Better or Worse (#188)

A few weeks ago, I took an Uber to downtown Boston for a meeting with a group of peers. About ten minutes into my ride, traffic stopped completely. A major car crash had occurred 100 feet in front of us after a car had come down the highway entrance ramp in the wrong direction. People were walking around wounded and it was chaos. It must have happened a split second before we got there.

I’ll admit, the initial thought running through my head was “If only I had left the house five minutes earlier.” When I let everyone know about the accident, their concern was first and foremost for my safety. This is when I realized I was looking at the situation all wrong. Really, I was lucky that I wasn’t there just sixty seconds earlier or I could have been among the accident victims. My timing wasn’t bad, it was great.

I was reminded of this experience during a bike trip my wife and I took across Croatia last week. Toward the end of the second day of riding, one mile from the top, she hit a pothole masked as a puddle and was thrown from her bike. Bloodied and battered, she got back on her bike and rode the rest of the way to get help.

At first glance, it did not look good. She was in a tremendous amount of pain and had pretty serious cuts and road rash. But as we cleaned up each of the wounds and consulted with some medical professionals on the trip, she’d fortunately escaped any serious injury or broken bones.

Even though we’d been looking forward to this trip for a year, there were two ways we could have chosen to handle this unexpected setback:

  1. Taken the “It could have been better” perspective which involves frustration and self-pity about getting injured during the trip and having to miss part of the experience.
  2. Taken the “It could have been worse” perspective which involves relief and gratitude that she did not have to be airlifted from an island to a hospital or have to return home and cut our trip short.

My wife was firmly in the “it could have been worse” camp. She made the best of a difficult and painful situation with a genuine sense of gratitude.

In last week’s Friday Forward, Blame Game, I shared an experience that a friend of mine, Jayson Gaignard, had that led him to decide on taking ownership for his misstep and how it developed into a teaching moment for his daughter, especially around the concept of control.  He’d written that he was trying to teach his daughter to “take 100% ownership of things you can control and have 0% attachment to things you can’t.”

We all face situations where it’s tempting to believe that the entire situation is beyond our control. In reality, this is only half true. What happens initially may be beyond our control, but how we react to it is not. What’s more is that our reaction to situations is often far more important.

How will I show up at a meeting if I’ve been stewing in anger during the hour leading up to it versus reflecting on all the things I’m grateful for and with perspective?

How might we remember a trip spent moping around after our spouse got injured and lamenting their “bad luck” versus telling everyone she is lucky it wasn’t worse—and truly believing that?

Our reactions to external events shape our mindset and our Emotional Capacity. They impact how we show up in the world each day and the energy that we give and take from others.

Could a situation have been better? Sure. But it can always be worse as well.


Quote of The Week

“Whether your cup is half-full or half-empty, remind yourself there are others without one.”


-Matshona Dhliwayo



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Going Dark (#166)

As a professional services firm, prospective clients often ask members of our team to provide detailed proposals, estimates and supporting materials as part of their evaluation process. While there’s no guarantee we will get the work, fulfilling these requests takes time, energy and resources, something that most prospects value and appreciate. However, over the past few years, I’ve noticed a rise in professional “ghosting.”

Ghosting has become part of the dating nomenclature. Apparently, it’s the practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by abruptly – and without explanation—withdrawing from all communication with them. People with avoidant personality types seem to think this approach is faultless. But in reality, it’s just rude and disrespectful.

The fact that ghosting seems to be on the rise within professional interactions is disappointing. As mentioned above, we have seen our fair share of prospective clients suddenly stop all communication after we submit proposal information to them. Ironically, but maybe not coincidently, it is often been the ones who asked us to do the most work on the shortest notice who don’t have the decency to follow-up or reply.

I have also read a number of articles about the growing practice of ghosting in recruiting, whereby candidates who take the time to come in for an in-person interview never hear from the company again. Not only is this tremendously unprofessional, it may be psychologically damaging as it leaves the candidate to wonder if they did something wrong or offensive rather than it being because the hiring team just decided to go in a different direction.

If you have been practicing ghosting in any part of your life, it’s time to stop. Here’s why:

  • Ghosting is disrespectful; disrespect creates ill will and distrust that is often irreparable. It also provides fodder for others to say negative things about you or your company via a public forum.
  • It’s a small world out there. You never know when your ghosting may come back to haunt you. We’ve even had people apply for a job at our company and forget that they ghosted us in some way years before.  Similarly, candidates who have been ghosted are highly unlikely to say good things about you or your organization out in the marketplace or on review sites. And they will never be a customer.
  • Being avoidant and indifferent in your communication is a bad look. It conveys cowardice and disregard.

Adam Grant recently wrote a great article on why he believes ignoring someone’s email is an act of incivility and how none of us are really “too busy” to respond.

If you care about someone or have used their time, have the courtesy to get back to them, even if it’s uncomfortable because the response isn’t positive. I’ve always found that people can handle the truth when it’s given respectfully.

The point is, be excellent in everything you do, even in how you learn to turn people down or say no. Taking this a step further, I’d suggest you actually go out of your way to respond to anyone who reaches out to you.

