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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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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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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Today is the Day to Declare Your Independence

As Americans celebrate 237 years of independence as a nation, are you allowing yourself to suffer under the tyranny of technology, the rule of bad relationships, or the captivity of your career?  Maybe it’s time you declared your own independence.

Here are 25 constraints you might consider freeing yourself from (in stream-of-consciousness order):

1. Debt

2. Guilt

3. Bad work or personal relationships

4. Indicisivieness

5. A unsatisfying career

6. Unhealthy habits

7. Elements of your past that make you unhappy or hold you back

8. Others’ judgement

9. Your judgement of others

10. Clutter

11. Fear of failure

12. Fear of success

13. What ifs

14. Role limitations

15. Being a “yes” person

16. Pleasing others while making yourself miserable

17. Unnecessary sense of obligation

18. Fear of looking foolish or stupid

19. Other people’s expectations

20. Worry

21. Aquiring stuff that feeds your ego rather than your soul

22. Limiting beliefs

23. Perfectionism

24. Technology- especially work provided technology that keeps you working 24/7

25. Trying to keep up with the Joneses- they’re probably broke! 


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Performance Improvement Feedback: Not Just a PC Term for Criticism

Over the years, I’ve seen an evolution in terms used for negative feedback.

The first term I remember hearing is “constructive criticism.” The problem was, most of the criticism wasn’t constructive, so it was really just criticism. Then someone decided to soften the term and call it “constructive feedback.” However, once again, it wasn’t very constructive, so it just ended up being criticism with a softer name.

Additionally, if you took the term constructive feedback literally, it could apply equally to feedback on a job well done and feedback on a job performed poorly.

Regardless of what it was called, hardly anyone looked forward to providing it and no one wanted to receive it.

feedback can be a giftAwhile back I started using the term “Performance Improvement Feedback.”

It wasn’t an attempt to invent another politically correct term for constructive criticism. I just felt that the phrase better represented what I wanted to give others and what I wanted to receive in return.

Here’s why “Performance Improvement Feedback” is so great:


1. It helps the feedback provider approach the feedback in a more positive way.

When I think of criticising someone, even constructively, I am already in a negative mindset. I know they’re not going to want to hear it and I don’t want to be the one to give it. However, when I think about providing someone with “Performance Improvement Feedback,” I feel more positively about what I’m about to say. What could be more positive than providing feedback to another person that helps them do their job more effectively, more quickly, or with less stress? When I think about providing feedback that helps you in these ways, I feel like I’m doing you a service, not criticising you and I actually look forward to providing you this information.


2. It helps the feedback provider determine when and when not to provide feedback.

Anyone can criticize anything about another person, from their hair to their shoes and everything in between. However, when you limit your feedback to only that which will improve their PERFORMANCE, you’re leaving out unnecessary criticism.

When you ask yourself,

“Will this information help improve this person’s performance?”, and

“Will this information help him or her do the job more quickly, effectively, or with less stress?”,

and the answer is “yes” then you know you should open your mouth and provide the information. If the answer is “no” then what you were going to say was likely just criticism and you should probably keep it to yourself.


3. It helps the recipient see the feedback as the gift that it is.

Imagine you’re at work and your boss, or a coworker, approaches you and says,

“I noticed that customer was really giving you a hard time. I have some ideas on how you can make those interactions less stressful. Are you interested in hearing them?” 

Who would say no to that? If it were me, I’d actually be eager to hear what he or she had to say, I wouldn’t dread it. I would be receptive, not defensive.

Performance Improvement Feedback isn’t just a new term for criticism, it’s a change in mindset and approach for the both the feedback provider and the feedback recipient that will make it a more pleasant experience for both of them!

Finally, don’t look at Performance Improvement Feedback as something that’s just for work. You could take the same approach to redirecting performance or behavior of your friends and family members as well.

Next week, I’ll share the specifics of how and when to provide Performance Improvement Feedback to get the best results.

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Stop Being Self Centered and Apologize: 10 Reasons Why You Should

Why you should apologize

A recent headline on the Smithsonian website caught my attention:

People Who Don’t Apologize Probably Feel Better Than You 


The article described a research study where people were ask to recall their “wrongs” and  were then given the opportunity to send an email to the wronged party and either apologize, or refuse to apologize.

The result?

Those who sent the email refusing to apologize felt much better than those who confessed and took the blame or responsibility.

The researchers explained that refusing to apologize made people feel empowered. The feeling of empowerment then translated into greater self worth.

