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Tag Archives: Small Talk

Posted on Monday, March 16th, 2015

Spur of the Moment Speech? Here’s Help.

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Google ‘fear of public speaking’ and you will be inundated with articles. Not one of them says run from the room screaming, so you’re out of luck there.

I’ve written more than a few articlesbook chapters, and cheat sheets on ways to overcome what still appears to be the number one phobia in the US.

Dr. Paul L. Witt, assistant professor of communication studies at Texas Christian University, claims making a public presentation is “even scarier than rattlesnakes.”

Ouch.

If you have an engagement coming up and you are nervous about it (and you probably are because everybody is), there are ways to ease the anxiety. Preparing, practicing, exercising, breathing, medication and even donning a pair of lucky socks can help. But what if you are under a surprise attack? What if, as bad luck would have it, you are asked to make a presentation or speech or toast right now?

First, don’t panic. (Don’t you just hate when people say don’t panic? I know, I know. But, really, try not to panic.)

And next, try this:

Take A Deep Breath And Then Take A Few More

Give yourself the gift of oxygen and time, both in equal measure. Remember, you don’t have to jump up and start the song and dance routine right away.
Then:
• Breathe (again)
• Stand up (if necessary – if the situation allows for you to stay in your seat, then do so and be grateful)
• Politely thank the horrible, hateful person who has done this to you
• Take a sip of water
• Smile
• Remind yourself that you know what you are talking about and (no offense) not everyone is going to hang on your every word anyway, so you are not going to die
Now it is time to actually speak, here is a plan:
• Introduce yourself, if necessary
• Do not apologize for yourself with something like I’m not great at public speakingor I am not prepared or I know these pants are too tight but I was running late and I like donuts, because you just set yourself up for criticism or sympathy and neither are great in this scenario
• Reiterate what’s been said so you can get the ball rolling: As Jim (aka Satan) mentioned, we are launching a new product line in May, 2017 and it promises to bring major change to the marketplace

Engage the Three Two One Strategy and Use “We”

Pick three positive points, two potential negatives and finish strong:
Our research shows that 68% of our potential customers will benefit from this product, and that interest is high based on market analysis.
• The marketing team has created a far-reaching marketing and advertising campaign that will incorporate social media, television and print, thus capturing a wide audience
• We’ve looked closely and carefully at the cost analysis and it appears that this product could potentially bring in more than $2 million over the next 18 months
• Our team still has work to do around the production schedule, but our goal is to finalize those details by year-end
• We are still in talks with investors on how and when we can bring this full-circle
• The future looks bright for our company and our customers

Open The Floor For Questions But Be Careful What You Ask For

Questions are a great way to keep the conversation going without having to carry the weight solo. It’s important to open the floor for questions without stepping too far down the rabbit hole, so instead of saying:
Any questions?
Try:
I’m happy to try to answer any questions I can or
Great question and we will be ready to talk more about in November 
• This will project a confident image even if you don’t have the specific answer at the moment

Wrap It Up

State that your time is coming to an end and wrap up the meeting:
We have time for two more questions 
• Thank the audience and that troll Jim for getting you into this nightmare, then smile, hold you head high and mentally pat yourself on the back (not literally, you just made it through a spur-of-the moment speech, don’t embarrass yourself now!) because You. Did. It.

Bring on the rattlesnakes.

 this post originally appeared on The Huffington Post

Posted on Monday, February 23rd, 2015

Say What? What To Say When You Don’t Know What To Say.

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The human heart is a truly amazing mechanism; so hard working and tough under pressure, but oh so easily damaged.

We all have heartbreaks (I can’t even discuss my 7th grade boyfriend saga. A tragedy of epic proportions). Disappointments and suffering and grief and anguish are all part of life. Hooray for us!

We have all heard bad news and immediately gone to that big Rolodex in our head searching, desperately, for the right thing to say. Or we’ve skipped the search and blurted out something clichéd and trite before quickly excusing ourselves to privately negotiate our own foot into our mouth. Or — the worst crime of all — we’ve been faced with bad news and said absolutely nothing.

Neil Rosenthal writes a stellar column in The Denver Post appropriately titled “Relationships.” His January 29th piece highlights the importance of an empathetic response. As Rosenthal points out, a thoughtful response is certainly needed in times of tragedy, but even the day-to-day frustrations that affect us all would benefit from a kind and compassionate acknowledgement.

