Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Birthday reflections.

I wasn't going to turn my computer back on today and enter the online world, but at the end of another birthday, I feel the need to say a few things.

Rather than railing against growing older, I embrace my birthdays with exhilaration   How wonderful that I am still around to share and celebrate another year!  As I do grow older I  hear stories of people who do not have that opportunity.

In the digital age, it's great to hear from a variety of people.  Greetings are public, private, personal, heartfelt, auto-generated, funny, surprising, touching, bland.  Whatever they are, someone has made the effort to think of me and reach out across the bandwidth, just for a moment.  I like it!

Today I received a birthday card from one of my Twitter followers.  We were working together yesterday and she recognised me.  Somewhere along the line, I mentioned that today was my birthday and today she presented me with a funny, handmade card.  I was delighted.  What a great thing!  Why not be the kind of person who gives or sends a birthday card to people they have met? It spreads goodwill and good feeling and that's a good thing.

This wasn't a birthday ending in zero so I didn't have a big shindig.  I'd been surrounding myself with friends who had been wrapping me in love, so I didn't do anything spectacular.  I slept in this morning; had a conversation with a prospective client and went off to lunch with a friend.  We happened to be working in the same neighbourhood and she took time out of her day to meet me.  We enjoyed sitting outside in the warmer weather.  I worked for the afternoon and then had dinner with a close friend this evening.  In between I read emails, facebook posts, text messages and took calls from friends and family.  I arrived home and listened to the messages on my answering machine - one from my four year old nephew, exuberantly shouting "Happy birthday Aunty Tanya" .  His message started with the cue from my sister whispering "go, now".

I wore a new dress today.  Rich emerald green.

I examined my face intently.  To me I look the same - except for those annoying grey hairs that I'm sure the hairdresser sprinkles in after each visit - but I know that I do not.  I don't have worry lines or frown lines.  You can see that I laugh.

I feel serene.
I feel happy.
I feel like my hard work is paying off.
I feel intensely interested in my work.
I feel valued.

I feel loved. The most important feeling of all.

Thank you everyone.  I actually feel like this most days.  It's wonderful.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Emergency services call - communication failure.

My local ABC radio station just played the audio of a call to "000" emergency services.  The call was from a young woman called Penny Pratt and she was murdered soon after she made this call.  You can listen to the call here.

I've been working with medical students all day today, providing feedback on their communication skills, so perhaps I'm particularly attuned to communication flaws at this moment if hearing the call.

I don't know any more about the case and I certainly have never worked in the emergency services environment.  I imagine that it must be a fairly challenging communication environment, but I have never experienced it myself.  That said, I have worked in a call centre (debt collection for a bank) I teach communication and work with people to resolve conflict.  I understand what it's all about.

It sounds like the worker who took the call had lost sight of the needs and situation of a person calling emergency services and was putting her own needs first.  Empathy was absent.  Here we have a woman hiding in the bush from two men who have put her in fear of her life.  An empathetic person would recognise why the woman calling is whispering and a bit erratic in her communication.  She's in full "fight or flight" mode...she's HIDING IN THE BUSH!  She's not sitting at a desk or standing on the street making a call.  Two men are going to kill her!

The response from the worker who took the call reacts to the whispering as if the woman calling is speaking quietly to make her life difficult rather than imagining what it would be like to be in fear of your life.

The call quickly escalates into a power play where the operator is complaining that the caller is making it hard for her to do her job.  If it gets too hard, help will be withdrawn.  Details about the street name and suburb had been clearly stated by Penny Pratt, yet the operator asked for them to be repeated and then asked a question, citing a different suburb.  Instead of diffusing the emotion, the operator's tone, as well as her words, create conflict.  Suddenly Penny Pratt is facing conflict on two fronts - one she is running from and one from the person she has turned to for help.

This poor woman called "000" twice, asking for police assistance.  Neither of the calls were referred onto the police.  She was found dead soon afterwards.

I understand that there would be certain key pieces of information which need to be gained by the emergency services operator so that the call can be passed onto the relevant service.  However, in this situation, a person who is really listening to the words as well as the context would be able to hear that the police needed to get there very quickly.

This is all obvious, basic communication skills.  I am wondering what emotional support is given to the staff so that they have enough resilience to ensure they focus on the needs of the caller rather than their own needs.

I've called "000" on a few occasions, but never when my life is under threat.  I've usually been a bystander reporting violence to police or calling an ambulance for an ill commuter travelling on the same train as me.  Regardless of the fact that my life hasn't been under threat, I have an expectation that calling "000" will help me, efficiently and without fuss - not put me through the process wringer.

It must be awful for the call centre operator to know what happened to Penny Pratt not long after this conversation took place.

I hope that her employer focusses on improving training and support to staff rather than punishment or performance management.  I'd love to talk to the call centre operator and find out what was going on for her...what was the last call she'd taken?  What had happened to her that day? That week?  What else had she heard that day? Had her supervisor chipped her about something? Had she had some bad news? We're all human and carry our human responses into everything.

Mistakes, however tragic, all provide a learning opportunity.  I hope it's taken up.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Creative problem solving under pressure

I had a little lesson in the benefit of my thinking style last week.  It was a good one!

I was working with a client for whom I've been working in the leadership development space for the last year.  I'm very familiar with the particular program I was facilitating last week in Brisbane and I know that there are a lot of details that have to be in place before the session starts.  All of the materials associated with these details were in the care of my co-facilitator who works for the client.

As she climbed into the taxi we said hello and then she asked me if I wanted the good news or the bad news.  I always go for the bad news first.  It gives me perspective and the sooner I know what it is, I can start working on a solution to the problem.

There were two packages of materials - one came with her as checked baggage and the other was sent by the printer several days earlier.  Neither had arrived.  The checked baggage had been lost by the airline and the box from the printer was in transit.  We therefore had none of the resources to run the activities (including the very first one) and there were no participant manuals.

