Communication Is So Easy – Not!

6.30.16 communication

Margaret was tired, stressed, and hoping for the best from her equally tired, stressed, and also trying hard husband of four years. But she felt extra burdened, like the final weight of everything was ultimately fell on her shoulders.  They were both nearing the end of their ropes when a sudden project deadline loomed and the stakes to complete were high.

Nick worked on the project to the best of his ability, but it was his first time attempting the job and he didn’t have the necessary skill set yet. But with no time to gain the needed experience or to bring in an expert, his attempt would have to suffice. The real crux of the matter was that Margaret personal standards were quite a bit higher than Nick’s standards, which they both agreed on.

I think it looks pretty good,” Nick commented rather proudly when the project was done.  “Really? I don’t know how you can possibly think that, when I’m close to tears,” Margaret stoically replied.  She was holding back a more pointed and mean response.

This young couple are not infrequently poles apart on the same thing. Communication should be easy enough, but it isn’t, even with those we are closest to and who we strive to understand the best.  Maybe that’s because we don’t really work at communicating well and we just assume that the other person will eventually over time figure out that this is the way we are, take me or leave me, just as I am. Or, maybe it’s that we don’t know how to make changes in how we communicate.  How important can it be any way, in the big scheme of things?  Very important, if you rate happiness as being important.  Relationship happiness is a key component to overall happiness.

As social beings we are all biologically geared towards cooperating and caring about others. We need other people and they need us. Survival dictates that we communicate well with others to get our needs met. In the old days these were physical needs like food (will you share your garden produce?), shelter (will you help me build a hovel?) and security (I’m on your team against our common enemy).  Today those needs with others are now mental, centering on affection (will you love me?), friendship (will you be my friend?) and emotion (will you give me comfort when I’m sad?).

As competitive beings we are geared towards being selfish and putting our needs first ahead of others (survival of the fittest).  Yes, we want the love of others, certainly the love of a spouse, but we must maintain our precious self-esteem. When self-esteem takes a hit, when self-confidence plummets, the selfishness inside of us looks to place the blame elsewhere.  Me – wrong?  Yeah, no, I don’t think so. We want to be right 100% of the time, which is problematic when everybody else feels exactly the same way. In reality most of the time we are probably more wrong than right, because we learn and grow from our mistakes.

The cleanest, most accurate definition of Communication is: moving what’s in your mind into another person’s mind.  That’s all there is to it – creating that same picture from one mind to the next, with all the degrees of understanding/lack of understanding that exists between two minds, or among many minds, if communicating with a crowd.  Easy to communicate well and clearly?  Actually rather hard, because of all the variables that causes different minds to be any amount of legions apart.

You say one thing and you think it’s clearly understood. You forget how your understanding of something is so deeply colored by your experience level. And the other person has a completely different lifetime experience perspective, so by definition no one can understand something exactly the same way as you understand it.  It’s just not possible, and so we have any myriad of communication problems, with no simple one-stop solutions.

The crux of a person’s personality is a product of how they were raised as a child and their unique reaction to those formative years. Two children from the same home can come out as very different adults, neither good nor bad, just different. This we all know and accept.  What’s interesting is how this process occurs, especially interesting if you are a current parent raising young children.

We tend to raise our children similarly to how we were raised, with our parents doing the same thing back through the generations. So any communication problems, poor habits in addressing issues, lack of strong communication skills are passed down through the ages. Coupled with this is that our strong communication skills are not usually developed until we are older and we are well past our child-rearing years, so our young do not always gain the benefit of our newfound communication skills during their formative years. Unfortunately.

This is obvious in generation after generation where weak traits run through families, and the loop is rarely broken.  One person communicates poorly because their parents were poor communicators, and their children continue along the same lines subsequently poorly communicating with their own children, because it’s all they know. It’s hard to change what you’ve known and practiced since childhood; it’s really hard to adopt new behavior when you don’t know it exists. And knowing and accepting are two different things.  There’s really no one to blame for poor communication skills, but everyone in society loses.

Back to Margaret and Nick.  Nick’s values tells him that giving a passable effort is good enough and ‘good on you’ for trying, which is what he heard his whole life growing up. The easy way is acceptable and better than not doing anything at all.  Margaret’s work ethic is along the lines of ‘take pride in your work; anything worth doing is worth doing well’ and she can’t settle for any half-assed attempt, certainly not with her name attached.

