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Tag Archives: Dear Debra

Posted on Friday, January 9th, 2015

One Minute Weight Loss: GUARANTEED!

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I had grand plans to stay on track over the holiday season, but people kept FORCING me to eat and drink and be merry. It’s rude to turn down a glass of champagne. And a cookie. And then another cookie. It is.

As I was trying to figure out my 2015 resolutions while sweating it out on the elliptical, I had an epiphany. I — anyone really — can lose five pounds immediately by doing one simple thing: putting down the devices.

By ridding ourselves of the laptop, and smartphone, and e-reader, and tablet, and ear buds, and Go Pro camera, and selfie stick and charger (and backup charger and solar charger) and whatever else may qualify we can experience instant weight loss. Like magic. Try it:

Hold all your devices and get on the scale.

Toss all your devices and get on the scale.

See? It works.

But we all know that when it comes to these hand-held handcuffs it’s really not about the physical weight, is it? It’s about how being constantly connected, in-touch, and interrupted can take a toll.

I talked to a handful of mothers who were in a quandary about gifting their children with smartphones or tablets. Why? Because they were afraid of losing their children to the ever-addictive world of electronics. One parent sighed, “I’m afraid I won’t see him after 9AM Christmas morning if I give him the iPhone 6 he’s been asking for since August.”

But electronic addiction doesn’t just affect the under-20 crowd. My friend’s father-in-law received a Fit Bit and was so enthralled by the constant feedback he actually fell off the curb while trying to amass his 10,000 steps. So much for a peaceful walk on a chilly morning. He’s currently chilling his swollen ankle with an ice pack.

By now we know that technology is not going away. And technology is not a bad thing. Just like cookies and champagne aren’t bad things (the exact opposite in my opinion, but I digress) especially if enjoyed responsibly. It’s just about a bit of moderation and employing some boundaries or, if that’s too strong a word for you, some flexible agreements.

Maybe 2015 COULD be about losing the weight of technology. Maybe it’s time to sit down as a family and determine when using devices is ok and when it is not. Not ok might be in the early morning hours before the first — or second or third — cup of coffee. Or at night in bed, considering that blue light is apparently Mr. Sandman’s archenemy. Perhaps dinner and the hour after school is tech-free, ensuring that you actually have a shot of seeing your child’s face instead of the top of his head. Together, create a framework for when it is ok — the hour before dinner or the 15 minutes before school as long as other tasks have been completed.

And how about workplace situations? Is it really necessary to place the smartphone on the conference room table? Probably not. The office is tech-heavy as it is so an hour without being attached to a device is like vacation! If you’re running the meeting, offer an empty basket at the entrance to the meeting with a note that simply states: Please silence phones and leave in this basket until the meeting adjourns. You will get some huffs and eye-rolls (after all, we are all a little childish when it comes to putting down a toy/gadget of any sort), but your colleagues might just thank you later for the free weight loss.

I recently came across this very same topic in a magazine article about graciously managing technology when entertaining guests. It was in a below-the-Mason-Dixon-Line publication I was leafing through while sitting in a lobby NOT on my phone (full disclosure: that’s because I had inadvertently left in the car — oh the horror!). But — and forgive me here for such an obnoxious blanket statement — many Southerners appreciate the finer points of entertaining, and the article made it clear that playing a video from YouTube while the Shrimp and Grits are being served is not considered a finer point.

So I am dedicating myself to some easy weight loss goals this year. I am limiting the times I am tethered to technology. After all, I wrote the book (for real) on The Fine Art of Small Talk. I am spending more time listening and less time scrolling because face-to-face time is more fulfilling than any face-to-screen time. If you look down too long, you’re likely to miss out on the good things – like friends and family and colleagues. And the curb. And cookies. And champagne. And maybe another cookie.

Are you attempting a tech diet? Tell me about it. And cheers to a happy, healthy 2015.

Posted on Friday, January 9th, 2015

Party Time? A Cheat Sheet To Help Break The Ice

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Of all the crazy things I’ve been asked about regarding The Fine Art of Small Talk (“Dear Debra, I know my boyfriend is going to propose but I don’t want to marry him” — ohhhhh.), it’s the everyday situations that can cause the most jitters.

