The Dummies Guide to Disrespect (15 tips)

Enough!!  I hate to add anything to the pantheon of required government trainings, but I figured a little handbook was urgently needed at congressional hearings, so I created something you can keep in front of you at committee meetings, hearings, or public events where you want to look like a decent human being. I call it Disrespect for Dummies. Who’d have thought it would be needed?  I’ve kept the list short and basic. (I’m also working on a poster for those who don’t read books.) The reading level is simple–about the level of a US Senator, member of Congress, or third grader. Because this is a draft, I welcome your suggestions. This way you can feel you have accomplished something positive after watching government hearings. Instead of just rushing to wash your hands.

Here are the fifteen signs of disrespect:

  1. Not making eye contact when someone asks to speak with you directly.
  2. Interrupting before someone has even begun to make her or his point.
  3. Refusing to listen to an idea that is relevant to the conversation.
  4. Talking at someone rather than talking to them.
  5. Talking about someone like she (or he) is an “it.” This includes talking about a person in their presence or behind their backs.
  6. Using a colleague’s point as your own in a meeting, without crediting the idea. (Particularly noxious after ignoring an idea that came originally from the opposite sex,) This can also be called “stealing.”
  7. Tweeting while someone is talking to you.
  8. Sneering or sarcasm.
  9. Making derogatory comments or off-handed remarks about someone during a meeting, often to an associate.
  10. Not responding in a compassionate way to someone else’s heartfelt emotion.
  11. Making sexual references to a person in public.
  12. Generalizing about a person because of their affiliation, such as race, gender, nation, or political party.
  13. Closing a meeting abruptly and arbitrarily while group members are waiting to be heard.
  14. Announcing your decision prior to hearing evidence.
  15. Hoarding information or evidence so that your associates won’t know what you’re talking about; bogarting.

That’s my starter series. Yours?

If I had room on the poster (I won’t), I’d add three more:

  1. Passing laws that will directly affect a group of people without including them in the decision-making process in more than a peripheral way.
  2. Not passing laws that are needed to protect a group of people because you didn’t, well, notice that they were needed.
  3. Assuming someone is guilty because of the color of their skin or the sound of their last name.

I’ve kept this simple, out of respect for very short attention spans. I admit to a few paradoxes. One is that I’m being rather disrespectful of our national disrespecters, including the disrespecter-in-chief. Oh dear. It seems the disease is catching. In a rare tip of the hat to non-partisanism, these tips apply across sectors, and to all sides of the House. Even to pundits and commentators. I admit that the idea of requiring people to read a Dummy’s Guide might seem disrespectful, but that’s another story,

Tell me what you see…and then, even better, what to do about it.

How to support a friend in need

As I’m writing this, my friend Susan Partnow’s husband is having a laryngectomy, a difficult surgery that will take away his ability to speak, except through devices, and hopefully spare him from the cancer that has been hiding in his vocal cords.

Susan and her family have been incredibly generous sharing about their journey via online care-pages they set up to share information with friends. As a former communications coach, Susan has been helping her friends learn what helps and doesn’t help when you reach out to someone who is dealing with a very difficult condition. (You can read her amazingly wise thoughts here.)

Chances are you know someone who stunned you by announcing, “I have fourth stage cancer” or something equally grave. What do you say?

I’ve heard of situations where people actually hid from their friends or dropped contact because they didn’t know how to deal with the tragedy their friends were facing. A friend who survived a bout with cancer said she became a pariah at work as people stopped talking to her, acting as if they might “catch” cancer if they came too close, or were embarrassed about not knowing what to say. That was some years ago. Hopefully, times have changed.

What hasn’t changed is that it can be really hard to know what to say in such a difficult situation.

Maybe that’s not the real question.

Maybe the question is “how do you listen?” How do you open your heart to receive what a friend in crisis has to offer when you start a conversation? How do you listen deeply with compassion, neither jumping to a conclusion, nor offering a solution, nor shaping their space?

I once read a book that was life-altering for me: Grace and Grit by Ken Wilber. Wilber, a profound philosopher of consciousness whose books can make my head spin, wrote with a different, heart-opening prose, as he described the five year battle with cancer he had his new wife Treya went through. Treya was diagnosed just weeks after their wedding. As part of their journey together, Wilber encountered all sorts of “helpful” people who tried to tell Treya what she should do to cure her cancer. They might have thought themselves kind but…

They didn’t have a clue.

