My grandfather was born in the Azores Islands in 1906. His schooling literally lasted two days: the first and the day after. He got punished, didn’t like it, left and never went back.
Grandpa didn’t learn to read or write. Grandpa didn’t really know who Aristotle, Shakespeare or Karl Marx were. Grandpa didn’t rely on business trainings or performance enhancement models. Grandpa was a farmer.
One day, when he was but a young man, his dad gave him and his brother a gift: a pregnant young cow for the two to start their lives as herdsmen. Two years later, his brother owned two head of cattle; grandpa Jose, seven. From then on, his success kept multiplying, considerably.
This afforded him the opportunity to savor life, especially his passion for discovering the wonders of the world. In the end, grandpa grew to be quite the philosopher, readily armed with the precious pearls of common sense and practical wisdom.
The recipe of his effectiveness? He used say he remembered that often at the end of the day while he sat by the sunset reflecting, he’d notice his brother in the distance, still tilling the earth, persistently putting his back into every strike.
“Before the sun rose,” he used to say, “John would already be out on the field. And not before dark would he return! — All hard work and diligence. I did it differently. Every morning I’d ask myself: ‘What do I have planned for the day?’” Then he’d think:
How can I accomplish twice as much with half the effort?
Grandpa kept at it until he found an answer. Most of them eventually worked.
I gather an important lesson from my grandfather: To make it an undying habit to stop, rethink and improve. I’m sure he would be happy to know that Aristotle thought along similar lines: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.”
I must confess, though, I sometimes recognize a bit of great-uncle John in me. What about you: with whom do you most identify with?
It was a Saturday. John had recently moved into his new apartment and was in the process of unpacking the wall of boxes standing tall in his living room.
After a couple of weeks adjusting to the new environment, he decided that this weekend he’d finally unpack.
In a box labeled “fragile” and among a bundle of gym clothes, John found a painting his younger sister had made for him before he moved. It depicted a tall, self-confident man in a suit, smiling at the viewer, and plugged by an electrical cable to what seemed to be a small red machine with wheels and a sign that read: “Good Questions Since 1989.”
As he stared into the man’s eyes, he wondered what his sister meant. He liked the painting and decided to put it up on the center living room wall. He managed to find the old rusty coffee can where he kept nails and screws and stuff. But after seven other boxes and lots of things all over the place, he gave up the quest for his toolbox.
Suddenly, the art restoration shop across the street came to mind. He had noticed it more than once: different, fresh, full of light and color. “Hey!” he thought “Maybe they could lend me a hammer.” He skipped over to the window and looked down to check if it was open. It was.
“Good” he thought. “The owner, that tall, self-confident young man that wears a suit, seems to be a nice guy. He might even remember me — I’ve seen him more than once at the café next door. Yah, I’ll ask him to lend it for just a minute. Why wouldn’t he lend me a hammer? Just because I’m a stranger?”
John stumbled around the apartment looking for his keys, which he eventually found on the couch under all his sports gear. As he went for the door, he thought: “Come on, John, you wouldn’t lend a hammer to stranger, right?” And it crossed his mind that a shop like that must have expensive and fancy equipment. The owner needs to protect it.
With growing doubt, he stepped into the elevator and pressed zero. As he looked at himself in the mirror, he said: “Is there a reason for him not to trust me?… Well, folks don’t trust each other like they used to, do they? And besides, I’ve just moved in. For all he knows, I’m a thief!”
Ding! The elevator door opened and John stepped out. He exited the building, looked across the street to the shop and asked himself: “Give me one good reason why he shouldn’t help me?” Then he thought: “Well, for starters he could be a selfish jerk who doesn’t give a damn about anybody!”
He resentfully crossed the street and walked into the shop. “Good morning!” He bluntly blurted to the young man in a suit sitting behind the counter. The man stood up and with a smile replied: “Good morning, Sir. How can I help you?”
With a cold face, John looked him in the eye and, with a touch of bitterness in his voice, said: “You don’t know me and there’s no reason for you to trust me. For all you know, I’m a thief. I actually live across the street and can’t find my hammer. So for just this once could you not be so overprotective and lend me one of those expensive hammers?!”
To the amazement of all those in the shop, the tall, self-confident young man disappeared into the back, dragging behind him his red portable oxygen tank on wheels. He returned bearing a hammer in his hand. In silence, he extended the gift to the stranger.
