Saying NO to a Friend or Colleague

Most of us are pretty bad at this. How about you? Is saying NO when you really don’t want to do something really hard to do? So why do we have such trouble telling the truth and finding ways to “just say no”? Here’s the heart of it.

Someone asks you to do them a favor. Problem: if you say no you may lose a friend or work colleague—he/she will be mad, think you’re selfish, uncooperative, mean etc. and you’ll feel bad. SO you lie: you say “yes”. Result? Others get what they want and you end up feeling weak and really mad at yourself. “What a wuss I was” etc.

Good news! Here’s a better option than Just Say Yes (they win) or Just Say No (you could lose). How about you both win and each gets some of what you need? Plus you keep your self-respect because you learn to say what you really mean?

Learn to talk and explain- not to just say OK.

To a colleague at work who asks for help creating a report? “You know I’d love to help but do I have a problem! I’m way over my head right now working on a deadline, and I’m so stuck! But here’s what I can do…” Then go on to accept something you can help with and show where and how the rest of problem might get solved.  See how you both win?

He/she gets your help but within reason. By letting your colleague in on the truth, you’ve shown your problem and your willingness. You end up helping but only as much as you can – and want to.

With friends it’s often even harder to say no. But how about this?

“Wow, this is tough. You know I’d hate to turn you down – afraid it would hurt our friendship, that you’d get mad or something and I surely don’t want that. But those earrings (equipment, book, whatever) – that’s very difficult.” Then explain why—sentimental, one of a kind, gets broken easily…

“ So now — see why I can’t do that. But how about this?” Then offer an option—“I can surely lend, do, offer this.”

See- the secret to saying No is to take care of BOTH people’s needs by telling the truth. Telling the truth first about how you feel and what you can and can’t do, rather than just knuckling under and then feeling resentful. It puts you in a pro-active position but it also presents your reality.

Engage your friend or colleague in a mutually beneficial solution. It empowers both of you. You’re still a good, helpful friend and colleague. And you’re feeling good about it all. Just remember—the truth shall set you free…


In the age of social media, getting “connected” is easier than ever. But what about connecting live — in a roomful of strangers?

This blog post is about talking to people you don’t know — about striking up a conversation with a stranger — like at a new job, a cocktail party or a business function. This one challenges us with “How do I get started?”, “What do I say first?”, “What would make a positive impression?”

So let’s explore what gets us scared and look at some new approaches that can smooth the way.

Here’s the scene: You’re going to a cocktail party relating to your business or profession and you want to connect. You walk into a room filled with people who know each other and you don’t. (The principles we’ll talk about are the same whether it’s social or otherwise).

Feeling different, left out, a little lost, you’re nervous about being awkward, pushy, sounding —- or being accepted. That’s the first obstacle. And here’s Principle 1: Accept your feelings! They’re natural, common to us all! Don’t fight them and lecture yourself. Just think, “Nervous? Sure. That’s OK. Now —”

Principle 2: Take a breath and Make A Move! Nothing will happen if you just stand there. You’re looking at people – motivated by the same systems you are. We all like to be noticed, made to feel important, selected, and yes— even asked for a little help! Makes us feel powerful, wise and useful. SO—walk up to whoever looks appealing to you and disarm them by telling the truth (a surprise to most everybody).

“Hello—I’m —– (name) , a stranger here, feeling a little outside of things. I don’t know anyone but I would surely like to. How are you connected to this organization?” There’s the secret! ASK A QUESTION. Why? You’ve given them all kinds of power— asked about their expertise, raised their status, showed interest in them and gotten them to talk to you. Connection!

Principle 3: Listen for clues! What they tell you presents hooks for how you can enter into their conversation and make your own little dent. Connect to what they say— find where you can fit into their statement. DON’T go off onto the wonders of you or try to top them. That’s threatening and too self-serving. You’re there to make a link or a friend. Let them lead—you’ll get your chance, I promise.

Bottom line: Rely on the things you know you’d like when you’re reaching out to others. No airs, no acting, no trite, clever little openers. Be honest. Open. Authentic. It disarms and surprises folks. And it makes you recognizable. Being yourself will give you the courage to step forward and start.

