The 3 Things Everybody Wants in Life. Hint: They All Relate to Communication With Others

2.11.16We are all born, we live, we die.  And during the in between, while we are on the journey we call life, we all want 3 things.  Just 3 things.  3 simple things, that are in translation not so simple.

We want to love and be loved.  Simple right?  The Beatles had it right – all you need is love – is love really all that’s needed?  Well, love is one part of the 3 piece equation, a big important part.  But look closer and notice that the concept of love is 2-sided.  Love wants to be given and also received.  For one-sided unrequited love is unfulfilling and not fun at all.  So we want to love and be loved by the same people.

There are some people who love their parents, but their parents don’t love them back, or not to the same level that they want.  There are some who hate their parents, with parents who continue to love them unconditionally.  And there is every degree of love and hate in between.

There are some people who have been married for decades yet don’t feel loved.  There are some who look for love their entire lives and never find it.  And every degree of intimate love to ‘settling’ in between.

There are some people who have scads of friends yet feel lonely and unloved.  There are some who have a single best friend, who really ‘gets’ them.  And a multitude of degrees of social love depending on personal wants and needs.

Love is not so simple to define and can be even harder to get, since it can’t be forced, to be genuine.  But we all want it, in some way, shape or form, to satisfy that social longing we all have – we need other people to survive, therefore we yearn for their affection, and to give them ours.

We want to be remembered.  The worse thing for any person, child, or employee is to be invisible, unnoticed, overlooked.

When I was young, my mother’s often remarked policy on children was: Children should be seen and not heard.  Meaning, stand over there and try to look cute, if you’re young, and at least presentable if you’re not young, but don’t say a word and don’t interrupt adult conversation.  Luckily when I was young, I didn’t know what “seen and not heard” meant conceptually; when I was older and did understand, I had learned to ignore her truisms as just noise.  But the effect was a lasting impression that I carried forward in the reverse with my children.  I know what it feels like to be treated as if you are an object in the room, not a living person.

Employees that are doing a steady good job day in and day out state in surveys that their top complaint is being overlooked.  A kind word, a pat on the back, a mention by the boss passing their desk would go such a long way.  They are unintentionally being made to feel invisible and unappreciated, even though the work these backbone employees do is critical to the overall effort.

If you ask people, most feel that they are above average.  Maybe not above average in everything, but in enough that the overall package judgment is of being above average.  Well, if we’re all above average, that’s a mathematical dilemma.  Which is why the SATs give students 200 points just for putting their names on the paper.  To bring the scores up.  And when too many students felt like their scores were too low, what did the College Board do?  They lowered the standards so students could feel above average with their very average scores.

We want to make a difference.  Have an impact of some kind, any kind, to give meaning to our lives.  That impact can be attached to a cause.  Being part of something bigger than they are is important to people.  How are we linked to the great universe and therefore our footprint will resonate across time and space – it’s a cosmic concept that helps some people gain meaning from living.  Because without meaning, there is an empty void instead of happiness.

No we probably won’t solve a medical mystery, discover a breakthrough in science, or create a global movement – at least most of us won’t.  But we still want to make a difference with our lives.  Maybe that difference is in the good work that we do day to day.

Maybe that difference is in local community volunteering.  Helping with some community issues – housing, the elderly, the poor – makes a big impact in the lives of recipients, which can be immediately seen.

Maybe that difference is raising good kids, who will themselves contribute productively.  Inspiring, mentoring, training, teaching with our actions.  Impacting just one grateful life is making a difference, in any degree.

With these three basic wants in mind, how can we communicate better with others?  Lean into them and you can’t go wrong.  Think about how what you want from others can best be related to one of these 3.  You will be surprised at how motivating the right words, in the right frame of reference can be on behavior.

We all want the same things.  We just need them presented in relatable terms, which makes everyone happy.


Language Loopholes

DJM slide 10Watch out!  There’s a language loophole right in front of you, that you’re about to get tripped up by.  Where?  Whoa, I didn’t see it.  Yeah, ya gotta be looking for them to see them, because they look like all the other words.  Tricky business.

Language with others is used largely to influence.  We tell of our latest adventure, shopping find, brush with excitement – we want to impress.  Or our current tragedy, misfortune, loss of face – we want to elicit compassion, sympathy, comfort.

Influencing language is where language loopholes are best applied – to advantage (when carefully considered and thoughtfully chosen) or to detriment (when hurriedly applied with little thought).  When the latter happens, we wonder what went wrong – “was it something I said?” Umm, yeah!

You can think of language loopholes as deftly setting a verbal trap for others to fall into, as you smugly watch your bait being taken.  You are so clever with your words, you language ninja!

With yourself, you can use language loopholes in self-talk to get yourself to do something you really should but don’t want to do.  Yes, the concept can work cross purposes.

A great example of a language loophole is the word ‘don’t’.  When you use it alone, ‘don’t’, as an abstract word, can’t be pictured; since we think in pictures, using an unpicture-able word causes us to picture the next picture-able thing mentioned. The classic example is: Don’t think about a pink elephant, which causes you to think about exactly that – thanks, I’m now picturing a pink elephant.

