Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Speak Easy Note # 44 - Communication Resolutions 2011

For my final post of 2010, I had planned to create a Top Ten Communication 2011 New Year's Resolution List.  It struck me that these could be selected from the Speak Easy Rules at the end of each chapter in SPEAK EASY, The Communication Guide for Career and Life Success.  Then it struck me that an even better way to end the year would be to include all of the Rules from each of the thirteen chapters, so here they are:

Speak Easy Rules – Chapter Summaries

1 Keep It Level

> Experience a level playing field of communication.

> Be aware of how facial expressions say more than words.

> Monitor your voice tone to diminish dual messages.

> Express your reactions directly without apology.

> Focus on demonstrating respect in every communication.

2 Tell Them That You Really Heard

> Acknowledge what others are saying.

> Validate others’ positions before promoting your own.

> Concentrate on listening without jumping to your views.

> Realize you can validate others without agreeing with them.

> Separate high standards from disapproval and judgment.

3 There’s A Good Way To Say Everything

> Select direct ways to communicate.

> Realize that people appreciate hearing the truth.

> Recognize that there is no need to embellish or distort.

> Resolve to be comfortable talking about difficult topics.

> Use simpler descriptions and realize that less is more.

4 Replacing Deadly Habits

> Avoid passive or victimized language.

> Express yourself in the affirmative.

> Choose neutral rather than negatively-charged words.

> Recognize the pitfalls of giving people advice.

> Eliminate hackneyed ways of communicating.

5 Be Your Own Best Friend

> Get your sense of well-being from yourself.

> Disempower abusive communicators.

> Focus on what you have rather than on what is missing.

> Value the gains you receive from loss.

> Build strong systems of support. 

6 Every Style Can Be Successful

> Appreciate what distinguishes you from other people.

> Believe there are many good approaches to all situations.

> Leverage your preferred style.

> See value in expanding your communication repertoire.

> Broaden your horizons to include wider views.

7 Armor For Abuse

> Dissolve people’s power to hurt you with their words.

> Recognize when silence would be the best response.

> Thank people, without defensiveness, for being open.

> Take care of your internal emotional trigger points.

> Refrain from measuring yourself harshly against others.

8 Refusing The Right Way

> Remain at ease when people make difficult requests.

> Validate people’s right to ask for what they want.

> Match your responses with what you can really deliver.

> Be clear when your intention is to refuse completely.

> Think through your response before you say yes.

9 Expanding Your “Who You Know” Quotient

> See NETWORKING as research and relationship building.

> Include solutions when discussing your challenges.

> Believe you have or can access the right contacts.

> Share what you know when you ask important questions.

> View NETWORKING as more than spreading your name.

10 Working It At Work

> Recognize how important positive communication is.

> Give 100% to being well-prepared.

> Speak with focus and direction.

> Base your communication on affirmative premises.

> Describe your strengths and actions in consistent terms.

11 Getting What You Want

> Think of negotiating as reaching agreement.

> Offer various options to get the results you want.

> Target what you say to your advantage.

> Define your objectives before engaging in negotiations.

> Recognize the value of patience and staying power.

12 Facing An Audience

> Challenge your belief system about public speaking.

> Realize how easy it is to talk about what you know well.

> See that stage fright enhances performance.

> Use true stories to illustrate your presentation points.

> Recognize how enthusiasm engages an audience.

13 Summing It All Up – Communication, Key To The Good Life

> Know that excellence in communication enriches life.

> Value what it takes to change communication patterns.

> See how universal basic human communication is.

> Take responsibility for what you say and how you say it.

> Be patient and determined with your communication goals.

Happy New Year!

Until 2011,
The Wordsmith

Friday, December 3, 2010

Speak Easy Note #43 - On Being Present

From time to time, I receive a personal communication that feels significant and universal, and I decide to incorporate and fictionalize it into my blog posting:

A friend wrote:

“ ... It is the building up of things. It is that the dog is very ill and probably dying, and that my wife was so upset on the phone, and that I did not come home and kept working ... as I do when things are bad. By the time I got home tonight my wife was in bed asleep, as I knew she would be.

And the years flash by and will soon be gone altogether. And everything feels like a challenge. I spent most of the afternoon on something that I used to be able to accomplish in half an hour, and ended up with an unsatisfactory result.

My children do not have easy lives. There are no easy lives. The least I can do is to be there for them, to watch and to listen and to bear witness to their struggles with life. Which I know is important to them. But I am not there. And what I set out to do today and did not do at all was to reset my priorities. To see my oldest son who has opened a new business. And to see more of my other children.  I have wisdom for them but I am not there. And, instead, an unsatisfactory day wasted on an unsatisfactory task that would have been better not to bother about at all, let alone be there instead of being with my wife who really needed me. And to think I told a former colleague the other day that, yes, I would be happy to take on a new design project for a couple of days a week for a year or two. Why did I agree to this!  And there is no comfort anywhere.

At the very moment I was writing this last thought, I received an amusing email from my middle son and replied to it humorously. For some reason, he and I find humor where others don't.  Since he was a tiny boy, we stand there sometimes, tears streaming down our faces, helpless with laughter. And no-one else understands why we are laughing.

So comfort is there after all ...”

My response:

Being present. All too troubling to consider, as I leave my elderly mother in Virginia, to return to New York after a ten-day visit. The range of emotions is vast.  I can identify with you and feel how you are grappling with this. Chastising yourself though is hardly the point.  It is a struggle being there for everyone. It has to start with being there for you, yourself, first. And the rest will follow. After all, in the end, for each of us and for every single moment we live and breathe, there IS only you, alone. The best part of life is being truly present for each moment and being there to support and share with others. Each "engagement" with those we love - and often, even with total strangers - is what makes life full of wonder. And yet, we are always separate and apart and can only be fully present for ourselves. Those who sacrifice their own lives for others can often be seeking what they cannot find in themselves.

Remain wholly present in life and contribute as much to the world and to your children as you can. Laughter till the tears run is just one way of being present and connected. Those moments remain within us, keeping us present for others when we are far apart and, alas, ever SEPARATE.

"Presence is more than just being there."
Malcolm S. Forbes

Until the next time,
The Wordsmith
Author of
SPEAK EASY, The Communication Guide for Career and Life Success

Friday, November 19, 2010

Speak Easy Note #42 - Acceptance and Appreciation

As we approach the end of November, I want to offer words of Thanksgiving. The past two years have been full of challenge for so many people. Financial difficulties have been enormous and unemployment has been at record highs. It's hard to be thankful when the pressures are extreme and when there's such a strong sense of precariousness throughout our world.

I often write about perspective and its important contribution to how we experience challenge and difficulty and to what we can do to overcome them.

Acceptance and Appreciation are the keys to

> adjusting our perspective to one that is healthy and productive,

> facing the reality of our challenges,

> recognizing the abundance that exists around us,

> finding realistic solutions for demanding situations, and

> focusing on what we have rather than what is missing.

Acceptance is taking in all that is rather than focusing on all that isn’t. Acceptance is quite different from settling, acquiescing, or giving up. Acceptance means  letting go of perfection and other impossible unrealistic fantasies and taking in and seeing all that exists.

When I think of Acceptance, I’m reminded of Gilda Radner who told us, “It’s Always Something”

Appreciation goes beyond Acceptance and encompasses simple, basic, and true thankfulness for whatever you have. We live in a material world that distorts value and creates a consumer mentality. Children are growing up with so many possessions and toys that it becomes more and more difficult for them to ever comprehend that “The best things in life are free.” There really is no price or way to purchase the richest and best parts of life, like health, love, and friendship.

Appreciation brings to mind the wise saying:

“I cried because I had no shoes until I saw a person who had no feet.”

