Anger: Part Five – Anger and Resentment – Acknowledging Fear as an Ally.

Like a hungry set of wolves, which will win between fear and anger or calm and confident?
The answer is the one we feed. Now, which one do you want to reach out to with your hand?

In the office one day back in 1988 I was having a bad day. I was still in the military and preparing to be honorably discharged from my twelve years of service. There was already some anxiety by going from a guaranteed monthly income to private enterprise and the role of a professional speaker and trainer in a field I felt inadequate considering I would be speaking to corrections officers in a medium and maximum security prison facility. I had no direct experience working in the prison system and I felt I should be doing my first few courses for free as I got my proverbial sea legs under me. George wouldn’t hear of it and asked me negotiate a contract with the state for verbal Judo training for a dozen or so classes. I came home with the contract, and I negotiated a lesser fee base than I believe George wanted in the agreement. I explained my position but he had a way of grinding his teeth to express displeasure with was simply unmistakable as criticism.

Because I had set up my part of the company not as an employee but contracting to use the VJ program and pay a percentage of my earnings back to George, I had full authority to charge what I saw fit and as fair compensation. I had not yet learned to think like a businessman regarding fair market value of a commodity that wasn’t tangible. I now see I was charging based upon my perceived self-worth and not the intrinsic value of the product. I worked from a premise than if delivery is of greater weight than the content then unlike a watch or a car, the value was me and not only the program. Logically, it stood the test of “reasonability”. George agreed I had the right to negotiate my own rate so he let it go, or so I thought. But every day we were in the office together he found a way to clearly demonstrate his displeasure at my decision. Little nit-picking on menial items began to drive me to points of frustrating irritation, which turned to a form of resentment. I began believing he was purposing undermining our agreement, as well as our friendship, by not following the clearly established terms of my work. Granted that our original contract was little more than some pen scratching on a Dunkin’ Donunts napkin agreed to by two over-caffeinated people so much was still subjective. We always figured we would work it out as we went.

Anger is an immediate reaction against the feeling of helplessness. We fear what is not in our control. Think of anticipated fear in a simple example. None of us are perfect and as humans we are prone to making mistakes from an error in judgment to pressing the nuclear missile fire button before getting a presidential authorization. By the way, the latter requires there be two people with keys to the release system for firing so one person can’t by himself or herself screw up the world. Checks and balances are a good thing. Anger and resentment are the one side of our equation and being fired for releasing a torrent or poorly chosen words on a supervisor is the other side of the coin.

My resentment took a few days to work through and I did a little leaning toward benefit of the doubt on George’s part. I clearly believed he had my best interests at heart and he knew from my character I would do what I had promised so basically we were mentally dueling on peripheral issues and the basic understanding was sound. This became my springboard. I knew I would need to bring my speaking skills up to a professional level in very short order and this fact did not help with my anxiety level. I used an old technique I had learned from a psychiatrist I knew from my martial arts training. I asked a simple question to which he gave a simple answer: take what you already know about yourself and relate it to the new task at hand. Confidence is confidence and it all comes from you and not the house you live in, the car you drive, the label on your clothing, or what you do for a living. He went on to explain the main reason for staying on a job or with a person and a bad relationship is because we don’t believe we deserve better. If you can build a bride then you can build a house. A hammer is a hammer and a saw is a saw. The application of tools and skills you already have in play just need to be reapplied. It made sense.

I went back to the office and pulled a Verbal Judo book off the shelf, and at the time we only had the one, Words as a Force Option and Redirecting behavior with Words was just arriving from the publisher. But as I read I remembered George giving me his singular piece of advice, which at the time I found almost useless and now invaluable, “I don’t know how to teach you how to teach this program. You will either be successful or you will fail. What I do know for the time I have spent with you in the marital arts school is you don’t like to fail. I am confident in you. Learn to use Verbal Judo to teach Verbal Judo.”

I combined the advice I had gleaned from two very smart and educated people in vastly differing fields of study and formed a way through the problem. I began by acknowledging my problem for what is truly was, fear of failing. Oddly it wasn’t fear of failing as a speaker but my fear of failing to measure up to expectations. I was afraid of embarrassing George and defiling his program by not measuring up. I wrote down fear of failure on a piece of paper. It even looked ugly as I read it. I thought, okay, that covers the negative side, now let’s acknowledge my skills. The column began to grow until the sentence on fear looked smaller and smaller. I wrote every single success I could remember. I set them in a numbered order from small to large. I drew lines connecting how a small success had given me the ability to have larger ones later. I gave myself an out, since no one was looking and I acknowledged every single success had a common thread, the initial fear of failure. If I could stand in front an audience of hundreds during a karate tournament then I could stand in front of forty people and teach a program. I even put in in perspective to dating. Again, it wasn’t having a nice car or a big house or a lot of money for a fancy dinner but more about charm and likability. The key was my personality, or the one I would manufacture to represent the Institute and the Verbal Judo program. I then realized no one was hoping I would fail. I was being offered a forum for success.

