Words will never hurt me

words will never hurt me Growing up, just about every child experiences name-calling. I certainly did. Sometimes I’d tell my mum, and she’d repeat the childhood rhyme: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

Oh, if only that was true!

In his memoir, English actor and writer, Stephen Fry, expresses an extreme version of what many have experienced:

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will always hurt me. Bones mend and become actually stronger in the very place they were broken and where they have knitted up; mental wounds can grind and ooze for decades and be re-opened by the quietest whisper.”
—Stephen Fry, Moab Is My Washpot

When the words of others hurt us, it’s because we take them personally.

Taking things personally

Twenty years ago I read Don Miguel Ruiz’s classic book “The Four Agreements“. The Four Agreements are:

  1. Be impeccable with your word.
  2. Don’t take anything personally.
  3. Don’t make assumptions.
  4. Always do your best.

I like these agreements, and have found them to be useful in my life.

I have always worked to be impeccable with my word and do my best. And I try mightily not to make assumptions.

An aside. In 2002 I attended the Problem Solving Leadership Workshop led by Jerry Weinberg and Naomi Karten. Jerry asked what we had learned from an assignment. I mentioned the Third agreement: Don’t make assumptions. Quick as a flash, Jerry replied, “I’d prefer Assume you make assumptions“. I love this reformulation.

But, I still have trouble with the second of The Four Agreements: Don’t take anything personally.

—The guy who swears at me when we bump into each other in a crowd.

—Angry words said by a loved one in the heat of an argument.

—A dismissive reply to something I’ve posted on Twitter.

In the moment, I take these words personally.

And, like a whack with a stick, they hurt.

An angry guy and me

So Don Miguel Ruiz says, “Don’t take anything personally“.

Yeah, right. In the moment, I think: “easy to say, hard to do, Ruiz“.

Except when — sometimes — it’s possible to do.

I was once running a small seated-group discussion, and a man got furious with me about something I said.

He was so angry that he stood up and moved towards me with his fists raised. He clearly felt like slugging me, and looked like he was about to. If someone had told me in advance this was going to happen, I would have felt scared.

Yet, somehow, I knew that his fury was about him, not about me. I didn’t take his anger personally.

I was able to talk calmly with him, and help him see what he was really angry about. Not me. Rather, his feelings of helplessness in the face of a very upsetting situation.

The whole experience was liberating for me. It was, I think, the first time in my life I’d been able to face another person’s intense anger and not be scared by it.

Words and feelings

A core aspect of being human is that words we hear (or read) often evoke feelings in us. We might feel happy, sad, angry, excited, scared, disgusted, etc. These are common and normal responses.

“Taking something personally” generally means you feel hurt by something someone has said about you or a situation that involves you.

Unlike many other feelings, feeling hurt by someone’s words involves you granting, either consciously or unconsciously, the speaker some kind of authority over you. You are accepting, to some extent, the speaker’s reality as your own.

What Don Miguel Ruiz says is that when you really know that another’s reality is not necessarily your reality, you can be immune to the hurt you might otherwise feel.

Words will sometimes hurt me

I don’t know Don Miguel Ruiz. I wonder if he, or anyone, are truly able to live in such a way that words never hurt. Whether that’s the case or not, I strive to listen to what people say to me without taking it personally. When I don’t succeed at this, drama of one kind or another often ensues! As someone who tries to avoid unnecessary turmoil in my life, I will continue to try to not take anything personally.

Image attribution: Conflict between little siblings for a toy while sitting on stairs at home by Jacob Lund Photography from NounProject.com

Share information; don’t hoard it

share information don't hoard

Why would you want to share information, not hoard it? In today’s cutthroat business environment, isn’t exclusive knowledge synonymous with power — and the ability to make money?

Well, if you’re a stock trader or house flipper, maybe. But I’m a consultant who has long subscribed to Jerry Weinberg’s Seventh Law of Marketing: “Give away your best ideas” and Credit Rule: “You’ll never accomplish anything if you care who gets the credit”, from his invaluable book The Secrets of Consulting. (More of Jerry’s pearls of wisdom can be found here.)

Skeptical? Well, here’s an alternative historical perspective from a completely different source, a 1926 article about the New York Club of Printing House Craftsmen, uncovered by Jeff Jarvis and described as “…a lovely evocation on the value of sharing in our field, which we used to call printing.

“Stop. Stop the presses.”

