goals. Hopefully, people will point out our inconsistency if we say one thing and do another, and question us if we say, for instance, that we believe in them as a group but we belittle some of the individuals in it. People help us by holding us accountable when we get tired or forget or don’t realize that we’re not doing what we said. Based on what we say and do, people make choices about helping or fighting us, being with us or leaving us.

Other people are also accountable to us and to everyone else for what they say and do. We have the right and the responsibility to question them, tell them when we think they are wrong, and support them when we think they are right. The thought, “What did they mean by that?” should almost always be followed by the question, “What do you mean?” When people say they are going to do something, they invite questions about how they are going to get it done. When people say they are not going to do something, they invite questions about why. When people praise us, they owe us the specifics of what they thought was good. When people insult us, they owe us the specifics of what they thought was bad. When people do things, they should expect us to check on them to make sure what they are doing is consistent with their stated goals. If they are not, they should expect us to say so. When people do odd things, they definitely owe us an explanation. We can’t make anyone do these things, of course, but we can ask and make choices based on the answer or even based on no answer.

Sometimes, what people say and do is unacceptable because it hurts someone else. It is our right and responsibility to say so and set ourselves apart from that person if they persist. Sometimes, what people say and do is unacceptable to people in general -- otherwise known as illegal – and they are set apart in a formal way. If we do not speak up or do anything when we see someone else say or do something that hurts someone, we are accomplices to it.

Even when we are responding to someone else, we need to make sure that our words and actions help us achieve our goals. We are still responsible for what we say and do even when “provoked”.

I used to think that other people made me angry. Now I know that I make myself angry because I hear someone’s words or see their actions, interpret them as hostile to me, and leap to my own defense, usually with an attack of my own. I used to say, “I couldn’t help it, she made me mad!” Now I know that I have a choice. I really haven’t changed, I am still who I was, and I still have the same internal reaction to the same stimulus, but now I know I can chose what I say and what I do in response to it. Now I know that no good will come of it if I speak while I am still angry. Now I know that I have to take the time, maybe just a moment, to figure out where I want this to go and how to get it there.

Usually, if I don’t strike back right away and just listen instead, people will explain themselves. Many times, it will turn out that the insult I perceived was not intended (or maybe they heard how they sounded, too, and decided to change it). If not, I can get them to explain by telling them what I heard and maybe how it made me feel.

Alternatively, I might decide it’s not really about me (most of the time it’s not about me, I find when I look at it calmly). If I just keep repeating that to myself, I can usually keep myself from responding in anger. Then I don’t need an explanation, I can just ask for what I want instead of fighting.

Either way is better than responding in anger. Even if they were trying to make me mad, that doesn’t mean that my responding in kind is right or helps me achieve my goals. I still need to choose what I say and what I do. And, even if I choose to fight, that needs to be my conscious choice, not my knee-jerk reaction!
We are all accountable to each other for our words and actions.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Chapter 4


“He thinks he’s better than everybody else.” How can I tell? By that smug look on his face. “She thinks I’m trying to make her look bad.” How do I know? I’ve been here before. I talk as if I’m a mind reader, but I’m not. What I really mean is: “If I were acting like that, it would be because I thought I was better than everyone else” or “the last time I saw someone act like that, she said she was mad.” We know what we would think in the same situation. We know what other people have said they were thinking in a similar situation. But it’s just not the same.

If we really want to know what someone else is thinking or feeling, we have to ask. They might not tell us. But that's the only way we have any chance of finding out.

When you try to deduce what other people are thinking or feeling from what you would think or feel in that situation, you make the assumption that everyone is basically the same. That’s right, basically. You use that reasoning when you decide how to treat other people. The Golden Rule is “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It’s a pretty good rule. But, it’s better applied in a general way. Inasmuch as we are all human beings, we are all basically the same. Inasmuch as we are all individuals, we are all very different.

When you try to deduce what other people are thinking or feeling from what someone said they were thinking or feeling in that situation, you make the assumption that different people react the same way in the same situation. Sometimes that’s true, but often people’s reactions differ in the extreme.
Human beings might be alike when we are first born, but what we like and don’t like, need and don’t need, fear and don’t fear, diverges as we go through life. Each of us is on a unique journey. We can never know exactly what someone else thinks or feels. Even when the same people are involved, there are the times when a situation that appears to be the same is not.

