Category Archives: Mindful Musings

How to deal with Low Performance Employees

Since I wrote a post about modern management techniques, a friend of mine has been giving me some really good feedback. Part of the discussion I had with him recently was about the concept of providing more positive feedback to higher performers while spending lesser time working with and providing constructive feedback to the lower performers. The final goal is as always to get the most out of your employees without burning them out and making sure that they enjoy a decent work-life balance.

I had read about a theory by a researcher named Losada about a specific numerical figure that determines the ratio between positive and negative feedback for high performing teams. I had mentioned it in my past blog post and have also referred to it in conversations with friends and co-workers. My friend wanted to know more about this and I set about researching it last night. Well, it turns out that the numerical method of calculation was debunked last year (2014) in a scathing paper denouncing the practices. The original article appeared in the Harvard Business Review in 2009 and was called “The Ideal Praise-to-Criticism Ratio.” Since the work is under question, there is no point in discussing it here. Much has been said about it already. My only addition would be to say how disappointed I was in learning that studies such as this, ones that have been referred to in so many good publications and courses, are in fact low on fact and high on lies. False data and bogus conclusions really hurt Science. This has such a negative impact on the credibility of Science as a field that I feel a more pronounced reaction is necessary to prevent other scientists from wanting to falsify data.

That being said, I surmise that the basic premise is still true.

Managers are critical by nature. Their ability to be detail oriented and get results is what got them the job in the first place. So it should not come as a surprise that we tend to be hard on the people that work for us. Even in the most effective and efficient team, a manager will always be able to find things not done according to their own plan. How they deal with this is up to them and their management style. Depending on the makeup of the team, they might find it beneficial to let small irritations pass without pointing them out. They might let the team figure out their issues organically and encourage the team to hold each other accountable for their actions. They might even be afraid of their team and ignore problems to avoid being the bad guy.

I have been managing small teams for some time and in almost every team I have found problems that needed addressing. In dealing with issues, I force myself to have an inner monologue as a manager. I only do a few things that bears mentioning here in addition to the obvious. I tend to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. I do not mix positive and negative feedback. I keep negative feedback factual, succinct and directed at outcomes. I also record all the significant negative feedback that I have provided in a text file. I also try not make social friends out of the people that report to me.

When I run into chronic performance problems at work, I tend to fall back to my training. I write down my planned interactions for trouble employees. I like to keep these meetings short, to the point and have the goal of walking out of each with a plan of action for the employee. The employee and I agree on one or two simple metrics for me to track until the next meeting and we go back to work. The goal for me is to not turn low performers into high performers at that time. I simple plan on stopping loss. Once performance stabilizes for the employee, I start treating them with positive feedback for anything they do above and beyond the minimum detailed in the metrics. If there are other issues to be solved, I try to get them all to a state of stability before attempting the positive feedback technique so as not to confuse them. They quickly learn that withholding of positive feedback is actually unsatisfying to them, unsatisfying enough that they want do more than quid pro quo. Does this work every time? No. Does it work often enough to make me want to try this method every time? Yes.

Some of the wind in my sails about this method and the quantitative research that supported it has been shed as of yesterday and for that I am quite disappointed. My experience says that this works primarily in cases of mild to medium performance issues and does nothing for employees who are militant or downright malicious. I have sought HR help in every one of those cases and tried to follow their advice to the tee.

Do you have any advice for me and my readers?

Cultural Differences Between the East and the West (of the world) – Part Deux

Avoiding trouble at all costs – Indians like to avoid trouble if at all possible. Like most generalizations, it is only true for general provocations and simple conflicts. When provoked enough, an Indian can also become a mean son of a bitch, much more than would be expected by a Westerner. But that is another story. A story from my life comes to mind. At one time in my life, I had a very difficult boss. He was not very good at hiding his annoyances and appeared to be peeved all the time. I never knew what to expect from him. Much to my dismay, I worked directly for him and could not avoid working with him every day. However, I could not stand up to him. I would rather feel like crap twice a day, potentially for many years to come, than confront him and create a scene. Many Americans are surprised by what they perceived as my cowardice and have called me out on it. Conflict avoidance is part of our culture. If you consider this a weakness and push an Indian too far, you might have a mess on your hands you in the future that you did not expect.

