Just Say No: Five Simple Ways to Do It

For many of us, it’s the first word we learn, thus the popularity of baby T-shirts that read, “My name is No No” on the front. We learn to use “no” first, because it’s a powerful word synonymous with taking a stand, contradicting authority, being an individual.

It was so easy to say as a child. Why do many of us stop using the word?

–From “Practical Communication: 25 Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Getting Along and Getting Things Done”
Not that it’s a new concept, but I’ve heard a lot of people over the last few weeks talk about the need to “set boundaries” with others in their lives. Although the process can be complicated, one of the first steps to setting boundaries with others is to learn how to say, “No.”

no no

However, every time I recommend this to someone, or bring it up in a workshop. I hear,

But it’s soooo HARD.”

To which I reply, “Why? It’s two simple letters, one syllable!”

Here are some common responses:

- I’ll feel guilty

- People won’t like me

- It would kill my mom if I said that to her

- I’ll seem like I’m not a team player

- I’ll get fired

The list goes on and on.

Most of these reasons people give are not really valid. Depending on how, to whom, and how often you say “no”, you may face these consequences, but when done right and for the right reasons, saying “no” to someone is unlikely to cause such negative outcomes.

What you might face is disbelief, surprise, and possibly hurt feelings on the part of the person to whom you say “no”. If that’s the case, if you’ve said “no” for a good reason, and you’re doing the right thing for yourself and for the other person, I say, let them live with it. They’ll get over it.


1. Think carefully about whether you really want to say “no,” and how willing you are to stick with it. If you’re ambivalent about the request, or are just looking for someone to beg you to do it, or you’re holding out for something better

(like a higher pay raise) then you’ve really made your choice—you’re saying yes—just making the requester work for it. If you truly want to say “no,” move on to tip 2.

2. Weigh the costs and benefits of saying “no.” What are the costs to you? Will you get fired? Will you lose a friendship? Also, ask yourself what the costs are to the other person. If you care about him or her, you may choose to do something you personally don’t want to do for the greater good of the other person or your relationship. However, weigh carefully and be realistic about the costs. Will you REALLY be fired? Will that friend REALLY disown you, or just be mad at you for a day?

3. Say “no” confidently. Look the person in the eye and say with a firm, but polite tone, “No, I can’t.”  If you want to be apologetic, then say, “I’m sorry, I  can’t” and leave it at that. This is the key to avoid being talked into doing something. If you offer rationale or explanations, people will find ways around them.

4. Offer an alternative. Sometimes we say “no” because the request doesn’t work with our schedule, values, or lifestyle, but we really do want to help. For example, we might not be able to take a day off from work to help at a child’s school party, but we’re willing to help in another way, like baking cookies or sending supplies. We can say, “I’m sorry I can’t attend the party, but I’d be glad to _____ instead.”

5. Use the phrase, “I have another commitment.” The word “commitment” sounds official and most people don’t question it. Your commitment is simply anything you’ve already determined you need or want to do instead of the request. In 20 years, I’ve never had someone reply, “What is it?” They just accept it and move on.


What creative ways (without telling a lie) have you found for saying “no?”

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Are Wimpy Words Wiping Out Your Personal Power?

They may seem innocent enough, but if wimpy words have made their way into your vocabulary (or have always been there), they’re likely zapping your personal power at work and at home. They tell people that you’re unsure of yourself, your ideas, and your position with the person to whom you’re speaking. 

If you want to project confidence and authority and wish people would listen to your ideas and suggestions, work on eliminating these wimpy words from your vocabulary.


1. Tag questions are short questions added to a statement of opinion in an attempt to soften the opinion and to leave open the possibility of rebuttal.

“It’s about time to start the meeting, isn’t it?

“I’d like to have pizza for lunch. Is that okay with you?

To strengthen your message, take a stand.  Say, “It’s 9 am, let’s start the meeting,” or “I’m going to get pizza for lunch. You’re welcome to join me if you’d like.”