It was not ideal, but we had less than an hour before we would be in front of 15 participants expecting us to be in control.

Luckily I am a creative problem solver and have no problem coming up with ideas.  I didn't dwell on the obstacles and feel bad about the situation; instead I started creating.  Within fifteen minutes I had devised and alternative activity for the opening, as well as a plan of attack for the resources needed for later that day.

My co-facilitator approved.  We executed my alternative plan and all went well.  I learnt a lot.  It was important not to focus on the one thing I couldn't do anything about - the fact that the materials had not arrived.  It was important for me to have the confidence of my client so I could just get on and devise solutions.  Familiarity with the program's objectives also helped.

Of course, I would have preferred that everything had arrived on time and the program could run as intended.  You don't always get what you want.  I was pleased to be flexible and adaptable enough not to be choked the moment I faced an obstacle.  On reflection, I realised that I was exercising leadership and being a role model - they were all looking to me to make it work.  Sometimes practical examples are better than theory.  Feedback from participants reflected this.

What do you do in a crisis? Are you good at solving problems and being creative under pressure?

Wednesday, 24 October 2012


I'm not sure if "erraticity" is a word...probably not...but it seems to be perfect for my purposes.  Things are a bit crazy around here at the moment.  That's going to lead to my posts being erratic for the next week; erraticity.

Normal transmission will then resume.  Promise.

Meanwhile, why not visit the archives?  There's some fun stuff in there.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Exhilirating! Thrilling! Frustrating! All for the price of a ticket.

When I booked the tickets to Quasi Una Fantasia this evening, I didn't know that I'd be working at Dandenong all day and would have been awake since 5am.  As I finished up an intense leadership development day, the last thing I really felt like doing was going to a concert.  But this wasn't just any concert.  One of the pieces on the program was John Cage's 4' 33" which at least said something about adventure and perhaps a sense of humour.

Mechanical piano - Salon, Melbourne Recital Centre
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The concert was presented by the Melbourne Recital Centre and Speak Percussion as part of the Melbourne Festival.  Waiting in the line for general admission the audience didn't seem particularly avant garde, or nuts, for that matter.  I had come straight from the corporate world and so was disguised in my suit and discreet silver earrings.  At 6pm it may have been reasonable to assume that we were all disguised to an extent.

In the Salon was an array of instruments.  They looked familiar, but strange.  The grand piano had a mechanism set over the keyboard.  A toy piano stood majestically centre stage, all be it on what looked like an Ikea coffee table.  Boxes with loops of paper were set behind it.  I scanned the program and concluded that these were the nine music boxes which would join the toy piano in a world premiere of "Pandora's Box" by Australian composer Adam Simmons.  (It was gorgeous; whimsical and fascinating.)
Toy Piano surrounded by 9 music boxes - Salon, Melbourne Recital Centre
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Audience members were eagerly examining instruments and trying to name them determine what was what based on the program listing.  I spotted some violin bows and was curious about how they would be used.

The first piece was played on (by?) the mechanical piano which seemed to be controlled from a computer at the rear of the stage.  It was indeed a mechanism sitting over and pressing the keys from above.  Initially I was a little surprised at the music.  It seemed random and incoherent. At the end we applauded the playerless piano.  My juices were going - this was interesting.

Next on the program was listed as a piano piece for "piano, hay and a bucket of water".  A young man with hair reminiscent of the 1980's (think Flock of Seagulls) and a terribly patterned shirt, wheeled out a bale of hay on a wheeled platform.  He was solemn as he parked it near the piano.  He then fetched a metal bucket of water and placed it near the piano.  The piano made no move to eat or drink.  The man moved made some adjustments to placement, slightly adjusting the positions of the hay and the water.  Again, the piano made no move.  The man placed his hands in the bucket, scooped up a handful of water and let it fall gently back into the bucket.  The phrase of music made as the water fell was lovely, made even lovelier by the fact that it will never be heard again.

The bows were used on the ends of the bars of the vibraphone.  The sound was perfect for the score of an atmospheric science fiction film.

Next was "Evryali" written for solo piano by Ianni Xenakis.  The mechanism was lifted from the piano's keyboard and we then witnessed the capacity of the piano as an instrument.  The piece was described by Speak Percussion's artistic director, Eugene Ughetti, as "the Everest" of piano pieces. It is apparently not possible to play every note that is written, which leads to some difficult and interesting artistic and philosophical choices.  It was a feast - one minute tinkly and playful, the next menacing in its fury.

I was particularly interested to see how John Cage would be approached.  There was a crinkle of humour around the eyes of the musicians as they took their places on the stage, but they were serious in their intention.  A stop watch was drawn.  We were advised that there would be four minutes and thirty-three seconds of the piece and it would be broken into its three movements.  We were assured that it would be clear where the movements began and ended.  They had also chosen to perform the piece as an ensemble - something that is not often done.  The stop watch was started.  A set of xylophone mallets was raised and placed down.  The audience played its part, seriously contemplating the performance.  The musicians were intent and held their performance on stage.  As each movement ended, the stop watch and the mallets were passed to the next musician.  Audience and musicians relaxed a little between movements.  During the movements we were surrounded by ambient sound - paper rustling,   breathing, a thud, a man said "it's very quiet", an electrical hum, myself swallowing....the woman next to me swallowing...the rumbling stomach of the woman on the other side....At the end of the four minutes and thirty three seconds the musicians took their customary bow.

We were then introduced to the forte piano (after the harpsichord, but before the grand piano), the marimba and the use of click tracks to keep the musicians who were playing in different tunings, in time.

One of the highlights for me was "Guero" written for solo piano by Helmut Lachenmann.  "Guero" can be translated as "guirro" which is a South American percussion instrument which is shaped like a fish.  A stick is dragged over the ridged body to make a sound.  It can also be tapped with the stick.  The piano was transformed into a gigantic guirro.  Keys were scraped.  Strings were hit directly, plucked with the fingers.  Keys were pulled upwards, rather than pressed, to create a vibration.  It looked like hard work for the pianist - no wonder he was wearing sturdy looking bandaids on almost every finger! I found this tremendously exciting.  Imagine taking something which has a very particular and universally understood way of being used in the world.  Turn that idea on its head and do something completely different.  Such audacity!

