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Diffusing Criticism

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Why do you approach criticism the same way you approach an unguarded railroad crossing?

I recently spoke about diffusing criticism and opened by asking that question. At an unguarded railroad crossing your life is at stake. When you receive harsh criticism, your self-image and reputation can be at stake if you act wrongly.

How is criticism received in your brain?

We have a composite brain broadly described by Bert Decker to consist of the First Brain, the seat of our emotions, and the New Brain, the seat of our reasoning. When the First Brain and the New Brain conflict, we do stupid things. Have you read about a motorist that tried to beat a fast train to a railroad crossing and died as a result of his stupid behavior? The primitive running down a gazelle on the savannah takes control over the reasoning motorist.

In the same way, our First Brain urges us to take stupid actions to criticism. We may withdraw to stop communicating. We may counterattack, thinking we’ve been attacked. Or, we may rationalize away the criticism, missing an opportunity to grow and learn.

How will you handle criticism when your are at that potentially dangerous crossing?

First Brain Engagement

Criticism raises your pulse, races your mind, and can make you a deer in the headlights. That’s your First Brain taking charge of the situation. Although the First Brain is deaf, dumb, and blind, it demands you recognize and work with it. We speak to it through our behaviors. Do what you’d do at an unguarded railroad crossing: Stop, Look, and Listen.

  • Stop – Get off your cellphone, look away from your computer, put away distractions to signal your First Brain to pay attention. The First Brain reacts to criticism by increasing and decreasing respiration as it prepares you to run or to hide. Take control of your breath and count your breaths to convince the First Brain its plan to run or hide is unnecessary. Focus your attention on being present.
  • Look – Give the person your full attention as you focus on eyes, body language, and speech. You can tell a lot from eye contact and body language, such as “Is this person being honest with me?” “Is the tone of voice consistent with what’s said?”
  • Listen – Tell yourself it’s okay to listen. Criticism can only hurt you by the way you react. Engage your First Brain and New Brain. “Is the eye contract and body language consistent with what’s being said?” “What are the key points that you hear?”

New Brain Engagement

People criticize to motivate change or to punish. Punishment is not a healthy dialogue intended to improve your performance. Disengage from punishing criticism, just as you would avoid a dangerous railroad crossing. If the person intends to help you improve your performance, you’ve got to engage your New Brain to understand what’s said and how you can benefit by it.

  • Repeat and paraphrase – Are you sure you heard or understood what’s said? Repeat or paraphrase what you’ve heard to confirm what’s been said. If done with sincerity and a proper tone of voice, the other person will appreciate that you are listening and thinking about what’s said. Pilots repeat to ground control what they hear. If you were approaching a railroad crossing, and your passenger mumbled, “I think a train is approaching,” you would immediately repeat, “Did you say that a train is approaching?” What works in the air and on the ground, works when you receive criticism.
  • Ask questions –  You learned in school that asking questions reinforces your understanding of the materials. Asking questions also coordinates your New Brain and First Brain, as you signal that it’s okay to go into unfamiliar feelings and understandings.

Deal with Feelings First

You’ll notice that your first reaction to criticism is to engage the First Brain. That’s counter to what we’re taught in school and often at home – think and analyze first, sympathize last. If you want to learn from sincere criticism, you’ve got to be present, and to be present you’ve got to be emotionally present.

The heart has its reason which reason knows not of. ~ Blaise Pascal

As you coordinate your feelings and thinking, you are prepared to empathize with the feelings of the other person. Perhaps the reason for the criticism is a perceived hurt or slight that can’t be expressed in words. If you refrain from judgment and know the other person’s point of view, you can distinguish the valid emotions from the reasoned criticism you received. A simple apology – not a denial – is the answer when the person feels you caused a hurt.

Behavior Tips

Your behaviors telegraphs your state of mind. A few simple ones can be a life-saver when you are unsure of the purpose of the criticism.

  • Remain calm
  • Show respect
  • Smile
  • Use an open body posture


You approach criticism the same way you approach an unguarded railroad crossing, because a bad response can damage your self-image and reputation. We’re all aware of what happened when a candidate for the presidency reacted poorly to criticism. We think, how could the candidate have be so stupid?

