The impact of kindness

What a surreal time we live in at the moment. World leaders who lie more and are less eloquent than toddlers, large groups of people ignoring or even arguing against proven facts, because they don’t fit their narrative and so much hate and intolerance everywhere.
In today’s crazy world disagreements are understandable and perhaps even necessary. But there’s no need to be harsh, hateful and unkind to someone you don’t understand or don’t agree with. It doesn’t cost you anything to be kind. Even if you are having a discussion with someone. Being kind doesn’t take anything away from the point that you are making. In my opinion, it’s even the opposite. An argument that is made calmly and with respect for the other person comes across a lot stronger than one embedded in insults and name-calling.

Most people, when being attacked or insulted, will feel bad. Whether you are right or wrong, when someone rips you a new one it will affect your confidence. With the loss of confidence, you will have a harder time making a strong case for your point of view. You might feel like disappearing.
I try not to let unkind words get to me, especially in a professional situation, but sometimes they do. Unfortunately, I’m a lousy actor and I don’t have a poker face. If you pay attention it’s relatively easy to pick up on how I’m feeling.

That’s not the worst part though. As something like that will knock my confidence and requires a significant amount of energy to digest, there will be less energy left for everything else. I might lack patience when someone wants my help or attention. Maybe I’ll react blunter than I would like to, or perhaps I’d fail to listen to someone without judgment.
I might involuntarily pay someone else’s unkindness forward.

When you give someone a compliment, on the other hand, they’ll feel good. You will build them up. They will feel more confident and that in turn will make it easier for them to express themselves.
This means that bluntly criticizing and kindly complimenting someone are both self-fulfilling prophecies. The impact of your words will almost automatically confirm your opinion.
So I plead with you to try and be kind to people. Give someone a compliment if you feel positive about them. And if you don’t then just keep your mouth shut. You won’t achieve anything apart from tearing down someone you feel is already down. Instead of condemning people, let’s try to understand them.
Let’s bring some sympathy, tolerance, and kindness in this crazy world we live in.

Kindness is free, sprinkle that stuff everywhere

Free writing

I started free writing, using pen and paper. I’ve only done it twice so far, so you can hardly call it a habit, but it does feel good. Until now I’ve always rejected the idea of using pen and paper to write. The lovely weather drew me outside though and a pen and paper are a lot more convenient in the bright sun than a laptop screen is. It was the push that I needed to try it.
I thought I might be put off by my less than perfect handwriting, or by not being able to correct mistakes. It turns out that both don’t bother me at all.

The reason for trying something different is twofold. I’ve not been writing much lately, mostly because of a lack of topics that I feel I have something useful or interesting to say about that isn’t already being said in a better way by someone else.
The other reason is that I’ve been trying to find my “writing voice”. I liked the tone of voice in my last two posts. They were very different from the type of post that I normally write. Both were driven by the emotions that I was feeling while writing them. They were written quickly and posted without many revisions. They sound a lot more like me.

Most of my other posts are about concepts, while the ones that I like are stories. I’m hoping that the free writing will keep away the perfectionist in me and allow me to write some imperfect stories that have heart in them. The free writing makes it easier to be kind to myself while I’m writing. Nothing that I write while doing it needs to be posted. If it sparks an idea that’s great, if it doesn’t I enjoyed the process of writing for the sake of writing.

It’s an experiment and I think the amount of activity and my voice on here will be testament to the result. Or lack thereof of course!

A feeble attempt at describing a great experience

Let me start with the summary: last weekend was one of the best weekends I’ve ever had.

If you missed the last post and don’t feel like going back to it, I booked a ticket for the Old Vic Theatre’s 200th birthday party at the last minute, after finding out via Twitter that Tim Minchin was going to be part of the show.

For this special occasion The Old Vic replaced the chairs in the stalls with tables and chairs around them. I shared a table with four people who go to the Old Vic regularly. The lady on my right was a bad-ass lawyer who used to date a Dutch man, so we had plenty to talk about. The lady left of me also booked her ticket after she found out Tim would be performing. We were very close to the stage, they were great seats.

The evening started with chicken pie and a piece of the very fancy Old Vic cake, and it got even better after that. Literally every act was brilliant, the Old Vic celebrated this special birthday in style.

The Old Vice Bicentenary Variety Night program      The Old Vic birthday cake

Despite the energy and brilliance of the other acts there was a buzz when Tim came on. Or maybe that was just me. He played four songs. Two new ones that can already be found on Youtube (illegally, sorry), one old one (F# for the Tim fans reading this) and one that he just finished that day. It was special to see the songs being performed live and to hear a completely new song. I tried to take a sneaky photo of Tim performing, so that I wouldn’t forget what it was like, but I’m not good at being sneaky and the photo I took is further evidence of that.

