I feel sure that somewhere in these pages I’ve told the story of a supervisor who worked in the same organization I did many years ago. One of her standard responses to things that were anything beyond easy to do was, “Well, don’t expect too much.” That was the better part of fifteen years ago, but I’m beginning to see the virtue of low expectations.
Today, for instance, a “hot” information requested landed on my desk around lunch time. That’s not unusual in and of itself. What gets problematic is when someone wants a complex issue distilled down and answers provided within 48 hours. As I tell anyone who will listen, I’m a facilitator, not a subject matter expert. My specialty is in putting people who need information together with the people who have the information. Doing that right takes time. It takes even more time when whatever answer they come up with needs to be approved back through four additional levels of the bureaucracy sometime within the next 36 hours.
Look, I’ll get you to the right answer. That’s what I do. It could just come sailing back through the ether with no problems. Stranger things have happened… but not often. I think the most important thing here is that you don’t expect too much. It’s the only sure way to avoid disappointment.
1. The confidence of youth. I’m not saying that I don’t still have a ragingly high level of confidence in my own abilities, but that confidence has been tempered with the experience of so many things that should be simple to do becoming a giant triple-stacked shit sandwich right in my hands. Occasionally it’s because of something I either did or failed to do, but more often it’s because of outside influences over which I have little or no control. Occasionally now I see a young project leader, eyes bright with possibilities, charge through a meeting as if nothing could possibly go wrong. I chuckle to myself, but I also feel a little bit sorry for him because I already know what the next act looks like. Experience is a harsh teacher and while those occasional flops have made me better over time, every now and then I miss the swaggering confidence of youth and a time when I was slightly less cynical about everything.
2. Things beyond my control. Believe it or not, I don’t think of myself as being much of a control freak. Most of life is pure reaction to those things we don’t foresee or exert any control over. While willing to accept that I can’t possibly control for and plan against every conceivable circumstance, I do like to imagine that I can bring some semblance of order to my little section of a chaotic world. I’m also enough of a realist to know that order begins to break down just as soon as it’s established and keeping a veneer of control in life takes all manner of effort on a pretty consistent basis. Knowing that there are a multitude of things beyond my control and being willing to accept those things just now is feeling like more of a tall order than usual. Maybe I need to sign up for some kind of master class in Zen and the fine art of acceptance.
3. Not being surprised. I’m a bit befuddled that anyone is somehow surprised that there’s a set of rules for the wealthy and powerful and another for the rest of us. It hardly seems like news that a long time politician “somehow” managed to get away with actions that would cause the average employee to lose their job, be barred from future employment, and possibly go to prison. While I’m certainly as outraged as anyone at the lies, deceit, and in my opinion outright criminal behavior foisted upon the public by a high profile politician, I can’t for a moment say that I’m surprised that the official consequence of those behaviors is absolutely nothing. If this is the kind of thing that surprises you, there’s a fair chance you’re just not paying close enough attention to the world.
I can almost always point to the cause-in-fact or at least the proximate cause of whatever jackassery is happening on any given day. Usually the cause is fairly basic such as “You went to the office” or “You left the house.” I take full and complete responsibility for those, although the imperative to earn a living and find food are largely unavoidable contributing factors to those causes.
Drill down a little deeper, though, and I can trace most issues back to an even more troubling root. Most days at least once I mutter to someone that the fault lies no so much with the stupid thing that happened, but in the expectation that something stupid wouldn’t happen. You had expectations. There’s your problem.
There’s quite a bit written about the dangers of low expectations, but it’s been my experience that the real danger lies in having expectations. Period. Full stop. It’s in those inexplicable moments when I momentarily ignore my own advice that I tend to get myself into the most trouble. I’d be far better served all the way around to remember that the moment you start having expectations of anyone other than yourself, well, you’ve practically set the stage for failure or at least for disappointment – usually both.
Today is apparently time for another friendly tip from your kindly Uncle Jeff. This week we’ll take a look at how not to build trust in your audience when presenting information. Staying away from a few key missteps will go a long way towards creating the illusion of a connection between you and your audience.
First, do your best to avoid generic phrasing such as listing “increased synergy” or “maximizing capabilities” when talking about your goals. This makes you sound like someone who maybe hasn’t really given their actual goals very much thought. Try building your presentation based on actual information, ideas, and measurable goals.
Second, if in the first 30 minutes of your discussion you have found six different ways to tell the audience that everyone is in this together and extolling them to “think of it as an opportunity,” everyone in the room will automatically be suspicious of you and your scheme. That kind of power of positive thought jackassery might sounds good to an intern, but to the more jaded and cynical members of your audience, it sounds like another sales pitch for Ye Olde Oil of Snake.
