Just say no

The thought of turning someone down can fill us with dread.  We’ve been conditioned to be nice, be helpful, be pleasing.  Our minds churn through the potential consequences – disappointing people, missed opportunities, angry reprisals.  In many cases we’re over-estimating our worth.

The first step in saying no is mentally preparing for it.  It’s easier to turn down an opportunity if you are focused on what you want – does the item in question align with your goals?  If not, the answer is easy.  Saying no does not make you a bad person.  Understand that by saying no, you’re not rejecting the person, you’re simply rejecting the circumstance.  You may need to take a moment to put your thoughts together before you say no – if the person is pressing you for an answer delay them but do it nicely.

The next step is to put your rejection together.  Decide how to word it politely but firmly.  Be honest without being rude.  Think of the potential rebuttals and how to surmount them.  It would also be a good idea to think of an alternative course of action to suggest to the person.

Then, pick your medium based on the situation and your comfort level: face-to-face, telephone, email, etc.  Rejection is a private matter.  Under no circumstances should you involve people not pertinent to the discussion (so no public posts on a social media or micro-blogging site).  Decide if you want the home court advantage or if you prefer a more neutral setting.  Do your best not to make the situation contentious or antagonistic.

The last step is actually say no.  Make it short and sweet.  There is no need for an extended discussion, endless apologies or the wailing and gnashing of teeth.  Be gracious and consistent.  If the person persists, a simple “I’m sorry but the answer is no.” should suffice.  If not, excuse yourself and make yourself less available until they recover their manners.

Afterward, do not beat yourself up over the rejection, the consequences or how the other person reacted.  Focus instead on your goals and being productive in your own life.

Everyday negotiation

Negotiating seems to rank up there with public speaking and death in terms of what people want to do.  The fact is that we’re negotiating almost every day of our life whether it be where we want to go for lunch or what date a project will be completed on.  Obviously this blog isn’t meant to turn you into a master negotiator (there are books for that) nor is it meant to have you haggling at your local supermarket like it’s a Turkish Bazaar.  However, if you’re going to do something on a daily basis, you might as well be good at it.

  1. Determine what you want and what you’ll settle for.  Determine what the other person wants and what they’ll settle for.  Determine where your interests intersect – your goal lies between that point and what you want.
  2. Start with a smile and a flexible attitude.  The best negotiations are not confrontational but are geared towards both people getting a version of what they want.
  3. Listen to what the other person says, ask open-ended questions and don’t be afraid of silence.  At all times you should be respectful and polite.
  4. Open with what you want and allow them to counter.  If they open first, counter with your opening.  If you’re unsure of how to open try, “I guess we’re at the point where we negotiate.”  Don’t forget to smile.
  5. Continue to make counter-offers until both sides reach a consensus.  Keep it positive and focused – this is not an argument.  If you find yourself getting emotional you should excuse yourself for a moment to collect yourself.
  6. When the negotiations approach what you’ll settle for, prepare a solid case why this is your absolute bottom-line.  Under no circumstances should you issue a threat, veiled or otherwise.
  7. If you’re at your bottom-line and an agreement hasn’t been reached, expand the discussion to include alternatives (non-monetary compensation, additional help, moving another due date, etc.)
  8. If all else fails, you may have to agree to disagree and walk away.
  9. Practice, practice, practice.

Oh no! I need to recover the status quo!

Being wrong sucks.  It’s embarrassing, a reminder that we’re not perfect.  Our ego wants to pretend it didn’t happen.  I mean, if the other person truly loves you they’ll just forgive you automatically, right?


Apologies, good apologies are a necessary social lubricant and help strengthen relationships.  They indicate that the person apologizing cares about the relationship and wants to make things right.  Here is your cheat sheet:

  1. Approach the person, preferably face-to-face and state that you’re there to apologize.  (“Hi Susan.  I think I might have offended you the other day and I want to apologize.”)
  2. Accept responsibility for your actions but do not attempt to justify them.  (“It was horrible of me to tell Todd that you’d slept with his brother but in my defense, I was really drunk.”)
  3. Say you’re sorry but do not attempt to shift blame.  (“I’m sorry if you can’t take a joke.”)
  4. Acknowledge the ramifications.  (“I interfered with your relationship and I completely understand if you’re angry with me.”)
  5. Offer reparations but don’t go overboard.  (“With your permission I’d like to speak with Todd to explain that it just sleeping, not sex.  If that doesn’t work, I’ll never bother you again.“)
  6. End the apology and be ready for an awkward silence.  (“I value our friendship and would like to get it back on track.  I would very much like for us to work through this.  I’ll wait to hear from you.”)

