The Problem Of Why

As a writer, marketer and community builder I've spent most of my professional life centered around the questions of Who, What, When, Where, How and Why. When I’m working with clients one of my favorite questions to lob at them that is “Why is that important?” or it’s twin, “Why does that matter?” Of course I liberally use other questions like “What do you want to accomplish?” or “How will this benefit you or your business?” but Why is a critical one. Given this you must wonder how on this planet I came up with the title for this blog post.

See, Why can actually be a very tricky word.

When Using Why Works
One of the first words a young child learns is invariably “Why?” This is a critical word for a wee one trying to make sense of a unfamiliar world even when they don’t understand that there is a world. When we’re sincerely looking for information Why can be one of the most useful conduits available to us. This very direct searching question can bore a hole through any piece of emotional or mental concrete to help you get to the core of something.

Answering the Whys are critical when it comes to building a business, a product or a life. This sort of Why question can uncover extremely useful information especially when confronted with a decision point. For example, if you’re building an app and you need to decide what the next features are going to be then asking “Why are we building this? Why will people use it over other apps?” is highly appropriate. If you want to decide what to do next with your career there are other apropos Why questions like “Why do I get out of bed in the morning? What excites me?” These are exceptionally good ways to use this power adverb.

The Problem Of Using Why In Feedback
There are times when asking Why is a much more tricky proposition. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in situations where things may not be going quite as you hoped or when direct feedback is needed.

When I trained to become an Executive Coach one of the things I was told to eliminate from my vocabulary was the question Why. The reasoning was that it would send someone into a different part of their brain where answers were harder to access. As coached more and more people over the next 10 years I found another reason to take care with the word Why. This type of question can have a distinctly critical feel to it setting people on a much more self-critical path of thinking when not applied appropriately. 

“Why aren’t you further with your goals?”
"Why aren’t you mak
ing more moneyIMG 1277 764x1024 The Problem Of Why?”
“Why did you do that?"

  Even without emoticons or a tone of voice providing cues you just sense the judgement inherent in these questions right?   While these questions may get directly at the source of friction within a person or a business they are also more likely to bring in the shame factor. Sometimes they’re not even really questions–more statements of fact aimed at blasting, humiliating or venting at the offending party–whether we aim them at ourselves or someone else. This kind of judgment has a way of wrapping its tendrils around a person's heart shutting off the flow. There are many things I don’t know but I do know that Shame is one of the least productive emotions out there. It’s one to be avoided at all costs. Often adopting this word as a form of judgment unnecessary drama. You don't need more of that now do you?

Know When & How to Use This Power Adverb
In some cases Why can be used effectively along with a tone that moves it more into the productive rather than the shame territory. When talking with others this is most easily and effectively achieved in person where a person can more readily feel, see and understand your tone. In written word take care when asking a question with a Why in it.

And sometimes really it’s about choosing a different word. To take the potential stinging shame that can accompany the big Why. To open someone up to what might be vulnerable questions rather than slamming their ego shut try one of the other power W’s.

“How can you achieve more of your goals?”
“What can you do to make more money?”
“Help me understand what motivates you."

This approach leads to a much more expansive conversation that asks the person to reflect and plumb the depths of their psyche for new insights that moves them much closer to their goals. People being happier, fulfilling long-held dreams, developing novel ideas that just might change the world–that’s what you want right?

If you want to be powerful in your interactions with others you must know when and how to use this power word.

Use it wisely.

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A Tiger & His Stripes

Over an excellent coin style marg (where all the best conversations happen) a friend made a proclamation. We're diametrically opposed he said. The  biggest differences between us is that he is (and will always be) a glass is half empty kind of person whereas I decidedly am not. And, he announced that his half empty view of the world wasn't going to change.

He was right about my propensity for looking at the bright side of life. I also think he was pointing at a belief that…

We are who we are.

While we can tweak some things, on the whole we're going to stick true to our predispositions. In the past I've wailed and gnashed against my natural predilections. Sometimes I even saw them as a curse rather than a blessing. They had to be changeable. But my views changed as I was largely unsuccessful in changing my natural ways of being. These days I think having a stable predisposition from which we're not likely to deviate from is largely true.

