In Shelagh Stephenson’s Olivier-award winning dark comedy, The Memory of Water, three sisters reunite to bid farewell to their recently departed mother. As adults, it is evident that their present lives have not lived up to expectations. That’s how life goes. But these girls can’t even agree on their shared past. And that’s how memory goes.
A common estimate used by psychologists suggests that a single ‘moment’ can last up to 3 seconds. So we experience about 20,000 separate moments each day, and about 500 million of them if we live to be age 70. Professor Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist and psychologist suggests that the vast majority of these moments simply vanish: poof – gone. And the memories we are left with can be very different from our experiences!
He distinguishes between what he calls the Experiencing Self and the Remembering Self. One of his favourite illustrations of this dichotomy is a story about a music lover, listening to a rare vinyl recording of a symphony. For 20 minutes, he got to experience some of the most sublime music of his life. Then, right near the end, there was a scratch on the record, a loud squeak, and he angrily declared: “It spoilt the whole thing!” But did it? He had enjoyed 20 minutes of lovely music, many moments. But that single negative moment coloured his memory of the entire thing. That’s what he committed to memory. What a shame.
What we now know is that, of the very many moments we experience in life, we are selective about which ones we commit to memory. And, for significant moments, we never simply record the facts. There’s always an emotional component – a feeling – that gets attached to the memory of that moment, and the two parts are not easily separated.
We all know people who lean towards a ‘glass is half empty’ philosophy of life. So is this merely a phenomenon that affects the pessimists among us? Probably not. Scientists believe that we are hard-wired to actively seek out, and remember, the negative. It is thought to be an evolutionary adaptation that enhances our ability to survive. Which I imagine was very useful in the jungle (“Yikes! A tiger, big teeth, scary, avoid in future!”) but occasionally frustrating for us in the modern world. For how does a ‘ruined’ memory of music impact the survival of the species? It doesn’t. But our hard-wired cognitive processes can’t automatically distinguish between the two.
Naturally, we also store and recall good memories. Things that nurture us, or feel pleasurable, are worth repeating if we get the chance, for they can also help our survival. For example, last week I was offered a piece of soda bread in a restaurant. It looked and tasted exactly like my granny’s bread, and I vividly remembered a warm kitchen and the smell of her apron as she hugged me close, more than 40 years ago.
That the girls in our play recall their shared experiences quite differently should come as no surprise. The emotional component of those moments was quite different for each of them, as our audience discovers along the way. One of the key reasons that the practice of mindfulness is so popular today, is the discovery that we can ‘hack’ our minds. By consciously marrying a neutral, or less negative, emotion to an immediate unpleasant experience we can influence our future mental states. Literally, we can write happier endings. It’s fascinating stuff.
In the 1960s Ellie Greenwich was a prolific songwriter, responsible for dozens of classic hits from The Girl Group era. Vi, the girls’ mother in our play, would certainly have sung along to these tunes as she got ‘dolled up’ to go out to the dance hall. One of Ellie’s lesser-known songs laments the heartache of having loved, and lost. The aching end lyric goes like this: “I wish I never saw the sun shine. I wish I’d never saw the sun shine. Cos if I never saw sunshine baby then…maybe… I wouldn’t mind the rain.”
As theatre makers it’s our job to know the breadth of human possibilities, and the depths of our individual character’s possibilities. We work with what the author gives us, and we can’t rewrite the ending. But by holding up a mirror to life, we believe that great theatre can help an audience to rewrite their own script, and maybe learn to love a little rain.
Written by Sean Worrall, an Ensemble Member of Wag the Dog Theatre.
The Memory of Water will play at Drama Centre Black Box, 100 Victoria Street, Singapore from 30 June to 9 July. Tickets are $35, available at SISTIC.
Another year rolls in, yet another opportunity to come up with new resolutions. But, let’s get serious – how many of us actually stick to our resolutions, right?
The start of a new year seems to be the perfect time to take stock of where we are in our lives and the things we’d like to improve upon. Often, though, our best intentions are no match for daily life and we slide back into old patterns. Resolutions are not confined to our personal lives. You can also create impactful resolutions for your business. A resolution, after all, is a decision to do something differently to bring about positive change.
