Author Archives: james

When to Give an Ultimatum

The number one rule about giving an ultimatum is to mean it. 

A lot of people give ultimatums, but in their heads, they’re not sobered and settled.  They’re trapped, for example, in the belief that they can’t do any better and that spending life alone would be worse than staying with a person who hurts them.  When you say, “If you don’t stop drinking, I’m out of here!,” you’re really saying, “Please change so I don’t have to think about leaving.  I can’t actually live alone.”   That’s why I tell people they shouldn’t give an ultimatum until they actually have their bags packed and a game plan.

The reason most ultimatums don’t work is that the person making it is not ready to follow through.  They hope and hope and hope the threat itself will be enough to make some magical change happen, but more often than not, it doesn’t turn out that way.  You have to remember an ultimatum is finalIt’s a demand that if not met, will result in a direct action.  Basically speaking, the direct action is leaving.  If you are telling your partner for the first time that his or her behavior is unsettling, that’s not an ultimatum.  An ultimatum is a final shot across the bow.  It’s a last resort after you’ve tried everything else. 

The time to issue an ultimatum is when you have the courage and means to follow through on it, and not until then.  If you don’t, stop whining and complaining, and just make the best of life.  Seriously, I mean it.  You can only give a truthful ultimatum if you’re indeed ready to leave.  

One of the dumber ultimatums I hear people make is, “If you don’t marry me, I’m leaving.”  It’s just ridiculous.  Who wants to get married to someone they have to threaten into marrying? 

The best thing you can do is avoid getting to the point where you have to issue an ultimatum in the first place.  It’s much better to be up front in the beginning of a relationship and explain what’s acceptable and what’s not.  Very few people do this because they don’t want to lose their boyfriend or girlfriend.  They play games in their heads and figure everything will work out.  However, if you don’t like someone’s behavior, you need to state your boundaries early on.  If you really don’t want to marry a smoker and you’re dating a smoker, you have to tell them you have no intention of marrying a smoker.   That’s stating a boundary (“I have no intention of __”), not giving an ultimatum. 

So be sure to state your boundaries — “I have no intention of shacking up”; “I have no intention of having sex out of wedlock”; “I have no intention of using drugs or being with somebody who is abusing drugs.”

Finally, giving an ultimatum to a controller is just silly.  They’re not going to give up control.  There was a woman who recently called my show about her husband being a Scrooge.  He made five to 10 times more than she did, but expected her to hand over all of her paycheck and split the grocery bills with him.  I did not tell her to give him an ultimatum (she had already done that over and over again without success).  I told her to inform him that he’s the man and by definition of a man, he is supposed to provide and protect.  I said she was not to hand over her paycheck anymore, and direct deposit the money into an account he didn’t know about.  He needed to face the reality that there would be no water, no lights, no heat, and no house unless he took care of things.  An ultimatum wouldn’t work on him because there was just something wrong with him.  I told her if he didn’t respond appropriately, she’d have to be ready to move home to Mother. 

If you want to avoid these messes entirely, just talk about things before you get married:  “How many kids will we have?”; “How will we deal with our prospective families?”; “What do we think about religion or sex?”  About six months of premarital counseling should go into any marriage.  I would say that a good 30 percent of people who go into premarital counseling don’t get married, and I think that’s fabulous.  That’s a lot fewer divorces tearing up kids’ lives.  It’s not necessarily that anybody is bad – they just find they’re not a good match after actually discussing the issues of marriage.

So remember: an ultimatum is a final declaration.  Don’t issue one when you don’t have the courage and the means to follow through on it because you’ll only be looked at as even less than you already are.  You’ll also think less of yourself.  It’s hard to impress yourself when you see yourself not having any guts.           

 

Stop Being a Worried Mother

A woman’s life changes incredibly when she becomes a mother.  She grows a life inside of her for nine months, brings it out into the world, and suckles it at her breast.  Quite frankly, it’s amazing an experience. 

But with having a baby comes a whole change in how you perceive yourself.  Before I was pregnant, if I wanted to do something crazy, I could do something crazy.  But when you’re completely responsible for another little person’s life, you can’t do crazy stuff anymore.  It’s nothing to pout about (although some people do) – it’s just a change.  So, while my son was growing up, I had a motorcycle purse, motorcycle boots, and some motorcycle T-shirts, but I didn’t have a motorcycle.  But when he was grown up, out of the house, and in the military, I decided to get down and get a bike!
 
