Crumby Cake

Also from the "don't assume everyone is using the same definitions" department:

When I was about 13, my mom mentioned a couple strange cakes she used to make. One she called mayonnaise cake. Turns out you use cold coffee, cocoa, and then mayonnaise as the eggs and oil, to make a marvelously moist dark chocolate cake. Amazing.

But her mention of tomato soup cake freaked us all out. Yes, Campbell's Tomato Soup. In the cake.

She said it was the best spice bake possible, and made one, just to prove it.

After dinner my dad got a big slice. When he was done with it, he did something unthinkable to his children: he got seconds. Never in my life did I see my father take a second helping of dessert. As a child of the depression, he knew it was just wasteful. Yet, there it was. Seconds. Of tomato soup cake.

He said "I sure like this cake. I've been waiting 15 years for you to make it again."

My Mom replied "I didn't make it because you didn't like it."

"I never said that."

"You called it 'crummy.'"

"It is. Look at how it falls apart."

"You mean 'crumbly.'"

"Okay, crumbly."

Next time you think you understand the confusing or unkind thing someone seems to have said, feel free to ask clarifying questions. Sure, maybe they really did hate the cake.

Maybe you just need to let it cool completely before serving.

Straight Up

My poor little girl sometimes has a sore throat from allergies. We're working on a long-term solution, but for immediate relief we put just a bit of tea tree oil on her neck.

Her mom had been doing it so when I did it for the first time I asked, "Do you just put it on straight?"

Before her mom could answer the little one said "No, she makes it into a zigzag."

Don't assume everyone in the room is using the same defintions.

The Passive Lie

You and I don't lie, if you define 'lying' as 'intentionally telling an untruth.' How does it feel, though, when you've said something would happen, and then, it doesn't?

It's just something that happens, right? Time and the unforeseen and all that.

That's hard for me. When I tell a client or a friend 'this or that will happen by such-and-such a time' and then it doesn't, to me, it feels like I lied. Worse, if the failure to deliver is precipitated by someone else's actions, I can find myself unconsciously thinking that they made me lie.

Folks who are fairly self-aware can ponder this, realise it's nonsense, and hope to cope.

What about folks who aren't? What about your client whose project wasn't delivered on time, or the chap in the other department whose reports weren't in hand before his big meeting?

You may be well aware that the circumstances were, truly, beyond your control. Are you positive that's their perception as well? No, what really happened doesn't matter. There is no reality; there is only perception.

When things are beyond your control, that, in and of itself, doesn't change the perceptions others have. If their perception of you used to be 'delivers, and on time' and now it's 'failed to deliver' then you can either choose to flog them with excuses (or reasons) or you can earn back the better perception by owning the failure and jumping through hoops of flaming chainsaws if necessary to right whatever went wrong.

You Can't Get There From Here

I recently created some WordPress short codes for Know Your Music, my music blog. Short codes allow you to type a sort of fake code, which WordPress will convert to the big long ugly code on the fly, automatically. It's like shorthand for computers.

The process itself is fairly simple PHP coding which, as a web developer for 15 years, wasn't too tough. But it was unnecessarily complicated by a simple omission in every single one of the clear and detailed instruction sets I found.

They all spelled out the code; what each bit meant, what options are available, potential pitfalls.

But not one said where to put this code you're creating.

I eventually sorted out that you put it in the functions code for the them you're using. Sure, in retrospect, that might seem obvious, but unless you work with WordPress a lot, trust me, it's not obvious.

It's complicated enough to say (or hear) the right words, the instructions, the beliefs or teachings or exhortations, and grasp what's meant. Don't make it hard on your readers or listeners by starting at step 2 or 3 or 1.414 or anywhere but step 1.

First, establish a common ground. Get on the same page. Discuss what my friend and one-time supervisor Michele Martin called a 'level set'—get all the information on the table, all the knowns and unknowns, and which are which to each person in the conversation.

Read 'Crucial Conversations' for dozens of tools to help make this second nature.

Carrie Kish on Yes and No

Saying 'Yes' is easy. Carrie talks about what happens when we mix up 'Yes' and 'No' between what we say and what we do. It's a good read.

She includes four exercises:

  1. Say No when you mean No at least 3 times a day all week and stick to it.
  2. Pause before you say Yes and make sure you mean it.
  3. Notice when you say No, but do Yes and get curious about what is going on.
  4. Notice when you say Yes, but do No and get curious about what is going on.

Easy to do. Hard to internalise.

The Clean Give

Today's guest post is a conversation about accepting compliments which I had with Karen Lynn Ragsdale and a handful of others, wherein she presented what was, to me, a challenging idea about giving.

Karen Lynn knows a lot about how intent affects trust.

So here's the thing about have to give 'em up. Ya know? like totally let loose of 'em so they can become a gift.

Just cause some seeds don't sprout, doesn't mean I didn't plant. A lot of compliments sprout long after the moment of exchange, when we aren't around. Oh sure they may say, "Oh, it was nothing" But later they mention the compliment in a conversation or note it in a journal or incubate it in their thoughts where it grows in value. (they opened my gift later in private)

Point is: I don't always get to witness the 'return on influence' or reap benefit for myself. and if I gave it away clean then there's no problem with whatever response there is.

Giving gifts to get gifts can be tricky business. It often fertilizes disappointment which can fuel our lizard brain into commentary about how its better to keep our head down, don't give or give more strategically.

Yes, compliments are best experienced as an equatable exchange of value. But I'm not sure gifts or giving work like that. At least not with a clean give.

