The Present of Presence & Listening

Yesterday our excellent homilist ended with a story I had read on the Internet several times, yet it hit me differently due to the recent loss of my Dad. An old man had recently lost his wife, and was so heartbroken that he just couldn’t do anything. A neighbor’s little girl saw how sad he was, just sitting on the porch staring out into space, and ran to him and sat in his lap. The old man was delighted and told the little girl’s family that she had brought him back the will to live. They asked: “What did she say?” And he replied, “Nothing. She just sat on my lap.”

This story reminded me of the hours I had spent with my Dad in those last weeks, quietly sitting with him, particularly late at night when he couldn’t sleep even though he wanted to. Sleep deprivation particularly haunted him in the hospital with all the disturbances, noises and lights. I like to think he just didn’t want me to go home. After he came home I continued to sit with him when it was my turn, quietly watching TV, and sometimes while he slept during the day or the night. I stayed up with him the last night he was on planet earth, and I think Dad took great comfort that I was there with him, quietly sitting close by and periodically touching him.

I think this phenomenon of being quiet is also very valuable in business as part of cooperative communication, one of the arms of cooperative intelligence. Sometimes, people just need us to listen to them, and not offer any advice. It is a difficult thing to do: to just listen and listen and perhaps at the end of their ranting just wish them good luck. Often just allowing the other person to talk and talk allows them to release some steam, but also can be used more constructively. If you stay quiet, the other person may share some great ideas to improve your business practices and unleash their creativity. This practice also builds incredible trust and connection between two people since you think enough of the other person to stay quiet and listen.

In my fields of research and competitive intelligence, knowing when to be silent is a great gift, since there aren’t enough listening ears, especially these days with all the downsizing in America. When I call people, even cold calls, I will initiate the conversation, but then I will be silent and give the other person a chance to share what they know. Many of them are so grateful that someone cares enough to ask their opinion, even a total stranger, that a number of them have invited me to call them back any time. I have made them feel good about themselves and warmed up their life just a little bit by asking and caring.

It takes time, life experience and a certain amount of intuition to know when it’s right to just sit back, be quiet and listen. I am still learning and wonder what your experience has been with being quiet and listening.

Christmas, A Season for Gratitude

Cocoa the Cat

The snow is falling gently at my home in Colorado and it reminds me of the purity of birth that Christians celebrate at this time of year.

One of the purest ways to communicate is to express gratitude. This is one of the practices of cooperative communication. There are so many way to express gratitude. A thank-you when someone does something nice is a good start, since we often take these simple acts for granted. There are people in our lives who are often unseen as we go rushing through our lives, like the person behind the counter at the post office who scarcely has time to look up from work for the throngs of people sending out and picking up holiday packages and greeting cards. This year I decided to bake some cookies for our post office staff in my little home town. I took them in last Saturday about 15 minutes before closing. The line was about 40 people long and it was so hot in there. I just walked up to the middle clerk and put the cookies on her weight scale and said, “Merry Christmas, thanks for all that you do.” All 3 clerks looked up at the same time, somewhat dazed from their frenetic pace, and smiled. The cookies evaporated…I had been meaning to do this for several years, but had never remembered. My husband and I sent out many Christmas packages that day, and were happy to share a little gratitude in the midst of the holiday craziness.

This Christmas is bittersweet for me as I mourn the loss of my Dad who died just before Thanksgiving. It takes a while to bring the good memories to the forefront of one you were with pretty intensely as he died.

I like the anticipation that accompanies the Christmas season. When I think about my Dad I anticipate how my life is going to change as I more avidly bring in his good practices into my life. I am so grateful to have been influenced by this good man. He was very warm and giving, and shared a great enthusiasm for life. It’s one thing to bring these practices into your personal life, but I find it more challenging to bring them into business since business is often so self-centered, especially in competitive intelligence, where often companies are looking to be better at the expense of their competitors. Maybe it’s time for me to shift my focus towards opportunity analysis, that is helping companies uncover and develop business opportunities. Competitive analysis is a part of the process, but looking ahead and anticipating and planning are the focus of this initiative.

