Archive for the ‘Questions’ Category

Service of Why

Monday, June 27th, 2016


I ask questions in every post and the question word also appears in a few titles. Today I share some unrelated observations and ask WHY:

  • Do you think a mother pushing a stroller gave her young child a tablet to stare at when there was plenty to look at on the street between the traffic, other pedestrians, store windows and dogs passing by?  The child was so little—around one–and the screen so large that he could hardly hold the device that was crammed in between his legs and the stroler. We weren’t near each other for very long but while we were, not a word passed between them.
  • Inside an elevatorDo I go to the right in some elevators and to the left in others to reach the floor control buttons and inevitably, my instinct sends me the wrong way? Why aren’t these buttons installed universally either left or right?
  • TelemarketerDo telemarketers hire people who mumble? I asked one last week—an American—to repeat what he’d said. The phone volume was fine, I clearly heard the end of his intro—“and how are you today?”—yet totally missed who he represented or the reason for his call. He slurred his words while repeating, at 200 mph, what he’d uttered countless times before. When I couldn’t decipher or isolate a single word on the second go-‘round, I hung up.
  • Do companies require their live operators/receptionists to answer the phone with a ridiculously long greeting—and not because the name of the firm is of the “Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith” variety–thus wasting everyone’s time?
  • 511 travel infoDo some general call-in numbers never work? Take 511. I access it to confirm train schedules and to learn if the railroad is running from upstate NY to NYC, and not a substitute bus. [If a bus, passengers must arrive at the station 40 minutes before scheduled departure time. Miss the bus and you wait two hours for the next one. And the website isn’t always accurate.] From upstate, the electronic voice on the phone announces I’ve reached information for the Hudson/Catskill region. So far, so good. After that, whether I respond to prompts with my voice or by punching numbers on the phone, I end up with Long Island bus or NYC subway schedules and for the life of me, I can’t reach an operator or information about the Harlem Line I take.

Do you have answers to any of these or questions you’d like to pose?

Why 2

Service of Authenticity vs. Sincerity: Are You a High or Low Self-Monitor?

Thursday, June 23rd, 2016

Authentic Being authentic is in fashion–what many suggest we’re supposed to be. Wharton School management professor Adam Grant disagrees. He wrote “‘Be Yourself’ Is Terrible Advice” in an op-ed piece in The New York Times.

“Authenticity means erasing the gap between what you firmly believe inside and what you reveal to the outside world. As Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, defines it, authenticity is ‘the choice to let our true selves be seen.’”

maskGrant feels that “nobody wants to see your true self.” [I'll go a step farther and say nobody much cares much about you. Have you been asked “How are you?” or "How was vacation?" and before you respond the person is half way across the room.]

Back to Professor Grant. He shared the experience of an author who regretted saying everything that came to mind over a period of weeks. For example, the man told his in-laws they were boring and his kid’s nanny that he’d like to date her if his wife left him. After suffering the fallout from his truth-talk, this author concluded “Deceit makes our world go round.”

About millennials Grant observed that “like all younger generations [they] tend to be less concerned about social approval.” He warned: “Authentic self-expression works beautifully, until employers start to look at social media profiles.”

The professor, also author of “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World,” [Penguin Random House], wrote that people are either high or low self-monitors

  • “If you’re a high self-monitor, you’re constantly scanning your environment for social cues and adjusting accordingly. You hate social awkwardness and desperately want to avoid offending anyone. According to Grant, high self-monitors, concerned about their reputations, advance faster and “are more likely to be promoted into leadership positions,” because they “spend more time finding out what others need and helping them.”
  • “But if you’re a low self-monitor, you’re guided more by your inner states, regardless of your circumstances.” Most women are low self-monitors, encouraged by society to express their feelings he wrote. As a result they can appear unprofessional and weak. Grant shared an example of a woman given a management position at a major corporation. When she admitted to the 5,000+ employees for which she was now responsible that the “job was ‘scary,’” she shook their confidence in her.

    Henry Ford

    Henry Ford

Do you remember the no doubt apocryphal story about Henry Ford who did not  hire a man he was considering for an executive position because he sprinkled salt on his dinner before tasting it? Grant would have called the dinner companion a low self-monitor. Citing a study of people given steak and salt cellars he reported that “high self-monitors tasted it before pouring salt, whereas low self-monitors salted it first.”