Here’s my problem with this whole thing …

Apologizing is not about you! If you think it is, you’re just self centered!

which is probably why those who refused to apologize felt greater self worth and empowerment.


Deciding to provide an apology for your actions requires you to first decide whether what you did was right and appropriate, or wrong and inappropriate.

If what you did was right and appropriately handled, you shouldn’t apologize– even if the other party feels badly about what you did. If a teacher grades a student’s paper and the student only gets 10 percent of the questions correct and fails the test, the teacher shouldn’t apologize. If a supervisor appropriately calls an employee aside and tactfully corrects the employees behavior, the supervisor shouldn’t have to apologize if the employee is embarrassed by the correction.

However, if what you’ve done is wrong or inappropriately handled, you don’t deserve to feel empowered or to have your self worth boosted by not apologizing. I’ve known people who feel this way and they may feel empowered, but they have no friends, their spouses are distant, and their children avoid them. I hope their empowerment and self worth are there for them when they’re in trouble or need someone, because no one else will be.


So when your wrong or you’ve handled something inappropriately …APOLOGIZE!

Stop worrying about yourself and how you’ll feel, and do the right thing for the person you’ve wronged and your relationship, here’s why:


1. Apologizing restores what you took away from the other person when you wronged them–THEIR self worth and power.

2. The person you’ve wronged will most likely feel better physically and emotionally when you apologize.
In fact, research shows that those who receive a sincere apology exhibit lowered blood pressure and heart rater after receiving one.

3. Apologizing shows empathy, caring, and respect for the other person.

4. Apologizing allows the other party to empathize with you as the wrong-doer.

5. When you apologize, you set a positive example and others will be more willing to admit their mistakes and apologize when they’re in the wrong.

6. Your relationships will grow closer due to this deeper level of self disclosure.
It’s easy to talk about things when you’re right, but when you admit your mistakes and flaws, you demonstrate a deeper level of trust in and caring for the other person.

6. Showing your flaws and vulnerability by apologizing will make you a more likable person.
People don’t like or trust “perfect” people. When you apologize, you admit and reveal your likable imperfection.

7. Once you’ve apologized, you’ll no longer seem like a threat to the other party.
When you’ve wronged someone, they’ll constantly be on guard for the next attack. When you apologize, you bring their guard back down.

8. Apologizing provides justice to the other party.
When they remain feeling wronged, they remain angry and focused on the past. An apology can allow the other party to let go of anger and move forward.

9. Apologizing brings healing to a relationship.
When you refuse to apologize, you allow the wrong to poison your relationship. The wrong leads to “pay back”, negative (or no) communication, grudges, and resentment, which will eventually destroy the relationship.

10. Apologizing is often the first step you can take toward asking for (and receiving) forgiveness, which we all need every now and again.


Next week, we’ll tackle how to (and how not to) apologize!



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5 Tips for Cultivating Your Relationships

how to cultivate your relationshipsFor the past two years, I’ve planted a vegetable garden. Last year, I really tended it. I watered every day, fertilized, fussed, and worried over it.

My reward?

A whole lot of nothing. I harvested one zucchini from my zucchini plant before worms demolished it. My cucumber plants turned gray and withered, and a mouse (and my dog) got my tomatoes.

It was very frustrating to have put so much time and effort into something to just have it fail.

When I started doing some research on what went wrong, I quickly realized my error– I’d over-watered and over-tended my garden to death.

To avoid this problem, and the associated frustration of failure, this year my philosophy began with the idea of neglect. I decided early on that I was just going to throw some plants in the ground and leave them to grow or die on their own. However, I quickly realized this wasn’t the solution either.

I’ve come to the conclusion that a garden shouldn’t be over-tended, nor should it be neglected. A garden’s success is about finding the right balance of attention and input in order to reap the harvest.

Relationships, both work and personal, are a lot like a garden. You have to find the right balance of attention and input to help them grow and thrive. Over-tend them, and you’ll drive the other person away, under-tend them, and they’ll die.

Here are five tips for cultivating your relationships to ensure they thrive:


1. Provide feedback, but don’t nitpick.
People need to know where they stand in a relationship. Employees need to know when their performance needs to improve. However, there’s only so much feedback a person can take before they shut down and give up. So, choose your battles and provide feedback on what’s truly important.