Ever since Dad died I have brought this blog back more to its original focus of cooperative intelligence since it focuses on being warm and giving—a lot like my Dad.

Resurrecting Cold Calling for Research

With all the excitement and buzz around social networks, I have been favoring them as a source to warm up cold calls. In a recent project I called a particular department within hospitals to learn about their usage of a specific technology.  I got lucky and found an association which listed chapter leaders around the US who worked in this part of the hospital including phone numbers. That was sure a stroke of good luck. However, after connecting with about 20 of them I realized that I didn’t have enough interviews to give my client the information they needed to develop their opportunity analysis for this new product.

I had a list of potential hospitals filtered according to the number of specific procedures which might require this new technology.  I figured I could find people to call through LinkedIn by identifying the hospital and job title using the advanced search feature. Armed with some names I would warm up the calling process.

I spent about an hour and I really came up short. I was disappointed since with other projects LinkedIn and/or Twitter had been more helpful. Instead I Googled and got the phone numbers for a goodly number of hospitals. I called the main number at each hospital and asked to be transferred to the appropriate department. It wasn’t so straightforward since hospitals don’t all call this medical area by the same name. However, I managed to get through to another 20 hospitals through cold calling. I was pleasantly surprised that one of my best interviews, with one of the largest US hospitals, came through a cold call. In cold calls, the person answering the phone often didn’t know the information I was seeking, but would find out who did, and would transfer me to the right person or give me their telephone number to callback later.

It was a wake-up call for me. Although this wasn’t a competitive intelligence project, it reminded me that the same technique often works when you cold call regardless of the reason why. You organize why someone would want to talk with you by putting yourself in their shoes. Early in this project I listened in on a conference call where managers in this medical discipline were being interviewed. I learned how they were motivated, and developed my approach around that. I also read up on the technology and competing technologies, so I could ask better questions or use elicitation skills to get more information depending on how the person answered me.

Not everyone was helpful, but I would say about 90% of those I connected with tried to be helpful based on what they knew about the technology I was querying.

I don’t know how else I could have completed this project in about 70 hours. Cold calling does take nerve since they often don’t go as you plan them. I find that if I don’t take myself too seriously and listen really closely, not just to the words, but to the tone and attitude, I am pretty successful. It helps that I have been cold calling for a while so have built up some confidence.

Cold calling can still be a real time saver, and in the case of the project I am just concluding, it was a fast and effective way to get the client the information they needed to forecast their opportunity to sell a new product! What are your experiences in cold calling?

Cooperative Leadership: Lessons Learned from my Dad

I’ve really diverged on this blog lately as the loss of my Dad has been preeminent in my life. I was thinking about how my Dad instilled cooperative leadership in me without knowing it. It’s warming to realize this now that he’s gone. If I ever finish my book on Cooperative Intelligence, I will dedicate it to him.

My Dad was comfortable and accepting of himself as a good person. He also had the gift of warmth that goes along with being cooperative, not just in business but in life. I have noticed that cooperative leadership emanates from people who are comfortable with themselves and who don’t have those psychological issues of trying to be “one-up” on others. They are deeply rooted with “take me as I am.”  People feel comfortable with this type of person: all personality types. People opened up to my Dad: they told them what was on their mind without his asking, although he often did ask how they were doing. He really wanted to know: it wasn’t just a nicety of speech.

This trait of cooperative leadership was why at work out of 10 lawyers, 90% of the calls were for my Dad right up until he retired in 1984. Just think how many fans he would have on his Facebook page today! Another trait he had which is extremely cooperative was to ask the other person if s/he realized the consequences of his action(s) or inaction! By then he had them emotionally hooked, as the consequences could be quite dire: that’s why they were calling him. A cooperative person acknowledges that the other person needs to take responsibility and own their actions.

