Thursday, May 29, 2014

Spending Reality

How you "spend" your time and money determines the priorities you have in your life at the moment.  I blogged about time and how that varies over the decades of your life (see Blog  11/18/12 Learn/Earn/Live/Give ).  How you spend money will also vary over the different decades of your life.

J.P. recommended that I read the book "The Righteous Mind" by Jonathan Haidt which references an interesting Psychology site  It was at this site I took the survey called "Experiential Purchasing Scale" - How do you spend your money and does it say something about your moral values. 

The final question was to estimate your spending by five categories - Essentials; Savings; Material Purchases (furniture, clothing, jewelry); Experiential Purchases (vacations, concerts, meals); Charitable Deductions;   Hmmmmmm   this is not an easy exercise even with the detailed accounting that Susan and I have done since 1988 (we have recorded all our personal expenses into Financial Navigator software).  Naturally I have all those historical expenses detailed in a spreadsheet and so I went about the task of verifying my gut feel with actual data. It was an exercise in futility.

Just like problems with General Ledger Accounting - this 'functional view' was not just a simple exercise in adding certain general ledger accounts.  The "essentials" of house and car (even food) might be viewed by others as luxuries (or material purchases).  Another "functional accounting" issue would be the category of a pool at the house (which thank goodness we no longer have) - is this a material purchase or an experiential purchase (clearly it is not essential)?  And ....  how we spend money varies dramatically with our "ages and stages"  (single, married, kids, empty nesters, etc.).  What starts in life as material purchase priority turns into experiential purchase as we age.

So my answer to the survey was .......  at best an estimate of my values hoping the spending reflected that reality.

There is truth in the premise that how we spend money reflects our values.

Your are what you spend.    It's just too difficult to measure :)

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Laconic Bloggers

It was a fun weekend with Rich and A.E. (also visiting).  A.E. described one of his favorite quotes  from Pascal - "I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had the time to make it shorter"

How appropriate for bloggers like me :)
I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had the time to make it shorter
I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had the time to make it shorter.
I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had the time to make it shorter.
I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had the time to make it shorter.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Conversational Fun

Why do tennis players play tennis?  Even after you consider the selfish benefits - competitiveness, exercise, self improvement, mental challenge, and winning feels good - the overriding benefit comes from the other player and having fun together.  So it is with conversation.  If you just enter into conversation because "you feel you have to" then you will have started into a game that is NO FUN.  You might as well play alone (which in conversation terms would be talking to yourself).

That is why good conversational flow starts with attitude followed by technique and play.  It is important to think about the benefits you will receive from a good conversation:

(1) Curiosity exercises you mind
(2) Find a lifelong friend or nurture an existing lifelong friendship
(3) Laughter -  one of the keys to joy
(4) Getting Help for a current life issue
(5) Networking - adding to your catalog of future contacts
(6) Diversity -  Broaden your views in life
(7) Connecting -  Helping others by connecting your network together
(8) Smiling -  When you smile you get personal rewards
(9) Strokes -  We all want strokes and affirmation that we are interesting to others

The list goes on and on.  Use whatever benefits you see that will allow you to overcome any reticence to entering into conversation.  Think about the past conversations that have benefited you.  Without communication with others you could accomplish nothing.  We live in a world of relationships and every relationship requires communication.  You can think of this in an abundant fashion or scarcity. 

The more conversation you create - the more benefits you get.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Conversational Don'ts

The old adage about never discussing sex, religion and politics is a platinum rule in conversational play.  In tennis equivalency it is like throwing your racket, continuously arguing about a line call, and temper tantrums (unnecessary comments about shots/disrespect). 

Why are these three subjects dangerous?  Each  subject contains strong emotional heritage - strong beliefs involving judgmental values.  Even if you think you have flexible or open beliefs about any of these subjects, the other player may be totally the opposite.  A conversation into any of these areas can easily fall into a trap of debate club and there is zero probability that you can convince someone in a short conversation to change their deeply rooted values and beliefs.

I might even add a fourth subject of danger - money, salary, and material possessions. Money, Sex, and Religion are the three major causes of divorce - another key indicator of conversational radioactive zones. 

So even if you know someone as well as your spouse these subjects are volatile areas of risk and better left out of casual conversational settings.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Three/Four Word Conversational Volley

I introduced the most effective stroke in conversational tennis - the immediate volley.  I discovered this stroke during my training at Accenture.  Initially it was when I took a course on Socratic Selling Skills and learned the most important three words to get people to talk - "Tell me more".  Later during Accenture's training for recruiters in the CBI (Critical Behavior Interviewing) methodology of interviewing, I added many more three to four word immediate volleys:

(1) Tell me more.
(2) What did you do?
(3) How did you feel?
(4) What did you say?
(5) Take me there -
(6) How did you act?
(7) Where did you go?
(8) What was said?
(9) What was the result?
(10) What did you want?
(11) Describe it to me.
(12) Explain it to me.