So, if you are ready to make some powerful changes, here are some tips to help you reset your small business in 2017:
Time to Take Stock
Spend some time to look back and take stock of the previous year. As a CEO, you may want to look at the roles you took on within the company, and determine if you can delegate anything to your employees. This will help you keep your eye on the big picture – opportunities for further growth. At the same time, it will empower your employees, give them a sense of personal responsibility and therefore more commitment to achieving team goals.
Stop and Smell the Roses
Running a business takes all of your time and then some, but if you don’t build time in your day for yourself, to take a breather from the hectic pace, it’s easy to burn out and lose your passion. Even if it’s only for 5-10 minutes, be sure to carve out some time this year.
Rest Not on Your Laurels
Keeping your skills current is essential. Whether you’re a restaurant owner, retailer, or marketing manager, it’s important to try new things to enhance your own professional growth. Try a new menu selection, reposition the items on the shop floor, or offer a new service to keep your business up to date. Talk to your customers about what they want from your business and think seriously about how you can implement some of their suggestions to great success.
Face to Face
It’s time to stop relying on emails, social media and mobile apps as an exclusive way to communicate with customers. Deep and long-lasting business relationships are built in real time. Schedule time to pay a courtesy visit to your customers, even if it’s just to have coffee or lunch – let them know how much you value and care about them.
Clean Up Your Workspace
It’s hard to stay organized and on top of your most important tasks and priorities when your desk or office is a mess. Take an hour or two every week to organize the paperwork that is no doubt taking over every inch of surface area. File away the things you don’t need and take action on the things that require it. While a cluttered desk may not be the sign of a cluttered mind, it certainly won’t help you get and stay organized for success.
Tie Up Loose Ends
Set aside at least 20 minutes at the end of your business day to tie up loose ends. Go through your remaining work and make assignments to employees, forward information to co-workers as necessary, respond to email and voicemail messages, file away the things that you need to keep, and toss the rest. Finally, quickly review your appointments for the following day.
Have a Positive Outlook
Running a business can be stressful. It’s not easy, and cash flow is usually an issue. In 2017, try not to get bogged down with the negative – focus on the positives: Where you’ve come, where you’re going this year, and where you’ll be next year. It will help you focus on the big picture – your business goals. Once you’ve focused on what you want to accomplish, your business objectives for 2017 will become clear.
Here’s wishing you a happy, healthy and profitable New Year!
Posted by Irene Gomez, CIO, Corporate Media
Chances are you think you’re a good listener. People’s appraisal of their listening ability is much like their assessment of their driving skills, in that the great bulk of adults think they’re above average.
In our experience, most people think good listening comes down to doing three things:
- Not talking when others are speaking
- Letting others know you’re listening through facial expressions and verbal sounds (“Mmm-hmm”)
- Being able to repeat what others have said, practically word-for-word
In fact, much management advice on listening suggests doing these very things – encouraging listeners to remain quiet, nod and “mm-hmm” encouragingly, and then repeat back to the talker something like, “So, let me make sure I understand. What you’re saying is…” However, recent research that we conducted suggests that these behaviors fall far short of describing good listening skills.
We analyzed data describing the behavior of 3,492 participants in a development program designed to help managers become better coaches. As part of this program, their coaching skills were assessed by others in 360-degree assessments. We identified those who were perceived as being the most effective listeners (the top 5%). We then compared the best listeners to the average of all other people in the data set and identified the 20 items showing the largest significant difference. With those results in hand we identified the differences between great and average listeners and analyzed the data to determine what characteristics their colleagues identified as the behaviors that made them outstanding listeners.
We found some surprising conclusions, along with some qualities we expected to hear. We grouped them into four main findings:
- Good listening is much more than being silent while the other person talks. To the contrary, people perceive the best listeners to be those who periodically ask questions that promote discovery and insight. These questions gently challenge old assumptions, but do so in a constructive way. Sitting there silently nodding does not provide sure evidence that a person is listening, but asking a good question tells the speaker the listener has not only heard what was said, but that they comprehended it well enough to want additional information. Good listening was consistently seen as a two-way dialog, rather than a one-way “speaker versus hearer” interaction. The best conversations were active.