But if she continues to beat Nick up over the years about his inferior work output, he will cease to listen, become unmotivated, and will stop trying altogether.  “If it’s not good enough for you, do it yourself” is the common voice of one who is protecting their self-esteem.  But this response is not a conversation starter, rather it’s a nonstarter. And not talking through the years turns into ‘we’ve grown apart’, often culminating in divorce.

Communicating well and consistently is hard but not impossible.  Every relationship is like a garden; it needs tending, weeding, and a good amount of attention to thrive and stay healthy.



Get a Clue! – Follow THE Unwritten Code

6.23.16 unwritten codeWhat you don’t know the communication code?  Yeah, right, like I believe that! Everyone alive knows the Code, unless you’ve grown up away from civilized society, raised in the woods by wolves, or if you are a toddler.  But none of that was true of the car salesman who sat in front of me.  HE used to be the hotshot GM of a large conglomerate of dealerships.  HE used to oversee 900 sales employees.  HE just told me how successful he was for 4 decades in sales.  So how come he is now somehow amnesiac about playing by the proper rules?

We all know the Code’s unwritten rules: First, I ask you about your family; you then go on for a moderate amount of time about how brilliant, beautiful, and successful your only daughter is, while I listen politely, feign interest, nod encouragingly with a little smile on my face.  Next – please, everyone, chime in together since we all know full well what comes next – you then ask me about my family.  I then get a brief brag period, and we feel like we have done the rapport dance needed to go about the business at hand.

Next, feeling like we are now friends, or at least on friendly terms, I ask for some negotiating piece, so I feel good about the exchange of a large sum of money.  You then give me an inch, if you can, or if you really can’t, you at least say you can’t in an apologetic tone of feigned would-if-I-could language.  Those are the game rules, no surprise to anyone.  And with them firmly in place communication runs along smoothly, because everyone is on the same page.

Here’s what happened instead with this bozo

Him: blah, blah, brilliant, beautiful, successful… for way too long

Me: polite silence and nodding, doing my part quite well

Him: OK, are you going to buy this car or aren’t you?

(break in the conversation for puzzlement – What??!?? Are you serious??)

Me: Well, how about if you allow us more for the trade-in to cover the cost of the extended warranty you’re raving about [and I know you get a hefty chunk of overpriced commission on]?

Him: Nope, the price stands period. [not even an effort towards being conciliatory!]

Call 911 now because I’m just about to jump out of my chair and strangle this fat s.o.b. with his own gaudy necktie.  Why don’t you just play nice, instead of disparaging the reputations of decent car salesmen everywhere with this typically gauche behavior?

The next occurrence happened in line at a store’s customer service counter: the elderly gent at the front of the line was taking his time buying lottery tickets.  A store employee gets 4th in line behind my husband, striking up a conversation with him about this, that and the other thing, including people taking too much time buying lottery tickets.

After the elderly man concludes his purchase, this guy jumps in front of my husband and requests of the woman, now next in line, to go in front of her “because he only has one transaction”!  Look around, buddy, everyone only has one transaction, and they’ve all been waiting longer than you have – but your time is somehow more valuable than theirs?

Again I wonder, how do you not know the blatantly obvious code of proper communication and behavior?  Oh, right, you’re a wolf’s child, sorry I didn’t realize you were THAT guy.

Everyone knows that the unwritten rules for this situation state:

1) Wait your turn, unless you are gravely injured and need immediate medical attention

2) Give the elderly additional time out of respect, unless #1 is true

3) Don’t cut in front of a woman when you are an able-bodied man

4) Don’t cut the line at all, especially with a lame reason for rude behavior

Look around – there is ignorant behavior happening every day, everywhere.  We are that society, with too many members who have conveniently ‘forgotten’ the rules of polite behavior, which allow us to co-exist with a modicum of pleasantness.

And those who need to return to ‘finishing school’ – or who never attended in the first place – are too boorish to even know that they need a lesson in civility.

Know anyone who could use more than a little touch of class?


Why You Care That Language Revolves Around 3

6.16.16 the world of 3

The other day my daughter was looking on social media and read somewhere that Paul McCartney had died – no!  It’s not true – let’s make sure we’re not advancing any bad rumors here.  Sir Paul is NOT dead, likely he’s in fine health.