I was ready. I knew the program and I only had to survive a four hour block of training. I knew the first class was the key. If the first went well then word would spread and the rest would have a positive expectation. I knew the history when George started, “Who the hell are you and what this Verbal Judo crap you’re peddling?” He overcame it and it was hard, but I could do this and I would do this well. Confidence. Shaky confidence, but confidence never the less. I needed to spend my energy more positively because being angry and afraid was draining it. I was defending my fear and rationalizing it instead of putting it into its place and walking away from it.

I picked George up at the airport of a Friday night and my debut was Monday morning. Time was up. As we got into the car George noted, “I need you to know something. You are concerned with credibility in a room full of Corrections Officers who work one of the toughest jobs in America and they won’t tolerate a poor performance on your part. I was pretty nervous my first time too so I get it. But when you are in the front of the room all eyes are on you and remember you are not there to teach them their job and they would resent you for trying to do that but here is the key – no one in that room will know more about this material than you. That will be how you will succeed, my son. The money will come when you are ready. Make it sooner than later because we have a company to build and we have something to say that people need to hear.”

Indeed.

On Monday morning I walked into a room full of negative faces waiting to challenge me at every turn. Mistakes were not an option. An officer in the back row spoke as I walked to the front of the room, “Who the hell are you and what this Verbal Judo crap?” I smiled which seemed to unnerve him and it reminded me of facing an opponent in a karate tournament. My answer, “The best training you will ever have for keeping your ass alive, from losing your job or being sued from saying something stupid. Lose your temper, lose your job or worse, your life.

— Lee Fjelstad
Reference: LEAPS – PAVPO – Delivery – 90-93 % of our Success – Mushin – PACE
This particular set of postings on anger, fear, resentment, and success are for the people who asked for my insight so they too can see themselves in a better light for a better future.

Anger: Part Four

Anger is consuming.

The immediate effects are increased blood pressure, a surge of adrenaline, facial contortions and total change in our posture. The baseness of the emotion is primal in nature and in the short-run, we grow stronger both physically and with the intent of purpose, becoming self-centered through the pain and we want to lash out. Anger and the stress connected to it disrupt sleep, cause us to lose some short-term memory, causes mood swings, and begins a slide into numerous other ill effects on the body which medical science and somnologists are now arguing can even cause heart-disease and diabetes. Of course much of these effects as if the anger is long-term or frequently repetitive regarding the source or the issue triggering it.

Anger also creates a single-minded focus with it easily causing poor judgment without seeking a fuller context of the perceived wrongdoing our subsequent potential for rash action. We frequently lose self-control and erupt into some of the “Greatest speeches we will live to regret. I believe, as does the scientific community, reasonable anger on a moderate level can even be a positive outlet versus keeping it bottled up inside until we explode. What we really need is a braking system. The respective event chain – Expectations lead to disappointment, which changes to anger upon discovery of motive, turning to resentment and in time, thoughts of vengeance.

The reasonableness of our anger may be the key. Using L.E.A.P.S. and keeping our wits about us during an “episode” we can create solutions rather than add to the problem, but we still need a governable action plan. George Thompson was fond of saying, “When the mouth opens the ears close.” I later added to this sentiment with – We have two ears and one mouth so if we spend twice as much time listening as talking we can learn more about the problem and a possible resolution. But listening requires tolerance, which we gain from empathy, the second part of the LEAPS acronym. But it’s hard because our instinct when hurt is to lash out. If we lash out we never get the full context of the why from the others point of view. Manifesting real empathy is hard.

Severe anger, identically to fear in initial effect, shuts down the ability to think and therefore speak coherently. A big difference is fear can incapacitate or paralyze action and anger releases it to cause. Certainly fear of an uncontrollable episode initiated by anger can be suppressed but at a physical and emotional cost. Rising blood pressure, accelerated heart and respiration rate, swallowed and labored breathing causes hyperventilation which in turn robs the brain of oxygen we desperately need to think of a witty comeback that won’t get us fired. Some days we simply say the first thing that comes to mind and burn the bridge we are standing on. Hence the maxim, Anger bad – control good. But we must control more than the anger if we are to survive the aftermath of injured pride and feelings of resentment.