Here is a wonderful Charles Dickens quote about Appreciation:

“Reflect upon your present blessings - of which every man has many - not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”

ACCEPT what is. APPRECIATE what you have.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Until next time,
The Wordsmith
Author of
SPEAK EASY, The Communication Guide for Career and Life Success

Friday, November 12, 2010

Speak Easy Note #41 - Pearls of Wisdom

Being a proponent of positive attitude and of the value of seeing the glass from the full perspective, I offer these non-delusional pearls of realistic wisdom for this week’s blog posting.

First, here are two excerpts from
SPEAK EASY, The Communication Guide for Career and Life Success:

Whenever you determine that something won’t work or isn’t working, make sure you find a way to convey, “This is exactly what we need to do to make this successful.” Rather than describe what’s wrong, it’s always better to focus on communicating the solutions to fix the situation. When you challenge yourself to be a person that sees the world from a positive perspective and to focus on what is rather than on what isn’t, you will find that you will gain respect from others and draw them to you. You will also be building a reputation as a person who finds ways to get things accomplished rather than as a person who tears everything down through doubt and criticism.

Negativity can be quite subtle. Even the most positive sentiments can have a negative underbelly:

> “No problem!” is a positive expression comprised of two negative words.

> Saying, “I’ve no objection to…” is very different from saying, “I think that’s a good way to…”

> Stating, “I can’t disagree with you about…” has quite a different impact from saying, “I certainly agree with you that…”

... and ...

Bella, a Marketing Director who had abruptly and unexpectedly lost her senior position in a technology company at age forty-five, described to me the value she’d gained from learning how to reposition what she wanted to convey to people. She described how much easier it had become for her to initiate difficult communications and how differently she felt about herself as a result of these enhanced techniques:

“It’s not whether my mood is up or down, it’s the fact that my choice of language or vocabulary greatly influences how the person I’m speaking to perceives me, hears my message, and understands the events I am describing. It’s about selecting appropriate language for that forward-moving spirit that I want to convey. This is not to ignore the fact that there’s something that is painful or difficult, but to have a set of language to use for the outside world that works for me. It’s how we all survive!”

How we communicate can make a tremendous difference on perceptions and outcomes and can be quite different from any difficult emotions or underlying beliefs we may have.

 Here’s a link that provides a REALISTIC perspective on positive thinking:

Until next time,
The Wordsmith
Author of
SPEAK EASY, The Communication Guide for Career and Life Success

Friday, November 5, 2010

Speak Easy Note #40 - To Speak or Not to Speak - Criticizing the Boss

Dear Wordsmith,

I need your advice on how to handle a performance review meeting that is on my calendar next week. I have worked for a large non-profit organization for twenty-five years. We had a major expansion of our facilities three years ago when a new Executive Director was hired. She brought three additional senior executives with her and over these last three years, I have watched my co-workers become totally disgruntled and dissatisfied. Two people have actually had mental health breakdowns because of work overload and extreme stress. This was a place where people loved to come to work and it’s now a place that is completely demoralized. Of course, in this economy with unemployment at such a high level, people are afraid to speak up, take action or quit their jobs. I am a mid-level manager and report directly to one of the new Deputy Directors who I realize has very little choice about how to maneuver in his job because he was brought in by the new Executive Director and is under her tight rule and control. It’s hard to sympathize with him though and quite frankly, everybody hates him, including me.

One of my peers told me that this Deputy Director has been asking for feedback from Managers about his own performance during their reviews. I am planning on retiring at the end of the summer and don’t want to make waves or be the one who takes a position or speaks out. On-the-other-hand, I care about the well-being of my co-workers a great deal and would like to at least express my views before I leave. I have been a dedicated and loyal employee here for so many years. It’s really troubling to witness the transformation of this workplace. What do you think is the right way for me to handle this meeting next week if I am asked for feedback?

Fed-up and Burned-Out


Dear Fed-Up and Burned-Out,

How upsetting it must be for you to have worked somewhere for so long and see the kinds of changes there that you described. No matter what you decide to say next week in your performance review meeting, it’s good that you could get this off of your chest by writing about it here. That certainly doesn’t solve your dilemma and yet it’s very helpful to be able to communicate to an objective professional third party what you’re experiencing and how you’re feeling about such difficult circumstances.

I can’t tell you whether to say anything in the meeting next week. It really has to be your decision and it’s clearly a hard one for you to make. You say that you “don’t want to make waves or be the one who takes a position or speaks out.” You simultaneously say that you “would like to at least express [your] views before [you] leave.” It’s unsettling to have strong feelings that are the complete opposite from one another. Even though you’re the only one who can decide what’s right for you to say next week, I can give you key guidelines about the optimum way to communicate your observations and views, if you do decide to express them.

Instead of identifying what’s wrong or find fault, you can describe what’s missing and what would have a huge positive impact on the workplace if adapted or implemented.

For example: “Here’s what I see as ways to achieve the success you’re looking for …”

Select neutral rather than inflammatory language.

Rather than: “This is a problem that requires conflict resolution.
Choose instead: “This is an opportunity that requires new approaches and enhancement.”

Express your comments using affirmative language formation without saying “not”.

Avoid: “That’s not a good way to talk to people.”
Better: “A good way to talk to people is …”

Omit “you” from your feedback so that it is situational rather than personally attacking.

Avoid: “You don’t give people the information they need to do their jobs.”
Better: “People feel that the information they need to do their jobs is missing.

By using language that is neutral and voice tone that is level and respectful, it’s possible to convey criticism and difficult feedback in a constructive and beneficial manner.

Until next time,
The Wordsmith
Author of
SPEAK EASY, The Communication Guide for Career and Life Success

Friday, October 29, 2010

Speak Easy Note #39 – Juggling Job Offers … Being True to Yourself

Dear Wordsmith,

The firm I've worked for, for the last eight years, is facing a severe downturn in business and is eliminating all consultants who don't have a significant book of business. My role has been primarily in project design and client service delivery which is what I was hired to do. I was even told three years ago by the biggest producer and most senior partner of our firm that I was doing such an outstanding job for the firm’s two major clients. He said he wanted me to continue to focus on supporting these two clients and not to focus on building a book of business of my own. He told me that there would always be a role for me in the firm and that I was providing the highest caliber of work possible. Flash forward to March of this year when I was told that by the end of October, I would need to have found new employment since the work for these two major clients had diminished significantly and the firm could only afford to keep consultants who were earning their keep through having built a solid book of business.

Since March, I've poured myself into networking and job search and am fortunate, in this difficult job market, to have two excellent potential options to consider. The problem is that even though these were moving along at a parallel pace for a while, one of them has speeded up significantly and the other has slowed down quite a bit. My current employer has committed to keep me officially employed without announcing anything about my work coming to a close until the end of November. This is very helpful so that I can convey and demonstrate to these two potential new employers that I am employed and still working until then.

Here are some of the specifics of these two options:

Option A:
A former colleague who heads up a consulting business in Chicago has asked me to open a satellite office for them in Atlanta. They have asked me to locate office space here in Atlanta which I have done and they have signed a lease starting in November on a monthly basis through an office-services executive suite provider.

Option B:
This is a long shot and one I am extremely interested in. Rather than working as an external business management consultant, this is an internal strategic planning role for an established technology company. This is what I most want to do and feel that this could be a once in a career opportunity. Of course, I don't know if I will get the offer. The final round of interviews has been rescheduled twice and now won’t take place until the last week in November. I am one of only two final candidates who will be interviewed by the CEO and new General Manager.

I cannot risk being unemployed or being passed over right now and have chosen to move forward with the Chicago consulting firm until and unless I get the offer from the technology company. Prior to their signing the lease for me to have new office space, I felt that my communications were as they should be. Now, with every day that passes, I am feeling more and more uncomfortable. I've always had a strong ethical compass in all of my business dealings and want to make sure that's the basis for all of my decisions and actions right now during this extra challenging timeframe.  It's very important to me to be direct and honest with people and my professional reputation is at stake here. Please help me figure out the best way to handle this dilemma.