So in conclusion, let me just remind you that it’s generally not necessary to work so hard to sell good ideas. Everyone knows that change can’t be stopped. It can, however, be managed. Whether it’s managed well or badly depends almost entirely on how you choose to present it, but once your audience thinks you’re up to something you might as well forget ever getting them on your side in any meaningful way.
1. I’m trying to buy a house. I understand that there are effectively hundreds of bits of paper that I need to sign. As a matter of procedure, though, it’s not a good idea to send me a dozen of them and then disappear. When I email you, then follow up with a voice message, then follow up again the next day, and then email again the day after that and still get nothing in way of response, you can reasonably expect to assume it’s not looking good for your company to retain my business much longer. I tend not to make unreasonable requests and I’m Johnny-on-the-spot getting things done on my end, so expecting the same of the companies I engage to work on my behalf doesn’t feel like a big ask.
2. Today is the first official “snow day” for my office this year. “Free” days off are always something I appreciate whenever they occur. Of course even being an “off” day I find myself up and moving well before the crack of dawn, but it’s my time and that makes it OK. Unlike other people who would just take the day and enjoy it for what it is, my mind is already turning towards thoughts of “Damn. It’s only Thursday… I wonder what the chances of getting tomorrow off too will be?” Maybe it’s just my nature to never be quite satisfied with something good… but seriously even a full scheduled day of work tomorrow will mostly be a lot of people milling around waiting for the weekend to start – and the level of disinterest only increases if there would happen to be a few-hours worth of delayed opening.
3. Maggie is an emotionally needy dog. She has been since the day I brought her home. I have a share of the blame here, of course, since I’ve always let her get away with it. Since the boxes have come out, though, it’s been even worse. Even though there is no sign of “moving” anywhere here on the main living floor, she’s attached to my hip even more than usual. At the moment that translates into sitting on my foot with her chin on my knee while I type this with one hand and scratch her ears with the other. So I’m an enabler. Yet another reason I’ll be glad to have this entire process over and done with. Settling back into “normal” will be a good thing.
1. Standards. As a matter of principle, I never hold anyone to a higher standard than I hold myself. By the same token I don’t hold them to a lower one either. I’m many things but I do my best to avoid having hypocrite show up on that list – especially when it’s no harder a matter than maintaining just a little bit of consistency. Jaded as I am, though, I still find I can be surprised when people seem to behave with no sense of personal standards at all. Unfortunately, I’m not entirely sure whether it bothers me more that they do it or that I care.
2. Low Expectations. The high point of this week at the office was the arrival and unboxing of a new industrial strength shredder. I’m not even making that up. Given the volume of paper we push a heavy duty shredder isn’t a luxury item. It’s damned near an essential. An essential that we haven’t had for the last quarter of a year. It makes me a little sad to find my expectations of what constitutes a “good day” have been lowered so far that being able to turn PowerPoints into confetti now falls near the very top of the list.
3. Apple. I found myself reading through the initial reports from this afternoon’s Apple product rollout and rather than finding myself in need of selling a kidney for some new tech, I found myself mostly shrugging with something that approximated indifference. The latest iteration of iPad lacked something of the wow factor of a truly new product. The new iMac looks well enough kitted up, but not nearly enough to get me to drop $3K+ on on a desktop computer. There was nothing there that will find me leaping from bed at 3AM to make sure my pre-order is in. I know that every new product update can’t be a show stopper, but I’d have appreciated a little bit of “wow” when it comes time to deliver what should be iconic product offerings.
I assume most people don’t have any sympathy for the poor old man in Florida who drew down and shot the guy in the theater for texting. I’ll probably catch hell for saying this, but I’m not so sure we shouldn’t give him a medal, or a parade, and send him on his way.
After enduring three people in the front row who spent the entire movie glued to their own screens, the woman on my right who needed to get up not once, not twice, but three times during the movie to talk on the phone, her friend who got up to get refills on popcorn and soda (but not at the same time), and the middle aged battle ax directly behind me who had the incredibly obnoxious habit of repeating lines that she found humorous, I’m not so sure that the old dude was completely out of line.
Expecting people to come in, sit semi-quietly, and watch the moving picture doesn’t feel like it should be an over the top idea. Apparently it is. It’s little trips out like this that remind me why I generally avoid leaving the house when there is any reasonable alternative. The movie was good… I think… but I was far too distracted and annoyed to enjoy it.
Next time I think it would be a good idea to go out unbidden amongst the masses, someone please remind me that they make me absolutely crazy. I’ll thank you for it.