I’ll let quotes from Jeff’s blog post tell the tale:

“‘The times are not so far distant when every foreman or executive jealously guarded his technical ‘secrets’, in the mistaken idea that by doing so he would make himself indispensable to his employer,’ Fuhrmann writes…

‘And the men [sic*] who had the same or similar problems to meet in the actual running of their employers’ businesses found that an exchange of views and ideas benefitted them without hurting their employers.'”

“And so, we attempt the same today in our rapidly changing field with meetings and communities of practice and training of journalists and managers.”

“Along this journey — which I believe will be long, generations or even centuries long — we need to provide the means to bring together these brave new leaders not just to teach them what we know (so they may challenge it) but also to enable them to teach each other, to share.”
—Jeff Jarvis, Stop. Stop the presses.

This is a touching, century-old example of how communities of practice benefit from sharing information.

Share information; don’t hoard it

During my decades as a consultant I’ve followed Jerry’s advice about giving away your ideas. (As I’ve been doing in this blog for ten years now.) As he explains:

“I do everything possible to encourage my clients to take over the work I’ve been doing. They usually give me direct credit, but even if they don’t, they love me for my generosity. This increases the chance they’ll give me future business, or recommend me to others.”
—Gerald M. Weinberg, Chapter 11, The Secrets of Consulting

Finally, as a meeting designer I’m convinced that using meeting formats that facilitate and support sharing amongst peers of relevant information is one of the most powerful ways to improve the effectiveness of meetings.

Share information; don’t hoard it. Whether you’re a community of practice, a consultant, or a meeting designer, this simple aphorism applies!

Image attribution: Flickr user ben_grey

Why experiential learning is superior to every other kind

experiential learning Why is experiential learning superior to every other kind? In a word: feedback. Jerry Weinberg explains simply and concisely.

“Why is reading or writing something different from doing something?

First consider reading. Reading is (usually) a solitary activity, with no feedback. Without feedback, there’s no check on what you believe you’re learning.

Now, writing. Unless you put your writing in the hands of someone (or perhaps some computer analysis app), there’s also no feedback, so there’s no check on whether you wrote sense or nonsense.

When you do something, you interact with the real world, and the world responds in some way. With the world’s feedback, you have the possibility of learning, confirming, or disconfirming something. That’s why we strongly favor experiential learning over, say, lecturing or passive reading or writing.”
—Jerry Weinberg, Why is reading or writing something different from doing something?

Photo attribution: Flickr user mikebaird

Reasons to leave a job

reasons to leave a job My mentor Jerry Weinberg, consultant extraordinaire, wrote an excellent list of reasons to leave a job.

In my career, I have left jobs when:

  • The job I was hired to do was finished.
  • The job I was hired to do could not be finished.
  • The job I was hired to do would be finished just fine without me.
  • I was not able to do the job I was hired to do.
  • The job I was hired to do wasn’t worth doing.
  • I was no longer learning new things (that’s my most frequent reason for leaving).
  • They told me that my pay was going to be “temporarily” delayed.
  • They asked me to do something illegal or unethical.

—Jerry Weinberg, What is the right reason to leave a job?

I’d like to add one more reason for leaving a job:

The pain of the job isn’t worth the gain.

Though this is related to Jerry’s 5th reason, I think it’s worth being explicit about the effect of a job on your mental, physical, or spiritual being. Many years ago I took on a client where every interaction was unpleasant. The owner argued with me about my recommendations, groused about my bills, and repeatedly implemented something different from what I had proposed and complained about the results. It took me a while, but one day I sat down and wrote him a letter that said I was unable to work for him anymore. It was the right decision, it felt good, and since then I’ve been better able to disengage in a timely fashion from work that isn’t working for me.

Sometimes you have no choice but to continue with a job you’d leave if circumstances were different. Sometimes you run up against one of the above reasons to leave a job, and you have no choice. But when you have a choice, don’t overlook your own needs because of a commendable but perhaps now misguided loyalty to the commitment you made when you began.

How to get better at doing anything

get better at doing anything How can we get better at doing anything?

A lost tourist asks a native New Yorker “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” to which the local replies “Practice, practice, practice!”

Good advice. But if we want to get better at doing something, what should we practice?

The obvious answer is that we should practice improving what we are doing well. So we get even better at it.

My mentor Jerry Weinberg has a different suggestion.

“What are the basic skills required to be a good programmer?”