Breathing helps, a lot. My mother ascribed to the philosophy of counting to ten before speaking. The problem with the idea was I had no idea what to do when I got to ten so I still said something stupid and inflammatory with nothing more than implementing a ten second fuse. She was right of course, sans the follow up advice. My mother was the peace-maker and my dad more volatile. In frustrating times, I was dad. If any consolation was present during these tense father-son encounters it was me stoking the ashes of a previous and still smoldering fire then adding kindling. Dad happily struck the match.

Back to breathing, which I learned in the martial arts. Breath control regulates our system, which gives us better muscle control, especially important if we consider the tongue is basically a muscle we exercise far too often. But anger is relational to stress and stress releases a whole lot of chemical reactions into your body, the primary culprit is cortisol. It’s a hormone produced by the adrenal gland, creating a fight or flight response/reaction to whatever we feel is endangering us. The body doesn’t make a distinction between the stress of job irritation and being chased by a bear whose cave your ancestor invaded to get out of the cold rain a hundred thousand years ago. If you wanted to use a co-worker’s butt for punting practice it’s just the ticket. If you want to keep your job and family then it’s not so good, unless you can harness it. A simple process, really, as adrenaline increases cortisol floods muscle tissue away from the stomach where it is used to digest lunch and pushes it to the limbic region, such as your legs so you can run faster. Maybe not as fast as the bear but technically you might only need to run faster than the guy next to you.

Back to the ten count, because it works if you understand the principle. To gain full benefit you need to use all your lung capacity. Singers, dancers, martial artists, and a lot of professional athletes learn this a part of the regular practice to control the rush of adrenaline that comes with competition. Practice pulling in air for a full count of ten and hold for one second and exhale using another ten count. The more air you draw and exhale the better your control over the rush of the chemical release flooding your muscles. The hint that makes this work – your abdomen will expand and contract while your chest does not. The slowing of your breath cycle with the ten count the less chance of hyperventilation. The more even your breathing, the more even the keel of your thinking.
— Lee Fjelstad
Reference: Mushin – LEAPS – PAVPO

Anger: Part Three

The ability, nay, the courage to say no might be one of the top 21 things we need to learn as we rise to any height in any organization. But how and why we say no makes all the difference to everyone concerned. In subsequent postings I will elaborate.

For the sake of conversation, I have never been much of a people pleaser (I can provide references), but rarely have I come across anyone who has appreciated it when I said no to a request. Regardless of the bluntness or the calculated labyrinth of polite reasoning for my lack of wiliness to assist, disappointment was still plainly evident. If life’s experiences are to provide a tool for learning then my ulterior motive for saying no has a pivotal point. I can say no conditionally if I can understand the thought process behind the request and the stakes at large.

My personal turning point came during a lesson in delegation, or at least what I thought to be a mentoring experience carefully disguised as task avoidance. A supervisor used to give me a pile of work each day, the preponderance of it at his pay grade and not mine. I considered it was a way to prepare me for his position when he left. I found myself working extra hours each day to get my own work done as his required coordinating with multiple offices and handling administrative functions I neither wanted nor liked as a way to fill my day.

I began to grow annoyed as I took on more and more responsibility and he would regularly mention his trips to the gym, that he was managing his time so he could get other things done which were more “leader oriented.” As I grew better at networking I found he was not grooming me but tasking me with the crap he didn’t see himself doing, most of which had nothing to do with my promotion prospects. I got angry. I grew resentful. Then I grew vengeful. Then I got creative.

I began to compete the tasks in such a way they were unexplainable as a process without my direct participation in meetings and debriefings with higher-ups. Without ingratiating myself to any individual figure in power I would offer in mid-explanation the opportunity for my supervisor to continue the briefing as his name was the single signing authority on the project so he could share the limelight. He would failed and I smiled inwardly. The less he know how to cope the greater his embarrassment. He didn’t have enough sand in his shoes to confront me openly so he tried subterfuge. Unfortunately he was a few IQ points shorter so his lot became worse as people noticed his blatant bias toward my work on future occasions. He was soon removed by transfer. I won, or did I?