2. Listen more and speak less.
You’ll never learn anything about others with whom you are in relationships if you’re doing all the talking. In all their relationships, people feel most satisfied and connected when they feel they’ve been heard and understood.


3. Spend time with others, but don’t smother or micromanage them.
In any relationship, there’s a dialectic tension of autonomy and connection. Autonomy meaning, “I need my space to do my own thing,” and connection being the need people have to feel part of a team, partnership, or family. Employers should carve out regular time to meet with employees to “check in,” but shouldn’t hover over their shoulders asking, “whatcha doing, whatcha doing” all day. Family members should  also periodically check in with each other, either through family meetings, one-on-one time, or couple’s time.

However, people still need their space. No one wants to have to account for every move they make. I don’t want to have to tell someone where I’m going or what I plan on doing every time I get up from the sofa. Children especially need to learn to make good decisions and take responsibility for their actions (and inactions) without mom or dad stepping in to control every situation. Better for a child to learn the consequences in elementary school of not doing their homework or not getting up in time to get on the bus, than to learn that lesson once in college.


4. Encourage individuals to develop their own identity and interests beyond their role in the relationship or group.
Stay-at-home parents are the classic example of breaking this rule. Their identity is summed up in one word, “mom” or “dad.” Although they’ll always have those roles, what will their identity become when they become empty nesters? You can be a mom or dad and still be an individual with your own job, activities, friends, and interests. The same goes for employees in the workplace.

Employees should be encouraged to develop talents outside their immediate job responsibilities. Doing so will make them more valuable to the organization and more able to fill in when needed in other areas. People who feel individually fulfilled and who have developed autonomy will be happier and more productive members of all their relationships.


5. Learn to handle conflict effectively.
Sarcasm, name calling, yelling, and other passive aggressive and aggressive techniques are like overwatering a garden- they smother relationships and slowly kill them. Learn to handle conflict assertively, by finding the balance of expressing and standing up for your own needs, while being respectful and open to the needs of others, and you’ll have found the balance needed to ensure your relationships thrive.

For more information on how to accomplish the tips above, scroll back through the practical communication blog archives. There are many blog posts on feedback, conflict, and more skills that will help you grow strong and healthy relationships.







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5 Tips for Stopping Workplace Whiners

Everyone has complaints from time to time and I’m not trying to imply with this post that we should blow off every complaint that comes our way.

What I’m talking about here are the chronic complainers. Those workplace whiners who are the only ones to ever face bad coffee, rainy weather, long commutes, difficult bosses, and every other problem on earth.

stop a workplace whinerWorkplace whining isn’t just an annoyance for those who have to listen to it. It’s a real drain on workplace morale and productivity.

If you want to stop being the victim of a workplace whiner, try one or more of the following techniques. Some of them are designed to get the whiner to problem solve, others are likely to just make them go away. Either way, you’ll be able to regain your time and get back to work.


1. Share your truth.

If the whiner complains that a coworker is difficult to work with, share your truth by saying,

“I don’t find her difficult. She’s just very thorough and takes more time to make decisions.”

If the whiner complains about traffic, you can say,

“I find it’s a breeze to get here quickly if I leave home before 7 a.m.”

Why does this work? Whiners want someone to commiserate with them, not someone who contradicts them. When you share your truth, you’re taking the fun out of their complaining and they’ll take their show elsewhere.


2. Ask the whiner why he or she is sharing the complaint with you.

You could say,

“That sounds like a difficult issue. What would you like me to do to help?”

When you ask this question you’ll either get a legitimate request for assistance, or if the complainer doesn’t really want a solution and was just venting…again, he or she will likely tell you there’s nothing you can do and walk away. A chronic complainer doesn’t want to waste time talking with someone who wants to fix things, only to someone who will entertain the complaint and allow him or her to go on and on about it.


no whining please3. Learn to say “no” to listening to whining.

If the whiner is bringing you the same complaint you’ve addressed before and it’s obvious he or she isn’t looking for a solution, don’t have the same conversation again. Say,

“Dave, we’ve had this conversation before. I’ve offered you all the advice I can think of and I don’t think there’s anything else I can do to help. I’m sorry, but I’m not interested in having this conversation again. I have a lot of work to get done this morning and I need to get back to it.”

To answer your question before you ask, YES, Dave will likely be unhappy with this response, but the Daves of the world aren’t going to be happy with anything you have to say. It’s time to focus on your own happiness (and productivity) and stop being the sounding board for the whiners of the world.