Lining up to wait – My wife and I fly to India through Dubai often. We line up at Chicago to get on the plane and the line is orderly and there is respect of personal space and dignity. Once we are in the waiting room in Dubai, all the rules are suddenly different. Even before the flight is actually announced as ready to be boarded, every Indian in the room will rush up to the front of the room, in a large, unordered mass, around the exit to the aircraft. There is pushing and shoving and mass mayhem with absolutely no regard for personal space or for deodorant use. The two of us wait for this spectacle every time we fly through Dubai. The concept of standing patiently in line, in order, simply does not exist for us. This is even demonstrated in our (in)ability to drive within lanes. I have lots of stories about my first few months of driving in the US. Ask me about them sometime.

The truth is colorful – The truth has many flavors for us Indians. For us Indians, the truth is quite colorful. Embellishments are considered to be a normal part of the truth and exaggerations are expected to be delivered with the truth. This fact that our truth is not a concrete fact but more of a moving scale is demonstrated by our need to bargain for everything (even at upscale malls!), by taking others truths with the same trepidation, being more flexible and forgiving for shifts from facts and finding it hard to stick to the facts when confronted by others. This has gotten wiped off me to some extent because I have lived with and among Americans for a while, but it rears its head once in a while.

Anger is a no show – Indians who are angry will not readily express their anger on their facial or bodily expressions. It is bad form for an Indian to show anger and anger is only expressed under very extenuating circumstances. If an Indian is openly showing anger, know that something big is brewing. This follows from the conflict avoidance concept. Most Indians will actually show a smile while seething and possibly swearing and scheming on the inside. An American on the other hand has no problem wearing his heart on his sleeve.

220px-Ahimsa.svgAn American who does not immediately flare up when provoked will be considered a coward or to be cold, which is bad form in this country. Gandhi’s Ahimsa (non-violence) philosophy which is derived from Hinduism, is probably the cause for much of this behavior.

Bravado is commonplace – Indians are not short on bravado. They ooze machismo, devour and reciprocate it openly and are not fazed by others displaying the same signals. This confuses most outsiders. Since the brave face is often not followed through with confrontation or violent behavior, it is different from Westerners. When not directly confronted with trouble, an Indian might make a big show of their prowess or skill, but will often not follow through with the expected aggressive behavior once actually confronted. Even worse, Indian might just drop out of the conflict or competition at the first sign of a challenge.

Money and Family always mix – I am a worldly person. I like wealth, have spent most of my life chasing it and can safely say that accumulation of it occupies my thoughts all the time. However, I am ashamed of my desire of it. I consider my family to be much more important and know in my heart of hearts that wealth can only be measured in terms of what it can do for my family. To belabor the point, I accumulate the wealth, I run after it and pine for it but I do so ashamedly and only do it for my family. I do not know this for sure but I think this is due to our poor beginnings and our fear of going back to being poor. When I spend money, I am further afraid of spending too much or not saving enough for my family and for our future. This is somewhat different from wealth in the Western world where divorces are common and money is often seen to be separate within the family. Parents often manage separate bank accounts and only save in a common pile which is eyed tentatively by both parties. It might finally end up with one person or the other and often does not belong to everyone in the family. Kids might inherit wealth from their parents when they pass away, but it is not shared with the kids in the same way during their lifetime. Wealth is not collective family wealth. Financial independence of the participants might also have something to do with this perception in the Western world.

Love is Eternal – Most Indians fall in love once, deify their partner and are very enamored with not only the person, but also the feelings they associate with their loved one. Love has a certain pious tinge to it and deification of a loved one is the result. A partner is often completely crushed if and when their love is removed from their lives. Indians who fall in love and are unreciprocated, often end up either unmarried if given the option, or in loveless arranged marriages. Divorced partners often do not remarry. It is hard for an Indian to date multiple partners or to move from one love interest to the next. Even among Indian movie stars, partner jumping is much less popular than in the Western world. As India becomes more westernized, I can see this changing in some ways. What I see remaining the same is this religious sentiment associated with love and the strong desire to keep the same partner throughout ones life.

