Stories

The Harvest is Plentiful

Putting the Person Back into Personal Magnetism

Is making eye contact with your phone the new way to gaze into someone’s eyes? Has the smartphone become the newest staple utensil nestled next to knife and fork?

What is happening to interpersonal communication? To the definition of words like personal magnetism, charisma, and leadership?

My wife and I recently went to lunch at a popular Indian restaurant during the peak hour. Tables were crammed tightly together with busy professionals and the food was hot, fresh and plentiful. Everything was great, except this shocking trend. Of the three couples seated across from us, two had a member with a phone in one hand and a fork in the other! Their partners didn’t seem upset, as the dual-utensil wielding eaters barely looked up from their scrolling devices to shove fork into kisser.

I was stunned. Not only at the behavior, but by the lack of reaction from their dining partners.

Had this become the acceptable norm?

We’ve seen leaders, CEOS, come into important client meetings a half hour late, with no apologies or explanations, sitting down with a big thunk and immediately tucking their chin to their chest scanning their mobile inbox. The only time they’d raise their jawline was to offer an out-of-context “look how important I am” question, only to dismiss the answer and fade back into their devices.

To say this has negative impacts (to team and client) would be understating the obvious. So what do we do about it?

The world is now polarity. Digital connects and disconnects us. We live in a new world yet many yearn for the old. The rise of AI will kill us or redefine “us.”

Wherever you fall along this spectrum, what is clear is that the line connecting digital reality and actual reality has become a circle. That pole is gone. It’s just all part of reality, now. People face real penalties and benefits from Facebook posts. They can get you a job, a mate, or get you fired or arrested. We now take it for granted that we can order a car to pick us up from our phone. We can get a stranger whose picture we like to show up at our door without actually having to speak with them. Whether they deliver pizza or a future marriage proposal all depends on what you’re after.

It made me wonder: In a day and age where brief messages and emoji symbols tapped into a smartphone are considered actual conversations and encounters, how important is it to be talented in traditional interpersonal skills like making proper eye contact and giving a firm, but not too firm, handshake?

Was Dale Carnegie wrong about how to win friends and influence people? That instead of being a good listener and making the other person feel good all you had to do was have a nice picture and swipe right? Or have a great YouTube channel? Or 10,000 followers on your favorite social media?

Are we seeing a trend away from micro-charisma towards macro-charisma? Meaning does it matter more now to be influential on social media than in a corner booth at your favorite lunch spot?

Grains of Salt, Alex Chung

Grain of Salt, or How to Take Your Criticism

Criticism is a grain of salt. So take it with it. Much like our delicious sodium friend, it can enhance our experience or it can ruin it.

If you stand up, stand out, and stand for something, criticism is a wonderful gauge to measure how you are doing. It can actually be (if not feel like) a great compliment. But let’s talk a bit about how to deal with criticism. Here is my five-step process for shipping and handling criticism:

  1. Consider the source. An old friend of mine, a newspaper publisher in California, puts it perfectly: “If the a**holes are mad at you, you’re doing something right.” So the first step in the S&H of criticism is answering the question – who’s the critic? In this personally magnetic world, you’re going to attract and repel people the higher up you go, so remember it’s just as important to note and track who’s fighting you as who’s fighting for you. Are the people against you the right people you envisioned? Good, you’re on the right track. Remember that.
  2. Constructive or destructive. Now that we’ve defined the critic, it’s time to define the critique. Is there something educational, instructive, in their words? Can you learn something from it? Rather than getting angry, put on your child’s heart and spirit into it, and say “Well, that’s curious, I wonder…” If the critic is someone you number as a friend, then chances are you, emperor, are wearing no clothes. Critiques can build you up stronger than ever or level you flat, either way, both can serve you if you know the type of criticism you are handling.
  3. Critics are their job and they’re just doing it. Most of the time, you’ll find critics are just doing what they have to do. Whether it’s the office gossip or the guy who does the thumbs up / thumbs down thing at movies. It’s just part of their identity, and like it or not, we do use their opinions all the time. An example, when’s the last time you made a purchase on Amazon? And did their star rating have any influence on your purchase? Of course it did, why? It’s all just reviews from people (who may or may not be unbiased). But we rely on their opinions and evaluations to help shape our purchases. In the end, when it comes to you and not the newest Kindle, I hope you understand while critics always have a place in the world, they don’t get to star rate you (unless we’re talking five stars, baby).
  4. Everyone’s a critic. You ever heard that? It’s true. Writing a post about criticism is me criticizing critics. I’m aware of this. So should you. We all judge people. Guy today honked at me while I was trying to pull a U-Turn because I stopped short. I had to stop short because the oncoming cars who wanted to turn in front of me were blocking my view of oncoming traffic. He had an incomplete picture of my mission and thus chose to judge my actions. Did I get mad? Maybe. But I understood. It was a nice old guy who maybe needed to get to his grandkids or something. I am not always so understanding, but you understand the old saying: Opinions are like the aforementioned orifice. Everyone’s got one.* And sometimes (all the time) they don’t have the entire picture. Decide whether or not it’s worth the time to paint by numbers and fill it in.
  5. Consider the source, part deux. Complete and close the loop. If their opinion is worth something (a reputable source, a reputable periodical, a reputable critique), realize that there is some baseline level of your importance in that person’s life that makes you cause for their concern. The bigger the scale, the larger the venue, the more significance is implied. Who gets critiqued at the largest scale? Presidents and game changers. Sure, your aunt and uncle just got on Facebook and have their opinions on how you parent. So what? People talk for two reasons: Out of love or out of a cry for help. Keep that in mind the next time a dear friend gets mad at you. Treat them as if they’re reaching out for help and do what the critics won’t. Go and help them directly.

