Showing posts from November, 2006

Good people skills required

Good people skills are a requirement for success in virtually any position - from community volunteer to C.E.O., every job description calls for good people skills. We all raise an eyebrow, and then most of us read another book or take another course designed to give us "hard" technical skills instead.

Good people skills are often seen as the excuse that the mediocre give for keeping us one level below where we really belong. They are a necessary evil, a way of catering to political realities instead of doing our 'real' work. In a perfect world, we would not need good people skills to make the most of good ideas.

Or would we? What if good people skills means having the skills to work with good people. Too often, communication skills are confused with conflict management. They seem to be a way of dealing with difficult people. No wonder so many people stay away from practicing them. Who wants to be the expert called to manage cranky, dreary people?

Good people prefer …

Puzzling over communication

Why is straightforward so seldom effective when it comes to communication? It seems that when we are talking to one another there are many more ways to be wrong than to be right, and the clearer we are, the less we are understood or appreciated. It's a puzzle if we think communication is primarily about logic.

People who want to communicate primarily through logic find themselves limited to a small pool of options: math and science work to a point, although writing is better than speaking if logic is the main point. Even scientists get involved in heated discussions and misunderstandings. Science does give us one route to an answer, however.

Human beings are subject to all sorts of perils: we are not particularly strong or fast and we cannot swim or fly. In order to survive, we had to think and to think quickly. Logic is relatively slow: instinct is faster. Instinct, it turns out, is the simultaneous application of multiple neurological and physiological systems in order to produc…

Would you like to be a master of your craft?

Before society accepted the largely artificial oppositions between the arts and science, or between education and the 'real' world, people had other models that organized the way they worked in the world.

One of the oldest models is that of craft: it endures in our use of "craftsmanship" to reflect something produced with elegance and quality. When we talk about craftspeople, we generally refer to people who produce handmade or custom goods - often sold at "craft" shows. Somewhere along the way, industrialization stole our ability to relate to our work as masters of our crafts. We can take it back.

In the model of the guilds, an apprentice was a worker still learning a craft; a journeyman could be trusted to carry out most of the work of the business; a master was so skilled that s/he could teach the craft by the way s/he did the craft. The work of the master was not to choose between doing and teaching, but to do by teaching and to teach by doing. You will…

Good with people

What do you think of when you hear the phrase "good with people?" When a wine is good with steak, it means that both the steak and the wine taste better when enjoyed together. If you are 'good with people' that could mean that both you and they perform better when you work together.

"Good with people" should not be confused with charm or grace. Many famous leaders have, in the absence of any obvious charm or eloquence, managed to get people to produce at high levels. Some introverts fail to be influential; some extraverts fail to be effective. The most useful criteria for "good with people" is the performance that results when an individual is working with others: does the sum exceed the total of the parts? Or would they all have been better working from separate cubicles?

We are entering the season of networking: it's a perfect time to observe the difference between the people who are working the room and the people who are making the room wo…

You're closer than you think

Mike Murray ( has been writing about the paradoxes of problem solving. Today he argues that solutions come from the same box as problems. This is certainly true of Lego and other kits that need to be assembled by bleary-eyed parents in the wee hours of Christmas morning.

Most of the time, I am not much aware of boxes or problems. My own thinking is metaphorical and lends itself to journey motifs. Often, it seems that my main gift (and curse - they always have two sides) is to see the distances that others are traveling so that I can tell them "You're closer than you think."

Neurologically and chronologically, this is likely to be true. By the time you are aware of a thought, your brain is always one step ahead, preparing for your next thought. People benefit from hearing this truth; and quite often, I can follow it up with specific evidence that the road in front of them is shorter or the obstacle smaller than it seems.

There are no problems in t…

Looking for a little magic?

There's a book that's been on my wish list waiting for the right time for me to read it: it's called The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. Didion is a brilliant, evocative, and powerful voice. Her most recent book, The Year of Magical Thinking is about the year after the unexpected death of her husband, a time when her daughter was also critically ill.

We all wish for magic in our lives. While we are aware of the charm of happy, little magics - like snow on Christmas Eve or fairy godmothers that produce the perfect outfit with a wave of their wands - we really want more powerful magic, especially when we are in trouble. Magical thinking takes many forms: most of them are about having the power to evade tragedy, to escape the inevitable human consequence of being born. If we had magic, we would not need hope or courage or faith.