I would like to postpone any official announcement of the new Atlanta office and my role in it as Managing Partner as well as postpone my official start day. If I accept the other offer in the next month to six weeks, I am so concerned about how all of these current communications will appear in retrospect. I have to put my professional and family security first. Is there any way to do that and still act with integrity?

Tightrope Walker


Dear Tightrope Walker,

It sounds like you’re experiencing tremendous pressure and that this must be extremely stressful for you and your family. Let’s work toward adjusting your perspectives so you can be less stressed. And let’s also craft some best-case communications and strategies to carry you through this successfully.

Putting your own personal obligations and responsibilities first is an ethical decision. You are right to protect your own job security as your first priority. To gain some perspective, look back for a moment. When the partner told you then that you were highly valued, that you would always have a role in the firm and that you did not need to focus on building a book of business, he was speaking to you in good faith and was sincere about the current circumstances at that moment in time. When things changed, you were unexpectedly told something altogether different. You've actually been sincere and acting in good faith with the Chicago consulting firm. You don't have any other offer at the moment and don't have any guarantee that you will get one. So you are moving forward in an ethical and appropriate way based on the facts that are true right now.

Here’s another way of looking at this challenging situation. It’s possible that you could have accepted the new role with the Chicago-based consulting firm, could have set up their Atlanta office and could have begun diligently and whole heartedly working for them to establish their Atlanta presence, when, suddenly, six weeks into the commitment, you get a totally unexpected call to come in and interview for your dream job in your dream environment, resulting in an offer.

Additional remedy activities and choices you might want to provide at that future point of job offer, IF it occurs, might include these:
- Offer to reimburse the firm for their office rental expenses.
- Recommend other candidates to fill the managing partner role.
- Continue to provide client introductions and participate in business development activities.
- Make a commitment to bring your new technology company to the table as a potential client.

Here's the type of communication that may be very helpful for this situation:
“I have just received an offer for a job that is beyond any expectation I have ever had. This is exactly the kind of work I most want to do. I certainly was astonished to receive this offer at this point in time when I have just made such a significant and dedicated commitment to XYZ Consulting. This has definitely been one of the most difficult decisions and challenging crossroads of my professional life. I have accepted the offer and wanted to come to you immediately to inform you of this. I want to do everything possible to make this transition as smooth and successful for the firm as possible. I have put an outline together with important talking points for us to examine together. I want to partner with you in every way I can to ensure as much business and operating success for the firm as possible.”

It's also appropriate right now to find a very simple way to ask for the announcement to be made in December along with your official start date. That brief communication might sound like this:
"I've discussed my departure from my current role with the senior partners in my firm and we mutually agreed on December 1 as the official date for me to start a new job. There are some loose ends that are pending here and I think it makes sense to wait until all that is completed before beginning the new job officially and before making a formal announcement about the new Atlanta practice and my role as Managing Partner. I will continue to set up client calls and actively participate in marketing meetings in the interim. December 1 also makes a lot of sense because I have commitments and will be traveling over Thanksgiving and there will be continuity if my official start date follows that trip."

The best communications are direct, simple and respectful with integrity and honesty as the guiding underlying principles.

Until next time,
The Wordsmith
Author of
SPEAK EASY, The Communication Guide for Career and Life Success

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Speak Easy Note #38 - Starting the Dream Job ... Wait, There's a Hitch!

Dear Wordsmith,

In three weeks I’m starting a new dream job. I’ve wanted a role like this for so long. The company is highly respected, the product is of excellent quality and the job description encompasses everything that I have been building toward for many years. This will be my largest responsibility to date, with over 30,000 employees working in my Division. I have an unusual background because I worked on the product development and marketing side of the business for many years before becoming a Human Resources Executive, specializing in Leadership and Talent Development. People in sales and marketing are often high achievers in building company profitability who have great business development skills and end up being promoted to management roles even though they have never managed people or been leaders who motivate and inspire others. Often they have a very competitive individual-contributor drive and can find it challenging to channel their competitive natures into the leadership inspiration and vision required in executive positions. Team development is quite different from business development.

A former colleague that I worked with years ago approached me to fill this new job exactly because I have such a personal and deep understanding of these dynamics and because of my long history in marketing combined with my extensive experience as an HR Professional. She said she knew I would be the best person to head up the Talent and Leadership Development function because of the unique background and experience that I will be bringing. I agree 100% and know I have so much to contribute that will make a big difference and add so much needed value.

The former head of this department, whom I will be replacing, has always been in Human Resources roles throughout his career and has never had a first-hand role in operations, marketing or business development. He has been described to me as very detailed-oriented and seems to get completely bogged down in every project he has ever initiated. I'm known for seeing the big picture, putting the right people in place and for delegating with precision to the right individuals. So how perfect does this all sound? Well, wait a minute. There’s a huge elephant in the room. And guess what/who it is? The person I’m replacing is not only not being let go, he will be continuing in a key administrative management position in the same department within the same group that he used to be the leader of. I will be his boss and will be the boss of all of the people he has been the boss of for the last eight years! He and I have met and he was very pleasant and even receptive to my taking over the helm from him. I can see though that it will be very hard for him to let go of the decision-making authority he has always held. I also can see how well-liked he is by everyone and I can imagine that people will naturally go to him with problems and questions because that’s what they’ve always done. I‘ve been told that because of his long tenure and great company loyalty that his employment is secure.

I want to handle this well and know that my communications with him and with others in the first six months of this new job are the key to my long-term success in the company. Please give me your best advice on how to do this well and right.

Highly Motivated and Slightly Nervous


Dear Motivated and Nervous,

What a mixture of emotions you must have. Starting a new job is always challenging and stressful. On top of the normal feelings a new manager would have, you are walking into a situation that is charged with many extra elements to keep you on guard. The best approach is to use this awareness to increase your motivation to do a really great job and pay extra attention to the interpersonal dynamics that are always critical for success in the workplace.

Here are some basic operating premises that can form the foundation for your success:
You are the right person for this role and your extensive experience, vast expertise and calm solid self-confidence will reflect that, day-in and day-out.

Your enthusiasm to prove yourself and do a good job will be preceded and surpassed by your commitment to listening to others’ viewpoints and by your visible respect for everyone who works for you and with you.

Leadership is quite different from popularity. Your goal is to inspire, provide vision and demonstrate authority for what is right. If making sure people like you as much as they like your predecessor becomes your highest priority, it is unlikely that you will ever achieve that goal or any of the other secondary objectives you have.

Delegating authority to others, including your predecessor, is an excellent way to show you have confidence in your team and in their former boss. Give up power whenever possible so that when it is essential for you to be in charge, you will be, plain and simple. If you focus on being egalitarian, rather than obsessed with controlling everything, you will gain the potential to garner better results and stronger loyalties.

When there are conflicts in role authority between you and your predecessor, without becoming dependent on your own boss and without giving up your leadership authority, selectively (and confidentially) request that your boss or a senior executive arbitrates a decision or assigns authority to you publicly so that your predecessor will save face and/or have no recourse. This will avoid natural power struggles between you and him and will also remove some of the feelings of resentment about you that he may have. This tactic must be used sparingly and strategically. When you make these requests to senior management on a limited basis, you will be demonstrating your leadership, your vision, and your careful management of a sensitive situation.

Partner with your predecessor whenever possible and praise him publicly often. He has some strengths that you can capitalize on that will open up great windows of time for you to concentrate on what you do best and care about most. The more he feels valued, the more influence he will provide to bring others on board with your initiatives.

