Sunday, October 26, 2008

How To Make People Like You In 90 Seconds: An Abbreviated Version

There are some people who always know what to say, know what sorts of questions to ask and who have perfectly timed smiles. Then there are those people who read books like How To Make People Like You In 90 Seconds or Less. These are the same people who smile too soon or too late because they are too preoccupied collecting and organizing bits of information in their head that they might repeat later in a conversation or while making small talk at cocktail hour.

I've been meeting people lately who are the type that live and breathe How To Make People Like You In 90 Seconds or Less. Through careful observation, I have seen them utilizing the principles that (I imagine) are addressed in the book. I'm going to start applying these in my own life.

Principle #1: Be Suave. When possible, use lines that would sound right from characters in a movie. If you are at a gala or black tie affair, you could lean back against the bar and say something like, "So, do you feel really young at these things?" The person you're speaking to will feel taken aback by such a brazen question and when they look at you in a surprised manner, respond with, "I mean, I'm young too, so I know I do." This act of confidence is disarming and the person you are speaking with will likely open up as well.

Principle #2: Make the Other Person Feel Important and Interesting. Ask the other person about what they do (even down to their day-to-day duties if time permits), what their career path looks like and basically any other questions that demonstrate your great interest in his/her life, he/she being the most interesting person you have ever spoken to. Even if this is not the case, try your best to make it seem so.

If the person you are speaking to interrupts to ask questions about you, do not deflect. Answer their questions as succinctly as possible, but quickly turn the focus of the conversation back on them. An example of how to do this would be to say, "I like Pepsi and Coke, but mostly Pepsi. I just think it tastes better. What about you? Are you more of a Pepsi person or a Coke fan?" Everyone has something to say on this topic, so this should feed your conversation for at least another 5 minutes or so.

Principle #3: Body Language is Everything. Turn to face the person you're speaking to, even if he/she is not turned all the way to face you. If they look like they're about to cut the conversation short or run away from you, quickly lasso them back into the conversation. (see principle #2). Maintain an open, welcoming posture.

Principle #4: Enumerate the Items You are Speaking About. If it feels appropriate, count them off on your fingers. You will seem more organized and well prepared. Also, if you feel timid speaking in public, the act of counting on your fingers gives you something else to focus on besides the dozen or so eyes staring at you. An example, "OK, so we're all here to get dinner ready by 6pm. We have to do some things first before we get started. 1) clear the table. 2) set the table. 3) put the salad together. 4) finish the roast."

Principle #5: Be the Interesting Person You Yourself Would Want to Talk to. I am still observing people practicing this principle, so I am unclear as to how to do this without seeming pompous and will keep you posted. In the meantime, you should make yourself out to be interesting. Talk about the annual trip you take to Zimbabwe to help the orphans or how you teach ballroom dancing in your free time. It would be particularly impressive if you could slip in your age (if under 40) and how you are already retired and split your time between living in the south of France and New York. If you don't do these things, or things like it, consider picking one up as a new hobby. I myself am getting certified to ride the dolphins at Marine World.

With this said, do keep in mind that I am no communications expert and if after utilizing these principles you are still as lonely and unliked as when you started, I apologize. Perhaps we can be friends.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Beginning of the Week

Last Monday I woke up and spent the rest of the week seeped in a foul mood. Headaches happened what felt like everyday, mornings came too fast after going to bed and no matter how much coffee I drank it was never enough. The weekend was a tad bit better, a weekend spent in a dark room consoling a sad, weeping friend from noon to night, but at least my headache was gone.

Sunday I spent the day at the bookstore reading "self-improvement" books (ok, really I was there to redeem my free coffee coupon) and learned that one of the best ways to get people to like you in 90 seconds or less is to carefully time your smiles. It should never come across as a free smile, one you give to any Joe or Betty, Tim or Trang you meet in the street. It has to come slower, after you've listened to your fellow conversationalist speak for some time, like a gift you grant for a story well told. This lends an air of genuineness and credibility and people will like you all the more for it. This is proven. It has been studied and documented by the author.

Things were looking up. The barista had made me a mean latte with extra thick foam, and I now knew the secret to my future success. Equipped with this knowledge, I felt ready and optimistic for the new week ahead.

When Monday came, I practiced my new timed smiles, but felt like maybe I should have read the rest of the book when I found my interactions with most people on a day-to-day basis are quite limited. When passing someone in the hall who is coming at you with a big "good morning" smile, it's hard to save your smile for a moment when they can really savor and feel its effects because there is simply just not enough time. When I finally broke out my grin, after holding it back and waiting for just the right moment, they had already passed, too late to see my new smile.

Tuesday happened, and it went well. I discovered while out for a walk that I am really good at speed walking and as the light of the day faded, I imagined myself competing in the next Olympics. What would my parents say? At first they would be understandably upset that I had quit my job so suddenly and moved closer to an appropriate training facility to pursue my new sport, but then they would be overcome with pride at just how fast I could walk and would carry pictures of me in action in their wallets.

