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We'll discuss this topic in part five. Different communication channels have different uses. Rather than use every technology as an always-on channel, use the best tools for the job. Get in and get out. Group chat is great for replacing in-person meetings but terrible if it becomes an all-day affair. Meetings today are full of people barely paying attention as they send emails to each other about how bored they are. Part of the problem is that too often people schedule a meeting to avoid having to put in the effort of solving a problem for themselves. To some, talking it out with colleagues feels better than working it out alone. Certainly, collaboration has its place, but meetings should not be used as a distraction from doing the hard work of thinking. How can we make meetings more worthwhile? The primary objective of most meetings should be to gain consensus around a decision, not to create an echo chamber for the meeting organizer's own thoughts. One of the easiest ways to prevent superfluous meetings is to require two things of anyone who calls one. First, meeting organizers must circulate an agenda of what problem will be discussed. No agenda, no meeting. Second, they must give their best shot at a solution in the form of a brief, written digest. The digest need not be more than a page or two discussing the problem, their reasoning, and their recommendation. These two steps require a bit more effort up front, but that's exactly the point. Requiring an agenda and a brief not only saves everyone time by getting to the answer faster but also cuts down on unnecessary meetings by adding a bit of effort on the part of the organizer before calling one. But what about sharing collective wisdom and brainstorming? Those are good things, just not in meetings of more than two people.

Unless the meeting is called because of an emergency or as an open forum to listen to employee concerns (which we'll discuss in part five), sharing unique perspectives about a business challenge can be shared via email to the stakeholder responsible. Brainstorming can also be done before the meeting and is best done individually or in very small groups. When I taught at the Stanford design school, I consistently saw how teams who brainstormed individually before coming together not only generated better ideas but were also more likely to have a wider diversity of solutions as they were less likely to be overrun by the louder, more dominating members of the group. Next, if the meeting is going to happen, we need to follow the same rules of synchronous communication discussed in the last chapter on group chat. Whether online or offline, the same rules of being selective about who attends and making sure to get in and out quickly apply. Once we're in the meeting, there's a new problem: people on their devices instead of being fully present. Attendees check email or fiddle around on their phones during meetings despite the many studies showing that our brains are awful at absorbing information when we're not paying close attention. Watching others use their devices in meetings escalates an arms race of perceived productivity and paranoia--the impression that someone else is working while we're not increases our stress levels. Thinking about our own flooded inboxes deteriorates the meeting's effectiveness, and our lack of participation only serves to make the meeting less productive, less meaningful, and less interesting. Distortions in thinking, called cognitive distortions, are common in depression. A person's perception or interpretation of an event can be distorted, twisted, or inaccurate in some of the following ways. Filtering: focusing on and magnifying the negative details while ignoring (filtering out) all the positive aspects of a situation. When you filter your thoughts, you often reject or minimize positive experiences and insist they "don't count." Dwelling on the negative distorts your view of reality. Polarized, or All-or-Nothing, Thinking: thinking of things at one extreme or the other, in black or white, good or bad, all-or-nothing categories. For example, if something you do is not perfect, you see yourself as a "total" failure, at the worst extreme. Overgeneralizing: making a general conclusion based on a single event or piece of evidence. When you overgeneralize, you see single negative events as permanent and often use the words "always" and "never." If something bad happens, you expect it to happen again. Global Labeling: generalizing one or two qualities into a negative overall (global) judgment and applying a label. This is an extreme form of overgeneralization. An example is when you label yourself a "loser" based on one less-than-perfect behavior.

Jumping to Conclusions: immediately interpreting things in a negative way without having the facts to support your conclusion. Mind Reading: concluding that you "know" what others are feeling, why they act a certain way, or how they feel about you, without their saying so. Fortune Telling: believing you "know" how future things will turn out without any supporting evidence. Catastrophizing: expecting the worst, a disaster. This type of thinking often includes "What if." scenarios. Minimizing: discounting the positive aspects of yourself or your actions, insisting they "don't count." Personalizing: thinking that everything people say or do is a reaction to you personally or assuming total responsibility and blaming yourself for events out of your control. Blaming: holding other people responsible for your pain or the opposite, blaming yourself as the source of every problem. Emotional Reasoning: believing that what you feel must automatically be true, that negative emotions reflect the true picture. For example, if you feel stupid, then you must be stupid. Being Right: being continually on trial and defensive, having to prove that your feelings, opinions, and actions are right. Being wrong is unthinkable. When you think in this way, you will do anything to prove yourself right. Reward Fallacy: expecting that all your sacrifice and self-denial will pay off, then feeling bitter and resentful when that does not happen. And so, one of the goals of skeptics and scientists is to keep an open mind. In fact, true skeptics perform a delicate balancing act, best described by Carl Sagan as follows: It seems to me what is called for is an exquisite balance between two conflicting needs: the most skeptical scrutiny of all hypotheses that are served up to us and at the same time a great openness to new ideas. If you...have not an ounce of skeptical sense in you, then you cannot distinguish useful ideas from the worthless ones. If all ideas have equal validity then you are lost, because, ideas have any validity at all.8 As we opened this chapter, philosopher Bertrand Russell and NASA scientist James Oberg said, "Keeping an open mind is a virtue, but not so open that your brains fall out." If this metaphorically describes skeptics, doesn't it make sense to take a skeptical position when forming our beliefs? So why don't we do it more often? Why don't we like to be skeptical? Perhaps it's because we don't like uncertainty and ambiguity, and being a skeptic means we have to accept uncertainty as a major part of life.