Diffusing and learning from criticism is a valuable skill for everyone.


Six Practices to keep your momentum and stay in the game

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Mark Guterman

Mark Guterman, career consultant and JVS coach and trainer, shared his intelligence, experience, and wit with SFPCN member on May 17, 2011 in our community room at Valencia Gardens. Mark advised the job seeker and career changer to maintain momentum and accept that the irrational process requires trust rather than control. Stay in the game, Mark said, for the fun, the opportunities, and the improvement in your attitude, mindfulness, and self-esteem.

Mark is a avid Giants fan, reader, and skier who learned to sky at 65. He’s reading up on the American Civil War.

He offered Six Practices to keep your momentum and stay in the game.

Be responsible

Ask yourself, What is it here that I can control, and take responsibility for that. Why pursue what you can’t control when your attention and energies get results when focused on where you have control? By that process, you acknowledge that you have choice, are the author of your destiny, and build discipline and self-esteem.

Stay relaxed and alert

Recognize that life has flow and flows can be fast and slow. Develop an appropriate sense of pace and urgency to match those flows, while using your self-discipline to try to not panic when overwhelmed and rest when needed. The job search is de-energizing and requires pacing. Learn to stop, breathe, and exercise to put life in balance. Develop a mindfulness to work hard and play fun.

Keep your goals both focused and diffused

Develop alternative life scenarios by having an A Plan, B Plan, and C Plan. Create those plans by writing down one vision statement after another, take a break, and then plan for the unexpected. Make a practice of seeing what’s in front of you and well as what’s ahead of you. Life takes many turns, so work on seeing its context and patterns as you move forward. You can find context by answering the question, How am I impacted by ______? The blank may be a culture, company, trend, or financial situation.  You find patterns using your ability to connect events and circumstances as you see them.

Trust the process

Trust is the hardest skill to practice for perfectionists and controlling personalities. Embrace the power of transformational change and be disciplined to keep moving. Understand that moving is sometimes not in the direction you anticipated and can require you to let go. If you learn to know yourself, build up your self-esteem, appreciate the power of change, you can trust the process.

Keep your sense of humor

Churchill promised the British blood, sweat, and tears when least wanted but most needed. We all experience difficult times not of our choosing, but how we meet those times keeps up our momentum. Dance halls and odeon theatrics flourished in Britain during the Second World War. Have several good laughs a day to keep your sense of self-importance in check while realizing and appreciating the absurdity of many of life’s challenges. Humor helps you stay in the game and be ready for a wild or illegal pitch.

Allow moments of inspiration and awe

Whoever or whatever your higher power, take time everyday for silence, meditation, and prayer. Allow your sense of divine to guide your work while remembering your journey is as meaningful as the destination you reach.

Mark Guterman wrapped up his presentation with a quote from Carlos Castaneda:

A path is only a path, and there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you . . . Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself alone, one question . . . Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn’t it is of no use.

Thank you, Mark, for a learned and inspiration talk on flow and movement in our lives.

Be a Successful Negotiator

How can you improve your skills as a successful negotiator? That was the topic of my speech that I presented on Wednesday, March 21.

You may think Donald Trump or your favorite political candidate is the best negotiator. In fact, you are your best negotiator. You’ve been negotiating since you were born and cried for food to the present when you negotiated for your job. Negotiating has been your way of life. People invented language to negotiate.

Room for improvement exists for any skill. These are the strategies and tips that I spoke about during my talk.


Have confidence in yourself as a negotiator. A negotiator is best when he or she is speaking freely. A negotiation is another form of conversation. How do you feel when a telephone solicitor reads a sales script to you? You know the solicitor has a one-way conversations in mind. Your needs, wants, problems, and concerns are not in the script. A confident negotiator converses with the other party.

Are You Negotiating with the Right Party?

Before you begin negotiations, ask yourself if you are negotiating with the right person. Does this person have the character, competency, and power to negotiate? If he or she lacks one of these, you’ve not found the right person.

Be Outcome Aware

Be outcome oriented when negotiating. Your negotiations can end one of three ways with these associated consequences:

Lose-Lose: Neither party benefits, and in some case the negotiations damage the personal relationships or the situation become worse. Two people trying to get the best of each other lacks food faith and can create new problems.