With my improved smiling skills and with the hope of someday becoming an Olympian, Wednesday started off even better than Tuesday. When asked how I was doing as I filled my morning coffee cup, I answered "good!" and I really meant it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

In Ghosts & Goblins

I forgot to mention my fortune cookie from lunch yesterday read "An alien of some sort will be appearing to you shortly!"

Is that not scary? Maybe it's a sign I should stay away from all sorts of horror movies for a while.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Movies Without A Lesson Learned

When it comes to the multitude of movies available to watch, one genre I am always up for is horror. Much like the thrill-seekers who visit theme parks, I watch scary movies because I can get my adrenaline pumping and test my fight or flight instincts all from the safety of being strapped into a seat at home or at a theater.

With the rash of realistic slasher films recently released, I distinguish horror movies into 2 categories. The first category is the "Ghosts & Goblins" bucket in which movies with extraterrestrial beings or undead friends , family members or pets would fall. These are titles like Pet Sematary or The Sixth Sense. The other kind of horror film are the realistic ones that you could actually imagine yourself in (usually much too well) if you had a remote cabin deep in the woods miles and miles away from anyone else or if you happened to have the bad luck of having car trouble along a windy backroad not even yet mapped on the map you bought at the 7-11 before starting your journey. Recent titles in this "It Could Happen To You" category are Vacancy, The Strangers and Funny Games.

Now I know I don't own a secluded cabin in an old mining town, but I might stop at a run down motel if it was late enough or if I really needed to. Because I can't trust myself and what I might do if left alone on a dark, stormy, eerily creepy night stranded on the side of the road, it has become quite obvious that the movies that do the most frightening damage to me are the realistic ones.

All in good fun, I wrap scarves or sweatshirts around my neck while watching so that I can have something to cover my eyes with when the suspense becomes unbearable, when the protagonist has the terrible fate of needing to fetch more breadcrumbs from the pantry closet for the meatloaf she's making and I know the man with the hatchet is standing there in waiting. It's a good, simple, fun thrill; one that's enjoyed and easily dismissed when returning home from the theater with a turn of the deadbolt on my front door.

Driving home from Irene's last night was a different story. Cruising along at 60 on an otherwise empty freeway, I thought about the week ahead and the past weekend's events. After a while, headlights filled my rearview mirror, and from the height of them in the mirror, I could tell it was a large car, an SUV. Practically hugging the bumper of my car, it hurried along at a constant speed three inches behind me. I looked left at the 3 open lanes next to me and wondered why it didn't just change lanes.

A few miles ahead, a car was merging on at a much slower speed, much slower than the slow 60 I was already going. Behind me the SUV was driving half in the lane and half on the shoulder, as if it were thinking about passing us both on the right. I moved into the left lane to pass the slow merging vehicle and changed back to get in front of it so that the SUV could pass us both on the left. With some relief I settled back into the far right lane, but to my horror, I found the SUV was once again right behind me, leaving the empty left lanes just as they were.

This game of tailgating went on for some time and finally when I put my blinker on to exit, the SUV followed suit.

It just wanted to exit, that's all. That's why it had stayed in the right lane.

But it wasn't. When I noticed it actually wasn't the exit I wanted, I turned off my blinker and pulled left, out of the exit lane. And so did the SUV.

This happened once more, as I was about to exit but changed my mind. The SUV followed close behind, mimicking my every move – the turning on of the blinker, the changing lanes, my exact speed minus 2 mph.

What had been calm inside me turned suddenly into panic. Surely the cars around me could see, couldn't they see this Crazy stalking me? Was this a real "It Could Happen To You" moment in the making???

All I could think about was what would happen if I were in a movie, what could I do. Reflecting back on all the horror movies I'd seen, nothing good could possibly happen. Usually nothing the protagonist does is ever the right thing, and there are actually no good lessons to be learned in any of them. How would we have sequels if the protagonists all knew just what to do?

Finally, I reached a stretch of freeway with more cars whizzing along. I had quit doing 60 a while back, when I realized the SUV could actually run over my car and then I would truly be in a bad place. Speeding along at 80, 85, I finally lost the SUV. Or maybe it had run into a tree and did us all a favor. Whatever the case, I may have to hold off on watching any more scary movies for a while. I also have to make sure to always be prepared with at least half a tank of gas. And I also deserve to continue hating SUV's. Really, could you imagine a Prius or a Chevy Aveo doing this? I think not.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Power of Richard Gere

For one reason or another, up until now, I hadn't really heard much about Apple's new (to me) Leopard operating system. This could have a lot to do with what seems to be a very large push, on their part, of their ever-changing offering of upgraded iPods.

Today I walked into the Apple store with Nathalie so she could buy her mom an iPod. To my surprise, the nano Alan had bought not more than a few months ago had been replaced with a line of new, brightly colored ones. Nathalie and I ooh'd and ahh'd over them for some time, lifting each one off its dock and cradling each in our hands, before settling on a nice orange one.