Bad apologies or missing apologies, on the other hand, will destroy relationship.  Don’t ignore the situation.  Don’t be insincere.  Don’t attempt to be funny.  Don’t engage in over-the-top self-flagellation.  Don’t make the apology about yourself.  Don’t guilt the other person into accepting your apology.  Don’t shirk your responsibilities should you need to actually do something to gain the other person’s forgiveness.  Don’t just wing-it.

When do you need to issue an apology?  You need to apologize when you’ve done something to get a relationship off-track.  It could be an off-hand comment or it could be about accidentally killing someone’s pet while it was in your care.  In any case, the onus to make reparations is on the offender, not the offended.  An easy rule of thumb is if you think you need to apologize then you probably should.

What to do with the stomach flu

The stomach flu, food poisoning, gastroenteritis all suck.  The good news is that most of the time they don’t require a trip to the emergency room.  The bad news is that no one wants to hold your hand through your personal hell. This is my way to handle the situation (if your doctor recommends something different – listen to your doctor!).

Get to your place as soon as safely and legally possible.  It’s going to get worse before it gets better so you probably don’t want to do this in a public place.  You will have times where you feel sick and times that you feel really sick.  Be sensitive to how your body feels.  Do not hesitate to seek medical help if you feel its necessary.

Set up your bathroom.  Remove that white flokati rug and anything else that isn’t absolutely necessary.  Put an empty plastic laundry basket just inside the door.  Put a clock on the counter (at some point you’re going to want to know what time it is).  Wipe the toilet down with bleach wipes.  A plastic bucket lined with a plastic bag may be useful if you think you may pass out.  Grab as many bath towels that you can – put two down on the floor opposite the toilet so you have a comfortable place to sit or lay down (eventually you’re going to want to sleep).  Put the rest of the towels on the counter so that they remain clean until you need them.

Bring your cellphone and the number for the medical hotline in your area – pre-program this in your phone if you can.  Call your best friend and let her know what’s going on.  Ask her to call you periodically through the night and the next few days until you’re feeling better.  Call your boss to tell them that you’re sick and you probably won’t be making it in the next day.  Keep your cellphone handy.

Grab a bottle of water and a plastic or paper cup – this is for rinsing out your mouth, not drinking.  I don’t recommend mouthwash because it dries out your mouth and the taste is incongruous with anything coming up.  Still, if mint makes you feel better, you can try it.  Be careful about drinking too much fluid while you’re still vomiting.

If it makes you feel less alone, turn on the radio or the television.

Write down everything you ate in past 48 hours and what you suspect the problem might be.  Write down your symptoms.  Write down each time you get sick.  If, for some reason, you are incapacitated and taken to the hospital this piece of paper will speak for you.

Tie or pin back your hair and get naked.  Yes, get naked.  It will be easier to wash yourself off than to continually wash your clothing.  Put some pajamas just outside the bathroom door for when you’re feeling better.  In the meanwhile, wrap yourself in a towel if you get cold.

When you get sick, don’t stress out.  If you feel that you need medical attention, seek it. 

Over the next few days, go easy on yourself.  Drink clear fluids, avoid sugar and dairy, eat light foods.  When your symptoms disappear you can gradually go back to your regular diet.  Get plenty of sleep as your calorie count will be down.  Keep in contact with your boss to let them know how you’re doing and when they can expect you back.  Thank your best friend for having your back.

Direct from my desk – week 8

So considering my topics the past few days people might get the impression that this blog is about girl power.  It’s not.  It’s also not about female supremacy (I think men are just dandy as counterparts) or anything like that.  This blog is meant to inspire you to be the best version of yourself and to be a quality woman worthy of, and unwilling to settle for anything less than, a quality partner.

Popular media has done  us a disservice by allowing us to believe that being neurotic, needy, or desperate will be rewarded by the handsome prince riding up to rescue us.  That simply doesn’t happen in real life.  In fact, if you meet someone who wants you to be neurotic, needy, or desperate you should really be asking yourself why.  Are they a rescuer?  Are they looking for someone they can manipulate?  Are they willing to take whatever warm body comes along?  Perhaps their problems outweigh yours and they’re looking to find someone willing to accept less than they deserve.

