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Ask a Busy Person…from Isabel Swift

August 24, 2011 by in category From Isabel Swift tagged as

You know the aphorism: “if you want to get something done, ask a busy person.” ?

Well, I am here to say: “So True!”


“Let me explain!”

Because why is it true? Why is asking a not-busy person–a seemingly obvious choice–so challenging and problematic?

Well, let me walk you through it. Let’s just say you have nothing to do and someone (a spouse with a full time job, perhaps) approaches you with a task: a request to pick up some dry-cleaning. Because hey, you’re not doing anything, right?

“Honey, could you pick up the dry-cleaning? I have a million things I have to do & don’t have the time,” they’d ask.

What has just happened?

Well, your workload has just increased…one hundred percent (100%) !

You’re laughing, but that is exactly what it feels like.

Because what is not appreciated is that in addition to a massive workload increase, by taking on that task, numerous other tasks will have to join it. It can be overwhelming.

Because now you have to…

– get up, take off your pajamas, take a shower
– dry off, select and put on clothes, do makeup, brush hair
– find the laundry ticket, money, the dry cleaner’s address
– figure out how to get there: drive, walk, bus, etc., figure out when to leave
– research the route, or figure to park,
– mentally prepare yourself to encounter numerous strangers and unpredictable people, respond to questions
– gather articles, transact business, carry everything back & put everything away

It’s exhausting to think about.

Whereas if you had a hundred things to do, one more is only 1/100th. Often, that’s what it feels like.

And while everyone has an upper limit, usually one more thing is nothing. You’re already up, showered, shaved and out the door. Depending on location, there are a number of slots that picking up the dry cleaning would fit into–on the way to work, at lunch, on the way back; it’s just a brief detour, no trouble at all, really!

Somewhat frighteningly, often the less you do, the less you can do. And the more you do, the more you can do.

So lighten your load with care, or nothing will get done.

Isabel Swift

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Thoughts on Control Vs Lack of Control–Isabel Swift

July 24, 2011 by in category From Isabel Swift tagged as , ,

Holding on. Letting go.

Just met a photographer at a two hour batik/dye class who said she was there because she wanted to push herself creatively in areas where she wasn’t—and couldn’t be—in control. Because she knew she relished and enjoyed the control she exercised over her photographic images—it was aligned with her natural inclinations. And she knew as an artist, she needed to challenge her comfort zone on occasion.

She did watercolor for the same reason. You can’t “fix” a “mistake” with water color. You have to listen to the medium and figure out how to reimagine your vision to work with whatever happened. Which can sometimes mean heading off in new, unexpected and eye-opening directions.

Then some years ago, walking into a group of office crafters—knitting, crochet—it seemed a homogeneous gathering of like-minded souls. But mention the word “felting” and the room divides, half enthusiastic, half appalled. Because for some, knitting is about choice and control of all the variables—patterns, colors, materials, tools and talent. And felting, with its ‘lets-just-toss-that-thing-in-the-washing-machine-and-see-what-happens’ attitude is utterly antithetical to what they do, what they enjoy. Because it’s out of their control. And for others, that’s the point and the fun.

Of course people aren’t all one way or another—they usually have areas where they want and need control, and other areas where they are totally laissez-faire. Though some can be judgemental about another’s excessive (or shocking lack of) control in whatever area they differ on! But I will have to explain the Janci Curve in another post….

Do you have areas that you think are too tightly wrapped and could benefit from some loosening or experimentation? Or areas where you’re a little too experimental and need some focus and discipline?

My answer is…all of the above!

Isabel Swift

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Drink Local – Thoughts on trends by Isabel Swift

June 24, 2011 by in category From Isabel Swift tagged as ,

Finally, I can be trendy!

When I’m at a restaurant and the waiter arrives and asks…”Would you prefer sparkling or still mineral water?” I no longer have to be branded as a plebian, one of the unwashed, uncultured and/or possibly just cheap types, as I have in the past (responding with the low-brow…”Actually, tap water is fine, thank you.”)