IMG 2087 300x300 A Tiger & His Stripes

Sure, I can start waking up earlier in the morning but I'm always going to be a whirling dervish  at midnight like the true night owl I am. Another example are my math and accounting abilities. Um, I don't have any. I pretty much made it through high school math by flirting with the smart, cute math geek who sat in front of me. With my inherent communication and persuasion talents you're far more likely to hire me as your CMO  than as your CFO.

Where you stand on this?

Are we the way we are or do you think the Tiger can change his stripes to spots?

Or can he just make his stripes appear a different color?

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Can You Be Successful at Door #3?

The ubiquity of the social web these days means that crafting a public persona isn't just for celebrities or big brands anymore. If your social presence is something akin to Casper, you might want to keep this in mind. If you think people aren't paying attention to your small startup I have three words for you: Library of Congress. While it might get lost in the 55 million tweets sent each day your personal tweets are still a matter of public record and that means it's searchable. Caring about your public persona also extends into your offline life as well but that's another post for another day.

Going Willy Nilly

IMG 0918 300x300 Can You Be Successful at Door #3?

We all know those people or businesses who really should do a bit of reputation management. They're the ones come off as very willy nilly in their approach to social matters. They're the ones who send emo tweets or status updates about their terrible past or worse, current employers. The Willy Nilly's are the ones who have public spats on Twitter. Or, announce their break-up with a rant about their ex on Facebook. They're like this guy who goes on an angry rant about a first world problem.

 

Screen shot 2011 08 29 at 12.56.55 PM Can You Be Successful at Door #3?

Some use this seeming Willy Nilly approach to great effect becoming digital Pied Pipers with followers avidly waiting their next public break down. Others are less successful. Even though seemingly successful, those Pied Pipers are at risk of doing permanent damage to themselves professionally. When their reputation is at its lowest and professional damage is at it's highest there are a few options to get out of this social maelstrom:

A. Hire someone to do it for them.

B. Declare digital social bankruptcy and start all over again.

C. Not care. Be a social rebel.

Carving As If In Stone

The other side of the social media continuum is just as interesting. I like to call these folks Careful IMG 0026 300x300 Can You Be Successful at Door #3?Crafters. They care so much about what other things that sometimes they can come across stiff as an Ironwood tree. Everything is perfect. Their latest crisis is handled with silence or denial. Their inner world might be falling apart but the outside world would never get a whiff of it. Not at least until it's in the distant past–meaning years past. But sometimes being too concerned with your reputation become like handcuffs to that reputation that you're trying so hard to build. When you've tipped over the too overly crafted social media chasm it can make you:

A. Bore people before they're done reading their content.

B. Appear something other than genuine and human.

C. Miss opportunities for connection.

Given my work as a marketing and social strategist, it may be no surprise that I tend to sit towards the middle on the Careful Crafter side of the continuum. My social media communications tend to err on the side of being professional and saying things I wouldn't be afraid to say in front of my mother. I think I've posted one vaguely emo(tional) tweet out of nearly 6,400. While I'm generally happy with this I sometimes wonder if there are hidden costs to this approach. Do I take enough chances? Would I be more successful if I loosened the reigns on my public persona? It's something I'm pondering.

Door #3

Just because you're not a Careful Crafter doesn't automatically make you a Willy Nilly. There are some who just manage their social presence artfully without a great deal of work at it. They seem to sit at the middle of the continuum with ease. I recently had a conversation about reputation management with a friend who is a fairly public person. Managing public reputation wasn't something he had considered which was interesting because his reputation and that of his company are pretty stellar. While I'm not sure there had been nary a thought to this I think it was largely true. I attribute his success to having an innate ability in knowing when to push things, when to hold back and how to have fun while not taking it too far. Door #3 is likely effective but probably not easy for everyone to do effectively. If you can really make this style work I say go for it.

The Balance

If you tend to lie at either end of the social continuum you may want to consider my dad's philosophy:

Your assets in excess become your liabilities

Given this philosophy my dad like to advocate doing things in moderation (and he didn't mean just drinking). But in the social world I wonder. Does a balanced approach really work or, can this stray into the unmemorable category?

So. I'm curious about your reputation management style.

Are you a Willy Nilly or a Careful Crafter? Or are you Door #3?


