Know the difference?


It’s wise to not buy everything read or heard. Skeptics add value with, “Not sure that’s the best path; can we talk about it?”

A skeptic’s accountable question (QBQ): “How can I make a difference?”

Pushback builds a better mousetrap.


Cynics doubt the intentions, sincerity, and good will of others—usually management. Cynicism is the cousin to victim thinking. Destructive questions like, “Why are they doing this to us?” are whispered.

Thinking the worst of people is a terrible way to work and live. It tears organizations—and relationships—down.

Be skeptical, not cynical.

Which word describes your organization? How about … you?

Comment below!

*Written to be read in under a minute, JUST99WORDS is a fast and snappy ”mini-blog” by QBQ! author, John G. Miller. Sometimes practical, sometimes inspirational—and always worth sending on to colleagues, friends, and family!
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About John G. Miller

John G. Miller is the author of QBQ! The Question Behind the Question, Flipping the Switch: Unleash the Power of Personal Accountability, Outstanding! 47 Ways to Make Your Organization Exceptional and co-author of Parenting the QBQ Way. He is founder of QBQ, Inc., an organizational development firm based in Colorado dedicated to “Helping Organizations Make Personal Accountability a Core Value.” A 1980 graduate of Cornell University, John has been involved in the training and speaking industry since 1986. He lives in Denver, Colorado with his wife, Karen. They have seven children and three grandchildren.

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11 Responses to “JUST99WORDS: The Skeptics Beat the Cynics”

  1. Chris Conant

    This is a tough one for me John. And the reason I have begun following your work.
    As I got older and more unhappy with where I was in life I also found myself becoming very cynical.
    I have begun to become more of a skeptic and less of a cynic and ask that very question, ‘What can i do? and How do I make a difference?”
    It has really changed my outlook and attitude and I am able to better help others.

  2. Deb Baker


    Whatever/whomever generated the idea of these 99word mini-blogs has my gratitude.
    I read them and consider and am done in a minute or less.


    PS. I’m much more likely to be first, a rose-colored glasses person before skeptical. “Cynical” is something I stay away from.

    • John G. Miller

      Deb, wearing rose colored glasses is better than thinking the worst of others! Thanks for the kind words and comment. Glad you’re enjoying the 99’s!

  3. Catherine Nanton

    Ben Zander said that a cynic is a passionate person who doesn’t want to be disappointed again. I have always found that it is easier to engage a cynic than one who is apathetic. I prefer to think of the cynics as critical evaluators, protecting us from shooting ourselves in the foot by demanding thoroughness and accountability.

    • John G. Miller

      Thanks, Ben. You just described a Skeptic, in my humble opinion. Thinking the worst of people’s motives and intentions is what the Cynic is all about. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Jason Rupe

    John, you really hit the nail on the head with this one. The distinction is not only accurate and informative, but critical to reference. Its good to have not only a clear way to explain the concept, mostly the difference, but also a test to keep ones self in check. We should all try to be skeptical, and much less cynical! Thanks again John for another great one!

    • John G. Miller

      Jason, the 2nd greatest book ever written is the dictionary and I find most of us don’t use it to accurately define the words we use! Glad this helped!

  5. Rhonda Vesely

    Excellent thought for the day! In many classes that I have took we focus on personalities. A persons personality is driven by their past experiences and even their psychological health. I have worked in area’s that this can cause alot of problems in the work and home life. Maybe we have to ask why are they cynical? Is there something driving this and how best can we support them?

  6. Tom Matthews

    I have always described myself as an optimistic skeptic……I think your environment plays into how cynical you might paint your world…..

  7. Annetta Forrer

    I’ve worked with computer professionals for much of my early career and learned that you could ask questions that were not automatically received as criticism.

    As I’ve gotten older I believe that I’ve learned to be more diplomatic in asking questions. Maybe or maybe not, but I do feel that in more situations than I remember from earlier years, some people are quicker to label someone as critical or cynical for asking questions.

    My goal is to identify what can I (we) do better and I’ll strive to work towards that. I do wonder, however, whether we are living in a time when the act of questioning or disagreeing is seen as negative and going/getting along are seen as positive regardless of whether it improves outcomes (personal or task). I do wonder…


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