Archive for September, 2012

Say Maybe to No Before Yes

Habits comfort and constrict. Reading at night before you go to sleep signals to your body and mind that the day is at an end and dreams are up ahead. Planning your day puts you in control of the hours, or at least makes you feel that way. Saying yes all the time puts me in a bind. I know that no is a good word. It’s just that it sounds so negative I find it difficult to say.

The power of saying no without feeling the guilt of letting someone down or hurting someone’s feelings is a power I’ve just started wielding. Trying to wield, is a more accurate statement. I haven’t gone all power hungry and “Just Say No” tyrant on the world. I’m just saying no a little bit more.

I’ve said no in the past. But I’ve never stopped with “no, thank you.” No, I must add a reason­–I already have plans with so-and–so, or an excuse­­–can’t make that date, or apology–I’m so sorry I just don’t have room in my schedule. I do the same thing when I receive a compliment.

“Your necklace is beautiful.”

“Oh, thank you, it’s my mother’s aunt’s hand-me-down, wasn’t even sure if I liked it when I got it.”

 

“I like your dress.”

“Nordstrom on sale, double points too. I’m sure they have more at the Michigan Avenue store.”

 

“Your story was enjoyable.”

“Well, you know, gee, I just keep getting in these crazy situations.”

My mother always told me to just say, “thank you,” and move on when someone says something nice about you. Instead, I say, “thank you,” and run on and on and on.

The real problem with just saying no might be related to my habit of initially responding with a yes to any question, offer or idea. This then leads me to behave like an appellate court, and reverse my lower court decision, replacing a yea with a nay. And like any good court, I must issue an opinion documenting the whys, wherefores and whatevers of my decision.

Aha! Perhaps the next step in becoming comfortable with the no word is to learn how to say, “Let me think about it,” or “maybe”, or “sounds wonderful however.”  If I’m not justifying a change of mind maybe I won’t feel the need to justify at all.  Maybe, just maybe.

FOMO: Orbiting, Exploring, or A Waste of Time?

The former Chief Guru of Hallmark, Gordon MacKenzie, author of Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace, gave presentations with notcards, not power point.  A picture and a number adorned each card, which  was attached to a clothesline with an old-fashioned wooden clothes pin.  The audience controlled his talks on creativity and innovation by calling out a number and Gordon would pick the card off the line and tell the story behind it.

“You are in control,” Gordon started each lecture. “I’ll talk until all the cards are gone or someone shouts, ‘Stop.’  It’s up to you.” Of course, the lectures usually went the allotted time, not because no one wanted to be the one to stop Gordon’s stories, but because no one wanted to miss out on what might be the best example of how to be creative and innovative in their jobs and lives. The Fear of Missing (FOMO) out drove the young innovators to listen and learn.

I recently thought about the FOMO influence on my own life. How many of my choices have been driven by the need to see what’s happening behind door number 1, and 2, and 3? Answer: a lot. FOMO’s been identified as a quarter-century affliction but this mid-century modern woman has been afflicted for years. And I like it. Or at least I’m used to it.  More on this topic later, I need to check something out.

 

 

“Some day your mouth is going to get you in trouble,” my mother would say.  This wasn’t such a difficult prediction given the number of times I brought home a report card from elementary school with a check mark next to the words: “does not exercise self-control.” That was Catholic school code for “doesn’t know when to stop talking.”

The nuns were just agreeing with what a school psychologist had told my parents earlier. “Julie’s mouth and brain don’t operate at the same speed.” This led to talking without filtering, speed talking, and non-stop talking.  And to check marks and verbal gaffes. Gaffes that could have been avoided if I had just known my audience

Understanding whom you are talking to is the key to effective communication. Talking without understanding often leads to unintended consequences.

If I had known my manager at one of my first jobs, for example, I would not have confronted him after he reprimanded me like a drill sergeant in front of a row of administrative assistants.

I understood that he was upset. I understood that there was a check mark next to my name for “did not meet deadline.” But if I had understood his management style, I would have known that ignoring his outburst versus asking him to not talk to me like that was the key to keeping one’s job.

If I had understood the makeup of a typical comedy club audience I would have never entered the contest to find Jay Leno’s sidekick when he took over the Tonight Show in 1992.  I headed to my hometown, Dayton, Ohio to perform a two-minute stand up routine.  Mind you, I wasn’t a stand-up. I had studied and performed improvisation sketch comedy. I gave 20-minute talks as a business humorist. I was just a marketing consultant looking for a creative outlet.

I whittled down my material, donned my red power suit, and froze when I entered the club. I was not like this hometown audience. This audience did not work in corporate cubicles or talk corporate speak.

This audience laughed till they cried and ordered another beer throughout the stand-up routine before mine – which was filled with tales of working for the man, men behaving badly, and scatological asides.

This audience did not smile when I performed. Thankfully, they didn’t laugh me off the stage. Thankfully, I still had my day job.

Just two weeks ago I accompanied Husband to the Principality of Liechtenstein for official diplomatic business. Husband is the Honorary Consul of Liechtenstein to the Midwest, and I his unofficial chief of staff.  Our program included meeting the Hereditary Prince of Liechtenstein, which I was excited about, until it came to packing.  What do you wear when meeting a prince?

On the first day of our visit, a young diplomatic officer met our group at breakfast and accompanied us to the Prince’s castle for Liechtenstein’s National Day ceremonies. The young diplomat sat next to me on the bus and I asked him how to spell his first name.

“U-l-r-i-c-h,” he replied and then asked about my family and work back in the States.

“I’m a former advertising executive,” I said. “Currently I teach on the university level and I’m a freelance writer/blogger.”

“What do you write in your blog?”

“I write personal essays and cultural commentary for women of a certain age who are reinventing themselves. Going through transitions.”

“I imagine there is much to write.”

We talked easily about my writing, my teaching, and my impressions of Liechtenstein.

If I had known my audience I would never have told Ulrich that the title of my last blog post was:  What to Wear When Meeting a Prince”

‘Well, I can imagine that might be difficult to determine,” Ulrich, the diplomat said.

“It is. I’ve never met a prince before. I don’t know anyone who had met a prince before. I want to be appropriate”

I proceeded to give him a synopsis of the endless options listed in my blog:

Formal or semi-formal, long or short, pants or skirt, cocktail, business or business casual, and so on. I did not share my quandary about whether or not to wear pantyhose.

“Later this week I’ll be posting about what I wore when I meet the prince.”

“I will read your blog. Perhaps you will write and tell your friends that you have already met a prince,” Ulrich said, and smiled, and bowed with his head.

And I remembered that when he introduced himself at breakfast I thought he called himself Something Something Liechtenstein, but I thought that can’t be right and let it go and focused on the pronunciation of his first name. Ulrich.

“You. You’re a prince. Of course, you said Ulrich Liechtenstein. Are you a cousin? Oh, I am so embarrassed. Have I hurt Husband’s appointment?” I stammered along until I just had to ask: “Well – what do you think – how am I dressed to meet a prince?”

“Quite fine,” Ulrich, the Prince said.

“You’ll learn your lesson one day,” my mother would say. The best connections are made when you know your audience. Whether it is one person or a group. However, some of the best consequences happen serendipitously when you are just truly yourself.

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