We are in the thick of the holiday season, which means lots of parties, dinners, gift exchanges, cocktail events, company soirees and neighborhood gatherings. Here’s a short and sweet cheat sheet to get you through some of the stickiest situations.

There are some hard and fast rules: 
• Arrive with three topics to talk about; think of these as your safety net should you need them.
• Always be polite.
• Always be gracious.
• Always smile.
• Remember that you are likely harder on yourself than necessary.
• Remember that a lot of people get nervous, a lot of people are shy, a lot of people are uncomfortable — and those people are dealing with their own anxieties so they are not paying attention to yours.
• Alcohol or 22 cream puffs will not make the situation better. Ever.
• Steer away from foul language and sexual innuendos or starting any sentence with ‘I heard this joke that is SO funny. You are going to laugh SO hard. Now let me see if I remember it…’
• If you have that little voice that says ‘maybe I shouldn’t say this,’ listen to that voice. And listen good.
• It is not your responsibility to babysit other adults; but it is your responsibility to be a good guest or a good host by introducing yourself and participating in conversation.
• If someone, including you, thinks you’ve had too much to drink you probably have.
• You don’t have to answer every question — your weight, your income and your relationship can be off limits if you wish them to be.

If You’ve Met Someone Before But Have Forgotten Their Name — Again.
It’s so good to see you again. Forgive me; I’ve temporarily forgotten your name. Will you remind me?

If You’ve Met Someone 20 Times Before But Have Forgotten Their Name – Again.
Discreetly ask a friend to remind you and if that doesn’t work: It’s so good to see you again. Forgive me; I’ve temporarily forgotten your name. Will you be kind enough to remind me?

If You’ve Been Given A Gift That You Hate:
Thank you for thinking of me.
If You’ve Been Given A Gift But Didn’t Give One to the Giver:
Thank you for thinking of me.

If You Were Expecting A Year-End Bonus and Received a Jelly Of The Month Membership:
Thank you for thinking of me.

If You Are Hosting A Dinner And Guests Are More Than An Hour Late:
Make sure nobody is stranded on the highway and then encourage your guests to begin dining. It appears John and Jane are running a bit late; let’s begin and they will join us when they arrive.

When John and Jane Do Finally Arrive:
We’re so glad you’re here! Let me take your coat and get you settled; we started dinner; please sit down and allow me to get you a plate.

When You Are Serving Alcohol But You Know a Particular Guest Doesn’t Drink:
May I offer you something to drink?

When Someone At Your Event Has Had Too Much To Drink And Is Being Obnoxious:
Wow — it’s getting late! Thank you for joining us. Let me get your coat.

When Someone At Your Event Has Had Too Much To Drink And Drove To The Party:
Wow — it’s getting late! I hired Uber for tonight’s party; your driver is outside. Let me get your coat and walk you out.

When Someone At Your Party Has Food Allergies or Sensitivities That You Were Not Aware Of Prior To Arrival:
My apologies for not being aware; the salad and dessert are both (fill in the blank: gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free) but the main coarse is not. May I offer you something else, such as a piece of chicken?

When Someone At Your Party Has Food Allergies or Sensitivities And Brought Their Own Food:
Thank you! Let me plate this for you and then we can sit down!

When Someone At Your Party Shares Big News That Is Not Necessarily Good News (divorce, job loss, illness, the latest Kardashian episode): I’m so sorry to hear this news, John. How can we be of support? 

When Someone At Your Party Shares Big News That Is Very Good News:
What wonderful news, John! May I offer a toast to celebrate (make a heartfelt toast.)?

When Someone At Your Party Is Intent On Talking About Things You Do Not Wish to Discuss (politics, religion, money, the Kardashians):
Gosh, I don’t think we have enough wine in the house to tackle this issue tonight! Speaking of wine, I was thinking back to the best gift I ever gave and it was the trip to Napa I surprised Steve with in 2008. What was a favorite gift you gave or received?

When You Are Stuck In A Conversation That You Want to End:
It was great catching up with you. Excuse me, I see Jane just walked in and I must say hello.

You’ve Insulted Someone By Mistake:
Forgive me! I did not mean to hurt you in any way (change the subject quickly).

