Archive from July, 2008
Jul 23, 2008 - musings, philosophy    No Comments

Zen and the Art of the Reply (Part II)

I wrote yesterday about 3 questions you can ask yourself before you respond to someone (to figure out whether a response is needed or warranted). Today, I want to delve deeper and offer a perspective for answering those questions, by using an adaptation of the “Ben Franklin” decision technique.

For those not familiar with it, the “Ben Franklin” technique was a method used by Ben when faced with a complicated issue. With it, he’d boil all the pros and cons of the issue down to a simple question with two possible outcomes. Simply put:

  • List all the points that support the question.
  • List all the points that counter the question.
  • Apply any necessary weighting factors to what’s been listed (if certain pros/cons are more important than others)
  • Look at what you’ve written, letting the the lists and weights drive the decision.

A very simple example (without weighting) would be:

  1. Take a sheet of paper and draw a line down the middle.
  2. List all the pros down one side of the line, cons down the other. Keep each item to a single line (bullet point).
  3. Which ever side has more bullet points (pro or con), that’s the decision to make.

In applying Ben’s method to the 3 questions, we get:

  1. Does [what they said] require a response?
    • What would happen if someone did respond?
    • What would happen if nobody did?
  2. Does [what they said] require a response from me?
    • What would happen if I did respond?
    • What would happen if I did not?
  3. Does [what they said] require a response from me now?
    • What would happen if I responded now?
    • What would happen if I waited?

A key thing to remember: “I’d feel a lot better once I …” isn’t necessary the best answer (to any of the questions above). When you finish venting you naturally feel better because you’ve “run out of steam” and are less stressed than you were at the peak of your vent, but you’re still much more stressed than you were before you started. Not everyone is like Mel Gibson’s Martin Riggs in Lethal Weapon, who went from wild-eyed, in-your-face-with-a-revolver-under-his-chin to a half-lidded, matter of fact “I’m hungry” in under 5 seconds. Stress takes the rest of us time to work out of our systems, to return to our “resting heart rate” as it were.

So, why stress in the first place? Ask your questions, look at your answers, then decide whether it’s worthwhile to pursue things.

Jul 22, 2008 - opinion, philosophy    1 Comment

Zen and the Art of the Reply

In this day of multi-channel communications overload, it has become insanely easy to fire off an email (or SMS, Twitter, Tumblr, Jaiku, Plurk, Pownce, Jott, …), post to your blog (or Facebook, Classmates, Friendster, LinkedIn, Plaxo, LiveJournal, WordPress, Blogger, MySpace, Utterz, Orkutz, an online forum or your choice, …), or leave a post on someone else’s blog (or … well, you get the picture) … all without really thinking about what we have to say.  Couple that with a general air of intolerance in some online circles (where any reply brings on a “flamewar” as though people were just itching for a fight) and spam shrinks to a trivial (and, for the most part, ignorable) online issue.

In a nutshell:  Just because someone else publicly said something (either to/about you or about a topic which you’re passionate about) doesn’t mean you must engage in what may appear to you as witty repartee but which, in fact, is mindless “oh, yeah?  Well, so there!” prattle.  To say nothing of the stress created as your blood pressure rises and you focus all your energy on visualizing your online foe being squished between your thumb and forefinger (like the heads of victims of Mr. Tyzik from The Kids in the Hall) .  It may feel good, but only for awhile … and it usually keeps things escalating for no good reason.

I had lunch with my parents this weekend, during which our discussion wandered (as it is want to do) onto the topic of conflict resolution.  More specifically, is it really necessary to confront someone who has either said something or sent something (email, etc.) to you, especially if their statement pisses you off?

The simple answer:  Not necessarily.  If you’re having an open and honest dialog, perhaps (but it requires that both parties be willing to both listen and understand the other).  However, if you’re pretty certain that the speaker will neither understand nor appreciate your response, sometimes it’s best not to reply.

But how to know when and when not to continue a dialog?  A very good question, and I can answer that by giving you 3 questions to ask yourself when you’re in such a situation.

Before you react (or reply, or email, or whatever), ask yourself the following:

  1. Does [what they said] require a response?
  2. Does [what they said] require a response from me?
  3. Does [what they said] require a response from me now?

If you cannot answer “yes” to all three questions, don’t respond (if “yes” to just the first 2, then wait a bit).  Pretty simple, cuts to the heart of the matter … but not the way we’re programmed to think normally.  Think of these as a more detailed interpretation of the old adage:

If you have nothing constructive to say, say nothing.”

I can’t take credit for these 3 questions.  Kudos here goes to a coworker who uses them to get her through meetings where she finds herself itching to dive into a debate, only to find (after applying the questions) that any input she would have provided would have been misinterpreted and not produced the desired outcome.

I also make no claims about how easy it is to simply let things go when you first try.  It’s not (believe me, I know), but it does get easier with time.  And, with time, you’ll find that you become less and less riled up about things you have no interest in discussing.  Life gets better, stress goes down.

Try it!