If you sense sabotage or undermining from him or because of him, it’s very important to establish frequent open communication. Remember that open communication involves a good deal of listening. Ask tactical open-ended questions to gather information. Validate others based on careful listening. State your opinions and requests without emotion or judgment. Verify understanding. Ask for buy-in.

Until next time,
The Wordsmith
Author of
SPEAK EASY, The Communication Guide for Career and Life Success

Friday, October 15, 2010

Speak Easy Note #37 – The Mother/Daughter Connection, Expanded and Revisited

Dear Wordsmith,

Your response last week was very helpful and provided me with great new perspectives and communication approaches for the difficult circumstances between my daughter, Sara, and me. Here’s a brief version of what I wrote to you last week:

Sara and I have always been very close and have shared many common interests. Her boyfriend, Tom, who is a good deal older than she, is determined to change my daughter by trying to keep us from sharing time together. Sara claims I've been rude and disrespectful to Tom. I’ve become very defensive and our problems are escalating; we haven’t spoken for weeks. I really want to be close to my daughter again and am finding it very difficult to control my anger.

There is a new layer to this situation that I need more advice about:
My cousin Diane has always been like a sister to me and has also been very close to Sara since she was a little girl. What I just learned is that Sara has turned to Diane and has been confiding in her and spending time in her home. For some reason Tom has no resentment of Diane and is fine with Sara and Diane spending as much time together as they want. It’s very painful to me to hear that Sara is reaching out to Diane and telling Diane how disrespectful I’ve been to Tom. I also resent that Diane is able to spend an abundance of time with Sara when Sara and I are no longer spending any time together or even speaking to each other. The worst part of all is that Diane kept all of this from me and it wasn’t until I ran into Diane’s son this week that I learned from him that Sara and Diane have been spending so much time together. I called Diane and told her how upset I was and told her that I think it was wrong for her to have kept this from me. I also told her that she should stop letting Sara come to her house and confide in her and that if she wouldn’t agree to that, then I wasn’t going to have any contact with her right now. Diane got very angry at me and told me she was only trying to protect my feelings by not telling me anything and that she just wanted to help. She said she didn’t want to abandon Sara when Sara was having such a hard time worrying about me as well as trying to finish her dissertation. Now I have a double dilemma to deal with. These are the two people I care the most about and these conflicts are taking a big toll. Please help!

Hurt and Angry


Dear Hurt and Angry,

Ouch! Double dilemma and quite painful indeed! You must be feeling so hurt. The two people you love the most remain connected to each other while you are excluded from their lives and interactions with both of them.

Let me see if I can identify some helpful perspectives on this very distressing situation. Since you’ve made it clear how much you love your daughter, perhaps you can find a way to have a positive view on the fact that she has a family member to turn to right now. After all, this is your cousin that you’ve always been very close to that she’s choosing to confide in. It could be Sara is choosing a way to hurt you by turning to Diane since she knows that you’re likely to find out about this. On-the-other-hand, it could also be a way to be as close to you as she can be without upsetting Tom who is influencing her to stay away from you. There’s a clue that her love for you is the prime motivator in Diane’s comment that “Sara is having such a hard time worrying about [you]”. This must be extremely painful for Sara too and Diane is certainly caught in the middle. With the amount of anguish you’re experiencing as a result of Sara’s choices, it makes it very hard for you to see how painful this must be for your daughter and cousin as well.

Since you’ve always been so close to Sara and shared so much together, it’s probably quite difficult to wrap your head around the potential latent adolescent component that I mentioned last week. Sometimes when there has been such a strong connection and inter-dependence, there can be a powerful sense of needing to break away and separate.

Your feelings about Sara and Diane being together without your knowing this and about Sara’s criticizing you to Diane are certainly legitimate. What mother wouldn’t have those reactions? What’s important is to manage your emotions and communications to lessen the tension that is building. The key is to find a way to express these feelings in a non-accusatory, non-judgmental, non-ultimatum way.

Let’s examine what you said to Diane and how you might want to adjust the way you communicate going forward.

You said:
“… told her that I think it was wrong for her to have kept this from me. .”

Here's a way to express your valid reaction without being accusatory:
“I feel very hurt and upset that you kept this from me.”

You said:
“I also told her that she should stop letting Sara come to her house and confide in her and that if she wouldn’t agree to that, I wasn’t going to have any contact with her right now.”

Here's a way to express the same sentiments without being judgmental and without ultimatum:
“Diane, I know how much you love Sara and want to help. It’s extremely hard for me to know you and Sara are spending time together and that you’re talking about me when I’m not there and when Sara and I aren’t speaking or seeing each other. What I would like and am asking is for you to stop spending time with Sara until she and I are re-connected and communicating with each other.”

Even when expressed as a desire in an appropriate way, this request creates a slippery slope, similar to when a couple gets divorced and friends and family members are asked to choose sides or abandon one of two long-standing relationships. You might want to simply let Diane know what you're feeling without making any request for her to stop spending time with Sara.
“Diane, I want you to know how hard it is for me to know you and Sara are spending time together and that you’re talking about me when I’m not there and when Sara and I aren’t speaking or seeing each other.”

The strong history and deep bonds you've had with your daughter and your cousin over the years provide a solid foundation for optimism. Remember the guidelines from last week:

- adjust your perspectives
- remain authentic and true to yourself
- make sure you're loving and kind to your daughter
- demonstrate genuine respect to all

“Everything happens for a reason, people change so that you can learn to let go, things go wrong so you can appreciate them when they're right, and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can come together.”

Marilyn Monroe

Until next time,
The Wordsmith
Author of
SPEAK EASY, The Communication Guide for Career and Life Success

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Speak Easy Note #36 - The Mother/Daughter Connection

Dear Wordsmith,

Please help me figure out how to handle a very difficult crossroads with my daughter, Sara. We have always been very close until she became involved with her current boyfriend. We have always shared a love of good restaurants, ethnic/gourmet food, foreign films/independent movies, and liberal American politics. We've always been on the same page with all of these and they've been the cornerstones of our strong relationship. We used to go out to dinner and a movie together at least once a week and we’d talk endlessly until 2:00 in the morning about all of these topics. The boyfriend, Tom, is a good deal older than my daughter and is not as educated as she. She has just completed her doctoral thesis to earn a PhD degree. They are currently living together in the next town from where I live, fifteen minutes away. He just doesn’t share any of her interests at all which is bad enough. Worse than that is the fact that he’s determined to change my daughter’s political views and areas of interest, particularly by trying to keep my daughter and me from sharing the kind of time together that has always been so important to our relationship. Not only has Sara stopped going out with me for our girls’ night out dinner and movies together, she has told me that I've been rude to her boyfriend and that I treat him disrespectfully. He has told her she's too old to spend so much time with her mother and that he doesn’t want her to see me so frequently or to spend time with just the two of us anymore. Every time she and I speak on the phone, I can hear his voice and his tone when she speaks to me and not hers. She is a completely different person from the dear loving daughter that I've known for the past 25 years. There is also something in her tone that sounds just like her father that I have never heard in her voice before. Her father and I divorced when she was very young and she had very little contact with him when she was growing up and he passed away many years ago. Each time I hear her bitter and accusatory tone, I get very angry and defensive and our conversations have escalated to such a degree that we haven’t spoken for the last six weeks. I've written her a few times, trying to get everything resolved and back on an even keel. When she’s called after receiving my written communications, she’s been very nasty and I just explode when I hear what she is accusing me of. I’ve come to hate the boyfriend and feel like they both owe me a big apology. I have done nothing but try to be a loving supportive mom to my daughter. The chasm between us is huge and I don’t know what to do or how to communicate with her anymore.

Sad and Angry Mom


Dear Sad and Angry,

This situation sounds truly heartbreaking. After so many years of such a warm, loving, and connected relationship, it must be extremely hard to feel so distanced from your daughter.