- Good listening included interactions that build a person’s self-esteem. The best listeners made the conversation a positive experience for the other party, which doesn’t happen when the listener is passive (or, for that matter, critical!). Good listeners made the other person feel supported and conveyed confidence in them. Good listening was characterized by the creation of a safe environment in which issues and differences could be discussed openly.
- Good listening was seen as a cooperative conversation. In these interactions, feedback flowed smoothly in both directions with neither party becoming defensive about comments the other made. By contrast, poor listeners were seen as competitive — as listening only to identify errors in reasoning or logic, using their silence as a chance to prepare their next response. That might make you an excellent debater, but it doesn’t make you a good listener. Good listeners may challenge assumptions and disagree, but the person being listened to feels the listener is trying to help, not wanting to win an argument.
- Good listeners tended to make suggestions. Good listening invariably included some feedback provided in a way others would accept and that opened up alternative paths to consider. This finding somewhat surprised us, since it’s not uncommon to hear complaints that “So-and-so didn’t listen, he just jumped in and tried to solve the problem.” Perhaps what the data is telling us is that making suggestions is not itself the problem; it may be the skill with which those suggestions are made. Another possibility is that we’re more likely to accept suggestions from people we already think are good listeners. (Someone who is silent for the whole conversation and then jumps in with a suggestion may not be seen as credible. Someone who seems combative or critical and then tries to give advice may not be seen as trustworthy.)
While many of us have thought of being a good listener being like a sponge that accurately absorbs what the other person is saying, instead, what these findings show is that good listeners are like trampolines. They are someone you can bounce ideas off of — and rather than absorbing your ideas and energy, they amplify, energize, and clarify your thinking. They make you feel better not merely passively absorbing, but by actively supporting. This lets you gain energy and height, just like someone jumping on a trampoline.
Of course, there are different levels of listening. Not every conversation requires the highest levels of listening, but many conversations would benefit from greater focus and listening skill. Consider which level of listening you’d like to aim for:
Level 1: The listener creates a safe environment in which difficult, complex, or emotional issues can be discussed.
Level 2: The listener clears away distractions like phones and laptops, focusing attention on the other person and making appropriate eye-contact. (This behavior not only affects how you are perceived as the listener; it immediately influences the listener’s own attitudes and inner feelings. Acting the part changes how you feel inside. This in turn makes you a better listener.)
Level 3: The listener seeks to understand the substance of what the other person is saying. They capture ideas, ask questions, and restate issues to confirm that their understanding is correct.
Level 4: The listener observes non-verbal cues, such as facial expressions, perspiration, respiration rates, gestures, posture, and numerous other subtle body language signals. It is estimated that 80% of what we communicate comes from these signals. It sounds strange to some, but you listen with your eyes as well as your ears.
Level 5: The listener increasingly understands the other person’s emotions and feelings about the topic at hand, and identifies and acknowledges them. The listener empathizes with and validates those feelings in a supportive, nonjudgmental way.
Level 6: The listener asks questions that clarify assumptions the other person holds and helps the other person to see the issue in a new light. This could include the listener injecting some thoughts and ideas about the topic that could be useful to the other person. However, good listeners never highjack the conversation so that they or their issues become the subject of the discussion.
Each of the levels builds on the others; thus, if you’ve been criticized (for example) for offering solutions rather than listening, it may mean you need to attend to some of the other levels (such as clearing away distractions or empathizing) before your proffered suggestions can be appreciated.
We suspect that in being a good listener, most of us are more likely to stop short rather than go too far. Our hope is that this research will help by providing a new perspective on listening. We hope those who labor under an illusion of superiority about their listening skills will see where they really stand. We also hope the common perception that good listening is mainly about acting like an absorbent sponge will wane. Finally, we hope all will see that the highest and best form of listening comes in playing the same role for the other person that a trampoline plays for a child. It gives energy, acceleration, height and amplification. These are the hallmarks of great listening.
This post by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman first appeared online in Harvard Business Review.
“You can’t have a business without having clients and unfortunately, where there are clients, there are also ‘difficult’ clients.”
