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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 Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

Back to School: Top Ten Ways To Avoid Flunking the Fall

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It’s here! The school year is back! Some parents may be jumping for joy, especially those dealing with an eye-rolling teen or a bored 8-year-old. And some are white-knuckling it through the emotional turmoil of prepping a college-bound young adult (when did THAT happen — didn’t he just lose his baby teeth and learn how to tie his shoes?) for departure. Speaking from experience, that’s a rough one. Survivable, but rough.

Because the summer usually offers many freedoms — later nights, lazier mornings and space in between to just be a kid — the structure of a fall schedule can be a bit jarring for the under-20 crowd.

And while I am no David Letterman (love you, Dave!), I love a good Top 10 List, so below are the Top 10 Ways to Avoid Flunking the Fall.

1. Back Up Bedtime:

No matter what age your child is, chances are the bedtime hour has vacillated a bit over the past three months. Use these weeks before school to start transitioning into an earlier bedtime and a more structured wake-up routine. Ever try to wake a 15-year-old boy at 6:30 a.m. after a summer of sleeping until lunch? Exactly.

2. Collaborate on Calendars:

Add school and sports events to your calendar now, and share that information with your spouse and any other important people in your life. If your child is old enough to carry a smartphone or iPad, have him update his own calendar. This will encourage him to be responsible for his activities and can be a useful tool for tracking homework deadlines and social engagements. If your child is younger, discuss what each week will look like and create a chart that will help him understand his schedule. If your child can’t read, use stickers (a sticker of a soccer ball on Wednesday, for example).

If your child is leaving for college, talk through their class load, asking open-ended questions on how they foresee accomplishing schoolwork, any part-time work, sports, social and volunteer responsibilities. By talking with your child about prioritizing their time, you are setting them up for success and showing them that accomplishing a myriad of tasks doesn’t happen well without a plan in place.

3. Manage Medical Mayhem:

Make sure your child — no matter what his age — is up-to-date on vaccinations and physical exams. It’s easier to accomplish this task now rather than wait until the day before football practice starts. I speak from experience here. Also, if your child has late starts and early dismissals during the school year (this is a standard in some Colorado districts), schedule future appointments for those chunks of time. It’s much easier to squeeze in a teeth cleaning or eye appointment on those short days than try to do maneuver kids and teens after school when offices are busier and kids are over-booked.

4. Communicate About Communication:

Do you want your college freshman to connect with you daily? Weekly? Via phone? Via text? Via email? Clarify your expectations around this issue now to save headaches and heartaches later. Remember that your college freshman is, for the first time, out on his own. Maybe he doesn’t want to check in with you daily; or fill you in on every last detail of his day and night. Maybe you DO, in fact, want to hear his actual voice once or twice a week and would rather not find out about his life on Facebook. Communicating about communication will alleviate future confusion.

If you are parenting a younger child, carve out time at the end of each day to talk. Avoid asking: “How was school?” unless you are ok with getting a “Fine” in response. “Tell me during your science lab” or “What was the funniest thing that happened today” will get your child talking.

5. Role Play Reality:

Help your child, regardless of age, practice his social graces. Role-play introductions to friends, teachers and parents. Discuss the benefits of a firm handshake, a smile, eye contact and decent posture. Remind him that social media is forever, so think long and hard before posting anything that he wouldn’t want his grandmother or boss to see. Talk about ways to avoid peer pressure when it comes to drinking, drugs, sex, cheating, bullying and gossip.

Help younger children deal with playground issues by teaching them about walking away or stating clearly: “I don’t like it when you push me.” Remind kids of all ages that they have what it takes to handle tricky situations, but they can always come to you or another trusted adult if needed.

6. Find a Friend:

Taking your child to college? Make some inroads with the parents of their dorm-mate or floor resident advisor so you have another contact should you need it. Make conversation with other incoming freshmen and their parents without overdoing it; it’s not a popularity contest but it is a chance to make some connections for both you and your child.

For younger children, invite a classmate over to play before school starts and don’t skip on Meet the Teacher night, even if your child has been going to the same school for years. Having familiar faces to search out is so helpful, no matter your age. Let’s be honest, even adults look for someone they know when walking into a party or business function. Give this gift to your child and alleviate a bit of stress for everyone.

