Posts Tagged ‘communication’

There are no stupid questions….or are there?

June 8, 2010

Most, if not all of us have heard the old saying, ‘there is no such thing as a stupid question’. I actually agree with that….for the most part. I believe we ask questions, because the answers to those questions, will  have some measurable impact on our lives, or, at the very least,  influence the action we take; ‘excuse me sir, what time is the next bus?’. Stuff like that. The answer to that question could determine whether you sit and wait for the next one, or, if you live where I live and the bus is the R12, whether you just give up and go home because it will be a long time before you see another one.You get my drift, the answer determines your course of action.

Up comes the Gulf oil spill; a very tragic event by anybody’s standards. It is very difficult not to feel the frustration the people on the Gulf Coast must be experiencing. Of course, everyone is trying to do as much as they can to help and no one is doing it fast enough. People have tons of questions, and as usual there are way more questions than answers. I just think that we could go a long way to bridging that gap by being a little more sensible in the questions we do ask. If there is a real benefit to be gained from the answer, (apart from better ratings or political points) then by all means, ask away, if not, then maybe you should leave it alone. We have seen thus far, an amazing capacity for sensationalism in the questions being asked without any real or apparent regard for the consequences of the actual tragedy.

One of the earliest questions; how much oil really is spewing out of the well?  This was, and still is, a really big sticking point. The argument for wanting to know the answer to that question goes something like, ‘well if we don’t know how much oil is coming out now, how would we know when any of the attempts to stop it have worked? Hmmm…well if we can’t figure out when something stopped leaking without first knowing the rate of the leak, then we are in way more trouble than anybody thought. The thing about this and other questions like it, is that they are being asked, apparently,  on behalf of the public at large and, especially , on behalf of those people in the affected areas. Personally, I am not interested in how much oil is spewing out. Besides, I, along with most other people, already know the answer……too much, way too much. A more pertinent question would be, ‘so when do you think  you’ll have this mess cleaned up by?’, or ‘why exactly did you modify the blowout preventer so that it could no longer, ummmm…prevent blowouts?’ The only people who are getting all rabid over the ‘how much’ question are those people who are peddling devices  to be able to measure, well… much. The rest of us just want it to stop, regardless of how much it is.

This past Sunday, Bill Nelson, the democratic senator from Florida was on Face the Nation. In an effort to show his constituents that he was ‘getting out in front of this thing’, he declared that he made a phone call and asked, according to him, ‘one simple question, how many boats you got?’. He apparently got widely varying responses to his ‘one simple question’. My thing is though, he’s pretty lucky he got any response. How about asking, ‘what can I do to help?’. Now there’s a question that has the potential to result in a net benefit for the people of Florida. But he didn’t ask that since they might actually find something for him to do and that would not sit too well with him.  Does he have a boat to contribute to the cause? Or perhaps, there is some magic number of boats that will make everything ok. How many boats you got……indeed.

By far  the best though is, ‘what do you mean by legitimate?’. That depends, what do YOU mean by legitimate? I am no BP lover, but you don’t need to be a rocket scientist, (or in this case, an oil company executive), to see which way the wind is blowing. People will be crawling out of the woodwork, with all sorts of claims. Next thing you know they’re getting claims for birth defects in people born before Deep Water Horizon even existed. Personally, I think, in this litigious society it is bordering on silly to expect the company to say ‘yeah just bring it on, we’ll pay everything’, without some sort of qualifier. All of a sudden that executive’s words will become some sort of legal, binding, promise on the part of BP to pay everything that has the words ‘oil spill’ on it. It just amazes me that the question was asked in the first place and that it still has so much traction.

Each day I continue to look to the  Gulf for some good news. It seems as if the tide may be turning on this tragedy. I sure hope so. I do not, however, anticipate any decrease in, what I perceive to be, useless questions. After all, how else will the news media survive, and the politicians raise money, if not through the use of the tried and true stupid question?


Is that seat taken?