2. Hesitations are the “uhs,” “ums,” and extended pauses that make you sound uncertain.

“It’s 9 am, uh, let’s go ahead and uh, start the meeting.”

“I think it’s um, and okay idea, um, if that’s what you want to do.”


To strengthen your message, eliminate the hesitations. If this has become a habit,  here’s a tip for breaking it:

Ask a friend or coworker to stop you every time you say “uh” or “um” and then start your conversation over from the beginning. With practice, you’ll get into a new habit of slowing down and allowing your brain to stay a step ahead of your mouth, thereby eliminating, or at least reducing, your hesitations.


3. Hedges are another form of uncertainty, similar to tag questions in that they indicate an unwillingness to take responsibility or take a stand. Additionally, they are often used to avoid hurting another person’s feelings by just coming out and saying “no.”

“I might be willing to try it.”

Maybe I could consider it.”

As with tag questions and hesitations, work on eliminating hedges if you want to strengthen your message. If you’re concerned about others’ reactions, including hurt feelings, you might explain why you disagree or why you’re saying no.


4. Qualifiers are adjectives or adverbs that weaken the words they preceded.

“I just need to talk with you about a little problem.”

“She’s really, really overwhelmed.”

“I think I can handle it.”
I’m not sure but, I think you should research a few more options.”


To strengthen your message, eliminate the qualifiers and leave all the rest.

“I need to talk with you about a problem.”

“She’s overwhelmed.”

“I can handle it.”

For this last statement, if you’re unsure whether you can handle whatever “it” is, then you should say so. “I have concerns about whether I’ll have time to get this done with my current workload.”


5. Courtesy titles or polite forms are terms such as “sir” or “ma’am.” (yes sir, no sir, yes ma’am, no ma’am)

I get a lot of pushback here in the South when I tell people that saying “yes sir,” or “no ma’am” makes them sound weak. I understand the rationale behind using these terms- courtesy, politeness, and respect. However, if you were to see two people talking and one was repeatedly saying, “yes sir,” and “no sir,” and the other person wasn’t, you’d know immediately which person was the one with more power and which one was subordinate.

To strengthen your message, eliminate the sirs and ma’ams except when speaking with your customers or your grandma/grandpa.


Eliminating weak words from your vocabulary will not only increase others’ confidence in you and what you have to say, but you’ll likely find your confidence in yourself will grow as you begin to speak with authority.


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20 Communication Weaknesses that Kill Careers

No matter what industry you’re in and no matter what your job title, your job description likely includes some requirement pertaining to communication skills.


“Great oral and written communication skills a must.”

“Excellent interpersonal communication skills required.”

“Must have experience communicating with staff, managers, and customers.”


Unfortunately, people tend to spend more time working on their technical proficiency than they do their communication skills. The result? A lack of career progression and sometimes even career death.

It’s unlikely that one of the weaknesses below will cause a person’s career to stall. However, having several of them, or having just a few of them that get worse over time, may have a cumulative negative impact most of us would probably like to avoid.

Here are some of the most common offenders.

1. Having a poor handshake.

2. Poor written communication skills.

3. Inability to adapt your communication style to different “audiences”.

4. Posture and body language that conveys weakness or negativity, such as slouching, leaning away from a speaker, and crossed arms and legs.

5. Mumbling.

6. Speaking too softly.

7. Having a voice that’s too high pitched.

8. Inability to maintain eye contact, especially when confronted by an aggressive, angry, or powerful person.

9. Lack of clarity in your messages, such as telling someone you want something done, “soon” instead of saying, “August 1st by 1 pm.”

CT  SC-FAM-TOUGH-CONVERSATION-2C10. Being a poor listener.

