Monthly Archives: September 2006

A Martian View of Problem Solving

A long time ago, I read the famous book, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus by John Gray. I remembered that at the time of my reading, I laughed at its contents in the sense that a lot of things in it were so stereotypical about men and women. I could relate to experiencing every one of its comments in both myself and in others. But after reading it, I really didn’t take it all that seriously to study and remember what it said, and certainly I didn’t change any of my behaviors after reading it.
That is,..until I got divorced, at which time I set myself on a path to do better at everything relationship-wise that I thought I wasn’t doing well.
Last night, I had dinner with two friends, a recent couple. Somehow in our conversation, the topic of problem solving came up.
Now what is “problem solving”?
While generally this is more commonly found in men, I have also found women who exhibit this behavior. Basically, you sit with another person. In relationships, it is usually a guy sitting with a woman. You start talking, and the woman (stereotypically) starts talking about some problem she is experiencing. She is frustrated, or in need, or having trouble with her job or manager – something like that. Then you start telling her that she should just go and do this or that and the problem is solved. After you say that, the woman gets super upset. Then, you proceed to ask her what is wrong. She says that she just wants to be supported. You say that if she would solve the problem, the all the bad feelings will go away. And by the way, I gave you some answers – COOL! problem instantly solved, right? This goes on, usually sliding downward into a huge argument with neither side understanding what is wrong or getting to a better place.
Sound familiar? Let’s analyze what’s wrong with this situation:
1. Most guys are brought up to be problem solvers. Men solve problems. They are great engineers, doctors, whatever. Their whole life is built around having huge problems to solve and upon solving those problems, you feel great and important. It’s worked before with great results, why wouldn’t it work here?
2. Women are brought up to be supportive in nature first before problem solvers. They like to communicate and think verbally, and any issues they have will often come up. It comes out and they want to support at that point in time. Solving the problem is the last thing they want; they want to know someone cares and is listening to them because in the act of getting out and feeling supported, they feel better.
3. Men don’t understand women. Women don’t understand men. And certainly neither have worked specifically on how to communicate with the other sex at this level. I don’t know about you, but I never took any class on it in school.
4. Men and women both expect the other read each others minds. Last time I checked, I don’t have ESP so I guess this isn’t happening.
5. A note on getting “your problems solved”. Generally in this kind of conversational situation, it makes you feel like an idiot, that you can’t solve problems by yourself, and that you can’t think for yourself and that you’re incapable, ineffective, a bad person, etc. etc. This is what the other person is feeling when you try to solve their problems.
Is there a time for problem solving? Yes there is. But it ain’t now.
It took me a long time to understand this and how it related to my own life and relationships. It also took a long time to learn how to do this better, which is basically reinforcing behaviors and responses more effective and appropriate to communicating and relating to the opposite sex. Here is what I realized and did:
1. You have to realize there are two people here. But, you will never change another person unless that other person wants to change. In my experience, it is a rare (and joyous) occurrence if the other person is willing to change with you in this area.
2. So mostly you have to change yourself. I worked on this for months. It is like burning a new habit into your brain. Remember, I’ve had 38+ years of training in the “martian” way of communicating and relating. I think it took me about 4 months of thinking about it and practicing it every single day.
3. I needed new language tools. So I memorized some typical lines which work great like:
“Oh yes that is hard”
“It must be difficult.”
“Feeling that way is tough.”
Also, reflecting back what the other person said also works great. For example:
YOU: “My boss hates me.”
ME: “Yeah it must be really hard if you need to go to work every day and deal with a boss who hates you”
By the way, this is the WRONG response:
YOU: “My boss hates me”
ME: “Why don’t you get a new job?”
It’s called validation – the knowledge that the problem you are experiencing is real and that someone else sees it the same way. Very useful tool.
4. You need to communicate and not read minds. It’s much better that way than waiting for the other person to “figure it out why I’m so upset.” Mind reading DOESN’T work. Respecting the other person by just coming out and saying what’s going on is much better. Increasing your vocabulary in “feelings words” really works here. (You’re probably chuckling that I had to go to that list and memorize it; let me tell you – many people both women and men have never in their lives used words like these…ever. It has to be learned and become part of their normal set of vocabulary usage). Another great list is the needs list.
5. I needed to flip my mind to a new goal when meeting with people. This goal was literally:
“As I sit here at (dinner, meeting, coffee, etc.) with my (friend, girlfriend, etc.), I am going to just sit here and enjoy the moment. I will leave all solving of the world’s problems at the door, and just enjoy hearing about another person’s life and I will get an opportunity to talk about my life. This will be in all aspects of our lives, from the bad to the good, and there is no need to solve any problem (today, tonite, etc.).”
For a long time, I would repeat this to myself before walking into a dinner or meeting with someone. Like I said, it was many months before it became habit.
You know what – it worked GREAT.
What happened:
1. I became a better friend to everyone. Not just women but men too. Certainly my relationships have become much better as well.
2. I understood the opposite sex much better and could relate in a more useful and meaningful way.
3. I also (unexpectedly) became more sensitive and attuned myself. My sensitivity radar jumped to all sorts of things that were non-verbal signals on how I should react in certain situations.
We can laugh all we want and complain that the opposite sex doesn’t understand us and we don’t understand them. That may be true, and perhaps we’ll always be from different planets in some aspect – but like it or not, we have to learn to deal with the opposite sex, and to live with them for a long time.
A good friend of mine said something really insightful to me once. He said:
“Society teaches us to be great doctors, lawyers, physicists, and rocket scientists. We go to school for 12 years, college for 4, and then who knows how many years of graduate school afterwards and you know what, we become GREAT doctors, lawyers, physicists, and rocket scientists. But society NEVER teaches you how to relate to another person for the rest of your life…”
…which arguably when all is said and done, a helluva lot more important than being a rocket scientist.