I struggled briefly before posting this cautionary example because it is sometimes difficult when we reveal or confess our shortcomings. I wonder if the lesson would be quicker learned if as ego rises our credibility falls, but this does not seem to be the case more often than not. Over the last few years I frequently ask myself if the higher road needs to be the road less traveled. There’s is a saying that we grow too late smart. Perhaps it is more that we grow more empathetic; perhaps we grow better able to handle adversity by communicating better. With the right tools we can circumvent our own temperament and help others act better for themselves and the good of the organization.
– Lee Fjelstad
Reference LEAPS, The Five-Step approach, Empathy, PAVPO, PACE, remaining Disinterested during conflict

Anger: Part Two

Since this is a will be an on-going series on anger, the stress caused from it, the health disadvantages of prolonged anger including stress on the body as well as the mind, and lest we not forget, the smoldering ruins of burned bridges and the injured feelings of those with whom we interact while angry. I have been angry enough times in my life there will plenty to draw from and because we tend to associate with people of both like minds and those with varied opinions, I can easily draw from my interactions with others for differing viewpoints.

Regardless of the particular topic or point of view, every posting will have some basis in modern or pre-modern psychology for its reference. I will pluck thoughts and leave the subjective analysis to you as the reader. Search your own minds for a comparative analysis and gather your own conclusions. Because this blog is grounded in the Verbal Judo program for the purpose of communicating effectively before, during, and after an interaction, conflict will continue as the central theme.

For now, accept the final conclusion: I would have placed it in quotation marks but I can find no legitimate source the comment came directly from the Buddha. Never the less, it falls easily within all moral teachings so it is useful – Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone, it is you who is burned.

— Lee Fjelstad
Reference Mushin, Remaining Disinterested, LEAPS, SAFER, Five-Step Approach for Generating Compliance

Anger: Part one

According to grief expert, Elizabeth Kubler Ross anger lasts only 15 seconds. In the context she was writing I understand her point, but she was referring to the most dangerous aspect of anger in the immediate unthinking reaction to circumstances. I have a couple of experiences, or circumstances if you will which I have been deeply, angry about for many years. The very allowance of them invading my conscious thoughts can bring a dramatic emotional change in me I don’t like much. Another can touch a collection of memories from being bullied as a child in elementary school. The anger I feel regarding these events is not immediate but sustained.

Sustainable anger is another matter entirely. It was the central theme to Achilles in the Iliad and led to his downfall so understand I am not advocating its health benefits. But it can be used as fuel to jump start change or create momentum towards an end. But for it to be effective and efficacious it must be directed and controlled. It comes at a terrible price, and according to my brother forgiveness is the key to defeating the downside of anger. Perhaps if we allocate the emotional response to differentiate between anger, even the deep and seething kind, and unbridled rage.

Rage is consuming, like a forest fire growing and spreading to everything in its path. But it has a path. It has direction, spread by wind, and it has causation, which by our reasoning can be controlled. Firefighters use controlled burns to prevent greater future danger with their considerable research and experience in fighting fires believe to be inevitable. Firefighters base their decisions upon history, weather forecasting, current climatic conditions, and encompassing the stupidity of the human carelessness. A small fire now can prevent a greater and far more destructive fire later.

Anger is no different. It too is art of the human condition. It has consequence if we are quick to speak so I do advocate the maxim: Think what you want but don’t say what you are thinking! But controlled speech does not change the anger we feel. As weak-kneed as this may sound to you as you read it, anger must be acknowledged. Only by accepting we are capable of not only being angry but acting inappropriately as a result of it can we create the controlled burn we need to remove the danger and preserve the future. To paraphrase Aristotle in part, “to be angry at the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.”

But, it can be learned.
— Lee Fjelstad

Reference: Mushin – Habit of Mind and Remaining Disinterested

Developing a Habit of Listening Better – By Projecting you are listening

Developing a Habit of Listening Better – By Projecting you are listening

Developing better listening skills isn’t really any different that developing any other habit. Perhaps we need to accept that good habits are something we work at. After all, we can easily accept bad habits seem to develop out of nowhere and are very hard to change once we are in “in the habit” of doing something in a certain way. So, what does it mean to have a habit, or develop one?

Anything we do regularly will eventually become a rote task, done without thinking of how to do it. Invited to a friend’s home for a meet and greet backyard gathering I asked for simple driving directions. He just stared at me for a moment until he gathered his thoughts, mentioning he drives the route every evening coming home from work but for the life of him cannot tell me the names of the streets to turn as I approach his property once inside the subdivision. Seconds later he just asked if I have a GPS. I smiled. He no longer uses any frontal lobe brain activity to navigate the daily trip. Most of us don’t.

