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.

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