So- take a breath and just do it!

Jurors in the Age of Google

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Hello my Blog Colleagues—

I’m off to Hawaii (yes – I hear the groans from you snow-bounders). But I’m really off to work! The Federal Bar Council, made up of appellate and federal judges and the lawyers empowered to appear before them, is meeting to discuss a very serious new issue appearing in our trial court.

The name of the program is Jurors in the Age of Google…

And the problem? Jurors, who are required by law to make decisions based only on the evidence they see and hear in court, are now going home and googling everything about the trial they’re sitting and judging! Checking out the backgrounds of lawyers, the witnesses, the information, the technical or medical evidence and so on. And since they do this in secret, how are we now to handle this? What can now constitute a fair trial? Will the courts make accommodations for this phenomenon? Pass new laws?

My role is to help the assembled members understand what happened to communication and how TV, computers and the Internet have drastically changed us.

I’ll discuss the origins and effects of these changes and the new demands we all make now about how we learn- let alone listen- or don’t. And then to explain the Generation Gaps and how these very different groups process, accept or reject information and what that’s based on.

Then I’ll present some new skills and new approaches to help lawyers and judges reach jurors more effectively.

When I return I’ll tell you all about what happened at this exciting meeting and what was decided that can affect us all…

Handling Tough Situations or The Art of Compromise

Now that you know about my blog and will be tuning in (often, I hope) I’d like to write from another aspect of what I care about— connecting with others personally, and making it work in today’s emailing non-talking world.

So here are some ideas about handling tough situations face-to-face… Might be a little long-winded but it has lotsa really good approaches. Check it out. They can really help…

Who doesn’t ever need to make compromises in their lives? Whether it’s little ones like where we go for dinner or big ones like changes in your workplace, how you do your job or negotiating deals, there’s an art to getting what you want, compromising and doing it with some grace and style.


The key to handling difficult situations successfully—ones that need some giving and bending– is this: learn to think through not only what your goals and needs are but concentrate on what the other person’s issues and targets are. Aim for “How can both of us come out with wins instead of ending with ‘I win, you lose’ “. This not only gets you to a solution quicker; it guarantees you a solution that will stick, with both sides feeling good about the end product.

Here are some basic approaches that can get you there:

  • Begin with a question. Define the issue before you start attacking what may not be the basic problem. Question with real interest in the answer. It helps de-fuse situations that can become accusatory and adversarial. Everyone needs to feel they’re being heard.
  • See and hear the problem from both points of view before you go off with your version and your solution. You’ll be surprised to hear a very different version of what you thought the issues were. Gives you a much truer focus for a solution
  • Engage the other person in arriving at a solution, rather than just giving the solution yourself. Asking for his/her solution gives you a chance to hear that person’s goals and needs right away. That gives you a chance to see where yours and his/hers fit.
  • Explain the situation using “I” not “You”.I must not have explained that well”  instead of “You got that part all wrong”. Instead of accusing, you’ll keep the dialogue going.
  • Present and explain your side without making eye contact! Placethe issue figurativelyon a table between you— talk about that down there. Eye contact is too hot- creates defensiveness, not hearing and understanding.
  • Edit what you say. Get to the point first, then add a few details as examples. We all talk too much at the start and the main point is lost. Refer to what the other person already knows before adding your point of view.
  • Add another question if you feel you’re losing attention. Problems only get solved in a dialogue, not a monologue.
  • Respect the other’s position. Lighten the atmosphere with a smile, give some respect for the other’s passion and point of view, show a positive attitude toward a solution– goes a long way.

Bottom Line: It always takes two to tango. Both must stay actively involved in order for anything to work out well between folks.

Can You Ever Have Your Cake And Eat it Too?

Y’know, those old folk sayings– corny, trite, hooked in yesteryear? They last for a reason. They put the finger on an enduring human truth. Here’s the above adage about greed being played out today in a 3D media frenzy.

Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien were the cakes and NBC was the greedy and ill-fated owner/consumer.

How did they get into such a mess?  It started with evaluating their once and future audiences. “Jay’s OK now but 5 years from now? Gotta move the older guy and advance a younger one to capture those 18-49ers. (the prime TV market targets).”

NBC decides “We can have it all. Let’s make Conan the Prince of Wales. Then, owning Leno, we let the king slowly peter out and slip Conan right onto that throne, not missing a beat. And we even keep Leno too, in a new time slot. We can have it all (the cake, that is)!” So what happened? Jay kept doing fine with his mixed-age market. Conan fit in with his slotted audience too, but not with the other one.

The cake-eaters in the front office ate too much too fast. TV watchers knew what they liked. And didn’t. Leno and O’Brien fit into people’s needs exactly where they were. And those prophets in the front office? They need to borrow from another adage–“pull their heads out of the sand.”  Then go downstairs and find out how folks really think and act.  And boy, have they got the generations all wrong! More about them next time.

Response to David Finkel from the Huffington Post

Well done, David. You are indeed an understanding curmudgeon.

But there is indeed a problem with convincing people to let the words alone be the message. As I’ve researched and written about the differences between the generations, here’s the major stumbling block to get people to be sated by simply linear reading. Gen X and especially Gen Y are conditioned to learn visually- in short edited bursts of information. Computers also speak in mixed media -words and graphics- and make short shrift of most verbal messages. So these generations have learned to control time and how they take in information. The resultant impatience they’ve developed make long-term reading a chore. And there goes the pleasure.

With admiration and in agreement with your ideas—Sonya Hamlin
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost


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Who’s a Celebrity? What’s a Hero?

While people are still kicking at the embers of the Tiger Woods fire, let’s see if we can sort this out.

Whom do we crown and why? What makes a celebrity and what makes a hero?

Celebrities get crowned strictly by the media. Attaining “celebrity” requires a certain number of pages in a certain number of print vehicles and a certain amount of electronic media time with a great shower of tweets and facebook pages. Pictures count —the other info comes after the pics.

So what gets the paparazzi inflamed to go after and create celebrities– to bring us every last tidbit of their lives, however minuscule and uncomplimentary they may be?  Simply who’s current and who’ll buy their wares. It takes so little to become anointed—doing something dumb or illegal is as good as doing something right. Do we need to hear any more about the White House party crashers? Or for that matter, the latest of Tiger’s various adventures outside the lines?

Hitching a ride on any current celebrity’s flash is quite common and ever so tempting. (Think how it worked for those party crashers…) Some come and go, like Britney Spears or the UFO-generator in Colorado. And some seem to last and can always generate space – like Paris Hilton. The list is long and we buy into it daily. But what’s the difference between celebrities and heroes—those other people whom we admire?

Heroes get crowned for what they’ve done, not for how they look or how new and flashy their shtick is.

Heroes represent choices people made in their lives- real lives. Showing great courage or amazing generosity and caring, daring to go against the tide or putting oneself in danger for another. They represent actions and experiences we can all identify with – choices that we too could be called upon to make.

Celebrities represent something the rest of us cannot and do not do, and lives that we’ll never live.

So the difference? One represents fantasy, the other reality. Celebrities  make us spin dreams about them and their illusory dramas. Heroes make us see reality and generate admiration about how we – people – can and do respond to real –life dramas.

One generates unreal goals, the other generates humility and aspiration toward real goals.

And to look again at Tiger, he was a hero for what he accomplished: from humble beginnings, he developed tremendous will and talent to achieve astronomical success and become golf’s multiracial ambassador.

We held Tiger to a very high standard– much of it from his own making. Tiger played both games well; golf and the building of his brand. He leveraged his success on the course to capitalize on the brand he so carefully built. He exploited the myth that his integrity was as rock solid as his talent. We assumed that his professional accomplishments translated into a flawless character.

But it’s when we got to the celebrity part, to how he lived his sub-rosa glamorous, cheating lifestyle, that we lost him as a hero.