What are other idiosyncrasies of Indians do you know of?

Cultural Differences Between the East and the West (of the world)

I came to the United States back in 1994 as a student and have not left since, except for short vacations. I try to assimilate myself into whatever situation that I get into and this country, now my country, is no exception. I tried my best to become an American. However hard I have tried to look, sound and behave like an American, there is still of a lot of Desi in me. I was even referred to as “an International Experience” by someone very close to me at some time in my dotted past.

My wife Jennifer is painfully aware of my “Indian Standard Time” and gets more than just exasperated at me because of it. I still cannot say laboratory properly, no matter how hard I try to remember the pronunciation. I hate spelling color that way. Aluminum rubs me the wrong way whenever I see it. I refer to my boss as “sir” often and fluster him, and I can never seem to give directions well. All of these fun differences were bought to the forefront last week when I read about Yang Liu’s book on Quartz. I loved the pictures and posted the link on Facebook. I have since thought that it would be fun to post about each of these in more detail and explain the pictures that are illustrated on Quartz. I am not reproducing them here for copyright purposes. Please refer to the article above for my inspiration. Here we go.

Indian Standard Time – Perhaps the most obvious and the most controversial of all idiosyncrasies that I exhibit is referred to as Indian Standard Time by my wife and others. When I am expected to be somewhere at a certain time, say to meet my wife at a party at 7:00 PM, I will almost certainly be quite tardy. I leave time for myself to get ready and get to the party at 7:00 just like everyone else. However, more important things show up in the hours before the actual party or the location is farther than I have given myself time to get to or some other non-trivial event will occur that will result in me being late. I cannot explain it but it does happen. My wife has resorted to subtracting an extra hour from the real time to see if she can get me to be at the party on time.

Loud Speech – I speak loudly. I am actually less louder than other Indians and Asians. It is what we do. Our language requires loud pronunciation or something like that. Liu has a nice image to represent this. You can visit a restaurant in India, even a five star place and it will be many tens of decibels louder than an American or Western establishment. We do not like eating quietly. Now my wife says I am deaf but quiet whispers at the table, or for that matter anywhere, is just irritating to me. I like to be spoken clearly to and you should expect a clearly spoken answer.

Convoluted Explanations – Speaking of clear answers. You will never get a concise answer from an Indian. That is why I hate giving directions. I remember roads by signs and visible entities and do not remember names or keep track of directions by watching a compass. I often do not know which direction is North or East, because I do not care. When I give directions, they are by what appears on the way and thus are very convoluted and often complex for people seeking directions. My explanations for most things are the same way. I do not take anything for granted or imbibe anything mentally without first understanding it my way. When I understand it my way, I look for evidence and markers along the way of that discovery. If asked to explain it, I go back through my personal journey, explaining each of the markers as I remember and understood them. I make sense to me but take winding roads to get to the answer.

High Power Distance – Indians (and most Asians) consider their bosses, parents and older people to be at a higher level of being than themselves. This is also referred to as high power distance. An American might be really open with their boss, make fun of him or her to their face and even argue with them openly. Indians will not do that. They will take their boss’ or their parents’ word for it instead of arguing. They will not show disrespect of any kind. I have noticed that this baffles Americans and might even make them think that Indians are old world or backwards. Know for sure that this is cultural and not evolutionary.

Humble to a fault – It is considered bad manners to think too highly of oneself in India. People tend to be humble and compete with each other on their humility. So when thinking about oneself, people from the East will, in general think of themselves to be smaller or weaker or less prepared than the rest of the world. The western world is taught to be proud and sure of themselves and so the opposite view of the self is often the result. The mistake many westerners make is to assume humility to be weakness or lack of credibility.

I am running out of time. So there will be an episode 2 of these. I know I have a few more to talk about, including the last few from Liu’s book. I hope these are useful in understanding the quirks of Asian people that baffle you.

What quirk would you like to know more about?

The Practice of Practice

The topic is somewhat self explanatory but it was not clear to me till a few months ago. Let me explain.

