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Month: July 2010

I find schmoozing worrying. Do you?

How to schmooze

Schmooze by healthserviceglasses via Flickr

BBC Radio 4 is running a serialized reading of a book about a crime journalist in Tokyo.  Today, we heard career advice given to a journalist on how to schmooze the police.

Is schmoozing a smart way to get business?

The advice made me think of people who believe schmoozing  is a substitute for performance.

In strategic terms, schmoozing is a silly way to compete.  It is a race to the bottom as the only thing the differentiates one schmoozer from another is money and time. Money buys schmoozing;  time accumulates schmoozing.  In short, schmoozing lacks the ‘inimitable’ quality of skill and performance that is only be amassed by a long standing team getting good at something.

Of  course, schoozing is also what statisticians call a mediator.  We can have all the skill in the world but if our customers don’t know we have our skill, they cannot buy from us.  So we need schmooze to deliver.  And if we have never schmoozed,  it is likely that we have developed skills that are  not of great interest to our customers.

I think this where the confusion comes from .  If one person has 5% skill and no schmoozing, they make 0%.  If another person has 1% skill and schmoozing, they make 1%.  I know plenty of people who refuse even to develop skill because they figure they can schmooze and 1% will do their customers fine.  After all, the customers have no choice.  It is 1% or nothing!

Is schmoozing a competitive way t

o get business?

This recipe works fine; until someone else enters the market who can resource a schmoozing campaign.  Schmoozing is easy.  It only takes money and time.  People will always drop in for a free meal , a free drink or a sympathetic ear.

But schmoozing gets more and more expensive as people who have what you want ask for more and more.  And why shouldn’t they?  Your job is to schmooze and schmooze and schmooze and schmooze .   .  . You are going to schmooze until the cupboard is bare.  And of course, that is fine when you are a professional schmoozer and it’s someone elses cupboard.  What if it is your cupboard?

Hospitality vs schmoozing

Schmoozing is not hospitality, I might add.  Genuinely welcoming someone as a guest and giving them appropriate amenities and refreshments for the time of day and the nature of the transaction is not schmoozing.  It is simply normal.

Schmoozing shouldn’t be a substitute for a mission

A business should compete though on it’s chosen competitive strategy.  What is the problem that this business is trying to solve?

When the business strays from that goal, when it hires people to schmooze who don’t understand the mission, when the mission is not mentioned and if is mentioned clearly isn’t understood by HR who drew up the job specs, then the business is in trouble.  Their schmoozing is going to be very expensive.

Yup, the 1% guys can be very persuasive.  Yes, we may feel under so much short term pressure that we are tempted.  Yes, our competitors may seem to offer nothing but schmooze.  Yes, our customers may seem so thick that they want nothing but schmooze and seem to sign anything if the dinner is good enough . . . do you really believe that?

Mission, schmoozing and profits

Come one. Let’s roll up our sleeves and do a proper job.  What is the problem we are trying to solve?  Let’s solve it.  I know we have to make money too.  But do you know that even in the most aggressive profit making business, the economics is simply a constraint that allows us to do better.

When we ask how can we do what we do for the money our customers can pay, we find imaginative solutions that please even us.

If we are journos schmoozing cops, of course, they don’t pay (and hopefully neither do we).  But we can ask ourselves about the rhythm  of their day and why and how talking to a reporter helps them do their job.  Schmoozing suddenly becomes a whole lot cheaper and a whole lot more wholesome.

Doing a good job is sweetly pleasurable.

Don’t have a mission?

P.S.  Can’t put your finger on the mission?  Articulating the mission is called leadership.  It’s not a one off; it’s a process.  The mission flexes and morphs as the world unfolds and the people involved change.

The leader is the touch point who represents our collective understanding and will.  They reflect back to us what we are asking for and when we see ourselves in them, we learn and change what we say and do.

And the process begins again.

We are all leaders, too, because the minute we say and do something, we are reflecting a conversation back to someone else.  They see themselves and they learn and change.

But sometimes we can’t get the sound-bite.  That’s what psychologists and life coaches do. They let you practice on them till you get the pithy phrases right.

And get used to editing them and developing them on the fly as you interact with others.

We all have a mission

I’ve never met anyone yet who doesn’t know their mission.  As they talk, I watch their eyes.  Within 10 to 15 minutes of patient conversation, their eyes will light up.  All I do is point that out.

Move towards whatever make your eyes light up, millimeter by millimeter The world will thank you.  Everybody is waiting for you.

