Happiness isn’t Happenstance, It’s a Choice

puppy smilingI woke up feeling happy this morning.

Yes, it was partly because my first conscious thought was, “I have the day off  today!” However, it was also because I chose to be happy–

despite the fact that my cat woke me up sharpening her dagger claws on my hip,

despite the puppy pee I had to clean up from my foster puppy, and

despite the fact that I burned my breakfast. . . twice, because I have “shiny thing syndrome” and kept getting distracted.

We all have the ability to be happy.

You may have seen a television commercial featuring a mother who is beaming over the fact that her son is using his straw to blow bubbles in his chocolate milk, causing it to overflow the glass and spill on the table. When I first saw this commercial, I thought, “What a joke, I’d be ticked off if my kid did that.” In fact, the first several times I saw the commercial I made negative, inappropriate comments about that mother.

However, looking at the commercial again this morning, in my already established state of happiness, I chose to see it differently. The mother wasn’t happy about the spill, but about the fact that older son was bringing joy to his baby brother, who was joyfully laughing at the bubbles. Of course, this is a scripted commercial, but it reminded me that we can look at a situation and see it negatively, and therefore feel angry, upset, or frustrated, or we can look at the same situation positively and find humor and happiness.

Happiness is a choice.

Since we can choose our own thoughts, which are where happiness originates, we can choose to be happy. Below is a short documentary film entitled, “Seeking Happiness”. The filmmaker, Ariel Lepito, made the film as part of her senior mastery project last year. This insightful film is one I continue to watch to remind me that happiness can be found in many places, if we just choose to look for it.

Enjoy! (BTW, Julia and Sophia are my nieces and Ariel is their cousin!)

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30 Customer Service Mistakes that Will Cost You Business

For the past 30 days, I’ve been keeping track of customer service flaws, mistakes, errors, and omissions I’ve experienced. Since I’ve always considered myself an equal-opportunity critic, I’ve also taken note of my own mistakes as a customer service provider to my clients.

When I first started this “project,” my goal was to identify an error each day that would likely cause a customer to either stop doing business with an organization, or at least consider it.

In the end, I easily averaged three to four customer service mistakes each day. After eliminating “repeat” errors, here are my top 30 mistakes accumulated in only 30 days.

Which customer service mistakes will you admit to, and more importantly, what are you going to do to avoid them in the future so you keep your customers?

1. Not returning calls at all

2. Not returning calls when your voicemail SAYS you will (by close of business, within 24 hours, etc.)

3. Not keeping promises or commitments

4. Making promises you KNOW you can’t keep

5. Trying to justify or rationalized poor service to your customer

6. Hiring (and/or keeping) staff with bad attitudes or poor service skills

7. Blaming the customer

8. Being inaccessible to your customers

9. Responding to complaints with excuses

10. Placing “policy” before “service”

11. Waiting until after a deadline or commitment date has passed to let your customer know there’s a problem or delay

12. Not following up

13. Not treating all customers equally (cost of services, adherence to policies/procedures, etc.)

14. Failing to listen

15. Skipping basic, common courtesies such as “please,” “thank you,” etc.

16. Blaming a coworker or employee to avoid taking responsibility for a mistake

17. Poor product or service knowledge

18. Poor eye contact

19. Bringing your “baggage” with you to work (fight with spouse translates to rudeness with customers)

20. Hitting customers over the head with baggage you’ve carried over from a previous customer interaction

21. Employees socializing with each other and ignoring customers

22. Inconsistency in any aspect of business

23. Keeping callers on hold for more than 60 seconds

24. Multiple telephone transfers

25. Criticizing or reprimanding employees in front of customers

26. Calling a customer, “Hun,” “Sweetie,” or another “term of endearment”

27. Holding an in-depth conversation with “sir,” or “ma’am” and not bothering to ask (and use) the person’s name

28. Presuming to call a customer by his or her first name

29. Having a long voicemail greeting or an automated, multi-optioned phone answering system

30. Having a long, automated, multi-optioned phone answering system that either disconnects the call when the caller presses zero or starts the whole announcement over again

If you have any other customer service mistakes you’d like to add to this list- comment and let me know!


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4 Easy Steps for Expressing Your Feelings

When you were a child and were angry, upset, hurt, or frustrated, you probably didn’t have the words to express how you felt. It’s a rare three-year-old who can say,

“Mother, I’m infuriated and disillusioned with your decision to deny me that chocolate torte for my midday repast.”

angry kidInstead, a child will huff and puff, scream, cry, throw things, and otherwise have a temper tantrum.