June 1, 2010

So I was sitting in church one Sunday being all attentive to the pastor as he was preaching and stuff, when at the back of my mind, I keep hearing an insistent ‘is that seat taken?’. There was no need for me to look around, or even waste an entire thought wondering what the muted commotion was about.I already knew what was going on; one of the ‘special people’ had arrived at church.

The special ones are those people who insist on showing up for church at least an hour late every Sunday. Now I’m not talking about people who are visiting and may have gotten the time wrong; no, I’m talking about those who have been members ‘ever since’. They know exactly when church starts, in fact, they have the entire program memorized so they know what happens and when they happen. Basically this means that they made a conscious decision  to show up late and disrupt the service. But maybe I’m being a bit harsh. Maybe every Sunday, the same people get caught in the same traffic jam on their way to the same service… could happen; some people are slow learners.

My thing is though, slow learner or not, why do these people harbor the belief that church has assigned seating? Furthermore, why do they not dispense with this belief, when Sunday after Sunday they show up and ‘their’ pew is so crowded,that there is barely room to breathe? Even further, why is it that even after seeing that the pew is crowded, do they not find someplace else to sit? Nope, that would be way too easy. Instead, they literally squeeze themselves into the tiniest of spaces and then do the ‘Holy Ghost wiggle’; a neat little trick which consists of pretending  to get all involved in the preaching with lots of amens, hallelujahs, and hand waving,  all while wiggling your way into position so that you end up being the most comfortable person in the pew. Everyone else, by the way, is on the edge of their seats……..and not with anticipation.

These are the more brazen of the special ones. There is another group that shows up just before offering is taken up and hang around at the door. Then, when people are filing up, in complete obedience to the word and following the guidance of the ushers, these low down sinners, sneak in and steal their seats.  Have you ever come back to your seat after giving your offering and found that somehow, there doesn’t seem to be as much room as when you left? It’s like digging a hole in the ground and trying to fill it back up with the same dirt you just dug out….you just can’t seem to get it all in there. It’s pretty easy to identify the culprit though, just look down the pew for the person who is so intent on ‘their worship’ that they’re completely oblivious to anything or anyone around them.

As if showing up late and ‘discommoding’ (this is not a word, but my mother used it all the time to convey her angst at inconsiderate behavior) other people on your own is not enough, many of the special ones bring friends along with them. Now instead of one person stepping on your toes, you end up with an entire family trampling all over your ‘good shoes’, without so much as an excuse me. And why is it that there is always one in the group who has a weak bladder that starts to act up the second they sit down?

Some of them even send ‘scouts’ ahead of the pack. This person is particularly sneaky, because they arrive all smiling and polite and ask if they can sit there. You get all polite back and make room for them and stuff; then when they’re all comfy, they stand up and start waving at the back of the church. Suddenly, out of nowhere, you find yourself ‘invaded’ by the ‘country cousins’. You know what they say……no good deed goes unpunished, not even in church. Actually especially not in church; look at what happened to Christ, and all he wanted to do was to make things better for everybody.

Then you have the ones who think the usher is just like a Wal-Mart greeter; there to say good morning and hand you a program. These are the ones who blow right by the ushers and insist on finding their own seats. Of course this whole finding your own seat is a drama all on its own, since it usually involves standing conspicuously in the aisle, and spinning around while trying to make eye contact with someone to inquire (in your loudest whisper), as to the availability of the seat next to them. This usually ends up in a major communication breakdown, since, oftentimes, the ‘contactee’ may nod, yes, thinking the question was ‘is anyone sitting there?’ when the question was ‘is that seat empty?’. One can easily see how such an interaction could get all ‘involved’.

Of course this will never change. After all, as my mother used to say ‘monkey know which tree to climb’, so these people can be relatively certain that no one is going call them out on their behavior. It is church after all and ‘church people’ are nothing, if not polite. You can get away with all sorts of stuff at church; they have the whole ‘come as you are, turn the other cheek’ thing going on,  so you’re pretty safe acting like you have no training. People will make room for you and smile benevolently when you step on them, as you squeeze your way through.