The very worst of all were the folks who told Treya that her cancer was a result of her thinking, which she could change with positive thoughts, affirmations, or visualizations. To tell such things to a vibrant and positive woman, who was doing everything she could to survive cancer was 1) insulting, 2) demeaning and 3) very cruel.  As well as being nuts.

Reading about the deep hurt unintentionally caused by telling a person in crisis what she should do, made me want to preach (contradicting, of course, my message), Do not tell people what they should do.  Probably ever. But not when they are grappling with their life or their health, except, I suppose if they specifically ask for your advice. Even then, go lightly.

If you listen, deeply, you’ll open the possibility for someone else to hear, in themselves, what they need to know.

If you listen, deeply, you may open up a space of communion and dialogue that may itself be healing for you both.

If you listen, deeply, you may open up your own heart and build its capacity to love and support.

I don’t think it’s easy.  It isn’t easy. Your heart may start hurting and you’ll need to take care of yourself after this kind of visit.  I left my mother’s bedside so many times, both grateful for being able to sit in communion with her and feeling absolutely wrung out and wiggy. I’d go home, sit on the coach, and web-surf until I found some comedy. Find what helps you.

What you can always do is pray, or send love from your heart to your hurting friends, asking for them to be given what is best for them (without assuming you know). Send positive thoughts. See them in light. Envision them healed. You can do all of this all of this on your own.

They don’t need to know what you’ve done, for them to feel it. (I have evidence to support this, but that’s another story.)

If you’d like to have a beautifully articulated set of suggestions for supporting someone, read Susan’s words here. You’ll be learning from a communications pro and wise, wise woman.

Finally, I have a request of you even if you don’t know Susan or her husband Jim, who will have completed his surgery by the time you read this. Just send them a good thought, some light from your heart, and hopes for healing. If that’s too big a stretch, think of someone you know who is hurting, and extend your loving thoughts to them.

Every bit of light counts, in these times, it really does…



Do you have FOF? (Fear of feedback?)

Turns out a lot of us are feedback phobic.

I rarely talk about my affliction (the first step in recovery: acknowledge the problem), because clients know me as someone who has taught others how to give and receive feedback. But it’s not hard to tell someone else to be specific with the feedback they give or to say thank-you when they receive it; it’s another thing to receive feedback yourself.

My dirty little secret is that I’m sensitive, and feedback can leave me cowering in the corner looking hangdog like my pooch Riley when he’s feeling confused.

I hate class evaluations. When I teach, I pour my heart and soul into preparing. Then, in class, I work with participants as if they are friends. I care. At the end of a training or presentation that appears to have gone reasonably well, the last thing I want to do is hand out rating sheets with their dismal ten-point scales. That’s like handing pistols to participants and telling them, “OK, now shoot me.”

It turns out I’m not the only one who has trouble receiving feedback. Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone, authors of Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well, wrote:

“As we worked to develop ways to approach feedback differently, we soon realized that the key player is not the giver, but the receiver.” 

“Receiving feedback sits at the intersection of these two needs—our drive to learn and our longing for acceptance. These needs run deep, and the tension between them is not going away.”

“Receiving it [feedback] well means engaging in the conversation skillfully and making thoughtful choices about whether and how to use the information and what you’re learning. It’s about managing your emotional triggers …”

I devoured their ideas, hungry for tips, knowing that in just a few hours friends would be arriving to give me feedback about a draft introduction to my book.

I needed help. (Really? To talk with three kind and compassionate friends?)

When you have FOF, feedback is always difficult.

Heen and Stone distinguish three kinds of feedback:

  1. Appreciation: Positive acknowledgment–something most all of us want and need.
  2. Coaching: Specific ideas designed to help you improve performance.
  3. Evaluation: Information that includes a judgment about how you rank or place.

I like kinds one and two. Unfortunately, I often translate designed-to-be-helpful coaching into number three: evaluation. (What, I’m not perfect?).
Evaluative feedback is rarely necessary for me because I run an in-home, in-my-brain evaluation service that judges me constantly. My father trained me in the fine art of self-judgment at an early age, offering me lots of critical comments designed to “help” me and show his love.