This concert was thrilling, exciting, challenging, eccentric and a little bizarre.  I'm glad I decided to make the effort to make it on time from Dandenong.  I feel that I heard music tonight that I will never hear again, and if I do, it will be a completely different experience.  One of the things I loved best is that it challenged the audience to reconsider "music".  What is it? How is it made?  How is performed? How is it heard?

I came home and ripped off my disguise.

Monday, 22 October 2012

View from the office today

View from the office - Etihad Stadium
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One of the things I really like about the way I currently work, is that I'm constantly turning up in places I've never been before.  Today I was working in the corporate venues within Etihad Stadium.  What a view!

I've been to the stadium before but I've never been to these venues or the corporate boxes.  It must be wonderful to have access to these seats when your team is playing.

I really enjoy variety, so I love the fact that each time I work for new client, there's a little touch of adventure.  Today's view is compensation for my required arrival in Dandenong tomorrow morning just after 7am.  That will be an adventure.

How's the view at your place? What was your adventure today?

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Sunday slideshow - street art

Whatever you think of street art, there is some amazing work out there.  While I was out and about in Fitzroy and Richmond over the weekend, some of it caught my eye.

Rose Street, Fitzroy
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Rose Street, Fitzroy -close up
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Yoga street art
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Ned Kelly - hidden in a bigger mural
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Richmond - off Swan Street
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Giant squid, Richmond
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Richmond detail
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Caterpillar detail.
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Is it art? What do you think?

Saturday, 20 October 2012

24 Hours in Lapa

Last night I had the privilege of being in the audience for "24 Hours in Lapa" at the Melbourne Festival.  It was only on for one night.  I hope there will be a recording available.  You can hear a snippet on the link above and also read about the story that inspired the work - the death of a man in the streets of Lapa (a suburb of Rio de Janeiro)

I've long been a fan of the Raah Project's music and when I heard about this work, I knew I had to go.  Tamil Rogeon is the composer and he's amazing.  He also plays electric violin and conducts.

Last night's concert was in the magnificent Elisabeth Murdoch Hall at the Melbourne Recital Centre and featured Orchestra Victoria and a Brazilian samba rhythm section.  It was not possible for me to sit still for the duration of the concert.  The sound was incredible!  Every time I hear an orchestra play live, it reminds me of how inadequate recorded music really is.  It's so special to be in the place while the music is being made.

I had a wonderful view of the very hard-working percussionist and was pleased to discover how the authentic sounding dog yelp is made in sample.  (By scraping on the inside of a drum is the best way I can describe it.)  Seeing him also gave me a new appreciation of the technicalities of playing the triangle!

The only criticism I had was that I couldn't understand the two vocalists.  Their voices sounded wonderful, but I couldn't make out the words.  I'm not sure if it was a case of where I was sitting (seems unlikely in that magnificent hall) or poor diction.

That aside, I'm so glad I decided to go.  One of the things I love about the Melbourne Festival is that there are often shows like last night's that are only on for one night and haven't been performed before.  So being adventurous and taking a punt is the way to go.  I've only had wonderful experiences using this method.

My next Festival outing will include a performance of John Cage's "4'33''".  I wrote an assignment about this piece for senior music at high school but have never witnessed (or should I say "participated" in a performance?), so I'm pleased to have this opportunity.  Find out more here.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Queue etiquette - what to do when the machines don't work.

When I arrived at the train station this morning, it was about 8am - the heart of the peak at my tiny suburban train station.  I knew that I had to top up my myki at the machine because the balance was less than $5.

I'm very familiar with the machine and use it all the time to top up the card. When I arrived, the was no queue and I walked straight up to the machine.  I pressed all the usual buttons, inserted my debit card, selected my account type and then entered my PIN.  Nothing happened for a while and I looked again at the display on the EFTPOS part of the machine and saw it was asking me to re-enter my PIN.  I did what it asked and continued to wait.  In the meantime a queue of people had formed behind me.  I could hear a train arriving and was keen to be on it.

Nothing happened again.  I looked again and was asked to re-verify my PIN. The train came and went.   At this point I decided to pay with cash, rather than fruitlessly arguing with the machine further.  The woman directly behind me was becoming highly agitated.  I turned and apologised to her as I waited for the machine to acknowledge any form of my money.  She said, "Do you think I could just do my top up? I want to catch the train."

I found this bizarre.  I was also wanting to catch the train and was wrestling with a machine that usually works without a problem, if a little slowly.  We all just had to go through the process with the machine in turn.

The machine spat my note out.  As I turned it over and tried reinserting it, the woman behind me asked again if she could "just use the machine while you are waiting". Waiting? I was in the middle of using the machine!  I wasn't waiting.

My response was to say that we're all just wanting to use the machine so we can catch a train.  "We all just have to wait and take our turn."

She huffed again.  The machine finally accepted my money.  The myki was topped up.  As I walked away to wait on the platform to wait for a train.  I waited for less than two minutes.

We seem to be in such a hurry these days and expect everything to happen instantly that we take it out on other people when those expectations aren't met.  Wouldn't it be great if the woman could understand that everyone was in the same boat and find a way to help?

What do you do?  What's the etiquette in this kind of situation?

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Journey to the 10th floor - what could possibly go wrong?

I waved goodbye to my fellow facilitator at the end of today and wished him a safe journey "home".  We're working in a hotel and he's staying in the same hotel.  I was jealous.  I had had to drive to cart equipment for the day and was not looking to the stress of driving home in peak hour.

He laughed about the fact I wished him a safe journey.  He was staying on the tenth floor of the building we were already in.  What could go wrong?