Now I can say, “Thank you, but I prefer local water.”

I can even give them the hairy eyeball for suggesting any right thinking human would insist on importing their water, complete with non-bio-degradable plastic or costly glass not to mention the diesel/gas costs for lugging the tonnage from whatever pure-sounding, exotic, or just plain expensively packaged product to my table.

I mean really! When fresh, local water is available (free of charge, I might add) bubbling from a tap RIGHT THERE in the restaurant. Their own private and locally grown pipe-fed spring. It doesn’t get much more local than that!

And filled with locally grown minerals and other nutrients, each local water has its own individual and unique bouquet. That’s what local is all about, isn’t it?

(Add in as much of the rest of the pro-local verbiage as you choose).

Take my word for it, you are definitely on the moral high ground here.

Drink up!

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Askers and Guessers/Requesters and Diviners which are you? from Isabel Swift

March 24, 2011 by in category From Isabel Swift tagged as

I have always enjoyed reading advice columnists, a pleasure which has increased with the advent of the net and the ability of others to post comments on both their opinion of  the advice as well as responses to the LW (letter writer in advice column parlance!).

My brilliant friend and sf writer, Ellen Kushner, shared this link, which links to this link, which offers the following paradigm that  presents and explains the two different, and occasionally contentious cultures of the Asker (Requester) Vs the Guesser (Diviner).  It’s a facinating–and I found very helpful–insight into how differently people react to the same stimulus.  Here’s an exerpt from one of the links that lays out the paradigm in a response to a query:

“This is a classic case of Ask Culture meets Guess Culture.

“In some families, you grow up with the expectation that it’s OK to ask for anything at all, but you gotta realize you might get no for an answer. This is Ask Culture.

In Guess Culture, you avoid putting a request into words unless you’re pretty sure the answer will be yes. Guess Culture depends on a tight net of shared expectations. A key skill is putting out delicate feelers. If you do this with enough subtlety, you won’t even have to make the request directly; you’ll get an offer. Even then, the offer may be genuine or pro forma; it takes yet more skill and delicacy to discern whether you should accept.

“All kinds of problems spring up around the edges. If you’re a Guess Culture person — and you obviously are — then unwelcome requests from Ask Culture people seem presumptuous and out of line, and you’re likely to feel angry, uncomfortable, and manipulated.

“If you’re an Ask Culture person, Guess Culture behavior can seem incomprehensible, inconsistent, and rife with passive aggression.

“Obviously she’s an Ask and you’re a Guess. (I’m a Guess too. Let me tell you, it’s great for, say, reading nuanced and subtle novels; not so great for, say, dating and getting raises.)

“Thing is, Guess behaviors only work among a subset of other Guess people — ones who share a fairly specific set of expectations and signalling techniques. The farther you get from your own family and friends and subculture, the more you’ll have to embrace Ask behavior. Otherwise you’ll spend your life in a cloud of mild outrage at the Cluelessness of Everyone.

“As you read through the responses to this question, you can easily see who the Guess and the Ask commenters are. It’s an interesting exercise.”

posted by tangerine at 11:38 PM on January 16, 2007 [859 favorites]

You will indeed be able to determine which are Ask and which Guess as you read the comments.  Though I hate to call them “guessers” as this type works hard to read the signals so they aren’t guessing.  What seems particularly poignant is that even after the two positions are explained, some of the responders are still on their moral high horse of outrage, excoriating the hapless requester as being poorly brought up and horrifyingly rude.

This is what diversity training is all about! We tend to work from our own experience and make assumptions about behavior based, naturally, on ourselves.   And I must say it makes me nervous when people are vilified for behaving differently.  For, as Hamlet notes to his friend, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” (Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 5)

So if you are a Diviner/Guesser, try to avoid feeling pressured by a request.  Channel your inner Asker and realize you can Just Say No.  Really.  They will likely not hate you forever.  They were just asking!  And by the same token as a Diviner, work on asking more, hating people forever less, and finding a reasonable common ground.