Being authentic and a low self-monitor makes for a good marriage, Grant wrote, “but in the rest of our lives, we pay a price for being too authentic.”

While calling it an old fashioned concept, Grant thinks Lionel Trilling [who died in 1975], had the answer when the author/literary critic/teacher suggested sincerity. “Instead of searching for our inner selves and then making a concerted effort to express them, Trilling urged us to start with our outer selves. Pay attention to how we present ourselves to others, and then strive to be the people we claim to be.”

Herminia Ibarra “found that high self-monitors were more likely than their authentic peers to experiment with different leadership styles.” Ibarra, an organizational behavior professor at Insead, a graduate business school in France, studied consultants and investment bankers. Grant wrote: “They watched senior leaders in the organization, borrowed their language and action, and practiced them until these became second nature. They were not authentic, but they were sincere. It made them more effective.”

extrovert introvertDr. Grant described himself as an introvert, yet he “acted out of character,” to force himself to speak in public. “No one wants to hear everything that’s in your head. They just want you to live up to what comes out of your mouth.”

Do you salt your food before tasting it? Do you say whatever comes into your mind, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead? Do you fall into the high or low self-monitor category, or in between? Do you force yourself to act out of character to achieve meaningful goals? Do you think sincerity trumps authenticity and is the wisest approach both at home and at work?

Salting food

Service of Questions

Monday, February 1st, 2016

questions 5

I have two questions that Google doesn’t answer and a third that you might not find on Google for good reason but it’s something you might like to know.

Henny Penny

I can’t remember ice falling from skyscrapers after a storm when I grew up in NYC but that might be because I didn’t live or go to school in neighborhoods with very high buildings. Or maybe I blocked it out.

Henny PennyMy question is: How come architects building structures in NYC today can’t come up with a way to stop this from happening? My office building had staff remove snow from the roof after the recent storm so nobody would get hurt. On the Sunday after 27-inches of snow fell on NYC we took a walk and were surprised by chunks of ice crashing on to sidewalks throughout midtown. This isn’t the first time yet many of the buildings we passed have been built in the last 10 years.


I [and thousands of others] had the looniest time getting on and off NYC busses three days after snowstorm Jonah. On Third Avenue between 43rd and 42nd Streets, ice several feet high lined the curb. Passengers jumped off the bus into deep slush and sloshed from 43rd  to 42nd in the street while oncoming traffic splashed them with icy mire. We couldn’t mount the sidewalk until we reached 42nd and turned the corner. It was as messy as it was dangerous.

Snow January 2016 004I was horrified on my walk home that night to see people with two choices to reach the steps of a bus. They could drench their feet to above their ankles in an icy soup or walk away from the bus, up the sidewalk to the corner and wobble through foot-high ice with a few footprints made by previous pedestrians and then quickly negotiate a tricky walk down the slippery street, in the dark, to the bus’s door. I realized what was happening when I approached the stop and saw an elderly woman, with a cane, who was attempting the latter option. Thankfully she’d made it by the time I got there.

Six days after the storm I came upon a dozen workers with shovels and a giant snowplow on a little used street. Most of the workers were hanging out [see photo below]. Clearly the city isn’t up to the task.

My question is: Why doesn’t the Metropolitan Transit Authority, with the city’s cooperation,** enroll the help of businesses or landlords to get them to clear/maintain three foot slits in snow/ice at bus stops that are in front of their property and keep it free of slush? **The city would compensate cooperating businesses through tax rebates.

Unintended Consequences

Santa gave my husband a Uniglo Heattech tee-shirt for Christmas to keep him warm. According to the Uniglo website, “The moisture-wicking fabric retains heat and also features anti-odor properties to keep you feeling fresh even when you sweat.”

Heattech T Shirt

Heattech T Shirt

But for him, Heattech, launched in Japan some 13 years ago, does something else that the company cannot promote on Google.

My husband suffers from a rash on his shoulders which itches all the time. A cream called Sarna works for about an hour but then the itching returns. However, when he wears his Heattech shirt, he doesn’t itch all day.

I read that the fabric also contains Camellia oil which according to an article on, stays in the fabric up to 30 washes. This oil is said to help retain moisture. His dermatologist, who had not encountered Uniglo Heattech before, has suggested that if the textile retains moisture, that’s what alleviates the dry skin condition which causes the itch.

