Quit or Stay? A Tough Career Choice

We have all faced the dilemma of quitting or staying in our jobs.

Years ago the NY Times did a series on people who for some reason or another resigned their job and moved on. One example was a very senior corporate attorney who resigned his position and moved from a major city to a small town in the country. There he opened a law office and worked an eight hour a day job that gave him ample time for the rest of his life. As a result he had time to go fishing with his son (something he had missed with his own father) as well as regaining his health and sanity.

When we find ourselves with the urge to quit what do we do?


After the reality check of a cost/benefit analysis about our work we choose to stay. We make adjustments to our job like reaffirming our priorities that can make the job fulfilling once again.

Most people I know, including myself, love the work they do. It is deeply satisfying to make a difference in one’s organization, contribute to the common good, be at the table where innovative strategy is being formulated, and gratifying to be a part of development of the lives and careers of others. Such people say, “You mean they pay me to do this?”

Others don’t quit because of the “golden handcuffs”. The latter could be retirement benefits they lose if they leave, the mortgage to pay, kids to put through college, and the price of pulling up one’s roots. Furthermore, it is not worth resigning over a boss we do not like because there are frequent managerial changes.


There are a number of sound reasons why people would move from their present job. These include,

  • The pressures of the job are compromising our wider life

When a person is sleep deprived because of the chronic work crises their efficiency goes down, their lives are shortened, and families are compromised. When such stressors are out of our control leaving the situation may be our best option.

  • There really is a glass ceiling

Some organizations really do not accommodate the ambitions of their employees. Women and minorities do encounter a glass corporate ceiling. In Japan, for example, many women have left corporate life with its male dominated culture to launch out into their own businesses. No matter how much these women “leaned into” their power, the political and cultural realities severely restricted their career progress.

  • There are actually better career opportunities elsewhere.

We are often warned that the “grass is not greener in another field”. However, this is not necessarily true. Multitudes of people have found better opportunities elsewhere. Even after they were downsized.

  • There is a whole different life calling us.

A couple of my friends had an epiphany one day as they reflected on the downside of their high-pressure job in the high tech industry. They asked themselves, “Why are we doing this to ourselves?” The action they took resulted in paradigm shift on how they lived their lives. They cashed in their investments and began a spiritual journey that took them all around the world. This action gave them new opportunities to use their gifts and serve others.


Where am I on this quit/stay question?

How can a radical change bring me new opportunities?


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Avoiding Cultural Gaffes – A Case Study

Doing the culturally appropriate thing in our home country doesn’t always work in other cultures. Unless we understand this fact we fall into the “Ugly American” trap.

When we travel (or live) in another culture there are cultural rules that we need to learn and follow. These rules of interaction, when observed, make our communications flow easily and open the possibility of making deeper connections with others.

If these rules are violated, however, awkward moments ensue and the possibility of a successful communication or business transaction can suddenly come to a screeching halt.

Case Study

We were  on vacation in a mountain town in Mexico eating lunch in a local restaurant. A North American woman walked into the restaurant with a large vase of flowers. We discovered later that she was setting up for a cocktail event at the restaurant; the restaurant owner (Mexican) was standing behind the bar. The American marched into the restaurant, obviously annoyed, and turned aggressively to the Mexican.

American: “Did you get my email?”

Mexican: Responded with silence and avoided eye contact.

American: “I emailed you on Tuesday [3 days ago] because I wanted you to have the tables set when I arrived.”

Mexican: Does not respond.

American: [voice is getting louder]: “DID you get my email on Tuesday?”

Mexican: [now agitated, avoids eye contact with the American while brushing away imaginary crumbs off the bar counter.] Then, after a few more seconds of silence, he says in a quiet voice, “Yes.”

American: “Then why didn’t you answer? I needed the tables set.”

Mexican: Responds again with silence.

American: “Can you have someone set up the tables now?”

Mexican: “Yes, we’ll set them up in 15 minutes after the birthday party in the room you are using has ended.”

After the interaction, we asked the North American where she was from and how long she had lived in that town. She said she was the United States and had lived there for 10 years. She should have known better.


  • What went wrong in this conversation?
  • How could she have achieved her objective (of having the tables ready) without producing awkwardness and avoidance from the Mexican owner?