Don’t allow yourself to be discounted.  Know your weak points and work to make them strengths (or at least neutral).  Be competent and capable, know your value, and always put your best foot forward.

Sew what?

With the death of home economics in schools, a few essential skills have left by the wayside.  Sewing need not be a bloodsport nor do simple repairs need to be done by a professional (1.  It’s expensive.  2.  They’ll think you’re crazy for not knowing how to sew a button).  So rather than throwing out a perfectly good shirt, do the following:

  1. Look inside the garment or the little envelope that came with the garment for extra buttons.  If there aren’t any, take the shirt to a fabric store to find a similar button or consider taking a button from elsewhere on the garment where it won’t show (top button you never button, bottom button below the waistband).
  2. It doesn’t matter if you’re working with a shank button (thread attaches to opening on the back of the button) or a sew-through button, the process is basically the same.  With a shank button you’ll be pulling the thread through the back.  With a two hole sew-through button you’ll go up one hole and down the other.  With a four hole sew-through button you’ll stitch diagonally.
  3. Thread your needle with approximately 24 inches of matching thread.  Knot the ends together, trim off the excess and move the needle to the midpoint of the thread.
  4. Line the button up on the garment using the previous holes as your guide.  Push the needle up one hole and down the other.  On the backside, just this once, push the needle through the two strands of thread just above the knot to secure the knot and make sure it doesn’t pull through the fabric.
  5. If necessary, use a pin or a penny between the fabric and the button to ensure enough space for the buttonhole to fit around the button.
  6. Continue stitching approximately four times (on four hole sew-through buttons, stitch four diagonally from hole A to hole C and stitch four diagonally from hole B to hole D).
  7. Come back up through the fabric but not through the button and wrap the thread around the shank (threads below the button) several times.
  8. Push the needle through the shank then through the fabric. Make a few back stitches to secure the thread and cut off the excess thread.

As a bonus, follow this link to find out how to hand sew a blind hem.

Jumpstart…your car

You leave the grocery store and realize that your car won’t start  What do you do?  Hint:  the correct response is not “cry until a stranger helps you” although that may work your ice cream could be melted by then.

However, because you aren’t a weepy girl you’re going to do the following:

  1. Ascertain that the car battery is actually dead.  When you turn it over it should do nothing.  If the battery is merely low, it will crank slowly and the lights on your dashboard lights may only flicker or appear low.  If your headlights are bright and your electronics are fine – the problem probably isn’t your battery.
  2. Turn off or unplug all your electronics.  Turn off your car.  Pop the hood.  Take a good look at your battery, is it damaged?  If it is, don’t jump it, call a tow truck.  If it’s merely corroded, plan to wipe it off with your towel.
  3. Grab your gear from your car.  You should have jumper cables, a large t-shirt to pull over your clothing, safety glasses, a pair of gloves, your towel and baby wipes to clean yourself up afterward.
  4. Flag down a friendly stranger.  When he sheepishly admits that he doesn’t know how to jump start a car tell him, “It’s okay cupcake, I do.” (Well maybe you should just say thank you.)
  5. Have him arrange his car so that his battery is close your battery but his car is not touching your car.  Then ask him to turn off or unplug all of his electronics.  Have him turn off his car and pop the hood.
  6. Check to ensure you know which is the negative and which is the positive on both batteries.  It’s usually red = positive and black = negative but better safe than sorry.
  7. Before you start – make sure the that positive and negatives ends never touch each other after they’re attached to the batteries.
  8. Connect the positive jumper cable to the positive terminal on the dead battery.  Then connect the positive jumper cable to the positive terminal on the good battery.
  9. Connect the negative jumper cable to the negative terminal on the good battery.  Then connect the negative jumper cable to any clean, unpainted metal surface under the hood of your car (like a bolt).  Do not attach it to the dead battery.
  10. Start the good car and let it run for a minute.  Then turn it off.
  11. Start the disabled car.  If it didn’t work, you may have to try again.  If it continues not to work, you may need to call a tow truck.
  12. Remove the cables in the reverse order that they were connected.  Again, don’t let them touch.
  13. Thank the stranger and help him put his car back in order.  Clean yourself up.  Put your gear back in your car.
  14. Run your car at least 30 minutes to recharge your battery.

Putting together your own Ikea furniture

It’s exciting!  You’re strolling out of IKEA with that over-sized shopping cart filled with flat-pack boxes and an image in your head of how organized your place is going to look.  Fast-forward two hours where you’re surrounded by mysterious bits of wood and metal rapidly spirally toward a nuclear meltdown.