As a result, it’s pretty easy for me to overdose on even small amounts of evaluative feedback.

I’m not alone. Feedback triggers a lot of us. Part of the art of handling feedback, according to Heen and Stone, requires managing our triggers. They cite three kinds of triggers:

  1. Truth triggers–when the feedback seems off, unhelpful or untrue
  2. Relationship triggers–when we get tripped up by our relationship with the person giving the feedback.
  3. Identity triggers–when the feedback rattles our sense of identity and we feel threatened, ashamed or off-balance, no longer sure how to think about ourselves. This is where I go down. (Don’t like that section of work? Well, that proves it, I’m not a writer.)

When my identity is triggered, I disappear. Sure, if I’m working I’ll still stand in front of people with my mouth moving, trying to look professional as if nothing has happened, but the truth is I’m a shell. My real self-has learned to evacuate at the first sign of danger.

The authors acknowledge that some of us are particularly sensitive to identify triggers and may need some extra time to regain our bearings (tell me about it!). But they don’t offer an easy fix.

I was so hoping I could be inoculated.

Learning that there are many of us who are sensitive to feedback helps me have compassion for others. Those of us who give feedback can benefit from realizing that what we say may not be what our receivers hear after filtering information through their identity systems.

Preparing for my big evening of book feedback

As I read about feedback, I knew I needed more than insight: in four hours I’d need to manage myself at an event.

Here’s what I did, and what can you do, to set the stage for helpful feedback:

First a little self-talk.

Note to self: my friends are not my judges, they are coming to help.

State the context.

It’s my job to set up the feedback process, I will ask my friends for appreciation and coaching. They do not need to tell me whether my book is 1) good or 2) publishable. I don’t need evaluative feedback at this early stage of a long writing process. They might also want to be careful not to offer directives about what I should do. It’s just too tempting for me to morph into a circus cat and get burned trying to jump through all of their hoops.

Probe deeper.

It’s fair to ask questions, and I’ll receive more gems of insights if I ask to clarify what I’ve heard.

Make specific requests.

Writing and branding consultant Jeffrey Davis, coaches his writer-clients like me to be very specific in asking for feedback about their writing. “How did you like my book?” is too general a question to be useful. He also suggests that we writers manage the process of asking for feedback. For example, if someone strays too far away from our questions or adds too much judgment, we need to graciously redirect the conversation.

Here’s the kind of feedback I’ve requested from fellow participants in Jeffrey’s programs:

  • Where did my writing pull you in?
  • Where did you get lost?
  • Where could I have been clearer?
  • What particularly interested you?
  • Do you still love me? (Sometimes I can’t resist.)

Comfort yourself.

Knowing I am sensitive, I have dark chocolate ready.

The bottom line

If you, like me, have FOF, there’s help for us. We can read the Heen and Stone book. We can improve our feedback-receiving skills. We can practice identifying identity-triggers. We can have compassion for ourselves.

Repeat after me: I am sensitive. I am not defective. I can survive feedback and make it work for me. 

Footnote: Hurrah! With wonderful support from my friends and their thoughtful comments, the feedback session on the book was incredibly useful and encouraging, despite some FOF and a few identity tweaks! 

A little retreat from the heat


Some like it hot. I do not.

Or at least, not anymore. When I was a kid, swimming was my passion. Those hot, muggy New Jersey summer days often meant time splashing around at the beach or in the pool. Alas, my thermostat reset after I moved to the Northwest, and I no longer tolerate super hot and humid weather. I wilt at 82 and retreat inside, to hibernate and read.

With heat stress in mind, I’ll share just one short idea about storytelling, then invite you to kick back with your favorite reading, including three recent blog posts you might have missed.

Short tip: How to make your story a little richer

I just taught a class on Creating Your Signature Story for a group of professionals within the wonderful King County Library System–where I’m a big fan, hoping I’ll someday qualify for a “frequent borrower” award.

Working with the class participants, I was reminded of how everyone has a story, and how easy it is to start sharing it when we know that someone else is listening.