She was out of sync with the Mexican culture because she did not modify her behavior so as to,

  1. Show respect for social protocol: The American neglected starting the interaction with a greeting. In the formal Mexican culture, when two people encounter each other, they always begin: “Hola, buenos dias. Como estas?” Following that, each conversant asks some polite questions or comments about family, the weather, how business is going, before launching into the business at hand. The “bottom line” in Mexico is primarily about first establishing good will and relationships.
  1. Work to save face. The Mexican was embarrassed by the public nature of the confrontation. Everyone in the restaurant heard that he had not responded to the email. If the shoe were on the other foot, as a Mexican, he would not blame others like the American woman did. He would diffuse the situation by taking the blame himself.
  1. Communicate indirectly when making requests. The Mexican use of the subjunctive which indicates e.g. “with your permission/if you are able, can you….?”The power goes to the person you are asking, not the person making the demands. As a Mexican one does not make demands or assert power with one’s requests.
  1. Avoid conflict wherever possible. Mexicans have some difficulty in saying “No.” They work hard to please others so they tell you what you want to hear. They feel that their saying no will disappoint you. They would prefer to accommodate but sometimes they know they cannot.

In effective cross-cultural communication we adapt to others. We do not expect them to do things our way. We know that we can never fully behave like Mexicans nor can we perfectly mirror what they consider appropriate behavior.

But we can learn culture-appropriate behavior and do our best to show respect to our hosts.

What are your thoughts on this case study?

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My Purpose in Life Is?

Is there just one purpose for our lives? And where does this idea come from in the first place?

Here is a partial answer. We have,

1.  Some stellar talent or ability that others view as our great contribution to life. My hair stylist told me last week that she was born to do hair. She was emphasizing that she loved her job, was naturally good at it, and, at a deeper level, that it gave meaning to her life. It is quite easy then to say that this was her purpose in life. Maybe people have told you, “You are a born artist” or “You are destined to become a CEO”

2.  A drive to find meaning for our lives. As humans we attempt to ferret out meaning in just about everything we do. Usually we hone in on a career or a compelling passion to express ourselves. We look for one focus to help us make a good choice and define our purpose.

But do we, like my hairstylist born to do hair, view our purpose as one thing? Just as the acorn is destined to become an oak, do the seeds of our calling clearly emerge as one thing?

Here are some problems and challenges about viewing our lives through the prism of one fixed purpose.

1.   We risk becoming reductionistic.

We live in a shrink it down culture. We reduce complex issueto their simplest terms in order to wrap our minds around them. So we hear people saying, “Oh you are an introvert or a depressive or born to be an artist”. As if one adjective, personality category, or professional identity can capture the essence of a person. We are far more complex than that.

How can we reduce the wonders of the universe to one star or even galaxy? How can we boil down a person’s achievement or personal skills or passion to one manifestation of the self? Such reductionism violates the mystery of our person and makes our life’s journey too simplistic.

2.   We can never predict the future.

When I was in my 20’s I would never have dreamed up the configuration of my present life. I was a boy living in a backwater small town in a country then called Rhodesia, limited by my cultural and religious heritage. Breaking frame and immigrating to the USA, training to be a psychologist, leaving the religious heritage of my childhood, having a child who was disabled, marrying Kris, having a global consulting business, embracing new friends, and moving to Mexico have influenced my evolution in ways I would never have dreamed possible. Was this what I would have predicted for myself in late middle age? In no way, shape, or form.

As with any journey we can plan on and imagine our destination. However, all the guidebooks can never prepare us for the surprises and challenges that we will actually experience when we are there. And so,

3.  We cannot reduce the journey of a life to one goal.

The other day I met a staff person at the FedEx store that had an obvious passion for design. In fact I mentioned to her “You have the design gene in you.” She agreed with me and mentioned that she had been enrolled in a school of design but had to drop out for unstated reasons. Will she ever go back to that path? I don’t know. However, does that mean it’s the end of the line for her finding a calling in the years ahead? Who knows where the stream of her life will flow? She was obviously a multi-talented person. A whole journey lies ahead of her full of mystery and adventure.

So too you may have imagined one goal for your career and relationships. You invested all your energy and hopes into that quest. But life happened and you were knocked off course. So is that it for you? No more options? Well if you were destined to do or be one thing you are out of luck. You are then destined to live on the bench and never get back in the game.