Win-Lose: A one-sided wins usually means that one party is has control over the other and is asserting  power, not negotiating for a mutual increase in value. These are episodic relationships and result is only as good as the power of the victor to enforce it.

Win-Win: The parties agreed to an exchange that creates new value that increases wealth, status, knowledge, or well-being. Each party has improved his or her reputation by negotiating in good faith and has built a relationship for future negotiations and agreements.

Prepare Your Thinking and Speaking for the Negotiations

Analyze the Situation

Do your homework by working on these four areas to negotiate at your best:

  1. Understand your position and define it by writing down your wants, needs, problems, and concerns.
  2. Understand the other party’s position by listening and asking questions to discover his or her wants, needs, problems, and concerns. Probe for hidden concerns by using empathy and avoiding value judgments.
  3. Figure out how you can most clearly state your position so that you will be heard.
  4. Create an organized list of the options you will propose for each term you will negotiation. For non-negotiable terms, prepare to politely but firmly say, “I will not negotiate on that item.”

Lead the Discussion

Remember that you are in a conversation. Keep reminding everyone at the table that you seek an agreement that serves the interests of all parties.

Keep a win-win outcome in mind by reviewing how the points of agreement are serving your wants, needs, problems, and concerns. A win-win is not necessarily a compromise agreement. Your aim is not to compromise. Your aim is to be heard, understand the other party’s positions, and explore the options that serve the interests of both parties. That could mean getting everything you ask for, agreeing to the other party’s proposal, or fashioning alternatives that serve you both.

While negotiating, listen without judgment to the other party’s options, in the same way that you intend your options to be heard. If an option is unacceptable, say so with the reason it is unacceptable, which can include, “I will not negotiation on that option.”

Keep Flow in the Negotiations

A good conversation needs the grease of small talk. While you will stick to the issues during direct negotiations, light conversation about sports or personal interests keeps the conversation flowing during breaks and downtime.

Your negotiating style shapes the agreement and builds your reputation. A reputation for an honest and direct negotiating style may be the most important result from the negotiations. Your good reputation will encourage the other party to honor the agreement and open the door for future agreements.

Be likable and watch your language. People like to do business with a cheerful and appreciative person and will avoid a curmudgeon.


Enjoy yourself as you negotiate. People will see your upbeat temperament and want to mirror it. Work to create an agreement that serves the interests of all the parties, including those not at the table.

The Mental Game of Baseball by Dorfman and Kuehl

A good life like a winning baseball game is the result of being alert, planning, and great execution.

Dorfman and Kuehl write about how to be a better baseball player. What they teach the reader can apply to being a better person in the game of life.

Your Building Blocks to Confidence

  • Self-evaluation: What do I have to learn and improve?
  • Goals: Fundamentals converted to functional goals.
  • Preparation: Conscientious, positive, effective work at the task or activity.
  • Persistence: Continued commitment to achievement that builds confidence.

Establishing goals

What a proper goal does:

  • Encourages performance
  • Is measurable and adjustable
  • Can be a daily and long range goal.
  • Encourages hard work and rewards efforts.
  • Converts easily to a mental picture of how to win the goal.

Types of goals

  • Process goal – step necessary to win: directly focus on that goal and control that micro-situation
  • Focus and control – focus on specific performance and behavior, including body actions – hit the breaking pitch better.
  • Self improvement – focus on fundamentals and judge success by own specific goals and actions.

Positive Practices in Your Life

  1. Think about what you are thinking and imagining , and consider what you say and visualize about yourself will determine your behavior and performance.
  2. Speak to yourself as “I have decided” “I chose to” in place of “I have to”, “I must”
  3. When something is not working, ask “What can I learn from this?”
  4. Be aware of your excuses and ask why you need them; practice catching justifications, explanations, blame and work on eliminating them.
  5. Practice taking risks and accepting consequences; watch how good and bad models deal with personal responsibility.
  6. Define what you can and cannot control, and act accordingly.
  7. Examine and judge yourself honestly: Tom Seaver: “I am my own kangaroo court, I am my own judge and jury.”
  8. Accept that the root of your behavior lies in your choices, and claiming to make no choice (not taking responsibility) is a choice, the wrong one.