4. Send them away until they come back with solutions.

Especially if you’re too uncomfortable trying #3 above, you can always say to the whiner,

“It sounds like this is an important problem for you and I’d like to help. Why don’t we set a time to talk later today when you’ve had some chance to think about solutions. I’ll be glad to discuss the solutions you’ve come up with and give you my input. What time do you want to meet?”

One of two things will happen as a result of this approach. First, you might actually help the whiners in your life start being more solution oriented and you’re telling them you’re there to help, as long as they take steps first to help themselves. Second, if the whiner doesn’t want to solve the problem, he or she won’t come back. Problem solved for you!


5. Ask, “What are you going to do about it?”

This is probably one of the most powerful techniques of all. It stops whiners in their tracks and tells them right away that you’re not about to become their sounding board. Instead, you’re going to require them to solve their own problems. This question doesn’t have to be asked with a harsh or aggressive tone. You simply wait until the whiner has stated the complaint and then sincerely say,

“Wow, that sounds like something you’re really concerned about. What are you going to do about it?”

The result will be similar to the other four techniques, the whiner will actually start exploring solutions, or will become frustrated by you and walk away to find someone else who will listen to them whine.


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Five Do’s and Don’ts for Coping with Holiday Stress

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are over which means the holiday season has officially begun. Even though it’s relatively early, you might already be feeling stressed out, worried, and wishing it was over already. Don’t let this year be another year where you feel you have to just “survive” the holidays. The words holiday and stress do not have to go hand-in-hand!

Here are some tips borrowed from our “Coping With The Holidaze” workshop that will help you keep your stress level down, your good cheer up, and allow you to focus on the “reason for the season,” whatever that may be for you and your family.


1. Eliminate unnecessary activities. My holiday decorating this year took about 2 hours total. About 80% of my decorations remained in the attic. Yes, at some point I need to go up and decide whether I need to keep all that stuff if I’m not going to use it. However, for now, my yard is festive, the tree is up, it feels “Christmasy” and that’s good enough for me. 

You don’t need to spend days cleaning, decorating, and trying to achieve perfection.  Focus on what’s important and know “when to say when.”

avoid holiday stress2. Delegate! If you can get your spouse and kids to help decorate, wrap, cook, bake, etc., then get the army moving. If not, it may be well worth it to outsource some things. No one will know you didn’t hang your own lights or bake your own cookies. You don’t have to (and probably can’t) do everything yourself! 


3. Just say “NO!” You don’t have to attend every party, give a gift to every relative, or volunteer for every activity at your office or child’s school. Choose the activities you really WANT to do and for the others, say, “I’m sorry, I can’t.” For more help learning to say no, check out this blog post from July 2011: Just Say No: Five Steps to Say “No” and Make It Stick

4. Manage children’s expectations and teach them to appreciate what they have. Whether the economy has impacted your family this year or you just don’t want to raise spoiled brats, start early teaching your children that it’s not all about “stuff.” If this means a drastic change from the piles of gifts of years past, prepare them for the “new reality” beforehand.

5. Set a realistic spending budget so you won’t hate yourself in January. Spending more than you can afford at the holidays might make others happy, but you double your stress at the holidays and beyond if you spend more than you should on the gifts you give. Set a budget BEFORE you start shopping and stick to it. Additionally, when you’ve gotten the items on your list, STOP SHOPPING– even if that means saying no to friends or handing over the keys and your GPS (pre-programmed to the mall) to those visiting out-of-town relatives. 



1. Don’t try to do it all. At first glance, this is similar to the #1 “do,” however what I mean here is not to try to live up to the television standard of the perfect mother, father, child, boss, coworker, etc. Not everyone has to bake at the holidays. You don’t have to send out holiday cards if you don’t want to.holiday-stress-christmas-400x400

Several years back I made the decision to stop sending out cards. It was stressful, I didn’t enjoy the process, and I hadn’t spoken to half half the people on my list  in years—in other words, we really didn’t have a relationship anymore.

Why was I sending a handwritten card and letter to a person who sent me a card with a mailing label on the front and who didn’t even bother to write ANYTHING inside, not even a signature?

2. Don’t break your routine. Holiday stress and family squabbles only increase when everyone is tired, over-caffeinated, sugared-up, and hasn’t exercised in weeks. Do the best you can to stick to a “normal” schedule.

