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Tag Archives: The Fine Art of the Big Talk

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, 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 Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

Tis The Season to Make Conversation

 

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I have been invited to many a party in my day. I used to think it was because of my good looks or great taste in wine or overall fantastic-ness. But, alas, as my husband so lovingly pointed out, it’s because I am conversational. A professional conversationalist at that. I realize that even though I barely know the party host, they want me there.

Why?

I’m insurance.

With me, there isn’t a lull in conversation. There isn’t that uncomfortable, awkward moment that feels like a year and a half when nobody is talking. Where people start checking their phones or shoving canapés down their throat. When you wish someone would choke just so there would be something to talk about.

You cannot imagine how many wedding gifts I have purchased over the years. And all because I can’t keep my mouth shut. I can’t handle the awkward lull. I am not tooting my own proverbial horn here, but I am the best wedding guest you’ll ever have: I keep the conversation flowing and I buy really nice gifts. It’s just a fact.

So, it’s rare that I find conversation icebreakers that I have not A. thought of or B. used or C. written about in a book.

But paging through Real Simple magazine’s November issue changed all that. One of the questions they recommend you ask at the Thanksgiving table was (drum roll please):

If you could eat only one food on this table for an entire year, which one would it be?

I know, great, right? Though the answers won’t be that interesting because clearly mashed potatoes is the only right answer here. Again, just the facts.

Last year, I wrote about what not to say at the Thanksgiving table. But the upcoming holidays encompass an entire season, so the pressure is on. Ever considered that holiday weight gain is not due to egg nog but rather hovering near the buffet to calm social anxiety? Keeping your mouth full of baked goods may seem easier than witty conversation. It’s not. Or maybe it is – for a minute. But then you’ve got that whole if I don’t unbutton my pants in three minutes I am going to die and that’s not very festive, is it?

Real Simple did a nice job of a few things you can say, so take a peek. Then relax, review and enjoy those potatoes.

Posted on Thursday, October 9th, 2014

Why A Handshake Beats A Fist Bump

 

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I was two cups of coffee in to the Sunday Denver Post when I noticed this picture ofBob Beauprez fist-bumping his son. At first I didn’t realize it was his son; I was just momentarily mesmerized by the fist-bump. A fist-bump?

When I realized it was Beauprez’s son, I was a bit mollified (though I will admit I think a hug makes more sense, but it’s not my business and I mean that in all sincerity and without sarcasm because they are father and son and it’s their fist-bump, and at least they communicate and that’s always a good thing), but still pondering the fist-bump. When did this replace the handshake? And why?

A recent study in Germany touts the health benefits of the fist-bump. Yes, someone in Germany studied the benefits of the fist-bump versus the handshake versus the high five. The fist-bump won for least amount of germ transmittal. Researchers dipped a gloved hand into a vat of E-coli matter and then proceeded to shake, bump and high-five the participants. And you thought your job was bad.

I have asked a handful (pun intended) of adults why they fist-bump and most of the time the response is something along the lines of: Well, it seems to be the trend. AHA! This is not a good reason to forgo the time-honored handshake! By continuing to fist-bump you are only encouraging it. It’s like feeding a whiney toddler a lollipop or getting a tattoo in Vegas because the rest of the wedding party did. Just because everyone is doing it does not make it a ‘do!’

The handshake, at least in America, is still a ‘do.’ It’s still considered the most professional yet personal form of greeting. When should you shake?

• When introducing yourself to anyone (including your parole officer)
• At the beginning and end of a job interview
• When you meet the president of just about anything
• When greeting a colleague or client you haven’t seen in a significant amount of time
• When you’ve been introduced to someone by another friend or colleague
• When meeting your potential father-in-law (or parole officer)
• When acting as host or hostess to a business meeting or event
• When saying goodbye to a colleague, client, friend (or parole officer)
• When you need to indicate the end of an interaction or conversation and your impending exit
• Really any other time that seems obvious: when someone saves you from a careening bus,
when someone kills the mice infestation living under your stairs, when the guy in front of you tosses your 9 year-old the foul ball he just caught at the baseball game. You know when it feels right. Right? (In all of the above instances a hug is probably also warranted, especially in the mice instance.)

Wondering how to master the fine art of the handshake? It’s easy:

• Make eye contact
• State your name (if necessary) while extending your right hand: Hi, I’m Debra Fine
• Lean slightly in, grasp the other person’s hand firmly for a mere 2-3 seconds
• Release

That’s it. Really! So, don’t overthink it. And avoid the following:

• Dead Fish Hand: This limp, lifeless creature belongs in the grocery case, not in the handshake.