After thanking him and promising to be right back, John turned and left the shop. As he was crossing the doorway, the young man said: (now pick the ending you like most)
Ending 1: “By the way Sir, this is why I love my work. You see, since 1989 we’re in the business of restoring not only paintings but, more importantly, perceptions!”
Ending 2: “By the way Sir, since 1989 we repair problems with better questions. Try it. You see, the mind has no choice but to always find an answer — even to bad questions!”
Ending 3: One of your own.
Small shifts can lead to big changes. During one of my workshops with senior managers of a global corporate bank, we were discussing the power of beliefs when Patty commented that she often felt exhausted after “dealing” with “difficult” team members.
She explained she normally kept a positive attitude, but was now wondering if it was actually worth it. Thinking “things will improve” wasn’t really helping and she was no longer buying the whole “positive thinking act” because results didn’t add up.
I asked if this way of thinking motivated her to lead her team. She said no. So I invited her to stop for a moment and look at what her beliefs were doing for her.
I said: “You think positive thinking is consuming and now doubt whether it’s really worth it.” “Yes, exactly”, she said. I continued: “So what you believe is not working for you, in fact you’ve begun to doubt it, is that right?” “Yes, that’s right.” Then I asked:
Is your fatigue the result of a committed effort to effectively manage your reality?
“Of course!” she said. “And do you have your team’s interests in mind when you make that effort?” Yes again. “So would it be fair to say that a) having the team’s interests in mind; and b) being committed to achieve those interests are two qualities of a leader?”
She frowned and paused. Then smiled and said: “Yes.” I asked how she felt. “Better. I don’t feel doubtful. I know I can improve the situation in my team.” “What changed?”, I asked. She thought for a moment and then replied:
Before I was focusing on how being positive made me feel tired.
Now I’m looking at my fatigue as a result of my leadership qualities.
Finally I asked: “Does this motivate you to continue leading your team?” This time she said yes. But then added: “This still doesn’t change the situation!” “Yes it has”, I said.
And added: “You’ve shifted your focus from looking at the consequences of positive thinking to appreciating the energizing effects of empowering beliefs. Changing what you focus on, changed the way you feel. This changed the situation because it changed the way you will interact and the strategies you will now choose.”
Instead of focusing on thinking positive, concentrate on what your beliefs do for you. This allows you to choose between the ones that give you energy and those that don’t. It creates new enthusiasm to interact in different ways and to devise new strategies, which leads to new outcomes.
Positive thinking is fine. But it’s not the focus. The focus is what your thinking does for you. Embracing energizing beliefs boosts you to a new reality. Small shift, big change.
“What motivates people?” – I was asked in a recent interview. The question reminds me of a story back when I worked in prisons. My colleagues and I had been asked to do a mini workshop with the inmates about identity and self-perception.
The key to motivation is to find the right reasons for someone to want to do something.
How on earth were we going to get prisoners engaged in a mandatory session on identity and perception?? I remember we were in the prison’s community area, brainstorming on how we could pull this off, when one of the senior guards said:
“Don’t sweat it. If they don’t want to do something, they won’t. And there’s nothing you can do about it.” His intention wasn’t to discourage us, rather to warn us not to get our hopes up high. It didn’t work – we did get our hopes up!
I remember us thinking: “Okay, so if what this man is saying is true, all we have to do is get the prisoners to want to do the workshop.” We realized that they would do anything we asked them to do, as long as we found a way for them to want to do it.
In fact, this became a guiding principle for our activities during the years we worked with inmates. And we did accomplished some cool stuff, such as plays, holiday parties, gastronomic events, even a meditation retreat!
If you want to motivate someone, make it touchable.
Appeal to their interests, not yours; their values, not yours.
On that particular occasion, we asked an actor friend, Belarmino, to help us. He suggested: “Let’s make it touchable”. So he asked the inmates to take turns in pairs in placing a sheet of tinfoil on each other’s face and to gently mold a mask.
Belarmino asked each one if they recognized themselves in the mask and contrasted their opinion with comments from the group. Et voilà! – thirty inmates having a philosophical conversation about self-perception and identity. Impressive!
We then formed a circle and passed a broomstick around. Everyone pretended it was a different object and the group guessed what it was. This way Belarmino conveyed the idea that when we change our actions, the way others perceive us also changes. Effective and fun!
To this day, when I think of motivation, I remember Belarmino: “Make it touchable!” To make people do things is not to motivate them. That’s to force them. To motivate is to find a way for them to want to do it. And if you can do that… they’ll do anything for you!
