Monthly Archives: October 2013

I’M OPEN

I am the fourth child in a family of six children. I have three older brothers of which two are seven years older than me and the remaining brother is eight years older than I am. My little brother and sister are eleven and thirteen years younger than me, respectively. Other than highlighting the fact that my parents have been “busy” for a while, there was a significant period of time where I was the baby in the family before I became a big brother.

As the little brother, I can tell you countless stories of things my brothers did to torture me. On an overcast night, my oldest brother told me that because I couldn’t see the moon, I was the devil. Whenever I would ask to go with them anywhere, they would always tell me to take a shower and change my clothes. It always seemed like a reasonable request, but as soon as my bedroom or bathroom door would close, they would speed off.

Eventually, things got better and they would take me with them whenever they went to play basketball. I’m not sure if it was because they wanted to hang out with me or because at the age of ten I was taller than them. Each time we played, I spent most of the time yelling, “I’m open, I’m open.” In true “baby” fashion, when I didn’t get the ball I would start crying and walk off the court. Giving up actually made things worst, as they would make fun of me even more. I guess I wasn’t the most resilient child. On the walk or drive home they would give me some very candid “feedback” about my behavior and explain to me what it meant to be “open” and the things I could do to get myself open.

The lessons my brothers shared with me about how to be open on the court transferred over to my life off the court. It is not enough to just say you are open; you actually have to take some actions to make yourself open.

Below are seven tips from my big brothers:

  1. Become a continuous learner (learn the game)
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions (if you are not sure, ask)
  3. Become a better listener (the feedback is meant to help you, not hurt you)
  4. Stay in the moment (and the game)
  5. Be patient (take your time, don’t rush the shot)
  6. Always be aware (know where the ball is, where you are, and the person you are guarding)
  7. Don’t be afraid (you play slower when you play scared)

The best part of being the baby and then becoming a big brother was the fact that I was afforded the opportunity to teach my little brother and sister what I had learned. By passing on the knowledge, I was able to gain a deeper understanding of what it meant to be open.

One of the most important things I’ve learned about myself is that I am not always open. When I am frustrated or angry or hurt, I’m not in a position to be “open.” When I learned that about myself, I made a point of letting people know when I was open to feedback and also made a habit of asking people if they are in a position to receive feedback before providing it.

Just incase you are wondering, I was and still am a great big brother. I took my little brother and sister with me everywhere I went. As for the Marine Corps basic training exercises I would make them do outside in front of their friends for bad behavior or failure to do chores, I was just teaching them how to be RESILIENT.

What advice would you give others who are seeking to become more open?

ROSES

My wife and I currently live in a row home in Philadelphia and we have been thinking about moving out to the suburbs. Even though we both enjoy spending time downtown, we do not do it enough to want to pay the city wage taxes, especially since we both work on the outskirts of town. So every Sunday we pull up our real estate apps and sort through the open houses in hopes that one of them will be our dream home.

We typically pick homes based on the price, neighborhood, floor plan, and curb appeal; and we rarely ever look at more than two or three. Last Sunday, we found an open house that looked like it could be the one. So we got dressed and rushed over to the property. We were so excited as we approached the door. We walked into the house expecting roses, doves, and butterflies, and then it hit us.

The smell of mildew, cigarette smoke, pet odors, and left overs from two Thanksgivings ago filled the air. This beautiful home that we were so excited to see didn’t even manage to get five minutes of our time. We just couldn’t get over the smell. You could tell that the owners had tried to mask the odors, but it just made it worst. We wondered how much time, effort, and money they put into air-fresheners, candles, or plug-ins, instead of ripping up old carpet, fixing a water leak, or taking out the trash. No matter how large, exquisite, or updated a home is, if it has an unpleasant odor, it will be much harder to sell.

What do you smell like?

When was the last time you asked someone to give you the sniff test?

Now while having good hygiene is important, the sniff test is a metaphor for getting feedback. When you get so close or attached to who you are or who you think you are, sometimes referred to as the ego, it is often difficult to acknowledge your blind spots. Most of us have certain characteristics that are obvious to everyone but ourselves.

To find out if you have issues that need to be addressed, seek out feedback from a friend, mentor, or co-worker. A little hint that something may not be quite right is if you keep getting the same kinds of comments from different people.