When dealing with a loss, phrases like: Time heals all wounds or It was his time to go are common. And sort of a cop out. Why? Because they don’t really mean anything to the person who is suffering. They are just words. Words that can leave the listener feeling worse than when they started. Because only words that “honor your feelings of loss and sorrow,” writes Rosenthal, truly honors the emotions around an issue that causes turmoil.

Rosenthal, referencing How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It
written by Pat Love (not kidding) and Steven Stosny, makes a case for how important it is to “step into the puddle” with others. Stepping into the puddle means offering our “heartfelt presence, caring concern and participation” when others need it most. And even when they don’t. By employing the puddle technique to everyday life, communication and connection are bound to improve.

So, how exactly does one ‘step into the puddle’ without getting drenched? By offering statements with a little more meat and a lot less fluff — like this:

When your spouse walks in after a long day of work, it’s temping to pull out the eye roll or the Ha! You think YOUR day was long, well let me just tell you about MY day… instead try saying:
I am so sorry about your day and I am so glad to have you home safe and sound. 

When someone is dealing with a death, resist the He’s in a better place or Call me if you need anything and try This must be really difficult; I can’t imagine what it feels like to lose a sibling. Your brother was one of the funniest men I’ve ever met — I still laugh at the fun we had skiing in Vail. How are you handling everything?

Whatever the situation — death, job loss, hard day at work, tough day at home with children or even the tragedy of a 7th grade break-up, by acknowledging, truly, the heartache of others, we can make a big impact and — just maybe — lessen the blow.

 

This blog was originally posted on The Huffington Post.

 

Posted on Friday, April 4th, 2014

Wrong Name Can Be A Venti Problem

 

coffee cup

 

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 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 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 Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

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

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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.

Posted on Thursday, December 5th, 2013

Making International Conversation Without An International Incident


             international

Dear Debra,

My partner and I travel often for work and pleasure, and while we are great traveling companions, we disagree on how to converse with the people we meet. When traveling internationally, specifically to poorer countries, is it condescending not to ask your taxi driver if he’s ever been to the U.S. (thus assuming that he does not have the financial means to travel?) — or is it worse to pose the question, when clearly the driver’s financial story seems obvious?

Please know that I am not a snob, nor am I typically a person who just assumes the life experience of those around me, I simply want to do the right thing. Do we appear like two wealthy, disconnected Americans living the high life, or do we level the playing field by asking this question? Interested to hear your take — thank you.

Sincerely,

Traveling Man

 

Dear Traveling,

First, I applaud you both for making small talk while traveling. And, I applaud you for traveling, period, as it opens up a new way of looking at the world.

I understand your dilemma, and I believe there is a balance. Instead of asking a specific question, such as: “Have you ever been to the U.S.?,” try approaching it from the angle of getting to know more about the person, rather than his or her specific vacations. Open-ended questions are the quickest and kindest way to achieve a positive end result.

Saying the cliché: “How are you today?,” is appropriate as long as you really mean it, and are planning to follow-up with a more engaging conversation. For example, jumping into a cab in Chicago and saying: “How are you today?,” is really just you saying hello, a form of greeting. When traveling internationally, asking “How are you?” is an actual question, one that will likely get a response. So, if you are hoping for a conversation in Chicago, “How are you?” won’t work — but if you are shooting for a meaningful exchange in another part of the world, you are in luck.

The key to keeping a conversation going is to dig a little deeper with your phrases and make the exchange about the other person.  Open-ended questions that might work for you and your partner while traveling could include:

• “We are so excited to be in Bali — what brought you here?”

• “What is your favorite thing about living in Bali?”

• “If we were to sample one new dish while in the country, what do you recommend and why?”

• “What advice would you give first-time visitors to this part of the country?”

• “How did you get started in this kind of work?”

• “Tell me about your family.”

• “Describe your definition of the perfect day in Bali.”

I, too, travel a lot for work and pleasure. Striking up a conversation has allowed me new experiences and lasting memories. Because of exchanges between myself and a local, I have discovered the best hole-in-the-wall restaurants, engaged in expeditions that are not listed in any guidebook and learned more about the city I am visiting than I ever imagined. And I’ve made many friends across the world. Real friends who ask, “How are you?” — and mean it.  Happy travels.