Do you know someone who could benefit from Belarmino’s inspiration? Share his story!
Have you noticed how some people tend to always get what they ask for at work: a raise, time off, more time, change in plans, etc.? And what’s more, everyone seems delighted to attend to their requests. What’s their secret?
You might remember when you were little, grownups requesting the magic “P” word when you asked for something: “What do you say?” And then we’d say: “Can I… PLEASE?” Demands and requests were clearly differentiated by the “P” word.
Intended or not, the effects of this practice reach beyond good manners. It taps into how our brains are wired: When a person hears your petition as a request, she feels the power to contribute to your wellbeing. If she willingly does so, she will feel satisfaction.
People who don’t care how their requests are received instill distrust and have a hard time getting what they want.
When a request is heard as a demand, it feels like an imposition. This leads either to rejection or submission, both harboring feelings of resentment, anger or other nasty things that can pop up in the future to bite us.
In a grownups’ world, where roles aren’t always clearly defined, requests and demands can look a lot alike. A simple “please” might no longer do the trick:
“Hey Jeff, I want that budget by the end of the day please.” “Kate, please send me the report now, got it?” Are these requests or demands? What counts is how the person hears your request. It’s what makes the difference to get what you want.
You get what you want when you voice your needs in a way that others hear them as requests, not demands.
Three things you can do to assure your requests are heard as such: Prepare to hear “no”. Ask the person to tell you what she just heard you say. And promise yourself not to engage in persuasion until you’ve understood the person’s explanation.
This has an incredible effect: it shows you care about that person’s needs, not just your request. She will feel this. This generates trust, a new opening to express your request.
It’s funny: you get what you request by being prepared not to get it! Another option is not care, but that brings us to square one: demands. And we know how that ends, right?
Has it ever happened to you to ask a waiter for something, who says “Sure, no prob”, and then he or she shows up with something different and then runs off, disappearing?
My father in law, Miguel, has a funny comeback for these situations. He got it from one of his law professors in university when he’d get answers to questions he did not ask.
Miguel says he sometimes feels like saying: “Now that you’ve brought me whatever you felt like, could you please bring me what I asked for!” However, I’ve never heard him use this line. I’m guessing he’s too much of an experienced gentleman to answer this way.
Crucial to effective communication and team performance is mastering the art of requests. We practice this in my seminars. The goal is to know what we want, why we want it and how we’ll get it.
With the diagram above, notice differences between needs, wants and requests:
Need = The Problem, Why: It’s a vital element to our wellbeing as humans. Thirst, tranquility and safety are examples. Notice that – physical, psychological or spiritual – we all tend to share similar needs. Here’s a list of common needs.
- Want = The Solution, What: It’s an answer to satisfying a particular need. If you’re thirsty you might want water; if you need some peace you could desire silence; if you need safety you might want a new door lock.
Our wants are the choices we make to respond to our needs.
Notice wants are one of many options. Instead of water you could want a soda; music instead of silence; a Rottweiler, not a lock. Unlike needs, wants are informed by our environment. For ex., the need for clothing can result in wanting the clothes informed by the fashion culture.
- Request = The Strategy, How: It’s the act of petitioning something from someone for the purpose of satisfying a want or a need. Ex: You could ask your partner for water, your colleague to turn down the music, or the landlord for a new lock.
Requests are strategies we use to satisfy our wants and needs.
Notice once again how a request is one of several strategies. You could have decided to get the water yourself, move to a quieter room, or change the lock on your own.
If we confuse the three, we end up requesting things we don’t want and wanting things we don’t need. We confuse problems (needs) with solutions (wants). We neglect the strategies (requests), forget the why (needs) and focus only on the solution (wants).
A tool for when we don’t get what we want: Ask yourself: What is the real problem (the need, why)? Are there other solutions (the wants, what) or better strategies (the requests, how)? Now adapt your wants and requests to meet your needs!
When a request is the best strategy, we want to trigger willingness from the receiver, not denial. We’ll discuss how to do this in following entries. Comments? Questions?
I’ll never forget the first time I was called on in class after moving to Portugal. It was the ninth grade geography class. I studied hard. But, having recently moved from Canada, my teenage mind was still in French mode: I read in Portuguese, but my brain worked in French.
So after clearing my throat to talk, nothing intelligible came out. A huge laugh from everyone was the result, including the teacher! That day I understood (the hard way) that words play a big role in communication.
Similarly, language has a powerful influence on relationships. The words we use to express ourselves – and before that the words we use to think of ourselves and others – shape the way we feel when we relate to others.
