Category Archives: Relationships

Keeping Up with the Joneses

Roberto Goizueta, the former Chairman of Coca-Cola, asked a question of his senior managers:

“What is our market share?”

“45%,” came the confident reply.

“How many ounces of liquid does a human being need to drink a day?”  Goizueta asked.

“64 ounces a day,” someone offered.

“On average, how many ounces of all our products does a person drink per day?” Goizueta asked.

“2 ounces,” said one of the executives.

“What’s our market share?” came his final question.

While I don’t think we should allow Coca-Cola to convince us to replace water in our diet with their products, I do think Goizueta’s question was visionary!  He saw that his leaders were operating under a limiting belief – that we only have to be better than our biggest competitor (in Coca-Cola’s case, it was PepsiCo).  He gave the executives a larger playing field.  In effect, he said, Pepsi is irrelevant.  Stop measuring our success by how we compare to our competition.  Start measuring our success by how we compare to our potential.

What a paradigm shift!  The problem with comparing yourself with others is that you only have to stay one step ahead to feel good about yourself.  If the one to whom you are comparing yourself starts to slide, you can slide, too, and still feel good about where you are in relation to your competition.  (See graphic below.)

You might say, “At least we’re not as bad as them!”  Or, “Yes, we’re slipping, but so is everyone else.”  That may numb the pain, but the truth is, you’ve lost your edge.  The sooner you admit it, the sooner you can get back into the game.

On a personal level, comparing yourself to your friends, coworkers or neighbors can become an excuse for not living according to God’s standard and calling on your life.  While you’ve got your eyes fixed on everyone around you, you will almost invariably start to drift away from where God wants you to be.  Where they are is irrelevant to your walk with the Lord.

It’s true that if you focus on those that are ahead of you in the areas you want to grow, it can motivate you to higher levels of performance, but be careful even about these types of comparisons.  They are dangerous for a few reasons:

  • If your competition slips or lets up for any reason, you might be tempted to, as well.
  • If a change takes them out of your life, you might lose your motivation for growth.
  • If they get too far ahead of you, you might get discouraged and give up.
  • And even if they motivate you to higher levels, ask yourself if you are really doing it for the right reasons.  Is it to look good to others, to feel like you are better than others, to “win”….or is it to live by a high standard or to please God?

Keeping up with the Joneses is a losing battle and only serves to distract you from the fulfillment of your greatness.  Let the Smiths or the Petersons take on the Joneses.  Compete with yourself until you reach your full potential.


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Filed under blame, Change, comparison, competition, Compromise, Daily walk, growth, Incentives, leadership, management, paradigm, paradigm shift, performance, Relationships, self-image, self-worth, Spiritual Growth, success, team, teambuilding

The Orange War

The story was once told of Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones, neighbors who shared an orange tree.  The orange tree actually belonged to Mr. Smith (it grew on his side of the property line), but Mr. Jones would frequently help himself to the oranges that hung over on his side of the fence.  This irritated Mr. Smith to no end, and the two men had frequent arguments about who had rights to the oranges that overhung Mr. Jones’ yard.

The feud continued for years until both men had had enough.  Mr. Smith filed suit in small claims court, and Mr. Jones counter-sued.  The judge listened to both sides of their argument and swiftly proclaimed his judgment.  If the men couldn’t agree about the ownership of the oranges, the tree was to be cut down.  His judgment was promptly executed, and the two men soon found themselves without oranges altogether.  In the place of the beautiful orange tree, they now had an ugly stump to remind them of the bitterness of their feud.

Years passed before the men spoke again.  But, as the saying goes, time heals all wounds.  One afternoon, Mr. Jones saw Mr. Smith watering his yard and approached him.  Right then and there, they buried the hatchet and agreed to let go of their resentment.  Over time, they even became good friends.

When it felt safe enough, Mr. Smith asked why they never were able to get along about that old orange tree.  That opened the discussion, and the two men started talking – not about who had rights to the oranges, but about what they wanted them for in the first place.  What they learned was that Mr. Smith loved his oranges for freshly-squeezed orange juice, while Mr. Jones loved them for making potpourri out of the rinds.  Both men could have had what they wanted from the oranges if they had only been willing to let go of their positions and talk about their needs.

Initially, both Mr. Jones and Mr. Smith were only interested in winning the fight about the oranges.  They were going for win-lose, which seemed to them as the only possibility – “if he gets the oranges, then I don’t.”  But if they had been willing to look for a win-win solution, they would have started thinking creatively about how both their needs could have been met.  This would have inevitably led them to the discussion of why they wanted the oranges, and a better solution would have emerged.  As it happened, they both had to settle for lose-lose when the judge ordered the tree cut down.