11. Interrupting.

12. Saying, “I’m sorry” too much, especially when something isn’t your fault.

13. Using too many vocalized pauses, such as um, uh, and like.

14. Fidgeting. Fidgeting behaviors include wringing your hands, picking your nails, or shifting in your seat too much.

15. Preening. Preening behaviors include twisting your hair, fixing your tie, straightening your clothes, etc.

16. Using qualifiers, hedges, and hesitations. “I uh, sort of think we maybe should start the meeting, don’t you?”

17. Failing to praise or thank people for their good work.

18. Failing to provide performance improvement feedback.

19. Being late to meetings, thereby communicating that you don’t care, or that you think your time is more valuable than other people’s.

20. Not planning for challenging conversations.


What other communication “career killers” would you add to this list?

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5 Ways to Avoid Gossip At Work (and Other Places)

Gossip is one of the many things that can lower workplace productivity. It also creates an environment of mistrust and can damage working relationships. Even if we don’t start the gossip, listening to it, passing it on, or standing idly by while it’s happening, makes us part of the gossip and helps perpetuate it.

People gossip for many reasons; sometimes they’re just angry or upset, but are too afraid to address the source of their emotion. Other times poor self esteem plays a role. Finally, people can gossip as a way to get others in a group to be “on their side.”

When I talk about gossip, I’m speaking of both positive and negative conversation about another person that is conducted without his or her consent. It’s just as much gossip to talk about a coworker’s promotion as it is to talk about one who is being fired.


Here are some tips to help you avoid the gossip grapevine. Although they’re targeted toward the work environment, they’re just as applicable at home and in other settings.


1. Don’t start gossip.

It seems silly this should have to be #1, but it does. As tempting as it is to share a bit of “news,” good or bad, avoid the temptation. Unless the person about whom you are speaking has given you express permission to share the info, don’t!


2. Don’t be drawn into a gossip discussion.

Even if you didn’t start the gossip conversation, simply joining in and even standing by silently is participation. If someone tries to draw you in, simply say, “I’m sorry, I don’t feel comfortable talking about Amy when she’s not present.” Or, “I overheard you talking about Amy and I’m not sure she’d appreciate that information being shared.”

Additionally, when people come to you to “vent” about a third person, it’s probably best to empathize and then redirect them to the person with whom they should really be speaking. “I understand you’re frustrated by the fact that Amy’s been late to work this week. I think it would be best for you to talk to her directly about the problem.”

workplace gossip


3. Change the subject when gossip begins.

Although not an assertive method for addressing gossip, it can be a good way to stop it quickly and move on to something else. Sometimes people will get the “hint” that you don’t want to be part of gossip and will discontinue it.

It’s also an acceptable option when you want to stop gossip in a group setting without directly confronting the person gossiping, so as not to cause conflict in front of others. However, keep in mind that changing the subject doesn’t send a strong signal that you’re opposed to gossip and in the long run, is unlikely to stop it.


4. Disagree with the gossip and share alternative or more positive views.

Most people who gossip are looking for someone who will agree with them. When they come across someone who contradicts their viewpoint, the conversation generally comes to a halt.

Simply saying, “I disagree. I find Ray very easy to work with and he’s always met his deadlines when I’ve worked with him,” will likely end the conversation.


5. Confront gossip perpetuators.

Sometimes you might feel that if you’re not directly involved in gossip and are simply overhearing it, you should just stay out of it. Unfortuantely, staying silent does nothing to stop gossip. Additionally, if people know you’re within earshot, or the subject of the gossip finds out later that you were in the room, you’ll likely be perceived to agree with what was said, or at minimum, that you don’t care about stopping the gossip. To respond, see #2 above.

Confronting gossip perpetuators also works when you find out they’re gossiping about you. Although it’s rare for people who gossip to admit it, the confrontation itself is often enough to stop the gossip.

Saying, “Carrie, I understand that you might have some concerns about how I’m handling the project. I’d hope if you did, you’d bring them directly to me. Is there anything we need to talk about? I want to do the best job possible,” will result in either a denial, or if you’re lucky, some honest input from Carrie.