But my other daughter quickly said, “Yup, things happen in threes.  First it was Prince, then Ali, so…”  How quickly we are to believe something simply because of the irrational concept that ‘things always happen in threes’.

Why is it that we think this way?  Why is the brain so apt to enjoy the comfort of things happening in threes, when there is no rationality for this line of thinking?

As a small number, 3 is an easy recall and so it is processed smoothly. In linguistic lingo this is a concept called cognitive fluency, simply meaning that we like things that are easy to think about – duh!  Of course – who wants to think about hard stuff?

It used to be that not so very long ago we could recall a string of 9 things, hence our 9-digit Social Security numbers.  But as the times became more complex, with ever more things to remember, our capacity to recall dropped down to 7 things, i.e. phone numbers (back when area codes were all the same for a state and didn’t need to be remembered).

Then the complexity of the world escalated further and the 7 item recall capacity dropped down to 4-5 things that we could easily hold in short-term memory, which is where we are in today’s uber-data world.  Throughout it all, 3 remained unwaveringly easy.

Those 3 little pigs, Goldilocks and that family of 3 bears, 3 Billy goats gruff – our childhood stories and nursery rhymes reinforced the concept of the world built around 3.  When you have 3 items – not 2 that feels like something is lacking, or 4 that is starting to strain our memory – then it feels like all is right with the world and things are as they should be.

So why is this good to know in the world of communication?  When you are communicating, if you remember the rule of 3 you will be most effective in your communication. Give 3 reasons to back up your argument; if there are only 2 strong reasons come up with a third.  Really.  If there are 4 strong reasons, go with the 3 strongest ones, and omit the fourth weakest one.

When describing something list 3 supporting details.  Was he tall, dark and handsome?  Well he wasn’t short and squat, but maybe he was short, squat and pimply. Get how ‘short and squat’ is just a little too brief and feels like something is missing without the third trait added on?

It’s like the brain is waiting for the third item to process, which is much more comfortable than not having it.  And cognitive comfort, fluency, and ease of understanding (see how I came up the third item here, which wasn’t immediately obvious what it would be, but was necessary to have – 3!) leads to a perception of accuracy. When something is smooth and easy to process, it rings to the brain as truer than not.  This has no rational basis whatsoever, but there it is nonetheless.

Which is why my daughter was so quick to believe that the recent demise of Paul McCartney was likely true.  Logically it makes no sense that one celebrity death would have any bearing on another famous unrelated person’s life, yet something in our brain says “that feels about right”.

This is the concept of closure, pattern completion that the brain strives for constantly. As we try to make sense of the world around us, the brain seeks patterns to gain understanding and put the unfamiliar into the familiar.  The pattern of 3 is such a strong one that it literally begs for completion.

The format of “___________, ___________ and ___________” is important to maintain in writing, in all communication, for best effectiveness.  Maintain it and you will not only have credibility, but perceived accuracy as well.  Ignore the Rule of 3 and your communication will unnecessarily suffer.



Order Up Some Different Word Order

6.9.16 word orderThe words you choose to communicate with are important, and the order that you put the words in can pack the biggest punch.

Think movie titles, which need impact to be remembered.  The musical concept of ‘perfect pitch’ becomes the movie Pitch Perfect, a related but different musical concept, and 100% on target.

Consider this sentence:  It’s not more thinking about yourself, it’s thinking about yourself more.  What, huh?!? – that one’s a mind bender; better read it again to catch the comparison.

Some may think the expression is basically saying the same thing twice, just convoluted the second time, but note the clever distinction. ‘More thinking about yourself’ implies that there is an inadequate amount of self-thinking happening.  ‘Thinking about yourself more’ implies a lack of self-consideration, which is about the quality of the thinking.

Here’s a classic truism: No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.  While this maxim is frequently used in sales training, it is applicable across much of communication.

Sure there are more direct ways to say, “Show them that you care before talking or they won’t listen to you” but notice how much more impact the clever expression has.  Sentence formation counts – if you want your words to carry power and influence.

A good way to show wit is to take a common expression, a cliché, and transpose two key words groups with each other.  Never put off for tomorrow, what you can do today becomes: Never do today what you can put off for tomorrow – an effective way to flip the meaning.

At first the brain assumes it’s the standard cliché, then realizes it’s been taken for a ride with an incongruent flip.  Rewind and replay to catch the meaning of the new juxtaposition.