The Tiger Woods Feeding Frenzy

Let’s take a hard look at the Tiger Woods feeding frenzy. Not just at how appalling it is but that it’s giving us a pretty clear picture of who we are these days and what we hunger for.

Listen. Tiger Woods has been our hero because he’s a super-human golfer – not a super-human man. Sure, his relationship with his father was wonderful and we knew that. But Tiger never asked us to elect him preacher or teacher or role-model for the perfect human being. Just the perfect golfer.

What have we learned to love about him? Simply this: He can dig into his core and find the focus, the will and the skill to do amazing things that the rest of us can’t. He can make a golf ball follow his intentions while the rest of us— well, you know.  And thus he became a symbol of our hidden power, of the depth and possibilities we humans are capable of. And we basked in that glory. Look what “we” can do, how high we humans can rise, how powerful and in control we can become!

Then what happens? The rest of Tiger leaks out. The who-else-he-is when he’s not lifting us all to new heights via the golf course. Who knew? And, until now, who cared? But learning about his other human traits, we’re furious. How could he do that to us? How could he fall from the heights we lifted him onto and make us see he’s like the rest of us – sometimes fallible, incompetent, undisciplined, the “us” who often stray off the right path.  Result? He’s our mark for attack.

Why are we sooo needy?  So anxious to assume inhuman perfection from our steady parade of media–made stars and so quick to destroy them when their imperfect human foibles are revealed?  Well, today’s world problems have made life harder and more demanding than most of us can remember. Can it be that, filled with self-doubt and a sense of impotence about fixing our giant problems, even surviving, we keep looking for reassurance— for examples that our species’ basic genetic makeup will carry us through? That we really are capable of superhuman strength, of amazing talents, of heights we can rise to in order to solve our problems and survive?  That that’s where the endless hunger for idols and adulation comes from. We’re looking for examples to reassure us that we really all do have the right stuff, when needed. That yes, we can… And all the idols that keep falling from grace scare us into thinking— we’re all only human! Survive? No, we can’t….

Presenting Yourself Face to Face

As I enter into the blogosphere, I want to be extremely practical and useful. To write about something that both helps everyone become more effective and secure in their work and also brings some new information about that most powerful weapon—communicating. And is it ever a problem to many people—and now more than ever! So this blog is dedicated to that. Please join the conversation—let’s be honest about the problems you’re having, communicating-whether at work, at home or in relationships.

Here’s step 1.

Want to sell a product, an idea, a skill or you yourself? It can never happen electronically! No matter what, people finally want to hear it and experience it from you –live, in person. And here’s the problem: It’s really hard to holding people’s attention any more.  No one’s listening any more. They’re distracted, checking their blackberrys, their IMs, tweets, and sharing their mind-space is really hard.

SO–whether you’re talking to a client, an employee, a co- worker or  a supervisor, the old forms of communication – talking and listening – are becoming obsolete. Our new technologies- instant messaging, blogging, tweeting, facebooking—these are all about seeing information, not hearing it. We’re used to looking at, not listening to information.

But  one thing  hasn’t changed.

None of this has the impact of a face-to face presentation and encounter.

Fine. But now you know that our electronic short-circuit to selling and presenting yourself, makes doing it in person much harder. What can you do now to get and keep anyone’s attention face-to-face? What can make you a great live communicator these days?

To get and hold the attention of the person(s) you’re talking, here’s the secret:  focus on them and what they need, want, like, care about— not all about what you need—when you talk to them…

Great communicating is all about your audience—not you.

People are motivated by their own self-interest, first and foremost. So the sooner you can hook your message into what they want, like or  are worried about, what solutions can theyuse —the sooner you hook them into your message!!

You need to figure out what your audience wants and deliver that because the key question your audience will ask is “What’s in it for me? Why should I listen?”

And you must become not only more knowledgeable but also more  flexible and able to adapt your conversational style to your audience. Being aware of these changes can help you anticipate people’s needs, and make you and your message really effective, wherever you want it to make a difference.

So—I’m looking forward to hearing from you. What are you issues? Where do you get stuck? Who’s not listening to you???