Monthly Archives: August 2012

Improve Your Relationship – Argue!

Did you know that arguing can actually help your relationship?

The best way to elucidate this point is to talk about an argument I had with a friend of mine.  While we were having dinner one night, the conversation shifted to the topic of art.  My friend started telling me a story about a South African artist who had gotten a huge ball of plasticine (a type of plastic material) and rolled it through the streets of a number of poverty-ridden cities in South Africa to make a statement about violence and poverty.  The ball was then displayed in a museum for people to come and say “ooo” and “aww.”  Well I just thought this was too funny and laughed. 

However, he didn’t intend for his story to be funny.  

My friend, who I have known for five or six years and who has always been the most mellow human being on the face of the Earth, got pretty passionate (what I didn’t know at the time was when he was younger, he worked in that museum and it was his responsibility to dust off the ball each night).  And this only made me laugh harder.  I mean he was exhibiting such intense emotional reverence for a big plastic ball that picked up trash!

But then I saw he wasn’t just being passionate.  He was clearly upset.  I just looked at him and said, “OK, let me understand this.  The guy took a huge ball of goopy plastic, rolled it through streets to pick up garbage, and it ended up in a museum?!”  This just seemed like the plot of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” to me.  There was nothing he planned, this was not creative, and whatever got stuck stayed.  How the hell could anybody call that art? 

Well he did, and the situation didn’t get any better.  He then mentioned another very famous German artist who just painted a canvas black, but it was considered a great piece because of the way the brushstrokes reflected light.  At this point, I lost it all together.  I was the laughing version of inconsolable.  I couldn’t stop laughing.  I have to tell you, if it looks like I can do it, it’s not art (I don’t think Pollock throwing paint on a canvas is art either).  For me, an entity is attractive or it’s not.  I don’t care who made it, what their political history was, if they were rich or poor, or if they had emotional, mental, or physical problems.  My friend, on the other hand, thinks a piece of art has no intrinsic value unto itself.  For him, art is tied to history, biography, era, and circumstance – something has artistic value because of the surrounding context.   I could not agree less.  I don’t think that’s art, I think that’s a personal statement.  I think art is supposed to be attractive, passionate, and powerful without all that surrounding stuff.  For example, as I pointed out to my friend, if you suddenly found out that the big plastic ball of garbage was created by Donald Trump, it would no longer be meaningful.

However, through this argument, we came to a deeper understanding about each other.  I called him up the next day, apologized, and told him I now had a better understanding and appreciation about something that was so emotionally personal to him.  I just said we probably wouldn’t go art shopping together, and we shared a good laugh.

Arguments, especially between you and someone you care about, should be constructive and bring about a deeper understanding.  Here are a few general tips for arguing in your marriage:

Only argue about one thing at a time.  Don’t start bringing up history or other subjects, and don’t wait until you have a long list of disappointments to airTalk about things as they happen and you’ll avoid feeling ferocious from holding in your frustration.

Argue very gently.  Don’t criticize, name-call, or blame.  Arguing is not about abuse – it’s about stating your needs clearly and respectfully.  Try as hard as you can to figure out what the other person is talking about and what they want without being defensive.  If you’re getting defensive, just tell them you’re getting a little hot under the collar and to give you 30 minutes to go for walk, take a shower, or make a cup of tea.  Say you’ll finish the discussion later.  And during the break, don’t rehearse what you’re going to argue about.  Just calm yourself down. 
 
Listen to each other.  People have different personalities, tastes, histories (family, emotional, and psychological), needs, goals, and dreams.  There’s only one reason couples grow apart: they haven’t reached out to each other, expressed what’s on their minds, or taken what the other person has expressed and done anything constructive with it.  People do not naturally grow apart – it’s totally voluntary.  If you’re having a discrepancy with your husband or wife about decorating your house, for example, you need to communicate.  Ask each other what makes you feel comfortable in a home.  Not all the rooms have to be the same style.  Compromising and giving the other person something they dream about is all part of love.  In my house, if one of us says we really don’t like something, it doesn’t come into the house.  We just keep looking until we can find something we both like.  (Now, fortunately we have relatively similar tastes, such as not wanting a lot of beads hanging from anything).

Stay focused on the solution to the problem.  I once read a story about the CEO of a cancer research company who actually encouraged arguing because as opposed to getting input from a bunch of “yes” men and women, the arguments would foster new ideas.  And when the arguments got heated or off track, he would just say, “Hey, let’s remember why we’re here – to cure cancer.  Keeping focused on the mutual goal is very important.  For example, the next time you and your spouse are trying to go out to the movies and there are dishes to put away, don’t stand there fighting about who did the dishes the last time.  Just keep focused and say, “We have to get this crap out of the way so we can go to the movies.”  Get it done without the ego of who did what.  The point is to find a solution.  