When words are constructed to make us stop and think, they have power.  Our brains evolved to take mental shortcuts whenever possible, to save our energy (the brain is an energy hog) for the important thinking processes coming; those shortcuts tell our brain not to listen to mundane, rote, yeah-yeah-I-got-it sentences.  We quickly move on mentally – “oh, sorry, I stopped listening…”

Clever language constructions wake up our brain to do the work of processing the unfamiliar.  We want to understand and our brains enjoy working, which makes linguistic word play interesting and fun.

Need to make a power statement to carry some punch? Add instant impact with a surprising word order shift.  Practice makes perfect, or should I say: Make practice perfect – oh, just try it!  Those old clichés could use a reboot, and you’ll come out looking like a witty writer 🙂


It’s Sooo ANNOYING When…

annoyingYes – you – you’re annoying me!  For the love of god, STOP doing that …please!

Many things annoy many people – sometimes little things that people do simply drive you to distraction.  Sometimes something you didn’t find annoying before, now you realize has become quite annoying over time.  These are usually minor things that at one time in the not so distant past you may have even considered to be cute, but no longer; now – annoying!

Annoyances come in all shapes and sizes.  Sounds, smells, verbal expressions, nervous tics, and a myriad of other possibilities someone at some time has thought “how annoying” about another person.

Then there are the universal annoyances:  Fingernails on a chalkboard – painfully annoying.  Certain laughs (Jeff Bezos is reputed to have quite a distinctive guffaw).  Nasal / high voice pitches.  Idiosyncratic personal habits.  OK, maybe that last one falls under pet peeves, which are annoyances, but are more individual than universal.

My favorite declaration of “So annoying!” is when things go wrong, which can happen daily and multiple times a day, especially with technology snafus – and annoyingly there’s no one to blame or point to as the cause of those annoyances, which is simply: sh*t happens, an annoying part of life!

Which leads to the lightbulb answer of what causes something to be considered annoying – we are annoyed by pattern disruption.  Yep, we are great creatures of habit and we like our patterns fairly predictable.  Not routine ruts, which can be boring and ho-hum, but predictable patterns held up to what we expect to happen. This allows us to make sense of the world and our place in it. And when everything is right with the world, it spins along nicely according to predictable lines, we happily go our merry way.  But when the pattern disrupts – how annoying!  Why did that happen?  What else, not so good, is this a predictor of that might soon follow?

An annoying sound is one that doesn’t fall into our acceptable range of OK, which could mean trouble.  A weird laugh or voice pitched wrong indicates a natural flaw which has potential to impair the gene pool.  Also true of offbeat personal habits – less than perfect DNA is not attractive mate material.

So it turns out that humans are pretty shallow beings, but this is Mother Nature talking, not our conscious thoughts.  We are just her messengers – and we get annoyed.  With so much going on and so much data to process and interact with, we can get annoyed a lot.  A lot of can go wrong in a day to raise the annoyance-meter.

A key to self-communication is to not let minor annoyances bother us.  Just let them roll away and not allow them to ruffle a perfectly good day, since they are trivial (I did say minor annoyances), frequently occur, and likely can’t be changed anyway, so don’t give them any mental real estate.  Tune them out like a static radio station.

The thing about annoyances is that they sap away energy needed for other things, and turn positive energy into negative energy, a waste of a good resource.  Negative emotions are proven to do physiological harm in elevated blood pressure, cortisol levels (stress), and immune system impairment.  So there is harm in allowing yourself to get overly annoyed and nothing good to be gained.

So when you see that next pattern disruption coming your way – and there will always be one coming, and another one coming after that – don’t get annoyed.  Just smile and let it pass you by.  Or if that doesn’t work, then repeat this mantra: I will not get annoyed, I will not get annoyed, I will not….

Have an annoyance story to share below?

The Hardest Word: “Sorry…”

SorryIf you’ve ever been a parent then you know that part of the process of raising upstanding citizens is to teach good manners – the requisite “please” before asking for something, “thank you” when given something, and “I’m sorry” when in the wrong.  “Sorry” is the last to develop and the hardest to maintain.