So now that you’re an adult and have the vocabulary to express yourself, are you doing so, or are you still acting like a three-year-old?

Most of us don’t have full-blown temper tantrums, but we’re still using some of the same techniques we’ve used since we were children:

angry man. - Screaming and yelling

- Sarcasm

- Name-calling

- Dropping hints

- The “silent treatment”

None of these methods usually result in a positive outcome.

Those who don’t use any of the above methods and instead just let things go, or keep feelings bottled-up inside, still end up with less-than-desirable results.

It’s time to stop acting out our feelings or supressing them and start expressing them appropriately.

Using a four-step “I Language” statement allows us to communicate how we feel in a way that is clear, specific, and non-defensive. It’s the best chance we have for letting others really know how we feel and for getting an appropriate response from them.

To deliver an effective “I Language” statement, we should:

1. Describe the other person’s behavior.

2. Express your feelings about the behavior.

3. Explain the behavior’s consequences.

4. Make a request for future behavior.


1. Describe the other person’s behavior.

When describing the person’s behavior, be sure to specifically describe the behavior and leave out judgments and evaluations.

“You’ve been fifteen minutes late three times this week.” This statement is specific and factual—assuming you’re telling the truth.

“You’re a slacker and aren’t doing your fair share.” This statement is nonspecific and judgmental.

When we’re specific and nonjudgmental in describing people’s behavior, it’s difficult for them to argue or get defensive about something that’s true. When we use nonspecific or judgmental language, the conversation is likely to deteriorate, because when judged, most people become angry and defensive.

2. Express your feelings about the behavior.

When expressing feelings, we should begin with, “I am …” or “I feel …” and not “You make me …”

Taking responsibility for our feelings is also less likely to create a defensive response than blaming others for making us feel a certain way.

3. Explain the behavior’s consequences.

It’s important that people know the consequences of their behavior for themselves, you, the organization, customers, or others. Negative consequences can be a strong motivator for changing poor behavior. There may be instances in which a person’s behavior has several consequences. We don’t need to list them all, but we should be sure to list the ones that are most important or relevant to the situation.

4. Make a request for future behavior.

When making a request, be specific in describing the desired future behavior. In some instances, the request is implied. However, more often than not, we need to let people clearly know exactly what we need from them in the future. If the person already knew what was appropriate or what we needed, he or she would likely already be doing it. Sometimes we just need to spell it out.


“When you drive 75 miles per hour in a 65 mile per hour zone (behavior), I get frightened (feeling), because we could get into an accident (consequences), I need you to either slow down, or please let me drive (request).”

“You’ve been fifteen minutes late three times this week.(behavior) I’m frustrated(feelings) about having to answer two phones, and I’m worried (feelings) that you’re going to get into trouble with the boss because she came by looking for you this morning.(consequences) I covered for you today, but I need you to be here at eight o’clock from now on, because I can’t continue to cover for you. (request)”

Notice the second example includes two expressions of emotions, because there are times when we may have several emotions about a situation; we could be both angry with someone and worried about the consequences. We can reveal one or several emotions based on what we feel the other person needs to know.


talk w friendThe beauty of “I Language” is its clarity.

There’s no need to scream it, hint it, or use sarcasm to get it across. For those who would suppress their feelings because they don’t know how to express them, “I Language” provides a simple formula for emotional expression.

When you state your feelings calmly, but seriously, using “I Language,” the person with whom you’re sharing your feelings will truly be able to hear them, because they won’t be distracted by your delivery, or defensive because you’ve “attacked” him or her.


Using “I Language” to assert our emotions can help in numerous interpersonal situations: from sending back a meal at a restaurant, to communicating with a spouse; from dealing with a customer service provider over the phone, to interacting with coworkers.

Being specific about the problem, clearly expressing our own feelings, and calmly explaining the potential undesired results helps to create better communication and more ownership of a solution from both parties.

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This Year, Resolve to Remove These Filler Words From Your Communication

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Published on: January 5, 2014

Being concise and to the point helps improve the quality of your communication, whether in writing, on the phone, or in person.

Working with college-bound students forced to write within specific word limits on their applications has shown me how easy it is to “say it” in 5 words instead of 25.

