Tag Archives: Making decisions

Outrage Overload

The Age of Enlightenment, also known as the Age of Reason developed in the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe and America (the fact that history as taught in our schools has a decidedly European and American bent is a topic for a different blog, but a worthy topic.)  We have moved from that age through the Industrial Age and now are in the waning years of the Information Age.  What to call the current age?  Well, outrage, umbrage, discord and conflict/confrontation are so prevalent that this might become known as the Age of Outrage.  People in general seem to be mere moments away from boiling over about any number of touchy subjects – and the list of touchy subjects just grows without resolution on any of the older items.

public domain

public domain


What is an office worker to do?  We have this notion that emotions don’t belong at the office, but we spend many hours toiling a few feet away from a number of other humans.  It would be nice to have a cordial and also meaningful relationship with all of them since we see them a great deal more than we see our own family.  We already know to stay away from the two oldest items on the touchy list – religion and politics.  (And how sad and ironic that something which was meant to be inclusive, religion, is so divisive.)


I have my own list of subjects that get my dander up, certainly.  But the tagline for this blog is Reasonable Expectations.  Hence why I started the count of named Ages with the Age of Reason (besides starting with the Iron Age would have made for a long, boring list) because I think that this could help us before future historians do dub this the Age of Outrage.


public domain - Understandably angry about conditions for women in India

public domain – Understandably angry about conditions for women in India

Outrage is a response of powerlessness, where reason is a considered decision for growth.  Outrage is complaining on steroids and complaining (kvetching, whining) is pointing out something that you think is wrong but waiting for someone else to come along and fix it.  But fix it the way that you think it should be fixed or the complaints just escalate.  Some offices are so full of complaining that you can practically see it in the air, until the big boss walks through and then there isn’t even a hint.


Reason identifies a problem, tracks it to a root or roots and then sets about coming up with potential solutions.  (This isn’t the use of reason as in an alternate word for excuse, rather sound judgment and good sense – thinking, application of knowledge and logic.)  Reason offers a path to a better place, a place where the touchy subject no longer holds any power or sway because we know how to correct, prevent or avoid the cause.


Outrage started out as a reasonable tool to gain the fickle attention of the public – all of us in the general populous who are stretching the hours of our day to fit in all of the necessary components – who might otherwise distractedly nod agreement, yes worthy cause please just catch me later.  But now the outrage is such a kneejerk reaction to every touchy thing, and the list of these must come on a scroll that rivals Santa’s naughty or nice list, that it is harder and harder to even get that little acknowledgement of agreement for a worthy touchy issue.


We need a reset, to solutions – reason.  Starting with common ground, identification of root causes using facts which aren’t filtered through any bias.  We’ve tried more outrage as a means to get attention to the growing list of worthy touchy subjects and it led to overload and dismissal.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Need a Treatment for Mental Sludge?

There is a whole section of shelving in auto parts stores that show gas treatment products to help to clean your engine if your car is acting kind of sluggish.  I’m a little skeptical myself on the validity of these products, because as a woman I think skepticism about car operations is just healthy.  Although I have at rare moments found myself more knowledgeable than some males on the inner workings of some automotive systems.


sludgeAnyway, sludge is the accumulation of the muck (technical term) that seems to be a requisite accompaniment to the product you need – like gas- to operate a machine like your car.  For whatever reason it is not possible to provide you gas for your car that has been completely filtered of impurities (muck) either during processing or transport or storage.  But enough about cars and gas, let’s move to your brain.


Sometimes your thoughts can be humming along and you can really tear through your to-do list.  Your brain gives you the information that you need just as you need it, excellent.  But then there are the times when your brain answers almost every need and request with, ‘huh?’.  When the memory or information that you need seems to be buried under sludge.


Our brains start to learn early on to filter or outright ignore information as it comes in.  But sometimes we need to evaluate the way that we are processing this information – info that we don’t really need gets gathered (sludge) while sometimes useful bits get filtered out.  We need to flush out the sludge and retrain our brains on what to keep, especially during or after changes in our lives like a promotion, new job, move, etc.