• Lady Fingers: The handshake involves the HAND, not just the fingers. Even Princess Kate does not daintily offer her royal fingers in that awkward way that makes it seem like you’re hiding a microphone in your palm. And she’s a princess.

• The “Make Mine a Double”: No need to cover the successful handshake with your other hand. Don’t ruin a good thing. The handshake is a singles match, not a doubles tourney. One and done.

• Be cognizant when greeting guests from other cultural backgrounds, as the rules may differ. If you are the guest, take your cues from the host to show your willingness to be flexible and respectful.

Handshakes are like parenting: Extend yourself. Be straightforward. Be firm. Smile even when you don’t feel like it. Practice what your preach.

On that note, teaching children the fine art of the handshake is a gift. After all, we teach our dogs to “shake” not “fist-bump” – shouldn’t we do the same for the little humans in our lives? Agree? Let’s shake on it.

 

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 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, 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!

 

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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, March 25th, 2014

Three Steps to Savvy Sales

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Everything in life is really sales, isn’t it? Even if you aren’t technically selling something, you are selling something. You are selling a product, your services, yourself.

You’re questioning my logic right now, I can feel it, but think about it for a moment. The ads on television, social media, the radio and the newspaper are there for a reason — to get you to buy whatever it is they’ve got. It could be a ticket to a game, a trip to a restaurant, a better car, a new cable company, a leaner physique, shinier hair, a different credit card carrier or airline of choice. Sales and more sales. All of it.

But even a first date is really a sales pitch. As is persuading a toddler to eat carrots, a teenager to put down the phone, an employee to finish a report and a husband to stop FOR THE LOVE OF GOD telling that same, long story that you have heard a thousand times. Life is really one gigantic sales pitch. Sigh.

So how do you get your customers to buy that car, that facelift, that training seminar? How do you get the three-year-old to power through a plate of vegetables and Miss Right to say “yes!” to whatever you happen to be suggesting (which is really none of my business but I am rooting for you anyway)? By building a relationship, of course.

Relationship-building in business is nothing new. After all, it’s why Coca-Cola is and always will be Coca-Cola. They’ve managed to appeal to the masses while making us each feel special. They’ve inserted themselves into American history and sold us on nostalgia and patriotism and even Santa Claus. It’s quite a feat. But what Coca-Cola, like Walt Disney or Steve Jobs or that first guy that was selling OxyClean understands — granted, on a different level than us — is that you must know who your customers are and what they need. Or want. Or think they need. Or think they want. Follow me?

I know that there is an incredible amount of information out there on customer care, and trying to synthesize it all here would be impossible. Still, there are simple strategies that anyone, even the non-Steve-Jobs of us, can adopt. Here are my favorites:

Be Normal:
It’s harder than it seems. There are a lot of not normal people out there, and we’ve all met them. The slick sales guy selling snake oil still exists, he’s just morphed into a telemarketer or a multi-level marketing guru. The best way to earn your customers’ goodwill is to present yourself as a humble, respectful individual. I don’t mean present yourself as that person, actually be that person. By being human and politely inquisitive, you put customers and clients at ease; and as the saying goes, “people buy from people they like.”

Be Clear:
What makes sense to you does not always make sense to someone else. You, after all, are an expert in your field. If your customer were an expert in your field, he or she would not be a (potential) customer, he would be a colleague or a competitor, or even your boss! Explain information from the customer point of view and watch for that look of understanding before plowing ahead. If you notice signs of confusion or something that resembles a stroke, slow down and ask if there is a need for clarification. This is not the time to show off, using all the acronyms and jargon and technical terms. Can’t stop yourself? Go back to the Be Normal step and review.

Be Savvy:
Asking a potential customer a good question can offer a great amount of feedback. Do your research prior to meeting with a new customer, and learn as much as you can about them and their business. You are wasting their time (and yours) if you don’t take this crucial step. Plus, it provides a great opportunity for small talk, of which I am a fan, as you know. Open ended questions, such as “How can I help?” sound almost too simple, but they work. Once you have a rapport going, provide customers with specific information on what your product or service does, but emphasize how it can help THEM, instead of simply listing all the bells and whistles: Will your services increase productivity or revenue? Are you a more-reliable, cost-effective resource? The more you understand a customer’s particular goals, the more likely you are to provide them with a solution to their problem, instead of just a quick fix.

Customer care is a huge topic, but the steps to success are really quite simple. Be forthright and honest. Tell them the truth in an attractive way, without exaggerating. If your product or service is the right fit, and if you approach your customers on their level and keep their goals in mind, you are on your way to building a relationship with a client. That’s almost as good as a trip to Disney.