You can easily design you own volley stroke - just remember keep it to 3-4 words that ask very personal details about the situation the person is describing.  Notice the word YOU and ME.  They are instrumental in constructing the volley.

When you get good the immediate volley, you will find plenty of time to prepare longer and smoother stroke in the conversational play.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Conversational Inventory

It's important to have a complete inventory of available conversational subjects (strokes) that have worked in past volleys.  As you build an inventory, you will be able to rely on these proven subjects in confidence.  I suggest you avoid the common (and boring) stuff - weather, weekend plans, where you live, schooling etc.  Instead think of some subjects that you would find interesting.

Tell me about any home projects you planning or doing now.
What are your family traditions at ....  Christmas, Easter, Fourth of July etc.
What are your favorite restaurants around town... Why
Books, Movies, TV Series, Songs  are good ways to learn about someone.
Asking about preferences and understanding their thinking can be enlightening.
What's your favorite technology gadget and how did you discover it.

You will find some of your strokes will come back quickly and require fast exchanges back and forth.  Other subjects will be "deep" and give you plenty of time to plan a response.  Picking the right stroke for the other player is a skill you will develop based on  your inventory of subjects and the talent of the other player.

Instead of just creating a sigh of relief when the conversation volley is done, look back on the game and analyze what worked and what didn't work.  This conversational analysis will add to your skill in future play.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Conversational Clues

Like the game of tennis, as your conversational game progresses, you can increase the effectiveness of your game with strategy.  Knowing the style and stroke of the other player can help you modify your approach and style during play.  The key is understanding the conversational clues the other player gives you during play.

When someone asks you about a subject you have been given a great clue. Once you describe, explain or answer their inquiry you can easily ask them the SAME question back. You will be amazed at how the person's question reveals something that they really wanted to talk about and suddenly they control (even dominate) the conversation (taking the pressure off you to talk).

 Here's an example:

Other Player:  " Have you been on vacation this summer?"    
{Notice that the person asking this question isn't trained on open ended questions since this question could be answered with a Yes or No response}

You:  "Yes, I just went to Yellowstone Park"                  
{Oops - a one sentence response - You're not being very helpful in conversational flow}

Other Player : "Wow - I've never been to Yellowstone Park did you like it?"                                                
{Ouch!!! another YES/NO question - he needs to review OPEN ENDED QUESTIONS}
You:   "Yes, I did ....                                                               
{OK - I'll help him out
You again: .... I really like taking vacations that involve nature".
{you take control of the conversation  and even offered up a clue for an new subject -  about nature}
Long........awkward ......silence
{This person wasn't prepared for a new subject and can't respond.  He is struggling. How could you help out ?}

You again trying: "How about you, what things did you do this summer?"
{Wow - you just asked him what he asked you first (the same question) - but you did it correctly with an OPEN ENDED QUESTION"}

 Other Player:  "Well, I went to Europe and had a great time.  We saw .......
{BINGO --- Now the person talks for the next 10 minutes continuously about their vacation to Europe. With just nods and "tell me more" you keep the conversational ball in play!}

This example shows that the volleys were in deep trouble (by both players) as they attempted to find their tennis style and rhythm of the conversation.  It was the clue about the other player wanting to tell you about their vacation that created the successful conversational flow - and your ability to ask the Open Ended Question -  What did you do .........?

Like tennis - keep practicing!  Use conversational clues to improve your game.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Conversational Doubles

Sometimes you are not just playing singles in conversation.  Group conversational dynamics can be challenging to those who prefer to listen while a group is discussing a subject.  However, the best doubles conversation is when everyone is participating in the play. The most important skill in this conversational setting is determining when to play or interrupt the conversation.  This can be very uncomfortable for the passive tennis player - the player who prefers simple volleys.

My hint for group conversational play is to anticipate and raise your voice level.  Aggressive conversationalist will interrupt and use louder voices to take the ball in flight.  Here is where speed is important.  Simple short interjections of discussion will provide adequate participation and let those around you know that you are interested in participating in the discussion. 

Try things like:

(1) That's interesting .....   (if you have time you can add "Tell me more")
(2) That's happened to me before .....
(3) I agree ......
(4) Joe (another player in the conversation), do you think that .......
(5) How about you .... Joe

You can even be the conversational hero and save the extended volley discussion by recognizing the subject is about to be hit into the net - and save it with another round of energy.

If you don't participate in the discussion, you appear bored by the others and soon will be edged out of the attention.  Be a active group player at all times.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Spin the Conversation

Advanced Conversation "401" requires skill and practice.  This is a technique of almost infinite volleying.

Inevitably a subject matter in the conversation begins to wane - "run out of gas".  In tennis the volleys become weaker and harder to hit. If you are unprepared silence hits and both players stand stunned without a clue of where the subject ball has landed.  Without the ball (new subject) there is no chance of play. 