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Mindfulness for exuberant people

Play Time by Paul McGuire via FlickrMindfulness, curiosity and a sense of control

If thou wilt be observant and vigilant,

thou wilt see at every moment the response to thy action.

Be observant

if thou wouldst have a pure heart,

for something is born to thee in consequence of every action.


Mindfulness and vigorous people

Active people generally can’t stand slowing down and savoring the moment.  Just as some people are frightened by the quick and obvious, they like everything to be quick and obvious.

The fun of growing older is that I comfortably experiment with world views that are not my own.  I can look at the quick and slow with equal interest.   I look at the massively consequential and the trivial with equal curiosity.

I am sure people who start off savoring well also learn the joys of becoming more exuberant.

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Do you know Rumi’s metaphor for dealing with negative events?

Set by ginnerobot via FlickrThe Guest House


This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture, still, treat
each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the
malice, meet them at the door
laughing, and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

I don’t know who translated this version.  If you are happy for your work to remain here, please tell me so that I can link to you and link to your books on Amazon.  Thank you.

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Be a connoisseur and taste with caution

Camel by Angeloux via Flickr
Camel by Angeloux via Flickr

The Many Wines


God has given us a dark wine so potent that,
drinking it, we leave the two worlds.

God has put into the form of hashish a power
to deliver the taster from self-consciousness.

God has made sleep so
that it erases every thought.

God made Majnun love Layla so much that
just her dog would cause confusion in him.

There are thousands of wines
that can take over our minds.

Don’t think all ecstacies
are the same!

Jesus was lost in his love for God.
His donkey was drunk with barley.

Drink from the presence of saints,
not from those other jars.

Every object, every being,
is a jar full of delight.

Be a conoisseur,
and taste with caution.

Any wine will get you high.
Judge like a king, and choose the purest,

the ones unadulterated with fear,
or some urgency about “what’s needed.”

Drink the wine that moves you
as a camel moves when it’s been untied,

and is just ambling about.

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What can we do to make this a comfortable place to meet your clients?

Bohu & Tohu (son's cats) by Gattou Lucie via FlickrPlease get us a market. Quickly.

Yesterday, I had a revealing conversation with a senior businessman.  He and his colleagues were looking for a new Business Development Director.   They felt cut off from the world and had disbanded their old BD team.  Their solution was to bring over a retired client from the ‘dark side,’ so to speak, to use his (and it was going to be his) contacts among his former competitors in as their clients. The logic beggars belief.

I like this businessman.  Let’s be clear, as politicians these days like to say.  Let’s be clear.  He is an amiable man who is organized, hard working and very importantly, fair.  He is not a blaming type.  He is definitely open to new interpretations of situations from people whom he hadn’t previously realized had a view.  He’d adapt easily to a fresher more vibrant team and find a surprising and gratifying second career in a more lively atmosphere.

You have one already.  You are just neglecting it.

What an outsider can see, and might dispute, is their belief that they have insufficient contacts with the outside world.  True, they may have let their contacts wither on the vine.  True, they might have poor procedures for making contacts and looking after them.  True, the day-to-day experience in the organization might feel as musty and uncomfortable as a dirty house.

Your market and your home

This analogy will work well.  If you feel no one invites you their house, maybe clean your own and invite people around.  Maybe clean your house and step into the world with a spring in your step.  There is nothing like a cheerful person who looks like they are enjoying life to attract good fortune.  (Bring in the Feng Shui for good measure!  You aren’t going anywhere very  fast right now.  You have nothing to lose and they are not very expensive.)

It really is as simple as making your meeting places attractive

Yes, that’s all they have to do.  Just clean house.  Just go around and ask people – what can we do to make this a comfortable place to meet your clients?

What can we do to make this a comfortable place to meet your clients?

I had a more complicated plan.   But writing this helps.  This is all that is needed!  Just go around the organization and ask: what can we do to make this a comfortable place to meet your clients?

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Experiment your way to success and a life you can call your own

Data a la Warhol by SuziJane via FlickrExperimentation is Gen Y

You may have read Four Hour Work Week and you might have noticed, but not paid much attention to the tagline on Tim Ferris’ blog : Experiments in lifestyle design.

Tim Ferris has many answers.  And many people read his blog (and his book) for ideas and inspiration.  I haven’t see too many people copy Tim Ferris in one essential aspect:  he actually runs experiments on a lifestyle to see what works and what doesn’t.  Tim Ferris may just seem a data nut.  He is not.  He experiments.  He actually puts to work those laboratory lessons we learned in psychology and related disiplines.