Of course, sometimes it is true that you have guessed what someone else is thinking or feeling. And sometimes you might have even caught them being selfish or lazy or whatever. But you can never know when that has actually happened and, anyway, then what? You could accuse them of acting badly and watch them squirm, maybe. More likely, they would point out your failure to achieve perfection yourself. But what’s are you trying to do? If your purpose is to do the right thing and achieve all your goals, then you need to make it as easy as possible for people to help you. Making them feel bad just gets in the way. Fighting with them makes it almost impossible.

It turns out that the best thing to do is to ask what someone is thinking or feeling, even when you’re certain that you know. They’ll probably explain. You might be surprised to find out how wrong you were. If the explanation is lame, they’ll know it as well as you do. If you just let them off the hook this one time, they won’t use it again. It’s not important to get them to admit that they don’t have a good reason for what they’re doing. You have to ask for what you want and find out if they will help you. If they will, it doesn’t matter that they had a lapse in perfection. If they won’t, it still doesn’t matter. It just means you need to find help elsewhere. If their job is to deliver what you are asking for, you might have to let them go and hire someone else, but there’s still no reason to get mad at them, and getting mad at them won’t help.

On the other hand, if you don’t want to know what someone thinks, don’t ask. People are accountable for their words and actions, not their thoughts and feelings. They don’t have to tell you everything they think and feel. If nothing they say will change your mind and it will make them mad because you don’t care what they say (probably!), don’t ask.

Hopefully, these are not people on your team, because you should care what people on your team think, unless you were planning on doing this all by yourself, maybe? If you suspect someone is not 100 percent behind your plan and it will just irritate you if they confirm that, don’t ask. If a decision has been made and they are doing their part, they don’t have to pledge allegiance every day.

Before you get started on anything new, it is in your best interest to let everyone you’re counting on to help tell you what their reservations are and what options they think would be better. You need that input to make sure you haven’t overlooked something important. But everybody doesn’t have to agree 100 percent for a course of action to be taken. If 100 percent agreement were required from all parties, no plan would ever be implemented. If the plan is a good one, they will probably be convinced eventually. If it isn’t, you’ll need them, even more than those who agreed with you, to help you find a better idea.

You don’t know what other people are thinking and feeling, you have to ask if you want to know. Every once in a while, you might be able to guess what people are thinking and feeling, but it won’t make any difference. You still have to ask, to be certain that you have guessed correctly, and, more importantly, to be able to talk to them about it.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Chapter 3


What we think and feel are not choices that we make and we are not accountable for them. Our thoughts and feelings don’t affect other people unless we put them into words or actions. It’s true that thinking and feeling usually (hopefully) come before speaking and doing. Still, we have many thoughts, but we don’t say them all. We have many feelings, but we don’t act on them all.

We share our thoughts and feelings with people who care about us and our well-being. We can talk it over and they can help us figure out what makes us feel that way. We can consider whether there is a different way to look at the situation or what options we have. We tell other people our thoughts and feelings when we want their understanding or assistance.

No one has a right or responsibility to demand to know or try to guess what we are thinking or feeling in order to criticize, condemn, or punish us. There are no thought police. There might be some “what I think you are thinking” police, but that is wrong on two counts -- because we shouldn’t be held accountable for what we think and because nobody knows what we’re thinking.

Thoughts come from everything we’ve ever learned and everything we’ve ever experienced. We combine them with new learning and new experiences and even with things we’ve only imagined.

We think about all the possibilities and what the results might be. We remember what happened before and what we have heard happened to other people. We think about what effect our actions will have on other people and make the proper adjustments in order to do the right thing and achieve all our goals. We believe something is possible and are inspired to make it happen. We know there is danger and guard against it. We make Plan A and back it up with Plan B.

We can indulge in ridiculous and incredible thoughts to keep our minds wide open and exercise our imagination and creativity. Angry feelings and aggressive thoughts can play themselves out in fantasy in our minds. We can enjoy for a minute or two the imagined discomfort of those who have hurt us, intentionally or not, without any harm to ourselves or them.