7. Navigate the Necessities:

Handle haircuts, new shoes, lunch boxes, school supplies, clothes and toiletries now. Let your child have a say in what he wants to wear on a regular basis and pick your rules sparingly. Forcing a kid to wear collared shirts and khakis while the rest of the pack is in sport shorts and sweatshirts are, um, mean. Agree that you have final say on special occasions (picture day, school plays, etc.). Don’t micro-manage things like coats and gloves. Kids figure out pretty quickly that standing at the bus stop in a t-shirt is pretty miserable when it 14 degrees outside.

For the college-bound, stores likeBed Bath & Beyond will allow you to shop for items in your home state and pick them up in another state, making packing the car that much easier. As for clothes, remind your child that less is more in a tiny space — and that you can always send needed items if necessary. Or use this as a way to entice them home more often…all’s fair in love and empty nesting.

8. Make It Personal:

For the shorter set, add notes to their lunch boxes or color on their breakfast napkins — anything that lets them know you miss them and think about them and encourage them. I’ve seen blogs about cutting sandwiches and fruit into fun shapes to make little kids smile. And while that’s such a cute idea, we both know it won’t happen for long. But a quick “Good luck with spelling” on a sticky will do the trick.

For those heading out of the house for college, send a care package! Then send another one! And another one! Kids love getting mail and treats, no matter how cool they are. I would jump for joy if I opened my mailbox and found a box filled with cookies, new magazines and a $20 bill, wouldn’t you?

9. Make It Easy:

Hoping your freshman will send letters to you? His grandparents? His siblings? Provide him with a stack of funny cards and other various stationary along with a book of stamps and a list of addresses — and then just hope for the best. Offer a gentle reminder about how HAPPY his grandparents would be to receive a handwritten note from him. Remind him that his grandparents have been putting money in his college fund since birth.

10. Read My Book or Have Your Teen Read My Book or Read My Book Out Loud to Your Teen:

I’m kidding on the last one – do not read this book out loud to your teen because then your teen will hate us both.

This is not even a plug for you to BUY the book. I swear. I don’t care if you get it from the library or page through it at the bookstore. Really. But Beyond Texting: The Fine Art of Face-to-Face Communication for Teenagers was written for a reason – to help children and young adults navigate human interaction, balance real life in a digital world, and use technology as a tool instead of a crutch.

 

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, 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 Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

How To Win The Gold Medal In Losing

Fine Showing at the Super BowlI don’t know if you heard, but the Denver Broncos lost the Super Bowl. I know, I know, I was shocked too; but at least I got to be shocked in person, because I was actually at the Super Bowl this year. You know that famous painting by Edvard Munch titled, appropriately, The Scream? Now you’ve got the visual of Debra Fine at the game, except I have way more hair and I was wearing way more orange.

I would like to say I handled the loss with grace and aplomb, but I was — you know — disappointed. All Broncos fans were disappointed. We (and, yes, I speak for every single Broncos fan here) never even considered a loss. No one told us. I considered blaming the loss on Joe Namath’s coat, but that seems immature. What did that coatever do to me?

I was with my husband and our children and, as usual, I was, impressed with the good sportsman like conduct we all managed to embody during what some (some = me) have called a bloodbath. You already know my view on booing; but let’s face it — losing is just not as much fun as winning.

So here I am, licking my wounds from the Super Bowl loss while already engrossed in the Olympic games and I am asking myself what, exactly, makes a good loser?

And no matter who you are and what you say, we have all been on the losing side of life. Perhaps you were not given a deserved promotion, asked to the prom by the one guy you actually wanted to go with instead of that Mr. Creepers from chem who asked you two years in a row, chosen for the schoolyard kickball team or voted asAmerica’s Next Top Model (I can’t answer to the last one, but the others, well, let’s just say I get it and leave it at that). How do you overcome the sting of losing? The bigger question — how do you overcome the loss and become a gracious loser?

Earlier this month
I watched the women snowboarders battle it out on the slopes of Sochi and my heart swelled with the obvious rapport between the competitors. Not only were they all engaged in each other’s attempts, they were hugging and high-fiving at the beginning and the end of each run. Even while standing at the bottom of the hill, realizing that the gold had just gone to American Jamie Anderson, Enni Rukajani of Finland and Jenny Jones of Great Britain, now taking home the silver and the bronze respectively, were congratulating Anderson — in a big way. Hugs, smiles, kisses and words of praise. When Sarka Pancochova managed to make her way down the mountain unattended after a major spill that resulted in a cracked helmet and what I can only assume what will be a screaming headache (and hopefully not more), the spectators and competitors alike were rooting her on. Everything was how it should be — kind, gracious and authentic.