The additional benefit of addressing the issue with Carrie calmly and directly, is the increased possibility that Carrie will feel more comfortable bringing her concerns to you directly in the future, rather than sharing them with others.



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Six Tips for Better Nonverbal Communication

When I started the Practical Communication Blog, my second post was entitled, “What You Don’t Know About Nonverbal Communication Can Hurt You.” In it, I discussed the importance of understanding the powerful role nonverbal communication plays in our interactions.

Today, I want to share five nonverbal communication tips taken from my book “Practical Communication: 25 Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Getting Along and Getting Things Done.” 


pouty1. Match the message to the nonverbals.

Nonverbals that send messages that are consistent with the words you use will reinforce those words. If you, “mean it,” you have to look and sound like you mean it.

You can’t tell someone, “If you don’t come in on time tomorrow, I’ll need to write you up,” while looking at your shoes and whispering. You need to speak firmly and without hesitation,  look the person directly in the eye, and sound as if you mean what we’re saying.


2. Take note of thoughts and feelings before speaking.

If you want to sound confident, but feel terrified, at best you’ll come across as insecure. The mindset and emotion must match the words. The same goes for when you’re angry or upset about something, but want to discuss the problem calmly without sounding angry or upset. You’re not going to pull it off, because the anger will likely “leak” through your nonverbal communication. 


3. Realize that nonverbal communication is situational.

A strong tone meant to tell someone, “I mean it!” might be read as assertive by one person, and misinterpreted by another as anger or frustration. Additionally, nonverbals can take on different connotations depending on the situation. For example, the strong tone you might use when telling children at home, “I mean it,” may be completely inappropriate at work or in a social situation. Therefore, you may need to adjust our nonverbals for different situations and people.


4. Make a point of using nonverbals to strengthen your message.

In order to match your nonverbals to your words as outlined in #1 above, you have to consciously think about what nonverbals will strengthen your message BEFORE you open your mouth. Think about what facial expressions, gestures, posture, movement, vocal quality, etc., would reinforce the following messages:

- This is the third time this week you’ve been late. This can’t happen again.

- I really appreciate the time and effort you obviously put into this report.

- I love your idea. It’s the best I’ve heard all day.

Think about how different they would sound and how you would (should) look saying them.


5. Realize that nonverbal communication varies across cultures.

Americans view eye contact as a tremendous indicator of sincerity, honesty, and confidence. As such, most require eye contact in order to take interactions seriously.

Keep in mind though, the use of eye contact, and in fact many nonverbal messages, mean different things in different cultures. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to learn the nonverbal “rules” of every culture in the world. However, when interacting with others, you should consider that they might not operate under the same nonverbal rules as you do. 

Additionally, when you’re in social or work situations where you know you’ll be interacting with people from a different culture, it’s a good idea to become at least familiar with some of their nonverbal “customs” not only so you can better read them, but to allow you to adjust your nonverbals accordingly.


6. Pay attention to what others’ nonverbals are telling you, but be cautious about over-interpreting their meaning.


Just as your nonverbals communicate to others, their nonverbals are communicating to you. When talking with someone, even on the telephone, listen carefully to what his or her nonverbals are telling you. Are they sending contradicting messages from the person’s words? Do the nonverbals reveal something about how the person is feeling or what he or she may really think?

However, don’t make the mistake of believing that by reading others’ nonverbals you become a mind reader. Nonverbal behaviors can often have more than one interpretation. If in doubt about what someone’s behavior is telling you, ask or use the Perception Checking technique I shared in a previous post.

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Five Lessons Learned From Kittens

I’ve recently taken in a few foster kittens. “A few” being one of those “relative” terms I’m always warning my workshop participants about. 

“Define ‘a few’ on a scale of one to 100?”

Moving on…

Taking care of these little creatures, whose combined weight is around 8 lbs, has been easy and quite entertaining. What I didn’t know, was how educational it was going to be.