Years ago, I made the decision to try and respond to anyone who writes a personal note to me, even though my response is often a polite “no” to most requests for my time. Simply taking the time to reply and show respect for their time reflects my personal brand and our company’s values. Often, the person is both thankful and surprised to hear from me, meaning that I have exceeded their expectations.

If you ask for or use someone’s time or energy, respond back to them. Don’t burn your bridges by ghosting.


Quote of The Week

“How we do everything is how we anything.”


Attributed to Martha Beck


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Seeking Understanding (#165)

Last week, I received over 100 e-mails from around the world in response to my Love and Hate Friday Forward. One of them was from the founder of TEDx Kenmore Square, Noah Siegel, who pointed me to a Ted Talk that I watched with great interest titled “Why I Have Coffee with People Who Send Me Hate Mail.”

The creator of the Ted Talk, Özlem Cekic, was born in Turkey with Kurdish roots. In 2017, she became one of the first women with a Muslim immigrant background to be elected to the Danish parliament.

Almost immediately after joining parliament, her e-mail began to fill with hate mail that included xenophobic comments and questions such as “What’s a raghead like you doing in our parliament?”

Understandably, she deleted the e-mails and assumed the senders were unreasonable fanatics and racists. A friend even suggested she save the e-mails so that if something happened to her, the police would have leads to go off. But another friend took a different perspective, suggesting to her that she reach out to the writers and invite them to meet for coffee.

After giving it real thought, Cekic decided to give it a try. She truly wanted to understand how people could hate her so vehemently without even knowing her. She started by reaching out to the person who had sent her the most hate mail, a man named Ingolf, and asked if she could meet him at his home.

To her surprise, he agreed, and a few weeks later she was sitting in his house over cups of coffee. They talked for over 2.5 hours. By the end, they both realized that their similarities far outweighed their differences.

This first meeting inspired her to have more of these coffee chats, which she named “Dialogue Coffee.” These now number in the hundreds. To convey trust, she always meets the people in their house and brings food to help discover what they have in common.

Throughout this journey, Cekic came to realize she had been just as judgmental of those who had sent the hate mail as they had been of her. By sitting down with them over coffee and simply talking, she’s learned how to separate the hateful viewpoints from the person expressing them in order to gain perspective.

One of the biggest lessons she’s learned from her Dialogue Coffee is that people are afraid of people they don’t know. She’s also become much more aware of how dangerous generalizations are and how it can lead to demonizing entire groups of people.

In her conversations, Cekic heard time and again from the people she spoke with that they believe “other people” are to blame for spreading hate and perpetuating negative stereotypes. When she asked them about their role and what they could do to help to stop it, they often respond with “Me? I have no power.”

What I’ve taken from Cekic’s experience is that even generalized terms – “the left,” “the right,” “the socialists,” “the deplorables,” “ the ____ media” – are actually verbal weapons of mass social destruction. By painting entire groups of people with a broad stroke, these generalizations exacerbate fear and hate far more than we imagine. Yet, simply turn on the news and these terms are increasingly pervasive.

We need our leaders to stop generalizing and using terms specifically designed to incite hate, distrust or fear. Instead, we should be encouraging respectful disagreement and dialogue, embracing disagreement and seeking to understand where other people are coming from.

In doing so, we might learn how the person who believes in more equal distribution of wealth does so because they grew up homeless and were forced to work below minimum wage. Or that the person who does not trust government to be the arbitrator of wealth or resources holds this perspective because their family’s business had been taken away by the government.

It’s time – now – for us all to take responsibly for our generalizations. Let’s follow the lead of Özlem Cekic and engage in dialogue that does not demonize people or entire groups. Cekic credits her friendships with many different types of people and her Dialogue Coffee in particular for having “vaccinated her against her own prejudices.”

Disagree? Let’s have coffee.


Quote of The Week

“Evil can only be defeated by kindness between people. Kindness demands courage.”


Sergeot Uzan (father of a son killed in a terror attack)



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Love & Hate (#164)

In 1991, Michael Weisser, along with his wife Julie and three of their five children, moved from New York City to Lincoln, Nebraska for Weisser’s new position: Cantor and spiritual leader of South Street Temple.

As they were moving in and unpacking, the phone rang. When they answered, the caller said, “You’re going to be sorry you moved in, Jew boy” and then hung up.

A few days later, the Weissers received a package in the mail containing hateful and racist materials along with a business card from the Ku Klux Klan (a white supremacy hate group) that read “the KKK is watching you scum.”

The police suggested that the caller and antagonist was very likely Larry Trapp, the local Grand Dragon of the KKK chapter in Nebraska. Trapp, as it happens, was also a double amputee, having lost his legs to advanced diabetes at a young age.

Weisser was worried for his family but decided to take a different approach. He got Trapp’s phone number from a friend and began leaving messages on his answering machine, such as:

“Larry, there’s a lot of love out there. You’re not getting any of it. Don’t you want some?”

“Larry, you’d better think about all this hatred that you are involved in because you’re going to have to deal with God one day.”

