Saturday, November 25, 2006

Don't Take Anything Personally

From The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz:
"Whatever you think, whatever you feel, I know is your problem and not my
problem. It is the way you see the world. It is nothing personal, because you
are dealing with yourself, not with me. Others are going to have their own
opinion according to their belief system, so nothing they think about me is
really about me, but it is about them.
"You may even tell me, 'Miguel, what you are saying is hurting me.' But it
is not what I am saying that is hurting you; it is that you have wounds that I
touch by what I have said."

Never thought of it that way.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Can We Stick to the Subject?

This week's assignment was to pay attention to how people listen to me. Also, to understand the devices I use to get people to pay attention.
Much harder than to pay attention to how I listen. I gave it a good try.
Here's what I found. Since I am a person who does best when conversations are kept on topic, short and to the point, I find that I tend to do that with others. In meetings, I resist attempts to "open up" the discussion to topics not on the agenda. As soon as I get an opportunity, I try to summarize what I have heard others say and then move the conversation back to the topic we started out to discuss.
I find I do this in personal conversations as well as business conversations. I am not good with "changing the subject." I want things in focused, manageable portions.
Does this work?
In business, it does, generally, as long as the meeting started out with an agenda or topic. They understand the statement that we need to get back to the topic we planned to discuss. I have found little resistance, although sometimes people struggle to get in a final word about the "side" topic before they agree to move back to the main topic.
In personal conversations, it's more difficult to do. People want to be heard, and many people tend to ramble. Since I find I have little patience for this, I am sure that I offend people by displaying that in various ways (losing focus, looking or sounding bored, looking for opportunities to end the conversation).
Empathetic listening was not one of my strong points, so I guess it makes sense that I don't particularly look to strike empathy when I am speaking to others. I want others to pay attention to me on the topic I started out to discuss.
Do I need to work on my ability to tolerate "chit-chat"?

Saturday, November 11, 2006


The first constructive criticism I received in my new job was that I needed to listen more. My boss praised me on my perceptions, but said that some of my co-workers felt I didn't listen closely to them when they were talking. He recommended that I actively force myself to step back after a colleague made a statement, repeat it in my head and take a moment before I responded.
The advice surprised me, because I had considered myself to be a good listener. But this week I have been paying attention to my listening patterns -- following the listening test I took at seminar last weekend -- and I'm surprised by how much and how easily I tune out.
The test showed that I am primarily an "evaluative" listener: I listen for facts, try to figure out what the speaker is saying, argue in my mind if I don't like the message, and ultimately tune out if it doesn't interest me.
Well, damned if that isn't exactly what I do.
As instructed by the homework assignment this week -- and of course, just by life -- I listened to a sales presentation (a webcast on a Business Intelligence technology), a colleague (my boss, actually) and my wife.
In the first two cases, the sessions were lengthy, and, while I was interested in the subject matter, I found it difficult to pay full attention after a while. Note: These were both phone conversations, so I did not have the visual stimulus of the speaker's facial expressions and proximity to deal with. Because I was paying closer attention to my listening patterns than I normally would, I noticed that it didn't take long for me to become impatient, to want to "skip ahead," to bypass the storytelling and get to the point. Based on the reading I did and the instructions of my homework assignment, I did my best to stay focused on the speaker. Although it would have been easy to "multi-task" -- or, more accurately, to stop paying attention to the speaker and do something else, such as checking e-mail, I forced myself not to do so. But here's what I found myself doing: Pacing, looking out the window, glancing here and there.
Each time I caught myself doing this, I forced my focus back on the speaker. As I said, I was interested in the subject matter in both cases, so I did try to keep track of where the speaker was going. But it was hard to stay focused.
Looking back on both meetings, I can see that in addition to listening in an evaluative mode, I was also listening for comprehension. I was trying to get the "big picture" of what the speaker was trying to say. And, of course, I always listen for a joke or an entertaining anecdote, so I perked up on those. That maps to appreciative listening.
In listening to my wife, what I found interesting is that I think she has learned to speak to me in ways that play to my listening modes. Since my wife, like me, tracks most strongly to evaluative listening, I think we have learned to talk to each other in ways that we know the other will listen to. Our conversations tend to be relatively short and to-the-point. It's not that we are abrupt, it's that we focus on the topic when we talk to each other. After 22 years together, I guess that makes perfect sense.
Interesting exercise.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