You can please some of the people some of the time but not all of the people all of the time. Every business that provides a service, will no doubt, encounter a few disgruntled personalities along the way. As public relations professionals, we’ve all had that experience. Some clients are a breeze to work with. Others can be extremely difficult – the kind that makes you cringe every time their number lights up on your mobile. You know, the ones who drain your energy, criticize and complain incessantly about something you’ve worked on diligently (and see real value in), or an overly needy client who calls at least twice a day to find out why they aren’t in that society magazine yet!
PR is difficult at times. You’re in the middle of everyone, the diplomat between the client and the marketing spiel and between the journalist and the story. So suddenly having to deal with someone being nasty or unreasonable is just one thing that you don’t need. But how do you handle it, when the client is paying the bill?
Dealing with difficult people is essential to our success. When dealing with difficult people, specifically a client, it might seem that keeping peace and our sanity is a tough, if not impossible, task. So how do you find the right balance?
Bottom Line: You bend over backwards when appropriate but you also learn to put your foot down when needed. Even though you may be holding the phone on one end, biting your tongue and stabbing that notepad with your pen, you can turn this around! Here are some helpful tips on how to deal with difficult clients.
Be Open, Be Clear
When dealing with a client, it is better to be clear about expectations at the start of the new business relationship. This is your opportunity to share what type of reporting, results and communication your new client can expect from you. Have an honest conversation about the amount of communication that is most comfortable to your clients and what your agency can provide. However, even clients who appear pleasant, understanding and accepting in the beginning, can become challenging once the contract is signed. It is important to know that while you should aim to be a valued partner, not all requests are feasible. Don’t be afraid to tell your client no – but with good reason. Explain why their request is not realistic or possible. You cannot please everyone all of the time and that’s a fact.
Worth the Trouble
Some clients will send a rude email – out of the blue! Or you may get a harsh tone on your voice mail on a weekend. Then it’s time to ask yourself this question, “Is it me?” If not, it’s worth your while to check in on your client. Ask probing questions to find out what is really bothering him. It could be that he’s going through something that is affecting his personal life, or it could be a trickle down “telling off” from his boss that has nothing to do with you or your work. Be kind, lend your ears and see if there’s anything you can do to help. Sometimes it does have everything to do with you. If this is the case, have an honest conversation with your client, and with yourself. Perhaps, you need to assess and amplify your own efforts.
You are the Expert
For clients that call for constant updates or to give you their own PR ideas (ridiculous as they may seem), remember you are the expert, hired to do the job. Don’t be arrogant – you can either take the ideas into consideration (if worth exploring), or politely give your views as to why they cannot be executed, for e.g. it would end up in the editors’ trash. Explain why you were hired in the first place – because of your specific expertise. Perhaps, this is also a good time to share more information and updates on what you’ve been doing to assure your clients that you’re on top of things and have their best interests at heart. More importantly, assure them that you know what you’re doing.
Be Proactive and Supportive
It’s quite common for some of my clients to reach out to me for advice on matters not related to the work we’re doing. Don’t turn away. If you can help with some input to a web design or business question, become an ally and take the time to problem-solve with them. Or refer them to someone who’s in a better position to help. By offering a solution and assisting with other tasks, you show that you care about their business. This not only builds rapport but also trust and this goes a long way in building a good, long-lasting relationship with your client.
Time to Let Go!
Unfortunately, the client is not always right. If your client is consistently being difficult and your personalities just don’t mesh, then it may be time to take the “D” out and let difficult clients go. While it’s important to do whatever it takes to keep a client within reason, you, as the expert in your field, get to define what is or isn’t working. If your client is making your team miserable, taking up a lot of time better spent working on clients who do respect your work, it might be time to set you both free.
Whatever you decide, always be professional and polite. Be as honest as you can without getting too personal.
For the most part, PR pros love their clients and probably spend more time with them than they do their family. A PR agency should act as an extension of the client’s team. Your interactions with your client should build on one another – after all, you’re ultimately interested in a long-term relationship with your clients, and that is what you should strive for.
Posted by Irene Gomez, Corporate Media