When this question came up on Quora.com, lots of good and useful answers were given, but they all seemed to be external answers. For me, with more than 60 years of programming experience, the one thing that made me a better programmer than most was my ability and willingness to examine myself critically and do something about my shortcomings. And, after 60 years, I’m still doing that.”
—Jerry Weinberg, What are the basic skills required to be a good programmer?

Being continually willing and able to notice our shortcomings and concentrate on working on them may be the most effective strategy we can use to get better at doing anything.

Image by Jonathunder (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Make better decisions with The Rule Of Three

According to a widely ballyhooed recent study, event planning is the 6th most stressful job. I have no idea if that’s true, but, looking back on the two-day event I ran last week, I estimate that I had to solve well over a hundred on-the-spot problems that cropped up during the twenty-four hours I was on duty.

If you’re looking for a solution to a problem, there’s a natural temptation to pick the first solution you come up with.

In my experience, this is usually a mistake. An understandable mistake, for sure, but still a mistake. Most of the time, the first solution I come up with is not the best choice, so it’s worth taking a little more time to think before springing into action.

You can reduce the possibility of a poor decision caused by a hasty response by employing The Rule Of Three.

The Rule Of Three

Before deciding on a course of action, come up with three alternatives.

Here are three ways of thinking about The Rule Of Three.

1) Family therapist Virginia Satir encouraged people to have at least three choices. She said:

…to have one choice is no choice;
to have two choices is a dilemma;
and to have three choices offers new possibilities.
The Satir Model, Virginia Satir et al

2) Jerry Weinberg (who came up with this rule’s name) puts it another way that should get your attention:

If you can’t think of three things that might go wrong with your plans, then there’s something wrong with your thinking.

3) One more formulation: If you don’t have three options for a solution to a problem, you don’t understand it well enough yet, and you might need to explore it more.

Applying The Rule Of Three

It can be hard to apply The Rule Of Three, especially in stressful situations. Sometimes I have a hard time resisting acting on the first idea that pops into my head.

Here are two ways that help me apply The Rule of Three:

1) Get help to come up with more options. When I’m under pressure, asking trusted colleagues to help brainstorm alternatives is a great way for me to widen my problem-solving horizons and avoid missing a great solution. Two (or more) heads are better than one.

2) As with making most changes in your life, practice helps. Commit to apply The Rule Of Three to problems you encounter for three days. Then evaluate the results. How and under what circumstances did The Rule Of Three work for you? Decide whether you want to continue the commitment to maintaining this new approach to problem solving.

Uh oh, only two options here. I’m looking for at least one more. Suggestions?

Photo attribution: Flickr user migueleveryday

19 secrets of consulting that changed my life

fortune teller 1233035451_8214d41282_o You may not think of yourself as a consultant, but you probably are. Peter Block, in his classic book Flawless Consulting, defines a consultant as someone who has influence but not the authority to make changes. While some, like myself, are full-time independent consultants, a much larger number of people are internal consultants: people who are employed by an organization that, at times, puts them in a role of giving advice without the power to implement it.

So, how do we learn how to consult well? I’ve written before about Jerry Weinberg’s ten laws of trust and his ten laws of pricing, taken from his brilliant book, published in 1985 and still in print: The Secrets of Consulting: A Guide to Giving & Getting Advice Successfully. If these laws didn’t inspire you to rush out and buy the book, perhaps this selection of some of his (100+) other laws, rules, and principles will. I consider this book and the sequel, More Secrets of Consulting: The Consultant’s Tool Kit, essential reading (and rereading) for anyone who consults.

Here are nineteen of my favorite pieces of wisdom from Jerry, followed by the names he gives them and brief commentary from me.

You’ll never accomplish anything if you care who gets the credit.

The Credit Rule. Check your ego at the door.

In spite of what your client may tell you, there’s always a problem.

The First Law of Consulting. Yes, most people have a hard time admitting they have a problem.

No matter how it looks at first, it’s always a people problem.

The Second Law of Consulting. I learned this after about five years of being engaged as a technical consultant and repeatedly having CEOs confiding to me their non-technical woes…

If they didn’t hire you, don’t solve their problem.

The Fourth Law of Consulting. A common occupational disease of consultants: we rush to help people who haven’t asked for help.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

The First Law of Engineering. Must. Not. Unscrew the tiny screws just to check what’s inside.

Clients always know how to solve their problems, and always tell you the solution in the first five minutes.

The Five-Minute Rule. Unbelievably, this is true—the hard part is listening well enough to notice.

If you can’t accept failure, you’ll never succeed as a consultant.