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The Truth About Honesty

Frank Denbow's perceptive post on honesty in startupland and how there needs to be more of it got me thinking about honesty in general. About how critical it is but how it can evade the most important of conversations.

How honest are you with…yourself? Your friends? Your co-workers? Your bosses? (be they investors, ourselves as bosses and the more traditional type)

How often do you say the hard thing? The thing you don't want to say that you know might upset the person? Or get you fired? Or put you on the edge of being fired?

How often do you ask the hard questions? You know–the ones with answers that you really may not like. The ones that elicit responses that might be tough for the person you're asking.

Let me step back and define hard questions and honesty. I'm not talking about the kind where the person ends up in fetal position clutching their throat screaming for mama. We've all been told the "hard truth" by someone who says they're just "trying to be honest." When…they're just unleashing their pent-up self hatred or frustration out on you. Honesty isn't going for someone's jugular just because you see it. That's not honesty. It  might look like it but it's not. That's a power trip, needing control, narcissism, insecurity or about 10 other things that might be classified as some sort of etiology.

What the hell is it then?

Honesty is…
From the heart. There's a tinge of kindness to it. It's real. It aims to serve, not punish or hurt. It's knowing when and how to approach the conversation. It brings the elephant lurking in the room into the light. It provides a path for the person to move forward. It gives information that gives the person a chance to assess their decisions and make different ones if needed.

That's honesty.

What stopping you?
Fear of getting it wrong?

Not wanting to hurt someone's feelings?

Don't want to hear the answer, preferring to live in la-la land?

Do you have to change something and you don't have a flipping idea of how to do that?

IMG 17101 300x300 The Truth About Honesty

Getting around those damn beliefs
I've talked about honesty with my executive clients for many years. There are so many beliefs that get in the way. One of the biggest beliefs is that it will hurt the other person or will hurt the friendship. They're right. It just might. But here's the thing. If we don't tell the truth things get murky. People take actions without all the information available to them. This can lead to bad decisions. Once the truth comes out it often hurts far worse because of the accompanying feelings of betrayal at not being told. This breaks trust which breaks relationships. And this is sad because relationships are the real juice of life. Just because you don't tell the truth doesn't mean that it doesn't exist.

Let me give you a real-life example
Many years ago, after a particularly disastrous situation I asked a friend what she thought. It turns out she knew all along that it wasn't going to work out. She didn't tell me because she thought I wasn't ready to hear the truth. I might not have been but it would have started me along the path of discovery forcing me to ask myself some hard questions. I'm not blaming her for my situation. That was due to my own lack of honesty with myself. After talking through it we both realized that not having a truthful conversation didn't serve either of us well. So, we made a pact that day to always tell the hard truth. It's made our relationship so much stronger and it's helped us make better decisions.

Time for Action
Life without honesty is just no way to live. So what's stopping you from being honest today with yourself and others? What if you did the hard thing around honesty today? Ask one hard question or tell the difficult truth about something. It's time to put on your big boy or girl pants and be honest. Just cannonball right into it. Sometimes you might just be surprised at how much easier it is than you thought it might be. Or, that something really good comes out of it.  I dare you to cannonball right now.

Go do it. I'll wait. Then come back and tell me about it.

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Does the Negative Really Work Better?

I woke the other morning to battle lines being erected on Twitter. It was this infographic that caused it all. In a nutshell–it’s supposed to help you figure out which type of female tech influencer you are. I’m not sure if thefemale tech influencers entrepreneurs 533x1024 Does the Negative Really Work Better? intent was to be humorous, sarcastic, entertaining or what. Whatever the intention there were people strongly on either side of it. Some hated it while some thought it was fun and tweeted which “type” they were. As for me, I thought it was a bit reductionist, not extremely telling, fun and certainly nothing to take seriously. There are way to many other things to think and talk about.

It did make me think though about attention and ways to get it. This controversial (or fun depending on your perspective) infographic made lots of waves garnering oodles of attention for the author. We all know the old adage about kids trying to get attention in any way they can be it positive–or negative. And often times negative attention gets more play according to anecdotal and research-based evidence. What do you think?

Is negative attention really better than none at all?

Have you ever been “guilty” of taking the negative approach yourself?


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