Airline Silliness

I just read an article in The Economist, issue dated 9/9/06, entitled “Fear of Flying: Welcome Aboard” (I’ve also posted the body of the article from emailing it to myself in a previous post).
It verifies some things I’ve thought about flying, since I fly so much. And it reveals how silly some things are on airplanes today.
Silliness #1:
They always tell you to shut off all electronic devices. They say cellphones and other devices can interfere with navigation systems. But the real reason is that they interfere with mobile networks at the airport. I’ve personally accidentally left my cellphone on many times and the airplane still got off the ground, with nobody announcing that “hey our navigation screens have so much static that we can’t tell where we’re going, so please re-check all your damn devices which we let you on the plane with, even though they may crash the plane but we let you on anyways with them.”
That just makes a crapload of sense of letting people onboard with devices and things that could crash the plane.
Corollary #1a:
It’s impossible to take into account everything that somebody can bring on board that could crash the plane. Case in point: detection of terrorists who are creative enough to mix explosives out of ordinarily innocuous fluids. We need to go to source of the problems or find better solutions.
Silliness #2:
Life vests in case of water landing. As the article states that in the history of wide bodied aircraft successfully landing on water is zero. Hmmm….
And those cool inflatable slides which detach as rafts. Well, if the plane can’t touchdown safely in water, what good are these rafts?
Silliness #3:
Listening to all those inane announcements like “Cross Check” and feeling secure about everything.
Does anyone even know what that is? Maybe it’s important to the stewards but I have no idea what it means. Maybe I feel a little better that simply because people sound official, it actually means they know what they’re doing…?
Just shut up and let me go to sleep. Oh wait, we’re landing and they just told me to put the seat in its most upright position for landing, or translate: it’s MOST UNCOMFORTABLE position because my spine is now in its worst ergonomic position since designers of aircraft seats have never taken a class in ergonomics. And yet I’ve landed numerous times with the seat accidentally tilted back and nothing bad has happened at all.