For instance, let’s say that for a previous job you memorized a whole series of numbers that you used on a regular basis because it was more helpful than looking them up several times a day.  But you haven’t needed to use them in quite a long while.  These numbers have become sludge.  Unfortunately we can’t delete them and then perform a disk defragmentation on our brains, but with some work you can erase your mental path to these numbers.


Give yourself something else to do for a few minutes and then ask yourself what you remember about this post.  It will help you understand better how your brain currently filters and saves info.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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Tracking Your Progress

Every year at performance review time do you sit and stare blankly at the cube wall while you try to remember what you have done in the preceding months that is noteworthy?  How about your resume or LinkedIn profile, when was the last time that you updated either one with your latest achievements?


“The past actually happened.  History is what someone took the time to write down.”

~A. Whitney Brown


I know, I know, it’s just that one more detail that would be the straw that broke the camel’s back if you found a means to document these things at the time, or shortly after the time.  Ok, but you are only hurting yourself by not making the time.  If it isn’t up to you to remember and document, then who?


Trust me, it is easier shortly afterward than months or even years afterward.  Details only get murkier with time, but even just a quick couple of sentences into a notebook or on a sticky note sketching out the scenario will be well worth it at review time or when it is time to really polish up your work history.


The idea of something going into our permanent record was threatening back in school because it was associated with some misstep or peccadillo.  Wipe that association from your mind and get a mantra that your permanent record is the progression of all of your work achievements; therefore worthy of regular maintenance.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Creative Release of Steam

I used to work with someone who offered a great saying to those in the midst of a frustrated mood, “Use your words”.  Ah, easier said than done when anger builds up steam, though.  Someone cuts us off in traffic, or cuts us off at the knees in a meeting and we are reduced to curse words and the word ‘idiot’.


photo credit: Wikipedia, public domain


Why do we let ourselves become rattlebrains in these moments when in our mind’s eye we increase in wit and use words like rapiers to slash our opposite to bits verbally?  Because we let fall to the wayside all of the arcane creative verbiage that gave nincompoops and rabbitbrains their due. 


Today we have a whole host of words to dust off and drumble (to sound like a drum, to mumble) under our breath when we encounter domnoddies, clodpolls, timbernonces and their ilk.  Our mothers taught us, rightly, that it isn’t polite to call names – but our blood pressure demands some release when we stumble upon a ninnyhammer or a dumbbunny or two.


Our more highly developed selves understand that when we use derogatory words we are comporting ourselves at the same intellectual level as a lackwit, but as we define someone else’s actions as being worthy of the name jobbernowl, we start to see less red.  (Notice here that I’ve called out as the actions of the other person which enflame, and not the person as a whole, reason is kicking back in as the initial steam dissipates.)   Plus these words are fun to say, try it.  They roll off the tongue in a much richer way than the expletives that survived to modern times. 


The next time that you feel the frustration mounting, don’t allow yourself to be reduced to an addlepated lackwit, use your words creatively now that you have upbigged your vocabulary.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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Get Their Attention

attentionStop me if I’ve told this one, but I’m pretty sure that I haven’t told it here, at least with this intent.  This is my go-to story about the importance of appropriate email subject lines (and good diplomacy).  Fairly early on in my corporate learning curve I had an email exchange with the principal (read owner, responsible party) of a distribution company regarding a customer account that was my responsibility.  The subject line was a one word job, the main name of the customer in question.


We went back and forth as I clarified and then resolved his question.  At the end he came back and wrote that I should do a better job of naming my emails.  Huh?  Just to be sure, I scrolled to the beginning of the email and sure enough he had originated the string.  Still, he was right – the subject was entirely too generic and didn’t offer any reference points to the specific topic at hand.  I briefly answered back that I agreed that the subject line of this particular email was not very clear and left it at that.


So began my mission to improve my own email subject line protocols.  Which included renaming an email that had a vague heading at my first reply.  (Be careful in renaming an email when there were multiple recipients because that can lead to further misunderstanding.)  When I moved into supervisory and then management roles, I made this a frequent topic within my team.  A big part of our job was clarity in communication – the first step is appropriately naming a thing.