However, in today’s busy workplaces, we’re taught to be concise, and that can often lead to a way of speaking that’s abstract and detached. We preface an anecdote by saying “the customer needed information.”

By adding just a few interesting details, a brief story will become a little longer but a lot more memorable.

Engaging people’s interest is more time-efficient than boring your listeners with business-speak.

One way to come up with these details is to activate your imagination and remember the scene where the story took place. (You can also do this when talking about the future, by standing in that future and describing what you see.)

Observe through your senses.

If you’re describing an interaction with a customer (the library calls them patrons), invite us to see the world with you. Let’s stand together in that crowded library. What does your patron look like when he (or she) first enters the front doors of the library? What does he look at? What’s her expression?

When your patron approaches you for information, what does she sound like? Is he stammering? Struggling to ask a question? Sweating? Speaking, slowly, quickly, or in broken English?

As you try and listen to him, what other sounds do you hear in the room? Loud voices or the tires of a book cart?

Is the room dark and back-lit by a vivid sun? Or is it bright?

Even a few specific sensory details, chosen to reinforce the point you’re making, can transform your anecdote and make it vivid and memorable. If your story needs to be short, you may only have time to add one or two details. But they can make the difference between just “talking about”  an incident and engaging people’s interest and curiosity.

Now for those recent posts…

How do you balance your head and your heart when you’re making a decision? I wrote about what I went through before deciding to foster an abandoned dog. (For last week’s readers: Riley’s vet check showed nothing major wrong (good), while indicating a host of old dog ailments as well as some neurological problems (oh dear).

When your mind is buzzing with unwanted, and sometimes unkind thoughts, what do you do? I shared three words that helped save me and turned around a situation. Lots of readers offered ideas about how they tame their wild minds. I’d love to hear more of your ideas!

Stories matter, and in today’s world we need to hear the stories of people at the margins (frequently referred to as “them.”) The best way to do that is in an open circle, where everyone is invited to have a voice. I shared a trailer from Hannah Gadsby’s much-talked-about “Nanette” in which she ends her evening of stand-up comedy with a stirring message, “I want my story to be heard.”

What stories are moving you? If you don’t feel like sharing your own, just grab a book and read. Especially when it’s hot.

Three words that can change your life (they’re not what you think)



If I asked you for the three most powerful words you’d use to change a situation, what would you offer? Maybe:

  • I love you.
  • I forgive you.
  • I trust you.
  • I am OK.
  • I am worthy.

Yep. These are magic words that change lives. I want to offer you three more

Just stop it.

Imagine a time when your mind was wracked with a grievance, you were feeling bitter, resentful or besieged, and your mind was racing overtime trying to rationalize what just happened or plot your vengeance.

Or, think of a time when you felt like you were out of control and you wanted someone to change (think family, close friend or spouse, for starters) and they wouldn’t, no matter what you did or said.

Situations like these trigger my got-to-be-in-control impulse and send my brain into overdrive. I rationalize. I judge. I think about getting even.

While this is going on, I also try to think my way into a better place. I try to practice compassion and try to see the situation in a new light. I know the power of forgiveness–which, trust me, is hard work!

But often I just end up spinning in my own thoughts. You know, hamster-in-mind syndrome.

An urgent situation

On the eve of my mother’s memorial service, old fault lines in family relationships surfaced. I felt pierced and offended.

I pulled out everything I knew might help:

  • Have compassion for myself.
  • Have compassion for the other person.
  • Breathe, in a deep, relaxing way.
  • Listen to my body, and notice where the hurt lives.
  • Vent constructively to a safe friend.
  • Dance my heart out at a Zumba class.

All of this helped, a little. Still, as we approached the hour of Mom’s memorial, I knew I had to do something different. So, in the nick of time, I tried these words, directing them strongly at my brain:

Just stop it.

“I know you have a lot of good ideas, and insights. I know you are struggling between compassion and judgment, and I’m sure you want to forgive yourself and the other person. However, we are out of time and you need to stop thinking about this–effective IMMEDIATELY. You’re on a track going nowhere. And you’re the only one who can stop it.

Delete file NOW. 

Fortunately, I was taking a walk with my compassionate husband. I greatly recommend walking or moving when you use this technique. Walking or exercising naturally help soften the grip of your thoughts, plus they can give you a time frame for action. I told myself:

“At the end of this walk, I want things to be different.”