Here's my list of the top ten things that could go during his journey to the sanctuary of his room.

10. He loses his room key and returns to reception to request access only to find that he doesn't have enough identity documents on him to verify who he is (they're all in his room).   He hangs out at the bar, sleeps on a couch in the lobby and waits for me to arrive tomorrow morning and verify his identity to hotel staff.

9. He gets in the lift and discovers there is no level 10.  He spends the night going up and down in the lift in his vain search for level 10.

8. He makes it to level 10 only to discover his room doesn't exist.

7. He makes it to level 10, opens the door to his room and discovers it's a portal to a parallel universe populated by beautiful Japanese women, echoing Haruki Murakami.

6. He gets in the lift and discovers it's an alien abduction vehicle, delivering him to the arms of evil, alien overlords who are interested only in performing invasive, painful experiments that serve no actual scientific purpose. He whips out his iphone and films the whole things.

5. He gets in the lift, arrives at his room only to find crime scene tape blocking the entry.  He runs.

4.  He gets in the lift.  The doors close.  The muzak starts.  The lift jolts and then stops.  The lights go out and the muzak stops.  He activates the alarm.  The doors open on the ground floor as I arrive to start the day tomorrow.

3. He can't get to the lift.  Teenage fans have discovered he's staying in this hotel and have blockaded the lobby, at considerable inconvenience to other hotel guests.

2. He decides to head out for a walk and drink after work.  Things get out of hand and he can't remember where the hotel is.  I send out a scout in the morning after hearing reports of a roaming, disorientated man wearing a suit in the streets of Melbourne.

1. He doesn't even bother with his hotel room.  Instead he orders his private helicopter to meet him on the hotel's helipad.  He spends the night at home in Sydney and arrives in time for tomorrow's work, if a little windswept.

What else could possibly go wrong?

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

How did I ever have time to work full time?

The question I've been asking myself lately is "how did I ever have time to work full time?"  Seriously.  I don't know how I ever managed to get anything done! How did I ever make anything; read anything; write anything; see anyone; play anything; pay anyone; clean anything; calculate anything? Oh that's right, those last two items I still struggle with.

This afternoon I've been doing my BAS* for the Tax Office so that I can work out how much goods and services tax I've collected for them and pay it back.  It bores me stupid.  For a little while I convinced myself that I loved being systematic and working the fabulous spreadsheet that my more fabulous accountant set up for me.  This afternoon I discovered that I have been lying to myself and to everyone else about this.  I still hate it.  Putting numbers in columns and cross checking the little pieces of paper, with their faded printing, that pass as receipts these days, updating my car usage in my special diary is just so DULL.  Even the thrill of seeing how much money I've earned during the quarter was not enough to make it all shiny and satisfying again.

When I first started out on this business venture, I knew that I would need to have a really easy, uncomplicated and appealing system to use to keep all my records in order.  If I didn't start this way, there was a chance that the tax office would be looking for me a few years in the future and I'd probably be hiding in a cave somewhere because the disarray and volume of paper would just be too much.

That theory was right and I was very diligent early on.  Then I became extremely busy: flying all over the countryside, stopping at home long enough only to wash my clothes and repack my suitcase.  Travel for work generates paper like no other activity I've ever been involved in.  I started this busy period by clipping them all together and putting them aside to be entered into the spreadsheet next time I was home.  I did this a few times until there was a teetering pile.  The pile teetered right off the edge of the table and with another round of travel looming, along with the deadline for lodgement of my BAS coinciding with this time, I knew I had to tackle it today.

For almost three hours, I've sat chained to my desk.  It's done now and the payment is set up and everything, but I don't feel a sense of achievement.  I feel like I've been cheated of quality time I could have spent doing something else more interesting and invigorating.  And now I've started the recriminating conversation with myself. "You can't let it get out of control again".  "Just do it whenever you have a receipt - it's easier to do one or two at the time." Blah, blah, blah.  I know, I know, I know.

The only thing that makes sure I do it is the fear of further tedious conversations with the tax office.  If I could be assured I'd never have to do that again, I'd sit down with my spreadsheet all the time.  Well maybe that's an exaggeration, but you know what I mean.

So today, I've done nothing else. Well I've done a few things.  I managed to do a couple of loads of washing and dry them.  They're now piled on the couch until further notice.  I ate breakfast and lunch.  I've picked up equipment for tomorrow's workshop.  The washing up from yesterday is still sitting in the drainer on the sink.  I have no idea what I'm going to eat for dinner.

Remind me: how did I ever have time to work full time?  I don't know how I ever got anything done!

*BAS = Business Activity Statement

Monday, 15 October 2012

Top tips for negotiating.

Today, I'm sharing what I've learned about successful negotiating as guest blogger over at The Get More Blog.

My friend, Warwick Merry, also known as The Get More Guy, has been encouraging me to share what I know about negotiating for a while.    (Warwick was one of the first people I interviewed for Question Time.  If you missed it, here's the link.)

I'd love to hear your stories of negotiations.  What are your tips for success?

If you need help to prepare for negotiations or if you've reached and impasse and aren't sure where to go next, I'd love to help.  Just ask!

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Sunday slideshow

Finally, we have had some gorgeous weather in Melbourne!  I've had a very busy weekend (I was working for the Royal Australia College of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians as an actor) but had the opportunity to walk from one place to another along a very scenic route.  Here's some things I noticed.

I love the ornate decoration on the building belonging to the Victorian Artists' Society.

Victorian detail
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 Right next door to the Victorian Artists' Society is the back of the Eye and Ear Hospital.  I noticed that the fire safety door is topped with razor wire.  The door has a sign on it saying "do not obstruct".  I'm not sure whether the person who installed the razor wire read the sign. Such ugliness next to beauty.
Razor wire obstruction
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 The Catholic cathedral was looking pretty good today against the back drop of a azure.  I like this angled shot showing a tiny part of one of the cathedral's wings.