Well, it’s not exactly hard to get the words out, especially when very young – little kids will say anything their parents tell them to say – it’s the authentic feeling behind the word that is slow to develop. A forced and mumbled “sorry…” from my older kids to each other, was code for: Who – me? – Mom thinks I’m the one who’s wrong?  Heck, no, I’m not taking the blame (and punishment) for this, since I’m not fully wrong and resent being forced into apologizing to you.

Sorry’ seems to be the hardest word, which starts in childhood and lasts right into adulthood.  How many adults still choke on admitting that they erred in some way? In our quest for certainty, we are hard wired to seach out a culprit to blame for every wrong, even if it’s the mysterious ‘they’. Or short of undefined ‘they made this happen’ – it falls on fate.  Bottom line is “It’s not my fault! (and so I’m not apologizing)”.

The brain craves certainty because uncertainty is an unstable state for the brain to be in, causing physical discomfort and pain, in the form of upset and anxiety.  Uncertainty leads to potential threat and danger, so certainty is sought to rule out the threat potential.  Here that certainty is in the form of blame; we are hard wired to close the uncertainty loop. “Who did this?”  “How did this happen?” – not me!

We learned early on that if one falls on one’s sword and ‘takes one for the team’ then with the blame comes the punishment… plus a bad reputation… which can hang with us for a long time… So there’s lots of social incentive not to be the one delivering the apology.

Now when you’re wrong, you do need to own it and apologize, especially when the wrongdoing was intentional.  But there’s a lot of gray area in many of life’s situations.  Maybe you were misunderstood.  Maybe it was partially your fault, but there’s the part that wasn’t your fault – why should you take the full blame?  Maybe you were trying to shield someone else from getting hurt and ended up with the errors pointing to you.  Maybe you trusted someone you shouldn’t have trusted, and now you end up paying the price.  The world is more often gray than it is black and white, with blame not clearly defined.

Then there are those people who apologize profusely and effusively, with nary a flinch.  They know that ‘sorry’ is just a vocabulary word like any other, and seem have no problem saying it at the drop of a hat, with little emotion attached. That quick ‘sorry’ comes bouncing off their lips without any qualms and with rapid fire repetition to the point of sometimes apologizing to inanimate objects they happen to bump into. Oops, sorry!  My bad… oh, you’re not human.

Or those poor souls that are in the ‘sorry’ habit loop – which is more accurately: sorry…sorry…sorry.  I had a friend like that in high school, with one sorry followed by 25 more.  Unfortunately the profuseness of this chain of sorrys was so tiresome that it drove all her friends crazy.  These sorry addicts aren’t able to stop apologizing, for anything and everything – their fault, not their fault, no matter, no stopping.

Here’s a perspective you may not have considered: ‘sorry’ is what people say when they don’t understand something.  That is, they don’t mean “I’m sorry for some error on my part, either physical or judgmental” but rather “Sorry?” as a statement meaning “I don’t think I heard or understood you. Please repeat or explain better.”

And when someone relates an unfortunate story that happen to them, in an effort to comfort, we often say “Sorry”, which here means, “I’m sorry that happened to you”.  But the response is commonly, “Oh you don’t have to be sorry, you had nothing to do with it” which is the wrong meaning of this ‘sorry’; the person is reaching for the blame sorry, which deep down they know is the wrong one.  Back to the ingrained reluctance to give a genuine ‘sorry’ – too many nuances, with the blame version being predominant.

So are you sorry?  Really?  Do you know why you’re sorry?  And do you really mean it?  So much easier to just leave that word alone, but then that might be to shirk deserved blame, which is blameworthy in itself.

Sorry to have brought the sorry subject up in the first place!

Hey, I Remember You – You’re What’s Your Name!

nametagThe sweetest sound, supposedly to a person’s ears, is their name.  You can be in a packed room with loud conversation all around, hear your name called and immediately distill and hone in on that sound, aside from all the clamor.

What mother doesn’t recall hearing the cry of “Mommy” on a playground, and all adult female heads turn to the youthful sound.  It’s a built-in reflex.

Our own name – sweet music.  But remembering other people’s names, now that can be a challenge, especially newcomers, or infrequent comers.  Why is this?  Names are especially hard to remember because most names have no tangible object connection to visually associate with.

Girls named after flowers (Rose, Daisy) or boys named after animals (Wolf, Bear) are easier, but still not a given that you will remember it (which flower name was it?)