Instead of focusing on who’s right and who’s wrong when you encounter conflict, try telling the other person that you want to work toward win-win and ask,

  • “Why is it important to you to have this particular solution?”
  • “What happens if you don’t get it?”
  • “Are there any alternatives that would be a good substitute?”

When you start talking about your needs instead of your positions, you identify things the two of you have in common.  It takes commitment and vulnerability, but it might save the orange tree you’ve been fighting over.

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Filed under Abundance, Compromise, conflict, creativity, delayed gratification, Goals, Interpersonal, Problem Solving, Relationships, Scarcity, trust

Q3 Magnets

In Stephen Covey’s Time Matrix, Quadrant 3 (Q3) describes tasks that are urgent but unimportant.  It’s the quadrant of “Other Peoples’ Priorities.”  The tasks that fit into this quadrant are important to someone, but they don’t have to be important to us.

It may seem crazy that we would spend any time working on things that are unimportant, but we often confuse urgency with importance.  When a phone rings, we feel we have to pick it up.  When there’s a knock on the door, we feel we have to answer it.  When someone drops by, we feel like we have to stop what we’re doing to talk to them.

But what if we could make it so that they rarely dropped by anymore?  We can…by getting rid of our Q3 magnets: the things that attract and invite the interruptions in the first place.  Try these strategies:

  • Get rid of the candy dish on your desk. It’s an invitation to stop by for a sugar fix, and they will feel obligated to stop and talk if they are going to take your candy.
  • Remove chairs from around your work space. A standing interruption won’t last nearly as long as a sitting one will, and it may not happen at all.
  • Stay busy. If someone peaks in and sees you staring into space, he/she won’t feel bad interrupting you.
  • Take home the conversation piece. If you have something near your desk that invites questions or discussion, take it away.
  • Relocate out of high-traffic areas. If your desk is on the way to the restroom or the breakroom, you can be sure that a percentage of the people going that way will drop in to chat.
  • Get out of the line of sight. If people can’t see if you are at your desk when they pass by, they are less likely to stop in.
  • Put your inbox as far away from you as you can. Make it easy for people to drop things in your inbox without having to engage you.
  • Move popular resources elsewhere. If people have to come to you (or near you) for files, supplies or other materials, you’re inviting interruptions.
  • Kill the grapevine. It may be that people are frequently interrupting you because you’ve got the best gossip.  It may be painful, but if you stop passing along information, people will stop coming to you.
  • Close the “open door.” The open door policy is widely misunderstood.  It’s was originally intended to allow an outlet for employees who needed to air issues or unload burdens – not for unproductive interruptions.  Close your door (if you have one) when you need to concentrate, and let everyone know that they can come by and see you during a particular hour of the day.  Schedule your “interruption time.”

A word of caution:

These strategies are not meant to completely eliminate time that you use to interact with your coworkers.  Building relationships is important, even when it’s not urgent.  It’s a Q2 activity that requires a time investment but pays off in the long run.  Be careful that as you eliminate your Q3 magnets, you don’t send the wrong message to those you need to be building relationships with.



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Filed under Challenges, communication, fatigue, focus, habits, importance, Interpersonal, overcoming obstacles, priorities, Prioritize, Priority, Productivity, Relationships

Visuals, Verbals, Vocals

“What’s wrong, Honey?”  I ask.

“Nothing!  Absolutely nothing!” she says between gritted teeth as she slams cabinet doors in our kitchen.

I have a choice to make at this point.  I can believe what she says (that nothing is wrong) and go about my business, or I can believe what her tone of voice and body language are telling me (that something is most definitely wrong).  I’ve taken a few lumps in our marriage, and I’ve learned to disregard what she says if it doesn’t match how she says it.  Saying, “Okay, Sweetheart.  I’ll be in the garage if you need me,” only gets me in a deeper stew.

Professor Albert Mehrabian (UCLA) has done research that would have been useful to me a little earlier in our marriage.  He analyzed where our messages come from when we communicate, and his findings are surprising.

  • 55% of our message comes from nonverbals, or Visuals, (i.e. our body language, gestures, facial expressions, posture…).
  • 38% of our message comes from our tone of voice, sounds we make, our rate of speech…, or Vocals.
  • 7% of our message comes from the words we use, or Verbals.