The truth is that there are many options for our lives as we position ourselves to open up to new possibilities. But we only discover this truth when,

So if the notion of “one thing for our lives” is unworkable here are some preliminary ideas on how we can experience a sense of purpose in life.

How to Experience a Sense of Purpose

1.  Remain flexible and learn to improvise. Surrender the illusion of control.

2.  Realize that there is more to you (mystery) than you can begin to realize.

3.  Develop a sense that you are attached to something larger than yourself especially by serving the common good and being a part of the oneness of all.

4.  Demonstrate kindness to others and the self on a daily basis.

5.  Listen to and live according to the prompting and poetry of the soul.

6.  Embrace the adventure of life in whatever way it presents itself to us.

7.  Be as fully present as we can be with others and ourselves.

How would you describe your purpose?

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Managing Criticism Effectively

How do we effectively manage criticism?

Someone may not like our cooking, the way we dress, the article we wrote, or the way we performed on the job.

What is our typical response or reaction?

  • Accept what they say and then up our game? 
  • Become defensive and take it personally?
  • Reject the criticism based on objective criteria?
  • Eat a gallon of ice cream?

Here are some ways to build on what critics tell us.

Be a Duck not a Sponge

Considering the source of criticism is a key to managing it well. There are four types of people who evaluate us. These include

1.  The truly wise people and subject matter experts. These we respect and do well to heed their input (Accept their input and return to them often)

2.  Those who have our best interests at heart who may say “This is a good start but you are much better than this or you have lot more research to do on this subject”(Accept the input)

3.  The armchair critics who do not give much thought to what they are criticizing. They are therefore unqualified to judge our work because they don’t really know our work or us (Reject the criticism)

4.  Those with a track record of negativity. We avoid such naysayers. Unfortunately, more often than not, these harsh critics reside in our head. I love how writer Natalie Goldberg describes the voice of this inner critic as the “jabbering of an old drunk fool.” (Don’t listen to these empty words)

Consideringthe source of the criticism helps us decide whether to be a sponge or a duck in relationship to water, i.e. take it in or let it run off our backs.

Look for the Pony 

Viewing feedback as a gift ensures it’s best impact and keeps our emotions in check. It is much like the response of pessimists and optimists to a pile of manure. The former reflects on the foul sight and smell of the manure. The latter enthusiastically says, “Where’s the pony?” and begins to dig for it.

Pony seekers’ would typically respond to any valid form of feedback by saying,  “This is a work in progress and I’m on a learning curve.”

Sharpen the Pencil

Because of the critic’s evaluation we can choose to work on being better rather than become bitter. Wisdom would typically respond to valid criticism by saying,

“How can I incorporate these observations into my work?” 

“I will discipline myself to work on this project every day.”

The reality is that all great work has false starts and imperfect beginnings. All good writers have, in the words of author Anne Lamott, “shitty first drafts”.

Self-criticism and receiving criticism is par for the course whenever we put ourselves and our efforts up for public scrutiny. We have to learn that transcending criticism and making it work for us is much like a martial arts strategy. When someone lunges at us, we use their momentum and force to destabilize and throw them. It is therefore possible to make criticism work for us by either accepting it in one form or another or rejecting it in part or outright.

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Conversation Matters

In a day of political posturing and a blitz of media “chatter” what does it mean to have a great conversation?

It all depends of course on one’s definition of conversation. Here the acid test is that

no matter the topic, one experiences an intellectually stimulating and emotionally satisfying dialog in the context of mutual trust and respect. 

Let’s look at the contrast between the worst and the best in conversation styles.

The Substitutes

Many people mistake the sheer volume of talk with conversation. However the fool’s gold of conversation is seen in

  1. People who just want you for an audience. They talk “at” you. The rule, “listen to me but I’m not really interested in you” is not a conversation. It is a monologue by a narcissist or political demagogue. Worse still, there can be a basic disdain for others or a driving need to be superior.
  2. Those who have mastered the art of superficial interaction which some mistake for genuine connection. Scratch below the surface of the “small talk” and get behind the façade of “friendliness” and you will find little substance to the person or conversation
  3. Clever repartee where the parties compete to be “the smartest kid on the block”.This zero sum game results in winners and losers and, in the end, there is no real connection with others.