Here are some lessons we could all learn from kittens: 


1. Communicate your needs. 

If you’re hungry, let someone know.

If you need some attention, let someone know.

If you just need some peace and quiet, let someone know.


2. Show appreciation when your needs are met.

My foster kittens love to eat. When I come in with their food in the morning, they dive in. However, when they’re done, they always come over and sit by me (or on me) and purr. I think that’s their way of saying “thanks.”

When others help you meet your needs, let them know how much they’ve helped and that you appreciate it.


3. When your needs have been met, let someone else have a turn.

Kittens seem to have a system of trade-off. They play with something, then let someone else have a turn. They eat and then move on to make room for someone else. They groom each other and get groomed in return.

Most of us go through our days focused on getting our own needs met. When we get up in the morning, our first thought generally isn’t, “Gee, what can I do for someone else today?” Try setting a goal, even for one day, to find out what those around you need and how you can help.


4. Get enough rest.

When kittens are tired, they just stop and take a nap. Although we’re not always in the position to do so ourselves, most of us need to do a better job of at least getting a good night’s sleep. When we don’t, things generally don’t go well for us– we make mistakes, can’t clearly think through problems, and we don’t communicate well with others.  Try getting in your 8 hours– or at least more than you do now!


5. When in doubt, lean back and assess the situation before diving in.

Kittens are pretty clever. When facing an unknow situation, the smart ones don’t cower, but they’re cautious and take a second to breathe, observe, and “think about it,” before jumping in. We could learn a lesson from that.

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Stop Beating a Dead Horse: 5 Reasons You Should Stop Using Cliches (and Idioms)

At the end of the day, the bottom line with communication is to create a win-win situation between you and your audience. In a nutshell, you want to communicate your message clearly.

Okay, how many clichés have you counted so far?

According to Dictionary.com, a cliché is, “A trite, stereotyped expression; a sentence or phrase, usually expressing a popular or common thought or idea that has lost originality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse. The site defines idioms as, “Expressions whose meaning is not predictable from the usual meanings of its constituent elements,” and goes on to clarify that idioms are often culturally specific and don’t translate well into other languages.

cart_before_the_horseSince I don’t want to turn this into an English lesson, I’ll stop here with the definitions. The bottom line is that clichés and idioms are best avoided. Here are 10 reasons why.

1. They’re worn out and boring.

As the dictionary entry above notes, words and phrases become clichés because they’ve been overused.

2. They don’t translate.

Clichés don’t translate well to other languages and they don’t cross generational lines well either. The phrase, “Salute smartly and carry on,” probably makes sense to veterans and those from the “traditionalist” generation– it loosely translates to “do what you’re told to do.” However, for younger people who haven’t served, the phrase probably has no meaning. Additionally, if you translated, “salute smartly,” into another language; the true meaning of the phrase would be lost.


nipped in the butt3. You may be using them incorrectly anyway.

How many times have you heard someone say, “I nipped it in the butt”? The correct phrase is, “nipped in the BUD,” meaning, to stop something in its early development. The phrase relates to nipping buds from plants before they’ve had a chance to bloom, in order that the plant will produce even more flowers.

Other examples include “difficult road to hoe,” and “six and one and half dozen of the other.”


4. They tell people you’re lazy and lack imagination.

Rather than taking the time to express yourself clearly, you opt instead to toss in one, or a dozen, “borrowed” phrases.


5. They make you sound fake.

A boss who asks employees to “think outside the box,” or “give 110%,” and tells them he or she is available, “24/7,” just sounds like a phony. The same goes for everyone who overuses clichés- they become cliché.

I’ve given you some of my personal favorites. Here are a few business-specific cliches that drive me crazy.

– Heads up

-Touching base

-Value added

-Paradigm shift

-Drop the ball

-Take it to the next level

Can you add to the list?