I'm Ready To Fly

This song has been playing in my head for the past day or two, since I returned from my most recent parent seminar. It’s a song that is played when “key holders,” attendees who have completed the entire program of seminars, are held up to “fly” by the rest of us. We hold them aloft, arms outstretched, eyes, closed, in a moment of celebration of their achievement.

I don’t know who sings the song. It’s obvious why it was chosen. It’s inspirational. I’m finding my cynicism broken down by these seminars. Ifrequently wipe a tear from my eyes as I hear the song play itself over in my head.

Am I ready to fly? Not yet. First of all, I’ve got three more weekends of seminars to go. And even then, I’m not sure. I know I am learning things about myself and about the ways I have learned to respond, react. Am I changing some of these ways? To the extent that I am more conscious of my standard reactions and when they “aren’t working” for me, I suppose so.

I recently learned that what I suspected is true. There is a strong philosophical connection between this program I am in and the EST seminars that people attended in the ‘70s. I made fun of those self-actualization programs, but now I think I understand better their power. I don’t know that I could ever get “it,” as the EST-ies used to say, because I am too unwilling to give myself over. But I see value in this kind of self-examination.

I’ve got secrets and fears that I may never part with. That’s my choice. I recognize it as a choice, and I’m somewhat comfortable with it. A lot of what we are taught in this program is that our life is largely what we choose it to be. I remember my EST-ie roommate taking this notion to an illogical extreme, arguing that physical illness is a choice. I’ll never buy that. But I do see that many things I have ascribed to “fate,” or to factors beyond my control, are in fact things I had control over. I could have made many different choices from the ones I have made. I continue to make choices every day; many of them are guided by my choice not to give up certain comforts and pleasures that I have in my life. That’s okay. I am glad I am more conscious of this. It helps to resolve the feeling I sometimes have of being “trapped” in my life.

Does this help to make me ready to fly? Understanding the degree to which I control my life has to help. It also will help me be consistent in the message I send to my daughter.

I think at some level I always understood this “choice” thing, and yet it’s easy, on a daily basis, to feel that my choices are more limited than they are. What I need to keep in mind is that certain choices are limited by other choices. To truly change, I would have to be willing to make some choices to unsettle things that are well-settled in my life.

Things that I value, like physical and economic comfort. Do I fear the consequences of changing these? Sure, I do. I’;m curious how I might handle a real “break” from these comforts. But I don’t know that I really want anything I might gain from that break. That’s what I would have to decide in order to make it happen – that what I really want is possible only if I make a break.

Could that day come? Maybe. It’s not here yet.

So what are my values? Creativity, for sure. Intellect, indubitably. Endurance, I find. I never thought of that as a value, but it really is. I highly prize the decision to “stick with” a course, to hold on through rough times, to endure. Are there other names for this? Loyalty, maybe, but that only applies to personal relationships, and I’m not sure that is where my concept of endurance ends.

I’m suspicious of the more commonly stated values: Integrity, Spirituality, even Honesty. I find them all easy to say and hard to live by. There’s a part of the program that says your values are the things you live by every day. So I think Creativity, Intellect and Endurance are there. I’m pondering whether Comfort is a value. It’s a condition, but what is the value that leads to it. Security, maybe? Safety?Freedom from want? Right now, Security is standing out as the best word for it. How does that mesh with my stated contract: I am a creative, fearless, adventurous, confident man? Fearless, adventurous and confident seem almost antithetical to the idea of security, but do you need security in order to be those other things? Can you be fearless if you are insecure? Can you be confident? Can you be adventurous if you don’t have some notion of security?

I get into these circular patterns of thought, but they’re good, I guess. At least I’m thinking.