Skeptics choose not to believe something until there's adequate data supporting that belief. This is a problem for many people, because we typically abhor uncertainty and have a low tolerance for ambiguity. As a result, we want to believe things, even in a world full of ambiguity. However, wanting something to be true doesn't make it true, and wanting to believe is no basis for accepting a belief. As a skeptic, you have to be comfortable saying, "I don't know." This makes sense because, in many cases, nobody knows. Some things are inherently unknowable, and other things we just don't know with our current state of knowledge. Given the size of the universe, it's possible that other life-forms exist, but we don't currently know if they do because credible evidence has not emerged to support that belief. A skeptic, therefore, suspends belief in extraterrestrial life for the time being. However, if the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) project, which is scanning the skies for radio signals emanating from other planets, finds compelling evidence of aliens, a skeptic would reassess her position. With skepticism, we have to accept the uncertainty of life--but isn't that better than filling our lives with a number of unsubstantiated, sometimes silly, and potentially dangerous beliefs? In essence, we should look on our belief as a continuum, ranging from strong disbelief to strong belief, as in figure 2. Importantly, the midpoint of the continuum is "I don't know." Given our desire to believe things, we all too quickly end up on the right end of the scale, strongly believing in something despite little credible evidence. However, we need to start at the midpoint, embrace the notion that "I don't know," and then examine the evidence for or against something. As we evaluate the evidence and plausibility of a claim, we can move farther out on the continuum, either toward strong disbelief or strong belief.9 In that way, we're likely to be more open to different ideas and more likely to set informed beliefs. Of course, the question arises, what's the best approach to take to guide our movement along the belief continuum? If you have faithfully worked through the exercises in earlier chapters, some of the mechanics of this plan should already look somewhat familiar to you. For example, the internal factors chapters asked you to do some self-auditing of how you've responded to certain external events. As a result--again, if you have honestly completed the exercises--it would be fair to say that you are a different person now from the one who started this book: Your self-knowledge knowledge has advanced from Point A to Point B. I hope and trust that the work you've done so far has brought you some much-needed clarity and that you already feel some lightening of your load. What the five-step plan can do is get you much, much farther down that road.

Not surprisingly, since these will be the exercises that gather together and give particular meaning to all the work you've done in previous chapters, I cannot overstate the importance to you of doing the job right. I have found that the best approach, by far, is to take one triggering event, that first link that you identify in Step 1, and to follow it through the entire series of five steps. Bring every step of the plan to bear on that event before you take up another, separate event and start working on it. Don't rush the process. I make no apology for the fact that this work is time and labor intensive. The rule of "garbage in, garbage out" applies with particular power to the exercises you're about to do: If you rush the work, if you "skim" the information, rather than committing yourself to an honest and thorough self-appraisal, then a superficial result is all you'll get. I trust that the following is obvious to you, but I'll say it anyway: There could be no more appropriate moment in your life than this one for deciding you're going to give 100 percent of your energy, attention, and effort to a task. As before, get your journal and find the quietest, most private place and time you can. Ideally, you will be able to set aside a solid hour or more to take one event through the entire five-step process. Depending on your particular target event, you may find that the process takes several sessions, scattered across several days. Understand that I want you to dig until you find the absolute bottom in terms of your internal reactions. Be careful that you do not deal with only part of that which is crippling you or haunting you. You must be willing and able to face everything, to go below your emotive responses, and work through each factor affecting your life. Once you've subjected one event to the process, the next event deserves its minimum of one hour, and so on. With a quiet attention to your own breathing, and a relaxed mind and body, consider your life chain: the series of events, circumstances, and responses that have made you who you are at this moment. Looking back at some of the material you wrote earlier about each of these external factors may be very helpful at this point. Now write a short description of that target event. This description need not be more than a few sentences and may already be captured in what you wrote earlier. However, you may have changed since that first writing and if you need to edit or add to that response, do so now. Where do you place a responsibility or blame for that event, your locus of control?