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Month: February 2016

A Lack of Hobbies are Killing First Dates

Let’s part, be real smart and not start with this romance
‘Cause outside of both having stars in our eyes
And outside of sighing the same kind of sighs
We’ve got nothin’ in common at all

“Nothing in Common” – Frank Sinatra with Keely Smith

Merriam-Webster defines hobby as, “a pursuit outside one’s regular occupation engaged in especially for relaxation.” This is a pretty inclusive definition, allowing things like watching TV or updating your Facebook status to be considered as a hobby. If you consider watching TV as a hobby, sadly, you’re not alone. In 2014 the Bureau of Labor Statistics tracked how Americans age 15 and over spent their time. On average, Americans spent 5.3 hours a day on “Leisure and sports.” Included in this category is “Watching Television” (2.82 hours a day), and “Socializing and Communication” (0.71 hours a day) which comes to two thirds of leisure time being spent pursuing what I would consider non-hobbies, or at the very least, boring hobbies. This brings us to failed first dates.

The basis of a good first date, besides physical attraction, is having something to talk about. This usually means having shared interests or hobbies, or at least having the other person be interested enough in your hobbies to allow you to talk about them. If you’re going on first dates and finding it hard to carry on a conversation, then it might be because your only hobbies are watching Netflix, listening to music, and “the outdoors”. The same is true with online profiles. If most of the messages you receive are something akin to, “hey baby, how are you?” It might be because you haven’t listed anything of substance in your profile. Here’s the typical boring online profile, taken at random, from Plenty of Fish:

I like to do a lot of things for fun such as dining out/trying new restaurants. I love to cuddle. I like going to the beach. I love to watch movies and listen to music. For movies I like drama, horror and romance. Some of my favorite movies include all the SAW and Halloween movies. Some other favorite movies are The 40yr old virgin, wedding planner, the notebook, joy ride and more. For music I like to listen to anything but country. I like 80’s and 90’s music. Some of my favorite bands include Linkin Park, Disturbed, Metallica, Seether, Aerosmith to name a few. I also like going to concerts.

There are some specific movies and bands listed, but it completely lacks anything that can start a conversation. You like “The Wedding Planner” and “The Notebook“, just like 90% of all women in America! As a total aside, and to slightly contradict myself, not enjoying the same shows or movies could actually be a strong indication that a relationship won’t work. After all, the folks at OKCupid found out that the questions which gave the highest chances for long-term success included, “Do you like horror movies?” But I digress… you need substance in your profile and things to talk about on first dates. The only way to obtains these things is to go and find a real hobby so you have experiences and interests to discuss.

Drawing a blank on what hobby you can try? Wikipedia has a list of a bunch of hobbies. Try something like knitting, woodworking, pottery, dancing, amature radio, orienteering, or even foraging. At the very least you’ll have something more interesting to talk about on a first date than, “Did you see the latest episode of ‘Orange is the New Black’?” Who knows, you might even find someone else that is interested in this same hobby and hit it off with them. Meetup is a great place to find people who are interested in similar hobbies.

So put down the remote, take the earbuds out of your ears, and try something new!


The 5 Love Languages

The 5 Love Languages” published by Gary D. Chapman in 1995, with an update published in 2015, has been on the New York Times bestseller list since August of 2009.

This book is a must-read for anyone entering into a relationship. Most relationships don’t “just work” 100% of the time. Some research suggests (and I’ll address this in another post) that any two people can establish an intimate relationship merely through a series of “self-disclosure and relationship-building tasks that gradually escalate in intensity.” However, to keep both partner’s “love tank,” as it is called in the book, filled with love, you need to understand how you and your partner receive love and feel fulfilled in your relationship. That is exactly what this book addresses.

In the book he outlines 5 “Love Languages” that people use to communicate their love for someone:

  1. Words of Affirmation — These are comments/compliments that are, “best expressed in simple, straightforward statements of affirmation.” You can also provide encouraging words to your partner as a way of providing words of affirmation.
  2. Quality Time — This is to provide your partner with your undivided attention, not simply sitting next to someone on the couch while you both watch TV. “A key ingredient in giving your spouse quality time is giving them focused attention, especially in this era of many distractions.”
  3. Receiving Gifts — This one is fairly obvious on the surface, but it doesn’t necessarily always need to be tangible gifts. It can easily blend into acts of service or spending quality time with your partner. Gifts can also be homemade or relatively cheap; they don’t always need to cost a lot of money.
  4. Acts of Service — Doing things that your partner would like you to do. This one is fairly simple and straightforward can be as easy as taking the garbage out for someone that doesn’t enjoy doing it. It shows you care enough, and know enough, about the other person to take a burden out of their life.
  5. Physical Touch — This is straightforward as well, but does NOT always or exclusively mean sex! All people want to feel desired, and physical tough is a great way to convey your desire for your partner. A simple reaching for your partner’s hand or touching their leg while you sit next to each other can be enough to make someone who’s Love Language is physical touch feel warm inside.