Email volume is high for most people, so your naming protocol should be short and to the point.  Sometimes a little lyrical helps to get noticed, but utilitarian is best.  Get a feel for what is best for you by reviewing the subjects of the emails that land in your inbox – which ones draw your eye and why?  Are the subject lines that are used suitable for the actual email content?  Also consider your recipient – what speaks to them?


I hope I got your attention.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Square Your Shoulders to the World

When we cross that bridge into adulthood, we drop the notion that life must be fair into the rushing water below and watch it swirl off in an eddy of bubbles and froth without a backward thought.  Right.  Well, in our most mature moments, we know that this is an ideal but not a reality for our self talk.  (I can do that, I think.)


We work really hard on something and barely get noticed – our effort is expected because we are known as hard workers.  Someone else who has a more itinerate relationship with hard work completes a major effort and gets all sorts of praise.  Huh.  Hmmm.


“Square your shoulders to the world, be not the kind to quit; it’s not the load that weighs your down but the way you carry it.”

~ Author Unknown


shoulder-slumpStrictly from a physiological standpoint, this is great advice to take literally.  When we lack confidence, we sink into ourselves which makes it harder to bring oxygen in and expel the carbon dioxide.  Sitting up straight and holding our heads up helps to give us oxygen, waking up our brains.  Further, this physical act of confidence can recharge our resilience and bring up true confidence.


I recently told someone that he internalizes lessons, which makes his story more powerful.  When we internalize, make something our own, then the external forces of fair or not fair don’t have as much sway over us.  Internalization of experiences allow for connections between seemingly disparate things – intuitive leaps of knowledge.  Which create growth moments.  And give us a tangible boost of confidence which can carry us through the next tirade of our internal 2 year old screeching ‘it’s not fair’.


shoulder-squareSquare your shoulders to the world, and hold dear to the knowledge that you have had better moments, and will have better moments later… Just not this one.





© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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My CANDLE Concept and the Candle Problem

There is a psychology test developed by Karl Duncker in the 1940s called the Candle Problem where a test subject is at a table with a box of tacks, a candle and a book of matches and told to fix the candle to the wall so that wax won’t drip on the table.  The solution is to take the tacks out of the box and affix the candle to the box and the box to the wall using the tacks.  This solution requires creative thinking because literal thinking will not allow for an alternative use for the box holding the tacks.


When the test is conducted with all the same items, but the box and tacks are laid out separately, the correct solution is deduced more quickly by most test subjects because the preconceived use for the box is not established.


candlesYes, you say but what does this have to do with my work day?  Plenty if you work with any level of complexity because problem solving in a complex environment requires the worker to engage in conceptualization.  The best solution is not always readily apparent with the information at hand.


Ok, that provides an overview of the second half of today’s title, so let’s backtrack to the first half: CANDLE, which is an acronym that I developed, standing for:

  • Communication
  • Active Listening
  • Negotiation
  • Decision Making
  • Lead the way
  • Education


The business model where I spent my corporate time was a complex one and newer people were at a bit of a disadvantage because the learning curve was pretty steep and the consequences for making a bad decision could be harsh.  So I developed my acronym to help the people on my team to focus.  These were their main skills, or tools in their mental tool box.  If you can name the tool that you need, then you have started to put some familiar context to a potentially unfamiliar situation.


Context and identification of familiar parts get your brain headed in the right direction for a solution.  Who knew candles were still so useful?


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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When We are All Attempting to Differentiate Ourselves, Why Don’t We Like to be Different?

We are each busy in our own way, consciously or not so much, proving to ourselves and our spheres that we are relevant and valuable – making a contribution that matters.

Back in January, I wrote a post called Different.  With all of the current angst, the idea of people being ‘different’ is topical; for all ages, creeds, and ethnicities.  Different is the essence of diversity and it doesn’t stop with the color of our skin, hair and eyes.  Here is a pertinent excerpt from the earlier post:

“In our eternal human quest to simplify, we usually allow only two choices for something new – Right or Wrong.  I propose a third choice which should be prominent – Different.  Putting something new in this area for a time allows for reflection, consideration, exploration.  It allows for adjustment.