Ready, Aim, Fire

Few other people take this approach.  Creatives are willing, in Karl Weick’s terms to Ready, Fire, Aim, meaning try it, see the response, and learn what is important.  They are often disciplined at using agile methods and may have groups where people stand up weekly and sum up how far their project has got  in terms of {need, Approach, Benefit, Competition} (nABC).

A B experiments in web design

Google, of course, epitomizes a experimental approach.  If you sign up to Google Analytics, you can test two pages in classical A B design.  Which one attracts more hits?How an experimental approach differs from science

An experimental approach to life is radically different from a scientific (or pseudo scientific approach).

At university, we are trained to compare the average (actually the mean) score for two groups – say men or women.   We aret trained to look for associations in cross tabs and scattergrams.  We are reminded that correlation is not causality and we repeat that as a mantra.  But something even worse happens.  We start to confuse the statistical relationship with action.  We really come to believe that if women score more than men, the answer is get more women and improvements will follow.  We believe that if there is a lot of chatter about drink driving and around the same time alcohol sales fall off that in the future we only need to chatter about drink driving for alcohol sales to fall off.

No.  In every case, we still have to make something happen.

Why an experimental approach helps us succeed

Oddly, an experimental approach helps us become more active.  It looks like “science” that establishes “rules of life” that we can ape and be successful.  But an experimental approach is more.   An experimental approach draws us in to the moment and helps us concentrate on what needs to be done with the people we will be doing it with.

Our actions and judgments are not replaced by scientific laws.  We exert our judgment and act on the situation in an orderly way so that we see the effects of what we do and learn more about the situation itself.

Our results don’t tell us what to do. They don’t tell anyone else what to do.  Indeed, if they copy us they will fail.  Our results tell us about our situation and our understanding improves.  As our understanding improves so does our judgment.  As our judgment improves so do our results, our resources and both our faith in others and their fath in us.  We are an upward spiral begun and maintained by an open, inquiring, curious and essential  positive view of life that looks for what works and celebrates what works.  But we can’t be inquiring without the feedback of data.  Without data we simply gossiping.

An experimental approach draws us in to the moment and helps us concentrate on what needs to be done with the people we will be doing it with.

An experimental approach to training

McKinsey published a report today that brilliantly showed the return on investment of training leaders in a youth organization.

Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) did some basic reseah on their leaders. They measured each leader’s ability on 50 aspects of leadership.  Then they they regressed local organizational performance onto their measures of leadership.  Basically, they made a model that leadership, on the 50 aspects of leadership, leads to growth in members, funds raised, etc.

They found 4/50 aspects of leadership to ‘disproportionately’ contribute to performance: ability to build an effective board, find and pursue revenue-development strategies, use an investor’s minds-set toward programs and resource development, and lead and pursue with personal tenacity and perseverance.  They built their training program around these four aspects of leadership.

Now for the experiments.

a)       BGCA compared the performance of a local organization before and after a leader received training (Pre and post or AB design).

b)      BCGA compared the performance of a local organization where a leader had been trained with the performance of another local organization of similar size and circumstances.

c)       They triangulated their results by interviewing local board members to find out how leaders behaved differently after training.

In all, BGCA concluded that trained leaders did better than untrained leaders on every measure of organizational performance.  By extrapolation, they worked out that when all 1100 leaders had been trained, they would see an increase of 2-3% increase in local funding translating into 350 000 new members and more than $100m more revenue per year for the entire organization.  These improvements were more than 4x the cost of the training.

The trained leaders also varied in performance.  The top 25% of leaders improved 3x to 5x more than middle pack.  The most successful leaders were aspirational, set clear and quantifiable goals and taught what they learned to the rest of their organization.

Why the McKinsey study is ‘scientfic’ rather than ‘experimental’

We could give this study to a third year class and indeed, the top 25% would tear it apart, in many respects.

What I am interested in, though,  is the relinquishment of responsibility. The report read as if BCGA “discovered” some secret.  To be fair the article does go on to discuss the metrics that might be used in other organizations. What I would have like, though, is a description of leadership.

  • Who came together to discuss what mattered in the leadership of the 1100 local organizations?
  • Who drew up the list of leadership activities and how confident were they in the list?  How did they feel about their ideas being put under the microscope?
  • Was this the first time they had compared the performance of all 1100 local organizations?  What were people’s reactions when they saw all the data in one place?
  • How much did the past data vary for any one local organization from year to year?
  • Who decided and with whom that these aspects of leadership mattered and that they were sufficiently confident to test their ideas openly?
  • Once they followed through, how did leaders who were not in the top 75% feel?  What happened to them when the results came out?