Now contrast the above with

The Real Thing

Genuine conversation is characterized by

  1. A dialogue where both parties contribute equally and listen intently. No one person dominates the conversation. He/she patiently listens to the other without interrupting or restlessly wanting to inject their point of view.
  2. A person characterized by a generous spirit, open mind, and loving heart. These people are continually searching for the good in others and ways to validate the other person’s point of view.
  3. A flow of dialogue that includes both point and counterpoint. A good conversationalist is not just a “yes” person but can freely offer contrary opinions without retreating into hostility or hardened personal or political opinions. At the core they have a teachable spirit and are willing to change their point of view as new facts emerge in the conversation.
  4.  People who have widely embraced different cultures where they see themselves as perpetual students and can celebrate differences and recognize similarities.
  5. A climate of safety and mutual respect and acceptance. Trust is not something that one requests but earns with the expression of the content of one’s good character. 

Don’t you get the sense that conversation is becoming a lost art in the public forum?

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A Letter From Your Ego

Imagine your ego wrote you the following letter.

Dear (Insert your name)

I want you to know that I am still very present and powerful in your life. Remember that with me “Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated!” How do I know? Well when you read this you will recognize me in all my many forms.

Let me tell you I will resist you with all my power and ingenuity when you,

  1. Imply that I am merely a story or illusion of the mind. Not so, since I am part of the very fabric of your being. I am you and there is no other option for your life other than to live by my agenda.
  2. Try to tell yourself that busyness is not good. I’m telling you if you rest you rust. Being does not precede doing. It is the other way around.
  3. Indicate that I am the troublemaker responsible for your suffering. Your suffering comes from not meeting my needs. I need to look good, stand out, and be better than others. When you don’t strive for the latter it causes you no end of pain. So get over your renunciation kick and enjoy living with me at the front and center of your life.
  4. Attempt to deconstruct me with bogus philosophies that lead you into the mystery of your being. I have everything figured out. I can define exactly who and what you are.
  5. Stop trying to improve me. I am all about self-help and improvement. I have a seminar and program for everything.
  6. Challenge my dualistic view of life. There is a them/us distinction. Don’t try to tell me that I am connected to all other humans. Don’t you know how special I am? I stand out from the crowd.
  7. Imply that materialism (greed is good),  competition (smarter is what I am),  pride (i’m at the top of the pecking order), and self-assertion (notice me above all others) are paths to be managed rather than embraced with gusto. You amount to nothing if you don’t follow me.
  8. Pursue practices like mindfulness, meditation, and prayer that take you away from a future or past focus. Or worse still. You will try to live in the present. That’s just a joke!

Finally, stop trying to ignore or eradicate me. Buddah fought Mara. Jesus fought the devil in the wilderness. Look where that got them, poverty and worse, crucifixion.

Your Response

What would you write to your ego in response?

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New Boss, New Opportunity

When a new boss comes on board you need to get with his/her vision as soon as possible. The birth of a new way of doing things often produces upheaval in our world.

  • Current initiatives driven by you and your team may suddenly become a low priority for this new leader.
  • Senior leaders who know your work and had your back may be displaced and reassigned.
  • You may report to a series of new bosses until things settle down.
  • Rumors of a major reorganization leave everyone jittery and feeling that there is a target on their back.
  • What are your options for continued usefulness in this new world?

Before you scamper to find the headhunter’s contact information here are some positive actions you can take.

Learn the leader’s vision for the organization

Each new leader brings to the table some new vision for the organization. It behooves you to get to know his/her strategic road-map as quickly as possible. New leaders show their hand in this regard in different ways. Some hold back until they get to know the new system. Others have an immediate mandate from the Board to implement change initiatives. It would also be helpful to find out why this leader was hired.

Align your skills and passions with that vision

Try and schedule a 1:1 meeting with the new boss and ask directly “What is your vision for our organization?” Remember this is an information-gathering meeting. You are sowing seeds not reaping a crop. During the same meeting, build on what he/she tells you by validating his/her ideas and expressing your own opinion about ways you can help his/her plan succeed.

Ask other senior leaders to lobby for you to be a significant part of the new strategy development

Having advocates cheerlead for you goes a long way towards getting on the new leader’s radar. Expand your network with these leaders and let them know what you are willing to do for them in return. Part of that lobbying effort may be to get you a seat at the table where pending changes are discussed and planned.