Additionally, many words and phrases have snuck into our language that are completely unnecessary (Hah! There’s one!)

Here are just a few of these words/phrases, also known as “Pleonasms,” that I’ve heard or read in the past few weeks.

Although omitting these words might sound short or abrupt at first, be assured, you can eliminate them from your communication without any negative impact to your message.

Phrase (Becomes)

Absolutely necessary (Necessary)

A.M. in the morning (A.M.)

At a later time (Later)

Close proximity (Close)

Desirable benefits (Benefits)

During the course of (During)

Each and every (Each, Every)

Eliminate altogether (Eliminate)

Estimate about (Estimate)

First and Foremost (First)

Future recurrence (Recurrence)

Independent of each other (Independent)

In order to (To)

Joint collaboration (Collaboration)

Might possibly (Might)

My personal opinion (My opinion)

New innovation (Innovation)

Originally created (Created)

Plan ahead (Plan)

Reply back to me (Reply)

Same exact (Same)

Still persists (Persists)

Truly sincere (Sincere)

Ultimate goal (Goal)

Vascillate back and forth (Vascillate)

Whether or not (Whether)

Can you think of others?


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5 Communication Tips for Surviving Thanksgiving and Other Holiday Gatherings

avoid holiday conflictThanksgiving is the kick-off to the holiday season. It’s often the first chance for family and friends to gather in large groups and enjoy each other’s company.

Unfortunately, holiday gatherings can also be a communication challenge for many families.

Trying to do and say the “right” thing, meet others’ expectations, and deal with family members lack of tact and timing, can turn what should be a fondly remembered holiday get together into a nightmare experience people will talk about for years.

Following a few simple communication tips and maybe setting some ground rules before everyone arrives can help make holiday gatherings positive events everyone will remember.


1. Turn the phones off. Unless you’re expecting a call from an absent family member,  such as a service member who is overseas, try to get everyone to agree to shut off their phones– at least for the holiday meal, if not for the entire day. If you’re the host or hostess, you need to set the example. Don’t jump up from the dinner table to answer a call, or text under the table. Encourage everyone to take advantage of the opportunity to really spend time connecting with those in attendance. If you are expecting a call from an out-of-town relative, put him or her on speaker so everyone can touch base.


2. Don’t use holiday gatherings as a forum for self-disclosure. It may be tempting to take this opportunity, especially after you’ve had a few glasses of wine, to:

- Tell your mother-in-law what you really think about her meddling or

- Your brother what you think about his new Jaguar that he can’t stop talking about, or

- To tell everyone that you’re getting divorced


Resist the urge. At best, you’ll put a major damper on the entire event, at worst, you’ll cause a conflict to erupt, with people taking sides, and a lot of emotion, with no one really prepared to handle it properly.

These conversations should be handled at another time and probably don’t need to have the entire family, especially children, involved.


family fight

3. Don’t bring up potential “sore subjects.” If your brother lost his job, your niece was stopped for speeding for the fifth time, or it’s time for an elderly parent to start thinking about assisted living, don’t use the dinner table as the forum to discuss it.

Sometimes these subjects come up innocently. Other times, there’s a motive behind the inquiry- embarrassing someone, making oneself feel superior, or ambusing grandma when all your siblings are there to support you.

Regardless of your reason, bringing up such questions at the dinner table or mid-celebration is a no-no. If you’re concerned about a family member’s welfare, talk with him or her privately at another time.


4. Don’t criticize. If the turkey is dry or you don’t like green Jell-O salad with shaved carrots, you don’t have to lie, just don’t eat it.  Don’t say “It tastes like shoe leather,” or “It looks like alien innards! I’m not eating that.” Nothing will be served by you giving your opinion- especially once everyone is seated at the table and the meal is served.

Additionally, now is not the time to show how smart you are. Does it really matter that your sister-in-law is serving white wine in red wine glasses? Probably not. If you want to educate her with your wine expertise, tell her privately at another time.

Finally, if the cook or host pushes as you for the “truth,” try, “It might be a tiny bit dry, but your gravy is so good, it doesn’t matter,” or “No thanks, I don’t want to fill up. I’m saving room for the pumpkin pie.”


5. If confronted or criticized, respond graciously. If you’re the one who lost your job, got a speeding ticket, or overcooked the turkey and someone is impolite enough to confront you, it’s your choice how to respond.