3. Don’t add to other people’s stress. Just because you waited to the last minute to try to get that Furby (can you believe those things are back?), doesn’t mean you should take out your frustration on others in line, that store clerk, or the person in the parking lot who is taking too long to vacate “your” parking spot. Take a deep breath, count to 10, and focus on the positives in your life and what the season really means to you.

4. Don’t let tradition rule you. Just because mom, dad, or grandparents “always” did certain things certain ways, doesn’t mean you have to continue to do those same things– especially if you don’t want to. Just because my mother always made that green Jell-O mold with carrot shavings, doesn’t mean I had to continue that tradition… and we’ve managed to survive.

5.  Don’t underestimate the power of a positive and joyful atmosphere. Attitude is a huge part of what makes the holidays happy. Two years ago, after much wrangling with a string of icicle lights, I finally convinced my husband it just wasn’t worth spending four hours on a $10 string of lights. After a run to the store to buy a new set, the whole family headed out (after an admonishment from me that we were all going to be happy and have fun hanging lights) and started the process.

When half the lights were hung, I stepped out to the curb to survey the progress … and started laughing hysterically. I called my daughter over to see and she started cracking up. Wondering what was so funny; my husband descended the ladder and joined us, only to find that we couldn’t even see the lights hanging from the roof because our trees had grown just enough from the previous year to completely block the view of the lights. Even he had to laugh.


Here’s to a happy, stress-free, and joyful Holiday Season!





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Do People Resist Your Requests? Here’s Why

When it comes to things they don’t want to do, people generally don’t go quietly. They passively or actively resist, question, argue, and sometimes get angry. Even if they never open their mouths, they’re likely thinking, “I don’t have to do anything! Just watch me!”

Whether speaking to a customer, an employee, or to a child, beginning with, “You’ll have to …” “You must …” or “If you don’t …” is just asking for a fight. In fact, presenting a challenge through demands will likely only get you a challenge in return.

overcoming resistance to your requestsYou’ll have to help Susan; she’s new and doesn’t know how we do things around here.”

You must fill out this form first.”

If you don’t clean your room, there’s no way you’re going watch a movie.”

The odds that the response to any of these phrases will be, “You’re right. Thank you for pointing that out. I’ll get right on it,” are pretty slim.

Even if the people you’re speaking with don’t say the following, they’re likely thinking:

I don’t care that she’s new. Why should I help her?I’m too busy!

I don’t have to fill out anything. I’ll take my business elsewhere.

I’m not cleaning anything. Watch me!

To avoid resistance, many people make the mistake of turning a statement of direction into a question. The problem is, when you ask someone a question, you’re leaving it open to them to choose to comply… or not:

Supervisor: “Can you please help Susan learn to log on to the payroll system?”

Employee: “Sorry, I don’t have time.”


Clerk: “Can you please fill out this form?”

Customer: “No thanks.”

—————————————————————overcoming resistance to requests

Mother: “Will you please clean your room?”

Child: “I’m not really in a cleaning mood today—maybe next week.”


What will you do with responses like the ones above?

When there is no alternative or option, you shouldn’t imply there is one by asking a question. If the employee must help Susan, the form must be filled out, and the room must be cleaned before the child can watch a movie, you shouldn’t ask a question, making the request optional.

To avoid outright resistance and increase the odds that people will willingly do what you ask, you should change the wording of your statements by beginning them with phrasing such as:

“If you …”

“Once you …”

“When you …”

instead of, “You’ll have to …”


“If you can take 30 minutes to help Susan learn how to log on to the payroll system, she’ll be able to work more independtly and won’t need to interrupt you as much.”   


“Once you fill out this short form, I’ll have all the information I need to fill your order immediately.”   


“When you’ve cleaned your room, you can start watching the movies. I know it’s a lot of work, but since Grandma is coming this afternoon and staying in your room, we can’t have things on the floor that she’ll trip on.”


Rephrasing the statement doesn’t change the fact that the person needs to fill out the form, help the coworker, or clean her room. Rephrasing just makes the instructions less demanding and more palatable; it takes out the challenge and makes the listener feel more in control.

That is not to say that everyone will willingly do what you ask if you simply avoid demanding phrases. People may still resist. However, any resistance you face should be less intense or less frequent. Sometimes people will continue to resist because they just like to argue or they flat out disagree with the request. More often though, people resist because they don’t understand the rationale behind the request. That’s why the examples above are not just rephrased, but also provide an explanation of why the speaker is asking the listener to take certain actions. Although not required, an explanation goes a long way toward reducing resistance and gaining compliance.


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