Don’t worry, we’ll take care of everything” – I wasn’t worried before, but now I’m worried.  Should I worry?  Well you’ve now put the idea to worry in my head!

Don’t rush” and “There’s plenty of time, no rush” – these two sound like they’re saying the same thing, but are they really?  Consider which one you should be using for your purpose.

But ‘don’t’ in combination with ‘I’, as in “I don’t do donuts” when trying to stay on a diet, carries a very different power than the ‘don’t’ described above. The combination of “I don’t” associates personal identity with strong conviction that goes unchallenged.  It’s a positive way to use the power of a language loophole to convince yourself, to convince everyone.  I’m not the kind of person that does whatever.

If I want to stay on my diet and the hostess offers me dessert, if I respond with “Oh, I can’t”, or “I’m trying to be good and stay on my diet”, or “I really shouldn’t” – all of these responses may be met with some moderate argument: “Sure you can!”, “It’s a special occasion, so be good tomorrow”, “C’mon, just a little piece won’t hurt”…

However, politely saying “Thanks, but I don’t do dessert” stands firm and closes down the discussion, both in your mind and to the hostess.  You don’t even have to give a reason.  It just sounds like you’re the kind of person who stands by their convictions, so there’s no argument.  And it’s great for self-talk too, since telling yourself anything else is liable to break that diet.

Try it out, on yourself and with others, and you’ll feel the power of ‘I don’t do ____’.  But be careful, since language loopholes work both ways.  You may find the power working against what’s best for you.  “I don’t do exercise”, “I don’t do volunteering”, “I don’t do vegetables”.  Really?

Words can have many shades of meaning, depending on context.  The adjacent words can be very important, especially in writing, where you lack verbal tone to convey meaning. And language loopholes are everywhere, looking to trip you up, just when you thought it was safe to go into the water.


And the SURVEY Says…

1.28.16 surveyIt’s the political season, so we are bombarded with the latest survey updating the public’s mood on candidate standings.  But what we neglect to take fully into account is that the surveys represent only a small percentage (those that chose to answer the phone) of registered party voters (not the general population) with listed phone numbers (surveys fall outside the Do Not Call parameters, but many have moved from landlines to cell phones and have not bothered to update their phone numbers.)

I personally never answer a phone number I don’t recognize, as a call screening tool.  I never want to answer surveys.  So the surveys are only getting a small percentage of a limited group that

  1. a) are at home, if a landline
  2. b) choose to answer an unknown number
  3. c) don’t hang up and agree to take the survey
  4. d) are registered voters of the party (versus independent or another party)

Doesn’t sound representative to me.  The published results sound way bigger than they should.  “So and so moved up/down double digits from the last survey” without bothering to qualify what percentage of the total the survey is reporting on.  That might be good to know, to put things in proper perspective.  But proper perspective isn’t the goal now, is it?

If the last survey noted the responses of 100 people out of a potential pool of 10,000 people, that’s the opinion of 1%.  To move double digits within the 1% is hardly meaningful.  The difference between 20% of 100 and 30% of 100 is only .01% of the overall whole, but ‘double digit increase’ sounds better than ‘a .01% change’!  Obviously a transparency in knowing the basis of the survey results is a helpfulness that is not forthcoming.

And what is the percentage to the total of the second survey?  If 200 people were reached in survey #2, you simply can’t compare the differences from survey #1 to survey #2; the response pools are not the same.

“In survey #1 we found these results… in survey #2, the favoritism is shifting as so-and-so lost ground and so-and-so gained points” – that is drawing a false correlation between diverse groups, since the exact same people didn’t participate in both surveys.

Claims are that all surveys reach a cross-section, but I’m not buying it.  What about gender, age, socio-economic factors?  So then the response would be that surveys are just an unofficial gauge… so why then would I ever have any faith in believing them?

Because the media makes it newsworthy, give the surveys real power, skew the public’s thinking.  They pump up the data like it was real, hardcore, the reality.  Only it’s not.

Here’s what surveys actually communicate: they give the perception that public opinion is headed in one direction, when in reality the surveys are minimally representative.  But what happens next is unfortunate: the surveys can create the reality, to a point.  Herd mentality means that many go along with the perceived majority; you think the herd knows something that you don’t know.  The thinking becomes: thousands of people can’t be wrong. This becomes real power.  But is the herd really a true herd?  The survey leads you to believe it is.

Another problem with surveys is that they can be skewed for any desired results, with how the questions are worded.  Unfortunately language can have easy loopholes.

It’s like asking my husband: Is this the best dinner you’ve had today?  The answer is ‘yes’ 100% of the time, so the survey says, “repeatedly voted ‘best cook’ ”.  Ha!  And if you’ve tasted my cooking, you’d know that the survey is not purely objective 🙁


Communication That Enables LOVE to Flourish

1.22.16 LoveMatt and Tina are in a committed relationship, which is sure to last because they are nothing alike, and opposites are said to attract, right?  Whoa, what about ‘like likes like’ (we like people who are like us), which should extend to: ‘love loves love’ (we love mates who love what we love, have a lot in common with us).  How can these two seemingly opposed concepts concerning love and compability co-exist?  Is one right and one wrong?  Or is one more right than the other?  If so, which one?