We condition our neurological system to take care of the tasks we find redundant and boring to create brain cell activity in our brain for something more important. The short version, we condition ourselves to do automatically simple tasks. We adapt our behavior and create muscle memory. Our brain begins to imprint, a better term would be encode, the behavior needed and our subconscious kicks in as soon as we see or hear a cue.
The downside is it creates memory gaps of how we do something if we are asked by a novice on procedure. Another downside is it can appear rude if we appear to be doing something subconsciously when others are speaking to us and is typically perceived as we are not listening. The communication process shuts down.

The Fix: develop new habits.

I found learning to project I was listening meant I had to pay attention – undivided attention to the speaker. I had to demonstrate I was listening.

I actually took a lesson I learned to keep from eating too fast – put the fork down and release it until I was finished chewing and had swallowed what I had in my mouth. Holding the next fork full was a bad habit I learned from my father who I believed just inhaled and processed his meal later so he could return to work. I don’t remember a casual take-your-time-and-enjoy your food meal throughout my young life. It was reinforced in the military where you mostly ate on the run because there were other tasks at hand. It didn’t really matter during my years in the service since no one was bragging about the fine dining experience anyway. My point is if the fork was full I found I was chewed too fast so I could make room for what was on the fork. It may have seemed efficient but it also caused a lot of indigestion.

When someone entered my office and I was writing, which was always, I had to force myself to put down the pen. I even went so far as to push the tablet of paper away from me as a demonstration of undivided attention to the person who had something important to say, whether I believed that was true or not. I they took the time away from their tasks to walk to my office then what they had to say needed to be treated with importance and the assessment of scale can be factored in later. Nowadays you would find yourself is pushing away a keyboard or laptop. I have even gone so far as to put the laptop in sleep mode so the screen going black signaling the start of a conversation. It took discipline, and patience because I believe I can do two things at once (whether I can or not is a debate for another writing).

Surprisingly, it did not take long to exchange one habit for another. In fact, the time spent listening while I projected I was listening actually turned out to be a time-saver. The person in front of me spoke more clearly (or I was now listening more clearly – take your pick), and once he or she had said what they came into my office to say they left satisfied at having been truly heard. If the subject matter required a follow-up and I needed notes to remember specifics I just asked the speaker if they minded if I took notes. This created an added benefit because the speaker would now organize their thoughts better because there was now a written record of details.

Granted, it makes for interruptions in your workflow, and it means you have to gather your spilled thoughts and continuity but you can’t have an open door policy with a closed door. If you need privacy then close the door but put up a sign that says, DO NOT DISTURB – THINKING.

I will come back to the THINKING sign, I promise, because it is a useful tactic and is both interesting and necessary if you are going to get your own work done.
– Lee Fjelstad

Reference: Active Listening

Escaping the “Escalation of Commitment” Dilemma

Escaping the “Escalation of Commitment” Dilemma
When does even a decision at the time become folly?

Critical thinking skills, the label we now give to better decision making emerges more and more an imperative than an option. Poor decisions robs us of money and time. More importantly it diminishes the most precious commodity, our energy. We would unlikely agree to lease or purchase a car, even knowing the monthly payment if we were not told how may months or years before the contract ends. How many of us would run a race if no one bothered to mention the point where we cross the finish line. The argument might be made we would continue to pay on the car as long as it met our needs and we would run until our competition gave up, making us the ipso facto winner.

How long should you wait for a return call, for someone to say yes to an offer, stand in line waiting for anything, or even for your investment to pay off in spite of downward market trends? Oddly, each of these have different answers and none are above reproach so all decisions must have a personal or professional stake. If you must eat at a particular restaurant then waiting in line is inevitable unless the manager will take a reservation. If food is the desired outcome then options abound. Money might be a different story.

The temptation to not throw good money after bad gave us the adage, “In for a penny, in for a pound.” As a cautionary tale of being careful to continue a commitment. Once into the trap we are loath to give up the investment so we dig a deeper hole. So, what causes this particular kind of temporary insanity?
The mind does not work on a time-table. We can rarely predict the end of days for a project unless the goal set is very rigid. So we grudgingly set a time-table and we discipline ourselves to it. At work we are held accountable by superiors who calculatingly measure investment versus payout and time is money. The emotional currency calculated by the mind does not quit so easily.