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Six Keys to Facilitating a Meeting

Last week we looked at activities that revolved around meeting planning. However, even a well-planned meeting can run into a ditch if there isn’t a strong facilitator and structure present to keep the meeting on track.

Here are some tips for facilitating a meeting that will help you accomplish your goals and respect all participants’ time and input.

1.  Involve every participant. You invited your meeting participants for a reason.  One of the goals of a meeting leader should be to ensure everyone at the meeting has the opportunity to provide their input.  Otherwise, why are they there?

2.  Facilitate communication. It’s the meeting leader’s job to ensure the meeting stays on track, agenda items are covered, and proper etiquette is maintained during a meeting. A good meeting leader should involve participants in setting ground rules for how meetings will be conducted, including deciding how decisions will be made.

A good leader will also set the example of “good communication,” by being assertive, yet polite, listening well, and asking good questions to get the information he or she seeks. Finally, a good leader needs to know how to manage interruptions, including bad participant behavior such as sidebar conversations, people who take coversations “off track,” and conflicts that will inevitably errupt.

3.  Ensure agenda topics are covered and goals are achieved. To keep your meeting agenda on track, it’s a great idea to have a timekeeper who can let participants know when they get close to the end of a topic’s assigned discussion time. Sometimes agenda items have to be continued, but a good meeting leader generally has a good grasp on how long a discussion should take- so delaying decisions for further discussion at a future meeting should be relatively rare. Adequate coverage of agenda items is also a function of ensuring participants realize the importance of doing their meeting pre-work and coming to the meeting prepared to accomplish the tasks (brainstorming, decision making, informing, etc.,) that were outlined in the agenda.

4.  Maintain dignity and respect for all participants. At times, a meeting leader has to be a mediator between parties on opposite sides of an issue. Groundrules help a lot with maintaining dignity and respect for all participants. However, meeting leaders must also be prepared to redirect inappropriate or impolite communication by sharing with particpants how disagreements should be handled.

Why-Your-Meetings-Are-Ineffective5.  Be prepared to manage difficult situations. For anyone who has ever attended a meeting, it shouldn’t be a surprise that things go “wrong.” A meeting leader should be able to anticipate the most common difficult situations and be prepared to handle them accordingly.

Things such as ongoing conflict between participants, controversial meeting topics, and participants with bad habits (stage-hogging, arguing, interrupting, venting, getting off track) are all things a leader can prepare in advance to handle.

Some techniques for keeping meetings on track include:

– Reminding participants of the agenda and its goals

– Seeking the help of other participants to keep meetings (or people) on track

– Paraphrasing, but then re-direct discussion, “Bob, I know the  budget is important. Right now though, we still need to finish agenda item #2.”

– “Parking” the discussion in the parking lot to be addressed later

6.  Begin and end the meeting on time. Regardless of whether all participants have arrived yet, meeting leaders should start meetings on time. Delaying the start of a meeting tells those who are late, “It’s okay you’re late, we’ll wait for you.” Not a good habit to get into. If someone is chronically late, be sure to address the issue with hime or her privately, but don’t ignore the behavior. If the behavior doesn’t change, be ready to replace participants who cannot be on time. If they’re not present, they’re not contributing, so there’s no point in continuing to invite them.

Throughout the meeting, have the timekeeper remind people of the time and how much meeting time is left. This helps everyone stay focused. Also, give a 10-minute warning when the meeting is coming to an end.

Finally, unless there’s powerful reason to continue, you should end meetings on time. People plan their day around when the facilitator says the meeting is going to end. A meeting leader who allows a meeting to run past the end time ruins everyone’s schedule. If you don’t have time to get through your agenda, plan better next time.

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5 Tips for Talking with Your Child’s Teacher

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 get 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 five 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. 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…”

If you’re concerned about the level or amount of work your child is doing, don’t blast off an email saying, “You’re giving Kelsey too much homework, she doesn’t have time to do it.” Again, ask about the homework your child has been given. You might find that Kelsey only has a big homework load because she’s too busy chatting with friends to finish her work in class, thus the reason she has to bring it home to finish.