There are many psychological threads running through these circumstances as there always are in all that we experience in life. It may be helpful to you, and also add some perspective, to identify what some of these may be. I’m picking up on a few undercurrents that could be contributing more barriers to your relationship with your daughter than you realize. It sounds like you two have been extremely close and that she never had any kind of closeness with her father at all. Girls who have lost their fathers or who have had difficult relationships with their fathers, will often seek out older men to replace or make up for what was missing in their childhoods. I’m also looking at the possibility that since you have always had this closeness with your daughter, that she may never have been a rebellious teenager and is somehow experiencing a bit of latent adolescence right now, particularly because she is just finishing her doctoral program and facing being out there on her own in the world in a particularly difficult job market and economy. Young adult females coming out of college who have been extremely close to their mothers can sometimes feel very frightened of facing the new life ahead of them. She may feel a need to disagree with anything you say or believe in right now; that doesn’t mean that she always will. Her relationship with an older man who can provide for her and easily control her life could be feeling like a very safe cocoon to your daughter. And lastly, your daughter’s closeness to you can feel very threatening to an insecure man who wants to be the sole provider and life-fixer for his young girlfriend. Quite a confluence of potential contributing factors, right?

Given all of these pieces that potentially form the foundation for what's going on, it's important for you to focus on managing your own emotions, behaviors, and communications in the best way possible while

- adjusting your perspectives on everything that is happening
- remaining authentic and true to yourself
- making sure you are loving and kind to your daughter
- demonstrating genuine respect, without judgment, of your daughter and her boyfriend.

You cannot control what your daughter or her boyfriend do or say. You can only control your own perspectives, behaviors and communications. The basic premises are to remember to keep your communication level (including tone of voice and facial expression) and to validate your daughter’s feelings no matter what your own viewpoints are.

The first step is for you to become calmer within yourself. If you continue to be defensive and explosive you will naturally contribute to this escalation that you so want to de-escalate:
“Each time I hear her bitter and accusatory tone, I get very angry and defensive and our conversations have escalated …”
“She has been very nasty and I just explode when I hear what she is accusing me of.”

Remember when you remain unruffled and acknowledge calmly what you’re hearing, you are NOT admitting guilt or agreement. Make sure you omit the word “but” from your transition from an acknowledgement to stating your own opinion, and make sure you refrain from anything that sounds like, “I think you should” or "How dare you accuse me ...".

The following are the types of communications that may lead your daughter and you back to the closeness you have always had.

“Sara, I hear how upset you are about this, and want you to know that my goal is always to be respectful and understanding of your feelings. It is also important to me to be true to myself and share my views on this.”  (And then your views have to be what you think and want rather than what is right or wrong with what they are saying and doing.)

“Sara, our time together has always meant so much to me and I hope that we can still find a way to share the kinds of things we have always enjoyed together. Please help me understand exactly what you want and what your preferences are.”

“As difficult as it is to hear …………………, it is very valuable for me to know that you and(/or) Tom have that point-of-view.”

Here is a link to one source of many that can contribute to your acquiring the type of communication you would want to develop for this and other aggressive communications you encounter in life.

Above all remember this:

-- Benjamin Disraeli

I hope this input contributes to your meeting these challenges in ways that are right for you. Even though it’s always impossible to predict the future accurately, there’s comfort in knowing that the strong and beautiful relationship you’ve always had with your daughter will contribute greatly to the good future outcomes you seek. Professional counseling or therapy for you separately or for you and your daughter together could be a highly valuable option to consider. These matters are very layered and complicated and come about as a result of a long history of family dynamics. We can never see ourselves objectively.

Until next time,
The Wordsmith

Friday, September 24, 2010

Speak Easy Note #35 - Those Folks Who Answer Customer Service Phone Lines

So we’ve all been there, waiting on hold. We all are familiar with waiting for someone to tell our product complaints to, hoping that when someone finally answers, the person will be speaking our language so we can understand clearly what he/she is saying and will actually be able to listen to what we’re describing and carry on a real conversation with us - without reading aloud to us the exact scripted mechanical responses that were just said to the person who called that number with a complaint right before we did.


I attended a party and ate delicious quiche there. I asked the person who brought the quiche to the party, “Did you make the crust for the quiche or did you buy it ready-made?” She replied, “I didn’t do either. There's no actual pie crust. The recipe is made with ‘Fast-Bake’” (The brand name has been fictionalized for obvious anonymity protection and legal reasons.) I was so excited to learn this. The quiche tasted delicious; I had always loved quiche; I had never made quiche because I didn’t want to fool with buying or making piecrust; I had been cooking recipes with ‘Fast-Bake’ for more years than I could remember because I loved the flavor it added to the recipe and because it was so fast and easy to use; ‘FastBake’ was a family tradition; my grandmother baked with it; my mother baked with it … and like that.

Following the party, I became a “quiche maven” - baking quiche with ‘Fast-Bake’ every opportunity I could find. A few weeks later I was on the phone with a friend and told her that I had a wonderful new quiche recipe that required no piecrust. She was ecstatic. “Will you give me that recipe?” she asked. I answered, “Of, course, I will.” and began reading her the ingredients. When I got to ‘Fast-Bake’, she immediately and emphatically told me that she never uses ‘Fast-Bake’ because it contains harmful ingredients. I was shocked and said to her, “What are you talking about? I’ve been using ‘Fast-Bake’ for years. It’s a staple in my kitchen and I’m very health-conscious.” When I hung up the phone, I rushed to my pantry to read the ‘Fast-Bake’ ingredients and found among them, “partially hydrogenated oil” much to my surprise.

I buy zero products containing hydrogenated oils or so I thought. I've been using ‘Fast-Bake’ for so many years that it never entered my mind that this old reliable product would have such an unhealthy, undesirable ingredient.

"Hydrogenation of unsaturated fats produces saturated fats and, in some cases, trans fats."

You can read more about hydrogenation at

The next morning, as soon as the designated time zone allowed, I made a call to the customer phone number on the opened box of ‘Fast-Bake’ that was still in my pantry. The voice on the phone sounded like it belonged to a very young woman; she sounded like a child. I immediately let her know I was extremely upset and assured her that my comments were not directed to her personally. I let her know that ‘Fast-Bake’ is a product that I and my family have relied on for years. I told her my story and that I was calling to express how horrified I was that a venerable food product like ‘Fast-Bake’ contained hydrogenated oil. I let her know that I never purchased any food products with such an ingredient. I asked her to verify the date ‘Fast-Bake’ came into existence. She asked if she could place me on hold while she got this answer for me. I told her that I was happy to wait while she obtained the response to my question and that I didn’t want to be placed on hold while she searched for it. After a short wait, I learned from her that this product entered the marketplace in 1930, long before I was born. I said that I was wondering when ‘Fast-Bake’ first contained hydrogenated oil. She didn’t offer to get that information for me. She didn’t say anything else about that. I told her that I wanted to be sure the President of the Major Consumer Food Products Company that makes ‘Fast-Bake’ knew that I had called and that I was appalled about what I had learned about ‘Fast-Bake’ containing hydrogenated oil. She didn’t respond at all to this. The only repeated comments she made during the entire conversation were questions to verify my purchase of ‘Fast-Bake’ and my name and mailing address, and statements to let me know I would get a refund for the price of the small box of ‘Fast-Bake’ I had bought three days before. She made no comment when I told her that I always buy the large box, that I have bought many, many large boxes of ‘Fast-Bake’ over the years, and that a refund was far from why I had called that day.

When I hung up, I was very unsatisfied, even though a check was going to arrive in my mailbox in a day or two.

Here’s what was missing from her communication to me.