Instead of being a weepy girl, do this:

  1. If possible, assemble it in the room that it will be living in.  Clear as large a space as you can.  Turn on some good music.  Put on your safety glasses (they’re cooler than an eye-patch).
  2. Open the box (use a box cutter, not scissors) and match like parts.  Separate the small parts in a muffin tin.
  3. Grab the instructions and match the parts to the instructions.  Make sure you have all the required parts – no point getting halfway done to find out you’re down one screw.
  4. If you’re missing a part and IKEA is not close-by, bring an identical part and the instructions to a hardware store.  Yes, you’ll buy the item (or maybe a box of 100) but it will be easier than going back to IKEA.
  5. Lay out the big parts roughly how they will go together.
  6. Read through the instructions several times and be aware that you might be tempted to do things out of order – go ahead and do so if you’re comfortable with re-engineering just be aware that it’s easier to put the furniture together than to take it back apart.
  7. Those tiny tools that come with the furniture will only ruin your manicure.  Grab your cordless screwdriver (not a cordless drill – this is smaller and lighter), your driving bit set, a hammer and your beverage of choice (please be aware that alcohol is probably best saved for afterward).
  8. Be gentle – MDF (medium density fiberboard) is delicate and unforgiving.  It’s better to go slow and steady than to go fast and dent your furniture or strip a screw.
  9. If you’re feeling daring or creative, look online for ideas on how to customize your furniture.

When all else fails, IKEA does offer an assembly service or you can hire a local handyman to do it.  Personally, I think you should just grab your screwdriver and go for it.

Changing a tire

While you may never actually change a tire yourself, it’s useful to know how to do it and the knowledge will give you confidence when the inevitable does occur.  However, before you get to that point you will need to make sure that you have what is necessary to complete the job, that it’s in good shape and you know how to use it.  You car should come with a spare tire and a jack.  Check the spare tire on a regular basis to ensure it’s in good shape.  Pull the jack out and make sure you know how to use it.  If the tires have wheel locks, make sure you know where the key is (I suggest keeping it in the sealed plastic bag along with the car manual in the glove box).  Practice loosening the lug nuts.  Do you have the right wrench or do you need to get a better one?  Considering changing a tire can be a messy job, I also suggest a large shirt to change into, a large towel (for spreading on the ground), a flashlight and a pair of gloves.  You might also want to keep a brick in the car to chock the opposite wheel.  Read the manual to familiarize yourself with where to place the jack, how to use the wheel locks and their recommended steps to change the tire.

For the nuts and bolts of changing a tire (pun intended), I found this article to be useful.  I recommend reading it well ahead of actually needing it.

At this point you may consider joining a road assistance association.  Please note that in an emergency this will require a working cell phone and length of time that you might not have.  You may choose to change the tire yourself and now you’ll know how.

The art of the thank you note

Thank you notes are under-utilized these days.  While some may consider these notes to be old-fashioned, they’re actually a wonderful way to keep in contact with people and are far less work than a phone call.  Consider this your mini-class in thank you notes.

When to write a thank you note:

  • When someone gives you a present (yes, even relatives).
  • When someone performs a service for you (being your unpaid travel-guide, having you over for dinner, getting you reservations at an exclusive restaurant, etc.).
  • When someone goes above and beyond what is requested or required of them (throwing you a party, buying you lunch,picking you up from the airport) .
  • When you stay at someone’s house.
  • After a job interview.

Things to consider:

  • Write it as soon as possible.
  • Use actual stationary, preferably note cards as thank you notes are generally short.
  • Mail it – everyone loves mail that isn’t a bill.
  • Write it out and arrange it on your computer before touching your pen to the paper.
  • Remember that this is not a letter about your life.
  • Never mention money.  “Generosity” is a well-used euphemism for money.

Format of the note:

  1. Salutation (Dear Aunt Ethel,)
  2. Acknowledge the gift with thanks (Thank you for the lovely sweater.)
  3. State how it will be used (Blue is my favorite color and it will certainly come in handy on my upcoming trip to Sweden.)
  4. Mention future communication (I look forward to seeing you at Christmas.)
  5. Express gratitude again (Thank you again for remembering my birthday.)
  6. Closing (All my love to you and Uncle Eugene,)
  7. Signature

It sounds ridiculously simple because it is.  Makes you wonder what you’ve been waiting all this time for, huh?