A great conversationalist can anticipate this and spin the subject into a brand new conversational volley.  The key to this technique is careful listening to associated subjects casually refereed to by the other player.  Example:

Suppose you served up the vacation subject: "Where are you going to vacation this summer?"  During the volley of responses the other player mentions the challenges of air travel to Europe.  As the subject begins to fade you might ask:  "What do you do to try to avoid jet lag?" or "What's you favorite and least favorite Airline? (nearly everyone will have a slew of travel stories).

Once you start spinning into new subject manners your conversational partner may start spinning subjects back.  This can be a very enjoyable advanced game. 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Body Language in Play

It's not only your questions or responses that will determine conversational success, it's how you look, move and react to the play that will also assist you in minimizing conversational stress. Like tennis, conversational concentration is critical to keeping the "ball in play". You must listen deliberately and intently in conversational flow - it's not just about preparing you next question or response. Interrupting the other player can also disrupt their stroke and play. It is normal for your mind to wander - the verbal speed of return conversation is a snail's pace compared to the speed of your brain in processing the information. Don't let this mismatch of pace disrupt your nonverbal actions - eye contact and body movements.

Eye contact is critical - focusing on the other player's eyes will tell them you are interested in what they are saying and it will aid in your listening concentration.  Nodding can communicate both interest and encouragement for the speaker to continue on their conversational path.  Even looks of intrigue or puzzlement can create a non-verbal clue to the player that you want more information. 

A smile can do wonders in conversational success.  A smile shows your receptivity for continuing dialogue.  Acknowledgement of wit and humor puts both parties at ease and sets a positive tone for continuity - within the subject discussed and for new topics of potential interest.

Your feelings of comfortable conversation will be contagious to even the most laconic player.  Showing non-verbal openness will also reduce your conversational stress. Remember you are looking into a conversational mirror - if they look stressful then likely you are stressful also.  Take a deep breath, smile, nod approvingly and focus your eyes - watch what happens immediately.

Over thinking is like "over stroking" and will disrupt your flow.  Get your body in control and the flow will come naturally.


Friday, May 2, 2014

Return and Volley - Conversation Continuity

In my last blog I mentioned the conversation analogy to tennis and introduced the "first serve" question.  A good conversation though depends on partnership returns and volleys.

While the initial serve is important, it could be the serve went wide and a weak or non existent return came back (e.g. a one sentence response with a long silent pause). Don’t panic but be prepared - a good "first serve" can anticipate a weak return (Remember #3 in the last blog - Pick a subject and question that has natural and easy follow-on questions).

At this point you have two options – let the subject go and re-serve or attempt the volley. My preference (if the ball didn’t go into the net) is to attempt the volley.

There are two types of Volleys:

A. Immediate Volley – no bounce (when you have the least desire to talk):

Immediate Volley - Tell me More

(1) “Tell me more” - Say only those three words and out wait the uncomfortable silence
(2) Why …. Why did you …. Why not.
(3) “That’s interesting how did you decide that”?
(4) “I’m not sure I understand could you explain what you meant about ….
(5) “What was your thinking?
(6) “Who else was with you?

B. Standard Volley – you talk and give the other person time to collect their thoughts. Remember they may be just as stressful as you at conversational play. If the other player is a cooperative conversationalist and the volleys look easy then take your time and help extend the volley with sharing your own information. Reveal some related information about the subject (or yourself) and prepare a methodical smooth follow-on.

Respond and Prepare a Smooth Follow Through

Here are some suggested conversational fillers giving the other player time to think:

(1) “Same with me … I ……
(2) “ I agree … for me it’s like …….
(3) “I had a similar experience when ….
(4) “That’s exactly like the time I …….

Now prepare your stroke and smoothly follow through with another question:

(1) What else do you remember about ……
(2) How did you feel when ……
(3) Was that the first time or has this happened before?
(4) Why did you …..

Notice the follow on question attempts to understand their thinking, feeling, memories, other related experiences. Like a detective you are probing for more information. Done correctly it proves you are listening intently to their response and want to keep the ball in play.

Above all - remember to calmly and methodically enjoy the conversational rhythm of the volley. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Conversation Serves

Conversations can at times be like the game of tennis –with one exception, the goal is to keep the volley going. A good first serve can be the key to success. Remember you aren't trying for an ace - you want the ball to come back.

What first question will create a sustainable long volley?

The goal of the first question is to find an interesting topic or theme that “keeps the ball in play”.  

Here are some characteristics of a good “first serve”:

(1) Open ended questions – Try to ask questions that DO NOT require one word (Yes/No) or one sentence answers. Start the question with “Tell me …; “Explain …; “How do you….; Why do you .....;
(2) Ask about the person – Usually everyone likes to talk about themselves
(3) Follow-on clarification – Pick a subject that has natural follow-on questions
(4) Keep to non controversial subjects

So here are some sample first serves:
Tell me what a typical day for you is.
Could you give me advice on how to ….
What do you like about your job?
If you could live anywhere where would you choose?
What do you do to stay so fit?
Why do you like …….?