You Are Tired and Want Everyone to Leave:
This was such a fun night (stand up, begin clearing dishes, do not open more wine.) – thank you all for being here. 
Whatever situation you are in, remember that being kind and generous usually solves most problems. If that doesn’t work, remember it will all be over soon.

Happy Holidays!

Follow Debra Fine on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DebraFine

Posted on Thursday, June 26th, 2014

Wait! What About ME?

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Dear Debra:

I recently spent an enjoyable evening with an acquaintance of mine. In reality, we had a nice time, but a few days later, I realized she never once asked about me, my work, my family – nothing! I have read your books and I am patting myself on the back for being a good listener – but I am feeling a little put-off now looking back on the night of what I can only call “All About You.” Where did I go wrong? I want to be a good listener (and a good friend), but I also feel like there should be some give and take. Any advice?

Sincerely, What About Me?

Dear Me:

Dear me! I hear you — pun intended.

First, I, too, am patting you on the back for being a good listener. Even without meeting your conversation cohort, I would bet my retirement fund that she left feeling absolutely great. Why? Because most people love to talk about themselves. So spending an evening with you, talking about her, likely felt like a perfect night.

I don’t typically receive emails like yours, so my ears perked up — again, pun intended. Most of my readers and audience members ask me how to start a conversation and keep it going. So, if you are looking for the silver lining here, celebrate the fact that you didn’t have to carry the conversation. Your friend, while a bit narcissistic, did the bulk of the work for you. Sometimes it’s nice to sit back and just listen.

But if you are hoping for a true exchange of thoughts and ideas, use these three simple steps next time:

Be General:
If you have had enough of listening to someone else’s stories about their children, their renovation, their vacation and their stock market success, try to steer the conversation into a more general direction, like current events or — oh I don’t know — euthanasia.

Kidding. (Sort of.) But by redirecting the conversation towards a topic that lends itself to a back-and-forth exchange: Did you read the article about how women over forty are smarter than any other creature on the planet? will allow for a more equitable exchange.

Be Specific:
If being general doesn’t float your boat, mention something that you are doing: It’s so good to hear about what’s happening with you! I promised myself to tell you about our recent good news. Charlie was accepted to Stanford and now I am both celebrating his success and mourning his departure!

Now you have changed the dynamic because:
• There is a new topic on the table
• It’s a topic you can (probably) both relate to
• You’ve done your job as a good listener by allowing your friend her time and space to share her news and you’ve done your job as a small talker by offering a peek into your own life

Be Ready to Make a Move:
Sometimes the only way to stop a monopolizer is to get out of the conversation. When you realize you have no hope of having a lively exchange of ideas, give your friend a warning sign like Gosh, hearing about your food poisoning has been amazing. I’ve got an early meeting tomorrow morning, so I’ve only got about fifteen minutes left to hear about the details of the Chicken Cacciatore.

Now you’ve let your friend know that this LOVELY conversation needs to be wrapped up in a timely fashion, but you haven’t been abrupt in your departure. As the clock ticks, smile, nod and find a break in the conversation.

Being a good small talker is an art; and being a good listener is a gift. Being good at both is pure conversational gold.

 

Posted on Tuesday, May 20th, 2014

Tips for Teens and The Summer Job

Teens may need your help with the help wanted signs!

Teens may need your help with the help wanted signs.

It was Sly and The Family Stone who sang about “hot fun in the summertime,” but they failed to mention the summer job. Spending the summer in an itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka dot bikini sounds lovely, but without a summer job, we’re talking wipeout.

While most of us over the age of 22 (I am just slightly over at this point – slightly) don’t have the benefit of a summer break, many teens and recent grads are skidding toward the end of school and the beginning of summer and the need (and hopefully want) of a summer job.

I’ve read articles knocking the teen sector for their lack of willingness to find a summer gig; but every young person I’ve encountered wants a summer job because they want money. The two sort of go hand-in-hand, yes?

So let’s just assume that the young people in your world are actively interested in working. Now the question is: how to help?

Get Ready:
Make sure your teen is prepared for the application process; you can do this by creating a simple document that includes all the essentials like:
• their contact info
• previous work experience
• a list of references
• their education / school performance, and future plans for education (“Applying for college in Fall 2015” for example)

Being prepared with this information allows your teen to apply for jobs when out and about, making the process less daunting and more immediate.