The real purpose of arguing is to come to some kind of agreement or compromise.  The main point of arguing is not to win (you could even put that on little three-by-five cards around the house).  Having a useful argument means you’ve learned something about yourself and about your partner.  Always remember you love each other.  

As many of you know, I take pool lessons.  The hardest thing for me to learn was that dropping the ball in the pocket is not the goal.  Instead, you’re supposed to play for that incredible feeling of when you make the perfect stroke exactly in sync.  The point is the feeling, not winning a particular point.

So, the next time you’re arguing with someone you love, remember the point is not to win the point – it’s to experience the feeling of being in sync. 

How to Get Better Customer Service

No matter what kind of business you have, customer service is important.

For example, part of my radio program is a business.  When one of my peeps answers a phone and talks to someone, they know they’re representing me.  And I want to be represented as someone who gives others respect.  If people have the interest to make contact or if they have any need or question, we have to fulfill the need or answer the question as best we can.

Now, of course there are times when people call and are obnoxious and rude.  It’s rare, but it does happen.  Some people call up very angry because they can’t have what they want, how they want it, and have it five minutes ago.  But it’s amazing how even when that happens, a customer service rep (even if they’ve been having a bad day) will usually respond nicely.

I deal with a lot of companies to get the “ingredients” I need for the pieces I create for Dr. Laura Designs.  I’ve been working with a company called Rio Grande Jewelry (I’ll give them a plug because they’re always so great) for years.  They understand that as a business, the whole point of your existence is customer service: taking care of customers so they will be loyal.  I would say over 90 percent of the equipment I get, I buy from Rio Grande because if there’s ever a problem, I know they’ll take care of it. 

One week, I ordered a mold to work with powdered glass, and it was delivered cracked.  I was disappointed because I was really looking forward to using it over the weekend. So I called them up and asked for help (by the way – the minute you say to somebody that you need help instead of ragging on them, they’re already more likely to want to help you).  I didn’t sound upset.  The person on the other end of the phone didn’t crack the mold, and the company they work for didn’t either (they’re just an intermediary for the company that made it and probably forwarded it to me cracked).  She offered to pay for the mold to be returned and sent me new one.

Because the phone call was so pleasant, I started asking her about an engraver machine I had with some lowercase letters missing.  And after we had some fun communicating the letters that I needed to each other, – “‘B’, ‘P,’ ‘T’…’B’ as in ‘baby’…” – she helped me get replacements.  The interaction was just great.

The goal of customer service is to make sure your customer is satisfied and loyal.  Feeling disrespected is the primary reason customers don’t come back to a restaurant or a store.  Nobody should tolerate being treated rudely when all they’re asking for is help. 

There are a couple of things I especially loathe when I call up a company asking for help.  One of them is that stupid tree of “press one for this, press seven for that…”  I won’t work with companies that have that.  You go through the whole tree, and you end up nowhere.  At that point, you’re left banging the phone down on the table several times.  Companies ought to have people answering the phone instead of putting customers through the obstacle course of that automatic menu. 

However, sometimes you might be the one contributing to the reason why you’re not getting great customer service.  Here are some tips to avoid getting lousy customer service when you’re calling and asking for help:

  • Don’t be yelling at your kids, pets, or spouse in the background.  There is nothing more unpleasant for the person helping you to hear than you threatening your kid with a beat-down and then morphing into a sweet, polite person.  Keep the household or work drama out of the situation because that just gets the person on the other end tense.
  • Don’t demand an immediate solution or interrupt them.  Don’t bully or make threats: “If you don’t help me right now, I’m going do this,” or, “If you put me on hold, I’m going to sue you!”  (I think at the very worst, you should say that you’re going to tell their mother). 
  • Explain your problem thoroughly.  On my program, I work really hard helping people explain their problems clearly and linearly so I can get a complete picture of their dilemma.  I try to get them to speak calmly and explain their issue in the least amount of sentences possible.  I tell callers not to rush and just give me what I need to know in order to help them.
  • Be patient and give the person time to fulfill your request or give you some kind of alternative solution.  Have a magazine, book, iPad, Kindle…whatever…sitting next to you.  Instead of pounding the walls, just do something while you’re waiting. 
  • If you’re not getting help, politely ask to be tossed upstairs.  Ask to speak to a manager or a supervisor.  
  • If worse comes to worst, you can write a complaint letter to the company’s owner or a higher-level executive.  You’re more likely to get your complaint satisfied by somebody who has more power.  A lot of times the people who answer the phone just don’t have the authority.