When we feel empowered – calm, clear and confident – we relate to others in a rewarding and dynamic manner. When we don’t, relationships are unproductive and toxic. Words play a major role in this.
Here are 2 ways to use language to empower relationships:
- When facing a challenge, use sentences where “I” is the subject instead of “you”. I’m not saying we talk about ourselves all the time. I mean that when we describe our reality with “I” sentences, the power to influence and change that reality increases greatly.
“You” sentences tie your hands. You depend on others.
Imagine your coworker Emilia has the ball, the ball being anything you want. Consider the sentence: “Emilia has the ball and won’t give it to me.” Here, Emilia has all the power because she’s the subject: She has the ball; she won’t give it to you.
“I” sentences give you agency,
the power to shape your reality and relationships.
Now consider this: “Emilia has the ball and I haven’t found a way yet for her to give it to me.” Here, power is balanced: She has the ball but you haven’t yet found a way to get it. Now there’s something you can do (find a way), which means you have power. Subtle but very effective.
- In difficult situations, use the verb “to do” not “to be”:“to be” is disempowering because it focuses on the person; “to do” is empowering because it focuses on the event.
For instance, you turn to Emilia and say: “You are uncooperative”. This suggests a negative feature about her, which might provoke a defensive reaction on her part.
Instead “you did something uncooperative” might avoid that because it describes an action, not her. Moreover, “to be” suggests more permanent traits; while “to do” leaves room for things to change.
The language of “I” and “to do” is empowering.
It enables us to feel calmer, clearer and more confident.
Sometimes the influence of language is not evident and can be tricky to use. Leave a comment with what is on your mind. You can also send me an email to email@example.com. Looking forward to hearing from you.
By the way, there was someone in my geography class who actually thought my attempt was kind of cute: the pretty sister of one the real popular guys in school. It was my first “Portuguese” crush.
On Tuesday, a client and I met to discuss a session we’re going to do on relationship management. One of the topics was how the corporation’s managers sometimes can’t stand some of the people they work with. They feel it’s useless and case closed.
I love this topic, especially when it comes up in my seminars. It’s always interesting to see the look on participants’ faces when I present the commitment ratio of the relationship building system I created: 80% you; 20% the other person. What?!
Yep, that’s the look on their faces. You do 80% of the work and the other person does 20%. “That’s not fair!” — some might say. Relationship management at work is not about fairness (that comes later), it’s about effectiveness.
The ultimate challenge is not
how you relate to others. It’s how you deal with YOU!
Relationships need to function for everyone to get their jobs done. An 80/20 ratio assures your commitment produces functioning results that guarantee performance. “But it doesn’t make sense: the other person is the problem, not me!” — others object.
This reminds me of a story back in my university days. One late night, as I was making my way home, I saw a man literally banging his head against a street post. I kind of recognized him, so I walked up to him.
After a long monologue, I came to learn his tragic story. His wife had left with another man and took the children. His partner was no longer a partner. His business was crumbling. He was drinking… I almost felt sorry for him. But then I didn’t.
It’s a tough lesson: either you take on the responsibility
of being in charge of the events of your life or… you don’t.
When he finally asked if I wasn’t going to say anything, I asked: “You expected people would behave in a certain way, right?” What?! — was the look on his face. Then silence. Then a smile.
“That’s right”, he said. “I’ve blamed everyone around me for everything that has happened to me. That puts the power to lead my life in their hands, not in mine. To be in charge, I need to accept it’s my fault.”
That day, that man began to understand that it will always be up to him to take charge of how relationships affect his life and how he will proceed. He understood that the outcomes of our relationships start with us.
Today, that man leads a fulfilling life — lots of challenges no doubt, but fulfilling. Today, he is an 80/20 man, committed to producing functioning results that guarantee performance. His approach is: regardless of what happens, it’s always my responsibility.
Could this work for you? I’m eager to see how the managers will respond!
Young Artur could not have been much older than 10 when he was first sent to boarding school. This meant moving from Graciosa to Terceira, in the Azores Islands, Portugal.
Today, at almost 90, Artur or Cunha de Oliveira – he prefers his surname – is a renowned figure of the Azores. In him you’ll find demanding wisdom and generous compassion. He is a good friend and a mentor.
Standing on the pier that day before he boarded, his mother gave him a lifelong piece of advice:
“Son, remember to chew before you swallow”, she said.