In a timeframe much shorter than the one in which she located the original date that ‘Fast-Bake’ was first produced, I was able to go to the Web to find and read the entire history of this product and how the ingredients were developed for it. To my surprise, there had always been hydrogenated oil in ‘Fast-Bake’ going all the way back to 1930. If I had known and understood this history and how the hydrogenated oil had been substituted originally for lard, I would have had an entirely different understanding of the product and would have been much less upset, even though I would probably still never purchase ‘Fast-Bake’ again. This was informative history that was readily available on the Internet that the customer service associate who worked for the company that makes ‘Fast-Bake’ didn’t even know or else chose not to tell me. It would not have changed my desire to eliminate hydrogenated food products from my purchases and from my diet. It would though have completely changed my emotional response on that call and the level of dissatisfaction with the conversation I had had.

Customer service representatives need to be well-informed. They need to know the relevant information and history of the company’s products. They represent the company to its customers. If all they are trained to do is give refunds and read/repeat scripts, they will only enrage and disengage people and eliminate customer loyalty and brand appreciation. It would be beneficial if they knew, understood and could distill information and provide clarification.


Offering me a refund for the one small box of ‘Fast-Bake’ that I had just purchased was a positive gesture that I could appreciate. It provided nothing though to assuage any of the feelings and reactions that prompted my phone call. What I wanted was to know I had been heard. What I wanted was to hear validations for my complaint. What I most wanted was two-way-human interaction and true dialog.

The following potential comments are the types of comments I would have loved to have heard that woman say when I described what I was calling for. Companies would get tremendous positive mileage from having customer service representatives who communicate, genuinely and specifically, like this:

“I hear how upsetting it is to you to learn suddenly that a product you have trusted for so long has ingredients in it that you feel are harmful.”

“We are so appreciative of your call and thank you for taking the time and making it a priority to speak up about something you care about very much.”

“It’s extremely important to us to know what our customers value. I will do everything I can to make sure our product managers and company executives learn about your concerns. I would also like to make sure that someone contacts you to discuss this in more detail with you since you have taken the time to share your concerns with us. Our highest goal is to be responsive to our customers.”

“What is your interest in participating in a product focus group to share your views openly with an objective market research group?”

“I can clearly understand your view about food products that contain hydrogenated oil. (There is NO “but” at this point in the response.) My understanding of this product is that the hydrogenated oils have always been in it since its inception back in 1930 in order to duplicate an old special recipe with lard in it that one of our executives learned about back in the day. Using the partially hydrogenated oil was the only way to reproduce this recipe for mass production without requiring refrigeration.”

Representatives who answer customer service phone lines are often the only personal contact consumers ever have with the supplier of products and services they purchase. What a golden opportunity lies in these human resources for companies to exploit their brands as fully as possible and to gain a customer connection that is solid and unbreakable. Most of the people in these customer service roles are extremely junior, poorly paid, badly trained, way under utilized, don’t actually know how to listen or demonstrate appropriately what they have heard, and worst of all, often are outsourced personnel who don't actually work directly for the company.

And wouldn’t you know it, the last thing this young woman said to me was, “No problem!” There it was again, that omnipresent hacknied expression meant to be positive, comprised of two negative words - one of which is problematic!

There are a great deal of excellent guidelines about validation in SPEAK EASY, The Communication Guide for Career and Life Success.

Until next time,
The Wordsmith

Friday, August 27, 2010

Speak Easy Note #34 - What's a Brother (Mother) to Say?

Dear Wordsmith,

I have two older brothers who are happily married and I have six nephews and nieces. I have a third brother who is also older but only two years older than I am. He is 26. He and I have always been extremely close. There is something going on right now with him and his girlfriend that is really bothering me and I don’t know if I should say anything to him or his girlfriend about this. My mother and I have talked about this – just between us – and she has the same worries as I have so I’m writing to ask for advice for her too.

Our family is very close and we all spend time together almost every weekend in our old family lodge in the mountains. Everyone loves my brother’s girlfriend, especially my little nieces and nephews, and we all think of her as a member of our family. My brother and she have been together for more than two years and she is three years older than he is. What she doesn’t know is that my brother thinks of her as someone he is happy to hang out with now but that he doesn’t really see her as someone he ever wants to marry. I think she would be devastated if she knew this. My family is very open with each other and very respectful of each other’s privacy, lifestyles and choices.

My mother and I have talked about this and she, too, adores this girlfriend and feels protective of her. My mom is always there for each of us if we need her or want to talk about anything but she has never interfered with any of our lives or choices and only gives us her opinions if we ask for them. She and I both feel that the girlfriend is clueless about my brother’s “position” and we’re very worried about her getting badly hurt. My mother and I don’t know whether to say or do anything about this situation. They have become very close. I would say she is closer to my mom than either of my two sisters-in-law has ever been. I know this is hurting my mother so much.

Torn Brother (and Worried Mom)


Dear Torn and Worried,

This is really a tough one. The dynamics in your family sound wonderful. The mutual respect and wonderful closeness you have for each other is a rare and precious treasure to protect above all else. I would say that this family anchor must be the basis for whatever you and your mother decide to do and to say.

Before tackling your communication challenge, I want to point out that it’s extremely likely that on some level the girlfriend knows exactly where she stands with your brother even if neither of them has spoken about this specifically at all. She, herself, may have chosen never to raise this topic so she can avoid facing it. She and your brother are not children and, as protective as you and your mother feel of her, she is a consenting adult, making her own life decisions without being forced. If you knew that your brother had a drug problem or another secret girlfriend, you would have a very different communication dilemma to face.

I can’t tell you or your mother whether to say anything to your brother or to his girlfriend. That is a decision each of you must make for yourselves. What I can tell you are the elements that I see as most important to consider and include if you decide you want to approach either of them to speak about this.

Let’s start with your brother. It’s important to remove judgment and anger from whatever you say to him. You’ve described a protective feeling for the girlfriend that can easily translate into a judgmental attack on your brother’s actions and decisions. It sounds like early marriage is the traditional choice in your family. Your brother may feel differently about this. He certainly is making other choices at the moment.

People in our country are getting married for the first time at much later ages than in prior history.

“The median age for a man's first marriage was 27.7 years in 2007, up from 26.1 in 1990. The median age for a woman's first marriage was 26.0 years in 2007, up from 23.9 in 1990.”

Whatever you say to him, it’s very important that you and your mother refrain from saying anything that can come across like,
“I think what you’re doing is wrong.”

“I think you should ….”

“You are a bad person for ….”

It will be much better if you can make the premise of your communications focused on expressing your feelings about the situation:
“I want to describe the reactions and feelings I’m having …”

“I just want to let you know that I’m worried about …”

“It is hard for me to feel like ‘Her-Name’ has become a part of our family and at the same time know that you don’t want to marry her.”

It will also be beneficial to include loving, open-ended, (non-judgmental) inquiry such as:
“It would help tremendously to know more about how you see this.”

“What is it like for you knowing how much we love ‘Her-Name’ and feeling like you don’t want to marry her?”

“What are your feelings about ‘Her-Name’ getting hurt because you don’t want to marry her?”

If you or your mother decide to speak to the girlfriend to express your feelings and concerns, it's very important to let your brother know that you have decided to communicate your feelings to his girlfriend.

It may be that you can privately and individually express your feelings in a very simple and loving way to the girlfriend to reduce how torn and worried you both are without making an issue out of the problem you and your mother see so clearly. You can say something like:
Her-Name, I wanted to tell you how much I love you and how wonderful it is to have you share so much of our family time with us. Whatever the future holds for you and Brother/Son #3, I will always care about you and want to have the kind of closeness we have now. I care about your feelings very much and want your life to be all that you want it to be.”