“Welcome Aboard”, The Economist 9/9/06

The posting of the E-mail of the article from The Economist 9/9/06, since news sites always seem to blow away articles after about a week. That also is really bad – a lot of great articles sit in the archives and just now news sites are putting up their archives. What a treasure trove of information and barely accessible. I’ll keep this article up until somebody complains…
Dear Dshen,
Dshen ( wants you to see this article on
(Note: the sender’s e-mail address above has not been verified.)
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Sep 7th 2006
In-flight announcements are not entirely truthful. What might an honest one sound like?
“GOOD morning, ladies and gentlemen. We are delighted to welcome you aboard Veritas Airways, the airline that tells it like it is. Please ensure that your seat belt is fastened, your seat back is upright and your tray-table is stowed. At Veritas Airways, your safety is our first priority. Actually, that is not quite true: if it were, our seats would be rear-facing, like those in military aircraft, since they are safer in the event of an emergency landing. But then hardly anybody would buy our tickets and we would go bust.
The flight attendants are now pointing out the emergency exits. This is the part of the announcement that you might want to pay attention to.
So stop your sudoku for a minute and listen: knowing in advance where the exits are makes a dramatic difference to your chances of survival if we have to evacuate the aircraft. Also, please keep your seat belt fastened when seated, even if the seat-belt light is not illuminated.
This is to protect you from the risk of clear-air turbulence, a rare but extremely nasty form of disturbance that can cause severe injury.
Imagine the heavy food trolleys jumping into the air and bashing into the overhead lockers, and you will have some idea of how nasty it can be. We don’t want to scare you. Still, keep that seat belt fastened all the same.
Your life-jacket can be found under your seat, but please do not remove it now. In fact, do not bother to look for it at all. In the event of a landing on water, an unprecedented miracle will have occurred, because in the history of aviation the number of wide-bodied aircraft that have made successful landings on water is zero. This aircraft is equipped with inflatable slides that detach to form life rafts, not that it makes any difference. Please remove high-heeled shoes before using the slides. We might as well add that space helmets and anti-gravity belts should also be removed, since even to mention the use of the slides as rafts is to enter the realm of science fiction.
Please switch off all mobile phones, since they can interfere with the aircraft’s navigation systems. At least, that’s what you’ve always been told. The real reason to switch them off is because they interfere with mobile networks on the ground, but somehow that doesn’t sound quite so good. On most flights a few mobile phones are left on by mistake, so if they were really dangerous we would not allow them on board at all, if you think about it. We will have to come clean about this next year, when we introduce in-flight calling across the Veritas fleet. At that point the prospect of taking a cut of the sky-high calling charges will miraculously cause our safety concerns about mobile phones to evaporate.
On channel 11 of our in-flight entertainment system you will find a video consisting of abstract imagery and a new-age soundtrack, with a voice-over explaining some exercises you can do to reduce the risk of deep-vein thrombosis. We are aware that this video is tedious, but it is not meant to be fun. It is meant to limit our liability in the event of lawsuits.
Once we have reached cruising altitude you will be offered a light meal and a choice of beverages–a word that sounds so much better than just saying ‘drinks’, don’t you think? The purpose of these refreshments is partly to keep you in your seats where you cannot do yourselves or anyone else any harm. Please consume alcohol in moderate quantities so that you become mildly sedated but not rowdy. That said, we can always turn the cabin air-quality down a notch or two to help ensure that you are sufficiently drowsy.
After take-off, the most dangerous part of the flight, the captain will say a few words that will either be so quiet that you will not be able to hear them, or so loud that they could wake the dead. So please sit back, relax and enjoy the flight. We appreciate that you have a choice of airlines and we thank you for choosing Veritas, a member of an incomprehensible alliance of obscure foreign outfits, most of which you have never heard of. Cabin crew, please make sure we have remembered to close the doors. Sorry, I mean: ‘Doors to automatic and cross-check’.
Thank you for flying Veritas.”
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