A natural question to ask from this is, “Are there more than 5 Love Languages?” While I have not found concrete evidence that there are more, I think the number of Love Languages is actually less important than simply being in-tune with what your partner needs to feel loved and fulfilled in the relationship. Maybe your partner doesn’t always feel as though you take their opinions seriously. While this isn’t a specific Love Language, it is an important part of being in a relationship. Unfortunately for the title of this blog, Gary states in the book, (paraphrased because his quote is only about marriage, but it applies to any intimate relationship):

We are trained to analyze problems and create solutions. We forget that a relationship is not a project to be completed or a problem to be solved.

Figuring out the specifics of how you and your partner feel loved isn’t always easy. I wasn’t really sure myself until reading this book and taking the quiz: While the quiz is not perfect, it does provide a solid framework for understanding yourself and your partner. As is suggested in the book, if you cannot immediately figure out what your Love Language is, you can probably figure out which ones it is not. By elimination, you can usually narrow in on your Love Language(s).

Once you have an idea of your Love Language and your partner’s, it’s important to do things in your partner’s Love Language and vice versa. The book states this is one of the common missteps in a relationship, trying to “talk” your Love Language to your partner. For example, I’m someone who feels loved and fulfilled by Words of Affection. However, if my partner tries to provide me with gifts or performs acts of service for me, I won’t feel as loved as simple a simple statement of, “Good morning, I love you”. Once you figure out both people’s Love Language, it is pretty easy for most of us to do what is needed for the other to feel fulfilled.

The book also provides some tips on how to listen, a cornerstone of any healthy and fulfilling relationship:

  1. Maintain eye contact when your partner is talking. That keeps your mind from wandering and communicates that he/she has your full attention.
  2. Don’t listen to your partner and do something else at the same time. If you are doing something you cannot turn from immediately, tell your partner the truth. A positive approach might be, “I know you are trying to talk to me and I’m interested, but I want to give you my full attention. I can’t do that right now, but if you will give me ten minutes to finish this, I’ll sit down and listen to you.” Most partners will respect such a request.
  3. Listen for feelings. Ask yourself, “What emotion is my partner experiencing?” When you think you have the answer, confirm it. For example, “It sounds to me like you are feeling disappointed because I forgot blank.” That gives him the chance to clarify his feelings. It also communicates that you are listening intently to what he is saying.
  4. Observe body language. Clenched fists, trembling hands, tears, furrowed brows, and eye movements may give you clues as to what the other is feeling. Sometimes body language speaks one message while words speak another. Ask for clarification to make sure you know what she is really thinking and feeling.
  5. Refuse to interrupt. Research has indicated that the average individual listens for only seventeen seconds before interrupting and interjecting his own ideas. If I give you my undivided attention while you are talking, I will refrain from defending myself or hurling accusations at you or dogmatically stating my position. My goal is to discover your thoughts and feelings. My objective is not to defend myself or to set you straight. It is to understand you.

All-in-all this book is fairly enlightening for most people. It is only when you truly know and understand yourself that you will be open to love and loving someone else. As he states in the book, “Love is something you do for someone else, not something you do for yourself.” Once you know how your partner needs to be loved, it is as simple as making the commitment to love them that way or not.

Filling the Void: The Rebound

You’re such a beautiful drug
I can’t get enough
Addicted and I’m dying for a hit of your love

“Beautiful Drug” – Zac Brown Band

It’s helpful to look at the love from forming a relationship with a partner, and the subsequent breakup, as a drug and withdrawal. When you’re in a relationship, and in love, the high is great. Just looking at your partner makes you feel warm inside. Add to that hugging, kissing, and of course sex, and the endorphins that flow through your body are as amazing as those found with drugs or alcohol. The same is true for the breakup. The feelings of rejects, loss, and depression that come after a relationship has resolved can be as hard to deal with as a withdrawal from a drug addiction. How do people deal with a withdrawal from a drug or alcohol addiction, sadly they often use again. The same is true for love, and it is called a rebound.

There is no concrete definition for a rebound, so I’ll define it here as simply: a relationship, after a previous serious intimate relationship, with the sole purpose of filling the void left by the previous relationship. A lot of people might argue this is too broad or vague of a definition, but I think it’s appropriate. Only after you have truly processed and gotten over your previous serious relationship can you enter into one that would not be considered a rebound.