We must accept our personal biases add to our stubbornness. If we were to semantically separate stubbornness from commitment we find the middle ground. Failure leads to disappointment which in turn leads to anger and self-criticism as pennies add up quickly and self-doubt invades even the most impermeable of decisions. Our biases belie best interests but ego hates to accept defeat. We use critical self-talk to bolster a renewed staying power and then sell ourselves on the rationale of our idea justifying what we already have at stake, so on and so on until we have the definition of insanity quoted by Einstein of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Gamblers doubling down on a previous loss suffer this malady.

Without setting limits we fall into the trap. Successful gamblers set limits on their losses. They have learned when to walk away from the table knowing there will be another day. Just as importantly, self-serving decisions add to the complication if our choices impact others. When others suffer inconvenience as the result of our decisions we have abandoned empathy. If another person(s) is involved I ask enough questions to ensure consideration for their feelings.

Calculate the resources needed for any task. I now value time more than money (perhaps because as I grow older I have less of it) so I choose projects carefully. I still engage in long and short term projects but to balance everything I have to set limits, including on my patience. I hate to lose and it is built into my competitive spirit but I am cautious of what game I enter and what is at stake. Is the goal worthy of the resources I must commit to be successful? There have been times when the losing proposition is the likely conclusion but the fight was worthy so I moving forward was also an inescapable conclusion.

I can speak from personal experience my ego has caused problems but it has also become the pillar of my successes. This is of course a flip-side to the argument of people often stopping their quest in despair just before they might have achieved the success their original dream encased. So how do we determined what is worth the capital of time and effort?

Looking at the process pragmatically leads us to a more stable conclusion? I will echo the wisdom of the past of never letting negative people undermining you if your heart and your passion are unflappable. There are few ideas that cannot reach potential if we believe in ourselves. For this forum we are not delving so deeply into a personal psyche but focus on rudimentary thinking and the trap itself. Build into any venture the following:
1. What result am I trying to achieve?
2. How much time and money will I devote to the end goal?
3. Are there other goals I hope to achieve and is this one the best use of my time and money?
4. Can I divide the project into sections so I can measure short goals to bolster success?
5. As I examine the sub-goals are there any which will require more commitment of resources than the rest?
a. This is necessary because sometimes you will need to push the ox cart up the hill with the ox riding.
6. Are others to be involved and what is their commitment to your goal?
7. How much of my commitment is based on my ego if I need to walk away down the road?
8. Have you asked anyone what they think? An unbiased opinion is a valuable commodity.
9. Can I calculate any pitfalls or problems and can they be avoided?
10. Again, look at the overall goal and measure your commitment to time and money.
— Now add the emotional content. At what point will you admit the folly?

Lastly, never underestimate yourself. Just because others have failed does not mean you will too. But I promise that a plan helps to bolster courage when failure and self-doubt seem imminent and knowing when to walk away from something is also the definition of courage.
— Lee Fjelstad

Reference: Mushin – Means versus the end Argument – LEAPS – PAVPO

The Power of a Gesture

The Power of a Gesture

Unless you are into neuroscience you don’t hear much about nonverbal communication. We have spent over thirty years training people how to use words and tone to craft a message to reduce conflict and generate compliance from difficult people under difficult situations. We even have a section dedicated to other nonverbal signals and how the selective use of your hands, where and how you stand as you deliver your message, but what of a specific gesture to carry the day?

Virtually all the best remembered examples begin as cautionary tales gleaned from our past mistakes. Most of us are not neuroscientists and maybe we don’t want to be but can the science of delivery be taught without years of serious education; in a word, yes. Many gestures we dislike are the product of irritating memories than come back to roost in the present when we need them the least. In a police uniform I entered the home of a family deep in the midst of disagreement. The problem, before I arrived, was minor and likely easily resolved by a few carefully spoken sentences laced with empathy for their individual points of view would have sufficed. Offering each a short opportunity to vent and regain focus before I start speaking was also an easy option. I even had the words to calm and redirect their behavior in my head. Not a difficult challenge as it was the third of this type of altercation of the week.

The officer with whom I am partnered with that evening and I entered the home with permission, what I consider over 50% of the battlefield objective already in hand, I began to speak. The words came easily with a practiced voice, but with a single gesture I watched the encounter deteriorate into a twenty minute recovery of my credibility. So simple a mistake as all I wanted was for an agitated and pacing husband to take a seat, any seat. I chose not with my voice but my index finger pointing to the closest to him and the farthest from household objects I thought could be used as a weapon if things went bad. Big mistake.