My father is a stickler for a job done right. Most of my early childhood was spent on listening to him bitch at me about doing one thing or the other correctly. I remember him telling me, in Bengali, that whatever I did, I should do it well. It was said to me so many times, and I was so remiss at my studies, that the message was lost in me ignoring my father’s advice. I will not get into his relationship with me, but will focus on his message. I also remember him telling me about Swami Vivekananda and about his treatise, Karma Yoga. He told me how he had read it when was young and it had shaped his life. Dad is an ardent Vivekanada fan to say the least. I had myself picked up a copy of it while I was in school and browsed a few pages before my eyes had glazed over. Of course I had boasted to him that I had read the book and understood what it was trying to tell me. But far from it, while I tried to do the best I could with everything that was painful to me (read: studying for school and exercising), I had no idea how to make the activity more palatable to me. I was too naive. Now I think I understand better.

IMG_1143
My First Mandala

What you see above is my first embellishment of a Mandala drawing. Now don’t get excited, I did not draw it myself. I simply bought an adult coloring book from Amazon (Angie’s Extreme Stress Menders Volume 1 af.) and colored it at my leisure. Now I will tell you that I like coloring and art and I knew I would enjoy doing this. It took me a long time and I just listened to my favorite arias while coloring away at the dining table. I really like how it turned out. My reason for bringing it up is that the book forces you to step away from everything else and focus on just the coloring. It forces you to look at the intricate details and if you do not pay attention, you miss the lines and create a mess. So instead of thinking about everything else in your life, you spend a few minutes completely focused on what you are doing at that moment. I think it would be harder to do for someone who is not into coloring or art because it would seem tedious.

The Practice of Practicing is much like that. The following ideas are not completely mine but are brought over from the book The Practicing Mind. I love this book and have listened to it quite a few times and have made bookmarks all over to find the most interesting parts. The book and its premise boils down to the idea that we need to be present every moment of the day, in the moment that we are in. How do we focus when our mind wanders? We need to practice practicing. How do we do that? We train our minds to think of only what we are working with at that present moment and move all else out of our minds. When our minds start to wander, we need just remind ourselves that we are wandering and the mind is designed to refocus itself automatically. The book also states a couple of other interesting ideas. The first of which is that we need to remember that if we dream of the future or relish or despair the past, then we are not in the moment. Neither the future or the past are real and the only thing that is real is the moment we are in. As for our dreams and our aspirations, we need to set aside time to properly plan and think through those, without letting our minds wander to other things at that time. We are creatures of desire and ambition and it would suit us well to remember that beyond every promotion and every new trinket we buy for ourselves, there will always be another promotion or item waiting to be desired, There never will be an end to our desire for more and we can never be truly satisfied with our lot if all we do is run after the next big thing.

There are some wonderful examples in the book. I do them no justice here. I encourage you to read/listen to the book yourself as I am no author. I simply look to whet your appetite. Think about the time you spent commuting from work in your cars. Do you spend much of the time talking to others on the phone or listening to the radio? Even when you are listening to the radio, are you thinking about your day at work, dreaming about the weekend or planning your vacation? Try this the next time you are behind the wheel. Focus on your driving. Feel the steering wheel under your fingers and look at what the other cars are doing around you. Listen to the sound of your engine as it pitches and whines. Maybe play a game with yourself about driving. I like to see if I can make the whole commute without having to press on the brakes even once. I know that sounds absurd but it relaxes me and I have to pay very close attention to the traffic and to the car in front of me so that I can predict what it is going to do. It reminds me of the Mandala coloring book. Staying in the moment trains your mind. It also helps in making tedious or difficult tasks seem to go by quickly. Learning also takes place much quicker. To me this is very important. Practicing your golf swing or learning to play an instrument can be intimidating. Practicing a musical instrument, after the initial elation of learning something new, might become quickly tedious that you put it off until you stop learning completely. If we stay in the moment and focus on the now without worrying about the outcome of the task, the task itself gets easier to do and the outcome is reached without as much effort. When writing a program to accomplish a task, if the developer is too tied up in where the final version of their application will end up, or how far they have gotten, it will take longer to get the work done. As the Agile methodology explains, if the developer breaks the task down into smaller pieces, works on each piece with complete focus and feedback and only when complete, moves over to the next, work is completed at the most efficient speed. In my example above, if you focused on just the driving, you might find that the commute takes a lot less time in your mind and you will learn to look forward to the few minutes of special attention to pay to your driving.

