Category Archives: Interpersonal

So, You Wrote a Document

A great document won’t breathe life into an idea, but salesmanship will.

So, you wrote a document. That’s a great start, but it’s only a start. Whatever is in there – an argument, an idea, a plan, a process – may be fantastic, but it’s not going to succeed because of the document. The document was mainly for you – a way to organize your thoughts. Its mere existence will lend some credibility to whatever it is that you’re pushing, but few people are going to really read it, and next to nobody will read it more than once.

Now that the document is done, it’s time to start working on your elevator pitch. For better or worse, the 60-second version of your position will have much more impact than the 60-page version. It’s time to start selling.

The Many Sides of You

Somebody probably hates you right now, no matter how nice you think you are.

I was recently reviewing evaluations I received for an online course I taught. Two strikingly different evaluations happened to be consecutive in the list. Here’s the first:

A bad teaching evaluation, obviously intended for my evil twin




Yowza! I must be awful. However, apparently not in everybody’s mind, because here’s the second:



A good teaching evaluation - I'm glad mom took the class

As it turns out, across the 8 evaluations I received, my average grade was an 8, and my median grade was a 9. So, most folks thought I was half-decent, but that one camper was definitely not happy with me.

Here’s my speculation – I pissed that person off somehow. If I had just been not-so-good, I wouldn’t have received the zeros or the scathing commentary. I would have instead gotten poor-ish grades and inspired maybe a sentence about how I’m not worth the student’s hard-earned tuition dollars. A zero, however, is a revenge grade – a totally different ballpark.

Here’s the scary thing – I have no idea why anybody in that class would have given me that grade. I don’t remember any significant conflicts with anybody. As I recall, I was fairly easygoing, and nobody did particularly poorly. Yet, at some point, something I said or did drove this person into a fury, and they vented using the only weapon at their disposal. While the specific mark was engulfed by the numbers surrounding it, its lesson is indelible: sooner or later, we are bound to make somebody around us fuming mad for reasons that are totally mysterious to us. It follows that the people at whom we fume may not always know why we are angry. Your arch-nemesis may think of you as that grumpy person who doesn’t ever say hello.

We experience each other as facets, particularly when we have only limited interactions. It’s hard, maybe pointless, for anybody to fret over all of their facets. Better to aim for a high average and get comfortable with the idea of an occasional zero.

Relearning My Lesson

Already knowing something is a terrible reason for not learning it again.

Last year, I decided that I didn’t like a certain person, based on fleeting observations, cursory interactions, the testimony of others, and a raft of tenuous inferences.

Yesterday, circumstance put me in a position to actually talk with him for the first time. It turns out he’s a pretty good guy – intelligent, interesting, engaged, funny, and self-deprecating without telegraphing a sense of false humility. I was flat wrong about him.

I was surpised by my discovery, but of course, I shouldn’t have been. It’s happened to me before – making judgments based on shaky evidence, and coming to a false conclusion about somebody, whom I then write off, until I am proven dramatically wrong. Based on past situations of a similar nature, I should have known better about being so judgmental – actually, I did know better – but I repeated the mistake anyway.

Knowing something (e.g., don’t judge a book by its cover) and even really believing in it (having some emotional affinity for the knowledge) is quite different from mastering it. Mastering it, to the point where you are consistently faithful to it, takes a good bit of practice. The mere fact that you assent to a given proposition doesn’t make it second nature to you. It only becomes second nature when you purposefully keep it near the top of your consciousness, where you can recollect it readily and then live accordingly.

That’s why trite sayings, truisms, and other fundamentals that we come to take for granted are really very important to hear. For most ideas, repetition and reinforcement are as important as the original learning. While I sometimes chafe at the expression of basic truths / principles, and quietly dimiss those who offer them as unsophisticated, it turns out that I often need a refresher on such truths.  When I was 17, I was fairly good at calculus, but virtually all of that discipline is lost to me today, chiefly for lack of practice with it. I’d hate for that to happen with many other pieces of knowledge that are in principle already known to me.

Sooner or later, I’ll let my recent lesson about snap judgments drift out of memory, and not far after I’ll be doomed to repeat it. Hopefully, after I re-learn it enough times, I’ll get to the point where I finally know it – by heart, so to speak.

Absurd Opinions

An absurd opinion is probably a misunderstood opinion.

If somebody whom you’ve known to be generally reasonable in the past suddenly takes up with some damn fool notion that nobody in their right mind would believe, then . . .

. . . you’ve misunderstood something about their position . Either you are incorrect about their stance, or they believe different facts than you do, and hence are drawing their conclusions from a different place than you are drawing your own. A simple misunderstanding of this type will be the case 999+ times out of a 1000. The fix is to go have a quick conversation with the person in question. That conversation is a pattern (a template solution for a common problem), and it will educate one or both of you very quickly. Wailing about the stupidity of the other person’s presumed opinion is an anti-pattern that wastes time and creates bad will.

Absurd opinions = misunderstandings to be surfaced and resolved. Bank on it. Act on it.