Actually the truth is that both concepts – opposites attract AND opposites don’t attract/clash – are accurate, with qualification.  Partners who are opposites in complementary ways (one likes to cook, the other doesn’t; one likes to clean, the other doesn’t) will definitely get along well, as long as one other very important trait is also opposite: the authority source must also be different.

OK, but what exactly is ‘authority source’?  Your authority source is either internal (you primarily decide for yourself) or external (you rely heavily on sources outside of you in your decisions).

Shopping example:      internal – “I love this sweater; I think I’ll buy it.

external – “What do you think – do I look good in this sweater?”

Convincing others example: internal – “I know I’m right, I have a good feeling about it.”

external – “It’s right because I read about it online.”

Now that you understand this distinction, let’s return to our lovers.  When one is ‘internal’ and the other is ‘externa’l (opposites), it’s a match built to last. Internal Matt: “I like to cook”; external Tina: “I love for you to cook.”

Or, internal Tina: “I hate to cook, so I’m glad that you love to cook, and at least we won’t starve!”; external Matt: “Yes, I love to cook and glad that you appreciate my efforts.”  Opposite attract.

But what if they have the same authority source, instead of opposite?  Both are internal – Matt: “I love to clean and happy to do it all.” internal Tina: “I hate to clean, but your cleaning standards aren’t high enough, so while you think you’re saving me time, I need to re-clean after you!

Or both are external – Matt: “I hate to clean and you keep nagging me about my sloppy habits”; external Tina: “Don’t blame me, I love to clean but you don’t appreciate my efforts, plus you put off your half of the chores way too long.”  Ohh, sounds like a fight coming when both have the same authority source instead of being opposites.

So opposites attract when the trait is ‘authority source’.  When do opposites clash?

Yup, having different personality traits can lead to disagreements when applied to other areas, primarily when ‘sorting’, ‘fussiness’, and ‘sensory’ differences are the traits that are not the same.

How do you sort?  Do you start with ‘same’ then move to ‘different’?  Do you start with ‘different’ and never get to ‘same’?  An example of ‘same’ sorting: “This situation is like the previous situation in the following ways.”  Different sorting sounds like: “This situation is completely different from the last time (and I neglect to see any similarities).”  When one half of the couple sorts as ‘different’ (15% of the overall population) and is not married to another different sorter, all kinds of issues can come up.  The worse combo is when a ‘different’ sorter is partnered with a ‘same’ sorter that stays on same and never gets to different (5% of the overall population), rather than a ‘same with differences’ or ‘same with exception’ sorter, which is most common (75% of us).

A ‘different’ likes to change things up pretty frequently – the furniture, the layout of things, houses, jobs, friends, etc.  This drives a ‘same’ crazy, who hates change and is slow to warm up to newness.  “Why can’t you leave things the way they were, which was just fine!” is a comment lament.

Are you the fussy type – like things just so, perhaps have a touch of OCD?  Is your significant other the opposite – pretty laid back, easy going, take most things pretty much in stride?  This difference in personality is highly problematic in a relationship, but not so much if you are opposite in authority source: one is ‘internal’ (usually the fussy one, who doesn’t care what others think) and the other is ‘external’ (the non-fussy one, who is happy to let the fussy partner do his own thing).

What about sensory awareness?  If you have differences here, it can lead to poor communication, since most people aren’t aware of dominant sensory differences; they think that everyone is the same, which is being just like them.  They aren’t.  If one spouse is a ‘visual’ he thinks his partner appreciates gifts, a visual sign of affection.  But if the other is instead ‘auditory’, the response is likely, “You don’t need to buy me anything.  I just want to hear the words, ‘I love you’ which means the most to me.”  Sweet nothings whispered in an ear, the clever twist of a phrase, ahhh…

How about the ‘visual’ or ‘auditory’ married to a ‘kinesthetic’ – that partner’s complaint is the lack to physical affection; forget gifts and words, where are the gentle touches, the cuddles, hugs, and hand holding that really express affection? The ‘visual’ hates PDA – god, not in public – someone will see!  “Why do you care if someone sees; are you ashamed?”  “No… it just should be private.”  And ongoing unmet needs continue…

Differences in areas other than in authority source can lead to disagreements, hurt feelings, perhaps a lifetime of misunderstandings when communication and open discussions for mutual understanding of basic needs never happen.

Check out your primary relationship against these standards, then have a good discussion on similarities and differences.  And if you’re just starting or are on the hunt for a new relationship, an awareness of personality traits along these specific dimensions is an important awareness to have.

Of course, the basic foundation of mutual love must be in place in the relationship for any of this to be applicable.

To amore!  To communication that enhances amore.


We Have Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself

1.14.16 fearFDR called it correctly – fear can be a formidable enemy, derailing many good plans and ideas, curtailing potential.  Yikes! – I’m scared!  But what am I specifically scared of?  And more importantly, how do I overcome my fears?