That's the crux, of course, the real reason religion and magic do not mix. We want magic so that we have power that we would not ult…

two paths to productivity

Path One:
Decide what you want to achieve. Use language like "operational objective" or "well-formed outcome" to emphasize that this is solid and practical. Make a list of steps you need to take in order to do what you want to do. Make a list of people whose support you will require at various stages. Make another list of resources you will need, including their location and any plans you need to make to ensure you have what you need when you need it. Work through your steps, one at a time. Stick to your plan.

Path Two:
Decide what you want to achieve. Decide that you have or can acquire everything you need in order to achieve this thing. Engage the people whose support you require. Allow them to respond and pay attention when they do. Assume that whatever you are given will be helpful at some point in the process. Be alert and responsive wherever you are because you know that the world presents opportunities at unusual times in unexpected places. Allow yourself …

sharing the stage

Yesterday, Chris and I watched a wonderful two-person play, "The Story of My Life." It's playing at the Berkeley Street Theatre, produced by CanStage and stars one of my heroes, Brent Carver. Carver is one of my heroes because he chooses his work: when he won the Tony award on Broadway, he could have allowed work to choose him. Instead, he appears in shows big and small (this one is very small), and mostly in Canada. He is also deeply marvellous to watch.

Chris and I were particularly interested in how he and his co-star, Jeffrey Kuhn, worked together on stage. Today we talked about the skill of disappearing. It's not about merely being inconspicuous by standing as frozen as the furniture. It's more about being so completely engaged with the person who is centre stage that you become an extension of his/her work. During one particularly key piece, I watched how Carver supported Kuhn. Seated behind Kuhn as Kuhn sang, his body language subtly echoed the singer…

happy now?

What would it take for you to decide to be happy now?

When we set goals, we typically say "if only I had this, I would be happy." We're wrong. There's research that shows that shortly after we get "this" we will be back at the same level of happiness we are at as we plan. Being wrong does not stop us from saying "if only" again and again.

The next time you find yourself motivating yourself towards a worthwhile goal by saying "if only" stop and change it just a little. Instead of saying "if only" say "as if." Say, for instance, "now that I make a commitment to this goal, I can act as if it's only a matter of time until I get it" or "it's as if I am ready for this." "As if" allows you to want things without believing that you will only be happy when you get them. "As if" allows you to be happy now and to accomplish what you want. If you're happy now, you are likely a…

Can hypnosis make you a better innovator?

What makes people innovative? Different kinds of innovation all depend on the ability to apply imagination in practical ways. Yet many people believe that imagination is a talent - if you are not born with it, you have to live without it. Developing a new imagination seems as unlikely as growing a third hand.

Growing a third hand is relatively easy, however, if you are following the suggestions of a master hypnotist. When Mike Mandel takes the stage, he showcases the universality of imagination. Inevitably, the volunteers who join him on stage become wildly inventive. Under Mandel’s direction, people suddenly see landscapes or insects, become immersed in adventures, or find they have an unexpected talent for Spanish dancing. They take a few words from Mandel and create complicated, very funny experiences.

Mandel’s stage show is so completely entertaining that it is hard to believe that it also provides real learning about what it means to practice innovative thinking. Mandel’s exper…

What can you write in five minutes?

What do you know about how much you can get done in five minutes? For people who write all the time, five minutes is enough to write a paragraph or maybe two paragraphs. It's an opening to a conversation, an insight jotted down for more reflection, a quick answer to a quick question. For other people, five minutes is not enough to say anything finished, anything of worth. For those people, anything worth the effort of writing takes more than five minutes to consider and communicate.

Set a timer and write for five minutes on any topic that is currently engaging your attention - five minutes on next steps in a project at work, five minutes on what you would like to ask your child's math teacher, five minutes on what you want to accomplish before the end of the year. The only vital elements in this exercise are that you pick the topic and you write continuously for five minutes (type or write without stopping to ponder - keep the cursor or the pen moving by writing whatever com…

honesty is simple

It is an ethical problem and a practical one. If you can provide more than people expect, should you?

My friend and colleague, Mike ( wrote this week about honesty. We expect people to promise more than they can deliver. What we do not expect, and are frequently disturbed by, is the prospect of people delivering more than they promise. It is not precisely honest, particularly when the people in question plan to do more than they promise. And it is unnerving because it leaves us feeling that we owe someone something, that the agreement we made is not the agreement we intended to make.

And yet, we run up against one of the silent problems with being honest. People can only hear what they expect to hear. I often mention the experiments that showed that people from cultures with no graphical representations of faces cannot see photographs as pictures of people. They can see the physical object that is the photo but, even when it is held by the subject of the photo, they…