A good question is better than a great answer

I used to think it was not polite to ask questions. When I started consulting I made a very conscious decision to change to that program. There are three reasons.

The first reason was to be more successful at meeting and getting to know new people. Creating a trusted network of colleagues was crucial to my business–both to grow the business and to have the best support to help clients be successful. I learned to ask caring questions, then listen to build trust and deep relationships. (And I received a lot in return.)

The second reason I found to to ask more questions was to learn want I needed to know to be a good consultant. To help clients I needed to first understand what was going on–rather than assuming.

The third reason was to help my clients and colleagues learn. I found that we humans learn much more quickly when we discover the answer for ourselves, and a great path to discovery is to consider the answer to a question–rather than be told. (Actually I learned this as a coach for Solution Selling training a long time ago, then practiced more earnestly as a consultant.)

Recently in my work as a product marketing manager at Red Hat, my boss and I were discussing this concept and I realized that I have crossed over to a point where I default to asking a question rather than just providing the answer (unless it’s a simple question such as where’s the supply cabinet). Asking helps me to better understand the other person and their request, and often results in a collaborative conversation that gives a better result in the long run.

My boss and I concluded that most of time a good question is better than a great answer.

I wish I could say I always lead with a question, but I am still practicing.  Next week I’ll share some specific examples.

What about you?  Where do questions fit in your conversation style?  Do you use them in a way I have not mentioned?

My best wishes for lots of great questions to come your way!

Fast and Fun

Cycling into life

Riding bikes is fun.

I used to ride bicycles with a group that was pretty serious. Some of the members had raced so knew the techniques and benefits of the peloton–riding closely, drafting well, and riding as a team. One of our routes had a stretch of road about two miles long that was a slight down-hill, and was broad with good pavement.

Almost by instinct the group knew this was the place to strongly focus on drafting skills and go really fast–the leader just pulling for a few seconds so they could sprint hard, then fall off to the back to rest in the draft. When it was my turn to pull every fiber of my muscles and lungs was burning.

I loved it.

The feeling of riding faster than I could on my own, the cohesive energy of the group, and the buzz of the chainrings was really exhilarating.

We rode that stretch fast, really fast for a “flat.” One day after a particularly good run, the group had stopped and was catching their breath before the next section, grinning but not able to talk.

Then the group philosopher, Michael, said, “Riding bikes is fun. Riding bikes fast is REALLY fun.” He nailed it. In 9 words he summed up why we rode.

Years later I still think of those words as I watch amazing athletes on TV, or ride my bike, or just encourage myself to fit a workout into a busy schedule. And I think of it when I am feeling lazy about writing Over the Hump, or don’t want to work late on a project, or have that challenging conversation. The times in my life when I have pushed to ride fast are almost always rewarding, and sometimes exhilarating.

Our human bodies and psyches are not meant to work hard all the time, however it’s those times of riding fast that often motivates us to do it again. More important–it’s FUN!

Like everything in life, there are many facets to riding fast, which we get to choose for ourselves! What about you? How will you choose to ride fast this week?

My best wishes for an fast day and week. See you next Wednesday!

Fishing for a new job

Insights from a bay

Finding a job and fishing are quite similar.

Recently the leader of a workshop shared his analogy which I found (mostly) useful. He talked about being on vacation at a bay near the ocean. Every morning a fisherman would come to the shore, cast his net over the bay, then slowly reel the net in–his demeanor as calm as the morning waters of the bay. Over the early hours the fisherman cast his net many, many times.

Sometimes the net revealed a fish or two. Sometimes the next was empty. Upon seeing the results of his cast, the fisherman expressed little emotion–no whoops of joy when a fish appeared, no tears and wailing when the net was empty. Also, no expectations attached to the results, such as 3 fish this time means even more next time!

He just kept going forward, continuing to cast his net until the sun was high and the fish gone elsewhere for the day. Most days the fisherman ended his work with enough fish for a family…

Do Your Job.

Ideas for doing less and being better

Do Your Job

If you are a fan of the New England Patriots you are probably familiar with this instruction from the coach. Since I first heard it years ago I have resonated with this advice as it reminds me to let go of trying to do things that are not in my purview, and focus on my stuff.

Even as a kid my parents called me “Little Miss Responsible” because I was concerned about making sure that everything around me was going smoothly, in addition to my work. This  attitude and the associated actions sound noble, but in reality they…

Defining success and making decisions

How do you define success?

For most of us the definition changes depending on the circumstances.  Success for a bicycle ride or Sunday dinner is defined differently than success at work, or when people outside our immediate family are involved.

When I am resistant to changing my mind about something, it’s often related to how I view success for the situation.  For example, I might view success about a car trip as getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible.  However, Jeff might define it as enjoying the view and changing colors on a lovely fall day. At work I might assign a higher priority to customer happiness and engagement than profits.  The finance team may have another definition…

Just Say No. Yes You Can!