The data being collected here is data about these leaders.  What information did these very same leaders get to guide them towards aspirational clear goals?  In other words, this study helps the central leaders steer.   What informaton do local leaders have to steer?

Good leadership is a narrative of who did what with whom

We can shoot holes in the analysis.  We are all trained to do that.  But lets do something different (and positive).   Lets tell the story and the story of 1100 local organizations.

Once upon a time . . .  and we were here.

Then this happpened and came together and decided to  .  .  .

This group agreed to try this way and this group agreed to try this way.

And they further agreed to come together on this date to compare what they learned and to exchange tips.

A story did happen at BGCA. But it is concealed.  We’ve carefully not been told who did what and, most importantly, who decided.

Leadership is about action.

An example of excellent leadership

If you want an example of fine management where the decision making process is super clear, watch this video of Randall Howard, the former General Secretary of the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union shows you what I mean.

He gives a clear narrative of a situation, a collective decision and an action.  The action itself is an incredible story of blocking arms shipments to Zimbabwe.  It’s worth watching in an of itself.

Randall Howard begins speaking at about 1:55.

For more information on the stopping of the An Yue Jiang, look at Waging Nonviolence.

Importantly we see an experimental attitude.

We must do something.  Do you agree?

What is our goal and what is our first step?

Do the Courts agree?

Can we serve the papers on the boat? No.  Then what?

We collect data by following the vessel electronically.  When that data dries up, we find alternative data and we track the vessel.

And when the story ends, we stop and say.  What did we do?  What path did we follow?  What were our signals and how did we know how well we were doing?

Most importantly of all, we ask what did we learn about the situation.  We learned about solidarity and maintaining the institutions of democracy.  That’s not the same as stopping the boat.

We paid attention.  We worked together.  And we learned.

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What to watch as we wait for the double-dip recession

Thunder Dolphin Roller Coaster by Freakazoid via FlickrDouble dip recession

The economy has stop plummeting.  I don’t even have to read the figures.  I know because pundits are worrying about a double-dip.

Will something something catastrophic happen that flips the economy down another slide?

People are worried about the amount of money the European governments are taking out of the economy.
People are worried about developers defaulting on commercial buildings.
People are worried about house prices flat lining.
Where will jobs and business opportunities come from?  Economies and jobs grow in a good year at 3%.  And jobs follow businesses?  How long will the recession take to clear?
More, to the point, where will growth happen?   Which sectors should energetic young men and women watch and prepare to join?

Will the double dip recession happen?

Not everyone thinks a double dip recession will happen.  Prieur du Plessis of Seeking Alpha is one and here is his excellent summary.

But in the summary is the very reason why a double dip recession might happen.

Companies are making money hand over fist. And hanging on to it.  Consumers are spending less.  Demand somewhere is dropping.

How did companies make the money?  And why aren’t they reinvesting it in productive activity?

du Plessis believes capital is like a dam.  Fill up the dam with money and it will find a productive activity to invest in.

Maybe.  I’ll watch.

What am I watching as we wait for a double dip recession?

While we wait to see if the weasel goes pop, I am watching the capital stacked up in western companies.

It’s supposed to signal productive activity.   Where will future productivity lie?

That is the question.

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Do you need to say more than this poet?

Walk into the future by Suwaif via FlickrThe Awakening


A time comes in your life when you finally get it…when, in the midst of all your fears and insanity, you stop dead in your tracks and somewhere the voice inside your head cries out…ENOUGH!

Enough fighting and crying and blaming and struggling to hold on.

Your Awakening

Then, like a child quieting down after a tantrum, you blink back your tears and begin to look at the world through new eyes.

This is your awakening.


You realize it’s time to stop hoping and waiting for something to change, or for happiness, safety and security to magically appear over the next horizon. You realize that in the real world there aren’t always fairy tale endings, and that any guarantee of “happily ever after” must begin with you . . . and in the process a sense of serenity is born of acceptance.

You awaken to the fact that you are not perfect and that not everyone will always love, appreciate or approve of who or what you are . . . and that’s OK. They are entitled to their own views and opinions.

