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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Taking a Stand

When an ice storm hits Atlanta, trees fall. 

Unlike many large metropolitan areas, Atlanta is filled with tall pines, old oaks, and streets lined with dogwoods.  An ice storm takes a heavy toll on the trees in every part of the city.

In our last ice storm several years ago, a tall pine near the entrance to my neighborhood cracked about three feet from the ground.  As it fell, the top of the tree caught on a small branch from an adjacent tree, leaving the pine leaning precariously toward the street at a forty-five degree angle.

I watched the tree, a huge gaping crack in its trunk, held up by a tiny branch, for three years, waiting for it to fall into the street.  I had so little belief in the tree’s ability to stay balanced on that branch that I drove in and out of my neighborhood by a different way.

In spite of the appearance of weakness and instability, the tree remained standing for three years.  Finally this year, the neighbor on whose property the tree had grown cut the tree down. 

I was greatly relieved.

Although the tree was an obvious presence, I had little confidence in its capacity to maintain its angled stance.  I did not trust its ability to hold its own.  I avoided it.

When people make assertive statements, but present a weak or off-balanced appearance, the listener is likely to disregard the power of the statement.  Just like the tottering pine, a person who is not standing on his/her two feet will look less effective and less able to maintain his/her position.

You’ve seen public speakers who, because they are nervous, shift back and forth from one foot to the other.  Their movements are distracting and disconcerting.  Sometimes I find I am watching the motion rather than listening to the speech.

“Don’t fidget,” Richard Gere admonishes Julia Roberts in the movie Pretty Woman.  While he is trying to make her look like a lady, he also is trying to help her maintain a positive presence. 

Try to become a keen observer of yourself.  Do you fidget? Are there habits such as playing with your hair or swaying back and forth that you use during stressful communication? Do you betray your fear of speaking up through your nonverbal indicators?

Nonverbal assertiveness is a powerful tool.  The words that you say are empowered or diminished by how you handle yourself physically.

When you are speaking, plant yourself firmly on both feet.  If you are seated, uncross your legs and put both feet flat on the ground.  Not only will you look more solid in your stance, but also your words will seem more powerful both to you and the listener.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Crocs and the Power of Writing a Letter

Writing letters (or in today's world, sending an email) can be very powerful.  Sending your thoughts to another person can serve many purposes.  Sometimes we want to effect a change, sometimes we want to give feedback, and sometimes we just want to vent.

I ordered a new pair of Crocs from Zappos.  The pair I've used has been around for about four or five years.  The toes are scuffed, but they have continued to serve their purpose - I wear them for gardening and house shoes - they are quick to slip into to take the dogs out first thing in the morning.

A few weeks ago my Crocs disappeared.  I looked in every closet.  I live in a tiny house and I looked in every room.  I had a memory of sitting somewhere to take them off and exchange them for the "real" shoes I was going to wear but for the life of me, I couldn't remember where I was sitting.  I looked everywhere.  I surmised either that I had left them by accident in the mountains a couple of weeks ago or that I had set them on an unlikely shelf that had not yet gotten my attention.

I do love them even though when I went to the beach several years ago with my nephew, I asked him if I looked cool enough in my new sunglasses to go to the beach with him.  "Well, Aunt Linda," he said in a matter of fact way, "The sunglasses are cool, but lose the Crocs."

Now I have succeeded in losing the Crocs and despite their uncoolness, according to Avery, I miss them.

So I went online to Zappos where I have ordered many a pair of shoes, found the basic navy Crocs I wanted, pushed the necessary buttons, shared the necessary PayPal information and ordered a new pair.  The very next day, the Crocs were sitting on my doorstep when I arrived home.

I opened the box to find that the Crocs waiting beneath the cardboard were not what I had ordered at all.  They were Black and Grey rather than Navy and not only that, they were a different style of Croc as opposed to basic Crocs which I had wanted.

I sent an email to Zappos:
I ordered classic crocs in navy - xxxxxxxxx is my order number.  My shoes arrived yesterday and I'll keep them but they are not what I ordered.  I ordered navy classic crocs and I received black crocs - I believe this is the shoe I received:
 Crocs Yukon sport in black/graphite.

They fit and will serve the purpose - I only use crocs as hangout in the house shoes, but your robot picked up the wrong box in selecting my order.

 I've ordered from you many times and this is the first time I've been disappointed.

 Linda T


I had seen a Wired article about the Bots that collect shoes on order from Zappos so I was amazed that I was the recipient of a failed "bot."  They report almost no failures now that Kiva is serving their fulfillment needs.