Always remember this: remain completely calm when interacting with customer service agents and managers because employees are more likely to help if you are level-headed, reasonable, polite, and patient. 

A little sense of humor doesn’t hurt either. 

Quote of the Week

Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.
               – Harriet Beecher Stowe
                 American abolitionist and author
                 1811-1896

Obsessed About Their Kids

You’ve all heard stories about kids getting homesick when they go away to summer camp.  Well, these days that’s sort of flipped.  Instead, parents are getting “kidsick.”

During the summer when I was a kid, we’d have breakfast, leave the house, and then maybe go back again only once that day.  We usually bounced around from house to house and rode bikes for hours across acres and acres of farm fields near where I lived.  Nobody even knew where we were, and I never knew of anybody who didn’t come home again.

But that was then, and this is now.

Now there’s not a day that kids don’t show up dead.  There’s not a day that kids aren’t stolen, molested, or victims of gang violence.  There’s just not a day.  Neighborhoods are rarely tight anymore, and if they are, it’s out of fear.  And if your kids go to the park and you’re not somewhere nearby, you’re probably being irresponsible.

However, there’s a difference between sitting on the side of the playground relaxing, reading, listening to music, or talking to somebody and standing under the jungle gym making sure your precious little bundle of joy doesn’t get dirty or upset by something somebody else says or does.  That’s micromanaging.  Your precious little bundle of joy has to learn to live in the real world.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t supervise your kids.  Macromanaging is really necessary, especially these days with all the sex, drugs, and violence.  What I’m talking about is being a helicopter parent and hovering over your kids.  For example, when parents send their kids to summer camp, the people who head the camp are now expected to take pictures every day, post them on the camp’s Facebook, and send emails to the parents.  If the parents see their kid not smiling, they call the head of the camp to see what’s wrong.  That’s micromanaging.

I recently took a call on my show that just stayed in my head.  On the surface, it didn’t seem like a memorable call, but it turned out to be.  I found it alarming because of how typical the caller’s situation was.

The call was from a mother who had a son in his mid-20s, and he had just gotten fired from working in a pizza parlor (I don’t know what you do to get fired from that kind of job, but he did).  The caller’s mother – the grandma of the ne’re-do-well – was dying and said her grandson could have her car, which only had about 5,000 miles on it.  She said he could just have it!  And just when I was telling the woman she should tell Grandma to please give the car to somebody who would be more responsible, I found out this ne’re-do-well (who doesn’t have a job because somehow serving or flipping pizza is more than he can handle) doesn’t like the car because it’s not cool enough.  He thinks it looks like “an old person’s car.”

SPOILED…LITTLE…BRAT!

But his mother didn’t say that to Grandma.  Instead, she catered to her son further by selling the car so he could use the money to buy a cooler one.

I remember vividly choking down rage and saying that I was finding it difficult to help her out.  In my day, if a car had doors and wheels and went forward, you were happy.  I looked up the car online, and saw it’s a nice car.  But instead of saying, “Hey, you really have to find somebody else to give this car to.  My son’s kind of a loser and doesn’t appreciate it. He’s just not a grownup yet, so let’s find somebody else in the family, who, by virtue of their character and effort, actually deserves and would appreciate it,” Mommy sold the car so he could be cool.

That’s the kind of parenting that ruins children.  The parent who gets involved in every emotional ache, pain, and little problem of their kid’s life only hurts their kid and doesn’t help them grow up.  That’s why huge percentages of young adults are moving back home instead of making their way somehow.  That’s why two-thirds of American children are fat or obese.  Mothers sit three feet away from their kids screaming, “Don’t do that! You’re going to hurt yourself!,” instead of letting them hang upside down and run around.

I remember when my kid was little my rule was if it didn’t kill him or somebody else, I would let him do it.  I figured that’s the way kids grow into adults and men.   I’m not suggesting you allow your kids to run off to the park alone.  That’s kind of stupid these days.  America has changed dramatically, and it will probably never go back to the way it was.  But as far as avoiding being a kidsick, helicopter parent while your child is away at camp, I have a couple ways to cope.

First, don’t be connected to your kid’s camp via the Internet.  If they have a Facebook, don’t go on it until your kid comes home.  And lastly, do what parents used to do when kids went to camp: spend the time caretaking your marriage and worry less about the kids.  You know that saying, “When the cat’s away, the mice will play.”?  Well, just twist it around: while the mice are away, the cats will play.

Just remember this: Being responsible and being worried all the time are two very different things.