It’s hard to know what to say and how to say it when you are in the tornado that comes with loss. Emotions are whirling, reality is setting in and your mind, body and soul are trying to comprehend what just happened.

I’ve had several people approach me over the years about this topic. And, like most parents, I’ve had to patch up the broken spirits of my children when things didn’t turn out the way they had hoped. So we all have experience in losing; but some of us need practice on how to handle it.

Here’s the good news: you are allowed to be totally and utterly disappointed at a loss. That’s normal. If you didn’t feel the pangs that come with defeat, you would not be human which would make you a robot or — worse — dead. So accept the fact that every single person has experienced loss and every single person, except maybe Ghandi, felt upset by that loss. You are free to go home and eat half a sheet cake, or rip out that ugly fireplace or make fun of Joe Namath’s coat, but in the meantime, you get to take this opportunity to congratulate someone else for his or her good fortune. Rule number one when it comes to being a good loser is to keep all negative comments out of the mix and be the first one to approach the winner. Do not hide out in the corner (eating sheet cake or mocking Joe Namath!), square your shoulders, take a breath and walk up to the winner with purpose and pride.

Sound impossible? It’s not. And like someone somewhere said sometime, you can do anything for a minute. Here’s how:

You and a colleague were up for the same promotion and it was just announced that your colleague was awarded the job:

What to say: “Pete! Wow! Congratulations on the promotion.”

What to do: Smile, shake Pete’s hand and excuse yourself. You don’t need to be a hero and soak in Pete’s success; you just need to be gracious and polite. You can go now. Go on. Go get that sheet cake. Skedaddle.

You are sitting at a very expensive fundraising dinner because you are a finalist in a philanthropic award pool; and your name is not called:

What to say: “Beth — congratulations on the win. Your efforts this year have been amazing and it was an honor to be nominated along with you.”

What to do: Send Beth a note later in the week. Send the award committee/event host a note later in the week. Send yourself some flowers.

You are sitting with a bunch of other parents at the Homecoming game when they announce the queen and instead of your daughter, it is that spray-tanned obnoxious cheerleader who, by the way, had lice in the fourth grade.

What to say: “Congratulations, Ann. Jessica must be thrilled.”

What to do: Go find your daughter, hug her, tell her that high school is almost over, and remind her that she never had lice.

Your son does not make the baseball team:

What to say: “I’m sorry, buddy. How are you feeling? I’m proud of you for going out for the team and trying your best.”

What to do: Hug him, tell him that grade school is almost over and soon he’ll be in high school where the homecoming queen won’t give him the time of day and then have a job with the possibility of a promotion and then he will do a lot for the community and will be up for a non-profit award that he won’t get and this loss will just be one of many!! Ok — delete everything after “hug him.” Add in a Dairy Queen run. Call it a day.

In 99 percent of losing scenarios, this recipe stays the same: Be first on the scene, offer a quick but sincere congratulations along with a handshake or hug when appropriate, and move on. To lose is inevitable, but to be a good loser is achievable. So go out there and be the best good loser you can be — gold medal or not — you’ll be happy you did.

 

 

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 Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

Get OUT! How To End A Nice Conversation Nicely

 

get out

I am guessing you, like me, are decompressing from a holiday season full of social gatherings. Dinners and cocktail parties and brunches and school programs seem to quadruple in size during the months of November and December. Some are fancier than others. I mean, some of us even had soirees at The White House. I won’t mention any names, no reason to brag.

Okay — it was ME! Yes, I was in the nation’s capital last month and had the pleasure of rubbing elbows with President and Mrs. Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, my sister Naomi, and Governor Bill Ritter. Not necessarily in that order. Naomi still gets my vote.

This year’s Holiday Collection of blogs included how to start a conversation and how to break into a group who is already happily conversing, so by now you are feeling good, yes? You small-talked away with a previous stranger or enagaged in a lively discussion with a group. But then you want to…

Get. Out.

Yes, you’ve thoroughly enjoyed the chatting and you’ve used your skills to shine, but all good things must come to an end. Even a lively interchange that you, in fact, initiated. Here’s where honesty and maybe a little humor go hand-in-hand. If you are kind and to the point, you should be able to extricate yourself from the conversation without damaging the relationship or, more importantly, the other person’s ego.

