It Started With An Apology

Mike Post may not be a household name or someone you could recognize on the street, but there’s a good chance you know his work. He’s composed the theme song for TV’s hit shows Law & OrderLaw & Order: SVUThe A-TeamNYPD BlueRenegade,The Rockford FilesL.A. LawQuantum LeapMagnum, P.I., and Hill Street Blues.

You know that classic sound from Law & Order with the gavel? That was Mike Post.

In the interview below Mike tells the story of how he ended up working with Stephen J. Cannell the man behind The A-Team, The Greatest American Hero, and other 1980’s hits. I find it interesting though that the relationship between Stephen and Mike started with an apology… Of course there was also a need to apologize involved as well.

Humility matters.

In the moment we don’t always see how humility can impact the course of our lives. It’s still worth trying.

$20 in Twin Falls

You know how it goes. Long car ride. Two hours from home and your kids are bored. So they say they’re hungry.

The trip doesn’t need you to spend any more money but stopping to eat probably isn’t a bad idea.

Instead of pulling over and letting the kids pick what they wanted I gave them $20 and a challenge to find a way for all six people in the family to get something to eat.

There was some collaboration, but no fighting. The kids actually pulled it off. Had they picked out what they wanted without the rules I set up, it would have cost me $40.

Adding a few simple rules turned this part of the trip into a game and gave us a great family memory.

agreeing isn’t the last step

This was a big deal. Millions of dollars were spent to get to this point. On the call were resources in Hong Kong, S. Korea, and China. Not on the call were a team of other resources spanning from Florida to Hyderabad. The whole team would be waiting on the outcome of the discussion.

The topic, the first scheduled system outage. We needed to agree on a time and method for dealing with the interruption at a manufacturing facility. Mandarin was the primary language on the call. We let each section leader discuss the impact and their plans to overcome the disruptions of the outage.

I don’t speak Mandarin, but it was clear after about 20 minutes that we had an agreement that would work for everyone. Successful collaboration had occurred. We almost ended the call.

But agreeing wasn’t the last step.

Once we reached our consensus we needed to make sure that our plan to communicate and coordinate was smooth after all we just spent 20 minutes discussion what we’d do and when. How would we know when the when was happening?

How many times have you had a good plan go awry because we didn’t build in the communications plan?

Just as important as any agreement is the plan to execute that agreement. It may come across as tedious to talk about, but reminding your group that agreeing isn’t the last step should help them see the value in the effort.

No Bad Words

Our imperfect brains like to categorize things with broad brush strokes. This is how we create stereotypes. While not always true our broad brush strokes and stereotypes are a good starting point for learning.

Yes, it’s ok to have stereotypes as long as we recognize that they are very basic categorizations that need refinement.

We can see these stereotypes not just about people, but about the things around us.

My 9 year-old was talking about bad words the other day. I didn’t have the the opportunity for me to help her refine her impression at the time, but it’s on the list of things to do. How she categorizes her language will impact her future. For now, I’ll address it with this audience.

Yes, dear reader. I’m practicing on you.

There are no such thing as bad words!

Now, if you’re of the sensitive ear set the way to discover this might not be completely palatable. Helen Zaltzman’s work with language through her podcast The Allusionist revealed that it’s not the words themselves that are offensive. It’s that language has an aggressive aspect in both its content and delivery.

You see it’s not the list of words that we see as bad or good that’s really at play. That would simply be a checklist. It’s the words that our society only sees as aggressive.

This would be an aggressive — reverent scale. Not an aggressive — passive scale. Passive refers to tense, not tone.

The words used to create aggressive or irreverent language changes over time. The folks who screen movies might have a checklist of what can/can’t be said for certain movie ratings, but in our everyday life where we don’t have that checklist it’s not that we should check our words. We need to check our tone.

Are we communicating with an aggressive tone that will reduce our ability to collaborate?

If so, maybe that’s what we need to change. It’s not the list of words we’re using, but the choice of language we’re using in comparison to our desired outcome.

Is Anyone Reading This?

One of the things I do is take notes for meetings at work. Thanks to learning how to type when I was a young age (love you mom!) I’m reasonably good at this part of the job. After the meeting I’ll send the notes out to the team.

We’ve been so busy recently I wondered if people were actually getting to the end of my notes and reading them. So, yesterday I included the following:

I had Wheaties this morning.  It’s the breakfast of champions and this project deserves champion level effort.  

Within just a few minutes, one of the team members wrote me back to let me know that she appreciates my dedication to the project as expressed by adjusting my eating habits.

What a simple thing to a say, and what wonderful emotions came from reading it!

There actually is a greater lesson in this!

Photo by bruce mars on

One way to set up a collaborative conversation (one where both parties feel they walked away better than when they started) is to think of each opportunity to speak as a vessel that needs to be filled with the other’s thoughts.

While done humorously in my situation, that’s essentially what I was doing for this brief conversation at the end of my notes.