The author suggests various methods to accomplish this goal of staying in the moment. If you have read about Demming’s cycle, the author suggests a simplified version in DO-OBSERVE-CORRECT. Rather than judging our outcome every step of the way, rather than looking at how much time is past or how well we did as compared to the expected final goal, we should take small steps towards the goal. We can then check back with the goal and correct our methods if we need to. An example that sticks with me is the task of throwing a basketball into a trash can from far away. If we throw the ball the first time and it is wildly off target, we might follow up each throw with growing despair at our inability to throw the ball into the basket and we may quickly tire of the goal. I am reminded of my son getting really frustrated when he is not able to make a basket in our backyard and walking away in a huff. We should instead see how far it landed from the can and without judging our ability to make it into the correctly at the first throw, make a small change to the direction/speed of the ball and throw it again. In this way we will soon get it into the basket. Rather than judging ourselves at every turn, we should keep making small corrections as we continue towards the goal and just keep a casual eye on the final goal to keep ourselves on track. DOC has become a mantra to me and I use it to re-focus myself once I stray. The author mentions various examples and methods of his own to make his point.

Karma Yoga is Yoga through Karma or Practice. The more we spend time focusing on what we are doing at that present moment, doing it well, noticing every nuance and maybe not appreciating it but noticing it nonetheless, we become better at it. Rather than worrying about whether we will succeed or fail, we should focus on how we are doing it. The last point that I want to make is the most important to me. The book states that we should not judge ourselves. Though quite a simple concept and well worn, this is far reaching. If we fail to keep our minds from wandering, without admonishing ourselves for failing or despairing at our failure, we should observe why we failed and then correct our action for the next moment. If we plan on exercising every morning, if and when we fail to exercise for a few days for whatever reason, we should not think about the fact that we did not exercise. Instead we should think to ourselves that what is done is over with and make plans for the next day to exercise. This can go on ad nauseum if needed. Failure to exercise will not be repeated too many times if no sense of despair creeps in. Focusing on a present detail, such as your heart rate, instead of constant comparison of a goal with the present, such as present weight compared to the weight goal, will only make us more prone to judging ourselves. Stop checking yourself against your goal and start paying attention to the activity, however painful or unwanted. Stop worrying about where you want to be and start working on where you are. Where you be will come soon enough, without you knowing that it came.

I enjoy writing on this blog. I have my headphones on, am listening to Turnadot and have spent the last hour completely focused on remembering the details of the book, how I practice and what I would like for others to read about and gleam from the book. I thoroughly enjoyed the last hour and it flew by. If you are looking for some respite from the rat race or are looking for more than just a paycheck everyday, I suggest you pick up this book. It might just help you enjoy your life quite a bit more and help you look forward to your every day. It might just make your life less boring and tedious and more of the journey that you enjoy.

How to Live a Meaningful Life

A meaningful, purpose-filled life is one of the most essential ingredients for true happiness. Here’s how you can start living one.

Source: INFOGRAPHIC: How to Live a Meaningful Life – Happify Daily

 

I figure I will not steal their thunder. The link above is to the post and the infographic, which is quite complete and a nice one to look through. I wanted to write a little about what it contains and how it pertains to my experiences.

All of us search for a meaning in life and if you are a thinking person, at one time or the other, you have sat down and pondered the meaning of all of this. Why are we here? What is our purpose? If the purpose seems cheapened or weakened due to a recent event or failure, are we lost? Is there anything we can do to salvage our reason for being as we had known it. According this this inforgraphic and according to Gallup, 37% of people in North and South America feel as if they have a strong and consistent purpose in life. I am surprised that this number is not higher. We live in a society that is full of social support, where social security exists as a government tool and where life expectancy has all but doubled in the last millennium. So then why are so many people without purpose? Why do so many people feel disenfranchised with themselves and their lot? Psychology aside, I would like to think that this is easy to remediate than world hunger.