This is where some people can learn a thing or two from the monkeys; not only do they know which tree to climb, but they are also keenly aware of WHEN to climb said trees, and this is where many of the special ones fall short. They don’t understand that ‘church behavior’ is an animal all its own, not to be mistaken for ‘regular behavior’, which tends to be a tad more reactionary. Have you ever met someone whose attitude was ‘not me an dem people in dat church nah, dey too hypocrite’?  That, my friend, may have been the lament of one who stepped on some church toes………on a week day.

A little bit full of yourself aren’t you?

May 18, 2010

I am not a reality tv buff, but I am partial to The Amazing Race and Survivor. The antics of the casts of these two shows kept me intrigued and there were more than enough nail biters to go around. If I were a nail biter, I would be experiencing a serious lack in the nail department right about now.

What I like most about reality shows though (at least the good ones), is the insight they give you into human behavior. Like, for example, why has there never been (at least to my knowledge) a real honest-to-goodness all female alliance in any Survivor season? Or why did the vegetarian sign up for The Amazing Race, when he knew there was a strong likelihood that somewhere along the way, there would be meat involved……and not anything as boring as chicken?

The most recent seasons of these two shows did not disappoint in the “are you kidding me” department.

First, let me preface what I’m about to say by acknowledging that I am sure that we all recognize that there is a large amount of editing that goes on to make these shows ‘ratings friendly’. Stuff gets cut, stuff stays in, all so that we could really get sucked in to the goings on and take sides, and cheer for our favorites. That being said, no amount of editing able to hide underlying attitudes and opinions.

Take, for example, some of the Amazing Race contestants, in particular the dating couple Carol Rosenfeld and Brandy Snow, and the other dating couple, Brent Horne and Caite Upton. Caite was a contestant in a Miss Teen USA Pageant a few years back and messed up big time on a question asked by one of the judges. She sounded like she did not have a clue. Of course, some of the other contestants had a field day with this. They had themselves a good laugh at Caite’s expense. This included Carol & Brandy. It seemed though that they were especially mean. It was no small wonder that when the opportunity arose, Caite took her revenge and u-turned the two, ending their quest for the million dollars. They, or rather I should say Brandy, did not take this very well. She became absolutely caustic. It was not a pretty sight. It became even less pretty at the end of the race, when she was, let’s say, less than sporting in her behavior.

Now I understand her being upset about getting kicked off and all that. What I was a bit confused about though, was how this grown woman could decide to ‘mix it up’ with someone half her age. Yeah yeah yeah, I get the whole ‘she’s over eighteen stuff’ and the ‘we’re all competitors’ stuff, and we’re all equal and so on and so forth. But come on Brandy, she’s a child to you, you were supposedly the adult, and as an adult, you have a responsibility to act like one. Instead you decide to join in the heckling and, in some cases, prolong the teasing. You saw absolutely nothing wrong with your behavior, after all, all’s fair in love and war (and the Amazing Race). Thing is, you made the mistake many of us make when we’re getting all caught up in the moment. You took the whole ‘all’s fair theory” and applied it …… yourself…..only. You never thought for one moment the “tiara wearing, dumb blonde’ could possibly at some point have your fate in her hands. Well she did, and she used the opportunity to avenge herself against any real or imagined slights on your part. And we all shook our heads as you cluelessly walked off still ranting against the child who engineered your departure, completely missing the irony in the fact that she was still in the race and you were not. Oh well.

The end of the Amazing Race gave me time to focus my energies on Survivor, another study in human behavior. It was a very enjoyable season, and I saw first hand (at least as first hand as you could get watching tv), the impact of ‘self talk’, or what my wife calls ‘believing your own press’. I saw this by watching two players, Russell Hantz and his ego. Russell convinced himself that he was the best survivor player ever. I’m not sure how he arrived at this conclusion, but he somehow did. From my couch, all I saw was a thug, who bullied his way to the final tribal council. There was no subtlety, no real thought, just mafia style threats and scare tactics. His fellow Survivor ‘Boston Rob’ said it best. Basically he said that Russell was able to play well enough to get to the final tribal council, but not well enough to win. Russell’s response to his loss, was one of his many profound observations (similar to when he hid his team’s machete and blabbered on about creating chaos and other such nonsense); there was a flaw in the game. The flaw was that America did not get to vote, because obviously (to him anyway) there is no way he could have lost. So I am left to assume that the real flaw was that Russell didn’t win. Either that, or he thought all along that he was he was on American Idol.