According to the magazine, “Due to Japan’s pharmaceutical laws, Unglo can’t officially claim that the presence of Camellia oil helps to retain moisture.” Uniglo probably can’t promote this wonderful health benefit here for the same reason: it would have to put the fabric through excruciating tests to prove and therefore promote such a claim.

Do you have questions that even Google hasn’t answered or surprise benefits of products you like?

NYC snow cleanup team.

NYC snow cleanup team.


Service of Asking the Right Questions II: It’s not about forgiveness for Anthony Wiener and Eliot Spitzer

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013


The media is asking the public if it can forgive Anthony Wiener and Eliot Spitzer who are running for NYC mayor and comptroller respectively. Both had been caught in kinky activity, the former on social media; the latter in a prostitution scandal.

ConfessionalForgiveness is neither the point nor the appropriate question—it’s a distraction. To start, pardon for these actions is not the public’s business or domain—it’s for their families to stomach.

What is the voter’s affair? The candidates’ judgment, behavior and approach to their prior work. As state Attorney General, which he was before being elected Governor, Spitzer landed unsympathetically and severely on perpetrators. His mean approach to the law was hardly forgiving—what he now wants from the public–especially against those in the prostitution business of which he was a beneficiary. This made him the poster child for the Bible quote: “Let He Who Is Without Sin Cast the First Stone.” I’m for strict adherence to the law; hypocrisy not so much.

Leopard changing spotsSo the question is not about forgiveness but about trust, transformation and whether overly ferocious politicians can change.

In today’s New York Post, columnist Michael Goodwin writes in “Sex pols’ sorry story”: “The issue is not how you spent your time out of office. The question is, how have you changed? How do we know you are not the same person who betrayed the public?”

Later in the column Goodwin continues: “Their final acts did not occur in a vacuum. For Spitzer and Weiner, their undoing was the culmination of years of reckless arrogance. Spitzer was so out of control that I predicted, after only eight months as governor, he would not finish his term. Six months later, he was gone.”

Moments after I heard a radio interview with Goodwin, a newscast on the same station ran the voice of a potential voter who had forgiven Spitzer for his sexual pursuits. The quote was illustrating the news that Spitzer was having trouble accumulating 3,750 signatures of registered Democrats that he needs to be on the ballot. His deadline is tomorrow night.

I discussed the topic with Martha Takayama who inspired the post in the first place. She said, “You have to pound on the idea that their morals are beside the point and that inconsistent application of crime and punishment rules are the issue.” The Boston-based gallery owner of Tepper Takayama Fine Arts, specializing in contemporary photography, is also passionate about politics. A frequent visitor to Manhattan where she has family, she pays more attention to what’s going on here than most locals. Takayama continued: “Spitzer’s case indicates a flaw–not a tragic one because he is not great. He thinks that he is above the law. That rules are not for him! He was a grown man when he manifested that behavior.” 

ColonThe media should help a public, with memory the size of a punctuation mark, by asking the right questions and covering the work-history of the candidates. Goodwin was on the right track. While I don’t always agree with this columnist, we see eye-to-eye on this subject. 

When you watch interviews with candidates, celebrities or others are there questions you’d wish the reporter or on-air host would ask or do they pretty much cover what you want to know? Is forgiveness what it’s about with candidates reemerging after a fall or is it more about belief in the potential for adults to change?

Media interview

Service of Asking the Right Questions

Monday, June 24th, 2013


Ask Me questionsI’d like to share a few questions to ask in a range of circumstances that might save you from costly mistakes in time and money. Asking the right questions will serve you far better in evaluating a vendor and ensuring a positive outcome than depending on websites that direct readers to the best ones.


Marketing StrategyWhen hiring a marketing, PR or advertising agency, ask to speak with four or five former clients. There are countless legitimate reasons a company changes vendors. The test of the character and smarts of the principals can often be found with those with whom they are no longer associated professionally.

You’ll learn if the counsel was sound and the work top quality; if the account people fit the company’s culture and how responsive they were as marketing needs changed. The fact that an agency is still in touch with its former clients—or isn’t–also says a lot.