Superconnect by Richard Koch and Greg Lockwood: Hubs and Links

If you want to make and use connections that matter, Richard Koch and Greg Lockwood suggest that you ask yourself two questions:

  • Is this the right hub for me?
  • Do I know how to use my weak links?

In this provocative book, spurned by one critic, Koch and Lockwood discuss hubs and links, the strong and weak ones.


Your Hubs

Hubs are the groups you live with –  your family, business workplace, golf partners, religious societies, alumni organizations, and political parties. Hubs save you time by aggregating information specific to their purpose and give you launch points into connected hubs. Koch and Lockwood think that you are in the right hub if you believe it:

  • Gives you the specialized knowledge that you need.
  • Permits you to act free of authority bias and group-think.

Good hubs never go out of your life. When you are a member, they give the daily information and contacts that you need. After you move on, old hubs remain links in your extended network that you can call on for future service.


The thinking of Koch and Lockwood becomes counter-intuitive when they discuss the personal links in your life. You have strong links – your wife, children, boss, and old school chums. And you have weak links – the peer that you meet once a year at a business conference, the receptionist you say hello to on a regular basis at your client’s office, your neighbor down the block, and the foreigner you often talk with in the coffee shop near your office.

What’s the Use of a Weak Link?

You need work and new customers; your thinking needs updating to stay current; you need to find a new hub because you old hubs don’t have the specialized knowledge you need. Do you turn for answers to your strong links or your weak links?

Koch and Lockwood write that your weak links are sources of innovation and the greatest profits, while your strong links can be the most destructive and demotivating. Their thinking seems wrong. The strong links nurture and protect you. They tell you that you are a loved person. They mother you. And that is why strong links can keep you in a rut and comfortable. Growing, learning, and achieving require that you become comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Weak links challenge you. Is that link a friend or foe? Linking with a brilliant person keeps you paranoid about competition, gives you a devil’s advocate for your thinking, encourages you to take the U-turns your parents would never permit, demands that you look for new customers and markets, and asks you to associate with dissidents you dislike.

Strong and Weak Links in Economic Development

Koch and Lockwood compare how strong and weak links are used in developed and underdeveloped countries.

Weak Links in a Developed Economy

Western economies grew out of their feudal economies using the contract, the paragon of a weak link relationship. Exchanges of commodities in feudal Europe were based on social rank (the lord provides protection in exchange for the serf’s grain) and custom (tithing to the king and church). Contracts leveled the field for doing business (anyone can contract), demolished barriers created by customs (the parties to the contract agree on the terms of their agreement), and set the rewards (you can work for a peppercorn or a $1 million dollars). But most importantly, contracts amplified the power of weak links. You can do business outside your family circle. Now you can go to the town square and contract with the seller with the best terms if you trust him. Which gets back to the problem with weak links.

Is your contracting partner a friend or a foe?  To answer that question, developed counties created the law of contracts and property rights to put the force of the state behind the enforcement of contracts. If your contract met the legal requirements, you could use the state to enforce the agreement.  This created an expectation that the terms of contracts would be enforced. Now you could do business with anyone outside your family if they know the rules and submit to the jurisdiction of the enforcing authority. Modern capitalism took off and wealth grew exponentially.

These are the lessons the developing countries are learning.

Strong Links Dominate an Underdeveloped Economy

Underdeveloped countries exclude classes of people from using their weak links to do business with strangers and casual acquaintances. Nations without a legacy of laws and standardized enforcement require common citizens to do business with their networks of families, neighbors, and close social relationships. The privileged in these countries use their government connections to enforce agreements at the will of the state. Demanding a contract be enforced could become a prison sentence for a commoner.

Weak Links Have Economic Value

In developed countries, weak social and economic links thrive and receive state sanction. These counties have highly developed laws regulating property rights, contacts, credit and banking, and the valuing of goodwill – a commodity without value in feudal Europe and most underdeveloped countries.