If you’re an Asker/Requester, try to avoid putting pressure on with a request if you don’t know the person well–or even if you do.  Try to offer a face-saving out or reassurances.  There are mine fields, and whether you choose to be aware of them or not, you may lose limbs and/or friendships!

I hope you found this as insightful as I did.  I confess to being a diviner, but have close family members who are askers.  I work on responding in kind and trying to channel their straightforwardness when I need it!

So…are you a requester or diviner?

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Travel Tip from Isabel Swift

February 24, 2011 by in category From Isabel Swift tagged as ,

Frequent air travelers may already have figured this one out, but this has proved helpful to me. I hope it will be helpful to you.

Advice on what to do when you are at the airport and discover your flight has been delayed:

It has been my experience that airlines representatives will avoid direct lying, but may not always tell the truth (exactly) and often not the whole truth (especially not in announcements). So the challenge is to figure out what are the right questions to ask. Questions that will compel them to deliver real information (Vs whatever they need to do to keep everyone calm).

So if there’s a delay, start with the question:

– Is the equipment in? (that is, is the plane assigned to fly you out actually here). This is especially important when there are weather issues.

If it is not, where is it coming from? Has it taken off? If not, why not, are planes taking off from that airport? How long does it take to get here from there? Have there been delays landing at your airport.

If it is in, why is there a delay?

– Is it mechanical (what is wrong, what is happening, any time estimate? is there an alternative plane available if it doesn’t get fixed? Is there an alternative flight available if it doesn’t get fixed?)

If it is not mechanical, what is it? Are all the crew here? If not, where are they coming from? When will they likely arrive? This usually doesn’t come into play unless a plan is delayed a long time & at a late hour, but crews can “expire” or time out. They are legally mandated not to work for more than a certain number of hours. Once thunderstorms kept all planes grounded for hours until quite late at night. Planes had to wait for a certain amount of time after any lightning event and there came a point that a couple of members of the crew would simply time out. There were no replacements available at that point, so the flight would be cancelled & we’d all have to go home & come back the next day. We squeaked in, but it’s worth asking about the crew if you’ve had a long delay & need to get a clearer picture of the variables to make plans.

My eye opening experience was once when I was flying out of Toronto, and the plane was delayed.

Airline: board indicates flight is 1/2 hour delayed. It’s winter and there is “weather.”

– Me to airline representative behind gate: why is it delayed? Is the equipment in?

– Airline: Equipment coming in was delayed, but is due in shortly & we’ll turn it around quickly.

– Me: Where is it coming from?

– Airline: (pause) I’ll have to check….. Chicago.

– Me: Thanks–but isn’t the weather coming from Chicago? Has it taken off yet?

– Airline: (pause) I’ll have to check….. No it is still on the runway.

– Me: Oh. Thanks. Are any flights taking off from Chicago right now?

– Airline: (pause) I’ll have to check….yes, they have just started flying out of Chicago.

– Me: Do you know where it is in line for take off?

– Airline: I don’t know, but it’s on the runway, not at the gate, so it’s in line (a bit long-suffering at this point).

– Me: Great! Once it takes off, how long a flight is it from Chicago?

– Airline: A little over an hour.

– Me: And then it’s about 1/2 hour to turn the plane around, right?

– Airline: Yes (a bit terse).

– Me: So with waiting for take off, travel time and turnaround time, it doesn’t look like the 1/2 hour late on the board is likely to happen, more like 2 hours if we’re lucky, right?

– Airline: (surly) Yes.

– Me: Thanks. Guess I’ll go get something to eat….

And remember, don’t kill the messenger. They are a key player in helping you, so alienating them by venting is not only not fair, it is not in your best interest.

So the moral of this story (and so many others) is:

What questions should you be asking?

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