One of the big challenges facing new mothers is a tendency to worry.  Moms worry a lot, and I definitely did my fair share of it.  I get calls every now and then from somebody who has a relatively newborn infant and has dreams or nightmares of their child dying.  They feel anxiety about their responsibility, and worry about being able to fulfill it.  It’s scary.   

However, usually by the third time somebody has a kid, they don’t have those anxiety dreams anymore and sort of just know how to handle it. 

But if you are one of those worrying-mother types, I have some tips to help you stop worrying so much:

First of all, worrying about somebody or something is not a sign of caring.  Your worrying only becomes a burden on everyone around you, especially your kid, who has to try to make you feel better.  It can be very stultifying.   Instead, show that you care by doing special things, saying special things, and spending special time with your child.  That’s how you show you care – don’t just worry.

Next, realize that worrying has no power to stop bad things.  Worrying doesn’t create bad things, and it doesn’t prevent bad things from happening – it has no power over bad things.  Generally speaking, if whatever you’re worried about indeed happens, it probably won’t be as bad as you thought it would be.  Just think back to other times you’ve worried about something.  Didn’t things turn out all right?  Wasn’t it not as bad as you thought, or it didn’t even happen at all? 

In addition, you have to accept that some things are simply out of your control.  There’s a lot in the universe you have no power over.  It’s annoying, but it’s true.  You have to accept that to a certain extent, it’s just part of the game.  If you did all you could within your power to make something happen and it didn’t, all you can do is say you did your best. 

When you start worrying, you really have to distract yourself.  You need to rely on the support system of your girlfriends, exercise, or do a hobby.  You need to put your nervous energy into something productive because there’s nothing productive about worrying (because as I said, you have no power).  Moms who spend their time worrying end up contributing 120 percent of themselves to mothering and put nothing in to taking care of themselves.  It’s like putting your brain into a tiny little box – of course it’s going to stress and strain to get out.

One of the things I discovered when I was under a lot of stress was that if I would just take a walk with my dogs (no cell phone, no iPod…nothing), I would feel a whole lot better.  Exercise is a natural stress reducer.  It doesn’t have to be vigorous – it could just be going on a walk in the sunshine or strolling through the snow. 

If you don’t engage in your self-care, you can’t do whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing.  If the tool (you) is broken, it can’t get the job done right.  If you’re fit to be tied, you’re not going to be a very nice person.

Last but not least, accept that worrying is part of reality.  Remember not everything is going to go the way you thought it would or should.  Kids make mistakes, stuff happens, and there are some things in life that you simply have to accept.  Of course there’s always going to be a little bit of shoulder shrugging, but don’t drive yourself up the wall.

 

My Blunt, No-Nonsense Answers

Dr. Rodger Dean Duncan is widely known in the business world as an expert in the strategic management of change.  To name only a few, his client list includes American Airlines, IBM, eBay, Federal Reserve Bank and presidential cabinet officers in two White House administrations.  Dr. Duncan recently asked me to comment on personal responsibility, ethics, values, and moralities of today.  You can read my interview at his website: DoctorDuncan.com

Why Women Stay in Bad Relationships

Why would any reasonable woman stay in a bad relationship?

Well, reasonable may or may not have anything to do with it.  I’m going to break down some of the reasons people stay in relationships they should really be leaving:

Fear of being alone.  Although it’s extremely nice to have a companion and a love in life, it is not a good experience trying to squeeze square pegs into round holes.  If you’re with a guy out of fear of being alone, then it’s not even the guy you want – it’s the avoidance of not having a guy.  If you just want to avoid not having a guy, you’ll take just about any guy who’ll line up.    It doesn’t bring peace.  (It’s also curious to me why women think a man can stand their company when they can’t, but that’s a whole other issue).

For some women it’s the devil you know vs. the devil you don’tThere’s something comfortable about staying – even in a bad relationship – because at least you know what you’re getting.

Others make the excuse that “it’s not that bad.”  I remember one woman who called in about her second husband being physically violent.  She said she knew how to deal with violent guys, and this one was less violent so it was “not that bad.”

“Not that bad?!”  It blew my mind to hear that.  It doesn’t matter what comes before the word “bad,” it’s still bad.  That’s called denial.

Some people just can’t stand the notion of having failed, especially if they have lost a marriage or a relationship in the past.  They just don’t want to acknowledge that this is a failure.  Well the way I look at it, the failure is not in leaving when the relationship doesn’t work – the failure is not leaving.   The purpose of dating is to discern whether or not the other person’s a good match.  Once you discern that they’re not a good match, hit the eject button.