A cooperative person looks out for the other guy. My Dad was all about that. He was so excellent at what he did and won numerous awards over the years, which he happily and graciously accepted, but didn’t bask in. As I prepared his eulogy, I had so many great examples of how Dad looked out for the other guy: ranging from pointing out to his houseboy and cook that he was too smart to be a cook and should go to college. This gentleman went on to become the youngest full professor at Nihon University, one of Tokyo’s prestigious universities, in the 1960s.  This friend, Masa, flew in from Tokyo to attend my Dad’s memorial service. Another dear friend told me that had it not been for Dad’s help, commendation and spurring him on, he would never have made it to the rank of a General in the US Army Reserves.

Our society seems to focus so much on ME, when it’s really all about how I can help others be who they can be, that gets ME to where I can be. We all have the gift of influencing each other in good ways throughout life, which I term as being cooperative, being open to noticing how we can help others.

As a 25-year competitive intelligence practitioner, I was a cooperative manager from the start, and found that people…once they realized I was for real…would provide me with some really valuable tidbits on the competition, the marketplace, new technology and regulatory trends, the major drivers in the telecommunications industry.

I hope you can take some time out during this Chanukah and Christmas season to think about how you’re going to help other people in the coming year. I am thinking about changing my profession to something more directly humanitarian than competitive intelligence, but realize that will take a few years to transition into. I would love to hear from you about what I should consider. I find I am attracted to health whether it’s the body or spirit.

The Long Good-Bye

Thomas J Duffy, Jr

Dad died on November 21, the Saturday before Thanksgiving, so we delayed his memorial Mass until November 28, a week later.  Since Dad is from Concord, NH, we couldn’t bury him until Dec. 2, 11 days after he had died.

I learned when you lose someone near and dear to you, like Dad was to me, this delay puts life on hold, since it’s really hard to concentrate on work or anything intellectual. Plus you have to deal with changing all the heir’s financials around according to what makes sense, and to visit financial institutions in hopes that these changes are made correctly, as it’s really easy to make mistakes on the Internet. We are not estate planners any more than we were medical professionals taking care of Dad, although my brother, Steve, came pretty darn close with no medical training!

My sleeping patterns changed and I found I couldn’t sleep well, and had lengthy and deep nightmares about Dad every night, and woke up sweating in the early morning, when it was still dark. It took a while to fall back to sleep, and it was not that delicious sleep that relaxes the body and the mind. When I shared this with friends, they told me this is not unusual. The first night after we buried Dad, I slept pretty well, and didn’t wake up sweating in the morning, although I was incredibly anxious.

In our culture we don’t talk about death enough: we’re so wedded to birth, babies and youth that it seems like we avoid talking about the side effects of death to dear friends and family, and this delays our ability to pick up the pieces and live anew.  Everyone will die: why do we avoid this? It’s such a healthy discussion to engage in, and can be so constructive, and helps reduce the pain of loss.

I have overheard people say that someone’s passing was beautiful: I did not have this experience with Dad. I felt like he suffered terribly at the end as he gasped for air until we figured out the right blend of morphine and oxygen. But his end was not beautiful: it was more of a relief for all of us since we hated to see him labor so hard the way the body does until it breathes its last.  My gut was totally wrenched up and I was practically hyperventilating. Just after he died I realized that I was breathing normally again, which is when I noticed how I had been stressed out in empathy.

Until we got Dad into the ground, I just couldn’t move out of dwelling on his last week of life, and what I would have done differently if only I had known better. Just today the day after we finished our long good-bye, I am not dwelling on that and am starting to remember the good times more, which is what I would much rather do. For about 48 years of my life with him, Dad was in great shape, mentally and physically.  Spiritually I felt like I could connect with him on some level almost until his dying moments, and that was very beautiful.

This blog is about cooperative intelligence, and I realize that I must have gotten this idea by watching my Dad live his life. He was not a collaborative player: he was cooperative. It was all about helping the other guy: always! He was not about drawing attention to himself and looking for praise when he did wonderful things, whether excellent work or helping the less fortunate.  He had such a gift to make you feel like you were his favorite person. He would often say, “you’re the best” or words to that affect with the accompanying body motion.  Several people said he had told him this, and when they heard that he had used the same words and actions with others, they jokingly said…”I thought I was the only one he thought that way about. Not really….” But Dad did make people feel important because he told them how great they were, and he listened, and inspired them to do wonderful things!

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