There are several data reports that have surveyed people’s fears, ranking the top fears, with each survey showing different results based on the individual pool of respondees.  So I figure, why not make a composite list of the top surveys, giving some non-scientific but interesting results to work with.  Here then are your top 30 fears, in order:

FDR called it correctly – fear can be a formidable enemy, derailing many good plans and ideas, curtailing potential. Yikes! – I’m scared! But what am I specifically scared of? And more importantly, how do I overcome my fears?
There are several data reports that have surveyed people’s fears, ranking the top fears, with each survey showing different results based on the individual pool of respondees. So I figure, why not make a composite list of the top surveys, giving some non-scientific but interesting results to work with. Here then are your top 30 fears, in order:

  1. Spiders (bugs)                                              16. Blood, needles
  2. Public speaking*                                         16. Strangers*
  3. Heights                                                          16. Clowns
  4. Flying                                                             16. Ghosts
  5. Death                                                             16. Going crazy
  6. Snakes                                                           16. Cowardice*
  7. Open spaces                                                  16. Being poisoned
  8. Germs                                                            16. Getting old
  9. Darkness, dark holes                                     16. Thunder & lightning
  10. Loneliness*                                                  16. Failure*
  11. Drowning, open water                                    16. Rejection*
  12. Intimacy*                                                       16. Commitment*
  13. Dogs                                                              16. Money issues
  14. Monsters, demons, zombies                          16. Sickness
  15. Closed spaces, claustrophobia                      16. Terrorism

(*social fears involving others – communication related issues)

Let’s analyze this list. Of the top ten, two – bugs and snakes – are inherited from our Neanderthal ancestors. Bugs, especially spiders, are logically harmless (except the rare poisonous spiders) yet we react with fear, loathing, and distaste to all spiders. Even people who don’t fear spiders, tolerate but don’t necessarily bear them any affection. It’s not in our DNA to allow any creepy crawly on our skin; nature built that fear into our systems as a self-protecting automatic reflex. Ditto snakes, which presented grave danger to our ancestors. The dislike of snakes is largely universal among the greater population.

The logic that the fear is unwarranted with these two fears cannot override the strong emotion. Besides, there is no need to develop an affection for spiders or snakes, which would serve no purpose; these two fear are not hurting or helping, they just exist, as remmants of our historical past.

What about the two social fears on the top 10 list – public speaking and loneliness – ? With these two, there are ways to overcome them, as both can have a big negative impact on the quality of life. The fear of public speaking causes you to not speak your mind, to not stand your ground or take a stand in the first place. Being asked a question in a public gathering is difficult, and forget about giving any kind of group presentation, large or small.

The fear of being left alone goes against our very dominant desire for group affinity. We crave group acceptance and inclusion as we are social beings who can’t survive without the cooperation, company and attention of others. This very real fear is another communication problem which is also fixable and very much worth fixing. Changing the base traits of a socially broken personality is not easy, and takes time, but it’s worth the results if the hard work to bring about change is put in.

The rest of top ten fears are behavioral – you can control the situation and change your own reaction.

The bottom half of the list of 30 are noteworthy but ‘minor’ fears, meaning not uncommon but also not prevalent. So if you are experiencing any of these specific fears, rest assured that you’re definitely not alone (and you thought your boyfriend was the only one who feared commitment!) but you’re also not in the majority either.

So what does all this tell us about our fears? Looking at the overall list, it’s noteworthy that human fears fall into 3 broad categories: about 1/3 are around something bad happening to you; another 1/3 are behavioral, you doing something that causes negative consequences; and the final 1/3 are largely irrational involving nothing that you can do anything about. Fear is largely about not having, giving up or losing control. And we hate not being in control.

Fears are part of our makeup to protect us against danger, a survival mechanism to keep us on our toes when danger arises, thereby keeping us safe by getting us to quickly take evasive action. Fear of strangers helps the elderly avoid the con artist at the door or on the phone trying to scam money. Fear of the unknown, skepticism helps to resist that too-good-to-be-true offer in the mail, on the internet, or on the phone.

While logic tells us that we should just face our irrational fears instead of letting emotions rule, taking that action easier can be said than done. Exposure to the fear, with hopes of adapting and desensitizing to it, is not always the way out of being fearful. Adding specific tools designed to help increases the likelihood of success.

Live life, with due caution but not scared.



“Surprise!” – Please, No Surprises

1.7.16 surpriseHow about you, are you a fan of being surprised?  Sure, you say, I love surprises – bring it on!  But wait, let’s dissect this and really think about it.

What you love are good surprises, when someone who really knows you well surprises you unexpectedly, which is touching and rather pleasing.  But how often does that really happen?

We are all uncomfortable with the unknown, especially when it jumps out at us unexpectedly.  A jack in the box popping out is frightening, not enjoyable; a scary surprise.

Surprise!  – I bought this unusual (code: useless) gift for you because I couldn’t think of what else to buy and thought you’d get a kick out of it. [What a complete waste of good money.]

Surprise!  – We’ve arrived to spend a full weekend with you and managed to keep our plans secret! [You didn’t give me any notice at all and are planning to stay for the entire long weekend?!?]