In my book, The Fine Art of Small Talk, I dedicate an entire chapter to this very topic, but it’s the holiday season and there is no time for chapters — only short cuts. First, find a natural break in the conversation, whether it is someone else joining the group or the ending of a funny story. Then, smile, offer your hand, and use a direct, kind approach to disengage. Here are a few one-liners to help you on your way out:

The key is to be authentic. Do not lie. I have heard too many stories of people saying they had to go call the babysitter only to be caught minutes later by the conversation dumpee yukking it up on the other side of the room. So do what you say you are going to do and do not make false excuses. When it comes to conversational clout, you’ve got to take your oath seriously, White House or not.

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.

Posted on Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

Small Talk at The White House (yes – that White House)

White house 1

 

 

I’m going to a cocktail party at The White House next week. Yes, Debra Fine will be drinking champagne at The White House. Do I sound like I am bragging? I’m not. Well, maybe a smidge. But I am, in a word, thrilled. I have a feeling that Mrs. Obama and I will become lifelong friends and share workout tips, but I digress.

Back to business. While I am elated to be attending two VIP cocktail receptions in the nation’s capital (yes, I will also be at a little soiree with Vice President Joe Biden but didn’t want to rub it in), I know that the holiday cocktail party, whether at the White House or at your neighbor’s house, can cause distress for many of you. How do I know? From you! You’ve told me on Facebook, in Q&A sessions following a keynote speech, in personal emails, even in line at the grocery store! Not to fret, fellow small-talkers, navigating a cocktail reception is not as tough as you think.

Like everything else, there is a beginning, middle, and end.  It makes sense to start with the beginning, and get to the middle and end of a good cocktail party conversation in parts two and three of this series, respectively.

Let’s assume that you’ve got your icebreakers and three or four topics in mind for when a conversation starts happening. You’ve practiced your most winning smile in the privacy of your bathroom mirror, you don’t have any food in your teeth and you still remember your own name. All good things. So you arrive at an event where you know nobody and you wait for someone to approach you, right?

No, no, no. Remember, the holidays are all about giving — so give yourself and someone else the gift of conversation. When you enter a room, look around for others that are standing on their own. You can usually find these folks hovering around the buffet or obsessively checking their phone or standing much too close to a potted plant. These people are nervous and feeling awkward and, because of that, will be your very best listeners because you, savvy small talker that you are, are about to relieve them from feeling completely panicked and self-conscious.  Go you.

Be the first to make eye contact and smile at a stranger.  And if they don’t smile back, I will send you a paperweight from the president’s desk. Don’t ask me how I got it.

Once you’ve established eye contact, introduce yourself and offer a handshake.

Hello, I’m Debra Fine.

If the other person speaks your language, and you don’t receive a handshake and a name in return, I will send you a paperweight from Mrs. Obama’s desk (I believe she uses hers for bicep curls because wow, those arms, but I digress — again.).

Once you receive a name and a handshake, use the other person’s name and one of your icebreakers to get the conversation going. I find a statement/question combination to be the best bet:

It’s a pleasure to meet you, Ken. This is my first visit to the White House inner sanctum and it’s more than I imagined! What’s your history with visiting the White House?

Notice I did not pose a yes or no question, because then Ken and I might hit a roadblock. Instead Ken has the chance to either tell me he has never been to the White House, and then we can talk about being newbies to the whole experience; or Ken can tell me he has attended several functions, and then I can ask him about some of the highlights; or Ken can tell me he took his children on the standard White House tour and now I have some insight that Ken is a father and I can take the conversation in that direction. No matter what Ken’s response, the conversational path is lit for me. Let’s pretend that Ken is new, like me:

Isn’t this exciting, Ken? What surprises you most about being here?

The statement/question pattern is effective for starting and continuing conversation, especially if you keep the question open-ended (not a yes/no question). Now Ken and I are on our way to a meaningful exchange and Ken and I are not both standing alone in the middle of what might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be wined and dined at the White House.

See? It’s as easy as that.

It is.

At the end of the day, there are really four short steps to starting a conversation: • Find an approachable person • Make eye contact • Smile • Offer your name to them and use their name in conversation
Giving the gift of conversation is worthwhile to everyone. True success comes from taking the first step and saying hello. The topic is not nearly as important as the effort. So exercise your conversational muscle and do some heavy lifting when it comes to making small talk, because connecting with another person is even more important than sporting rock-hard biceps. I promise.