Recently I posted about the need for collaboration not confrontation, but knowing a few snippets on how to set up a collaborative conversation can be helpful. It’s not about you hitting the home run comment. It’s about you setting up the other person to contribute.

Oh, and I got the answer I was looking for. Someone was reading!

Collaboration Not Confrontation

The author of BeautyBeyondBones did a good write up of her impression on the Covington Catholic fiasco from a few days (or maybe weeks) ago. She, like many of the authors, discussed how absolutely, utterly, and despicably wrong the media got this story. On this blog we don’t tend to care about the daily news other than look to it for opportunities that can be universally applied, but first some background on the story. As of 27 January, Wikipedia has this report:

The incident took place in the afternoon of January 18, 2019, near the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.. Among many people who had gathered in that space that day including the Indigenous Peoples March to help raise awareness of injustice against indigenous people.[6] Another group included students from the all-male Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, Kentucky, who had finished attending the pro-life March for Life rally, and who were gathered near the memorial waiting for their buses to return home.[7][Notes 1] A third group including members of the Black Hebrew Israelites, where one of their members was holding a faith-teaching ceremony to his other followers.[8]

From longer video footage posted on January 20, 2019, the group of Israelites appeared to begin “taunting … people of all colors, other black visitors, natives, and a Catholic priest” shortly after the end of the Indigenous Peoples March, and before the students arrived on the scene, according to CNN‘s Sara Sidner.[9][10][11] As the students began to arrive to wait for their bus, the Israelites began to shout directly at them.[12][10][13] According to witnesses and video subsequently appearing on social media, the Black Hebrew Israelite men shouted racially combative insults and slurs at both the Native Americans and the high school students.[12][9][14] They called the students “a bunch of incest babies”, future “school shooters“, and “dirty ass little crackers“, called African American students “nigger“, and said “you give faggots rights”.[9][15][16][17] Many students reacted by saying things such as “woah” and “easy”.[17] The Black Hebrew Israelites also called a passing Black man who tried to disagree with them a “coon“, told Indian activists that the word Indian means “savage”, and said to a woman who had stopped to argue with them: “Where’s your husband? Bring your husband. Let me speak to him.”[15][18]

As more Covington students arrived, and in response to the taunts by the Black Hebrew Israelite men, the students performed school spirit chants, including a Māorihaka.[10][19][Notes 2] One of the Native Americans who was there for the March said that he felt “the students were mocking the dance.”[19]

Native American Nathan Phillips, one of the participants in the March, listened to the chants for what he said was about ten minutes. Believing that the confrontation had reached a “boiling point”, he walked up to the teenage students while beating a drum and chanting. He said he was intending to defuse what he saw as the escalating tension.[20][21] Sidner said that two minutes after one of the students took off his shirt to lead the haka, the “drum beat of Phillips and another Native American drummer [was audible] in the video”, and they were chanting the AIM Song, a Native American intertribal song.[10][20][22] Sidner said that while some of the students danced to Phillips’ drum beat and chanted along with him for awhile, they were not “enjoying each other’s company”.[10]

Soon, Phillips, was tightly “encircled” by about 30 students, “many of them white and wearing apparel bearing the slogan of President Trump”, red baseball hats with the phrase “Make America Great Again” (MAGA).[12][23] Phillips continued to beat his ceremonial drum for nearly two minutes inches away from the face of one specific Covington student “[who was] staring at Phillips” with what some viewed as a smirk on his face.[12][9][14][24] The student later explained that he smiled because he wanted Phillips to know “that I was not going to become angry, intimidated or be provoked into a larger confrontation.”[9] Eventually, the Covington students’ buses arrived and they departed the area without further incident.

As the short clip was making its rounds on twitter without the full context of the entire story I could see my modest feed getting more animated throughout the day–and I don’t generally follow politically charged individuals!

This meant there were two lessons at hand. How can you quickly assess a situation (my twitter going nuts) and address it without adding to the turmoil? I found a way, and offered this:

The comment didn’t get many likes, but now that things have dialed down it seems that the advice was spot on. Whether it was the boys or Nathan Phillips that was looking for a confrontation doesn’t seem to matter. There’s not a single side of this story that has “won.” There’s no positive results from their meeting either.

I’m cool with free expression. It’s one of those natural rights and amendments to the Constitution, but how we express ourselves will often determine our results.

No collaboration. No positive results.

You can collaborate on anything! While I admit it does take effort and it’s not possible in every setting, it is possible in so much of our lives that with practice you can open your eyes up to the opportunities in situations where you think it’s impossible. There might be planning and practice to get it right, but the best results in life usually come from effort.

Try it with your kids, people you don’t along with, and strangers. I love meeting strangers!

You’d be surprised how much fun it is to walk away from an interaction feeling that you’ve built something together. Conversely if you a conversation that tears others down (as this one clearly has) then it’s not collaboration.