Tim on stage

After the show I started to leave the theatre when I changed my mind. I decided I might as well try to get as much out of the weekend as possible and waited to see if I would be able to get a photo with Tim. He did eventually come out and as soon as I saw him there was already a line of other people waiting for their chance of a picture with him. I have no idea where they had been up until that point, it seemed like they appeared at the same time he did. He was very patient. I’d assume he would also have wanted to get to his friends and talk to them, but he took the time for everyone that wanted to talk to him. He didn’t rush at all.
I didn’t take a lot of his time, because that’s the type of person I am. On some level I’m a bit disappointed that I didn’t talk to him for a bit longer. I’m sure he would have allowed it. But I’m also glad that I was (relatively) respectful of his time. I can’t imagine having to talk to a long line of strangers after a work day. I don’t think they would like me much..
I also got my picture. Some of my friends commented that it looks like we could be brother and sister and I like that idea.

Tim and me

To be honest, I’m only writing this because I promised in my previous post that I would. But I can’t write well enough to do it justice. It sounds too clinical or over the top.
I have a relatively quiet and drama-free life, I’m not used to the four-day adrenaline rush from last weekend. Nor am I used to admiring someone in the way that I admire Tim. And I can’t explain it. The music of Groundhog Day and Matilda is beautiful and funny and smart. The comedy is thought provoking and hilarious. The podcasts are the best company in rush hour traffic and are motivating in many different ways.
But the fact that I haven’t been able to convince any of my friends of the brilliance of Tim is a clear sign of my failure to communicate.

My inability to put my feelings into words can be frustrating. I want to be a good writer and I have a need to talk about what’s going on inside me. At times, when emotions are running high and I can’t create a coherent sentence quick enough, the feelings come out in tears, like steam from a kettle. Not a very practical format for sharing with a wider audience.

Anyway, I enjoyed being a bit audacious last week. It made me feel childish and grownup at the same time. And as my boldish moves were rewarded with great experiences I will try to take a bit more risk more often.

Out of character

It’s 6:30AM on a Saturday and I’ve just boarded a plane to London as I’m writing this. I was just in London for a long weekend a couple of weeks ago and I didn’t miss out on anything then that I’m rushing back for now. Instead I booked this trip at the very last minute on Wednesday after it was announced on Twitter that Tim Minchin will be playing at the celebration of the 200th birthday of The Old Vic theatre.

Those who know me, know that I’m normally not very impulsive and that I will generally choose whatever is most sensible. Also, I’m really not a morning person. It’s safe to say that this is all rather out of character for me.

Those who know me a bit better though, also know that I’m a huge Tim Minchin fan. Since I first learned about Tim through his Nine Life Lessons I think it’s safe to say that I’ve seen and heart everything that you can buy or find online.

I’ve never seen him live though and so here I am, about to hopefully change that.

I’m still not quite sure what made me decide to book a 36 hour trip for maybe 30 minutes of performance, but so far I still think it was the right decision. Even when my alarm went off at 4:30AM this morning I didn’t change my mind. I even feel very calm and relaxed now, but that might be due to the lack of sleep, as for the last few days I’ve alternated between being very excited and incredibly nervous for no good reason.

Since I started writing BA got me to London, I checked into the hotel and I’m now having a tea right across the theatre. I’ll spend the rest of the day at an exhibition about science and art, checking out the theatre’s street party and perhaps I’ll even go for a run.

Who knows, if it all works out and I enjoy being a tourist on my own I might even do it more often…

Expand your world, read a book!

I love reading, always have done. As a kid I used to devour books. If I was reading a book I liked, it would go with me everywhere. I’d be walking through the house, up and down stairs while reading, lay the table while reading and if my mum would have let me, I would have still been reading while we had dinner.

I was smart, shy and skinny, which meant I wasn’t one of the cool kids. I was dreaming about being naughty and audacious, but in reality, I was very disciplined and well behaved. When I was reading a book, I would feel completely immersed in the story. I would put myself in the shoes of one of the characters in the book and through them I would experience and do things that I wouldn’t think of doing in real life.
I can honestly say that reading these very diverse books made my childhood more fun. It allowed me to go on all sorts of adventures, understand what it might have been like to live in a different time or place and to see life through the eyes of someone else.

By experiencing life through the eyes of different people, reading also helped me to build empathy. I learned how different people (or characters) felt in different situations and how they all reacted differently to those situations. It helped me to realize how I would like to be treated and how I would like to try and treat others.
In the film “You’ve got mail” there is a beautiful quote about the impact that reading as a child might have.
“I started helping my mother after school here when I was six years old. And I used to watch her. And it wasn’t that she was just selling books, it was that she was helping people become whoever it was that they were going to turn out to be. Because when you read a book as a child it becomes part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does.”