Surprise!  – My plans were cancelled, so now I can go with you after all [But I’ve already made plans without you and will have to change everything that was all set]

Surprise!  – I bought you a puppy for your birthday [I wish I had known so I could have picked it out for myself]

And the typical, all shout together now: “Surprise!” – Happy Birthday house full of company [on a bad hair, really tired, want to be alone day]

Face it, personal surprises are more distressful than delightful.  Stick your hand in this dark box for a surprise. [Yeah, no!]

I understand holding out for the few and far between delightful surprises, but you have to suffer all the numerous and more frequent unwanted surprises to get the few.  My vote is to make your feelings public – tell everyone you know: don’t surprise me, I hate surprises.  Code: I’m fussy on my individual preferences and hard to please.

If you’re not like me and really do like surprises, that means you’re not picky and are easy to please, easily delighted and appreciative.  “Surprise me” gives the other person the chance to do something good, but also creates the anxiety of possible failure; was my choice good enough?

So what if you don’t know whether the person you’re dying to surprise will be offended or delighted?  Your first clue is how much control the person likes to have.  Ask this question: control freak or carefree in letting things happen as they will?  The person who loves control absolutely hates surprises.

Except when the stakes are low.  If a decision is not very important, then surprises, even negative surprises (wrong color, wrong taste level, wrong choice) can easily be fixed.  But when there’s a lot riding on something, when it’s very important, when there’s no going back, it may not be worth rolling the high stakes dice if you’re not 100% sure.

When you are 100% sure, then surprises are indeed absolutely wonderful.  The serviceman that comes home unexpectedly is 100% sure of a delighted reaction.  The elaborate proposal, when there is no question that the answer is ‘absolutely yes!’ is wondrous. The opening of a gift that the receiver was pining for and the giver remembered is delightful giving.  Everyone loves that feeling of being enveloped in love that a 100% certain surprise brings.

Outside of personal surprises, businesses also have the ability to surprise in a positive way.  One memorable instance was a NYC restaurant that with the dinner check presented breakfast muffins beautifully packaged, for the next morning’s enjoyment.  Big wow factor.

Amazon surprises some customers who are returning products by saying ‘keep it’ as well as giving them their money back for an unwanted item.  Sure, it’s just good business sense not to re-stock certain price points when doing so costs more than they are worth, and the positive surprise effect promotes such good will.

LL Bean’s surprising customer service is legendary at this point.  Ditto REI.

Planning to communicate your own surprise anytime soon?  Beware the closeted surprise haters and decide the best course of action.

Psst! want to know in advance how the movie ends…?



Why I LOVE Christmas! + Why I HATE Christmas!

12.18.15 xmas love hateIt’s the season to be jolly – gosh I just love Christmas!  It’s everyone’s favorite holiday for so many reasons:

Everyone is just in a better mood at this time of the year, strangers smiling at strangers, letting slide things that would ordinarily trigger nastiness; and not just letting them slide, but letting them slide with a that’s-ok-smile.

I went out for my weekly groceries and could feel the spirit of the season throughout the store.  People holding doors, small talk in the aisles, smiling more than not.  In the parking lot, a women offered to take my cart back in and I saw her give money to the bell ringer as she entered the store.  Then driving home at a 4-way stop, my bad driving habits was waved through by another driver.  Let’s figure out how to make this last all year!

– Commercialism aside, it makes you think about others that you care about and SHOW your affection in some obvious way.  Sure you care about them year round, but when do you really bother to express those feelings? Christmas makes you make the effort.

What does Mom really want this year?  What would put a big smile on her face?  How can I be truly thoughtful and come up with something that wows?  (and is doesn’t have to be store bought to wow, just really thoughtful, geared right to her specifically)

– It brings out the best in people, from taking bell ringing shifts to charitable donations of toys for tots, gifts for adopted families, coats for kids, food drives

So there was Bob, retired now and ringing the bell for the Salvation Army kettle.  He does it every year.  As does the anonymous Santa, who gives out $100 bills down at the bus station.  And who doesn’t love the Police in Lowell, MI last year who with a local TV station, pulled over vehicles for minor infractions, engaged them in holiday conversation about gifts, then delivered the mentioned gifts to them in their vehicle within 15 mins!  Love that kind of police community caring!

But there’s also the dark side of the season of lights, why it’s disliked, even dreaded by many:

– People spend more than they can afford, then go into a January depression when the bills come due.  Somehow we equate out sense of worthiness with the size of our giving, which is faulty logic.  A big gift does not equal a big heart.

True story: years ago my cousin, who had 6 young kids, an unemployed wife, and mounting bills bought a mountain of Christmas gifts, then killed himself in his car in the garage.  No suicide clause in his insurance policy.  This happens far too often in too many families.

– We live in an unfair world, but at the holidays fairness reigns supreme. So we try to even things out, when they were never meant to be equal.  But the tit for tat in us feels so very uncomfortable when our little/big gift is met with a disproportionate exchange.

I just can’t go into the stores anymore because I will find something for one grandchild, which means I have to even it up for the other 3.  So now I’m buying things that they don’t need just for the sake of not showing favoritism.  Their little feelings will get hurt if one gets more than the others, but maybe they’re not counting?  Well if they’re not, their parents certainly are, so it goes.  Best not to take any chances, as every gift costs me 4 times the amount $$$

– We are forced into obligatory giving to others that we have no positive emotion around, a warped spirit of giving, which is definitely not in keeping with the real spirit.