Only 7%!  Seems unbelievable, but I’ll tell you why I believe it…because we lie.  We are expert liars.  My wife was lying when she said nothing was wrong, even though she really wanted me to know that something was.  We lie all the time to avoid facing unpleasant circumstances directly.  Our boss brings us a huge project Friday afternoon and asks if we have time for it.  “Oh, sure.  I’ll fit it in,” we sigh, knowing that our plans for the weekend have gone out the window.  We’re told that team meetings will now be breakfast meetings and start at 6:30 a.m.  “Hey, there’s a great idea!” we tell a peer sarcastically.  A friend asks us what we thought of his presentation.  “It was terrific,” we lie, because we don’t want to hurt his feelings.

We’ve learned from experience that you can’t always trust what people say.  However, Visuals and Vocals are much more reliable.  People send signals through their body language, tone of voice and other nonverbals.  Sometimes they do it intentionally (my wife, for example), and sometimes they just can’t help it.  We bring the team together and tell them about a new change that means doing more with less.  As the leader, you know you have to put a positive spin on it, but your fake smile and monotone voice quality give you away.  People put your words on a shelf and judge your sincerity by your nonverbal communication.

Often, we are telling the truth, but people misread our nonverbals.  We ask a simple and sincere question, but our arms are crossed at the time, and the other person goes away with the idea that we are totally against her proposal.  We were up late the night before, and some of our team members perceive that we are in bad mood because we didn’t sound cheerful when we greeted them.  We are fast talkers, and we find that slower talkers distrust our message because we seem “slick.”

The key is matching your verbals and your nonverbals.  If we want our message to hit home, Verbals, Visuals and Vocals all have to be marching in the same direction.  It may take practice in front of a mirror or with a tape recorder, but you can improve how you communicate by increasing the consistency of these three components.

On the flip side, don’t allow yourself to accept what someone says as the whole story.  Watch and listen to their nonverbals to determine if they match the message.  If they don’t, respond to the nonverbals rather than the verbals.  Back to my example with my wife…a better response to her would have been, “You seem upset.  Would you like to talk?”  Notice that I’m disregarding the words she used and focusing on the underlying message.  You may need to make several attempts at this before the other person is willing to be honest Verbally, but their nonverbals have been telling the truth all along.

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Filed under communication, conflict, culture, emotions, feedback, Interpersonal, listening, public speaking, Relationships, speaking

Soft Hands

During a Monday night football game a few years ago, the Dallas Cowboy’s were defending at their own three-yard line.  The quarterback for the opposing team dropped back and fired a bullet…right to one of the Cowboy’s defensive linemen.  To my disgust, the lineman dropped the ball even though it was right between the numbers and even though he got both hands on the ball.

At the time, it seemed unthinkable that he would drop a sure interception, but I stopped yelling at the TV long enough to hear one of the commentators (a former lineman himself) explain why we should give the guy a break.  As he explained it, linemen spend their entire careers pushing against three-hundred-pound gorillas on the other side of the line of scrimmage.  Every muscle in their body is invested in the struggle to push past the opposing lineman to get at the quarterback.  When a ball is thrown their way, they don’t have the “soft hands” required to catch the ball.

By that last comment, he meant that because the linemen were totally focused on the goal of overpowering their opponent, it was supremely difficult for them to switch goals in the middle of battle.  I can relate.  I remember countless times when I was insensitive to my wife when she called me at the office.  Her calls always seemed to come right in the middle of my battles with three-hundred-pound gorilla projects and three-hundred-pound gorilla deadlines.  Bruised from her own battles with the kids, all she wanted was a sympathetic ear.  What she typically got were short, curt responses indicating I had better things to do than to talk with her.

Because I was so focused on the battle, I didn’t have the soft hands necessary to respond to my wife appropriately, and I forgot we were playing for the same team.  Each time I dropped the ball, I regretted it the second I hung up the phone.  Realization of how important and unrecoverable the moment was always made me wish I had not been so single-focused.

If we are going to be effective leaders, we have to learn to develop the soft hands required when our team members come to us for help.  We have to be skilled at transitioning from driving the line, chasing down the goal, sacking the competition… to taking time out, being receptive and possibly moving in a whole new direction.

While success requires us to be totally invested in our work, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that teams are made of people, and we can’t play this game alone.

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Filed under Attitude, Challenges, Change, communication, conflict, determination, emotions, family, Fathering, Goals, habits, Interpersonal, leadership, management, marriage, mentoring, paradigm shift, pressure, priorities, Prioritize, Priority, Relationships, Serving Others

And You Are…..?