Of course, if you say anything like this, it could open the door for her to ask if you have made this comment because you have an opinion about whether she and he will be married in the future. You can express your feelings then if you want to answer her honestly or you can say that you're very respectful of your brother’s (son’s) personal life and think this is a private subject between the two of them. If you do want to have a fuller conversation with her you can ask her if she wants to talk about what she's experiencing and feeling about all of this.

Listening and validating will be the main elements for a conversation with her.  Expressing your concern and care is the goal.  Avoid giving advice to her about any of this.  These are decisions for your brother (son) and his girlfriend to make and theirs alone.

The fact that you and your mom can talk about this with each other may be the best outcome altogether.  It may be that this is a situation that can take its course without your or your mother's participation; sometimes it's better to refrain from communicating. There's always an appropriate way to say everything.  Often when we hold things in that are bothering us, it can be damaging to ourselves and to our relationships.  So, deciding whether to speak about this is the first big decision.  The communication part will be much easier than the decision actually. 

SPEAK EASY, The Communication Guide for Career and Life Success has many relevant sections for your current communication challenges. Chapter Three, “There’s a Good Way to Say Everything” will be especially helpful to you and your mother in deciding if, how and what to say about your family situation.

Happy end of summer!

Until next time,
The Wordsmith

Friday, August 20, 2010

Speak Easy Note #33 - Refusing a Promotion Because of "The Jerk"

Dear Wordsmith,

I have been asked to take on a new responsibility at work that I am very wary of accepting for a variety of reasons:
#1 - This added responsibility will basically double my workload.
#2 - There has been zero mention of any salary increase for accepting this role.
#3 - The person I will be reporting to is known for her out-of-bounds control problem and has a reputation for imposing unsubstantiated views, implementing disorganized business practices and spreading blatant destructive lies.

If I could report to my current boss without any dotted line connection to this other manager; if I could hire an assistant to focus 100 % of his or her time on the new work and if I could get a substantial raise, I would agree to accept the new responsibility. Otherwise I am not at all willing to say yes. There is basically a big crisis that brought about this request. I am known as a loyal problem-solver who has a very dedicated team behind me. I think they really need me to save the day so I feel like I am in a position to ask for what I want. On-the-other-hand, I know it is a difficult timeframe in the job market right now so I am still hesitant to risk my job by refusing their request. One thing is for sure, there is absolutely no way I will agree to this if I have to report to “The Jerk” so please give me some good advice on how to negotiate well for myself and how to refuse altogether if I can’t get what I want. Oh, yes, I left out something important. Even though everyone in the company hates this woman, she basically has the company President totally wrapped around her little finger.

Pressured Loyal Manager

Dear Pressured,

This is quite a delicate crossroads you are facing. How you communicate will most likely be much more important than the actual content of your communications or decision you make. At the same time that you’re feeling a lot of pressure about how to respond to this request, you’re expressing tremendous clarity about exactly what you want to convey, what you want to do and what you will not do under any circumstances. Clarity is the key to good communication and to making the decisions that are right for you. Ambivalence can be the biggest obstacle to moving forward successfully and you have expressed zero ambivalence in what you have written. Bravo!

Let’s look at the elephant in the room in this situation. It’s obvious from what you’ve written that everyone knows how difficult "The Jerk" is to work with and work for. Most likely, no one will take her on or discuss this with the President. For many years, research has demonstrated that a rocky relationship with the boss and weak management are always among the top reasons cited for why people quit their jobs.

Here are just a couple of the many links to this type of researched data:

It sounds like there are key reasons you have been selected for this role that are separate from your professional expertise and experience. You are the “loyal problem-solver” and people like to work for you. It is quite likely that it’s because of your steadfastness, strong leadership and steady work ethic that you’ve been asked to take on this responsibility. You may be seen as THE person who can fix the “big crisis” while standing up to - and keeping people calm who work for - “The Jerk”.

Basically, you have already identified exactly what the main factors are that you want to communicate. You know the precise conditions that must be incorporated for you to be able to say yes. Here are three critical elements that will contribute to making your communications successful.

No matter how intimidating, discouraging, inappropriate or frustrating other people’s communications are, keep all of your own communications on an even keel. Let people know you have heard them. Acknowledge what others are saying. Leave out the “but” when you acknowledge what you have heard.

Speak to everyone with professionalism and as a respected equal.

The language you choose to present what is required for you to be able to accept this added workload is particularly important. You can remain clear and strong without stating demands. Avoid any comments that have these qualities to them:
“There is absolutely no way I would …”
"If you can't agree to ... , I will have no choice but to ..."
and choose instead comments that have this basic perspective:
“This is exactly how I can accomplish our required goals...”
“I will be able to do this if these important conditions are incorporated.”

The view you have on this right now feels like one of how daunting and impossible this situation seems to you. Your current perspectives of either “refusing and demanding” or “succumbing and giving in” are creating distortion and keeping you from seeing and experiencing the path to resolution. As soon as you can replace those perspectives with
“Here’s how we can meet this challenge successfully...”
you will be able to experience the situation differently and communicate effectively:
“The way to make this happen is…”
“What is required for success is …”
“Here are the exact components I require to do this the right way.”

Let’s take these three critical elements and apply them to
“If I could report to my current boss who I get along with so well without any dotted line connection to this other manager; if I could hire an assistant to focus 100 % of his or her time on the new work and if I could get a substantial raise, I would agree to accept the new responsibility."

“I am quite respectful of our current challenge and appreciate that you have chosen me to lead the way out of our demanding situation. I have given this careful thought and have defined what I see as necessary conditions to be able to achieve this as quickly and as successfully as possible. As I see it, these are the specific components required to do this the right way:
> Report to ( current boss) without dotted line connection to (other manager)
> Hire assistant to focus 100 % of his or her time on (new work )
> ##% increase in compensation to balance ##% increase in responsibility
> (And there may be other components that you did not include in your request.)"

There are many solid communication approaches that will increase the potential of a good outcome. You certainly may want to work closely with a coach to ensure your tone and message delivery match your intention and goals. If you convey that you’re angry or judgmental in any way, you will diminish your professionalism and weaken your positioning. If you decide that you can express what you want without a coach’s input, make sure you practice what you’re going to say with someone first who can give you objective confidential feedback on how you’re coming across.

Your strongest approach can be one of making this happen the right way. Ultimately, your final communication may end up being a well thought-out strategic refusal. The best we can ever be is when we are true to ourselves.

Once again, I am connecting your request with several sections of SPEAK EASY, The Communication Guide for Career and Life Success. In particular, you might be most interested in Chapters 8, “Refusing the Right Way” and Chapter 11, “Getting What You Want”

Until next time,
The Wordsmith

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Speak Easy Note #32 - Managing Unexpected Feelings

Dear Wordsmith,

I have had a sudden unexpected reaction to an unfolding complicated family situation. My daughter has recently given birth to a precious baby son. I have been divorced from her father for over twenty years; he has been re-married for less than a year. Even though my daughter, her husband and the new baby live in the same town as my former husband and his new wife, our daughter wants to have the christening and a party here next spring in Maryland where she and her husband grew up and where many close friends and most of the extended family live. There will be a church christening and I would like for the party afterward to be in my home. I live in a renovated carriage house that is a wonderful space for large parties. I decided that I would like to ask my former husband and his new wife to host this party with me. My daughter is very happy about this. My daughter’s husband’s parents are no longer living.

I realize that this is a delicate situation since the second wife and I have never spoken to each other nor had any contact whatsoever. My daughter and I asked my former husband to discuss this possibility with his wife and she was surprisingly receptive. What never crossed my mind was that his wife would immediately begin to start planning and making arrangements for this party without my participation or involvement. I find myself full of strong reactions and unanticipated emotions. Please help me figure out how to communicate what I want to say and what I actually want to do about this. I would not want a party in my own home for the new baby to be planned and hosted by my former husband and his wife without having an equal footing. Thanks for giving thought to my situation and to providing ways for me to handle all of this. I realize that this is going to be very emotional no matter which decisions we make.