We need to allow all this for ourselves and for everyone else. Everyone can think whatever comes into their heads. No one can stop us from thinking anything at all; nor can we stop anyone else -- even if we do say sometimes, “Don’t even think about it!”

We are not accountable for our feelings. Feelings come from everything we’ve learned and everything we’ve experienced and are necessary for us to do the right thing and accomplish all our goals. Feelings are what make doing the right thing and accomplishing goals enjoyable. People talk about “controlling” our feelings or our emotions, as if we could keep from having them. We can’t. We can control our words and our actions. We can choose not to speak from our emotions, we can choose not to act on our feelings.

At least in my case, feelings are not always a positive basis for action. I disliked a woman once, just because she reminded me of someone else. I have also loved people dearly who didn’t love me back or have my best interest at heart. I don’t worry about those feelings anymore. They just are. I might wonder about them, where they come from, but no one can demand an explanation of me. It’s my mystery to figure out or not. I just know that before I speak or act, I have to have more to go on than feelings. I have to have figured out whether what I say or what I do is right and whether it helps me achieve my goals.

If someone does tell us what they think or feel, or if we tell them, it doesn’t do any good to deny or reject them. Hearing, “You shouldn’t think like that” doesn’t keep it from happening. Telling someone, “You shouldn’t feel that way” doesn’t change how they feel. And, if that’s what we get, why would we reveal our thoughts or feelings?

Of course, people can change their minds or their feelings might be different if they get more information, have new experiences, or see a different way of looking at something. If someone tells us what they think or feel, we can tell them, show them, or explain, and that could happen. Or they might do that for us. But that’s a choice that people make -- whether to tell someone else what they think or feel.

We all have a lot of different thoughts and feelings about a lot of different things. We are not accountable to anyone for what comes and goes in our heads, for what comes and goes in our hearts, nor is anyone else accountable to us. No one has the right to know what we are thinking or feeling unless we choose to tell them. No one has the right to know or judge anyone else’s thoughts or feelings.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Trip to Washington DC

Well, I took an unplanned break from writing for a few days. I went to a conference in Washington DC. That was planned. I took my tablet PC along so that I could keep posting. That was good. But I picked a hotel that didn't have internet access. They did say they were working on it. I'll have to remember not to assume that everybody thinks it's a necessity, like water!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Chapter 2


Some Native American tribes reportedly believed that knowing a person’s true name gave you power over that person. They had two names, one of which was never spoken in public. In some ways, I agree. If you know an animal’s scientific name, for example, you can get a lot of information on it. You can find out where it lives, what it eats, and its expected lifespan, how to trap and kill it or how to help it flourish. If you know a plant’s scientific name, you can find out if it is nutritious or poisonous and how to get it to grow or wipe it out. When you know what something is called, you can find out anything that anybody has ever found out and written about it, not just what you are able to observe yourself.

Similarly, we seem to want to classify other people, in order to know what to expect from them and how to “handle” them. We spend some amount of time figuring them out, listening to them and observing them, and then we put them in a box with the other people that seem to be like them. We decide, “He’s nice,” and expect him to be nice all the time. We decide, ”She’s stupid,” and don’t expect anything intelligent to come out of her. We even classify ourselves, saying things like "I'm a hard worker" or "I'm very loyal".

There are two problems with classifying people. The first is that we are often so very bad at it. It takes a lifetime for a person to become what they are, and most of us never stop “becoming”. Yet one person might try to classify another after being introduced and shaking their hand. I have known people who were proud of their ability to size people up instantly. Of course, they always turned out to be right about the person. I was always amazed, because I didn’t have that ability myself -–it usually took me a few days to figure someone out.

Now, I don’t believe that they really knew all about the other person in a few seconds, any more than I did in a few days. But I believe that in a few seconds, or a few days, we had made our decisions and assigned the other person to a box. We treated them then like we treated everyone else in that box, and they acted like everyone else in that box, or so it seemed to us.