A leadership change at the top is no time to sit back passively and let the chips fall where they may. Nor should you just hope that your work speak for itself. You may well get lost in the shuffle. Nor is it time just for you to advance your own interests. Wherever possible, advocate for the value that your team will add.

Finally, speaking from my consulting experience, I have seen these three influencing principles work over and over again.


What are some of your best practices for maximizing your career when there has been a leadership change at the top?

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When Heroes Fall

Hardly a day goes by without us hearing of some hero that crashed and burned. An article in today’s NY Times covers all recent Olympic champions who were stripped of their medals due to doping.

We all fall in some way or another. What then?

Instead of descending into disillusionment and becoming cynical about people (or ourselves) how can we learn from such painful experiences?

One big lesson I have learned is to beware of idealizing others. Nobody can sustain perpetual success. Take any Linkedin bio and try and imagine these stellar people without failure. Such reality testing keeps us from myth making.

Why is it so important to recognize that even the greatest amongst us have warts? Maybe it is because

  1. We unconsciously refuse to see such people for what they really are. 
  2. In a very flawed world we want to escape into the world of superhero saviors? 
  3. We fuel the myth about our heroes because we avoid looking at their and our  feet of clay.

 And what are we to do with our own lapses in good judgment?

We can start by

  • Embracing the ever-present shadow self

The ego will always rear its ugly head as it seeks self-centered gratification. However, instead of descending into despair when we act on the prompting of our shadow, we need to learn to respond with self-deprecating humor, mercy, and forgiveness.

  • Refusing to get into “bad mind” thinking

Whenever we stumble and fall in our relationships and career we can listen to the bad mind that tells us that we “don’t have what it takes”. I remember a neighbor telling me two decades ago after my painful divorce that maybe I was not the “marrying type.“ If I had accepted that “truth” about myself I would have fallen into a mental trap that would have excluded me from the happiest years of my life.

  • Learning to tap into our own inner wisdom 

We all have a wise inner self that is not always audible during tough times. What I have learned is that this inner wisdom speaks in a very soft and sometimes inaudible voice. Finding silent places in our selves, nature, and solitude helps us access this voice that whispers life-affirming truths to us. It is also the most powerful antidote to all the naysayers and doomsday-thinkers that repeat the word “impossible”  to us.

  • Finding a balance between trusting others and expecting them to be human

The quest for balance involves that we take our heroes and ourselves with a “pinch of salt”. We recognize that no one leader or group has all of the answers we need all the time. Everyone crashes and burns and has feet of clay. However, that reality should not make us abandon our ideals that spur us towards our continued pursuit of excellence.

Heroes fall for many reasons. At times it of their own doing (doping). Other times it is the result of an unfortunate accident. But, in the end, it is how they make their comeback that counts.

At the Olympics in the men’s 10,000 meter race, Great Britain’s Farah Mo tripped and fell near the middle of the race. He got up, shook off the accident, and with the encouragement of his friend went on to a stunning victory.


What helped you overcome adversity?

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Always a Bridesmaid but Never a Bride – Uncovering Unconscious Assumptions

We have all heard that woeful refrain in one form or another. It could well be “groomsman not the groom” or “manager but never an executive”. I have heard this story again and again from athletes, academics, actors, and account executives that “choked” in their career or relationships at some point. They

Interviewed for a high profile opportunity that did not pan out

Vowed to lose weight but still ate all the wrong things

Wanted to reinvent life but never got out of the old patterns

Kissed a lot of princes that turned into frogs

What keeps people from getting what they want? Why do they procrastinate on doing what they know is good for them? And why do they have so many lost opportunities?

These major stumbles cannot be blamed on a lack of talent or bad luck or fate, so what’s going on?

Well the answer is not flagellate oneself with negative labels (procrastinator or worse still, loser). Nor is it to redouble our efforts. The key is to ferret out the core beliefs that sabotage our behavior. More often than not,

 Such assumptions are deeply embedded in our unconscious minds.

Have you ever tried to swim when there is a strong current? You exert a lot of effort but you go nowhere.

The unconscious mind operates in a similar fashion. It undermines our best efforts to achieve an important goal.

Deep in the recesses of our mind we carry an underlying story about ourselves that often was born in painful childhood experiences.