A sense of safety and security is born of self-reliance

You learn the importance of loving and championing yourself . . . and in the process a sense of new found confidence is born of self-approval. You stop complaining and blaming other people for the things they did to you – or didn’t do for you – and you learn that the only thing you can really count on is the unexpected.

You learn that people don’t always say what they mean or mean what they say and that not everyone will always be there for you and that everything isn’t always about you.

So, you learn to stand on your own and to take care of yourself . . . and in the process a sense of safety and security is born of self-reliance.


You stop judging and pointing fingers and you begin to accept people as they are and to overlook their shortcomings and human frailties . . . and in the process a sense of peace and contentment is born of forgiveness.

Be true to yourself and others

You learn to open up to new worlds and different points of view. You begin reassessing and redefining who you are and what you really stand for.

You learn the difference between wanting and needing and you begin to discard the doctrines and values you’ve outgrown, or should never have bought into to begin with.

You learn that there is power and glory in creating and contributing and you stop maneuvering through life merely as a “consumer” looking for your next fix.

You learn that principles such as honesty and integrity are not the outdated ideals of a bygone era, but the mortar that holds together the foundation upon which you must build a life.

The only cross you bear is the one you choose to carry

You learn that you don’t know everything, it’s not your job to save the world and that you can’t teach a pig to sing. You learn that the only cross to bear is the one you choose to carry and that martyrs get burned at the stake.

Then you learn about love. You learn to look at relationships as they really are and not as you would have them be. You learn that alone does not mean lonely.

You stop trying to control people, situations and outcomes. You learn to distinguish between guilt and responsibility and the importance of setting boundaries and learning to say NO.

You also stop working so hard at putting your feelings aside, smoothing things over and ignoring your needs.

Your body really is your temple

You learn that your body really is your temple. You begin to care for it and treat it with respect. You begin to eat a balanced diet, drink more water, and take more time to exercise.

You learn that being tired fuels doubt, fear, and uncertainty and so you take more time to rest. And, just as food fuels the body, laughter fuels our soul. So you take more time to laugh and to play.

You get what you believe you deserve

You learn that, for the most part, you get in life what you believe you deserve, and that much of life truly is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

You learn that anything worth achieving is worth working for and that wishing for something to happen is different than working toward making it happen.

More importantly, you learn that in order to achieve success you need direction, discipline and perseverance. You also learn that no one can do it all alone, and that it’s OK to risk asking for help.

Step right into and through your fears

You learn the only thing you must truly fear is fear itself. You learn to step right into and through your fears because you know that whatever happens you can handle it and to give in to fear is to give away the right to live life on your own terms.

You learn to fight for your life and not to squander it living under a cloud of impending doom.

You learn to build bridges when others build walls

You learn that life isn’t always fair, you don’t always get what you think you deserve and that sometimes bad things happen to unsuspecting, good people . . . and you learn not to always take it personally.

You learn that nobody’s punishing you and everything isn’t always somebody’s fault. It’s just life happening. You learn to admit when you are wrong and to build bridges instead of walls.

You explore your negative feelings rather than hang onto them

You learn that negative feelings such as anger, envy and resentment must be understood and redirected or they will suffocate the life out of you and poison the universe that surrounds you.

And revel in your positive feelings however small

You learn to be thankful and to take comfort in many of the simple things we take for granted, things that millions of people upon the earth can only dream about: a full refrigerator, clean running water, a soft warm bed, a long hot shower.

Promise never to betray yourself and act the way you think appropriate no matter the provocation

Then, you begin to take responsibility for yourself by yourself and you make yourself a promise to never betray yourself and to never, ever settle for less than your heart’s desire.

You make it a point to keep smiling, to keep trusting, and to stay open to every wonderful possibility.

You hang a wind chime outside your window so you can listen to the wind.

Begin to design the life you want to live as best you can

Finally, with courage in your heart, you take a stand, you take a deep breath, and you begin to design the life you want to live as best you can.

Author Unknown

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Does Google make us stupid?

Escher's Relativity in Lego by Andrew Simpsom from idigit_teddy via FlickrDoes the internet change our brain structure?

Nicholas Carr thinks so.  I must confess that I haven’t read his book.  I should but I imagine MRI scans could give us a definitive answeer.

I know a lot of people, such as appear on BBC Radio 4 would agree.

While we wait for hard neurophysiological evidence, I’ll suggest that this perception is an illusion.