Sometimes the guy has some kind of leverage over you.  You’ve done something really dumb, like shacked up with him or put down half the money for a house or condo that you’re not going to get back.  Or maybe he’s made you a kept woman and you don’t know how you’re going to survive on your own.

You believe he’ll change.  After all, he said he would.  He says he’s trying, and really it’s you that’s making him so mad.  If you only stopped making him so mad or crazy or annoyed, he’d stop doing whatever it is that bothers you.

He makes you feel special.  Even though you’re not quite good enough (in his mind), he’ll manipulate you to feel grateful that he’s with someone like you.  He says things like, “You’ll never find anybody to care about you as much as I do.”   That’s laughable.  If somebody says that to you when you know you’re in a bad relationship, just say to them, “Well thank God nobody else is going to treat me like you do.”

Some women become so absorbed with the other person and isolated from their friends and family that they don’t get feedback from anybody else.  They deny that anything’s wrong and try to hide what’s going on.

Lastly, women sometimes won’t let go of a relationship because of the time and energy they’ve invested.  However, it’s just the opposite.  The longer you stay in a bad relationship, the more time and energy you’re going to spend.

If you’re in a bad relationship, don’t just think that working harder is the solution.  If you keep having the same problems, arguments, hurt feelings, and resentments, and nothing gets resolved, end it.  If you’ve been to couples counseling and you can’t reach a place of understanding, move on.   Realize you’ve made a mistake and you’re not compatible.  Don’t go from therapist to therapist until you get someone to agree with you.

Remember that life is finite.  I think that’s one of the most important things people forget.  You only have so many days to be alive.  How do you want to spend them?  Do you really not want to face your fears and stay with what you have?

Why Baby Drop Boxes Are Needed

In the United States, we have “safe-haven” laws in all 50 states, which allow children to be left anonymously in designated places (hospitals, fire departments, etc.).  Taking a similar initiative, European countries are providing more and more baby “drop boxes” for parents to drop off unwanted babies.  They have recently become a big deal in the news because the United Nations (which in my opinion is totally useless) has had the nerve to criticize them.

According to an article in Time, “At a children’s charity in Hamburg, Germany, there’s a steel door to a hatch where unwanted babies can be left anonymously. Once closed, it cannot be opened again from the outside.  Established [12 years ago], this is the first of Germany’s now 80-plus baby boxes or baby hatches.”  These are what the U.N. is criticizing.  The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child issued a statement saying that the boxes are “contravening the right of the child to be known and cared for by his or her parents.”

Well no kidding!  That’s the whole point – there aren’t two parents wanting to take care of the kid.  Duh! 

And guess what?  Roughly 30 to 40 babies (that they know about) die each year in Germany because they’ve been abandoned, and about that same number have been left in the hatches since their inception. 

It’s an alternative to just letting them die.  Are we really that worried about violating a child’s right to a name, nationality, and parents? 

We’ve had so many scandals here in the United States regarding this issue.  Remember the teenybopper who went to a dance, gave birth, flushed the baby down the toilet, and then went out to finish the dance?  A report by the Department of Health and Human Services showed that out of 4 million births in 1998, 108 infants were abandoned.  Between December of 2000 and March of 2001, seven babies were found dead in New York City – one thrown out a window in Washington Heights, another dumped in a sewer in Queens, and a third left in a vacant Bronx lot.

So, in my opinion, arguing about whether or not this is a good idea is sort of silly.  We’re dealing with people who are not going to take care of their kids anyway, so what are the options?  A lot of young women want the anonymity and a lot of babies are saved.
 
Some of you may take the side of the U.N. and argue back at me that the child has a right to be known by his or her parents because of medical issues that could arise.  To that, I just say don’t even bother.  In this day and age with the technology we have, the scans we can do, and the blood and genetic tests we can conduct, we don’t need family history to know what your problems are likely to be if you don’t take good care of yourself.  A lot of people have genes for a disease, like breast cancer, but they never get it.  Some people don’t have the genes for breast cancer and get breast cancer.  There’s no guarantee either which way.  It’s a specious argument.  

Some people might ask, “Hey, but what about the dads?”  Well, if the dad has a feeling he’s knocked up somebody and he really wants his child, he can either talk to the woman who’s carrying it, or he can go to the authorities to register his DNA.  Some adoption agencies deal with the DNA matchup of the putative father.  But I don’t even know the number of fathers in these situations who want their kid. 