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 Here's the cathedral from a different angle, capturing the traffic lights in front.  I like the ideas of "direction" suggested by a church and traffic lights.

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 Again the clear blue sky provides a wonderful back drop for the iron fence.  The palm tree seems whimsical in contrast.  (I did not use a filter on this shot - this really was the colour of the sky.)

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 The urban landscape often juxtaposes nature and architecture.  Here, again with no filter, the Eye and Ear Hospital claims its space against the blue sky.
Urban landscape
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Walking along Albert Street in East Melbourne, there is a water feature.  In real life, it is unremarkable.  I was attracted to the movement of the water and the way the light played.  This first shot reminds me of crocodile skin.
Water I
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 This is the same pool of water, taken from a lower angle, facing away from the light and applying a filter.  I think the result is stunning.  It reminds me of folds of blue velvet.
Blue velvet
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In the top right hand corner of this shot, you can see the froth  created by the water from the fountain hitting the pool.  The foreground looks like there are two crocodiles sleeping under the water's surface.
Water Feature II
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 Another water shot - here you can see the movement of the water in the air and as it hits the pool.
Water feature III
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 Another urban landscape.  The tall pencil pines look modernist next to the low brick wall.
Urban landscape II
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And I couldn't resist the bright red foliage of this plant.  Each shot is a closer look than the last. Very pleased that I captured the bee.
Botanical I
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Botanical II
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Botanical III
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Friday, 12 October 2012

My favourite things - this week ( in pictures)

Lygon Street Carlton
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You never know what you'll see.  I was on Lygon Street in Carlton on Monday afternoon when I saw a man dressed as a cowboy riding his horse down the street!

Spencer Street
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 The city was shining in the weak morning sunshine, helped along by the rain that had fallen.  The view from the top of the escalators at Southern Cross Station was beautiful.  The streets look silver.

Wood 'book' panelling
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I visited the city library today to collect my reserved copy of "Savages" by Don Winslow.  (Need to read it before I see the movie.)  They've had a makeover.  There's sculptural wood panelling that's in the process of being installed.  It looks a bit like books.  The timber is from trees that had died within the City of Melbourne.  A great way to give them a second life.

Shoe parade
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Waiting to cross Collins Street at Elizabeth Street today, I noticed the bright yellow snakeskin shoes worn by a man wearing orange trousers and a navy blazer.  If he had turned around and was wearing a cravat I wouldn't have been surprised.  At the same lights was a woman wearing an incredible pair of shoes with rectangular, diagonal heels.

Spring glimpse
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On a very cold day, at the end of a very cold week, I was happy to see this little green sprout, evidence that spring is here.  Really.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Q & A - this time it's me answering the questions.

Today's post is actually on another site.  I've been interviewed by the Maura Fay Group and you can read the result over on their blog.  (While you're there, why not have a look around?)

One of the things I do in my life is provide my services as a Senior Facilitator to the Maura Fay Group.  As a result I get to work with lots of interesting clients and have some wonderful conversations with people doing interesting work in all kinds of situations.

Today I was with Australia Post, having leadership conversations with the people who make sure we get our mail!  Here's what I could see through the window of the room we were in:

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As I drove home, I noticed a few posties returning on their bikes and many delivery vans.  I can't wait to pick up my latest yarn delivery and now I know some of the people who make sure it will arrive.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

What was she saying - eavesdropping on the tram today

Travelling on the tram today I took a seat opposite two old Chinese women.  They were travelling backwards in a bank of four seats and they both looked at me briefly when I sat down. They looked to be in their sixties or seventies.

The one on my left, nearest the window, was talking at the other woman in her language.  I had no idea what she was saying, but it soon became apparent that she wasn't being very nice to the other woman.

The other woman, the one on my right, was angled away from the other. She was wearing a white cotton hat with an elastic strap under her chin, her tartan bomber jacket was zipped to just below the strap.  Her eyes were focussed on the scenery passing by the opposite window.

All the while the woman doing the talking kept her stream of chatter up.  She would look at the other woman occasionally but keep talking as she looked away.  Her facial expression was hard to read, but her eyes showed her displeasure.

She would pause in between pronouncements, almost as if she was gathering her thoughts for the next part.  She clearly wanted a response from the other woman, but she wasn't getting it.

As this continued, neither of the women looked at me, so I could study them in detail without them becoming self-conscious.

The "victim" was slowly angling her body so that she had her back to the other woman, yet still the talk continued.  She never once turned her head.  Such discipline.

At one point, it became too much for the victim.  She raised the hand closest to the other woman and waved it in front her own ear - as if she was swatting an annoying mosquito - while shaking her head.  She said something back.  From reading the situation I believe she was saying, "Enough! Just be quiet!  Enough!"

This silenced the woman who sat with a grim look on her face, lips pursed, but mind clearing putting together her next speech.  It didn't take long before the talker started muttering under her breath again.

I wonder what was being said.

Were they fighting about how to care for their ageing parents?  The bathroom cleaning roster? The gambling addiction?  The toy boy acquired by the victim and coveted by the talker? The fact that the victim bought the wrong brand of breakfast cereal? Had backed over the cat in the driveway that morning and now they were travelling on a tram? The latest art installation that had resulted in a wing of the house being trashed and the carpet left with a smell that was never going to move?  Or the birthday voucher for botox that the victim had given to the talker? Had the top secret cloning project they'd been secretly conducting on behalf of a foreign power been ruined in a moment's distraction...?

I don't speak Cantonese, so we'll never know.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Campaigning and bullying are NOT the same thing.

I wasn't going to, but there's something else that occurs to me about this whole Alan Jones thing.  It's prompted by statements labelling the social media campaign protesting against Jones' comments "cyber bullying".

While listening to Jon Faine on ABC 774 yesterday morning, a woman called to object to this label.  She broke down as she spoke about losing a child recently to cyber bullying.  She didn't want what had happened to her child to be diminished by Alan Jones and 2GB co-opting the term.