So why do we need meaning in life? Much research  has gone into understanding and documenting why purpose in life is important. This is the stuff of self help books of which I have read many. I conjecture that a strong purpose in life promotes healthy living and a feeling of well being. People who have a strong sense of purpose tend to live longer, bounce back quicker, have fewer mental and physical issues and tend to be better partners and neighbors. Some of the reasons for this are obvious. A strong purpose seems to make people happier, which in turn leads to less self destructive and more constructive activities. These people go to get more regular checkups, which lead to earlier diagnoses of illnesses, tend to drink and smoke less and finally are more apt to be critical thinkers. This leads to more positive brain activity and thus less plaque formation both in the brain and in the heart.

Feeling purposeful begins early in life. Kids with a strong sense of duty and a constantly validated sense of right and wrong tend to find it easier to continue looking for a purpose later on in life as well. Activities such as martial arts and Scout Troops build a sense of direction and a desire to follow the correct lead. These children at first find it a requirement to be good samaritans to be a part of these groups. They soon find that performing good deeds tend to make themselves feel better and they quickly become addicted to the rush of chemicals associated with the feel good activities. Positive re-enforcement is automatic and builds on the experiences of the past. This sense of helping yourself by helping others gives purpose to itself.

I have been really positively influenced by The Practicing Mind (aff). This book did not say anything that was new to me. However, it put things in a context that I could well understand. What I took away from it was that if we decide to practice anything diligently, without constantly checking for results and put the sought after results at the back of our minds, then this practice bears a lot more fruit. One of the tricks that I have learned from this book is to constantly remind myself of the D-O-C rule. It stands for do – observe – correct. This also reminds me of Demming’s Principle. For example: I go for frequent walks throughout the day since that is good for my body and it gets me out of my chair and from in front of the computer monitor. While I know that it is good for me, I do not necessarily enjoy the exercise and I always start to feel lazy or look for ways to not get up. Watches and health monitors have not helped me since all they do is remind me of how lazy I have been or how much more work I have to do to stay fit. I started by telling myself to not feel guilty for that which is already done. If I was lazy today and could not walk, oh well. I will try again tomorrow. I know that worrying about it will not help, I then focus on what I can do tomorrow to make it better. Once tomorrow comes along, I try my best to get up and walk. While I am walking, instead of thinking about things that are not related. I spend a lot of my effort focusing on my gait and my style of walk. I do not worry about how far or for how long. I simply focus on the walking and that is all.

This is HARD. I constantly have to remind myself of DOC, my mantra and constantly have to bring my mind back. It has gotten easier with practice but I notice that do not have to do much except remind myself that my thoughts are veering. Somehow just the thought that I am veering from the practice makes a big difference. Even in that I sometimes fail. I still move on and try the next day. I do this while walking, while driving, while exercising in the morning, while watching Netflix, while showering and almost everything in between. It has gotten slightly easier as time has gone on. I find that the knowledge from the book has paled a little and I am forgetting some of the salient points but I still persevere.

As for results, I am not thinner and am not much better off physically. But mentally I am super! I get going easier, have actually been exercising regularly for the past month or so and am much more fulfilled. I find purpose returning, can recover from excitement quickly and have a much more positive outlook on life. Even when I am barraged with life, outside of slight discouragement, I do not have really bad thoughts as often. It is strange how balanced I feel. I really like it.

 

Next entry in this series: Finding Meaning at work

The power of the Losada Line

I like saying thank you! I truly do.I selfishly enjoy everything about the experience. Today was no exception. I made a big deal about a co-worker who had performed really well over the past week and added to his already long list of accomplishments. But I made it a point to say thank you in front of everyone and promised to take him out to lunch, along with everyone else, on my dime, to celebrate. It felt amazing!