When he saw me point he went nuclear. He began shouting he wasn’t a dog that I could point and he obey in his own home. He continued to exclaim it was his house, his home, his castle and he was King here and not I, and I don’t tell him where to sit in his castle. I would have been happy to agree if I could have gotten back into the conversation.

Now we assess the prospect of a violation of the SAFER module and if we believe a physical action might be necessary to regain control of the encounter. As I did not feel I was at risk of a threat manifesting physically I just let him vent for another few seconds and changed the gesture from a point to both hands open with the palms facing upward (a compounded mistake here would have been to use a gesture with my palm or both palms facing him as a recognized signal to calm down or stop). I used a proven Verbal Judo deflector phrase – with the no harm to me and great benefit to him as I apologized for my error pointing to a chair and explaining that it was hard to carry on a discussion with him as he paced around the room. Changing again the gesture to an open hand with the palm up I leveled my arm I the direction of the same chair, and to my immediate gratification he took the three or four steps necessary and sat down upon what he now considered his living room throne.

Note to self – pointing bad! Asking good.

For the next several encounters I made careful observations of how people gestured and what gestures calmed or really ticked people off. Clearly in every encounter there is context for the problem and the rhetorical solution the other person sees as the way to solve it. Make a second note: Angry people don’t reason well and our voice takes a back seat to nonverbal signals in any volatile encounter. Our hands are good for a lot more than staying warm in our pockets during winter months and we need them to cast an effective delivery. We communicate a message long before we say our first word in the way we approach a scene, if we stand aggressively or confidently, our facial features (Maxim – All words flow from the face) which dictate our tone with or without our knowledge and approval, and even how we are dressed that day can have a definitive impact on how our delivery is received.

As for the index finger pointing, maybe we dislike it because it reminds us of being singled out, or perhaps from childhood by a parent while admonishing us for poor behavior. A finger is not a fist but the message is still received and we don’t like it. From a police officer approaching our car during a traffic stop with his or her hand on their gun butt even if it is still holstered to a supervisor with hands on hips as they ask to speak with us in private. The message is delivered and it will be negative if there is anything to fear in the encounter, regardless of the severity or potential consequence. Gestures create a picture and we must harmonize voice and other nonverbal if we are to be successful while others fail.
— Lee Fjelstad

Reference: Nonverbal Signals – SAFER – Verbal Deflectors

Is our ability to apologize part of our personality?

Is our ability to apologize part of our personality?

I placed a blog regarding a way to apologize with dignity during the Holiday Season. It was apparently a bigger hit than I expected so it led me to reexamine if the strength to apologize is an attribute of our character, something we do because we are led to believe it is necessary to mend an injury or rebuild a bridge, or do we do so merely to measure up to what we believe is the right thing to do?

If personality is a contributing factor, and I believe it to be so, then are some of us more inclined to apologize for a perceived wrong, or only when incontrovertible truth envelopes us in a cloud of discomfort from the glaring eyes of our peers? Science may be arriving at some answers and they seem to be of no great surprise.

It’s hard to even get out of bed each day if your self-esteem cannot rise to a greater elevation than the floor. Our sense of purpose can vary but it does give us the strength to survive the day ahead. There have been mornings I awoke with a happy outlook at the day’s prospects and others where I was still steeped in the anger from yesterday’s events. A tactical approach to my day became an absolute imperative if I was to effectively handle an apology if my mood was sour as a still-green apple.

I created a simple set of rules of for an effective apology to carry me through my discomfort. I knew I could survive an apology if I could grasp the positive resulting from it. Oddly, I was never interested in forgiveness. Guilt and sadness become an anchor to forward momentum I could ill afford. If my apology would bring peace of mind to another for an action of mine, whether real or perceived, I could move beyond the slight and get it behind me.

In my youth, my best friend was also an introvert. One day he simple blurted out we were missing the proverbial boat. Introverts didn’t get what they want not because they lacked popularity but because they didn’t ask for anything. They collected crumbs. Introverts didn’t get the best equipment on the athletic field, if they got onto it at all, and they didn’t date the cheerleaders. I agreed it made for a good point. An additional valid point being my introverted nature was due to my low self-esteem. A dichotomy since I knew I was intelligent, I was well-read (introverts have plenty of time to read as they are not invited to the in-crowd events), and my teachers were constantly informing my parents I was not living up to my potential academically. So I was the problem.