So we’re having the Secret Santa again at work, and everyone has to participate in a small dept.  But Suzie really dislikes Margo and got stuck with her name… would a gift of coal dampen everyone’s spirits?


Notice that the LOVE CHRISTMAS! reasons all center around emotions and feelings?  It’s the real spirit of the season manifested in actions.

Also noteworthy is that the HATE CHRISTMAS reasons all concern the commercialism of gift giving, which is a modern by-product of a materialistic society driven by capitalism.  No coincidence there.

If we could just get back to communicating the true spirit of the season and get away from the monetary retail aspect that has gotten out of hand, what a wonderful world it would be 🙂


blah, blah, blah – Hate Awkward SMALL TALK?

12.11.15 small talkYou would never know that deep down Jake is terribly shy.  He’s in sales for goodness sake, so how is that possible?  Oh, he’s more than capable to put in an order, and talking about the product when asked is easy enough for him to do, but left to his own devices he would rather lay on a bed of nails than attend a networking event.  What do you say exactly to people you don’t know?  A little this, a little that, a nervous laugh when the conversation lags, then a long stretch of silence before they leave for more affable company.  Beyond awkward, it’s painful.

Nancy has a similar problem.  An introvert, she hates attending the obligatory cocktail party with her husband, talking to other soccer moms in the bleachers, going to a workshop or a conference – socializing with a bunch of strangers she doesn’t know or care about is at best a waste of time, and at worse just torture. Sure, it’s good to get out, broaden your horizons and meet people, but it’s really not enjoyable.  Actually more like dreadful.  She doesn’t have Social Anxiety Disorder, but it’s still way out of her homebody comfort zone.

Then there’s Jerry.  He’s socially awkward, with no problem talking to anyone, but says all the wrong things.  People who know him, run the other way when they see him coming.  And those that don’t know him start looking for an exit shortly after he opens his mouth, as he jumps right in to the deep end of the pool, expounding on wild ideas that are hard to follow and make no sense.  He just doesn’t know he’s his own worst enemy in the conversation dept.

Jake, Nancy and Jerry have a problem with small talk.  The Making Small Talk tool is missing from their communication toolkit.   And they are not alone as many people find the practice awkward and unfulfilling, but small talk is an essential communication skill in modern culture.  It is the ice breaker, putting people at ease; the opening to future relationship opportunities.  Or merely to keep from being regarded as socially inept and hated, which can lead to social isolation, either self-imposed or forced exile.  And no one deep down wants that; we are wired to want, need, and desire social interaction.  So put your nerves aside and learn how to rock the small talk.

Plan on bringing out the small talk in 4 situations:

1) You don’t know the person well, meeting for the first time, and don’t want to come off as a creep (i.e. holiday parties, networking events) a potential prelude to go to ‘big talk’, should the relationship develop further

2) You don’t need to know the person well; it’s a chance unplanned meeting (i.e. waiting in a doctor’s office, bleacher-mates), and it’s nice to be polite and not totally wooden

3) You don’t want to know the person well, now or in the future, there’s no chemistry to take things beyond small talk, but you can’t hide under a rock so small talk is called for

4) You know the person, but are just too tired for a long conversation and just want to keep it light (and bellowing “Back off!” makes you look like a hormonal idiot)

OK, so that’s when to use it – got it! (and pretty common sense-y)  Now how about the ‘how’ – what needs to happen to get the job done well and right?

Just follow these simple rules:

1) Mentally prepare your arsenal with a few light topics at the ready.  Current news events (apolitical), sports happenings (“How about those Pats?”), hobbies, travel, commenting on the weather is a usual fallback but including a short personal story twist is better than lacking one.  “I’m bracing for the coming cold weather with a ceramic heater that I found worked better last year than the standard blower heater.”

          The key is prior forethought, not to be caught empty-brained.  Stay with a handful of easy neutral timely topics.

2) Be prepared with stock one line (not one word) answers to the standard questions that will likely come your way, answers that will start, not stop, the conversation.

“Where are you from?” “Tennessee.”  “Oh.”  [conversation ends]

“Where are you from?”  “I grew up in the South, where the customs are very different from here.”  “Really? What kind of differences?”  [conversation begins].

“What do you do?” [prepare for this one, as the #1 question asked].  “I’m a plumber.” “Oh, I’ve used a plumber before…”  [conversation ends]

“What do you do?”  “I’m a plumber and I’ve been called in on some crazy home water disasters.”  “Yeah?          What’s your favorite story?”  “Well, there was this one time…”

3) Ask open-ended, not closed-end questions, that move a conversation forward.

Closed-ended: “How are you?”  “Good.”  Yup, that’s a conversation wrap.

Open-ended: “What’s the most interesting part about what you do for work?

Closed-ended: “Do you know the hostess well?”  “Not really.”

Open-ended: “So, how do you know the hostess?

4) Use body language to enhance your words.