The Hard Law. Everyone makes mistakes, and that can be a good thing.

Helping myself is even harder than helping others.

The Hardest Law. The hardest things to notice are things about myself.

The wider you spread it, the thinner it gets.

The Law of Raspberry Jam. Or, as Jerry rephrases it: Influence or affluence; take your choice.

When the clients don’t show their appreciation, pretend that they’re stunned by your performance—but never forget that it’s your fantasy, not theirs.

The Lone Ranger Fantasy. “Who was that masked man, anyway?”

The most important act in consulting is setting the right fee.

Marvin’s Fifth Great Secret. Setting the right fee takes a huge burden off your shoulders.

“We can do it—and this is how much it will cost.”

The Orange Juice Test. Jerry uses an example straight from the meetings world for this one—event professionals will recognize the situation, and appreciate the insight.

Cucumbers get more pickled than brine gets cucumbered.

Prescott’s Pickle Principle. Sadly, the longer you work with a client, the less effective you get.

It may look like a crisis, but it’s only the ending of an illusion.

Rhonda’s First Revelation. A positive way to think about unpleasant change.

When you create an illusion, to prevent or soften change, the change becomes more likely—and harder to take.

Rhonda’s Third Revelation. Notice and challenge your illusions before they turn into crises.

If you can’t think of three things that might go wrong with your plans, then there’s something wrong with your thinking.

The Rule of Three. The perfect antidote to complacency about your plans.

The best marketing tool is a satisfied client.

The Sixth Law of Marketing. Word of mouth is the best channel for new work; being able to satisfy my clients led me to a successful, twenty-two year IT consulting career without using advertising or agents.

Give away your best ideas.

The Seventh Law of Marketing. When you teach your clients to handle future similar problems themselves, they’ll appreciate your generosity and are more likely to give you further work or good word of mouth to others.

Spend at least one-fourth of your time doing nothing.

The Ninth Law of Marketing. There are many good reasons for doing this—for some, read Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency by Tom DeMarco.

Well, there they are, some of my favorite secrets of consulting, as penned by Jerry. What do you think of my choices? Are there others that speak to you?

Photo attribution: Flickr user sanspareille

Jerry Weinberg’s Ten Laws of Pricing

soc100dpi In March I posted a summary of Jerry Weinberg’s ten laws of trust, taken from his brilliant book, published twenty-five years ago and still in print: The Secrets of Consulting: A Guide to Giving & Getting Advice Successfully. It was clear from the response that many people hadn’t heard about Jerry’s work.

Today I was thinking about adjusting my consulting rates, and remembered that Jerry has a lot to say on this subject too. Understanding his Ten Laws of Pricing made it easy for me to set fees for my work, and, more importantly, helped me feel comfortable with the role of money in my professional life. #2 alone gave me the confidence to bill an additional six digit income during my IT consulting career, and #9 makes setting your rate for billing or being charged anything a snap.

So here are Jerry’s Ten Laws of Pricing. If you like them and want to know more, do yourself a big favor and buy his book!

  1. Pricing has many functions, only one of which is the exchange of money.
  2. The more they pay you, the more they love you. The less they pay you, the less they respect you.
  3. The money is usually the smallest part of the price.
  4. Pricing is not a zero-sum game.
  5. If you need the money, don’t take the job.
  6. If they don’t like your work, don’t take their money.
  7. Money is more than price.
  8. Price is not a thing, it’s a negotiated relationship.
  9. Set the price so you won’t regret it either way. (Also known as the Principle of Least Regret.)
  10. All prices are ultimately based on feelings, both yours and theirs.

Jerry Weinberg’s ten laws of trust

laws of trust Jerry Weinberg’s ten laws of trust are shared in his fantastic book, published thirty years ago and still in print: The Secrets of Consulting: A Guide to Giving & Getting Advice Successfully:

  1. Nobody but you cares about the reason you let another person down.
  2. Trust takes years to win, moments to lose.
  3. People don’t tell you when they stop trusting you.
  4. The trick of earning trust is to avoid all tricks.
  5. People are never liars—in their own eyes.
  6. Always trust your client—and cut the cards.
  7. Never be dishonest, even if the client requests it.
  8. Never promise anything.
  9. Always keep your promise.
  10. Get it in writing, but depend on trust.

Ten laws of trust. Obey them, and transform your consulting!

P.S. Check out 19 secrets of consulting that changed my life for more gems from Jerry Weinberg.