The same goes for grades on assignments. Even as a college instructor, I bristle when a student says, “I usually get A’s and you GAVE me a C.” I’d much prefer the student to express concern over EARNING a C, and ask for a more detailed explanation so he or she can make improvements next time.

4. 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!

5. 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 he or she is more likely to open it, and open it immediately, than if you didn’t recall it. Bottom line is, you don’t want to say something you’ll regret later. Wait until you cool off and pick up the phone.

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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Are You Taking Responsibility? 5 Phrases that Reveal You’re Not

Not that it’s a new phenomenon, but it came to my attention again this past week, that people have a hard time taking responsibility—from admitting when they’re wrong to taking responsibility for a mistake—and everything in between.

I was attending a workshop and one exercise asked participants to identify frustrations or problems at work—the easy part. The second part of the exercise required everyone to read their list aloud, but to add “and I’m responsible” to the end of each item.

As the exercise progressed, it became obvious that some items on each person’s list were just not their responsibility. However, many were. In fact, even those that weren’t forced us to ask ourselves, “Do I bear some responsibility?” or “Even though it’s not my ‘responsibility,’ can I do something to help the situation?

When interacting with others, it’s important that we take responsibility for our actions and even inactions. The sooner we say:

“I am responsible,”

“You’re right, I made a mistake,” or

“I’m partly to blame too, I should have …”

the less likely the discussion will turn into an argument. Additionally, when we “get out in front” of a problem, the more proactive we’ll be, and appear, to others involved.

defendThe following are just some of the “red flag” statements we use in an attempt to avoid responsibility, deflect blame, or worst of all, reverse blame onto someone else. When we feel the urge to say them, we should stop and think, “What’s my responsibility?” or “What part of this situation can I own?”

1. Well, you shouldn’t have asked me to _____ in the first place.
This is the classic, “I’m busted. I said I’d do something, and then forgot, and instead of just admitting it, I’m going to turn around and try to place the blame on the person who made the request.” This is one of the worst things we can say. If we didn’t want to, or couldn’t do the task, we should have said “no” when the person asked.

2. I supposed you’ve never …
Yes, the person probably has done whatever it is we’re getting ready to accuse him or her of. However, what they’ve done isn’t relevant. If it was, we should have addressed that issue with him or her sooner. Right now, we need to respond appropriately regarding our own actions in THIS situation.

3. Oh yeah, well …
In an attempt to take the heat off ourselves, we use this phrase to change the subject to anything, or anyone else. It is usually followed by any filler that deflects blame from the person saying it. It’s the “I am the rubber, you are the glue” response, with the exception that the individual with whom we’re speaking isn’t the only sticky one, EVERYTHING becomes sticky. Traffic, timelines, other people who aren’t there to defend themselves, etc.

4. What about (fill in person’s name)? Why don’t you say something to him/her?
Again, a deflecting device, but a direct one. We’re trying to turn a perceived attack onto another person—a coworker, sibling, neighbor, whomever we can find who might be doing the same thing we are. The problem? Just like #2 above, it’s not about Sue or Bob, the issue is our own behavior. We can explain, defend, or deny, but we shouldn’t turn the conversation onto another person. If Sue or Bob’s behavior is in question, we should have spoken to her or him previously, not bring it up now.

5. You’ve never liked me … (then start crying, screaming, becoming sarcastic, etc.)
When all else fails, let’s try to stop the confrontation with emotion and get the confronter to now worry about calming us, instead of the issue he/she originally wanted to address. Although we’re entitled to our emotions and even to express them …appropriately, it’s important to stay “on topic” and respond to the issue at hand.

Can you think of any more? Let me know!


Want to learn more about admitting mistakes, saying “I’m sorry,” and taking responsibility? Check out “Practical Communication: 25 Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Getting Along and Getting Things Done.”

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