Give your full attention.

Make good eye contact.

Lean forward slightly.

Smile and nod.

That’s all it takes to be a newly minted master of the Art of Small Talk.  Mainly it’s about preparation, since being unprepared leaves most people stumped and silent (and uncomfortable).

Now, Jedi Master, go out there to the next dreaded event with a (knowing) smile on your face.

(And still run from Jerry.)


Share any comments on small talk?

Communicating GRIEF

12.4It was a sad Thanksgiving in our family, with my 64-year old sister-in-law dying much too soon.   It started with an assumed tweaked back from shoveling snow in Feb that kept getting worse instead of better.  That pain actually came from her hip where a large tumor was rapidly growing in the socket, pushing residual pain to her back.  By April, the hip pain was enough to keep her from her job, but no one was seeing the real culprit – lung cancer that had metastasized to the hip, formally diagnosed in July as stage 4 lung cancer, when she could barely catch a breath.  Four months later she was gone.  With barely enough time to get through the 5 stages of self-grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

Four months may seem quick, but let me assure any such thinking, that living through those 2,880 hours (172,800 minutes) of mainly agony was anything but quick.  The waste of a life, the pain of drowning in your own fluid buildup, the struggle to breathe, the damage to her organs deprived of life-giving oxygen, the pain of her final days – where are the words to account why such a gentle soul should have to endure such that she did?

This happened to a non-smoker who endured decades of secondhand smoke from 2 chimney husbands.  The unfairness of it all is hard to process.  But who said that life was going to be fair?  We get what we get, we make the most of what we’re given, and all the in-between stuff is the fabric of living.

The grief that her only sibling, my husband, felt at the loss of his sister was palpable.  He delivered a heartfelt eulogy with many a sob as he struggled to finish his prepared words.  His tears at her dying bedside gushed stronger than their mother’s.  Yet we know that their 85-year old mother was absolutely crushed with the loss of her devoted daughter.  How can a parent not be devastated, to lose a child at any age?

When you love deeply you grieve deeply, but the outward signs of grief are not a yardstick to measure the grief of loss for the person.  Working through sadness is necessary to get to the other side of grief. This happens in each person’s own way and in their own time as the grieving process is different for each person, both in time to recover from the loss and in any public display of emotions.

Beyond emotions, grief has other channels that are not so obvious.  During the grieving cycle sleep, appetite, and energy patterns can be disrupted.  The common low energy or ‘laziness’ of grief is the body’s way of slowing down to properly mourn. Which means a lot of food isn’t needed.  And fighting the giving up of control that is sleep is a natural unconscious response.  So when grieving, life is not physiologically normal, beyond crying outbursts. I found myself sad and crying randomly for no reason for months after my father died.  Respect the process.

Unfortunately it is in our human nature to be judgmental; we can’t help it. “She doesn’t seem very upset; she’s not shedding many tears…” or “Is she still grieving?  Didn’t he die 10 years ago?” Somehow we think that grief should follow a set standard, or have common guidelines against what we personally think is acceptable ‘grieving behavior’.  But there is no right or wrong way to grieve; it is a personal process that each person goes through, alone or with support. Grieving is private and personal.

Supporting a grieving person can take several forms –

Just being there with a comforting presence, a strong shoulder is of value; words aren’t always needed

– Crying alongside, showing your own feelings, is real empathy.  Hugs can go a very long way to show caring.

Recalling your favorite memories about the deceased helps to acknowledge that their life had impact.  Not speaking about the person to avoid sadness diminishes their life, as if they never existed.

– Telling the truth, “I’m so very sorry for your loss” or “I just don’t know what to say” or “It’s OK not to be brave right now”

Listening more than talking while asking questions that gently help the grieving person work through their feelings: “What’s your favorite memory of her?”, “What did you love most about him?”, “How are you feeling?”

– Help out in the days and weeks afterwards by taking action and doing, not merely suggesting “Call if you need anything”, since that call rarely comes as too hard to make when in the throes of grieving.

It’s hard to know what to say; there’s that awkwardness of being at a loss for words, but when the words do pop out, avoid saying the following, which just makes grief worse:

– “She is now in a better place/in heaven” not everyone believes in religion, plus the reminder that the person is gone forever is cause to miss them more.  Better to say, “She is no longer in pain” which is true and a relief when the suffering is over.

– “Cheer up, he wouldn’t want you to be sad” which may be true, but just isn’t possible to be happy, and failing on this adds to the burden.

– “Thinking of all the happy memories will bring you peace” is a reminder that there are no future memories to be enjoyed

“Be strong (for the kids)” oh, the guilt of neglecting others in your grief is an added burden

“I know how you feel” remember that everyone is different, so you don’t know

“It was her time”, “There is a reason for everything”, “It was a blessing in disguise” all a bunch of crap

– “C’mon, it was just a dog!” pet grief is a true loss of a family member

My SIL’s dying last week was the 5th family death this year including both sides of our families.  The oldest deaths were my 94-year old Aunt and Uncle, who died within 4 days of each other. The youngest was a 16-year old cousin who, like so many young people, thought he was invincible and could outrace a car.  None of them were ‘easy’ deaths; they all brought grief and deep loss.