Posted on Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

She Said WHAT? Ten Things Not to Say at the Thanksgiving Table.

 

thanskgiving debTwo topics seem to dominate the morning shows during Thanksgiving week: what is the most fattening thing on the table and how to create the most decadent holiday menu. Is it just me, or does it seem counterproductive to dish on the heart-attack-inducing fat and calories in sausage stuffing while also talking about how to make the very best of said stuffing?

No matter, though, because you’ve got way bigger problems than creating the most succulent turkey while subsequently keeping the button on your pants from popping off and dinging someone in the neck. You actually have to sit at a table and converse with people. I know, I know — you almost forgot that part, didn’t you? Most people do. Everyone is so caught up in ironing napkins and fretting over burned pie crusts that by the time the actual celebration hits, there is a table full of guests ready to eat, drink and be conversational and then — whoops — conversation turns to confrontation. It’s like magic. Dark, spooky magic.

As you might imagine my years of small talking across the country have allowed me to hear loads of stories about awkward, painful, or downright rude comments made at the Thanksgiving table. Thanksgiving is a time to be grateful for the good things in life. And that includes the people around your table. Yes, all of them. YES, even Uncle Joe.

So — I am sharing with you my some of the most heinous conversation killers so you can both avoid saying them and dodge them if they come your way.

Debra Fine’s Top Ten Thanksgiving “Oh No, She Didn’t?!” Just Say That List:

1. “So! Any wedding plans?” or, next, “Any baby news yet?” Many of us (me included, I must admit) presume that running the dating marathon reaches the marriage finish line. No. And no again. As for the baby question, think first! What if the couple is struggling to conceive, doesn’t want to have children or is expecting but not ready to share the news? So pipe down. If someone wants you to know their intimate intentions, you will. Try this: “Catch me up on what’s happening since I last saw you two.”

2. “I heard Sarah got into Northwestern… why in the world is she going to Michigan State instead?” Maybe Sarah just loves green and white. Maybe Sarah didn’t really get into Northwestern. Maybe the economy has put a damper on attending private institutions. Maybe you should just pass the gravy. Try this: “I hear Sarah was accepted to a number of universities; what swayed her decision to go to MSU?” 3.”No, thanks. I gave up drinking after I see how it ruins families.” This is meant to deliberately point a finger, and everyone knows it. If you must address someone’s overindulgence, do it in private! Making someone feel bad about him or herself does not typically drive better behavior. It drives people to — well, I was going to say ‘drink,’ but that seems inappropriate here. Try this: “I’d love some water, thank you.”

4. “This house is so much smaller than your old one!” Um, yes, homeowners are aware of their square footage. Falling APRs and zero interest loans created a housing crisis for basically everyone, not just those strangers you read about in the newspapers. Try this: “What’s the best part of celebrating your first Thanksgiving in your new house?”

5. “Betcha wish you didn’t vote for him now!” Stop gloating and remember that we are all in this together. And karma is real. Start ridiculing your guests’ choice of candidates and I guarantee yours will turn up on the front page with a drug problem. Or a mistress. Or a mistress with a drug problem. You get the picture… and it’s an ugly one. Try this: “Who wants potatoes?”

6. “How much pie have you had?” or “Why aren’t you eating anything?” Leave everyone alone and let others eat or not eat; just worry about yourself and what you are putting in your own mouth which, at this point, seems to be your foot. Just because you slaved over the pumpkin pie or prepared three types of jello does not mean everyone is required to indulge. I mean, I would eat the three types of jello but …. Try this: “Everything is delicious.”

7. “I just can’t imagine being a stay-at-home mother — what do you do all day?” Oh, no no no — this is one of the lowest blows because it typically pits woman against woman and that is a crime! We must stick together, whether we are running a Fortune 500 company or running another load of laundry. Your job as a guest is to show genuine interest in your conversation partner; ask questions that elicit a thoughtful and honest response. Try this: “What surprised you about becoming a stay-at-home mother?” or “What part of the day do you love?” or “Walk me through a typical day at your house/office?”

8. “Nice shirt” (followed by an eye roll or a heavy sigh). Leave him alone. His priorities are not the same as yours. Appreciate that he is wearing a shirt. And hopefully pants. Period. Try this: “Nice shirt” (minus the eye roll and heavy sigh).