Karen, that's a really challenging concept, truly 'giving up' the gift. It's almost certainly because I struggle with that level of unselfish generosity. My anti-compass kicked in hard when I read your comment; it screamed "no no no wrong wrong wrong" and then when I started breathing again I thought perhaps I should ask myself why I had such an immediate visceral reaction to something so unselfish.

So, I'm asking myself, and I'm not sure, yet, what the answer is. I just know that reading your comment made me respect and like you more than I already did; the attitude seems, I don't know, honorable. Something like that.

I aspire to understand; perhaps, even to emulate.

A clean give. What a packed phrase. Wow.

Wow indeed Joel. I felt your honesty as an actual warmth spot in the heart area of my body, seriously. I thought what in the heck is that? Then I breathed, humbly accepting that this is true about me and about giving so...Thank you. I'm so grateful to share this little truth with you.

My mama first shared it with me years ago when I was fussin' over how my sister was in a take take take relationship with me and complaining about feeling taken advantage of and giving more than I got back. He her strong southern mama tone she said "Karen, I don't think you're giving anything 'cause giving just don't feel like that." I was shocked and appalled, immediately launching into a rant that listed all the giving I had been doing which she listened to for a minute then stopped with this suggestion "if you want to feel really good about giving, learn to give clean or say no. the next time your sister wants something or you want to give something to her or help her in some way, pause first. Go inside and ask yourself 'if nothing comes back to me am I still ok with giving this' if the answer is yes then give and if it is no then don't. You are responsible for the advantage people take because you attach a hidden clause on all your giving. That's not giving darlin' that's manipulation and its not working with your sister."

Truth is I didn't really get it that day. I walked away feeling kinda the way you explained above Joel (plus I had a vested interest in proving what a giver I was and what a taker my sister was, giving that up wouldn't be easy). But I trusted her and wanted to feel better so I indeed started doing exactly what she suggested.

I was amazed to find a web of 'hidden clauses' I attached to almost everything I did around giving and helping others. Following her prescription, this compelled me to start saying no which I had never really done before and no didn't feel good at all. But just as she suspected, my giving began to transform. I learned to Give Clean.

A clean give is harder to give and highly suspect in our world. I remember some talk in the beginning here in triiibes about the hidden agenda Seth must have in bringing us all together. What is he getting out of this deal – are we being used somehow for his benefit?

That same suspicion colors the exchange of compliments sometimes. But I found that the cleaner I give 'em the better I feel and the more authentic they fall into the experience with the other person. I still find myself attaching hidden clauses and secret agendas in my giving and when I do, I try to decide not to give ~ that is still the hard part.


Having the Last Word is for Trolls

Got sucked into a contretemps in an online community today. I try not to become indignant when folks are narrow-minded. Sometimes I let my emotions get the best of me, and end up feeding a troll.

So what do you do when someone in what was supposed to be a professional venue speaks in a completely unprofessional manner? Particularly, how do you avoid letting them have the last word?

You don't. Let 'em have it. (The last word, I mean.)

The times this is the hardest are when our integrity or capabilities have been maligned. We worry that if we don't stand up for ourselves, or rebut in some way, observers will think what was said is true.

Really? You know better. You know Bernard Baruch was right when he said "Those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind."

The people you care about (whether you know them yet or not) will see this buffoon for what they are. A single rude word doesn't make them evil, but the internet creates transparency and if they're a jerk, they won't be able to hide it for long.

Don't sweat it. And don't try to have the last word. They'll never let you have the last word (though they'll say "this argument is pointless; we're not getting anywhere" but it's that's just a cry for troll food.)

Remember: never argue with a fool. They'll drag you down to their foolish level where they can beat you with their expertise.

And How Soon Should You Reply?

Just took a little ride on a time machine.

Five minutes ago I received an email regarding Samuel Beckett's Lessness. This struck me as slightly unusual; I'm not aware of any special interest in Beckett. Sorry.

But there, below the email, was my email requesting access to some of the information.

I'd sent my request October 23rd. No, not last year, 2008.

It was, in all, a fairly trivial request, and a fairly trivial response, over mild interest in something mildly interesting.

Somewhere, the space/time continuum is offended at all this triviality occupying one year, six months, one week, and five days of the ether.

Simple queries should get a prompt response, or the response will be valueless.

The opposite, however, is not necessarily true.

How Long Should Your Blog Post Be?

Everyone asks. They're all worried that they're writing too much, or not enough. (Nobody seems to worry that they're writing exactly the right amount and that someone will be confused or annoyed.)

So what's the answer? How long should a blog post or book or chapter or any written work be?

Here's an analogy which might help: how long should you stay on the bus?

Well, when you get on the bus, are you there to ride the bus, or are you going somewhere specific?

Do you decide to stay on the bus for X number of stops, then get off? Does anyone ever ask "How long should I stay on the bus?" I hope not. You decide where you're going, get on the bus, and then when you get there, you get off.

That's how long you should stay on the bus.

Know what you have to say. Say it. Stop.

That's how long a blog post should be.

Brutally Honest

Really? Honesty can be brutal?

It is my experience that those who endorse brutal honesty are hoping we'll all become just as rude as they are, so they don't stand out so much. After all, why should they have to learn manners just to fit in with all of us, what, gently honest people?


Honesty is not brutal. Honesty might be direct, it might even be painful. But pain is about the perception of the recipient, not the intent of the speaker. Some truths do indeed cause pain, which is why some truths change lives.

Brutality might also change lives, but there's probably a bigger market for truth.