It was not until I asked the sales lady what happened to the nanos of two months past that we learned that the new ones offered much more than the old ones, more than just the Skittle colored exteriors we admired so much. These ones offered wide-screen views for when you really want to get a good view of the movie you're watching -- almost like being right there in a movie theater! On top of that, you can even shake your new mp3 player to get it to skip to the next song. Finally! Therapeutic relief can be had for the entire workforce with this new, healthy way of releasing the tension that often builds up over the course of a day. Instead of the passive "just let it go," we can now tell ourselves to "shake it out, just shake it out." And in complete understanding, your iPod will quickly change songs appropriately to something soothing and upbeat, some Sheryl Crow perhaps.

When I got home from the timewarp (also known as the mall), curiously enough the Apple webpage popped up in my browser. And not just any ol' Apple homepage popped up, but the exact page featuring OS X Leopard came up. Someone upstairs wants me to be using this operating system. And after watching the guided tour, delivered by a terribly convincing, handsome Apple retail man known by the name of John, I also want to be using this operating system. Even more interesting, how much does our friend John here look like he could be Richard Gere's long lost brother?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Leave It To A Woman

It opens up with the dignified trombones leading. The strings come in. And after a momentous build up, the pure clarity of the trumpet cuts through and steals the show. The pace is moving along, slows to a crawl, then builds up again. I realize that my heart has slowed and the tight, angry ball in the center of my chest has begun to loosen like Nyquil magically breaking up an ill person's phlegm.

An hour before this, I had raced home from work, cutting off cars along the way, hardly stopping to look for bikers before switching lanes because I had a date, a long awaited date with the Comcast man.

It had been a good month since I had seen, felt, the strong, yet tender arms of high-speed internet holding me tight at night. Each day when I returned home from work, I had missed it, hand longed for it, and was greeted only by a signal-less, wi-fi free home. That was the longest month of my life. And barring death, nothing was going to stop me from meeting this man who would activate the signal, or whatever it is he needed to do, to breathe the joy back into my internet-deprived life.

An hour after getting home is when the knot of burning hatred for Comcast began to form. Here was the Comcast man, a large, well-built man (not at all chubby but of a good size, the kind of size you don't want to mess with in a bar fight) whom I so desperately wanted to hate but who had a kind face and honest hands which made it nearly impossible for me to take my aggressions out on.

Apparently he was paid for each job completed and this was his 4th job today he couldn't do. Apparently there was some sort of shield covering the ports in which he needed to access but couldn't. Apparently a whole construction crew had been deployed on the 22nd and "dug up the fucking concrete" and "installed a box just for your place" when all of a sudden the boss's boss ordered all work to be stopped. Apparently no one could speak to the boss's boss because he just so happened to be on vacation. Apparently they went through all this work just to put a shield over the ports so the Comcast man couldn't connect to receive a signal WHICH WAS THE VERY LAST STEP OF THIS MESSY, MESSY PROCESS.

Alan gets on the phone. After a long while, he passes the phone to the Comcast man who has since collapsed his expanding ladder and is sitting in his truck with the engine on and his car lights indicating he's about to reverse out of the driveway. The Comcast man and the Comcast phone guy have words. While on hold, the Comcast man and Alan talk about the stupidity of the man on the phone. The Comcast man finishes having words with the man on the phone and hands it back to Alan. Alan is put on hold. The man on the phone expresses his thoughts on the Comcast man's lack of intelligence and tries to call his boss. Who is on vacation. The Comcast man leaves. The man on the phone says things of no value and no further action steps are identified.

Alan comes and sits next to me on the couch. I am irritated so my voice is strained and sounds funny, like a spring is wound tight in my throat and is being held back from unspringing by the strand of one single hair. He tells me we may be SOL.

For a few minutes I am speechless, but soon enough I cannot stand the thought of what a completely idiotic organization Comcast is running. After all this effort and waiting for countless appointments for Comcast men to show up and tell me time after time what is wrong, I cannot give up now. Not when the last step is just having some shield pulled off from some ports so I can get access to some signal.

I am heated, real heated, when I dial the number I have become much too familiar with. I hang up because I want to be prepared, and I ask Alan what the name of the person he spoke with was. He doesn't know. I ask him if it was a man or a woman. He says a man and adds that they're all men and he's never spoken with a women. I call back, this time (despite Alan's advice to remain calm and cool) am ready for attack.

Surprisingly, a woman answers. The angel's name is Lydia, and after listening to my story, she immediately puts me at ease. I get the sense that she is actually understanding the words I am saying to her, something which has never happened to me with a Comcast representative ever before. I am sure if I had gone to her desk in person she would have offered me some cookies or perhaps some fresh cut fruit.

Lydia puts me on hold so she "can get to the bottom of this," and that is when the symphony comes on. In this moment alone, I think about what a good idea it is to play such calming music because it actually works. I can feel myself letting go of the curse words I was prepared to spit out if necessary.

With a collected head, I wait for her to come back on the line and after listening to 5 concertos, she finally does. She has all the answers and 2 appointments lined up for me. "By Saturday," she says, "you'll have this all taken care of and you'll be able to surf the internet... all that."

I almost cry. I tell her she is the most helpul person ever in the world and that she should win some kind of award. She laughs, I'm sure she hears that kind of thing all day.

Now if Saturday comes and I am still without internet, I can't promise I won't hate Lydia as much as I hate people who eat babies or talk during movies. But until then, what a remarkable human being we are blessed with.
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