I don't think that an organised social media campaign can legitimately be characterised as cyber bullying.  Firstly, I don't think that a social media campaign is that much different from a traditional campaign where people write letters, call talk-back radio, gather signatures on paper petitions, organise town hall meetings, go doorknocking etc.  The key difference is that social media tools allow people to speak and be heard by a very large audience.  In fact there is potential to connect on a global level without leaving the home.

Secondly, cyber bullying is bullying, it's just the tools that are different. That's not what is going on here.

I'm happy to disclose that I signed the online petition calling for Jones' removal following his comments.  I will also tell you that I encouraged friends to also sign the petition using Twitter and facebook.  I did more than sign, I've engaged in face to face conversation with people and this is the second piece I've written on this blog.  (You can read the first piece here.)  In days gone by, gathering signatures for a petition required pounding the pavement, setting up a stall on the street, talking to customers coming into your business about signing, passing the petition around at work.  Now it requires some drafting, an online account, the press of a button and a social media network.  Same outcome - names in support of a proposition; different tools and timeframe.

Applying glib labels to dismiss social media campaigns is really an expression of grief and fear at the loss of power.

Before social media, the power to be heard instantly sat firmly in the hands of people like Alan Jones - people who are paid to broadcast their opinions, stir up controversy and incite outrage.  The microphone was their tool and they had the power to speak uninterrupted.  People could engage in the discussion by calling talk-back, but the power still resided with the broadcaster with the power to flick the "kill" switch on any caller without warning.  From my own experience of calling the ABC, my call is first screened by a producer to assess what I want to talk about.  (I'm not in 2GB's broadcast area, and if I was I wouldn't listen and would be unlikely to call.  I have never called Alan Jones and can't vouch for their process.)

Now social media takes out these filters and time lags and gives anyone with access to a computer or smart phone the ability to broadcast or publish without interruption.  Broadcasters and other traditional media, no longer sit in the all-powerful position.  The power has been dispersed and they are just another voice in the population and they will receive feedback immediately and en masse about what they say.

In my opinion, this power shift is exciting.  It's also challenging.  Whenever power is challenged in a society it's significant.

So Alan Jones and 2GB need to suck it up, as they say in the classics.  They need to wear the consequences of their words and actions.  They need to come to terms with this power shift.  If their values genuinely align to their rhetoric about democracy, they should be dancing in the streets!

Bullying of any kind should not be tolerated.

If you'd like to read and sign the petition, follow this link.

Monday, 8 October 2012

In praise of cowboys - why I love a western.

I've been on a cowboy jag.  I've always enjoyed a western.  When I was younger I loved the clarity of the line dividing goodies and baddies.  As I grew older I loved the image of the cowboy - long legged, lean, big-hatted, eyes squinting against the sunglare and practised in cool appraisal of other people and situations.  The dexterity and showmanship of the quick-draw man under pressure never fails to please. And we must not forget the moustaches!

Last night I watched "Tombstone".  Made in 1993 it's one of those films where you recognise everyone in the minor roles because they've now made it big.  "Tombstone" is one of my favourite westerns.  It's the story of Wyatt Earp and his brothers, Virgil and Morgan, retiring from the law and settling in the town of Tombstone.  There's a mining boom, so the town is full of promise.  The town is also under the shadow of the local gang, known as the Cowboys.  As soon as word spreads that the Earps are in town, the pressure is on to help enforce the law.

The story is apparently loosely based on fact and includes the shoot out at the OK Corral.

For all the talk of law and lawmen, it seems to me that these frontier towns were lawless places and that living there was a dangerous business.  What I realise now is that the genre is flawed - there are murderers on both sides of the moral line.  The good men start out reticent to draw their weapons and are keen to keep the peace.  Something then happens that tips the moral balance and all out war is declared.  Everyone starts shooting everyone else indiscriminately.  So what's the difference between the goodies and the baddies then?  The baddies are doing it out of self interest and the goodies are doing it for the community?  Maybe, but there's always a hard glint of revenge in the eyes of the marshall.  I suppose they'd say it's justified.

It's interesting to watch "Tombstone" again having watched the HBO series "Deadwood".  The moral lines are very blurry in that show.  I started out detesting Al Swearengen, proprietor of one of the bordellos and over the course of three seasons saw some good in him as he started to put the needs of the town ahead of his own.  "Deadwood" is apparently historically quite accurate.  The people look dirty enough to live in this kind of place and they have mouths to match.  There are cowboys everywhere.  Their hats are big and their moustaches are bigger.

Speaking of justified, I'm also watching season two of the television series "Justified".  Timothy Olyphant - who played Seth Bullock in Deadwood - stars as trigger happy US Marshall Raylan Givens.  It's set in current times and based on an Elmore Leonard story.  Raylan Givens has everything - long legs, big hat, steady cool appraisal skills, drinking problem.  He doesn't have a moustache, but he does have a horse shoe ring and Gary Cooper charm.  He's always in trouble for shooting people and it's always "justified".  His hat is also bigger than anyone else's.  It's a mixture of the western and the crime genre with modern problems like mountain top removal of coal threatening the environment and way of life, drug gangs etc.

The theme song is bluegrass rap!  What else do you need?

I'm off to find some Gary Cooper, John Wayne and Paul Newman films to watch.

What are you watching at the moment? Do you like cowboys?

Friday, 5 October 2012

My favourite things - the lemonade stand

1. The "pop up shop" at Seddon train station.  It popped up this morning and was still there four hours later when I returned from the city. The proprietors are two bold, blond-headed eight-year-old boys and they have a cunning entrepreneurial spirit.  This morning as I walked to the station, the one with the curls approached me and offered to sell me some flowers.  They had a tartan rug and all the flowers were beautifully laid out.  I explained about my hayfever and said that I couldn't buy flowers because of it, but I wished them well.  I asked him how it was going and he said "okay" and that they'd had donations from a couple of people.  He looked at me meaningfully with a maturely cocked eyebrow. I decided not to make a donation; these boys looked like they were serious about business.