I feel that as an adult, it’s still important to read regularly. Reading allows you to learn things about the world that we live in. It will also allow you to escape from it from time to time to experience a different type of life. It might make you forget about sorrows or humble you if you feel that you’re on top of the world. It allows you to expand your world and look beyond what is right in front of you. Reading will help you to continue to learn about anything that you are interested in and it will help you to grow as a person.

Like many “professionals”, I haven’t taken the time to read a lot over the last few years. Most of what I have been reading has been articles related to work. Since a few months now though I have made an effort to read (a lot) more. I’ve been reading fiction, as well as the newspaper and several books about different ways to manage my days and my time, and about approaches to leadership and different world views. I feel that all of this is contributing to me being a more informed and more balanced person and that it’s allowing me to learn and grow. On top of that, and perhaps most importantly, it is a lot of fun. I still love to read. I can highly recommend it.

Carl Sagan2

Loud is becoming normal, let’s be reasonable and kind instead

Tim Minchin’s lyrics in the song “Loud ” from Matilda the Musical are scarily relevant in our day to day lives at the moment.

People don’t like smarty-pants
What go round claiming
that they know stuff
we don’t know.

Now, here’s a tip:
What you know matters less
Than the volume with which
What you don’t know’s expressed!

Content, has never been less important.
So you have got to be…
Loud!

The context of the theatrical narrative is missing of course. In the musical this is sung by Matilda’s mother, who’s one of the baddies. However, I’m sure many of you can reconcile this with your recent experiences!

In many situations and environments today, if you want to convince someone, it’s often more efficient to be loud, than it is to be right. Make a big spectacle and if you can, pick one small aspect of the other person’s argument and make it sound ridiculous or offensive. You can do this online, in a newspaper, but also in a face to face conversations. It works best when there are multiple people following the conversation, as it is an incredibly effective strategy to grab a lot of attention and to get people to think that they agree with you.

Being loud takes on different forms in different situations. In a face to face discussion someone can increase the volume at which they deliver their arguments. In a real-life conversation, especially when multiple people are involved, it’s also often quite hard to find the right moment to start making your argument without interrupting someone and feeling like you’re being rude. I’m often amazed that some people seem to be able to talk forever without having to take a breath. If it wasn’t so frustrating you’d almost admire them and advise them to take up free diving!

On the Internet loudness takes on slightly different forms. It can include personally attacking the person you are supposed to be having a discussion with. The attack doesn’t have to be related to the arguments that they are using, it is also quite common to attack part of someone’s personality and/or intelligence. Taking valid arguments completely out of context and stripping them of all nuances can be very effective as well and this can be very hard to defend yourself against. After all, you did use the argument. There was a lot more to it than what you’re being attacked over, but seeing as you’re trying to reason your way out of this, instead of countering by also being loud you won’t be able to grab the same amount of attention. Taking the time to consider the nuances and dig into facts and logic is harder and not “cool”. Which makes it less popular with the masses.

As a reaction to the bleak picture painted above it can be tempting to unleash your frustration about not being able to get your point across for reasons that feel unfair onto someone who’s loud. Letting yourself go when it’s normally not your style won’t make your feel good though. In fact, in most cases it will make you feel worse.
This might be a reference that only resonates with a specific audience, but I’m going to use it anyway. Meg Ryan’s character in the film, “You’ve Got Mail”, is frustrated about her mind going blank and not being able to come up with snide remarks when she’s being provoked. But when she is finally able to come up with zingers during a conversation the way she’s always dreamt of, she feels terrible afterwards.
When you reply to a loud person by being loud you become the very thing you dislike. By resorting to ignoring the nuance of someone’s arguments, or by trying to offend someone you lower your standards.

Wouldn’t it be inspiring if people that are able to construct arguments based on reason and who are normally calm, collected and polite, would in fact remain calm, collected and polite? Most people who are currently being loud won’t care about any eloquent and fact-based arguments. But wouldn’t you feel more hopeful about the future, if in heated face to face conversations more people would stay calm and polite, even when provoked? If in derailed social media discussions, you would find some classy and factual replies amidst all the loudness?

More importantly, wouldn’t you feel better about yourself if you were able to stay polite and just show an appropriate amount of emotion. Expressing some emotion is good, because it shows that you care. I’m not advocating that we should start acting as robots. On the contrary even. I would like us to put more emphasis on the fact that we are engaged and caring human beings.
I think I would feel good about myself if I would be able to be reasonable and kind, so I’m going to try to put this into practice. Perhaps the only difference I can make is to lift my own spirits. But there is always a chance that my attitude and intentions inspire someone else and together we can make a bigger difference.