Hubs put you in touch with the specialized information you need for work and advancement. Hubs serve you when you are an active member and after you leave if you keep up with the hub. Not all hubs are right for you, and hubs can go bad, requiring that you take action. We know the story of President Obama divorcing himself from his former pastor to get the hub out of his political life.

Strong links make you feel good as a person, while weak links teach you to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. When you are uncomfortable, you are on the move to learn, create, and achieve beyond the dreams of your parents.

I recommend Superconnect by Richard Koch Richard and Greg Lockwood.

Be a Better Facilitator, Be a Better Leader

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Facilitating is an important skill on the job, at home, and in your community.

If you want to lead, you need to be a great facilitator. I asked Jim Dowling, a great facilitator that I have the privilege to work with,

What are three practices that will improve my facilitating skills?

We discussed these points:


A facilitator uses authority to persuade the participants to trust the process. Authority comes from having an agenda and using transparent protocols for the meeting. By setting down what will be discussed and how it will be discussed, the facilitator creates the authority to keep the discussion on track and civil. People will trust the process when they believe the everyone will be heard and have a voice in the meeting. The reluctant will take part when they believe the group will respect every person and give opinions a fair hearing.


Speakers say a lot at meetings, covering points on and off the agenda. Fatigue from listening and learning can disrupt the connection between the speaker and the audience. People absorb knowledge at different rates. It’s the facilitator’s job to keep the speakers on track and help everyone with their listening and learning. A great facilitator periodically summarizing what the speakers have said. Speakers appreciate a summation during the meeting if the facilitator respects the speakers’ authority on their topic and keeps the speakers the focus of attention.

A great summary distills the key points and ideas delivered in a logical and memorable précis that links back to the theme of the meeting. It states how the audience can benefit by what was said and shows how it relates to the purpose of the meeting. The facilitator summarizes, builds bridges, and tells the audience the next steps outside the meeting.


A great facilitator knows the temperature of the audience and the speakers. How are the speakers reacting to the audience? How is the audience reacting to the speakers? People are excellent at taking the temperature of people, because we’ve done it since birth and know an uncomfortable situation. The art of taking the temperature is knowing what to do when it get hot, cold, or stormy. The facilitator is the social lubricant for the meeting and a condenser that focuses and re-channels discomfort or ill-will. If the concepts of the speaker roil the audience, the facilitator identifies the discomfort, names it to the audience, and relabels it to remove its power and move on to the next point. For example, the speaker states why the unemployed members of the audience are not getting jobs and tensions rise. The facilitator steps in, acknowledges that the discussion is uncomfortable and why, says why the speaker’s key points relate to the topic, and moves the audience and the speaker on to what’s next.

If you want to be a better leader at work, at home, or in the community, learn the skills of a great facilitator and practice them.

Turnaround, Crisis, Leadership, and the Olympic Games by Mitt Romney

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Why I Read This Book

Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney is running for president of the United States. I wanted to learn more about him. I remember his father George W. Romney, former Governor of Michigan. Romney Sr. sabotaged his own campaign for the presidency with the unfortunate but true remark that U.S. military and diplomatic officials in Vietnam had brainwashed him on the war. He was a different kind of candidate for office, and I wanted to know what kind of candidate is Mitt.

The organizers of the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics thrust the roles of president and CEO of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee (SLOC)  as Mitt Romney tells the story. Financial scandal inside of SLOC required the organizers to replace its leaders with an independent leader free from the appearance of corruption. Mitt was their choice.


Mitt Romney has an elegantly simple formula for leadership that consists of vision, values, and motivation. The leader defines the vision and the group values, while motivating the group to execute the mission consistent with the vision and values. A leader derives 20% of his authority from his or her title and 80% from the decisive action he or she takes.

These are inspiring thoughts and shows that Mitt has empathy for the member of his team. This quote from his book reminds me of his father’s unfortunate brainwashing comment:

One of my early decisions would have a big impact on how the organization viewed my leadership. … Think about it: when you take a job to perform a service, not to earn a paycheck or win a jackpot, you don’t really care a lot about how people think of you. You have the absolute luxury to do exactly what you think is right. p. 56

The more fortunate wording about caring about people and doing what is right would have been,

a service job requires you to focus on people, because they are your #1 concern. Your task is to persuade people  your vision is right.