When I returned in the afternoon, they had diversified.  They were now offering home made lemonade for $1 a cup.  I asked who made it.  Ethan had.  I asked if it was good.

"It's very good," he said solemnly.  There was pulp floating in it so it looked real.  I had a momentary worry about washing up and who else had used the cup, but decided I would be okay.

The boys engaged in entertaining banter while I sipped my lemonade.  An old  man made his way from across the street to enquire about the price of a cup of lemonade.  He decided $1 was a good price but shook his head when a cup was proffered at half mast.  "If I'm paying a dollar, I want a full cup," he said.  These boys showed excellent customer service instincts, apologising immediately and happily rectifying the error.

I noticed some small bunches of lavender were still available.

"How much is your lavender?"

"It's a dollar.  We've got the English or the French.  The French is a smaller bunch 'cos the flowers are bigger, but the English smells better, I reckon," one of them said earnestly.

He displayed the two options and asked me which I would like.

"I'll take one bunch of the English please."

"An excellent choice," he said as he took my dollar.

I asked how business was.  They said it was pretty good and that they had made $60 for the day.

"What are your expansion plans?" I asked.

"Well we're getting ready for peak hour."

"What do you think about your shop location for peak hour?"

"Yeah, we've been thinking about that.  What do you think?"

I made a couple of suggestions, including staying right where they were until they had seen the pattern of foot traffic coming off the first couple of peak hour services.  They thought this was a good idea and advised they would consider it.

I wished them all the best and thanked them for the lemonade and the lavender.

I was going to ask them if I could take a photo of them and their shop, but felt it freak them out.  Here's a picture of the lavender instead.
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2.  I discovered a precinct in Melbourne Central that I hadn't visited before.  It's a new food court and shopping area which is cleverly decorated and has better than the usual foodcourt suspects.  I enjoyed a Mexican quesadilla from one of the zillion Mexican joints springing up and also had a coffee and cake for afternoon tea after some wandering around with my camera.

Coffee and cake at Cupcake Central
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This place has a wonderfully coherent and pleasing design theme.  The pale green (shown in the saucer above) shows up in a few places.

The tiles
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I gazed at this still life arrangement as I enjoyed my afternoon tea.  You can see the same green in the handle of the egg beater.
Still life with cupcakes
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The chairs were funky too.

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3.  There's a little library in this part of the world!  A cool idea in the middle of a retail area frequented by students.  Its philosophy is written on the window and I'm inspired to drop of some books when I'm next in the neighbourhood.

Little Library rules
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4. The shot tower at Melbourne Central.  This has to be one of the cleverest renovations/preservations around.  Who ever is in charge of the centre deserves congratulating.  There are lots of delightful details.

Giant white chandeliers, reimagined
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Mezzanine chairs
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Shot tower shadows and living wall
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Shot tower I
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Shot tower II
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 5. The prose in Nick Cave's first novel, "And the Ass saw the Angel".  It's incredible: dense, rich and requiring gorging.  I'm very grateful for the built-in dictionary in my e-reader too.  Here are a couple of my favourite passages. Not for the fainthearted:

"Mummy was a swine - a scum-cunted, likkered-up, brain-sick swine.  She was lazy and slothful and dirty and belligerent and altogether evil.  Ma was a soak - a drunk - a piss-eyed hell-bag with a taste for the homebrew." (page 26).

"Finding Toad covered in pig-shit and sucking a trotter, they had chased him out of the Morton's valley to roam the gullies and gulches of the out-hills, a sore Goliath shunned by his own blood, without friend or companion save the league of demons that rubbed and itched amongst the crags and sunless cracks of his bad, mad and unholy brain." (page 34)

"His demented eyes egged in their orbits as if they were being laid." (page 56)

What are your favourite things this week? Have you ever run a lemonade stand?

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Door knocking - to open or not?

When people knock on my front door and I'm not expecting them, I don't usually open the door.  I'll ask who it is as I look through the fish eye peep hole and that will be the end of the encounter.  They are usually sales people and I'm not in the market for what they're selling.

They want to put me on a plan which will only work if I combine my gas and electricity. I entered into this conversation once and said at the very beginning that I don't have gas connected.  They said it didn't matter.  The deal sounded good.  They got all the way to the end and then realised that I really wasn't kidding about not having a gas connection.  I wasn't eligible for the deal.  What a waste of time.  I don't talk to them anymore.

Or they want to sign me up for pay TV.  When I told one salesman I wasn't interested he told me he didn't believe that I wasn't and wanted to know why.  I told him that I really didn't have to explain myself.  He called back (through the still closed door) "it's because of the internet isn't it?  They're not the same you know?"  It wasn't because of the internet but even if I was interested in paying to watch television that I would hardly ever see and when I did there would be nothing to watch, his tone wasn't making me inclined to let him sell it to me.

When I have opened the door I have flashes of Bernard in the first episode of Black Books avoiding doing his tax.  He invites the religious door knockers in and engages them in conversation.  They don't know what to do; it's never happened before...

Today, the door knocker was one of my local councillors. Today I opened the door.  On a fairly hot afternoon he is out door knocking the neighbourhood and talking to constituents.  He was from the ALP, but I would have been happy to talk to anyone who is prepared to pound the pavement and engage with the community.

I commented that I'd been impressed that the Mayor had come by a few months ago.  I was sorry that I had missed the opportunity to speak to him but pleased to come home and find a card and his invitation to call him about any local issues.

Door knocking is hard work, but it can win elections - especially if you're the only one doing it.  There is nothing at all like the power of the face to face conversation at a person's home.  I learnt this during the 2007 federal election campaign where I led my union's Your Rights At Work campaign in the crucial seat of Solomon.  (It was held by the other side, sat on a thin margin and was seen as necessary for Labor to win federally.  We won it, with an even thinner margin. As it turned out, if we hadn't won it, Labor would still have won government.)