The Losada Line, as explained in the ‘pedia, is the ratio of the minimum number of positive feedback to negative feedback that is needed to make teams higher performing. Of course you can go overboard (see Losada Zone) but that number is so high that a normal human being (me) would never have to worry about it. We bitch at people all the time and all I care about doing is making it a point to say thank you and provide positive feedback at any and all occasions, no matter how small or inconsequential. I figure that the negative feedback will creep in because I am a human being with my own set of issues and I don’t need to worry about keeping myself in check with finding something to complain about.

Meaty Congrats
Congrats!

Creative Commons License photo credit: Anemone Letterpress

I am not the best boss in the world. On the contrary, I might suck. So I try to do everything I can to make it better, just in case I really do suck so my co-workers can come in to work and really want to be there. I just have to watch it when I get crabby and force myself to not react when I always want to. I try to hold back the negative and let the positive flow through with gusto. So there!

PS: All of this is to make myself happy in the long run, so I am selfish as well.

Lucien Loves to use the Couch as a Slide

My son Lucien, much like many other kids his age I am sure, loves to play on a slide. However, since we do not have a slide at home, he has learned to make one of us adults help him get to the top of our leather couch and then slide down to the ground. He has such a good time that he cannot contain his glee. This afternoon when I went home for lunch, I took a few minutes to play with him. He must have slid down a hundred times before I had to let him go and come back to work. It is such a guilty pleasure watching him grow up. I keep reminding myself to enjoy the little moments as much as I can and not get caught up in the act of being a parent too much.

Slide experiment
Slide

Creative Commons License photo credit: Caza_No_7

 

He is my shona chele!

Why do people find it so difficult to agree with others?

Disagreements are a surefire sign of passion and involvement. They make us humans, they involve us in the topic at hand and give us a sense of belonging. Then why are they so painful and why do they lead to so much division? I have a couple of theories.

  • Too many people are used to disagreements. The minute there is an option to agree or disagree, they want to be sure to get their end of the story in. I think a lot of people think that disagreeing somehow will make things better in the long run and it is their responsibility to make sure everything is perfect according to them. Anecdote to that is to think about the cases in your life where disagreeing has led to a positive outcome and how that positive outcome was reached in spite of the disagreement.
  • Too many people are used to having their disagreements discarded and their voice not heard. Since they think that they will be ignored anyways, they try even harder to be heard. As they get desperate, their counterpart pushes out their opinion quicker, thus resulting in discord. An anecdote to not having your opinion heard is to think of the other party. Have you paid attention to them while they were explaining their position? Can you put yourself in their position for a minute?
  • People disagree because they care. However, we are conditioned to care more about the topic of disagreement than about the person we are disagreeing with. This idea came to being because I have often found myself not caring about the issue that I had a huge argument about, but caring more about the person I have been arguing with, when I have let enough time pass after the argument. If I felt that way during the argument,  I would not have let the argument happen.
  • People disagree because they are disgruntled about something else, but the disagreement allows them to vent their frustration/anger on the present issue. This cause increased discomfort because the opinions seem strained and reaching. Would you have disagreed on this topic if you were in a happy state of mind? If not, how will you get there?

Now I think that it is very important to disagree. But I think that we should get into a disagreement with the right state of mind and be ready to accept the outcome of the disagreement, whatever that might be.

A few questions to ask yourself when you get caught in a quagmire of disagreements and arguments.

  • How much does this mean to me? Can I live without it?
  • If I was in a happy place (think Happy Gilmore Happy Place), would I still be saying/doing the same thing?
  • Am I listening to the opposing party? Could I explain their position to them?
  • Has the opposing party listened to what I have to say? Are they paying attention to me? Can they explain my position to me? Have I asked them that?
  • Am I choosing my battles?  Do I really care about the issue or is it something else?
  • Do I have an exit strategy? Am I just building boundaries with no compromise in sight? Am I giving the opposing party an option to come to a conclusion?
  • And last, but not the least, am I too angry to think straight?

How do you calm yourself? Disagreements and arguments work well for all of us and that is why we have successful relationships throughout our lives (preponderance of us). What techniques work best? What is different about those disagreements?