If your child is a bit older, this is the time to talk about resumes. Preparing a resume offers the opportunity to get comfortable with the process early on and results in a concrete document to hand to potential employers. Even if he isn’t asked to present a resume when applying, going through the exercise of making a résumé isn’t a waste of time. The résumé will include all the information needed to complete an application, so he can bring it along for reference. Plus, potential employers will likely be impressed by a prepared teen.

Get Set:
Practice makes perfect. Well, maybe not perfect, but better. Do some role-playing with your teen (try to ignore the louds sighs and eye rolls) by running through some of the following:
• basic introductions
• hand shake
• an open and engaging smile
• direct eye contact
• posture
• enunciation

Your teen may balk at this exercise, but dangle the all-powerful dollar in front of them. Life costs LOTS of money – clothes, movies, food, drink, gas, car insurance, travel and other sordid entertainment is not free. Plus, having a summer job looks great on a college application.

Elizabeth Heaton, a college admissions consultant, says: “I loved paying jobs when I saw them on applications.” According to Heaton, work experience proves that students can show up on time, be responsible, do a job they’re hired to do, and deal with adults they aren’t related to. And since many unpaid internships or volunteer opportunities are only a few days a week, many teens can balance that with a paid job.

Go
:
• Resist the urge to find a job for your teen – they will only resent you for it and the eye rolling could become a serious medical condition. Still, mentioning that you heard of a summer job in conversation doesn’t hurt.

• Encourage your child to apply to jobs in person if possible. Even if the potential employer insists on online applications, putting a face with an email attachment can’t hurt. Something as simple as: “Hi – I’m John. I recently applied for a summer job online but I was in the store and thought I’d introduce myself” goes a long way.

Remind your teen to tell everyone he is looking for a job: at the grocery store, library, restaurants, car wash, neighbors, and friends are all potential leads. A school counselor is also a great resource.

And don’t forget online searches — sites like teen4hire, Facebook, snagajob and other social media sites offer lots of ideas.

I’m signing my new book: Beyond Texting: The Fine Art of Face-to-Face Communication for Teenagers at The Tattered Cover on May 21. Join me!

 

Posted on Friday, May 2nd, 2014

Teaching Teens How to Talk Without Technology

 

 

beyond texting book coverMy recent bookBeyond Texting: The Fine Art of Face-to-Face Communication for Teenagers is the result of several things: I was once a teenager, I had children who later became teenagers and I married a man who had children who later became teenagers.

In a nutshell: The world is full of teenagers.

Teaching the younger generation the finer points of interpersonal skills is key to their long-term success. No matter how advanced technology becomes, landing a scholarship, job interview or fiancé will still require some form of verbal communication.

In a recent post, there were tips on how to help your teenager start a conversation — now the trick is to keep it going. Conversations for teens and adults can take a turn and what was an engaging exchange becomes an excruciating effort. Why? Because we get excited or nervous. It’s normal. It’s also avoidable. Here are some simple steps to share with your teen:

Avoid Interrogation

Questions are a great way to get to know the other party, but don’t get carried away:

Jack:How was the party?
Jill: Fun!
Jack: Who was there?
Jill: Josh and Tricia.
Jack: Who else?
Jill: Um, some guys from the track team.
Jack: Was Kyle there?
Jill: I didn’t see him.
Jack: Who’d you go with?

Wow. At this point, Jill is looking for an escape route because she’s feeling cornered and peppered with questions. When questions continually receive short answers, switch from interrogation to sharing:

Jack: Wish I could have made it. I was at the movies last night. Have you seen…?

Now there is another topic on the table, allowing Jack and Jill to move in new directions.

Don’t Get Too Personal

Asking someone about their family, their job, their friends — it all sounds innocent enough. But getting too personal can backfire. Always give the other party an exit strategy when delving into personal information:

Jack: How’s work?
Jill: Great — I love it there.
Jack: I’ve been thinking about applying but I am concerned about the pay scale. I don’t know if you feel open to sharing, but I’m wondering if they pay more than minimum wage?

Now Jill can either answer with Yes, they pay more than minimum wage or Yes, I make $20 an hour or I don’t like to talk about money. Jill’s been given an escape hatch.