A paper written in 2014 by Brumbaugh and Fraley titled, “Too fast, too soon? An empirical investigation into rebound relationships,” conducted two studies where they looked at 77 and 236 participants respectively from a large Northeastern university who had previously been in a romantic relationship and are either still single or are currently in a relationship. They found that the people that engaged in a rebound relationship, ” were more likely than those who were single to report confidence in their desirability.” They also found that, “dating participants were also less likely to report having residual feelings for their ex-partner, or to be maintaining contact with their ex-partner.” However they also found that, “dating status was not strongly correlated with general well-being or self-esteem.” Stated differently, “being in a new relationship appears to be correlated with outcomes that are specific to relational issues (e.g., confidence in dating worth) and not necessarily to broader indices of psychological health.” This makes perfect sense because the rebound has filled the void left by the previous relationship. However, a person that does not have self-esteem or generally feels good about themselves will continue to feel this way even after engaging in a rebound relationship.

When looking at correlations between the amount of time between the previous relationship and the rebound they found:

In general, people who were single for a shorter period of time were more likely to report higher levels of well-being, self-esteem, and trust. They also reported a greater degree of contact with their former partner, and they felt a stronger desire for vengeance toward their ex-partner. However, they did not indicate more residual feelings for their previous partner. In terms of their feelings
in their new relationship, people who started the relationship more quickly reported a greater level of respect for their new partner. Participants who began their new relationship more quickly also tended to compare their new partner to their former partner more.

This is like giving someone who is trying to become sober a different type of beer to drink. When you enter into a rebound relationship you again feel the high of being in a relationship, but often don’t see the new person for who they really are; it’s always a comparison to what you had. This is where the trap of a rebound comes into play. While you feel better for filling the void — though you might be vengeful towards you ex which is never a good sign that you’re in a healthy relationship — eventually you’ll realize that you’re not in a relationship with your previous partner and the new relationship will probably fail.

A rebound, like the relationship itself, can take a number of different forms depending upon the loss. If you and your ex-partner were great friends and enjoyed going out to restaurants together, then you’ll probably find you and your rebound heading out to restaurants together. If you and your ex-partner spent a lot of intimate moments together, than you’ll probably find yourself in bed with your rebound. While this is a natural mechanism to combat the feelings of loss from the previous relationship, it’s unhealthy because the other person, the rebound, will end up hurt. There is almost no way around it. You can try communicating your feelings: “I’m just looking for a friend right now” or trying to clearly establish friends-with-benefits. However, the other person usually has other expectations and will become hurt in either of these situations as they are probably looking for a real and healthy relationship, not just someone to fill the void.

So how do you avoid the hurt feelings that inevitably come from a rebound? Simple to say, difficult to do: do not engage in a relationship until you no longer feel the void from your previous relationship. This can take months or even years. If you still feel like something or someone is missing from your life because of your breakup, then you’re not ready to engage in a new relationship. If all you want to talk about on a first date with someone is your previous relationship, then you’re not ready for a new relationship. If you spend most of your time during your day analyzing what went wrong in your past relationship, or even thinking about how you might be able to get back together with your ex, then you’re not ready for a new relationship. You need to process the loss of your last relationship before you engage in a new relationship, otherwise there will be hurt feelings.

As an aside, if you’re prepared for the hurt feelings or cold-hearted and just don’t care, then a rebound can be helpful to regain self-esteem and confidence. However, these are false feelings. True confidence and self-esteem come from within, not as a reflection of how someone else sees you.

On the other side of the coin is the, often unknowing, person who is someone’s rebound. How can you recognize if you are someone’s rebound? Here are a few questions to help identify if you’re possibly a rebound:

  • In the first few dates, does the other person bring up their previous relationship or ask you about yours? They’re looking for sympathy and a connection… misery loves company.
  • Do they push the relationship faster than any relationship you’ve been in before? They’re trying to get back to that place/connection they used to have with their ex.
  • You can always simply ask, “How long ago was your last relationship, and for how long was it?” Anything that makes you feel uncomfortable or seems too soon, probably is.

Terminating Employees

Losing your job is never easy, and having to fire someone is never easy either. It is much like breaking up in an intimant relationship. The best you can hope for is that the person being fired (or broken up with) is not surprised and knows it is coming. This makes it slightly easier to handle, but still a depressing and deflating experience. Here are a few tips on what to do if you are fired, and a few things to do if you have to fire someone.

