Interesting but Not Useful

I’m not sure this is a tenet of the NeuroLeadership Group or if master facilitator Paul McGinniss coined this phrase.  Heck, it may have been Albert Einstein who said it first.  Regardless, it’s a great concept.  I was working with my coach, Steven Starkey, this week and he corrected himself by saying “interesting but not useful”. It caught me off-guard.  Wow do I spend a lot of time on interesting but not useful.  It really cuts out the fluff and drama in daily life if you focus on the useful. interesting but not useful

Imagine focusing on what is useful in your daily conversations.  You know – if you stayed on track and didn’t go meandering into all the juicy details so you could raise your coworker’s eyebrows and if you stayed on message instead of whispering all the sensationalized (perhaps exaggerated) tidbits.  We wouldn’t need a water cooler anymore.  Going to work could be less Soap Opera and more DIY. What is the use in gossip if we are staying focused on solutions? Seems daunting, doesn’t it?

Here are some tips on focusing on the useful and steering clear of the interesting:

1. Solutions. Keep focused on solutions.  As espoused by the NeuroLeadership Group, staying solution-focused keeps the conversation out of the drama and details and moving forward. It’s good for your limbic system.  If you can keep it from lighting up, you are going to move mountains.  Fear shuts people down.  Reward or positive energy keeps people motivated.  Keep it solution based.

2. Listen. William Shakespeare said “Listen to many, speak to a few”.   Being present and listening will bring you a wealth of information.  Granted, there will be a lot of drama and details in that information.  But it will help you cull through to find the useful.  When you do the lion’s share of the speaking, it’s easy to go off track into the interesting and not useful.  Practice listening.

3. Silence. Be comfortable with silence.  I had a coaching client yesterday who really needed to digest and think.  I sat there in silence.  Listening to the clock tick.  Counting to 20 in my head.  Biting my tongue.  He had a breakthrough.  If I had interrupted to “fill the silence”, he wouldn’t have had the breakthrough to find the useful.  Accept and embrace silence.

4. Generous.  Be generous with your attention.  It’s always about them.  Them as in, your boss, your assistant, your coworker, your spouse, your child, your client.  Focus on what is useful for them.  The greatest gift you can give is your attention.  Give your attention generously.

5. No judgment.  Unless you are in court, and behind the bench, don’t judge.  Take some time today to listen to how often you hear judgmental statements.  “Can you believe?”, “I don’t understand why?”, “Did you hear…”.  Or worse yet when people put themselves down or limit themselves.  “I’m horrible at this”, “I’ll never be able to…”, “I can’t…”  Judgment is negativity in disguise.  Optimism is the road to the useful.

6. Bless his heart.  When you hear this in the Southern United States, run.  Whatever is coming next is not going to be positive.  This is the southern, gentile way of saying, “I’m about to run the bus over someone.” This makes whoever is saying it feel superior to whoever they are blessing.  It’s apologizing before you put someone down.  Stand clear.

I’m not suggesting that it’s not fun to do interesting but not useful things.  I was an avid Sudoku player for a while and I am an Anthony Bourdain addict, although I doubt I’ll be eating at a roadside stand in Myanmar anytime soon.  The point is that if you want to get something done and have more productive conversations, focus on the useful instead of the interesting.

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