When I asked myself why I was the problem it became rather revealing. It was because you cannot stand on the sidelines if what you really want is to get into the game. The game is where the light is found but light shines on blunders. The answer was I had to become willing to make mistakes. I needed to be able to handle the ridicule or good-natured poking from peers that were once adversaries in my mind.

I convinced myself I could survive mistakes, errors in judgment, and the down side of comradely because others were also bound to make mistakes as well. I found from dropping a ball on an easy catch to the general clumsiness of asking for a date with the wrong timing or wording was not fatal if I could see myself as a work in progress. I would not always be clumsy or a failure if I just kept trying. As my skills grew, my confidence grew. With confidence came what we call self-esteem. When criticism came I had to decide if the proper response was to be a verbal apology or a look of, “it happened to you earlier so stuff your attitude and what is the next play?” If you remove the dividing line between arrogance and sincerity, you get effectiveness as a result.

The research study out of Edmonton at Grant MacEwan University, Andrew Howell found no surprises as participants to his questionnaire revealed those with high self-esteem and compassion are better able to recognize a wrongdoing, confess to it (even if no one had yet found out), and address it. Narcissists don’t feel as if they need to apologize (again, BIG surprise), and lower self-esteem is fraught with difficulty as they were less inclined to offer an apology after a conflict, even if they emotionally felt badly, if they could not connect it to a specific event. It was also revealed general shame was different from actual remorse and the apology might stem from feeling sorry for themselves. As we ban “Woe is me,” from our state of mind we grow stronger in both character and in compassion for others with what we can call empathy.
– Lee Fjelstad

Reference: Habit of Mind; Empathy; The Art of an Apology

Are we victims of how people think?

Are we victims of how people think?

The short answer is yes, and on several levels. The more pressing question, are we a victim before the facts are revealed? If we follow the thinking of perception is more powerful than reality in shaping our future actions, I may finally have some definitive research which makes my point. A study recently completed by Princeton University psychologists Daniel Ames and Susan Fiske used a study group to evaluate how we believe damage should be assessed for harm done. In brief, they found the participants assigned a greater level of harm based upon whether participants believed the act committed was intentional or accidental which seems to follow the doctrine of fair play. But the findings would also lead us to believe wither we see the person(s) harmed as victims. Those viewed as victims were believed to deserve a much larger compensation for their discomfort.

We also apparently assign a sliding scale to our moral compass as we rationalize the act in accordance to the harm we perceive has occurred. Do we take empathy too far? Do we make people out to be victims where they aren’t even by an individual’s own admission.

If someone is rude to you is it a measure of their action or your sensitivity to the action? More so is it a measure of bystander sensitivity as they judge from the sidelines? What I consider rude might be casually tossed aside by another, given equal understanding of the context of the situation.

Without surprise the study also leads us to measure the event after we discover the degree of damage or injury suffered. The greater the perceived damage the greater the punishment we would like to see enacted as compensation for injury. Do we see through our biases with the same clarity if the bias is weak or strong on a particular action, or with a group, or race, gender, orientation, education, or creed?

We must concede our biases shape our opinions and how we feel about a particular circumstance, and personally I prefer to be spoken to with a tone that isn’t offensive. The question is what do I consider over the top on a scale of acceptable to outrageous?

My years in the military and my upbringing tempered me to still be able to function professionally regardless of the ferocity of my interaction or dislike of the other person. My father seemed to have a singular tone of voice when giving instructions for a task or correcting any perceived wrongdoing, and I believed for years he conspired with my military commanders to maintain the trend with which I had become accustomed. But knowing the words carried no malice, I listened and I was able to carry out instructions properly, even when I felt a deep seated resentment at “how” the message was delivered, I did not feel victimized.

The secondary point here is to create a self-examination of how we filter words and tones or the vengeful motivation poor speech might engender. Do we dislike how something was said to us to such a degree we purposely or accidently sabotage our work effort to teach others a lesson?

If punishment is assigned based upon damage done, does our mood at the time of the event cause us to perceive a greater slight than maybe existed? If we know others view words spoken to us in the heat of conflict were outrageous do we now feel victimization to a greater degree? Our ego can certainly be bruised because we do not appreciate words said and tone as felt but does it truly cause us harm? As we speak to others when we are tense or stressed do we speak with a tone or with words which are destined to create the atmosphere of victimization while others overhear. We are as we feel; furthermore we become what we are allowed to become as we act out
— Lee Fjelstad

Reference the Acronym L.E.A.P.S.; Verbal Deflectors, Habit of Mind – Mushin