Monday, June 17, 2013

Get as many facts as you can upfront before making decisions

Last Thursday I volunteered to do race committee for the kiteboard racing series I participate in. This means getting on an inflatable motor boat and helping set the marks for the course, rescue kiteracers who get in trouble, and in general help run the race. Since Paco had no classes the following day I asked him if he wanted to join me. He said he would let me know in the early afternoon. When the afternoon came Paco said he wanted to come. I was very glad to have Paco join me, even though picking him up meant I had to change my plans for that afternoon. I also contacted the race committee to double check it was OK for Paco to come.

When it was time to leave Paco started asking me questions: how long would we be on the water, what exactly would we be doing. Upon hearing the details Paco changed his mind: he no longer wanted to come. I was very frustrated with him. I had changed my plans and spent time making sure he could come, all for nothing. But the issue wasn't that. We sometimes change our minds. That is not the problem. The issue is that Paco said he would come without really thinking about it. He should have asked his questions up-front, before saying he would come. To his defense, he wasn't aware I would have to change my plans or do any work for him to come, but then we are frequently unaware of the things people do for us - particularly relatives and friends who go out of their way for us but don't want to make a big deal about it.

This reminds me of situations in which I set up a meeting and discover 3 minutes into the meeting that nothing will come out of it, and that a bit of checking prior to the meeting would have shown that. For example, a job interview in which the candidate's salary needs are out of line with the job's compensation. Or, an investor meeting in which the geographic location of the company is incompatible with the investor. These examples might sound silly but I've been in more situations like these than I care to remember. I have gotten better though about asking as much information up front as possible to avoid them.

So remember, next time someone asks if you want to go somewhere or do something, get the facts up-front and before anyone has had to put much effort on your behalf.

PS: Paco changed his mind again and came. I think he had a good time...

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Look into my eyes

I frequently tell the boys (some more than others) to look at me when we are talking. So I was delighted to read recently about research regarding the importance of looking at people in the eyes. Not doing so sends negative messages, which, depending on the context, can imply you are untrustworthy, unknowledgeable, nervous or worst. Ideal time to hold people's gaze is 8 to 10 seconds in a one-to-one setting and 3 to 5 in a group setting. Be careful about looking at people in the eyes for too long: anything beyond 10 seconds can come across as creepy or agressive.

The boys mentioned looking at people in the eyes is difficult in some contexts such as cars. I agreed, particularly for the driver. Yet a passenger looking out the window or down at a book is sending a negative signal - as opposed to one looking in the direction of the speaker...

Somewhat related topic: I hate meetings that combine people in a room with people on a speakerphone. Those in the room end up looking at the speakerphone, which creates a poor meeting dynamic. If some people can't make it in person I prefer for everyone to be on the phone. That way nobody needs to stare at a speakerphone!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Silver Fleet, Gold Fleet

This week I've been competing the Kiteboard Racing North American Championship. After two days of competition they split the fleet into Gold (top) and Silver (bottom). There are 75 competitors including most of the top racers in the World. I was expecting to be near the top of the Silver fleet, and indeed after the first day I was on 42nd place. After the 2nd day I moved up the 39th place and thought I had nailed the very top spot on the Silver fleet. I was ecstatic and spoke with the boys about how sometimes it is good not to win. Had I done just a little better I would have ended up at the bottom of the Gold fleet, with the prospect of trailing the Gold fleet for the following two days (as opposed to leading the Silver one).

Ale reminded us of the great Iranian movie Children of Heaven in which a boy slows down to try to come second in a race because the 2nd place price was a pair of shoes he desperately needed. Paco thought of Hunger Games and the benefit of not attracting too much attention early in the tournament. We also spoke about how underperforming early in a competition can have psychological benefits if your opponent is later taken aback by your improved performance and a change of momentum in your benefit.

The boys were familiar with the term sandbagging, which refers to intentionally underperforming. I think sandbagging is acceptable in some situations but inappropriate in others. A good topic for another day... In the case of the kiteracing championship, I wasn't sandbagging. I sailed my best and ended up 39th... Or so I thought. A few hours after our conversation the competitor in 38th place got a scoring penalty which moved me to 38th and the very bottom of the Gold Fleet!!! I have to confess though that it feels good to be in the Gold fleet - even if I am trailing them around the course :-). And, who knows, maybe I'll have a lucky break today and beat a few people...