If you want to discuss your job search because you think a relative can help, then do it. However, if you don’t want to discuss your problems, simply change the subject, saying, “Why don’t we talk about that later, right now I just want to enjoy this great dressing.” You might also want to pull the confronter/critic aside later and ask him or her not to bring up your personal issues in front of others, even family.

Finally, if people criticize your cooking, say cheerfully and with utmost sincerity, “You may be right. Your turkey is always so juicy. Why don’t you make the turkey next year?” If critics can do a better job, then let them and save yourself some work.


When all else fails, remember that you have a choice—whether you choose to exercise it or not—as to whom you invite to your home or whose home you go to for the holidays. If a person is going to cause misery at your family gathering, this might be the year to take a break or make a break from him or her. For help with this, see my blog post Get Rid of Dead Weight Once and For All.

Happy Thanksgiving!  Here’s hoping your holiday gathering is joyful and conflict free.

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Communicating Across the Generation Gap (Part 2 of a 2 Part Series)

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Published on: October 27, 2013

Last week’s post focused on identifying and understanding the five generations in the workplace. Now that you’re able to identify the generation a coworker represents, here are some specific guidelines for bridging the generation gap at work.


Learning to adapt your communication style to those with whom you communicate is an important key to success in the workplace. Although I’ll provide some tips below for communicating with each generation, here are some general guideslines for communication that will work with anyone in any generation.

generations1. Understand a person’s generational characteristics, but avoid stereotyping.

2. Communicate respectfully and choose your words wisely.

3. Listen well and with an open mind.


- Communicate directly and follow formal communication procedures

- Have in-person, face-to-face conversations whenever possible

- Be honest, but be polite

- Show respect for their experience and the traditions they helped create

- If you call, be sure to call their office phones, not their cell phones, unless they’ve specifically invited you to do so

- Show them the benefits to the greater good of the team or organization


Baby boomers

- Involve them in problem solving, they love a challenge
- Believe them when they say, I’m here for you if you need help- they’re great team players
- Give them time to make decisions, they like to do their homework and won’t make decisions impulsively
- Praise them for their accomplishments and give them opportunities to be involved in projects that will help them advance their careers, which is important to them
- Focus on what’s fair to everyone
- Focus on the bottom line

- Communicate face-to-face or via telephone


Gen X

- Show them WIIFT (What’s In It For Them), such as achievement of personal goals or benefits
- Prove your ability, they won’t care about your title or position
- Focus on outcomes and avoid micromanaging
- Give them the flexibility in scheduling whenever possible
- Provide plenty of opportunities for interactive communication
- Communicate informally, but personally


Generation Y

- Focus on the positives
- Show understanding of their 24/7 digital lifestyle
- Inspire them
- Provide opportunities for collaborative problem solving
- Include them
- Provide variety, the get bored easily
- Expect feedback and reinforcement, they want to know their input matters
- Focus on goals and outcomes, not rules and procedures
- If procedures must be followed, explain why
- Use technology to communicate, they’re more likely to respond than if you leave a voicemail

Generation 9/11

Communicate in the same way as you would Generation Y, with special attention to Gen 9/11′s need for personal security.





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Identifying Generations in Your Workplace (Part 1 of a 2 Part Series)

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Published on: October 16, 2013

The first step in bridging the workplace generation gap is understanding that you have one and how extensive it is. By identifying your employees’ generations (no, don’t ask how old they are), you can take the first steps toward bringing your team together. Next week, we’ll identify specific steps for bridging the generation gap at work.


generationsFrom Harvard Business Review to Ezine, articles abound in print and on the internet about “Generations in the Workplace.” Some say there are five and other say four. Date ranges and the names of each generation vary depending on which article you read.

The one thing that is constant though, is the fact that there are generational differences in the workplace and they can impact the productivity and morale of your employees. Managers, team leaders, and even informal leaders need to be aware of the differences in these generations in the same way they need to be sensitive to gender, cultural, racial, and ability differences, not only from a legal standpoint (I won’t be going there today), but to ensure the team functions optimally.


Traditionals (Also known as the GI Generation, Greatest Generation, and other names)-These are the folks who are still in the workplace whose formative years were in the early 1960s and earlier. Their generation is known for a strong work ethic, dedication to the organization, patriotism, fiscal conservatism, and social conservatism. They remain in the workforce for many reasons- from financial to self fulfillment. They are also concerned with being replaced by younger workers.

