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now hear here

6 Jun

I just said something, therefore I matter. Even if it was the stupidest, most laughable string of words ever uttered, it doesn’t matter. I must be heard.


This is not a narcissistic thought at all–as a part-time (working on FTE) narcissist, I know. But being that one feller who articulates his thoughts (ugh! am I right?) can lead to friction in groups and at work. Anybody who has ever worked for anyone know the cardinal rule of being outspoken: you’re not only speaking, but gauging how comfortable the people around you are with potential conflict. (Awesome groups love conflict.¬† Stuffy groups hate it, and shut it down because it will lower morale/add work/lead us astray/other half-baked excuses.)


But the “I must be heard” thinking exists. Everyone has it. Everyone. Your mother, your father, your cousin, your janitor, even the dog wants to be heard. That’s why it barks. Even if you’re more of a listener than a talker, you only say things you want to be noticed. You picked the words and time to speak for a reason. Otherwise, you would’ve never tapped into your inner pundit. Any group that ignores this essential human need is fostering the worst kind of conflict: festering.


At a product company I worked for, the staff got to test the product for one week, and completely immerse ourselves in the role of the user. It was enlightening. We found weaknesses, greatness, epiphanies, and so many ways to take our product from good to amazing. Our debrief meeting was taken over by the enthusiasm of pushing our product to the highest! Cue Kenny Loggins!


And then we were shut down.


We spoke, but we weren’t heard. The decision-makers never said we weren’t heard, but we knew our words had been left floating in space, and they had decided to leave them there to die of exhaustion. They could’ve pretty much patted us on the head and said “Well, that’s nice.” Our next meeting was much solemn…and boring.


Not everyone needs to be a decision-maker. Not everyone wants to lead an army to battle, or design the newest nanogadget. Which is fine, because a room full of field marshals is an imminent disaster. Everyone, however, needs and wants to be heard and recognized.


I have an opinion and perspective that were created using my thousands of life experiences, my common sense, and my notion of right & wrong. I don’t need you to say “yes” to everything I say, but as a reasonable person, all I need is a nod. A genuine one, dammit.



you are what you speak

19 May

When I was about 12, I told my mom about my horrible friends who never wanted to do what I wanted to. “I should just make new friends!,” I proclaimed, probably as I shook my fist in the air. Her response was vintage Mrs. Zepeda:


“Maybe you’re the one who’s a bad friend”


Looking back on that gem reminds me of two things. 1) My mother never minced words, and 2) She was right.


I was placing all of the blame on an “other” (my friends), and by doing that I relieved myself of critical look in the mirror. I found out that, yeah, I was a crummy friend, stubborn and bossy (some things never change). After that aha!¬†moment, I tried harder to NOT be that, resulting in me keeping many of those friends for the rest of my childhood.


When we speak in me v. them terms, we are painting things black and white, when they are probably a whole lot of grey. We are missing an opportunity to ask questions like: Why is there a battle to begin with? What’s my role in this conflict? Could it be that I was the catalyst?


One way we create camps is through the adjectives we use for others. Calling someone lazy/mean/loud is not just a descriptor, but a line drawn in the sand. They (those lazy/mean/loud folk) are not me. I’d even venture to say that saying those things gives us a boost, by dropping them down a peg, at least in our mind.


But the rub is that those adjectives say much more about us than about them. How we label other people tends to be how we are ourselves. Maybe we are lazy/mean/loud folk, too. Not only that, but using negative descriptors means that we might be negative people ourselves.


The level of negativity [one] uses in describing the other person may indeed indicate that the other person has negative characteristics, but may also be a tip off that the rater is unhappy, disagreeable, neurotic or has other negative personality traits.


You are what you eat, and you are what you speak. Just like food, words are part of your diet. If you feed your mind and body negative communication, what do you expect? Feed yourself positive, wholesome adjectives for others, and you’ll notice the healthy boost.


Tweaking our language can do wonders to our outlook. Try (as hard as that may be) to find a redeeming quality in that “other” person: a personality trait, work ethic, physical feature, or lifestory. There’s always something good about someone. It’s hard to empathize, but it’s worth it. Find that goodness, focus on it, and shed that negative mind clutter.


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