Even after his loss, he is still clueless; still making irrelevant arguments about changing the rules of the game, and complaining about how much of a toll playing back to back games had on him. Well buddy, did they shanghai you? Because if they didn’t you coulda said no. Instead he continues his rant about how everyone else is wrong, and that Sandra is such a weak player and yada yada yada. Yeah the same Sandra who walked away with ‘your’ million dollars. If you really were the best player, you would have won. The game doesn’t end when you get to the final tribal council, you actually have to get the votes to win. You couldn’t do that, you didn’t even get one vote (not even one dude), yet you are still somehow convinced that you’re the best player. Hmmmm………maybe back to back games is not the best idea.

Yup, I can’t wait till next season of reality shows. Maybe we’ll see Russell and Brandy again; he’ll be on American Idol, so that America could finally have a say, and she’ll make an appearance on Are you Smarter than a Fifth Grader. Maybe she’ll actually win……maybe.

Mars, Venus and everywhere in between

April 14, 2010

I AM NOT SEXIST!!!!! I just wanted to get that out there before I jump into this piece. I don’t anticipate that it will do any good, but I just wanted to have documented proof that I declared that fact. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way… goes nothing.

I am putting out a call, to anyone who can assist be in enhancing my understanding of women. I want to be able to have an anxiety free interaction with women where I understand what they’re saying, what they’re not saying (ESPECIALLY what they’re not saying), and,oh yeah, understand what they’re saying (did I already say that?)

I guess my point will best me made if I gave a couple of examples.

I want to understand what some women are saying, especially at those times when they’re saying something that they think you desperately HAVE to know. The problem here is that, for some women, the “interestingness” of the information has an inverse relationship to the volume with which they share that information. Take for example, this lady I worked with at one time. One day, I stop by her cube and we were having a very nice conversation about our families, plans for the weekend and other such small talk (what can I say, I’m a friendly guy). Things were going along “swimmingly” as they say, when I began to realize that I wasn’t hearing her very well anymore. The woman started whispering, actually not really whispering, but that is the softest voice I know how to describe, and she was way below that. In addition to which, I noticed she began shaking her head in this jerky fashion and giving me these “you know what I mean” kinda looks. She was even laughing at times. I was on the verge of calling 911 when I realized that she was NOT having some sort of breakdown, but rather she was actually talking to me. I tried to follow along. When that didn’t work out, I defaulted to some well timed hmmms, aaahhhhs, and looks of complete incredulity. This approach worked to at least make her think I had a clue as to what on God’s green earth she was talking about. I was “saved” by a couple of other women who walked up and joined the “conversation”. It was a sight to behold, a silent, head-shaking, giggling affair which I could never be a part of. It was a pity though, from the looks of things I think I missed out on some funny stuff. Oh well…..

The next thing women do is that they speak in these codes that only they can decipher. My wife for example, is pretty adept at this (as a side note, if I am not heard from after publishing this, well it’s been a nice ride). Anyway, some years after we were married, we make plans to do this thing. We were both looking forward to the thing, we talked about the thing…we were just plain excited. As it turned out, something came up and we could no longer do what we planned. It wasn’t anybody’s fault, it was just one of those things that happen. Of course I had to break the news to her. She promptly expressed her displeasure, indicating that she did not appreciate this new development, actually what she said was “I doh like dem kinda ting nah”……..hmmmmm. Now I like to think that I’m a reasonable sort, and I think that , being a reasonable sort, I reasonably interpreted that response to mean “I strongly suggest that you fix this”.I love my wife very much, so I was determined to make sure that the thing we were both looking forward to was not dead in the water. I was able to “fix the thing”. I came home all excited that the thing was back on. After all, weren’t we both very anxious about the thing? Weren’t we both disappointed when we found out the thing could not take place? Did she not express her OBVIOUS displeasure that the thing was no longer on? Well that’s what I thought too. After I broke my fantastic news, I got a decidedly cool reception. A few minutes later she came outside to the living room where I was and said…………….”I doh like dem kinda ting”……..aaaarrrrrggghhhh.