Baby Boomers (Also known as Baby Boomers)- This huge generation was born during the post World War II troop return. Their formative years were approximately in the mid 60′s to mid 70′s. They faced large classroom populations and were the first to have to really “compete” for positions on teams and for employment. They are a hard working generation that works long hours. Working their way up the corporate ladder, achieving success, and being recognized for it is important to them. They helped create the workplace hierarchies that are still in place in many large organizations today and they like people to follow the “chain of command” and to respect their “rank.”

Generation X (Also known as Generation Me)- Generation X spent it’s formative years in the 80′s. Generation Xers were often left to raise themselves as their Boomer parents worked long hours. This generation was a “latch key” generation, not having mom waiting for them with milk and cookies when they came home from school. Gen Xers saw their parents’ dedication to organizations rewarded with layoffs and lost pensions, so they’re generally distrustful of “institutions.” Gen X was also the first generation to experience widespread divorce. Their new home life and self-direction created a generation that is self-sufficient and self-focused. Their motto could be, “Look out for yourself, because no one else will!” Gen X is also the most entrepenurial generation of all the generations and their need for autonomy and independence has seen them create a more efficient, “flat,” creative, and open work environment.

Generation Y (Also known as Generation Y2K, Generation Next, Generation Tech, and The Millenials)- This generation spent it’s formative years in in the early 90′s to early 2000. They are the first generation to truly grow up with much of today’s technology. Most had access to computers before they set foot in school and are not only comfortable, but are lost without technology in all parts of their lives. They’ve never gotten up to change the channel on a television or “dialed” a telephone. Their younger Boomer and Gen X parents took a 180 in childrearing by giving them a voice and focusing on their self esteem, to make up for the lack of attention they received from their own parents. As a result, the people of Gen Y feel free to give their opinions, expect to be treated like equals, and expect to be rewarded for their actions. Everyone gets a blue ribbon after all. They are confident and expect to be challenged at work. If they don’t get what they need, they’ll have no qualms about going elsewhere to find it, not matter how long (or short) their tenure with your organization.

Generation 9/11 (Also known as Generation Y.2)- Had the September 11th attacks not occurred, this generation would be solidly part of Generation Y. However, the massive impact of the events on that day split this generation. Generation 9/11 has grown up in a world with tight airport security, the threat of terrorist attack and a lot of uncertainty due to the economic situation in the world. Although the full story of this generation is not yet known, since only a few of them are in the workforce, this generation is already showing signs of being less optimistic than other generations. They are much more likely to seek “security” in life rather than take risks. Many of them are even forgoing advanced education and instead are entering the workforce directly after high school.


These are the five generations you’re working with today- whether on the job, or in community organizations. Based on what you’ve read so far, how do you think the generational differences outlined above impact your working relationships?

Next week: Tips for Working in a Multigenerational Team or Organization!






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What Your Choice of Typeface Says About You

Most people don’t put much thought into what typeface they use when sending an email or creating a document.

Some might avoid Comic in a professional correspondence and instead select Arial or Times New Roman, but beyond that, I’ll bet most people have never even considered what their choice of typeface says about them.

Well, employers have. In fact, companies who used to turn to handwriting experts to “analyze” job applicants through their hand-written applications, are now looking at the typeface applicants select for correspondence and resumes to learn more about the applicant than the words on the page will tell them. To back up the legitimacy of using typeface to learn about an applicant’s skills, habits, and personality, a recent study by researchers at Wichita State University has revealed that your typeface can reflect your personality type, mood, and attitude.

Here is what the researchers found and what you might be communicating if you use some of these common typefaces.

Times New Roman

Indicates you are stable, polite, conformist, mature, formal, and practical. Times New Roman is a great choice for business and technical documents, web text, online news and tests, and spreadsheets. It is an “all-business” typeface of choice.

Courier New

Study respondents found courier to indicate the user was unimaginative, rigid, sad, dull, unattractive, plain, coarse, and masculine, in addition to conformist and mature. Save it for overdue payment notices or termination letters if you use it at all.


Arial was found to give study respondents the same “conformist” feel of Times New Roman. This typeface was also found to indicate the user was unimaginative. It is best for spreadsheets, web headlines, and PowerPoint presentations, especially if you want to present your ideas in a professional and “authoritative” manner at the next company meeting.