“Mom, I’m not a baby. I know better than to swallow food without chewing”, he replied.
“Oh, I don’t mean the food, my dear!” And with a kiss and a smile, she bid him goodbye.
She was referring to the many things he would be taught and would learn. This principle has guided him on a journey that has been unique and fascinating (for instance, service as a Member of the European Parliament).
Sometimes, what is most evident goes shockingly unnoticed.
His mom’s advice is one of those cases – commonsense usually is. I often wonder how many things I accept to be true without pausing to ask: Is this really so?
Believing everything you think is not a freeway to freedom.
Trusting everything we are taught and told is no diploma of wisdom. Accepting things at face value proves to be a mask that conceals disillusion. Instead, to nurture the routine of pausing to test the strength of our truths is a practice of growth.
One question you might want to keep in your back pocket for unexpected situations is: “Why not?” For, now and then life might kick us in the buttocks. And with a righteous claim in our voices, we’ll jump up to object: “But why? Why me?!”
I’m quite sure there won’t be an answer. This might be life’s way of asking “Why not? Or have you swallowed something without chewing?”
Who do you know who’d enjoy Artur’s mom’s advice? Share it!
On June 29th at 10:30 pm, while I was out enjoying an evening jog, I tripped and broke the 5th metatarsus (the main bone of the pinky) of my right foot. On August 8th at 10:00 am the cast was removed.
That’s a photo of my nephews painting my cast.
The following are some of the things I learnt during those 39 days, 11 hours and 30 minutes.
1. Not getting in the way already great help
Performing everyday activities took a little longer and was a bit more complex to carry out. In practice, this often meant it was harder for those around me to go about performing their own everyday activities.
Using a cast helped me learn to consider beforehand whether I would be of greater help staying out of the way instead of getting in the middle and making things messier. Often, the best way to help was just not getting in the way.
I extend this to other areas of life. Though I may want to lend a helping hand with my advice or expertise, it is wise to first ask whether this will actually make things better. At times, staying still or silent is the best option.
2. Accepting dependence is tough
I also got used to the idea that some things I would just not be able to do on my own. For ex., I could not walk around with our daughter, Irene. For five weeks, I was a “sitting daddy” and relied on others to attend to many of Irene’s needs.
Life is a circle of interdependence: though autonomous, we rely on others and the services they provide for large amounts of our happiness.
3. Accepting restriction is also tough
Not being able to take a walk, run, swim or shower normally were tough for me. I even had dreams where I’d be walking and then noticed in shock that I still had the cast and shouldn’t be putting my foot on the ground.
One the principles we use in my conflict resolution seminars is that a conflict with no solution is a solved conflict. Accepting my limitations proved to be a challenge. Once accomplished, it’s also a blessing.
4. Non-empathetic remarks are scary
It wasn’t on purpose. In fact, they were not even aware of it. But the truth is that, in an attempt to be sympathetic, some people would tell me their own stories of broken bones. And they didn’t spare the dramatic details:
“My cousin broke his foot and had a cast for THREE months!!”, “I also broke my foot and it never really healed. It gets sore when I run and hurts on rainy days.”, “Be careful with the doc’s advice. Sometimes it makes things worse!”
My experience tells me it is not empathetic to share your ”horror” story with someone who is going through one of their own. They don’t need to hear the ups and downs of your experience. It doesn’t help cope.
5. Vulnerability introduced me to nice people
On the other hand, people were very kind. Just an example, when my wife, Claudia, Irene and I travelled on vacation, we anticipated a stressful and rough ride. Not true.
The services for passengers with mobility constraints were great. At every airport, we were assisted with great effectiveness and extreme kindness, at no extra cost. I take this opportunity to express our gratitude to all those who helped us.
A cast taught me that vulnerability can bring out the best in those around us.
6. Love makes loved ones endure
Another aspect was that my wife had extra work on her hands. As the days went by, I could see the fatigue growing, and an increasing effort was required to endure. But she endured. And then she endured some more. My love for her has grown.
I am fortunate to have seen that love fuels faith and strength in tough times.
7. Life withers and dies when trapped
Finally, the day I had the cast removed I noticed that my right leg was very thin. Even some of the hair on my leg had died (of asphyxiation?) and fallen off.
This made me think about how we, as humans, are not built to be trapped. Whether a relationship, the past, a job or even a dream, whatever imprisons us, weaken us and eventually kills the life in us.
My foot is almost fully functional and the vacation will soon be over. So expect to hear more from me from now on. 🙂