If you’re like me, one of the most embarrassing things you encounter day-to-day is the inability to remember the names of those you meet.  I can count the number of people who I have met who have mastered this skill on my fingers and toes, and I don’t even have to take off my shoes.  But Dale Carnegie tells us that, “A person’s name is to that person the sweetest sound in the world.”  So, how do we improve this essential skill?

When you meet the person…

  1. Be interested.  If you aren’t paying attention when they give it, you won’t remember it later.  Anticipate it, listen for it, focus on it!
  2. Repeat it.  Right after they say it.  For example, if someone introduces himself as “Kevin,” confirm what you heard with, “Was that ‘Kevin?'” or just, “Kevin?”  Almost no one is offended if you verify what you heard, and it helps your mind to focus on the name even more.  You can also repeat it in your mind four or five times quickly to make it stick.
  3. Picture the name written across their forehead.  Franklin Roosevelt passed this trick on to us, and he was highly respected for his name remembering abilities.  Imagine their name written boldly in your favorite color of permanent marker.
  4. Write it down.  This was Dale Carnegie’s trick.  As soon as he could break away from the speaker, he wrote the name down.  Just the act of writing tells your Reticular Activating System (your brain’s traffic cop that determines what’s worth remembering and what’s not) that this is important.  If you can’t break away, imagine writing the name in your mind as you make the pen movements with your fingers.  It has nearly the same effect.
  5. Make a picture.  Another trick to get your traffic cop’s attention is to associate the person and his/her name with a picture in your mind.  The more bizarre, the better.  For example…
    • If a person’s name is Carl, you might imagine him as a giant curl of hair.
    • If a person’s name is Amy, you might imagine her as an arrow aimed at a giant bulls-eye.
    • If a person’s name is Tony, you might picture him/her as a giant tiger with black and orange stripes eating a bowl of breakfast cereal.  (You get the idea….)
  1. Use it at least three times.  Use it while you are talking to the person, again during conversation with him/her if you can, again when you say goodbye and then again when you tell someone else about your conversation with that person.

One other thing…when you meet someone again, and you suspect that they might not remember your name, they will always appreciate it if you offer it right up front as you shake their hand.  It will save them from a lot of embarrassment, and it usually prompts them to return the favor.

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Filed under brain, communication, Interpersonal, memory, Mind, mnemonic techniques, Relationships

Sharing Your Best Seed Corn

There was a Nebraska farmer who grew award-winning corn. Each year he entered his corn in the state fair where it won a blue ribbon.  One year a newspaper reporter interviewed him and learned something interesting about how he grew it. The reporter discovered that the farmer shared his seed corn with his neighbors.

“How can you afford to share your best seed corn with your neighbors when they are entering corn in competition with yours each year?” the reporter asked.

“Why sir,” said the farmer, “didn’t you know? The wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and swirls it from field to field. If my neighbors grow inferior corn, cross-pollination will steadily degrade the quality of my corn. If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbors grow good corn.”

The farmer had what Stephen Covey calls an “abundance mentality.”  An “abundance mentality” says, “There’s plenty to go around.”  A “scarcity mentality” says, “There’s not enough to go around, and if he gets some, that means less for me!”

Maybe we’ve got this competition thing all wrong.  Sure, we’ve got to compete with other companies for market share; we’ve got to compete on the playing field or around the track; we’ve got to compete when we want to be chosen for a new job or opportunity… but what about on our teams or with the people at the same organization or even in the Body of Christ?  Should we compete with each other in these groups?

As I look around, I see the net result of some of our competition: teams reduced to groupings of individuals who happen to work for the same boss, departments in silos that won’t benchmark with other departments because they will give away their “secrets,” plenty of “us-them” thinking, gossip, resentment, bitterness…  Even on the same teams, we can’t be happy for someone who gets a great opportunity or who God uses in a special way.  We delight in the misfortune of those we see as “competitors.”

Are we limiting the quality of our own corn just because we won’t share some of our best seed corn with our neighbors?  What could we learn from them if we were willing to give up something that cost us something?  Could helping another department, or team, or church actually help us to improve?

I had a boss one time who put it this way, “Michael, when I retire, I don’t plan to collect my retirement check from just this department.  By sharing resources and what I know with other parts of the company, I help us all to be more successful.”

Amen.  And if you belong to the Body of Christ, consider that your “retirement check” will not be based on your individual contributions as much as it will be based on how you advanced the Kingdom together with your brothers and sisters in Christ.

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Filed under Abundance, Body of Christ, christianity, Church, family, helping, marriage, mentoring, Productivity, Relationships, Scarcity, Serving Others, Sowing and reaping