9. “Your son looks just like you and your daughter looks like she could be from a different family? Is she the milkman’s baby?” What if she IS the milkman’s baby? What if she is adopted? Personal questions that you do not know the answer to are never a good idea. I repeat — personal questions you do not know the answer to are never a good idea. These include:

“Did your son graduate?”

“How is the boyfriend?”

“Are you going to get him some braces?”

“Did she go to prom?”

“How’d she gain all that weight?”

“How’d she lose all that weight?”

“Did she find a job yet?”

Try this: “What’s the latest news on Jane?”

10. “Delicious! Did you cook this or order it?” You may be asking because you sincerely wish to know how you can create this dish yourself, but you are putting the host/hostess on the spot. Instead, compliment the dish and ask for the recipe after the meal. If it was not homemade, maybe she will confess. Or not. Try this: “Happy Thanksgiving everyone

Posted on Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

Talk Tyrants and Their Victims | A Small Talk Series | The Interrupter

crime scene 2

 

Beware: There are small talk criminals lurking everywhere. The coffee shop, your kids’ school, the gym, the office, the dinner party. These brazen bullies strike quickly and without warning – and they don’t care who they hurt. My ongoing series, Talk Tyrants, serves two purposes: it allows you the chance to escape the attack of THESE villainous creatures and it guarantees that YOU will never fall into a life of small talk crime. Here we go:

The Interrupter:

The Interrupter is everywhere and can use his power to yield what is commonly known as “brain freeze”  – that feeling of forgetting where you were in a sentence and why, exactly, you were talking in the first place. Rest assured, you are not suffering from memory loss. Instead, The Interrupter is so focused on his or her point that your train of thought is, well, interrupted and therefore you are rendered frozen.

How to Spot The interrupter:

The Interrupter probably had a rough childhood. No, no – not rough like foraging for food or knitting mittens, but a childhood void of the ability to finish a sentence. Maybe The Interrupter comes from a large family where siblings were all vying for attention. Maybe The Interrupter simply likes the sound of his voice. It doesn’t really matter. You don’t need any real skills to spot The Interrupter; this small talk criminal will make his presence known immediately. If you are making a point that does not sit well with The Interrupter, he will jump in immediately. The Interrupter assumes he knows what you are going to say next, so instead of waiting for you to complete your thought, The Interrupter beats you to the punch. Or The Interrupter things you are incorrect or incompetent in your views and, therefore, feels justified in pointing out your flaws by stopping you in your tracks. The Interrupter typically has very little patience for others.

How to Deal with The interrupter:

Interruptions sabotage a good conversation, but changing The Interrupter’s ways in nearly impossible. You can try a soft push-back like: “Oh Jack, I will lose my train of thought if I don’t finish my sentence,” but chances are it won’t help. You can also excuse yourself, but sometimes that’s not possible. Like President Obama. So, my advice is to not BE The Interrupter. Remember there are only a few good reasons to interrupt:

My father is a pediatrician and I recall him asking parents if their children were talking in complete sentences – it was one of the milestones dictated by the AMA. That said, children interrupting an adult conversation was never allowed.  Now, I remind myself that everyone deserves the chance to “talk in a complete sentence” when I am anxious to interrupt someone (like my husband). Because finishing someone’s sentence for them, even if you can, is not necessarily a good thing. Or so I’ve been told. By my husband.

 

Posted on Monday, October 7th, 2013

The Evils of Email – Yet Again. Why Email Can Be Our Worst Enemy.

email mistake cartoon

 

I’ll say it again: email can be evil. Emailing in the heat of the moment is like taking four shots of whiskey and starting a bar fight – you think it’s a good idea until 30 seconds later when you are in way over your head and regretting your last move. And let’s not forget the raging headache the next day.

Check out yet  another example of why you should count to ten about 8,000 times before emailing in the heat of the moment. If you have something to say, say it in person. If that doesn’t go well, at least there is no damning evidence! My mother always told me not to write anything down I didn’t want anyone to see. This included a nasty note I wrote in the 11th grade about who? My mother. In my family, that was what we called NG – aka: No Good. I felt bad, she felt bad, it was bad. I do give her credit for taking the opportunity to share a lifelong lesson with me. And for still kindly laundering my school sweater where the evidence was initially found. Motherhood, like email, can be used for good or evil.

Have a horrible email story? Share it with me on Facebook. I promise not to tell your mother.

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