Names are nothing more than a string of letters in some combination, with no basis to attach a connotation or an association to; this random group of consonants and vowel(s) have no reason for existence other than being a person’s name – what is a ‘Mary’ or a ‘John’?

Which makes unique name creation popular and easy for trendsetting parents choosing not to follow the common name route, but not so easy for the rest of us.  Help me please – how do you pronounce Chaesa?

Name recall requires straight rote memorization.  Foreign names can be especially problematic as the letter combinations are not always in known familiar language patterns.

With rote, you say the person’s name over and over again, aloud in conversation (which I find rather annoying) or in your head (making it harder to focus on what they’re actually saying) in the hopes that you will retain their name, encoding it into your long term memory through continuous repetition.

This method isn’t helpful when you don’t see the person frequently enough, and then are at a loss for the name when you bump into them next. “Sorry, I know I should know your name, but I can’t recall it.  Please remind me of your name.”  Really embarrassing when it really IS someone you should remember and you’re in essence saying, “You’re just not that memorable.”  Ego slam, ouch!

Another name remembering technique is to think of another person you know with the same name as this new person, then associate some trait that the two have in common.  Great if you know someone with the same name (and they usually have nothing in common to latch on to…) but with all the different and unusual names around today, this option is hardly reliable.

Since our brains are heavily visual and rely on our sight for data input, the best way to remember a new person’s name is to look at the person’s face (which, unlike attire, doesn’t change), looking for the outstanding feature (most memorable) and associating their name, a part of their name, a rhyme to their name to that facial feature, or with a trait associated with that feature.  Probably easier said than done, but what can I say? – that’s the recommended method to remember names.

What I do know is that getting a person’s name right is important.  Their identity, their respect, their pride is tied in with their name, so spelling and pronouncing it right is critical to building rapport and communicating caring.

Except from the cashier who deliberately uses my name when handing back my credit card as a (fake) show of closeness? caring? respect?  Whatever the intent, I see it as disingenuous and dismiss the usage as a canned sales approach that has the opposite effect.  Treat a person’s name with kid gloves, but only when you have permission to do so.

And please forgive me if I’ve forgotten your name when I see you next.  I know that your name is important and I really do want to communicate caring and your importance to me, which will be obvious from my effort to not let on that I really don’t remember.  But I hope you know that it’s really not my fault, as that string of letters your parents gave you is just not that easy to hold in memory.


Why That Great Gift You Just Gave Was a Fail :(

5.12.16 gifting.jpg

Thad had a great idea for his wife’s First Mother’s Day – a t-shirt with the baby’s name and picture on it.  He was so pleased with himself for thinking of such a perfect gift, which she was sure to love.  He even ran it by his sister-in-law to verify, since she knew her sister well.  Carefully he selected the baby’s picture to put onto a large red heart and sent away to have the t-shirt made up, in plenty of time before the date.  He wasn’t great at this, since DIY was his wife’s specialty as a graphic designer, but felt that he did a decent job.  He excitedly waited for Sunday to arrive to present it to her.

The reaction to his gift was less than stellar.  Thad’s wife wondered when exactly she would wear it, as t-shirts weren’t her typical style.  Maybe when she was younger, but that interest had long faded.  What was he thinking?

Why did this sweet intentioned but wrong effort go sideways?  And what’s in store for the many gifting years ahead?

Gift giving can be especially difficult because there’s a lot going on at the same time.  With a carefully selected gift, we are trying to communicate 1) how much we care for the person, indicated by the amount of money spent or the amount of time/thought spent creating; 2) how well we know the person, well enough to know their strong loves and unique taste level; and 3) how important the relationship is to us, that we spend time torturing over the perfect gift.  When we fail, it feels like a failure on all counts.

So we check in (#3), “Are you sure you like it, because I can bring it back and you can change it for something else”.  Or we reinforce #2, “Ha, I KNEW you would like it – it just screams YOU!”  Or we CYA (#1), “I didn’t know what to get you, since you have everything, plus it’s really the thought that counts, right?”

The polite person, knowing that the other person’s intention is good, quietly demurs to all gifts received with an “Oh, thank you so much” then tucks unwanted gifts into the re-gifting pile, which usually end up not being re-gifted at all, but instead donated or garage-saled.

But with spouses, this is not easily done because unwanted gifts can’t be hidden away, nor should the disappointment that their spouse really doesn’t know them to the degree that they should. So what does Thad do, a young husband who is trying, but doesn’t really know how to maneuver this minefield?