Normally, I don’t believe in will-power, or mind over matter, but the stakes were really high,

Adding a prayer

I also used prayer. I don’t know what your relationship with prayer is, but sometimes I need help dealing with stuff that seems beyond my control, where the only thing I can really change is me.

Finding my prayer brings me to humility, where I don’t have to be the strongest person on the block, or even capable of changing myself. Prayer brings me back into myself.

Without going religious on you, I’m all for praying to whatever gives you strength, as long as prayer reminds you of the good person you really are, and does not judge or do harm to others. Really, why not?

The good news is that those three words WORKED.

My mind calmed down, I went into the memorial, and then, as I heard healing words spoken about my mother, something deeper in me shifted and I knew that the change I had wanted had stuck.

We can’t control others. We can work on ourselves. Make your mind your friend.

Other applications

The applications for these words are many. You can use them to give instruction to your inner critic. Or, when doubt really builds up. Or, when your mind is in a tizz after listening to yet another terrible spate of news. Action in the future may be needed. But first, keep your mind from spinning.

For those of us who are strong thinkers, sometimes we just need to stop the action. I don’t have to always figure out the situation, rationalize or work with it.

I just need to pull the plug and reboot my brain.

Speak these three words to yourself in a pinch. Use them like a life preserver, with compassion and necessary severity, even as you find your own way of forgiving and letting go.

Just stop it.



The Secret Key to IGNITING Performance




Picture this: a lively audience of 500 hooting and hollering. A group of twelve competitively selected speakers, all with a lot of gumption and varying degrees of speaking experience. The challenge: to present an idea, message or story in five minutes, make it entertaining and keep it short. 5 minutes. 20 timed slides. Then you’re out.

Last week, I had my five minutes of performing fame:  How I Dumped Denial: 60 is NOT the new 40. I had a blast!!!

Always on the lookout for what makes a performance or event great, I made some observations about why the Ignite model works so well and offer them to you along with one secret key.

Why it works

Ignite Seattle is run by a staff of volunteers, who work together as an energized, well-organized team. Special bonus: they appear to like each other!

After hosting 36 events, the team has their procedures down–although at Ignite Seattle #36 they weren’t afraid to innovate or stir things up a bit. This Ignite included a make-your-own art section of the lobby as well as a play-with-a-costume photo booth.

The staff took care of us speakers, helping us to relax and prepare. Whereas some event organizers might say, “You’re selected/good luck,” Ignite offered us two advance opportunities for workshopping/practicing our talks–along with FREE DINNER and wine! Free food and great coaching is a winning combo! We were on an accelerated timeline to prepare our talks, and at the rehearsals, I watched as topics transformed, including my own. I can’t tell you how useful it is to try out material on a real audience rather than that not-always-agreeable face in the mirror.

The organizers take care of their audiences as well. They know their typical audience demographics and interests, and they take time to welcome everybody and then set up expectations. Ignite is not the MOTH (that quasi-professional story-event out of New York City, where people ultra fine-tune their talks). Nah, we were regular folks with something to share, and our Master of Ceremonies invited the audience to really support us.

They did that in spades. I’ve never experienced a more positive audience. I ended my talk with a little audience participation exercise; they complied with gusto–without missing a beat!

Now for the Secret Ingredient: Make it fun!

The audience was primed for fun–you felt it in the air. They entered the theatre after socializing and making art, and their mood was upbeat. The organizers were playful as well. They handed out a little box of dates to everyone so we could all break a Ramadan fast with one of the speakers; we closed with a bit of improvisational comedy.

One of the secrets to having fun as a speaker is to practice a lot. I did. Not just endlessly repeating a script, but walking my talk, miming my talk, finding ways to mix it up until the essence of what I wanted to say settled into my bones.

I can focus more on fun when I don’t have to worry about my words.

In the theatre, I had one job: to enjoy the audience. I knew if I had fun, the audience would have fun. That worked!



Unleashed, and



I coach presenters, and I’m going to underscore this secret: whether your topic is serious or light–if you are enjoying yourself, that spirit will radiate and help people connect with you.

And when audience members are having fun, they just might remember what you said.








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