Here's the response I got from Zappos within 48 hours of my email as their customer service center had promised:

Hello Linda,

Thank You for contacting the Customer Loyalty Team. I hope this email finds you well!

I am so sorry to hear you received the wrong color Crocs (not to mention the wrong style). Since I am not a big fan of disappointing our awesome customers such as yourself I am going to send you a free replacement pair of Crocs in the correct style that you originally ordered. Your new order for the Navy Classic Crocs will arrive on Wednesday. Don't worry, there is no need to return the original pair of Crocs, you can keep them as a backup pair. You were not charged for the replacement order, I simply transferred your funds over to the new one.

To ensure you get the correct shoe this time, I have transmitted a message to our Warehouse-Bots to double check your order before it is shipped out.

In the meantime, I have also upgraded your account to VIP! This is completely free and entitles you to next business day shipping, expedited returns, and other perks. Be on the lookout for a separate VIP email for more information!

If you need any further assistance, please let us know! We are here 24/7 for the early birds, night owls, and everyone in-between. Have a great weekend!

Your Friendly Zapponian,
Jason C.
Zappos Customer Loyalty Team


My email was intended to allow me to vent.  I expected nothing else - but now I will have a navy pair of classic Crocs which was my original wish.  

And today my granddaughter found my old Crocs under a piece of furniture that was easier for her to look under at 2 1/2 than for me!

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Assertiveness and the Sound of Silence

Sometimes the sound of silence is more effective than uttering a single word. Silence can actually be quite loud in an assertive interaction.

Silence to employ a good listening technique 

First silence can be an indication that you are listening. After a moment of silence, it is often helpful to reiterate what you heard the other person say. Then that person knows you were listening and that you understood what they said.

 Simon and Garfunkel comment in their song about “people hearing without listening” which is what many people do. Once I had a conversation with my youngest daughter, Valerie, who was then in high school. She looked attentive and nodded her head at whatever I was requesting that she do going forward. Then the next day she did exactly the opposite of what I said the day before.

 I was confused. “But Valerie, I don't understand why you did that.  I talked to you about this very thing yesterday.”

 “Oh, Mom,” she said, “That was because I looked like I was listening, but I wasn’t really listening.”

 One important value of silence in an assertive interaction is that you can actually listen and put together what you have heard in the silence before affirming your understanding by repeating it for the other person.

Silence to offer respect to the other person

Often in conversation, I imagine you find yourself thinking of what you want to say next.  You may plan the whole conversation in your head, all the while nodding and smiling at the other person.

Or you may interrupt because you are so eager to get your two cents in that you just can't wait for him/her to finish the sentence or the thought.

Waiting (and listening) in silence is much more respectful of the other person and indicates that you value his/her contribution to the topic.

Silence to avoid taking in an insult

Silence can also be quite powerful when you are speaking with someone who is treating you without respect. Silence then serves to indicate that you are not going to allow someone to poke you or at least that you will not give them the satisfaction of knowing that they have struck a blow.

 For example if someone insults you: “I don’t know why I expected YOU to get it right. After all every time I assign a task to someone at your level, it gets completely botched up.”

Why honor the insult with a response (indicating to the bully that he/she has damaged you)?  Instead, simply take charge of the conversation by beginning a new topic.

You respond with nothing....complete silence and no change of facial expression....and then change the subject.

Silence to give power to the punch line

At the office, Sam makes a request of his associate, Rudy.  "Rudy, I want us to meet our goal by the end of the week.  Both of our evaluations depend on this."

Rudy looks shocked and says, "But Sam, you know we can't do this.  We don't have enough people power to make the number of phone calls that we will need to make."

Sam looks at Rudy and says nothing.  Then after a short silence, Sam says again, "Rudy, I want us to meet our goal by the end of the week."

The silence adds power and effectiveness to the statement Sam is making.  Sam does not allow any watering down of his request because to him it is of the utmost importance.  So without engaging in speculation with Rudy, after a short silence, Sam simply makes the statement again.

Silence to avoid impulsive decision making

"I know, I know," says your wife.  "We can go on vacation to the Bahamas.  The weather should be great and it's not that long a trip.  We can ask Fred if we can use his timeshare."

This sounds good and you are ready to jump on board, but instead you say, "Let me think about this - I don't want to make an impulsive decision and suddenly have airplane tickets that we can't use."  So you sit in silence contemplating the pros and cons before sharing them with your wife to make a careful and studied decision.

These are only a few of the ways in which silence can strengthen assertiveness.  So assertiveness isn't always what you say, but is often what you don't say.