Emotionally Surprised Former Wife


Dear Surprised,

What a complex and layered situation. Let's see if we can examine some of these layers individually so that you can weigh what you want to say and do. My goal will be to provide objective perspective to what you have described. The key, of course, will be managing these unexpected and completely natural emotions through direct, open and authentic communication choices.

The good news is you have time to make adjustments in the interactions between you and wife #2 and to create mutually comfortable adaptations in how this event will be planned and orchestrated - and where it will take place.

I'd like to address the concept of “equal footing” with you. There really is no equal footing here. She is married to your former husband. You are not. You are the natural mother of the daughter. She is not. The party will take place in your home and your community, not hers, not theirs. So, you see, the most basic components that make up the foundation for this event are without equality or equal footing – as is almost everything in life. The ways in which we feel diminished by others or left out of certain equations can be particularly strong when it comes to family events in families where there is divorce. These are the times when we must come face-to face with our own sense of self-worth, with our comfort with who we are, and with our acceptance of our life choices. The stronger you feel about yourself and the stronger your relationship is with your daughter, the more easily you will be able to find acceptance in the dynamics and needs of the second wife, tolerance for the unfolding of the planning process and ease in communicating what you want to say.

As life’s milestones occur - marriages, births, special achievements, illnesses, deaths - there will be a variety of times when your path will cross with wife #2. If there is a way for you to find common ground for cordiality and for being together in a comfortable way, it would certainly be preferable to the zero-contact arrangement you have had up until now. What better time than planning a family celebration to forge a new dynamic. Opening the doors of communication to plan a party will be a worthy ambition.

The first step is to share the reactions you have had. It is important to feel legitimate about your feelings and express them without ultimatums like, “I won’t allow a party in my home if I’m not equally hosting and planning it.” Rather, by simply stating that you have had some unexpected reactions, you are starting the necessary communications to get to a new and better place. Without demands, you can state that it is important to you to contribute in a meaningful way to the planning and hosting of the party and you want to find the path to make that feel right for everyone.

If there were a simple way for you and wife #2 to be together with others present such as your former husband, your daughter and/or her husband, as an initial way to share time and begin conversation, this would be wonderful. If you could put a few ideas together that feel comfortable to you such as, “I would like to provide the flowers for this party.” “I would like to have my name included in the invitation.” “Here’s what is very important to me for the party to be in my home: …” One of the most important elements of these conversations will be to listen and then validate and acknowledge what she is saying. Letting her know you have heard what is important to her is very different from saying that you agree with her or that you are agreeing to do what she wants. And, of course, it is very important to make sure that the word, “but” does not follow those acknowledgments. “Let’s keep talking so that we can make this happen!” is the communication approach for these conversations.

Of course, there may be another element altogether. If either you are or she is unwilling or unable to “engage” with each other because of control issues, unmanageable emotions or lack of emotional stability altogether, then there may be little hope for a good outcome. If you see that you cannot come together to talk about and plan this event, the likelihood of a jointly hosted party may be nonexistent. And so you may want to make other decisions about the party’s location and/or who will be hosting it.

The opening three chapters of  SEAK EASY, The Communication Guide for Career and Life Success  will be very helpful to you in bolstering your communications for this challenging timeframe and situation. Chapter 11, “Getting What You Want” may be particularly helpful as well.

Until next time,
The Wordsmith

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Speak Easy Note #31 - The Trouble With Email

Dear Wordsmith,

I need your help. A good friend of mine is in declining health. She really can’t live alone anymore but she’s having a hard time facing that truth. She pretty much needs care round the clock and independent living is no longer an option. Her two sisters and one brother live in three different locations, each several hundred miles away. She has lived alone up until now and owns her home. The house is in severe disrepair because of her declining health and is basically under water because of the current real estate market and downturned economy. In addition to being her only remaining long-term friend, I have held Power of Attorney for her for several years and have always advised her in any way that I can, including assisting her to get services and disability support. Her family members have started to direct the situation from afar and want me to do all of the grunt work behind the scenes while they make sure the will and insurance are lined up well for each of them. They have all been extremely rude to me, with one of the sisters issuing instructions and proclamations via email. I have had it with her judgment, verbal abuse and disrespect. Because of her family, I recently decided that I can no longer hold Power of Attorney for my friend and I’ve stopped responding to the sister’s attacking emails altogether. The sister had wanted me to participate in a meeting they had scheduled with an attorney even though I’m sure they are well-aware that my views are radically different from all three of the siblings. I had no intention of attending that meeting and I let her know via email reply that the timing was wrong for me and I would not be able to attend. The response I got back from her attacking me for not being able to make time for the meeting was the last straw. There must be a better way to handle all of this but I feel unprepared and extremely uncomfortable about any further communication with these demanding and rude people.

Fed-Up Friend


Dear Fed-Up,

Your reaction to the rude communication of your friend’s sister is easily understandable. Your choice to avoid communication with this sister altogether is certainly one way of sending a message. There are some important ingredients that seem to be missing from your responses that may make a desired difference in this quite difficult communication challenge. It feels like the number one concern that you would want as your highest priority is your sick friend’s well- being and that the awful behavior of her family may be keeping that priority from staying in the number one position where you would want it to be. Also, since there are legal and financial issues involved here, it is especially tricky. You have already made a good decision to resolve one of those. Removing yourself from being Power of Attorney eliminates a good number of potential complications. As long as you are confident that your friend is being well-protected and well-taken care of without your having Power of Attorney for her, then your choice is a good one.

If you decide that you want to communicate further with the sister, I would recommend having direct communications by phone or in person if she is in town. It is possible that the sister will be equally rude and offensive via telephone or in person. The potential for this is low. People choose to be rude in writing in ways they would never be in a direct communication. Sometimes this is purposeful. Often it is not. People can be unaware of the impact of their style of writing. They become used to writing in a cryptic manner to manage their time. Additionally, email is often interpreted in ways that are extremely different from the writer’s intentions which is also true in verbal spoken communication. In email this can be exaggerated because there is no tone of voice at all and the reader can hear any tone that matches the reader’s perspective of the writer’s intended message. This can contribute to an escalation of negative communication interpretation on both sides.

Apart from rude and abusive communication which is never appropriate, desirable or warranted, there are still ways you may have contributed to the evolution of these communications. You say, “even though I’m sure they are well-aware that my views are radically different” (which is an assumption) without indicating that you stated clearly and specifically to the sister that out of respect you chose not to attend the meeting because you know how different your views are from theirs and you did not want either to refrain from expressing those views in the meeting or add to the difficulty of making decisions by expressing views that were so different from theirs. When you indicated that you would be unable to attend at that time, you actually opened the door for criticism and for attack. Whether or not the time of the meeting worked for you, you avoided saying clearly that you had decided that it was wrong for you to attend the meeting altogether and that you would not be there for that reason. The sister’s rudeness may certainly have been just as extreme following these amended communication suggestions but you would have been in a much stronger position and certainly would have been more authentic, communicating in a way that respectfully, directly and clearly stated your truth.

Avoiding communication because it is uncomfortable can weigh heavily over time. Initiating direct and respectful communication that clears the air and gives everyone the chance to speak and be heard can be extremely valuable and satisfying. There are certainly circumstances when it is better to avoid communication with certain individuals at all costs and where the cost/benefit ratio is simply not worth the effort. The fact that you requested help would be an indication that you want to be able to handle this situation or others like it differently. Working with a coach over time may be quite beneficial. It takes time and work to develop new communication skills and it is difficult to be objective about your own communications.

SPEAK EASY, The Communication Guide for Career and Life Success could be very helpful to you, particularly Chapter 8, “Refusing the Right Way”.

Until next time,
The Wordsmith