Verdana says you’re dull, according to respondents. It is probably best for online tests or quizzes, math documents, computer programming, spreadsheets and PowerPoint. Strangely though, it was ranked a second choice typeface to be used for text messaging.

Comic Sans

Although judged as unprofessional, subjects described those who use Comic Sans as youthful, casual, and passive. Save it for presentations or documents aimed at kids. Unless you’re selling children’s products or school supplies, using it in a business setting or on a professional website will make you look like an amateur.


Flexible, creative, happy, exciting, attractive, elegant, cuddly, and feminine—these were the adjectives associated with people who use this elaborate sans serif typeface. However, respondents also found that users might be  unstable, rebellious, youthful, casual, passive, and impractical. It’s probably best used for E-greetings and not much else. If you managed to actually read this paragraph, you’ll know why we advise you to use this typeface with extreme caution– it is very hard to read, especially at 14 point or smaller. However, it’s great for hiding spelling errors :)


Impact is another typeface you’d want to use sparingly if at all. Users of Impact were judged by study respondents to be assertive, rigid, rude, sad, unattractive, plain, coarse, and masculine Impact is probably only appropriate for “scary” attention-getting headlines or ransom notes. In general, it’s probably best to stay away from this typeface.


The final word on typeface? Use what you want for your personal correspondence. Let your personality shine through. However, for work-related correspondence and resumes (unless you’re in the visual arts), you should probably stick with the “old standards” like Times New Roman and Arial.

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Stop Using Technology as an Excuse for Poor Writing

bad spelling school zoneWhether we blame it on auto complete, which I’ve done, or we include an automatic disclaimer on your cell phone delivered messages, stating, “This message was sent from my phone, so ignore any errors,” we need to stop blaming our various communication devices for the poor messages we send.

A recent survey found that spellcheckers and other technology have created an “autocorrect generation” of people who are unable to spell common words. Additionally, I think we’ve become so lazy that we don’t even bother to read what we’re sending before we hit “send.”

Spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and other aspects of good writing still matter. Technology is no excuse for poor writing.

Although the economy is improving, an error on a resume or in communication with a potential employer can cost the applicant an interview. A poorly written sales pitch can cause a customer to ignore your message, distrust your product, and lose faith in you and your organization. If you can’t proofread your own message, how well do you conduct quality control on your product?

As a college instructor teaching communication, I routinely receive texts and emails from students that look something like this:

deer ms castro,

i missed classand need to knw what the assinemet was. Thank you!!! chase

Although I suppose it’s possible the sender doesn’t realize there are any errors in the message, which is a completely separate and even bigger problem, I think it’s more likely that we’ve just come to a point that we think it’s acceptable to send such a message.

However, think about what that error-riddled text or email says about the kind of person you are?

Are you unintelligent? Lazy? Careless? Sloppy? Or are you just a poor speller? No matter the interpretation, it’s not going to be a positive one.

Let’s all stop being lazy and blaming our various devices for our messy messages. Take the time to look at what you’ve written before you hit send, and you can help avoid sending a negative message about your intelligence, abilities, or attention to detail.


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8 Tips for Talking with Your Child’s Teacher

This is my annual reminder to be sure to start the new school year off right by establishing a great relationship with your child’s teacher! Each year I add a new tip or two based on suggestions from parents and teachers. Therefore, feel free to comment and let me know your suggestions!


I have a lot of respect for teachers. Dealing with overcrowded classrooms, budget cuts, and having to pay for many of your classroom supplies yourself just doesn’t seem worth the salary most teachers are paid. Now top that off with having to deal with demanding parents, disrespectful children (not all of them of course, but they’re out there), and the expectations of other teachers, administrators, etc., and you can see how difficult it is to be a teacher.

dv1940034As a college instructor who is married to a former teacher, who is now an administrator, I’d like to offer these tips for communicating with your child’s teacher that will ensure you, your child, and the teacher have a great school year.


1. Establish communication early.

Don’t wait until there’s a problem to introduce yourself to your child’s teacher. Call or email him or her, saying who you are, who your child is, what support you might be able to provide during the year, and to wish him or her a great school year. Having established rapport with your child’s teacher early in the year will make things a lot easier should there be problems, questions, or concerns later.


2. Treat the teacher with respect.

Some people take an “I pay your salary, so you’re my servant,” attitude toward teachers. Teachers are partners in your child’s education, not the hired help. It’s important to use common courtesy when communicating with them—just as you’d expect in return. Another element of respect is going directly to the teacher, not to the principal, or your cousin the superintendent, if there’s a problem. Always go directly to the teacher first, before elevating the situation to someone higher up the “chain of command.”