In reality, hardly anyone is “nice” all the time. And almost everyone says or does something “stupid” sometimes. What seems like very bad judgment could be a lack of experience, easily overcome with time. People do learn. People do grow. And, more than that, they put things together and have epiphanies and suddenly become brilliant! Even if we could figure someone else out in less than a lifetime, people don’t really fit in neat boxes. If we pay attention, we can see that they are constantly getting out of the boxes they are put in. If we haven’t seen them doing it, it might just be that the sides of our boxes are too high for us to see what’s really going on.

I found myself in a box one time. I could clearly see that it was a box that someone else had put me in and not one I had jumped in myself. I could see that it had little to do with me and what I was really capable of and everything to do with what someone else said I was capable of.

After some hesitation, I realized that this man didn’t know me better than I knew myself. There was just no way that he could. He was talking about “people like me”. He had put me in some category of people in his own mind -- people good with computers, people who don’t know much about people, who wouldn’t know how to get a group of other people to talk to each other and figure out how to work together to get a job done. But he was wrong about me, I didn’t belong in that box. Because my life has been different than “people like me” and, as it happens, I do have that ability. So, I told him so and then I proved it.

I know that I have put people in boxes, too, and put a lid on them and nailed them down. In fact, the first thing I always wanted to do when I met someone was figure out what box they belonged in, so I would know how to relate to them. I can’t honestly say that I have been able to stop doing that completely. But now, if I put people in boxes at all, they are boxes with low sides and no tops that they can step right out of whenever they want. I am ready for people to act differently than I thought they would act or than they have acted in the past or than “people like them” act.

The second problem is that classifying something also limits your expectations of it. Once you know it’s a slug, you know it can’t dance. Even if it seems to be dancing, you know it’s an illusion, because slugs can’t dance. You can’t teach a slug to dance either, because it is not capable of it. (But, then again, have you ever seen a Hexabranchus sanguineus aka The Spanish Dancer?)

People should never be limited by their “classification”. They can speak for themselves. People can tell you what they think they are capable of and what they are willing to try to do. Even when deciding what their physical capabilities are, you have to ask people if they can do something instead of looking at them and deciding for yourself, and, in the workplace at least, you are required by law to do so. It is just as true that you should not decide that someone can’t do something because you don’t think they have the intelligence or the will or the personality for it. You have to ask.

Being able to predict what other people will do is useful to us. But sometimes we carry it too far. In order to really know someone, we would probably have had to live with them their whole lives and experienced everything they’ve experienced. We can’t do that, so we try to take a shortcut by putting people in a category with other people we have known or even people we’ve imagined to be “like them”. But, we really don’t know most other people very well. When we want to know what other people are capable of achieving, we need to ask.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Chapter 1

Chapter 1 - People Are What They Are and It's Irrevelant Anyway

“I can’t work with her, she’s stupid.” Okay, maybe I wasn’t that blatant. But I have often complained about another person, expecting the listener to understand that it was impossible for me to work with this person because of what he or she “is” – stupid, lazy, crazy, whatever. The person listening to me usually agreed. They didn’t want to work with stupid, lazy, or crazy people either. But that was when I believed that I could actually figure out what a person “is”, and that what a person “is” matters.

There was a clue that I wasn’t very good at figuring out what a person “is”. The clue was that it was usually easier to get agreement if the person I was talking to didn’t know the person I was talking about. If the only information they had was what I was telling them, they usually saw it my way. But, if the person I was talking to did know the person I was talking about, I often got an argument from them. They saw the other person differently than I did.

Another clue was that even people that seemed lazy, stupid, or bad to me had friends, too. And sometimes, the people who liked them were people that I liked. Of course, there was always an explanation for that – the bad person that I didn’t like had fooled the good person I liked – but there was another explanation. They saw the other person differently than I did.

Even if I could get someone who knew the person to agree with me, there always seemed to be someone else who disagreed. Or we all agreed that a person had one attribute, but still disagreed on whether it was important, or on what other qualities or defects they had and how important those were. We were all looking at the same person, but each of us put that person in a different box, depending on what we thought was their dominant quality or defect.