ContractorHiring a contractor? Ask for contact information for his/her last three to five jobs. You’ll likely have a more accurate picture of the good and the bad when you call these people for recommendations than if you let the contractor make the picks. My first encounter with a contractor was disappointing and shocking because we thought we’d done our due diligence. We’d spoken with the homeowners and visited nine jobs: Three for each contender. But all the choices of jobs were the contractors’.


Booking a hotel with a lineup of ballrooms? Ask who is scheduled for the adjacent rooms and what their entertainment plans and schedules are. This became obvious one night when nobody could hear the speakers in our room because the relentlessly earsplitting band next door wouldn’t take a break even though hotel staff and event producers pleaded with this uncooperative neighbor-for-the-night.

hotel ballroomThe cocktail hour at another event took place in the generously proportioned hallway in front of the ballroom. The hotel had proposed this concept to all its clients. Trouble was the women at the event on the way to ours were dressed as southern belles, with huge hoop skirts that took up all the floor space. We had a difficult and uncomfortable time reaching our destination. The hotel should have put the belles at the end of the hallway, not near the elevator. Nobody asked.

Buying or Renting a House

Ask about weather anomalies. In North Dakota I lived on an Air Force base in the last house in a line of two family homes. Wind on our–and on all corners–was so fierce that far more snow piled up in our driveway than in anyone else’s.

I wonder how many of these questions are universal and if they would apply in any culture. Did any of them surprise you? Hope you’ll share your tips for questions to ask in these or other instances.

house in snow

Service of What’s the Question?

Monday, April 2nd, 2012


With $67 billion of student loans in default it appears that some of the borrowers aren’t asking the right questions. Janet Lorin wrote: “Almost two-thirds of U.S. student-loan borrowers misunderstood or were surprised by aspects of their loans or the student-loan process, a study shows.”

She continued, in “Student Borrowers Lack Understanding of Loan Terms,” on “About 20 percent of the respondents in an online survey said the amount of their monthly payments was unexpected, according to the study released today by Young Invicibles, a nonprofit group in Washington that represents the interests of 18-to-34 year-olds. The respondents had an average of $76,000 in student debt.”

college-studentsIn addition, borrowers probably didn’t calculate what their potential salary might be in their chosen field, what the job opportunities are and what the added value would be to attend a private school with its $60,000/year tuition, room and board–taking Georgetown as an example–vs. a state or community college where they can live with relatives. Undergraduate tuition at the City University of New York is $5,130.

How do you Feel?

fever-thermometerMeanwhile, the Justices of the Supreme Court are looking at the legality of Obamacare. What they are considering is if there are limits to Congressional intervention in people’s lives. Talk show pundits refer to this question as “Can Congress make you eat your broccoli?” Wonder what the answer will be.

Hot Topic

I heard an articulate spokesperson make her case about tanning beds in a radio interview. She wanted the legislation in her state to follow California where it’s against the law for teens under 18 to use them. Emma Jones on reported on these findings by the Skin Cancer Foundation: “…indoor tanners are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma than those who have never tanned indoors. What’s more, across the US each year, 2.3 million of tanning bed users are teens.”

tanning-bedJones also reported:  “California had previously banned minors under the age of 14 from using tanning beds, but allowed those between 14 and 18 years of age to use tanning beds with parental consent. Texas has also banned the use of tanning beds for children under 16, but California’s new bill has made them the first state to set a higher age limit.”

When the MC asked this spokesperson: “How many tanning bed businesses are there in the US and how big a business is it?” she had no clue. Within a minute of hanging up, his producer had the answers. The takeaway: When you are a spokesperson, think of the obvious questions you’ll be asked about the topic you’re covering and keep the answers at hand. It’s so easy to do these days!

How Taxing

On his radio show about money, Ric Edelman was trying to make losers feel better about the outcome of the Mega Millions lottery. He told the audience about a winner of $10 million who divided her winnings: 49 percent for herself, 51 percent for her mother and siblings.

tax-2She lost a court case in which she fought the tax man, ending up paying 90 percent of her winnings to gift taxes.

Before picking up her winnings, she should have asked a whole bunch of questions. She’d have learned that the maximum amount of money she can gift someone without paying a gift tax is $13 thousand a year. She’d have been better off to have picked up the winnings with family members as a group. Ric was being funny when he said she should have hired an accountant and lawyer even before buying the winning ticket.

Have you landed in a spot because you didn’t ask the right question or weren’t prepared with the answers?


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