If Mitt refers to not caring about the negative comments by outsiders and soon to be outsiders, he’s still off base. I believe a core skill for leader is to stop those people from becoming active enemies by listening to their concerns and showing your decision incorporates those concerns even if you reject their advice. Better a pacified critic, than an active enemy.

Another core skill for a leader is to recognize that the people you lead know their interests and needs better than you. A leader is not elected to do exactly what he thinks is right. He’s elected to serve the people’s values, interests and needs while moving them to towards his/her vision. Abraham Lincoln envisioned a union without slavery and Barack Obama believes gays have the same civil rights as heterosexuals. But, leaders persuade people that doing right will best serves their values, interests, and needs. People don’t want leaders to tell them what is right.


Mitt grew up in a Mormon family dedicated to service to his family, church, and community. Mitt’s father, mother, and grandparents practiced service and staked their reputations on service. Yet, in the end, Mitt writes a capstone to his philosophy on service in the paragraph quoted above about not caring a lot about how people think of you. George Romney would have written that differently.

Mitt writes a lot about his family’s history.  He is a dedicated family man, and wants to be respected for those qualities.

I read his book to learn about his leadership examples, ideas, and style gained in business.


Bain Capital

His recollections on becoming a successful business person take second place to those about his family, though his boss at Bain Capital, Bill Bain, influenced Mitt enough to be quoted throughout the book:

  • Trust your gut, because there’s a scientific basis for it.
  • Show you care about money, and your team will also.
  • Round team members’ flat spots (counter a member’s weakness with another’s strengths) and round flat sides (get someone else to do what you don’t do well, attributed to Tom Stemberg of Staples). Curiously, Mitt approves the advice, then writes he didn’t have time to follow it with SLOC.
  • Most things can be fixed, but smart or dumb is forever. A curious sentiment for a leader to harbor.

Mitt Romeny shares the formula that he used at Bain Capital to turnaround the companies in financial distress, writing that he used that same formula to save the 2002 Winter Olympic:

Perform a strategic audit – a complete review of every aspect of the business that can take months.

Build your team – select the right people, build unity, and motivate them.

Focus, focus, focus – don’t try to do too many things; do what’s important and do that well.

Guiding Principles at SLOC

Mitt published in the book the excellent guiding principles of SLOC that were place on every SLOC desk.


  • Involve all appropriate stakeholders in each project/issue.
  • Think horizontally, not vertically, within SLOC’s structure.
  • Consider other viewpoints and find win-win solutions.
  • Emphasize and recognize team success.
  • Be helpful to others.

Pride and Passion

  • Seek Gold Medal performance in your own job.
  • Love what you do.
  • Relish each small victory and achievement.
  • Realize you impact on history while at SLOC.


  • Be honest, direct and respectful in all your communication.
  • Accept feedback, avoid defensiveness.
  • Seek prompt resolution to issues with others in a personal and professional manner.
  • Listen more, talk a little less.


  • Be loyal to those not present.
  • Do what you say you will do.
  • Don’t have hidden agendas.
  • Respect and value diversity in others.

Fun and Celebration

  • Take your work seriously, not yourself.
  • Encourage laughter at all meetings.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff.
  • Look for opportunities to include others.
  • Celebrate those who demonstrate SLOC’s Guiding Principles.


I learned that Mitt Romney is a person driven by details and a sense of entitlement. He is an expert at identifying and categorizing details and then prioritizing those categorized details to achieve the goal. He is a terrific networker. He knows how to round the skills and experience of experts in business, government, social welfare, and people management to achieve goals.

One example of his family’s reputation for categorizing and prioritizing is his paraphrasing from his great-grandfather Miles P. Romney’s biography:

Loyalty to country and to his church was a cardinal virtue…. His was the assumption that men should be students of both state and church government in order that they might intelligently carry on in harmony with the fundamental law and discipline of each and not be like “dumb driven cattle,” exercising no mind of their own. p. 9

A Romney presidency would a presidency driven by his personality to categorize details and to select the right people to achieve goals. The question is can a turnaround formula successfully used at Bain Capital and SLOC work govern the American people?