Don't raise your voice, improve your argument

5 ways to get a grip on your work day

I love my job. It’s great to work with our smart and dedicated people, I enjoy the challenge and there is enough variety to make sure it’s never boring. The one thing that I dread sometimes is having days with more than five hours of meetings. I don’t believe this can be useful or productive for anyone. On top of that it freaks me out.

I don’t mind working hard at all, but I like to have some control over my life (even on a day to day basis :-)). Having full days of meetings makes me feel like I have none, which in turn generates stress. Another challenge with these back to back meetings is that with every one of them I’ll have less energy and it becomes harder to concentrate. As an introvert I need quiet time to recharge. An hour in between meetings to do some work and listen to some music does wonders, but quite often I’ll be lucky to have 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the afternoon without meetings. Just enough to take a bathroom break and get a tea.

Two months ago, I started to try and change this pattern by critically reviewing my calendar and the meetings in it. When I see that a day is filling up I block time to ensure there will at least be some time to recharge a bit during the day. Below are 5 tips that I have found to work so far and that have greatly improved my productivity and the quality of my work days. Both from my perspective and judged by the output I’m able to generate. If you feel like your calendar is running your life, you might find some of them useful.

1. Evaluate all recurring meetings that you have
Do you have an active role in these meetings, or are you there to listen in? If it’s the latter, what value does listening in add? Does it help you to do your job better, or are you there to make someone else feel good about the fact that you are in the meeting? Or are you only there, because the meeting was in your calendar?If the meeting doesn’t add value to your life or work, remove it from your calendar. Don’t just remove the next instance, but remove the series. If there is an instance of the meeting where it would be valuable for you to be there someone can send you the invite for that particular instance of the meeting. And if they don’t you’ll have some more time to do work.

2. Every meeting needs an agenda
When someone plans a meeting without a clear agenda ask them to create an agenda before you accept the meeting. Based on the agenda you can determine whether that meeting will indeed be your highest priority at that particular time. Consider if the topic of the meeting can maybe be handled over email instead of by dragging people into a meeting. If the timing is inconvenient don’t feel bad about proposing a different time for the meeting. Whenever you feel the meeting is too long or too short, propose to change the amount of time scheduled for the meeting. If people that you feel are critical to the meeting are not invited, make sure they get the invite. In case you are not the right person to discuss the topic with point the organizer to the right person or people and decline the meeting. Don’t spend 30 minutes discussing who should be discussing the topic at hand. You have better things to do, even if it’s just taking a bio break.

3. Align on the purpose of the meeting
Make sure that everyone knows what the purpose of the meeting is and that there is an agreement on what the desired result of the meeting is. That way you know for sure that the people in the meeting are all working towards the same goal. If someone disagrees with the purpose, or the desired result, they can indicate this upfront, so that it can be tackled before or at the beginning of the meeting. To avoid what Tim Minchin describes as “being like two tennis players trying to win a match by hitting beautifully executed shots from either end of separate tennis courts” (http://www.timminchin.com/2013/09/25/occasional-address/).

4. Preparation is key
Send out homework before the meeting, or if it’s not your meeting ask the organizer how the participants can prepare for the meeting. By making sure everyone in the meeting is prepared it can be a lot shorter and the outcome will most likely be more valuable. If it’s not possible to explain how people can prepare for the meeting rethink the purpose of the meeting and whether a meeting is the right format to tackle the issue or task. Maybe more thinking needs to be done before it makes sense to have a meeting? Are there still prerequisites unclear that mean that it’s too early to call for a meeting? Then postpone the meeting.

5. Meeting or email?
If you are running a completely virtual meeting, make sure you only invite the people who really need to be there. Then during the meeting make sure everyone can play an active role. If you are a participant in a virtual meeting decide whether you will join the meeting, or work on your email. By combining the meeting and your email you won’t be paying attention to the conversation in the meeting, you’ll get tired from hearing it anyway and you will be less efficient answering email. Avoid the old “could you repeat the question, you were breaking up” excuses. Isn’t it amazing, how there’s always static on the line just when that one question is being asked?

Be hard on yourself and others before organizing or accepting a meeting. Quite often we are in meetings that could have been a lot shorter, or that could have been handled through a simple email exchange. Of course, having face to face time with people is valuable, but make sure that it’s a useful way of everybody’s time. Over the last years we have gone a bit “meeting crazy”. Having all these meetings is not only tiring and inefficient, it quite often also means that real work that has real deadlines cannot be done during the day. This work then moves to the evening, which should be your time to relax and do other things instead of work. By not having downtime we become tired, less efficient and less productive and eventually unhappy. Claim back some of your time and help others to do the same. It will be worth the effort!

Dilbert-4-hour-meeting