Nobody likes criticism. But you can learn to love where it’s coming from. Because we often find the hardest person on us is us. So go easy on all. Both the critic and the critiqued. If you’re like me, you’ve imagined an entire army of opposition and the truth is 99% is your own imagination. And with a simple flip of your mental switch, the battle is already won. You can handle the 1%, of this I’m positive, it’s getting to the point of certainty that the 99% of criticism you fear simply exists in your noodled cabeza. The more and more you build the reputation and character of being able to withstand and grow from criticism, that’s the secret to much of all of this world. Move forward, hit a wall, fall, people laugh, get up, keep going. Repeat.

* Apologies if you don’t have one.

Author(ity)

Writing was never hard for me until I tried to make it something I had to do, rather than something I wanted to do.

This is a critical insight into my life.

During my school days, I’d push off assigned reading and read tons of other books. But if one of those books ended up on our syllabus, it quickly lost its allure.

Had to, versus want to, was the only difference.

Now that I have to write, it’s harder for me, much, much harder. It’s because I still hate being told what to do, even when it’s me doing the telling.

I still hate being told what to do, even when it’s me doing the telling.

I’m certain this is a character flaw. This absolute resistance to some authority. I could be fine for years twirling in place like that totem in Inception so long as you left me alone, but the instant you asked for something disrespectfully, even if it wasn’t too much to ask for, I’d start to wobble. Flinch.

It would be over.

Disrespect is a death sentence for me. Even apparent disrespect.

So I have learned to ask myself nicely.

You know, writing is a wonderful thing to do. Some would say you’re pretty good at it, too. Why not give that blinking cursor a piece of your mind? Maybe your heart and soul, too, if you think it worthwhile.

But who am I fooling?

I write best angry. I write best fired up.

Perhaps it’s why I became a lawyer, even though I don’t like arguing with people, I do like engaging with bullies. Because of this, sometimes, oftentimes, I wrestle with myself.

Who wins?

Nobody.

Combating authority is a flavor developed from the recipe of youth. These traits cling to me because I have a bit of boy still, even as I tread toward the “middle aged.” There is much Peter to this cast iron pan.

I’m not green with envy or environment, but I battle internally with strangers who toss cigarettes out their window like the world is their ashtray.

I am confounded at all the food I (we) waste. And hurt when I hear many of us go to bed hungry.

These outrages, these authorities, can go one of two ways. Anger for anger’s sake (never a good idea), or anger for action’s sake (sometimes a good idea).

Anger for anger’s sake is road raging for sixty seconds, heading on home and watching The Voice, forgetting all about it. This is common. Anger for action’s sake could be bad (confronting the cigarette chucker) or good (lobbying with legislators for stronger awareness of what it can do).

They say you should write about what breaks your heart. And I always thought that was such a negative way to look at things. Tragically, it seems the art in many an artist comes from pain. From anger. From hurt.

I wanted to write a book (and did) that came from somewhere else. And I think I did. I’m not sure it’s the greatest book I could write, but it was the one I wanted to write. One I needed to. But I was never angry writing it. I was never defiant because someone told me I needed to. What it lacks in edge it makes up for in nostalgia. It’s a time and place I can revisit whenever I need to remember how I felt then, how I had to write. And keep writing.

Not because I had to because someone told me to. But because it was something that had to be said. By me. Right then and there.

And I think that’s the beauty of finding your art. It’s not that you’re told to, or want to, it’s that you are compelled to. Not from someone, or something. But from somewhere deep inside that warm place inside your rib cage. Whereas some come out of there and angrily (or worse yet, carelessly) toss Marlboros going 80 on the 485, others pull out a novel or a painting or some other new found glory.

Not because you wanted to, or even had to, but because you had to. That sort of inevitability, a tumbling towards center, is the only way to rebel.