As always, clear communication directly with the source is the answer.

Active listening is called for in all relationships – which calls for thinking about the words someone says, and putting the words into proper context.  When she says she likes ‘I heart’ t-shirts, how long ago was that said?  Is it still true today?  Some people outgrow some things, other people never outgrow some things – which type is this person, for this item?  Some people are flattered that you remember something they mentioned ages ago and acted on it.  Other people only made the comment in passing and are aghast that you would act on it much later.

When in doubt, ask!  What, and ruin the surprise? – is the surprise factor worth the risk of wasting good money on an unwanted surprise?  Surprises aren’t always good – like the surprise of receiving something that you won’t use and can’t be returned…

– If you don’t want to directly ask, indirectly ask: “Remember when you used to like ‘I heart’ t-shirts – do you still like them, because I don’t see you wearing them much lately?”  Get clearance, not from the SIL, but from the person themselves, before executing your plan.  An answer like, “Yeah, no, I outgrew that phase” tells you all you need to know, before you go out and make a large gaff.  Also, the fact that you don’t see the item being worn at all should be a big clue on current taste – closely observe and pay attention to really get to know the person.

Remember that just because you like something, and the other person shares much along the same taste lines, no one is completely the same as another; you aren’t gifting to your taste, but to the other person.  Plus people change, their taste can change. You may have been alike in your tastes once, but that may not hold forever. Keeping up with the changes is really knowing the person, through the years.

What is the person’s views towards resources?  Time and money are no object? – if so, then go right ahead, splurge and waste away, to no consequence.  More practical-minded? – then make sure you’re on target, or ‘measure twice, cut once’ as the old adage advises.

– Is this person internal (authority comes from within) or external (authority source is outside of self)?  Internals – about 40% of the general population – know what they want and are very particular; externals (also about 40%) go with the flow and are easy to please, as other people’s opinions are important to them.  Check your gift closely with an internal; make certain they like it or you are risking a gifting fail.

The point of all gifting is to make the other person happy, to bring a smile, to have them feel positive towards you.  Those positive feelings are meant to deepen the relationship, strengthen the bond, communicate the level of caring and emotion you feel for the person – and hopefully have it reciprocated.

With all this weighing on the gift giving process, it’s a shame when good effort expended goes down the wrong road, making the next venture, and the next one after that, a long testy string of misses, if you don’t engage your communication tools.

Have a gifting mis-adventure of your own?


The Greatest (Emotional) Need We All Have

5.5.16 greatest needGeorge has been a faithful employee for 10 years.  He rarely calls out sick, never arrives to work late, or goofs off on the job.  He is an ideal employee, the backbone of the company, slaving day after day nose to the grindstone.  The only problem is that he’s so wonderfully reliable, his work runs so smoothly that he’s often overlooked, hardly noticed, easily taken for granted.  His boss barely gives him any notice, rarely spares him a word, encouraging or discouraging.  This diligent employee is practically invisible.  And now he’s so unhappy he’s planning his exit, as so many other backbone employees do also, for the same reason.

12-year old Lynn comes from a large family of 5 siblings.  Things are so hectic at home, no one can stand out.  It’s a fight to get any part of her parents’ attention, who are so stressed out most of the time anyway, there’s not much time left for anything or anyone.  Lynn gets the attention she craves the bad girl way; she’s the class cutup.  She regularly gets sent to the principal’s office, which forces at least one of her parents to come to school yet again.  “I think she actually enjoys getting into trouble!” laments her overly stressed mother.  Indeed she does.

At the grocery store the 2-year old is throwing a fit in the candy aisle.  The toddler is in full-on four limb flail accompanied by an ear-splitting wail, “I WANT it!!”  A crowd has gathered to insure there is no harm being done, then turns away with disapproving looks as the young mother tries, with limited success, to contain and shut down the embarrassing situation as quickly as possible.

Everyone has a visceral, primal need to be appreciated, feel important, be noticed, leave a mark.  We are on this earth to expand the gene pool, to insure survival of the species, to gain immortal through our offspring.  This is true of every species, who fight for survival, to not become irrelevant and forgotten.  But in humans, this need to make a difference takes on greater meaning beyond what other species strive for.