Ultimately we grieve for our future selves, the remaining living.  We grieve for the loss of their company, for the memories they won’t share with us, for the time we will spend without them present.  We miss them and how they made us better because they were in our lives.  And sometimes we have regrets of our own that their death makes permanent.

A good use of the grieving experience is in relating to living others.  No regrets – say all your needed “I’m sorry”s, “I love you”s, “I forgive you”s, and “thank you”s now – those 4 issues are what people tell hospice workers they care about resolving most when the end is near. Making time now to take care of the Big Four while you can makes our living days better and our passing regret-free.

Death is ironically part of life – the circle of life.  Grief is an unpleasant but necessary by-product of living, to remind us of what’s truly important.


Communication Master Series: INTERVIEWING

11.19.15 interviewingJohn is ready for a job change, deciding that it’s getting to be time to move to a new company; he’s bored in his current responsibilities.  But he’s also eyeballing a position in another dept; change would be a nice challenge to renew his working interest.  So it’s decided: try for the existing position and if that doesn’t pan out, dust off the resume and cast his rod into other waters.  In either case, it’s interview time.

Luke in HR will be conducting the job interviews.  He’s interviewed dozens of people over the last few years, so he’s not new at this, but still he wonders how you can really know how well a person will perform, after meeting them for just an hour.  Lots is riding on getting the right person into the job since turnover is a costly expense.

Mary, the dept leader, wants in on the interviews too, with a vested interest in a new hire.  Mary doesn’t know John at all, since their paths have not crossed working in different depts.

John thinks, “No big deal, I have the inside track since I know all about the company already.  I’ll just apply, ask some of the guys to put in a good word for me with Mary, and easily ace the interview with my charm.”

Interviewing is really a test of all your communication skills.  Much rides on how well you can communicate, on being prepared, and on body language.  What if you choke during the interview and don’t project your best?  And there’s the worrisome competition, who certainly have stronger qualifications.  Maybe it’s a long shot and your experience is shallow or nonexistent in this endeavor… is it worth it to throw your hat into the ring just to hear no?  Actually, you can probably think of dozens of reasons why it shouldn’t be you who wins in this big communication gambit.

But that’s just the fear talking, of being out of your comfort zone and putting yourself on the line.  Face it, no one likes being rejected, or even the hint of rejection.  So let’s cover the 5 big areas that are most critical, whether you are interviewing or being interviewed for any opportunity, to overcome the fear.

DRESS – much is communicated in the attire the person brings to the interview, giving information about their socio-economic background, their education, their morals, their intelligence, their trustworthiness.  Most hiring decisions, aye or nay, are made immediately after that first impression, then simply re-enforced over the course of the formal interview.  Tip: know the industry and dress one level higher than the position you are interviewing for, so you appear promotable.

Color tip: wondering about color choice?  The safest all around color to wear is blue.

BODY LANGUAGE – the way the interviewee conducts themselves is more important than the actual words coming out of their mouth. Was her handshake confident? Does he appear attentive, lean in for earnest understanding, express strong focused thoughts, demonstrate emphatic purpose?  Does she display good energy, passion, enthusiasm?  Is he confident without being cocky? (confidence is huge to winning in communication) Is she genuinely nice, a team player who will get along well with others? (Being charming is an asset to cultivate.)

Confidence tip: Strike the ‘power’ pose or the ‘victory’ pose (in the restroom is a good idea) before going into the interview, holding for 2 minutes for the mind/body transference to take hold. This helps to quell jittery nerves.

LANGUAGE – Articulate clearly, ask intelligent questions that required prior homework, be persuasive as to why you are the best candidate, be honest and truthful. Don’t um and ah or hedge answers. Say you don’t know when you don’t.

RAPPORT BUILDING – Successful communication comes down to one basic trait: likability. Be likable, maintain good eye contact (we look longer at things we like), inject positive energy into your voice (we like to be around positive, energetic people).

SOLID PREPARATION – Even if you’re good at winging it, you’re always better when you’ve done your homework in advance.  Homework on the company’s long term goals and objectives; homework on the position’s responsibilities fitting into that future; homework on answers to the standard questions: ‘strength’, ‘weakness’ (and steps taken to correct), ‘proud accomplishment’, ‘prior conflict’ (and how dealt with).

Tip: Include detailed example stories, each related to a specific point, to show yourself in action.

OOPS! – Lots can go wrong, but much of it is avoidable.  Don’t ever arrive late, poorly groomed, or chewing gum.  Politely decline to eat or drink anything offered – to avoid food in teeth and possible spills.  Trip entering? – make a funny quip to avoid awkwardness.

YUPS – Carry a leather folio to take notes and lead the questioning (showing initiative and your prior preparation).  Take those notes with a high quality non-disposable pen (remember that impression count).  At table seating, sit to the right of the person, if given a choice. And good posture is important.

Tip: Don’t forget the handwritten thank you note after the interview, which is so much nicer than a dashed off email.

So there you have the Interviewing Mastery Strokes – master these and you will be a master interviewer.  Good luck getting that dream job or next big promotion 🙂