3. Take opportunities to provide compliments and praise.

Let’s face it, when things are going well, we rarely take the opportunity to tell people they’re doing a great job. It’s not until something goes wrong that most people take the time to “communicate” with others. Most teachers don’t hear anything from parents unless it’s a complaint, problem, or “suggestion for improvement.” Be sure to look for opportunities to provide sincere praise and appreciation to your child’s teachers for doing their jobs well.


4. Ask, don’t accuse.

Children sometimes come home with different perceptions of situations that occurred at school that day than what actually happened. Before taking the story as fact, ASK the teacher about the situation.

You might start off saying, “I heard there might have been an issue today between Morgan and Hannah. Can you tell me more about what happened?” Rather than starting with, “Hannah said you punished her for no reason…”

If you’re concerned about the level or amount of work your child is doing, don’t say, “You’re giving Kelsey too much homework,” instead, you might say, “I’m concerned about the amount of homework Kelsey is bringing home, is there a reason it seems to be significantly more lately?”


5. Don’t be defensive.

Most parents have a difficult time seeing the “imperfections” in their children. When a teacher offers an observation about your child that’s less than complimentary, try to remember that the teacher is only offering it because he or she wants your child to succeed.

Try to look at your child’s behavior objectively. If you don’t understand the feedback, ask the teacher for specific examples before you respond, so you can better understand the situation. If you find you can’t, ask for some time to think about what the teacher has shared and set a follow-up appointment with the teacher to discuss the issue further.


6. Acknowledge first, share your needs (or your child’s needs), then ask the teacher how you can work together to find a solution.

Depending on your approach, or possibly the teacher’s past experience with parents who want to “have a chat,” the teacher might be wary or even defensive. To avoid creating a defensive situation, or making a defensive person more defensive, acknowledge the teacher’s position, PAUSE, then share your own needs.

Don’t say:

“I know my child isn’t the only one in your class, but YOU NEED TO give him more difficult  work.”

Note how the word “but” basically discounts the first half of what you said, leaving the second.

Instead, say:

“I know having 23 seven year olds it’s not possible to cater math lessons to just one child.  (Pause) I want to help foster my son’s love of math and his abilities. What can we do together to provide him with more challenging math problems?”

Note how this response shows your willingness to work with the teacher. It’s possible the teacher can’t meet your child’s advanced math needs and a solution outside the classroom, or even a different class, might be needed.


7. Teach your children to speak for themselves.

I remember my daughter coming home in 3rd grade with a paper that was marked 85, but when she added up the points, she should have earned a 91. She wanted me to call her teacher and take care of it. I refused and told her that she should go to her teacher the next day and politely ask her if she could recheck the grade. The next day, all was well and the grade was corrected. Teachers are human and make mistakes and students need to learn to talk to their teachers. I always tell my college students the same thing. Ask me if you have a question or think there’s been an error—especially since math isn’t my strong suit!

8. Don’t try to resolve major problems or conflicts via email.

You don’t have to make an appointment to talk with your child’s teacher for every little issue or question—neither you nor the teacher probably has time to do so. However, for major problems, it’s better to discuss the issue face-to-face or on the phone for three reasons.

First, I’ve found that people become awfully “brave” when hiding behind a computer screen. When they’re angry or upset about something, they’ll say things in an email that they’d likely never say face-to-face or on the phone.

Second, the nonverbal elements of facial expressions, body language, and most importantly vocal qualities or your tone, don’t exist in email form. Therefore, a question you might ask that you intend to be totally straightforward, such as, “When will Drew’s grade be posted?” might come across as a sarcastic accusation, because people read emails as if a person was speaking to them. They infer tone and attitude—and they’re more likely to infer negatively than positively.

Finally, once you send that angry email, it’s gone. There’s no taking it back. In fact, if you do later regret sending that note to the teacher and try to “recall it,” that just makes that email more intriguing and more likely to be opened. If you don’t want to say something you’ll regret later, wait until you cool off and pick up the phone.


Teachers and parents: what other suggestions would you add to next year’s list of tips? Let me know!



Here’s hoping everyone gets off to a great start in the new school year and builds great relationships with their children’s teachers!

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Welcome , today is Friday, April 18, 2014