Don’t Compete

One-upping is such a downer. Resist the temptation to be “Mr. Been There Done That.” If someone is sharing a story with you, be a good listener instead of anxiously awaiting your chance to tell your bigger, better story.

Don’t Interrupt

This happens so often, it’s frightening. I actually think adults do this more often than teens. Let your conversation partner finish his or her thought. You will get your chance to speak; if you don’t, there’s always next time.

Don’t Hog The Spotlight

Long stories are just long. Your friends will either start glazing over or start slowly backing away. Pass the conversational ball often and remember that a play-by-play of something interesting to you is not interesting to all.

Jill: Yeah — the latest episode was SO funny. The ending was the best. I won’t ruin it for you though, in case you get a chance to watch. What did you do last night?

Don’t Give Unsolicited Advice

I had a friend like this growing up — she was always suggesting ways I could improve myself, whether it was changing my clothes, my hair or my boyfriend. It didn’t feel helpful, though — it felt like a magnifying glass on her perception of my faults. The friendship didn’t last, but the lesson did: if someone wants your advice, they will ask for it. If not, your job is to be a friend, not a parent.

Don’t Gossip

Gossip is an easy trap to fall into, so beware. What starts as a friendly conversation can lead to trash talk. If you are in a group of gossipers, say, “Oh — yikes! I don’t gossip about anyone — I’m too afraid it will come back to get me!” This often stops people in their tracks, mostly because they didn’t realize they were gossiping in the first place. If that doesn’t do it, move away. Gossiping has a way of haunting you forever.

Be Careful of Foot-In-Mouth Disease

We’ve all done it; we’ve all unintentionally said something that we shouldn’t have said. The best way to get out of this situation is to avoid it entirely. Do not ask personal questions unless you already know the answer: “How come your dad isn’t ever home?” or “Why does your little brother scream like that?” or “How come you only have one car?” can lead to really awkward results. If you do, in fact, stick your foot in your mouth, sincerely apologize, change the topic, and learn from your mistake.

Learning from mistakes is what being a teenager is all about. Trust me — been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

Posted on Friday, April 4th, 2014

Wrong Name Can Be A Venti Problem

 

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Dear Debra:

I’ve been going to the same coffee shop every weekday for two years and the woman behind the counter knows me. She is always saying hello and asking about my dog and my fiancé and she is lovely. She sees me and says Jen! Love those shoes! Come on over here and let me see them! But my name is Nicole. I never corrected her — for two years! Now I don’t know what to do. Do I tell her my name is Nicole or just play along? Help!

Nicole/Jen In Chicago

Dear Nicole/Jen:

Well, you’ve gotten yourself into some hot water here and now the issue continues to percolate, hmm? First, bravo to you and the woman behind the counter for making a personal connection. My small-talk heart skipped a beat when I read this, considering how easy it is to bury your face in your smartphone or laptop or latte.

If I were you, I would correct her now and use humor to do so:
So, I’ve always wanted to be a ‘Jen’ which is the reason I answer to that name when you call — but my name is actually Nicole. I asked my parents to change it to Jen, as it sounds so much better, but they are sort of stuck on Nicole.

Be brave and make the switch now because life is funny and it is more than likely that the moment you resolve to just become Jen forever, someone will walk up to you in that coffee shop, in front of that woman, and exclaim NICOLE! Hey — NICOLE! NICOLE? Is that you? And then you and the coffee-lady-with-the-big-heart-and-the-wrong-name are going to have to end your frothy friendship over something that was once a small order (“tall” in coffee speak) has now grown into a grande or even venti problem.

Posted on Friday, March 28th, 2014

Teaching Teens The Fine Art of Communication Could Save the World!

 

beyond texting book cover

Technology is a such a blessing… Until it becomes a curse. Or a crutch. Maybe it’s all three, actually, when you really stop to think about it. After all, it’s lovely to text a friend, letting her know you are running late for a get-together but being constantly tethered to a device and the never-ending beeping and ringing can be exhausting. Blessing vs. curse.

But it’s the crutch part that resonated with me to such a level that I wrote my third book, Beyond Texting: The Fine Art of Face-to-Face Communication for Teenagers. I didn’t go willingly, as they say.