Shady Sirius XM business practices

So I had XM in my Honda Accord and I subscribed to it on for one year after I found a really good coupon to use with it. When I turned it on, I figured since I was paying for a year in advance, I would not pay for it again if I don’t use it enough. My wife drives the Accord now and she barely ever uses XM. So we decided to let the subscription expire, thinking that if we did not renew it, they would simply not renew the radio again and life would be dandy.

Boy were we wrong! A week after the radio truly expired, we received a letter in the mail stating that our credit card on file was not valid (we had used a one time use) and that our subscription was going to be canceled if we did not call and present a new credit card. Well that meant to us that we should just ignore the issue and it will be canceled. Wrong! This was followed by regular phone messages on my cell phone without a real person on the other side. I figured this was another way to force a call back that would take effort and they were banking on the fact that people would forget. Phone calls became more frequent, till this week in July when I started receiving two messages a day.

Finally I called back today from work and was told that my “contract” was valid forever and I had agreed to the fact that my service would be renewed every year if I did not call and cancel. While I do not recall that I had agreed to this, I have no doubt that it was read to me when I signed up. However, I had verbally agreed to only pay for the first year and there was no written contract signed. I was also told that their letter might have stated that the service would be canceled but it also meant that I would still owe for the month(s) that it sat unused without being canceled. But really, they would not cancel the service until I called and canceled. They would just make harassing phone calls till I responded. Since I had called back a month after my paid period, I would have to pay for that months’ use, at the full price.

To add insult to injury, the lady on the phone asked me if I would like to continue using the service if she made it free for three months. I asked her to use one of those three free months and redact my bill but she started getting snooty and snarky. Rather than get irritated, I decided to let it go. I asked them to send me a paper bill and I will put a check in the mail. Then I told her I wanted nothing else to do with XM again, ever!

I know very little about US law, but I remember reading somewhere that these phone sales and verbal agreements do not hold water in court. They really need to get a written signature in order for them to enforce their contracts. Does anyone have any relevant information that explain the details of phone call based contractual obligations and their enforceability?

An Angel came to us and then went away and took our hearts with her …

As some of you were aware, Jennifer was pregnant with our first child. Due to a sudden complication with her pregnancy brought on by a hidden weakness called an “incompetent cervix“, Jennifer had to deliver our baby at 21 weeks of gestation at an unexpected rest stop in Indianapolis.

Our baby passed away very quickly after the delivery in spite of all the medical attention that was available to her. She lived for 15 minutes and spent her last few breaths in Jennifers’ arms. She was absolutely beautiful and made me smile and cry at the same time. We baptized her Angel. She is the Angel of our eyes and our hearts.

I know she is happy in heaven. We will miss you our dear child. May the Lord bless you and may your soul rest in peace.

In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.

I am a sucker for data

I have always liked data in every form and manipulation of that data tickles my fancy a little too much. In pursuit of that endeavor, here is a little gem I recently uncovered.

I (recently started to) work out regularly on my exercise bike. I own a Nordic Trac AutoRider R400 which I absolutely adore. The bike is comfortable, there are lots of options and it is still fun to use it. Fun is a crucial component of any exercise routine. My plans are to train on this bike all winter and then ride in the summer. One feature of this bike that I find unsatisfying is the EKG monitor on the handlebars. The pads are not very accurate, nor very sensitive and the readout leaves a lot to be desired. I have been targeting heart rates (I have high cholesterol) and it is hard to do with the bike.

Recently I also found the Polar FS1 Hear Rate Monitor Watch for about $50 and I thought that it might be cheap enough and work well. Then I found the ADI05 Software Logger on Amazon (it works with the FS1 and all its cousins) for about $27 and it all fell into place. I had a heart rate monitor, a receiver to plug into my computer to receive my heart rate data, a data logger for my computer and all the data I could ever dream of. From one of the reviewers, … keep track of how much time you have spent in each zone per week and tells you how many more times, for how long, and how hard you need to exercise the rest of the week to reach your goal of maintaining, improving, or maximizing. I love it.

Now I need to fork over another hundred bucks to get all the stuff and write some code to put it into cool flash graphs. I can’t wait! PS: I will be looking for a relatively inexpensive road bike come summer. Any suggestions would be well appreciated.