  • Reading on the web is different.  Those who are very good at working with paper have had to go back to noobe status.  I can’t text (fast) either.  I type fast but I can’t text.  Learning anything takes time and of course, we protest when we have to go down a snake back to Go..  But the fact is our discomfort.  Our discomfort is not evidence that our brain will get scribbled.
  • I have become more impatient with long dense text.  Is that evidence that the internet shortens our attention span?  To this I answer, so?  Why should I wade through some wordy gobbley-gook.  Why not deliver the information more efficiently?  And for the information of those who have learned to wade through verbiage – this is not normal behavior!  We know attention wanders after 10 to 15 minutes.  We know managers have an average task time of 10 minutes.  (I didn’t say it ~ this is a classical result from Mintzberg). Doctors in Britain get 10 minutes from calling your name to returning you to reception.   If we realistically want to communicate with busy people we need to show them what they need in a flash.  Get over it!  We have the tools to communicate better.  Let’s try them.

The internet gives us better manners (well sometimes)

I am writing this post though to quite deliberately link to Dan Erwin who makes an important point.  The internet helps us understand that truth is not certain.

You have your opinion and I have mine.  Not because we cannot communicate but because see the world from slightly different places.  When we take both views into account, we have a fuller picture.

Gen Y have learned to look at a more complete picture through using the internet.  As a result, they should be better leaders and managers and doctors and artists.

Actually, not all of them learn that many views matter.  Some seem to think that if there are many views, any view is truth.

That’s not the case.  Every view is part of the truth.  Every view is valid but only part of the story.

In social science, we call this social constructionism.  In social activism, we call this diversity.  In appreciative inquiry, or positive organizational scholarship, we look for multiple voices and see what picture we make when we listen to all the voices.

I like the way Dan Erwin makes the point and I wrote a whole post so that I don’t lose the link!


What do your expletives do for you?

Cat and butterful from WomEOS via FlickrAnyone or any thing that does not bring you alive is too small for you

So says David Whyte.

I was marveling this morning about a client who sucks the life out of us.  They are difficult to deal with.   They change their minds.  They are arrogant.  They are rude.  Goodwill rapidly spins into the black hole of lack of expectation.  If our despair was contained to our dealings with them, it might be OK.  But we rapidly feel tired and lack energy even for tasks we love.

Mood hoovers. . . I hadn’t heard that expression before I came to the UK.  As I pondered my mood, and wondered my options, I also wondered if mood hoovering isn’t a normal activity in UK.  Do you see where despair takes you?  In the blink of an eye, we are into the “personal, permanent and pervasive“.

Do we swear differently in different countries?

Then I pondered the nature of expletives in different countries.

Expletives in a multi-lingual coutry

I come from a country where two languages dominate the workplace.  As a first year student, our lecturers would deliberately expose us to cultural behaviors that might shock us.  Actually we had a civil war going on at the time, and they might deliberately say things that are so provocative, and often my first impulse was to dive under the desk for cover in case war broke out in the classroom too.

One of the things I learned was by accident.   The lecturer was demonstrating subliminal attention and its effect on action.  This is an important effect, so listen up.  But the results in a multi-cultural setting were quite funny.

He flashed up various words on what is called a tachistoscope.  A willing student stared down a tube and called out the words.

Up came an expletive, or taboo word, or swear word, and the “subject” would take markedly longer to call out the word.  It’s like having a test at the optician.  They would “report” that they hadn’t actually seen it.

Not so with expletives across the language line. We call out each others expletives just as fast as we call out ordinary words.

That wasn’t what the lecturer meant to demonstrate but hey, unwanted side effects are sometimes serendipitously useful.

Some expletives are harsh and aggressive

Getting back to expletives, my language group would use the harsh expletives of Europe.  But by the time these ugly words had crossed the language line they changed their meaning slightly, we got sentences like this quotation I received from a tradesman:

If I fuck it up, you pay me bugger all.

Well that was clear!  Actually quite charming in its sincerity and engagement and had not a hint of aggression.  I doubt he knew he used words that we regard as rude.

Some expletives are soft and including

Two cherished expletives that crossed the line to us were




I marvel at the softness of sound.  I marvel at the simple statement of “I am surprised”.  I like the gentle chiding of “you aren’t making sense” in the form of “this is disappointing me”.

I like the pulling oneself together in “Eish!”

I felt better when I tweeted, “Eisshhhhh!”

What do your expletives do for you?

What do your expletives do for you?

Do they make the situation worse?

Or do they encourage you to engage once more with a smile on your face, hope in your heart, curiosity in your questions, respect for others and a willingness to move on?

How do you swear “when you are at home?”

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