So you see my predicament….damned if I do and damned if I don’t. Its a desperate situation. I need help. I have a theory though. I think women are born with a small embedded program which allows them to devise new, devious ways to confuse men. This is evident from very young. My 4 year old daughter, for example, is a huge fan of Dora the Explorer. She picks up a few Spanish words, which she uses on us. One of her favorite things to do is try to block us from getting by and insisting we must say the magic word (abre – open) to get by. So my wife goes up, says “abre” and gets by. I come along, say “abre” and I get a resounding “No, that is not the magic word daddy”. Now you tell me that this is not some sort of conspiracy.

As soon as I’m done here I’m going to browse the iTunes store. If there is a device that an help me, it has to be my iPhone. I refuse to give up…….there has to be an app for that.

Ethics sold here

March 19, 2010

So my friend’s friend with the tea business, somehow hit the jackpot and her business shot off. Now she is this big time importer of exotic organic teas, which she boasts are full of flavor and not that watered down stuff you get from those other guys. Her slogan is “real teas don’t tease”…..corny, but it seems to be working out for her. How did she do that so quickly you say? To that I say what my daughter says..”lets pretend”.

So, like I said, she’s big now,her company even has its own corporate culture (CC). That’s when you know you’re in the big leagues, you have your own corporate culture. She’s expanding pretty quickly so she decides to buy out her biggest foeign supplier. All in all the process went pretty smoothly. She is now officially a MULTINATIONAL CORPORATION (remember, we’re pretending here), or an MC if you will.

She sends some of her managers to checkout the new operations, but they return with some ticklish issues…. the MC could have some problems with the CC. Seems like they don’t do things quite the same way they’re done at HQ. Terms like “standardization”, “positive relationships with external providers”, “compliance with best practices”,and “operating within legal and regulatory” parameters started to be used. The new guys don’t quite interpret these ideas in the same manner as their foreign counterparts. Hmmm…tricky.

This is not a new issue, neither is it uncommon. Thing is, there is no one right answer to how we should approach these situations and we generally end up with more questions than answers. One school of thought is that we just turn a blind eye, after all they’re pretty much doing what they were doing all along anyway and we were fine with it. Yeah you were fine with it because although you may have suspected things were not as “transparent” as you would like you were not sure. In cases like that, there is nothing as comforting as the security of uncertainty.

Another position is that we insist on strict enforcement of our company’s ethical position. After all, we have awards and stuff. We’re super ethical, we know how to do this. While this is laudable, all it serves to do is aggravate the “new people” and removes cultural considerations from the ethical argument. Ethics and ethical behavior are as much a function of the cultural environment as they are a function of company policy.

Then you have ex-CIA types who want to mount some sort of clandestine operation. Strategically select some of the new managers. Bring them back to HQ. Wine then and dine them. Let them see how it could be worth their while if they could adopt the “new ways” and take them back to their own country and spread the new gospel. In other words lets bribe a few and get them to go back and deceive the others into thinking that this is the way to go. Hmmmm…now that’s ethical.

The way I see it, there really is no easy way around the whole mess. If we are truthful and try to be objective, we’ll admit that there are some thinks we can’t paint with the broad brush of globalisation. Like politics, there are some aspects that are really all local. Ethics and ethical behaviour are ideals that we may never achieve for the simple fact that in order to get greater “buy in” we have to compromise, and when it comes to being truly ethical, there is no room for that. Looks like we’ll just have to settle for being ethical……….ish.

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