The book was a result of being asked by my publishers, friends, and colleagues to please write a book for the younger generation. I didn’t want to do it. I texted and emailed and FaceTimed my publisher over and over again refusing. But by then my brain had been tuned into the teenagers and 20-somethings I encountered everywhere I went, and after watching so many of them, including my own, relying on their devices to make it in the world, I relented.

Seeing teenagers constantly head down, earbuds in and hunched over their smartphones really made a mark on me. I first considered going to chiropractic school, knowing that the future generation is going to have loads of neck problems (for all of you entrepreneurs out there, may I suggest considering this line of work because surely there is money to be made) but I am no spring chicken, and small talk is my gig.

So, the book and the blogs and the talks begin now. Not to blow my own horn, but I am basically singlehandedly saving the world. I know, I know — it’s a big job. But without face-to-face communication skills, the next generation will be unable to make conversation, ask for a date, propose to a mate and, thus, create the next generation. The entire human race could die off if we don’t start teaching our teens how to communicate! I don’t know about you, but I’d like some grandchildren one day. And someone to serve me tapioca in the home — when and if the time comes.

How do you teach your teen the proper way to build relationships and interact with others? While my book offers an in-depth approach, these three tips will help you both get started:

Exude Energy:
It’s normal to feel nervous and overwhelmed when entering an unfamiliar situation. Take a deep breath and relax. Can’t? Well, fake it if you can, and remind yourself that everybody else is feeling the same way. Put away your phone and look at others in the eye, smile and extend a firm handshake. It will feel awkward at first, and you will be itching to reach for your device as a way to curb your panic, but force yourself to engage on a human level because it gets easier. I promise. By appearing energetic, interested, engaged and friendly, people will be drawn to you, making the vibe in the room even more inviting and comfortable for you and others.

Break the Ice:
Initiating a conversation with a stranger is a gift that keeps on giving — to both you and the your conversation partner. Even after all these years of small talk, I always enter a room with at least three topics to talk about. Always. So, here are some conversation starters that work:

• How’d you do on the test? The essay part was the toughest for me!
• Have you met the new science teacher?
• Biology is killing me — can we study together?
• I was behind you at the assembly this morning. What did you think about the presentation?
• I love your (band) shirt. Did you know they are playing here this summer?

There is no ‘perfect’ conversation starter, but there is always an ‘A’ for effort, so saying hello first will earn you credit. Sure, you’re going to get rejected sometimes and that’s life. But by trying, and by being kind and genuine, you have a better shot of starting a meaningful exchange.

Introduce (and then Re-Introduce) Yourself:
This is so basic – but so often overlooked! Sometimes you’ve managed to actually start and carry on a great conversation and you walk away realizing that you have no idea what someone’s name is and they have no idea what yours is! Give someone the gift of your name, even if you think they may know you already:

John (to a professor): I was so happy with the B on the final

Professor: Yes, good work.

John: I’m John Smith – I am in your Tuesday/Thursday class and am registering for your course next semester.

Professor: Great, John. I’ll look forward to seeing you in class.

John: Thanks Professor Green; have a good summer.

John re-introduced himself to his professor and established a connection. Next semester, if John needs some additional help or is looking for a reference, he’s already set himself apart from the other hundreds of students Professor Green sees every week. One small exchange can result in big things.

When I look back on my teen years, I shudder at the memories. My hands shook during presentations. My mouth went dry when a boy talked to me. My heart pounded when I walked into a party alone. The tips I shared here — and the others in my book — are not earth-shattering but oh so necessary. Social media may be killing all of of our social skills. But by teaching our teens the basics, and helping them embrace face-to-face communication, we are saving the world! And we have a greater chance of having successful, self-supporting adult children! And grandchildren! And tapioca!

Posted on Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

“I’ve Got Some Bad News…”

 

 

DF FiredNot that this is groundbreaking information, but bad news is usually the opposite of good because it’s bad; bad for the recipient, yes, but also pretty awful for the person delivering the news. You might know him, he’s the same guy you want to shoot in the phrase, ‘Don’t shoot the messenger’. We’re all familiar.

I’m assuming here, but we’ve all probably been on both the giving and receiving end of bad news. I have had way too many experiences delivering and receiving bad news and in all three major categories: work, personal, and medical. I’m an overachiever.