It could be that I was an exceptionally bad judge of people, but I don’t think the problem was my skill at it. I think the problem was in judging people at all. People seem different to other people because they are different in different situations and at different times. New experiences and insights give people attributes they never had before. And people are many things at once.

I am intelligent if you talk to me about my work. I am stupid if you talk to me about art. I am energetic at my job. I am lazy at housekeeping. I am kind, cooperative, and understanding with people who help me achieve my goals. I am suspicious and critical of people who try to prevent me from reaching my goals.
People are a conflicting conglomeration of thoughts, emotions, experiences, skills, ineptitudes, qualities, and defects. No one is perfect, or its opposite, for that matter. One word can’t sum up a person. And people won’t be just one thing because it’s easier for us to deal with them that way. They are what they are. And it doesn’t matter what they are.

For us to do the right thing and achieve all our goals, it’s not other people who must be something in particular, it is us. To do the right thing and accomplish all our goals, we must be consistent and fair and unbiased -- we must treat each person the same as we treat every other person, no matter who they are, no matter what they are. For us to do the right thing and accomplish all our goals, what we say and do can’t depend on what anyone else “is”.

We must treat our allies well, so they will continue to be our allies, and because it’s the right thing to do. We must treat our opponents well, so that it’s possible for them to become our allies, and because it’s the right thing to do. If we treat our allies well and our opponents badly, we’re not trying to achieve a goal, we’re trying to win a power struggle. If we believe our goals are good, we must keep trying to convince the people that don’t see it. If we give up on our opponents, we obviously don’t believe that the goal is good for them, too. We give up on our own goal and prove that they were right to oppose us.

To accomplish our goals, we don’t need other people to be something, we need them to do something. To do something, people only have to understand what we want, know how to do some part of it, and be willing to do it.

It is not necessary or productive for us to figure out what people “are”, which is good, since it's nearly impossible.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

It's Looking Like a Book!

I decided, as I worked on it, to put the book in the format specified by the publisher I have chosen. And as I was doing that, it slowly started looking like an actual book. That done, today, I worked on the cover. That took all day. Covers ar difficult, but they sure are fun!

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Section 1


We all respond toward other people based on what we believe about ourselves and about them. To change what is not working for us, what is making us miserable and getting in the way of our goals, we have to change what we believe. Then everything we do and everything we say changes automatically. The following are a few beliefs that can change the way we interact with other people:

People Are What They Are – And It’s Irrelevant Anyway

We Don’t Know What Other People Are Capable of Achieving

People Are Not Accountable for Their Thoughts and Feelings

We Don’t Know What Other People Are Thinking and Feeling

People Are Accountable for Their Words and Actions

Everyone is Doing the Best They Can

Everyone Has a Good Reason for What They Say and Do

Friday, September 02, 2005


This book is about people, why we fight, and how we can stop fighting, solve our problems, and achieve all our goals together. I wrote it for the man who helped me find the words -- to show him that, at last, I understood, for me so that I wouldn't forget, and for you.

I had a problem with people. People who didn't understand me. People who fought me and worked against me. People whose actions were incomprehensible to me. When I finally realized what the solution to my problem was, I also realized that I had known it all along. I think it will be the same for you.

The way to solve the problem is by doing the right thing. For many years, I thought I was. It just didn't seem to work. I would do the right thing, but people wouldn't take it the way I intended. They would get angry, retaliate against me, and make me suffer, not to mention really confusing me. Doing the right thing was hard.

What I know now is that doing the right thing is easy. As long as you have really found the right thing, which is also easy, but not obvious, and that when you do the right thing, it is right for everyone -- no anger, no retaliation, no suffering, no confusion.

Come with me, then, and see if you agree.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Back to Work

Now I'll get back to work on preparing my book to be published. I was concerned about why some of the chapters seemed to move slowly while others were snappier. I thought it might be a difficult problem to solve. But one of the people in my writers group, Sue Mazzone ( found the main problem. She asked me to count the words in the opening sentence of one chapter. There were 37 words in that sentence! I will be reviewing all the chapters for run-on sentences and posting them to this blog, then updating the website when they are all complete. If you have any questions, please let me know!