Wooden word I can not on blackboardAs I think about my year ahead, the concept of saying NO keeps coming back to me. I have a propensity to want to do lots of things–pretty much everything that comes my way!

I thought it was just me, but over the years I have discovered it’s a natural tendency for the majority of humans.

I vividly remember a colleague telling me that was the best management idea I ever shared with him. Warren Buffet helped me take this concept to the next level…

Merry New Year!

Merry New Year!

I was reminded about the benefits of doing things differently when I said this in a meeting yesterday and got a happy laugh from my colleagues. As many of you know, I am a big fan of trying new things or working to see life in a different way. I think it helps us stay happier, healthier and more productive.

There’s also going too far with the differences. As a marketing geek I realize that I need to include language, graphics, or processes that people are familiar with to engage them–otherwise they might just pass by like I do when the box for my favorite cereal changes color.

We human beings need a handle to hold on to, especially in today’s world of too much info and things coming at us each day…

Letting go

I try not to let artificial boundaries define my life too much. Yes, I pay my bills on the first of the month, and make sure my corporate to-do list is complete on Friday–but I long ago stopped making New Year’s resolutions.

For a while I had a word for the year: one word to help me move toward a more expansive life. Then I stopped that practice and just focused on being in the moment and connecting with my heart to create my goals for the week, day, moment. Who decided that January 1 is the best time to redefine our lives?

However this year I find myself thinking about the upcoming changeover to writing 2018 in place of 2017.  Perhaps it’s because I am in job-finding mode and know that activity should pick up on January 2, or perhaps it’s because the last 18 months have had more challenges than usual, and I am looking for a fresh start. Or perhaps I am just desperate for a topic for Over the Hump.

Whatever the reason, nowadays I find myself using a phrase that guides my actions much of the time. That phrase is “letting go.”

In my opinion, one of the biggest benefits of growing older is that I don’t sweat the small stuff nearly as much. In the last few years I have really stopped worrying about things that don’t matter–traffic that’s making me late, whacky clerks, or whether I have been watching too much TV.

In the last few months I have also started letting go of more important things–wondering what my next corporate job will be, concern that my aging parents are getting quality care, questioning if colleagues like my work or friends like my Christmas cookies.

These questions and concerns still cross my mind, often. The difference that they do not stay long.  Ruminating on this stuff does not help it progress or solve itself. Plus it just wastes my mental and physical energy, and annoys people around me when those thoughts escape the dark depths of my mind.

So I have found myself saying, “letting go” a lot. And it helps. I believe that life works for the most part, and it’s more pleasant to relax into the flow than worry. So I let go (of the concern, not the action when appropriate).

I’ll report in at the the end of 2018 and let you know how it goes. Or maybe sooner if I choose not to let January 1 define my life too much. What about you? What practices help you relax into the flow of life?  Please comment below.

My best wishes for an amazing day and week. See you next Wednesday!

The Precious Gift that Love Brings

A heartfelt reminder from Kermit the Frog

Kermit Christmas“I don’t know if you believe in Christmas

Or if you have presents underneath the Christmas tree

But if you believe Love

That will be more than enough

For you to come and celebrate with me

For I have held the precious gift that Love brings

Even though I never saw a Christmas star

I know there is a light

I have felt it burn inside

And I have seen it shining from afar…”


Hear the whole song with Kermit and John Denver on YouTube

This holiday season I plan to reach out my hand to someone new.  How about you, what does this song inspire in you?

My best wishes for a peaceful, loving holiday season.

my signature 3


Vague language–when is it important?

Is this needlessly vague?

A colleague asked me this question recently as we worked to hone the language of a data sheet.  I love his question because it goes right to the core of a communication strategy I am always working on in my writing, especially for corporate writing, such as data sheets, white papers, and customer messages.

When communicating with customers, and especially prospective customers, there are times when being vague is essential. In today’s world of too much information (TMI) most people are as skittish as a deer when deciding to read the whole thing, looking for a way to disqualify any communication so they can delete it from their inbox. This means that each and every detail gives them cause.

However, when writing a data sheet or other document that readers are coming to once they are engaged with the company, product, or offering they want details to prove to themselves they are in the right place–especially in the high-tech world I work in.

So, I am always focused on ensuring the “right” amount of detail for the timing, audience, and purpose of the message. It’s one of the things that makes marketing really interesting and fun, and hard as hell.

That’s why I am grateful to my colleague for summarizing it so well. I now have a purposeful question to ask when evaluating content.

Does this question resonate with you? Even if you don’t work in marketing, it’s still a valid question.  Would you use the same language with your boss as with a peer or customer?  Your child as with your spouse?

What questions do you ask yourself to ensure that messages are appropriately crafted and targeted? That your audience won’t bolt of through the woods? Please share by leaving a comment below!

My best wishes for an amazing day and week. See you next Wednesday!