These stories and accompanying feelings are the core of our mental and emotional operating system. They inform everything from our intimate relationships to our work experiences. And they drive us unwittingly to self-sabotage in directions we would not choose with our conscious selves.

Case Study

She was one of the most talented junior executives I’ve ever met. She had rocketed to  the top of the marketing division of her organization. Everyone predicted she would lead the group in the near future. In fact, her boss tapped her to be his successor. After his retirement she interviewed for his job.

She bombed in the interview and she was devastated.

Aware that somehow she had sabotaged herself she began coaching. She wanted to find out why and how she could have a better outcome in the future. I soon realized that she did not need to be coached on interview strategies. She had been through many such interviews in the past and been very successful.

What was going on?

After some preliminary questions about her childhood experiences I became aware that there was an unconscious belief system that had shaped her poor interview. I asked her,

“If you had been successful in the interview and been promoted to lead the marketing department, what fears would you have to manage?”

 After a few more probing questions the answer she gave was,

“If I had that executive position, maybe some issues would come up that I would not be able to handle and then folks would know that I am really not up to the job!”

 We still had not excavated deep enough into her psyche to get to the real reason for her sabotaging her interview. But the pivotal phrase was “not up to the job”

Her narcissistic and highly competitive father could not handle her competence as a child and young adult. He continually dismissed her achievements and put her down in cruel and hurtful ways. As a result she muted her talents and did everything she could not to let him feel that she could eclipse him. Here was the underlying message,

“If I succeed at anything significant (like the head of marketing) I will be treading on land mines and ultimately be discredited (first by my father and then by others in leadership positions) I dare not compete with my father”.

That eureka moment brought up a lot of deep sadness but it was the turning point in her coaching. The big assumption that a significant achievement would be a prelude to a failure (the voice of her father in her unconscious) now became part of her conscious mind..

Slowly she was able to review other significant career and personal achievements that had not turned out to be a disaster. She saw clearly that her unconscious perception had shaped her reality. As a result she was able to perform in future interviews without the riptide belief “I will prove that I am not competent” causing her to self-destruct.


What unconscious beliefs shape your assumptions (What you believe will happen if you get what you desire)?

What hurtful event/person in your past contributed to this belief?

How can you build a case for yourself with a new line of evidence?



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Stop Trying to Read my Mind

I’ve been in the field of psychology for nearly three decades but still cannot get a fully accurate reading of a person’s mind. Folks sometimes say to me on discovering that I’m a psychologist “I need to be careful around you because you will know what going on inside my head!”

Not so.

There are all sorts of amateur psychologists that mistakenly believe that they can understand our motives and actions using everything from some psychological theory to their intuition, .

However, they all fall into the trap of observer bias.

In fact, every time we tell a story it changes in big and small ways as it passes through our own inner lens. That happens with everything from auto-biographies to eye witness accounts in court. The line between “fact” and opinion becomes very blurred.

What really bugs me is when people and institutions claim to know what is best for me. They then often follow this “knowing” by trying to tell me what to do.

The other day I parked my car in the shade of a tree next to a trash bin at the back of a supermarket. I chose that spot because it was a very hot day and I had two dogs in the car that really needed the shade. Next thing a total stranger was honking her car horn at me,  wagging her finger, and yelling that I should not deposit my trash in a private bin. This self-appointed trash cop made an assumption about my behavior and was dead wrong.

Consider the following scenarios where the wrong assumption could be made about the person’s behavior.

The boss sees you writing a personal email during work hours and assumes that you are neglecting a major deadline.

You see your child hanging out with a heavily tattooed friend and you assume that she is up to some mischief.

A women is friendly to a male colleague and he interprets that as sexual interest.

A psychologist I knew would offer interpretations of perceived inner states to relative strangers. (Incidentally this was highly offensive and unethical)

Journalists commenting on the life of a criminal come up with all sorts of motives for the crime without really knowing the perpetrator. (Who cares what neighbors thought about the person?)

Here are some facts about mind reading.It is really very difficult, if not impossible, to pull off without an extensive knowledge of the person/situation.

It is a “hit or miss” behavior on our part and at most we can come up with a hypothesis that is barely a plausible explanation.

More often than not it leads us far astray from the essence of the person we are observing.

We really need to allow the other person to teach us, to the best of his/her ability, what is going on in their inner world.

 Your Response

 How has it been for you when others have tried to read your mind?

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