Adult humans search for an identity, for a meaning not just for existence, but for our own individual existence.  We wonder “Why am I here?  What am I meant to do?” Those who find the answer work towards it with a warm feeling of purpose.  Those who don’t find it feel unfulfilled and aimless as they seek to discover the meaning behind the gift of their birth. Maybe their purpose is to serve others (be a good parent, sibling, friend, son/daughter), or it’s vocational, or they are called to a higher purpose.

The need to make a difference is ingrained, is so important that it should never be discounted, especially when communicating with others.  No one wants to be overlooked, ignored, made to feel like they are so trivial that they don’t matter. Treating people like this, either individually or as a group, is highly detrimental to any relationship.  Expressing appreciation of others is an easily learned and valuable skill. Give others the respect they deserve and crave.

If you are the boss, to George or to any employee, make him feel appreciated.  The top employee complaint is not pay, it’s not heavy workload, it’s lack of meaningful communication.  Toiling for hours, days, years in an appreciation vacuum is miserable beyond tolerance. Sure, no one is indispensable, actually most are replaceable (some easier than others, but all eventually), but that reality is best not flaunted.  And the opposite must be cultivated, to gain loyalty and boost morale.

This need for personal attention applies to everyone.  Toddlers, ‘bad’ students, good employees.  Everyone wants to be special, at least feel special enough to have a meaningful impact.

As a senior, my son was a decent high school tennis player, but not nearly good enough for one of the coveted singles spots.  On a small 9-person team, he was hanging onto a 2nd doubles slot, with other younger classmates chomping at the bit.  But his ego was insulted and he quit the team overrating himself with a, “They’ll miss me when I’m gone!”

Lionel Richie was discussing his 40 year music/song writing career.  He was asked, “Your music brings such pleasure to so many people, but what do you get out of it?”  He could have answered so many things, like ‘music feeds my soul’, or ‘it makes me feel complete’, or ‘it makes me feel truly alive’ – but instead he answered the first thing he thought, “I know I didn’t waste my life”.  There it is.  The pressing desire to make a difference, leave a mark, be remembered in service to others, in the limited time that we have on this earth.

Keeping this human need for appreciation in mind will help your communication with others.  Make them feel included, important, integral if possible.  Having a BBQ and want others to attend?  Assign them a needed ingredient to bring.  Looking for group buy-in on a big project?  Delegate each person an important piece of the overall responsibility to handle.

Think ‘esteemed partner’, ‘prized teammate’, ‘valued associate’ when interacting with others.  Feed into this primal need that everyone has to feel important and included.  Not only is it key, but as a side benefit they’ll love you for it.

Have an example of this concept in action?


TALKING PINS – But Do You Know What They’re Saying?

4.29.16 talking pinsLanguage is not static, it’s dynamic, changing and updating with the times.  Every year the big dictionaries add about 1,000 new words, one every 98 minutes.  That’s a lot of newness to keep up with!

The average person has an active speaking vocabulary of 3,000 words, but understand many more words, roughly 20,000 words.  So which of the 1,000 new words each year do we need to really know to keep our language skills current?

There’s no universal answer to that question, and it’s really not that important, since to have clear communication is to use the simplest words possible in common useage, new or old.  Big multi-syllable words don’t make you look smart, instead they distance you from others who don’t know what you’re talking about, and really don’t care.

To shorten words, acronyms (using the first letter of a phrase) commonly evolve, especially in texting.  I know some common acronyms, like LOL and IMHO, but I must admit that I don’t keep up with all the new acronyms like the younger generation does, having to google them to fully understand what the writer is trying to convey.

So when I saw a website with several acronym wearable pins for sale, and no clue as to the meanings, I knew that these acronyms were in common enough use to be recognizable to the general public.

Maybe you know these specific acronyms, that gave me pause to think – test yourself, before looking below for the meanings:






WTF (actually, this one I knew, like most people)

These are not random picks, but are from the pin website.  If you see someone wearing a pin (or t-shirt) (or see in a text message) with these capital letters, you won’t shake wondering your head on the meaning.

Good luck keeping your vocabulary current with the changing times 🙂


TBH –      to be honest

SMH –     shaking my head

IDFWU – I don’t f*** with you

IRL –      in real life

BAE –    1) babe

2) before anyone else (created after the fact)

3) cool (implied)

WTF – [look it up if this one isn’t obvious to you]