One of the fellows who organizes safe-haven adoptions says that each year, his crisis line gets about 2,000 calls.  Most – 70 percent – decide to keep the baby and raise it with the help of their family.  However, 20 percent decide to place the baby in adoption, and 10 percent decide to leave the baby in a safe haven anonymously.  That’s one out of 10 kids that gets adopted out with anonymity through a licensed adoption agency.  They are placed with mommies and daddies who want them.  I say that if the law saves kids, it’s worth it.

It would be nice if only responsible, sane, married moms and dads were the ones having babies, but that’s not the case.  I am all for anything which does not result in a baby getting killed for no good reason other than “oops!”   That’s why I think the U.N. is being stupid.

When Kids See Smut Online

Should parents be concerned about Internet porn?

Yes!

The thing parents should be worried about most is the victimization of their children.  Whether it’s being preyed upon by a pedophile or experiencing crass sex totally disconnected from intimacy, it’s all victimization.
 
Today’s kids live in a culture where hard-core pornography is everywhere.  Kids have an arsenal of portable devices these days which enable them to go online just about anywhere.  Even if you monitor them closely at home by getting them to use child-friendly search engines and setting up OpenDNS or other parental controls, you still might not be able to stop them from looking at porn.  They could see it at a friend’s house, on a cell phone, or someplace where there’s public access to the Internet – like the library or at school. 

As far as I’m concerned, the windows in front of Victoria’s Secret stores depict soft-core pornography.  The same goes for Abercrombie and Fitch.  When parents walk by these stores in the mall with their kids or get their catalogues in the mail, they are exposing their kids to porn. 

A lot of people call in to my radio show wanting to know if they should wait until their kid asks about sex to talk about it.  I just tell them that at that point, it’s already way too late.  You should talk to kids about sex beginning at a very, very early age because they already have a high chance of seeing porn when their age is still in the single digits. 

You can say we all have different morals and philosophies about this topic, but mine is very child-centered and focused on kids having quality lives with quality relationships.   I think the ultimate goal for developing a child’s sexuality is making them see why connecting both sexually and spiritually is important.  You need to make them see that sex is a special act, and it symbolizes deep love and commitment between a husband and wife.  There are things that are sacred and sublime, and there are things that aren’t.  To take something sacred and put it in a meaningless context diminishes humanity, and affects not only the child’s sexuality, but his or her values, such as how women should be treated.

By helping your kids see the big picture about how sex is sacred and how it is being abused largely in our culture, you will be better prepared to confront the problem of pornography when it occurs in your children’s lives.

If you find out your child has looked at pornography, don’t get hysterical.  I think children are always victims of a form of sexual abuse whenever they are confronted with sexually provocative materials.   Gently find out if someone introduced it to them.  It’s really important to understand the context in which they got a hold of it.  It could have just been a pop-up, or their web search request came back with a porn site (e.g. they typed the word “fox” with two “x’s” by accident). 

And in the worst case scenario, your child could be looking at porn because it has been sent by someone who preys on kids.  “Pedophiles can use access to porn to establish a bond with a child.  The bond can lower a child’s resistance to meeting in person, and viewing porn may lower his or her resistance to being persuaded to perform sexual acts.  Showing a child pornography also is a good way to prevent detection because the child knows at some level he or she is doing something his parents wouldn’t sanction and is unlikely to tell them.”

Lastly, if your kid was just curious and looked at porn, don’t punish them.  Yelling, “We’re taking the computer away and we’re not going to feed you for four days,” is not helpful.   Instead, I think you should use the incident as an opportunity to teach your child that not everything and everyone on the Internet is harmless.  It’s a good time to talk to them about sexuality, how it can be exploited, and your values about sex, marriage, men, women, and relationships.  In your own home, it’s always a good idea to put the computer in a place where it is visible to the adults and limit the amount of time your child spends there.  You initiate the Internet session, log them on and off, and use blocking software and tracking services.  Basically, you set the rules.  If a child breaks the rules, then they get punished, but don’t punish them simply because they were curious and looked at porn.  If they are going to get a punishment, it should be because they disobeyed the rules.  Above all, you don’t want them to feel uncomfortable talking to you about something as incredibly important as their sexuality.

Your kids are being seduced all the time, and you have to keep that in mind.  I constantly see commercials that make my drop jaw.  It used to be that people would get hysterical over a kid getting his hands on a Playboy, but it’s not even close to that way anymore.  Our kids have lost their innocence and their sensitivity about viewing certain things that should be special.  It’s time to redirect and educate them.

Here are some alarming statistics about how Internet pornography is affecting our kids:

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.