teach my children that words have powers.
"Stupid" and "shut up," for instance,
close doors. "Please" and "thank
you" open them. As my children grow up and move
into the world, I'll also teach them a few phrases that,
in my experience, can unbolt shut doors, leave open doors
ajar, and cut passages where none existed. For
my opinion. . ."
field is public relations and my role is to dispense
counsel, but the advice I give often comes down to
opinion, and I tell my clients that. I wish we heard
those three words more often from our leaders, but I hope
you always hear them from me.
saying "in my opinion" show weakness? On
the contrary, in my opinion, those three words signal
strength--for what I'm about to say, I take full
responsibility. That shows confidence, and listeners
take their cues from the signals we send. In fact,
the more certain I am about something, the more likely I
am to preface, or conclude my words with "in my
Do You Think?"
the greatest business textbook ever written, one proverb
says, "Where there is no counsel, the people fall,
but in the multitude of counselors there is
safety." The best counsel givers, in other
words, are counsel seekers.
president of a small, twenty-employee PR firm, my judgment
and decisions are colored by the counsel of relevant
people--employees, friends, industry peers, my wife--and
sometimes counselors less obviously relevant. Only
arrogance would overlook advice because of a person's job
years of work with more than a hundred organizations, I
have often seen leaders make major decrees or decisions
without the benefit of much more than a counsel of
one. Certainly a leader is free to override
advice--ultimately he or she is left with final
judgment--but to form that judgment without seeking
information, news, and opinions, and without listening to
the dissenting side. . . well, the wisdom of one is not as
wise as it could be.
Me Ask You a Question"
stupidity of people comes from having an answer to
everything. The wisdom of the novel comes from
having a question for everything." In an
interview on his writing, award-winning Czechoslovakian
author Milan Kundera parted the curtain on his technique
and offered a tip to everyone who wants the full
story: he asks questions. The writer
continued, "It seems to me that all over the world
people nowadays prefer to judge rather than to understand,
to answer rather than to ask, so that the voice of the
novel can hardly be heard over the noisy foolishness of
else put it this way: knowledge has right answers;
wisdom has right questions. So let me ask you
something: do you employ the power of a question?
speaking, it is almost impossible to disregard a good
question. Just the phrase "Let me ask you. .
." arrests attention. Try it in your next
meeting. Used wisely (only you know if you're using
it to manipulate), a question is your passage to new
information, more time to think, and the regard of the
people you're talking to. In our culture, questions
show interest; they flatter. As a business leader, I
also observe that good questions sharpen my employees' own
thinking, and we're all better for it.
Billy Graham turned seventy, a Newsweek interviewer
asked him why, given his mighty public influence, he never
ran for political office. Mr. Graham told the
reporter he wasn't smart enough. Away from
headlines, a brilliant attorney acknowledged that he
avoided a certain branch of law because he had failed at
it miserably. Unfortunately, though, these men are
men and women, accomplished artists, gifted leaders, I
observe, who are confident about their strengths are
equally comfortable admitting their weaknesses. In
fact, show me an expert willing to say, "I don't
know," and I'll show you a constituency who trusts
what he or she does know.
not advocating a string of shrugs, needless ignorance, or
lack of preparation. But I do suggest that, along
with the phrases "In my opinion," "What do
you think?" and "Let me ask you a
question," is the confidence-inspiring habit of
refusing to blow smoke. I would even suggest that
people who say "I don't know" usually know more
than it might appear, while those who don't ever
acknowledge it almost certainly know less.
of the best things leaders can do for their children,
spouses, employees, clients, and anyone else is to make it
acceptable not to know. In an atmosphere of honest
questioning, people are more likely to collaborate--to
shoot out suggestions, think out loud, and discover
information no single know-it-all could have developed
things often make the biggest impact--thinking like a
customer, admitting to not knowing everything, asking for
help. Just take a look around then join the minority
who understand and practice these simple principles.
Little Red Book of Wisdom
principles for professional and personal
Mark DeMoss gathers insights for
living wisely from history, Scripture,
and a lifetime of listening. The result
is a handy, accessible book that gives readers
a new way to enjoy lasting
success in the work world and beyond.
Topics include finding and keeping
your focus in life, building a winning
corporate culture, and setting aside
time for good thinking.