Towards the end of my mother's life, she fell ill, and my brothers and I rotated care-giving duties. For some weeks, she made daily trips to a local hospital for outpatient treatment. During one of my rotations, I chauffeured her to the hospital. I lost count of how many times.
This particular hospital offered valet parking service for outpatients, and we came to know the parking valets as people. One man was an extremely energetic, voluble, happy guy who I figure was aged somewhere in his seventies. When we pulled into the driveway to give him the car, he'd greet us. Then began the repartee. Somehow, we learned quite a bit about him. Four kids, a stint in the Army, and some aches and pains, but he wasn't complaining: "The usual things, ya know."
One morning, he said something I'll never forget. He asked how we were today, and I said my usual, "Pretty good, how about you?"
Smiling broadly, he answered, "Oh, pretty good myself, thanks, but ya know, at my age, every day that I wake up and I'm still alive…that's a wonderful day!"
Many of us have jobs that compel us to focus on defects in products or processes, or tasks frustratingly incomplete, or insubordinate subordinates, or any of myriads of other unexpected difficulties or disasters. We're fixated on what's wrong or troubling, rather than what's going well, or even better than well.
And from our employers' perspectives, that is as it should be. Our responsibility is to make desirable things happen. When they don't, we figure out why, and we make adjustments.
But this pattern, so useful in our work, has a risk for us personally. Our uninterrupted focus on what's wrong at work can interfere with our ability to appreciate what's right — at work or in Life.
Ironically, appreciating what's right can help us fix what isn't. The experience of appreciating gives us ideas, hope, and renewed energy. It brings us together, and working Appreciating what's right and
working well, when we're
in the midst of tangled
confusion with no clear
way through, takes skilltogether we find new insight. But appreciating what's right, when we're in the midst of tangled confusion with no clear way through, takes skill.
Fortunately, skill comes with practice. Start with something — anything — that seems troubling, or you feel confused about, but not totally hopeless. Try finding three things about it that are right, wonderful, and working fine. It might take time. When you find one, contemplate it for a while. Give yourself time to appreciate it. Then look for another. I like to write them down as I go. You'll be surprised how fast the list grows.
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- The Mind Reading Trap
- When we think, "Paul doesn't trust me," we could be fooling ourselves into believing that
we can read his mind. Unless he has directly expressed his distrust, we're just guessing, and we can
reach whatever conclusion we wish, unconstrained by reality. In project management, as anywhere else,
that's a recipe for trouble.
- The Hypothetical Trap
- Politicians know that answering hypothetical questions is dangerous, but it's equally dangerous for
managers and project managers to answer them in the project context. What's the problem? Why should
you be careful of the "What If?"
- Working Journals
- Keeping a journal about your work can change how you work. You can record why you did what you did,
and why you didn't do what you didn't. You can record what you saw and what you only thought you saw.
And when you read the older entries, you can see patterns you might never have noticed any other way.
- Completism is the desire to create or acquire a complete set of something. In our personal lives, it
drives collectors to pay high prices for rare items that "complete the set." In business it
drives us to squander our resources in surprising ways.
- A Pain Scale for Meetings
- Most meetings could be shorter, less frequent, and more productive than they are. Part of the problem
is that we don't realize how much we do to get in our own way. If we track the incidents of dysfunctional
activity, we can use the data to spot trends and take corrective action.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 8: Multi-Expert Consensus
- Some working groups consist of experts from many fields. When they must reach a decision by consensus, members have several options. Defining those options in advance can help the group reach a decision with all its relationships intact. Available here and by RSS on July 8.
- And on July 15: Disjoint Concept Vocabularies
- In disputes or in problem solving sessions, when we can't seem to come to agreement, we often attribute the difficulty to miscommunication, histories of disagreements, hidden agendas, or "personality clashes." Sometimes the cause is much simpler. Sometimes the concept vocabularies of the parties don't overlap. Available here and by RSS on July 15.
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- Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?
Decision-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.