“Larry, the very first laws that the Nazis passed were against people like yourself, who have physical disabilities, and you would have been among those to die under the Nazis. Why do you love the Nazis so much?”

This turned into a regular monthly routine, with Weisser calling and leaving a message for Trapp at 3:00pm every Thursday. One Thursday, Trapp answered the call by screaming profanities and asking Weisser what he wanted.  Weisser replied that he knew Trapp was disabled and offered to give him a ride to the grocery store, to which Trapp responded that he was all set and told him not to call anymore.

But Weisser kept calling and leaving messages of love. Then, one day, Weisser’s phone rang. It was Trapp, who asked, “Is this the Rabbi?” When Weisser affirmed that it was, Trapp responded by saying, “I want to get out of what I am doing and I don’t know how.”

Despite warnings from his family, Weisser decided to visit Trapp at his house that night to “break bread,” but not before calling a friend and telling him to call the police if he did not hear from him by midnight.

Weisser thought he had made a grave mistake when Trapp answered the door in his wheelchair with three guns in his lap. Then, Trapp reached out his hand, introduced himself and burst into tears.

After talking for hours, Weisser learned of the severe emotional and physical abuse Trapp had suffered at the hands of his father. As a child, he would often hide for hours to avoid a beating. It became clear to Weisser that Trapp’s hateful actions were a manifestation of having never felt loved.

Over the next year, Trapp became a fixture in the community, making amends and talking to groups about the perils of hatred. Around this time, his health also began to deteriorate. Surprising everyone, the Weissers invited Trapp to come live with them, an offer he accepted. Trapp stayed with them until his death a year later. During this time, he also converted to Judaism. The day of his funeral, the synagogue was packed with people who would have never expected to be there just a few years before.

I have many takeaways from this story, but here are a few that stand out the most:

  1. When we put hate out into the world, we get hate in return. This cycle continues until someone is willing to break it. This pattern of behavior is sadly becoming prevalent across the world today.
  2. In all aspects of our personal and professional lives, we can all be better at seeking to understand. What we see on the surface is often the symptom, not the cause.
  3. It takes an enlightened person to get to the “why” behind people’s actions, decisions, behaviors and beliefs that otherwise seem inexcusable.

To hear more of this story in Rabbi Weisser’s own words, you can listen to this incredible podcast episode that we listened to with our children, or read this article.


Quote of The Week

“The truth is, human nature is good, not bad.”


Rabbi Michael Weisser



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Controlling Reactions (#154)

Apparently, the past few weeks have been a roller coaster ride for global stock markets, with volatile trading and daily swings of several percentage points.

I hadn’t really paid much attention to these events, but that would have been a different story ten years ago.

I developed an interest in the stock market at an early age, influenced by my grandmother who was an enthusiastic, but notoriously poor stock picker.  I started trading and following the markets regularly in college and would get excited by the highs and anxious when the market declined. I distinctly remember during the 2007 market crash being glued to the TV and feeling physically ill as the market dropped 800 points in just a few days in September. I allowed it to negatively affect my work, my mindset and my interactions with others.

Shortly after, I made the decision to stop watching the market and shifted my investments to mutual funds. Later, I hired an investment advisor to make those decision for me without any emotion or short-term bias. It was one of the best decisions I have made.

The stock market hasn’t changed, but my reaction to it has. The same goes for sports.

As a lifelong Boston sports fan, I’ve experienced both improbable victories and agonizing defeats (most of my childhood). Today, I enjoy the games and may get animated watching them, but I’ve trained myself to mentally walk away the minute they’re over.

If Tom Brady has a bad football game on Sunday, I can understand why he would want to think about it on Monday; it’s his job and life. But for me to do so? It’s a useless expenditure of energy. Yet I see others let professional sports affect them mentally for days or even weeks after a game. It’s self-defeating.

Walking away from playing the market and changing my reaction after a game is won or lost are both examples of improving emotional capacity, a critical skill high performers must learn to develop.

Emotional capacity relates to how we react to challenging situations and people as well as the quality of our relationships, which can either increase our energy or deplete it. The process of improving emotional capacity is challenging. It requires learning to actively manage your feelings and accepting a certain amount of uncertainty and unpredictability from both individuals and circumstances.

For example, consider two people who have a negative interaction with each other early in the day. The person with high emotional capacity is able to shrug it off, move past it and continue on with the priorities of their day. The person with a lower emotional capacity would be easily rattled by this interaction. It would likely consume, if not ruin, their entire day and affect their performance at work and at home.

They each experience the same event but allow it to impact them differently. That delta is the differing degrees of emotional capacity.

When dealing with people and circumstances that influence our mindset, high achievers see two options: walk away or change your reaction. While I was able to do this with the stock market and watching professional sports, I’ll be the first to admit that I have many other examples in my life where I am mindfully working to better apply these principles and continue to build my emotional capacity.

The key is to focus on what we can control (emotions and reactions), not the event or external forces. No one should believe they can control the stock market, sports games or unfortunate run-ins, but we each absolutely have the ability to choose how these events will impact us.


Quote of The Week

“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”


Charles R. Swindoll



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