I have to say, didn’t love the process, didn’t love the topic, didn’t love being the messenger, and didn’t love being the messengee (for today only, it’s a word). So — now that we’ve got that out of the way, we can at least attempt to make the process more painless — especially if you are tasked with delivering less-than-happy news.

Being the bearer of bad news falls in the category of ‘things I’d rather not do’ — along with cleaning bathrooms, fighting off a bear, or installing new software. In all these cases, it’s best to be smart about it. And quick. Especially in the case of the bathroom. And the bear.

Here are some things to keep in mind when you have to share the not-so-great with the not-so-prepared in a business setting. These tips can work in personal happenings as well, with a little editing; for example, if you are attempting to fire your teenager. I’m kidding, sadly, but one can dream. I digress – here we go:

Honesty Really is the Best Policy

When delivering unpleasant news, be honest. The person on the other side is already dealing with heightened emotions, and he or she will smell a lie. Be truthful about the situation, and give the other individual a clear understanding of circumstances.

The Early Bird Is Not the Worm

It’s tempting to sit on bad news in hopes of it just disappearing before our eyes — like youth or a pan of brownies. Resist the wait-and-wonder scenario. Even if something is top secret, (a layoff for example), chances are the news is already leaking out and polluting the water. By sharing information first, you position yourself as an empathetic and straightforward equal, which is much nicer than the alternative (read: weasel).

Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

Whatever you say can and will be held against you in the court of colleagues. Make sure you are sharing the same information with your employees, because word travels fast. Fight the temptation to tweak the information based on the person you are dealing with at the moment; and don’t for a moment think that your individual conversations will stay private (remember Monica Lewinsky?). If you are having 12 layoff meetings in the course of two days, the other 11 are talking or texting or emailing about what went down in your office. By keeping the information identical, truthful, and succinct, you have a greater chance of keeping the chaos at bay and not causing more trauma for your employees AND yourself.

It’s Personal

Speak to each and every individual as you would like to be spoken to and do it face-to-face. We’ve heard the horror stories of colleagues being fired over conference callsand via email. Some employees found out they were fired when their names were no longer in the company directory. Ouch. Speak directly to your colleague, allow them to ask questions and absorb the information. Bottom line, follow the golden rule.

Offer A Solution

If your organization offers career or personal counseling, share that information immediately, thus acknowledging that the situation is difficult. Individuals in a tough spot are reeling emotionally and their mind is already fast-forwarding to the future days, weeks and even years ahead. Thoughts of retirement, reputation, and rebounding are crashing around in their head — as it would be for anyone in the same position. By sharing a few ideas that may be of help to them, you are conceding that nobody would be able to bounce back without a bit of support — and they don’t have to either.

By being kind, empathetic, honest and straightforward, you can at least know that you made a tough situation a bit easier than it could have been. Learning how to be the messenger who doesn’t get shot is one of those skills that we wish we never needed, but do.

Follow Debra Fine on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DebraFine

Posted on Monday, January 13th, 2014

How To Accept A Compliment – Without Complicating It.

compliments

 

Most of us are out there in there in the world giving it our all. Looking good, working hard, being a true friend, an attentive parent, a dedicated employee and a contributing member to society takes a lot time and energy. I mean, just drying my hair takes a solid 43 minutes. It’s not easy being me, you know? And wouldn’t it be nice if just once, someone noticed?

Yet when someone DOES notice, and they do, many of us either freeze up or immediately disregard the kind words coming at us. Why?

According to Robin Abrahams, columnist for the Boston Globe, people feel that when they acknowledge a compliment, they are validating it and, thus, patting themselves on the back. “Gosh, yes, drying my hair DOES take in inordinate amount of time and upper body strength!” seems, oh I don’t know, ridiculous.

But, according to Abrahams, deflecting a compliment is not modest or unpretentious; it’s actually a bit rude. After all, someone has taken the time to not only notice you and your efforts, but has gone a step further and actually acknowledged it. That’s nice, right?

You’d think hearing nice things about yourself would be easy, but in fact negativity weighs heavy. Aaron Ben-Zeev, a Ph.D quoted in Psychology Today, simplifies it: “To sum up, negative emotions are more noticeable than positive ones since attending to negative events is more important for our survival than attending to positive events.”