Unlike the home we visited, if you discover during the feedback process that there are some things you can work on, then don’t try to mask them. Go after the source. It amazes me how hard people will work to avoid the extra effort required to permanently address the issue. There is an old saying that an arrogant person walks around as if their “stuff” doesn’t smell. Outkast, the Atlanta based rap duo, profited off of this saying with their hit song “Roses.” Do not fall into this trap of allowing your ego to tell you your stuff smells like roses.

Every home has a scent, but unless the owner gets feedback from someone who doesn’t live in it, they’ll never know whether it’s a deterrent to someone buying it. Passing the sniff test is not only a huge part of selling a home; it is a huge part of selling yourself.

Be on the look out for Conrod’s upcoming book.

What did you learn about yourself by asking someone to give you a sniff test?

WHY GODDY?

My best friend Darrell and his wife Renee welcomed into the world a beautiful baby boy named Justin in 2010. I was probably more excited than they were because Justin was going to be my little experiment with fatherhood. Darrell and I refer to alter egos as Pap, and we couldn’t wait to turn his first born into a baby Pap.

A few months after Justin’s birth, Darrell and Renee stopped by on their way downtown. He handed me a card, which I thought was a thank you card for the support my wife and I provided during and after the pregnancy. When I opened it up, to my surprise, it was a card asking us to be the godparents for the “little man”. I must say it was truly an honor and privilege to be given this important role in his life.

Justin, who is now three, and loves his Goddy, is an inquisitive one. Since we no longer live in the same city, we speak mostly on the phone or via Skype in between visits to see him. Since learning to speak, our conversations have pretty much followed the same format. They go a little something like this.

Conrod: Hi Justin

Justin: Hi Goddy (in the softest, cutest voice).

Conrod: How was your day?

Justin: Ok. What you doing Goddy?

Conrod: Driving home from work.

Justin: Work? Why work Goddy?

Conrod: So that I can take care of your aunt and me

Justin: Where are you going Goddy?

Conrod: I’m going home

Justin: Home? Why home god-daddy?

Conrod: So I get something to eat and rest for a little bit

Justin: Eat? Why eat Goddy?

Conrod: So that I grow strong and healthy like you.

Justin: Ok Goddy. Bye

Every time we have these types of conversations, I cannot get over his use of “Why?” to gain a deeper understanding for my actions, how actively he listens to my response, and how short our conversations tend to be.

Most, if not all, have accepted the fact that kids do, say, and ask the most amazing things, and that there is so much to be learned from them. As I think about the progress a child makes between the ages of 2 and 4 or any two-year period in childhood, and compare it to any two-year span in adulthood, I’m not sure how much progress we adults actually make if formal training or education is not involved. If anything, it seems as if we go backwards. The cornerstone of children’s advancement is deeply rooted in the types of questions they ask and how well they listen, understand, and internalize the responses to their questions.

In my experience in the corporate setting, I believe most questions are manipulative, serving only to persuade someone to adopt a certain point of view. In my opinion, questions in this setting should be used to engage others, make people think differently, or gain a deeper understanding of someone’s thoughts or feelings about a particular topic or situation. Justin’s use of “Why?” goes after values and meaning, which is at the core of who we are.

Take a moment to reflect on two questions Justin asked me.

Why [do we] go to work…?

Why [do we] eat…?

I was floored when I realized how simple, yet powerful, these two questions could be in helping solve two major issues in the US right now: obesity and joblessness. Ask yourself these two questions, and then as an experiment, pretend your answer is “I don’t know”. Open yourself up to the range of answers these two questions could produce for different individuals. Then imagine the new ideas or solutions for resolving these challenges buried within the spectrum of possible responses to these questions. How many technological advances may have been born out of someone asking others or themselves the right question and the response was “I don’t know”?

Who taught my three-year old godson how to ask questions?

Who taught children to ask questions that most adults do not readily know the answers to?

Why are they not afraid to ask tough questions?

Why do they instinctively ask so many questions?

If all children seem to demonstrate the same behavior, then maybe we were all born hardwired to ask questions and our experiences with family, the educational system, the work world, or simply people with authority, suppresses the gift we were all given to significantly enhance our learning ability.

I’ve heard people say, “I know you heard me, but did you hear me”. Equally as important as asking the right question is listening to what is being said. Some people are really good at asking questions, but they seem to struggle with listening to the answers. The reason listening is so important is because how something is being said adds value to what is being said and you can sometimes even discover what is not being said. Listening is the best friend of asking questions and together they form the foundation for learning. According to Robert Baden-Powell, “if you make listening and observation your occupation you will gain much more than you can by talking”.

