Solutions To Familiar Mistakes
At a party in Greenwich Village, author and consultant Peter Bregman hears a yelp as one of the guests steps on the host’s dog. The guest yells at the fleeing dog to “watch out!” Then, seeing Bregman looking at her, she explains that “he’s always in the way.” As Bregman writes in his new book, Four Seconds, “Really? You step on a dog, and then you blame the dog? Who does that? Actually, a lot of us do.” Four Seconds is filled with behaviors and actions that a lot of us do, and most of those actions, Bregman argues, are actually self-defeating. Blaming others instead of taking responsibility, for example, makes people appear weak and dishonest, hurts one’s self esteem and, perhaps most importantly, eliminates learning opportunities. “When something is your fault and you don’t admit it, in all probability, you’ll make the same mistake in the future, which will lead to more blame,” Bregman writes.
The Mistakes We Make
In 51 short, engaging chapters, Bregman offers a litany of the common mistakes and actions that most of us make, and then describes the solution. The first step in every case, however, is the same: take a breath. Take the four seconds you need to inhale and exhale, urges Bregman, which will give you the time to act or react appropriately and constructively.
“Don’t Blame the Dog: Take the Blame Instead” is a chapter in the book’s section on strengthening relationships (one of three sections; the others are entitled “Optimize Work Habits” and “Change Your Mental Defaults.”) Other chapters related to strengthening relationships include lessons on not writing people off (but remaining aware of their faults), changing your expectations when people consistently fail to meet your original expectations, and giving people the benefit of the doubt if they are suddenly unreasonable — because something else is going on. Chapters in the “optimize work habits” section include how to keep your cool, how to let people fail (or almost fail), and why to focus on outcome, not process. The “change your mental defaults” section covers topics such as committing to follow through and trusting yourself first.
Each chapter is packed with engaging personal stories. The chapter on putting outcome above process begins with the story of the author and his daughters trying to help people in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. With all the distribution centers overfilled with donations, the author abandons the prescribed process and stops at a random devastated house to donate their goods.
Experience Adds Depth
Bregman uses his experience as a consultant to bolster the personal stories with real-world examples of the problem. In the chapter on blame, for example, he describes a meeting in which a V.P. of sales willingly shoulders the blame for his company’s poor results, thus inspiring the other functional leaders to stop playing the blame game and to take their share of the responsibility. “By taking the blame, Dave changed the course of that meeting and, as it turns out, the course of the company,” Bregman writes. “He also got promoted.”
The lessons here are sometimes counterintuitive (Bregman argues against setting goals), always entertaining, and most importantly, insightful and revealing. As readers of Four Seconds pore through these pages, they will laugh out loud, shake their heads at the gall of some people … and look around awkwardly as they read about familiar situations that they also badly mishandled.