Is that why accepting a compliment is tough, because we are built with the fight or flight mechanism that saves us from something scary and, therefore, we are gravitate toward something negative versus positive? To put it simply: Is running from a bear easier than accepting a heartfelt compliment?

Let’s hope not. I’ve never run from a bear, but that sounds sort of hard.

Here’s the good news: I do know the secret to accepting a compliment. Are you ready? Here it comes:

Say “Thank you.”

Yep, that’s it. Just say thank you. Resist the urge to discount yourself and, in doing so, the complimenter (let’s pretend that’s a real word just for today, okay?). Resist the “Oh, this old head of hair?! I’ve had it forever! It’s nothing, really,” comeback and be a gracious complimentee (let’s pretend that’s another word, just for today).

Here are some responses to get your through what should be a great small talk exchange but could, in fact, cause you to panic as if you are, well, running from a bear. Remember, you can accept a compliment and still gently lead the conversation in another direction which is the sign of the true small talk pro that you are — here’s how:

Is that a new car? I like the color!
Thank you! I’ve never had a red car before and I am enjoying it.

I loved your speech.
Thank you. I am so glad you liked it.

Dinner was delicious.
Thank you. My sister made it years ago and it’s become a family favorite. What’s your go-to recipe?

Your children are so polite.
Thank you. That’s a really lovely thing to say.

Your new book is great!
Thank you; hearing that makes the hard work worth it. What else are you reading these days?

I can tell you worked hard on that report.
Thank you. It’s nice of you to notice.

Your hair looks fabulous.
Thank you. Now, check out my arms!

Posted on Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

The Holiday Collection: Breaking In Without Breaking Out in a Cold Sweat

Debra with The Bidens!

 

So by now you know that I recently spent a few days and nights gallivanting around DC with elected officials.

Wait. That sounds bad, doesn’t it? Gallivant may be the wrong word as I am not — and will never be — Rielle Hunter.

But I did spend time at The White House and at Vice President Joe Biden’s private residence and it was and still is unforgettable. Being in the small talk business is a benefit for me because I usually don’t have the panic that others often experience when walking into an unfamiliar room with unfamiliar faces and starting a conversation. For those of you who suffer — and I know many of you do — I remember your pain. Last week’s blog included four simple steps to starting a conversation with a stranger; a little pre-holiday gift to keep you merry and bright. But what happens if you don’t find a singleton in the room? What if everyone is already grouped together and chatting merrily while you are standing alone, feeling foolish?

Breaking in is hard to do, especially when it comes to conversation. You don’t want to continue to stick out like the Lone Ranger without Tonto. You also don’t want to start lurking around like…well…I was going to say Rielle Hunter but that would be in poor taste. So, let’s just say you don’t want to start lurking around.

Not to fret my fellow small-talkers! There are simple, non-lurky ways to find your way into a group conversation. Here’s how:

Fake a seizure.

Kidding — here’s how to do it:

If there is someone specific in the room that you have been hoping to meet and he is engaged in a conversation with another person, wait patiently and then approach the OTHER person, your target’s conversation partner. Politely, ask for the other person’s permission to interrupt:

Hi, I’m Debra Fine. Excuse me for intruding, but I’ve been trying to connect with Bob for weeks. Would you mind if interrupted you both for just a moment?

Most people are gracious enough to agree.

The other option is to tap the shoulder of your intended conversation cohort and state your wishes:

Hi, I am Debra Fine. Excuse me for intruding, but I promised myself to connect with you, Bob, before the evening ends. Please look for me when you have a free moment.

At this point you will either be invited to join the conversation or Bob’s partner will excuse himself and move on (he may have been ready for greener pastures anyway, so double kudos). If neither of these things happens, Bob will know you made an effort and will likely seek you out later.

Attempting to break into a larger group? Try this:

Stand slightly away from the group, but show interest in the speaker while waiting for the group to acknowledge you. They will likely physically shift a bit to allow you into the inner circle.

Ease your way into the conversation by acknowledging that you have been listening. You can do this by nodding your head, smiling, or chuckling at a funny quip that’s been shared.

Look for visual cues that some or all of the group has warmed to you. At that point, you know you’ve been officially welcomed to use your small talk skills like the pro you are. No Rielle Hunter or fake seizures necessary.