I’ve always found the brevity of the conversations between Justin and I to be comical, while also being a serious reminder to never take someone’s time for granted. It’s almost as if he has an internal clock in his head that tells him he only has five minutes of my time. Or maybe, he is letting me know that I only have five minutes of his time before Ms. Nina or Thomas comes on the screen. Regardless, every time you ask a question or make a statement, you are taking up time. Therefore, it is important to be thoughtful of the questions you ask, diligent when listening to the response, and concise yet complete when making a statement.

I’m dedicating this post to Justin; also know as “little man.”

Share some examples of simple questions people have asked you that turned out to be profound. Tell us why.

Be on the look out for Conrod’s upcoming book.

I SEE SAID THE BLIND MAN TO HIS DEAF WIFE

Most people do not take the decision to purchase a new car lightly. Besides the shear cost of vehicles these days, the car buying process can be a daunting one given the plethora of models, packages, dealer add-ons, and financing options. Depending on how much work is done to prepare for the purchase, it can be a fun experience or a dreadful one.

My wife and I recently went through the process of purchasing a new car. We researched vehicles for almost a year before we decided on the make and model of the car we wanted. We walked into the dealership with a pre-negotiated price, our own financing, and a list of the upgrades we wanted. Given the timing of the purchase, the next year’s models had just hit the lot, but we thought there wouldn’t be any significant changes to the newer model, so we would stick with the current one. For the most part we were correct except for a new feature called the blind spot monitoring system.

The automaker offered two options in this system: a blind spot intervention (BSI) and a blind spot warning (BSW). Radar sensors on each side of the vehicle alert the driver when another car is in their blind spot by flashing an indicator light on both sides of the cabin. If a driver ignores the warning and tries to change lanes, the car will flash and beep at them. If the driver still attempts a lane change, the BSI will activate, applying the brakes to the opposite side of the car in an attempt to pull the vehicle back into its lane.

We debated for a while if this feature was a gimmick and if it was worth the money. I was taught to just look over my shoulders. The salesman overheard our conversation and added his two cents by letting us know that automakers are building cars with poor visibility, making it difficult for drivers to do the over-the-shoulder check before switching lanes. He went on to add that on test-drives most never check their blind spots. We ultimately decided not to purchase the package with the BSW and BSI, but it made me wonder.

What it would be like to have a blind spot warning or intervention system for people?

Do we have poor visibility?

Do we lack self-awareness?

How often do we check our blind spots before “switching lanes”?

Is looking over your shoulder even enough?

Do we ignore the clues that let us know that we are drifting?

Human blinds spots can be hard to find because they are often buried in denial. Denial is a refusal to believe in something or admit that something exists. There is also an inability to recognize or unwillingness to deal with the proverbial elephant in the room. Even when there are “indicators” or “beeps” telling you to get back into your lane, people still veer out of their lane, sometimes resulting in damage to themselves and others. This inability or unwillingness is often rooted in the sometimes-unpleasant nature of the truth and the perception that feedback is accusatory. Denial is a close relative of fear, which functions to protect the ego and requires a substantial investment of energy.

Redirecting that energy to search for your blind spots can be a difficult undertaking, but it can lead to a transcendent accomplishment. Identifying your own blind spots is an exercise in contradiction, because if you can see them, they are no longer blind to you. So how do you find your blind spots? Blind spots are repetitive experiences that make you question why something always happens to you. For example: you keep ending up in jobs you hate, you always have a terrible boss, you have “bad luck”, or people consistently perceive you differently than you see yourself.

If the evidence suggests that you have blind spots, you can try to eliminate them by first asking yourself why am I afraid to see what is really happening? Fear is the archenemy of acceptance, which allows you recognize and acknowledge what is actually happening.

While tackling your fears may lead to some meaningful insights, the more efficient approach may be soliciting feedback from others. I would recommend starting with someone closest to you and then branching out. Astonishingly, even relative strangers can be good resources for feedback. Even though I know how valuable honest feedback can be, I still have to force myself to ask for it. Any form of feedback is scary. But the kind that tackles your blind spots can be unbearable.

So while I passed on the BSI and BSW for my car, I would surely pay top dollar to have it for myself. What about you?

Be on the look out for Conrod’s upcoming book.