This is kind of like driving.  Most of us seem to have the idea that we must have our foot on either the brake or the gas (only 2 choices).  When I was teaching my sons how to drive, I talked to them about coasting as a viable option.  It gives you time to think before coming to a decision – therefore hopefully making your decision stronger.  Of course, this is an option and should not be used in an emergency, say when the car in front of you suddenly stops.  But if you are paying attention, you have time to think if you allow your car to coast toward potential issues.

Different is similar to coasting.  It is a safe place to try out a new idea, theory, concept without immediately categorizing it.

Putting something unfamiliar in the Different, or wait and see, category gives you time to look it over – both actively and passively.  Give it a test drive, see how it looks on a shelf in your house, mention it in casual conversation.  Unfamiliar or new isn’t bad, it’s just different.”

In January I was referring more to events and things, today I am focusing on people.  I have had the pleasure to meet people from varied backgrounds in my life and I am the richer for it.  We like to be comfortable, and we are never more comfortable than when we are insulated in a group of people just like ourselves.  Here is the thing that I have learned as I go about meeting people, we have more similarities than differences once we get to know each other.


“Since the majority of me

Rejects the majority of you,

Debating ends forthwith, and we


~Philip Larkin

When we see distaste of diversity called out like this, we want to find a way to be more inclusive.   Our better selves want a quotation like this to be representative of our actions:

“He who is different from me does not impoverish me – he enriches me. Our unity is constituted in something higher than ourselves – in Man… For no man seeks to hear his own echo, or to find his reflection in the glass.”

~Antoine De Saint-Exupery

Flight to Arras (Pilote De Guerre), 1942

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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Mise en Place, Not Just for the Kitchen

I’m getting ready to make a presentation to a fairly large group, one that I had offered to make some weeks ago and have been refining since.  (I want to use a theater phrase in my intro that simply won’t come to the forefront of my mind, but that is a story for another time.)  I enjoy presenting (remind me I said that just minutes before I go on, would you?), and like to be prepared – shooting for that sweet spot where it can be interesting and clear without seeming practiced.


Anyway, I wanted to go into Chicago to the Lit Fest to watch other presenters and got my son interested by showing him the list of activities in the Good Eating tent.  I have cooked since my pre-teens and occasionally managed to do it well, but I have learned much more about the art of cooking since he became interested a few years ago.  It is his interest that brought me to DSC03390the French phrase in the title, which literally means everything in its place, relating to completing all prep work before actually starting on a recipe.  (You know when the chef just easily pours this little bowlful or that into the big bowl and tells the audience what is in the bowl.)


Put in terms for the rest of us:

“Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up.”

~A.A. Milne


The carpenter who takes care of his tools and puts each one carefully back into a dedicated section of his tool box after wiping it clean from each use spends more time on the actual carpentry, purportedly the part of his (or her) work that is most enjoyable.  The same for the cook, and the office worker.


Not liking to do the clerical filing type tasks of keeping templates, manuals, etc. in the proper place means spending more time thinking about them and searching for them, in the meantime possibly losing the stream of the project or idea that is your actual task.


Our skill at managing these thankless mise en place tasks deeply affects our effectiveness at the tasks we were really hired to complete.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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The Soundtrack of Our Lives, at Work

I think that a love of music is pretty universal.  Music in general, that is; once you get into types of preferences, there can be heated discussions.  This type over that type, the volume, the method of delivery.  Sometimes this argument is more about power struggle than like/dislike of music itself.


Imagine a movie without a soundtrack, realize how rare it is to go into a store without music playing.  Music affects mood and energy, underscores a message.  But it can be very contentious in a work place; back to the preferences – not only of type but also of volume.  Because even with headphones, there can be issues.


As a manager, there is also the problem of getting the attention of the person plugged into headphones, without scaring them.  (It always makes me wonder if this person can hear their phone ring, too.)


Personally while I love music, I don’t feel the need to drown out my current environment.  I have never listened to music at work, and I listen to natural sounds when I go for a walk.  I get that it isn’t for everybody, but suggest that you try it out.  Especially if your office has music wars.


Does your office have music wars?  Why?  How are they resolved?


Is music played in your office?  How is the type decided?  How do you feel about that?


Music can be a uniting factor or a dividing one.  Back to where I started this post, music is generally appreciated, therefore a uniting factor.  It is in the details, just like with so many other things in life, that music gets mucked up.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations



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