Michael who visited today was friendly and interested, a good start for any conversation.  He asked me if there was anything I was particularly concerned about locally.  I put in my pitch for the return of the pop up park to Yarraville village.  Now that the warm weather is back, I realise how quickly the pop up park had become the heart of the village. I miss it.  I asked him how his door knocking was going and he said that people are generally pleased to talk to him.  He'd only had a couple of refusals and a few people who wanted to argue.  Nothing wrong with an argument, I reckon;  it's better than apathy.  Argument at least shows a level of engagement.

He was about to turn away and I asked him if he would like a cool drink.  He looked like he was going to say no, but then he said yes.  I gave him a cold glass of sparkling mineral water and it looked like it went down very well.  (One of the tools of influence is to accept hospitality when offered.  He also looked thirsty.)  We stood on the front step continuing our conversation.  I discovered that he saved two years' worth of annual leave so that he could door knock for this election.  Whatever else could be said about him, that deserves respect - it says something about his commitment to the community.

It will be interesting to see if anyone else comes knocking.  I'll be equally happy to speak to them and even offer a cool drink.

"It was nice to talk to you," he said has he waved and walked down the steps.

Who has knocked on your door lately?  Do you talk to them?

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Evil flowers!

While the spring flowers and grasses are playing havoc with my immune system, they are very pretty to look at.  Here's a sample of spring in Yarraville.

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Breaking through
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Wild footpath
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Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Lowering the tone - Alan Jones' "apology"

I've got hay fever that is worse than the flu.  My head is blocked up and I have to turn the television right up to hear it.  None of that has stopped me hearing Alan Jones' statement following his latest inappropriate attacks on the Prime Minister and her father.  

One snippet particularly caught my attention.  Jones said: "Those people who have complained about what I said about the Prime Minister and the language I used are using vile language in their comments about me. That apparently is OK."  (You can read a report on the whole thing here.)  Jones made this statement

I don't listen to Alan Jones' program.  I live in Melbourne and he doesn't broadcast here.  If I lived in Sydney, I know that I wouldn't tune in.  But I do know that lots of people do.  As a result, as much as I may rail against someone like Jones, he is actually a powerful thought leader in a significant sector of the community.

The comment I've quoted above shows that Jones doesn't understand this.  It is him - and other broadcasters like him - who have changed the tone of public discourse.  His abusive tirades mean that vile, vitriolic attacks are the norm these days.  He has created the environment himself and lowered the benchmark of acceptability.

I know that the shock-jocks are all about inflaming and arousing.  Luke warm isn't part of their repertoire.  I'd prefer a more intelligent, thoughtful and moderate discussion.  (Moderate in temperature.)  It is a bit much that one of the biggest bullies there is, is now pouting because his own bile has been put on a plate and set down in front of him.  

I deliberately use the term "bully".  Jones' latest comments were attributing motivation to our Prime Minister's dead father.  Only a bully throws a punch at someone they know can not retaliate.

I think we're better than this.  I hope we're better than this.  I'd love to have the mainstream media focussed on thoughtful and intelligent discussion and political commentary.  Until then, people like Alan Jones set the tone of public discourse in Australia.  It's great to see people taking a stand against this violent and bullying approach by pressuring advertisers.  It will be interesting to see whether money really does talk.  I think there will be a flurry and then everything will go back to the way it was.  

I'd love to be surprised.

Monday, 1 October 2012

What's in your heart? - doing my best with the information available

Last week, I said something during a discussion with a group of leaders, which received a stunning response.

We had been discussing the issue of employee engagement and the subject of one person in particular had come up.  As the discussion continued, frustration at the person's behaviour and the situation that led to them being employed was evident and abundant.  The descriptions of the person in question became more hostile, more disparaging as the conversation proceeded.

Listening to the conversation, it would have been easy to conclude that the person in question was the worst kind of person, perhaps the very personification of badness.  The group decided that a conversation with her was necessary.  With this, I agreed, but I was very concerned about the purpose of the conversation and the mindset of the people approaching this other person.

I asked the group what they knew about this person.  Their responses confirmed their view of her: lazy, self-absorbed, hard to get on with, not a good fit, no one likes her.  I repeated my question, "What do you KNOW about this person?"  I received some puzzled looks and then I received the same answers.  With every answer, I threw back a challenge - "how do you KNOW that she is lazy?" and so on.  The group quietened.

I posed some more questions.

"If your view of this person is that no one likes her, what's your mindset as you talk to her and work with her?"  The silence was deafening.  The faces looked guilty.

"You view her as lazy.  Has anyone provided feedback about her work performance? Has anyone had a conversation with her about what's expected of her?"

I made a suggestion, framed as a question:  "Is it possible that this woman is just like you?  That she's doing the best she can with the information she has available?  What would happen if you had this as your mindset when you approach her?"

The group looked uneasy, then thoughtful.  Then they breathed.  When I heard that breath I knew I had made a breakthrough.

One of the most vocal dissenters in the group then surprised me by thanking me for what I had said.  He sat there with his arms folded and the same slightly arrogant look on his face and prefaced his remarks by saying he wasn't sure how what he was going to say would come across.  I braced myself.

"That's the most intelligent thing I've heard you say over the last day and a half."

I smiled and said "thank you".  He felt the need to explain some more, but I already knew what he meant.  He's another story.

It may be that the employee who was the subject of this discussion is not well suited to her work.  It may be that there are some performance issues and she won't make it.  Perhaps she doesn't fit in.  But at least now there is a chance for people to face each other honestly and with good intentions in their hearts.

I do truly believe that most people are doing their best, most of the time.  I didn't always believe that.  Sometimes I was guilty of thinking that I was doing better or more or was more pure of heart than other people.  It's been such a good thing to change this perception and bring a more constructive and generous mindset to my dealings with others.

What's in your heart when you talk to other people?  What's your mindset? Do you think the best of people?