If You Were Just Fired

  1. Calm down, don’t panic, and control your emotions – You cannot take back the things you say while you are being fired. If you flip-out and start yelling at the person firing you (often an HR person who didn’t make the decision) it won’t help you. Sure, you will feel better for 30 seconds or a minute, but in the long-run it will only hurt you.
  2. Use level-headed thinking when con­sid­er­ing legal options – In most cases the company is not dumb enough to fire you without just cause. To pursue a legal battle will only cost you money and time, both of you which you don’t have. Talk to multiple lawyers before even con­sid­er­ing going after the company. If the lawyer won’t talk to you for free initially, then they are probably just in it for the money… after all, it’s down economy for them too.
  3. File for un­em­ploy­ment – This should probably be #2, but con­sid­er­ing how litigious we are as a nation, I thought it was more important to talk about the avenue most people will pursue first. As for un­em­ploy­ment, don’t let pride cloud your vision… pride can’t pay the bills. Also, realize that un­em­ploy­ment is not a sure-thing. Depending upon why you were terminated, you might not get it. Check with you state’s department of labor.
  4. Update your resume – You cannot get a job without a resume. There are numerous websites and companies that can help you format and create your resume. In most cases you can find all the resources you need online.
  5. Talk to everyone you know, and everyone you don’t – Getting a job is more about who you know than where you apply. If you send your resume in via an online ap­pli­ca­tion process, most of the time you don’t have as good of a chance as if you send it in via someone you know. The key is to network. Hopefully you’ve done this before getting fired, but most people haven’t. Talk to everyone at your kid’s ball game, everyone at the bar, everyone everywhere… you never know when your next boss could be standing in front of you at the checkout line.
  6. Get on or update LinkedIn – For those that don’t know, LinkedIn is the pro­fes­sion­als equivalent to Facebook. You can post the places you’ve worked, what you did there, where you went to school, and other things about you. They also have the ability to cross reference jobs you’re searching for with people in your contacts. This way you have an “in” at the company you are applying to.
  7. Submit your resume to a recruiter – Recruiters are often used by companies to find qualified personnel. A recruiter can also provide you tips on how to fix-up your resume, handle an interview, and other job related tips. The only downside to using a recruiter is that the company has to pay as much as 30% of your salary. This will often lead companies to only rely on a recruiter in times of des­per­a­tion.
  8. Search the clas­si­fieds – No, not the newspaper (although you can do this too). It’s 2008, look on Craigslist for jobs. I know of a CEO of a start-up that recruits almost ex­clu­sive­ly on Craigslist.
  9. Be persistent without being annoying – To you finding a job is the most important thing going on in your life. To the person looking to hire, it probably is not. Regardless of how well staffed the HR department is, someone from the specific division you are looking to work in will probably need to interview you. They probably also have numerous other things going on besides hiring you. Therefore, use your inside contact to find out the best time to talk to this person. Keep your con­ver­sa­tions thorough but short… don’t waste their time.
  10. Ask other companies where you should work – It sounds desperate, but by item #10 you probably are. When you’re talking to HR people, or anyone at a company for that matter, apply item #5. Ask them if they know of any other jobs at com­peti­tors or in unrelated fields. Maybe that have a brother or mother that works at some company that is looking to hire. Again, it is all about networking.

If You Have To Fire Someone

  1. Don’t tell anyone that does not need to know – Rumors will occur no matter what you do. However, try and limit them by telling only those people that absolutely need to know, and only as much as they need to know. In one situation someone in HR, along with numerous other people, were being let go. Upper management did not tell that HR person, but the word got around. The HR person assured everyone that she had not heard of anyone being fired. When it actually happened, it was more of a surprise than it needed to be. If upper management had simply told the HR person that some people were going to be let go and to not answer any of those questions, the blow probably would have been softened.
  2. Don’t fire someone while they’re on vacation – There is never a reason to fire someone while they are on vacation. Lock them out of their accounts, e-mail, etc; then tell them in person when they come back to work. Granted, if they try and check their e-mail and it isn’t working, that will probably raise suspicions. However, nothing will ruin an already paid for vacation faster than finding out you’ve been fired. If you know they are going to be fired, don’t let them go on vacation in the first place.
  3. Always fire someone in person – E-mail, written letters, or God forbid a text message is not the proper way to fire someone. Have some respect for that person, regardless of what they’ve done, and fire them in person. This is going to be a tough time for that person and the least you can do is be pro­fes­sion­al and fire them in person.
  4. If possible, give them a severance package/ – You don’t have to provide them will full pay, or even any pay, but you should give them something. This all depends upon the job and the position; however, benefits are always a nice parting gift, even if just for a month.
  5. If the ter­mi­na­tion is amicable try and help them find another job – Let them keep their office to make phone calls, use the Internet, or send resumes. Give them the chance to resign (although this might affect their ability to collect un­em­ploy­ment.) Try and give them some of your contacts to give them a head-start. In the best situation this person might actually become a proponent of the company. People’s views of something are usually colored with the last major event that occurred… make their last day as nice as possible.

How to Win Friends and Influence People

“How to Win Friends and Influence People” should be required reading for everyone that over the age of 18. In a nutshell it tells you to be really nice to people. This is reiterated throughout the book with stories of people being nice and getting what they want. It doesn’t always work out this way, but often a good place to start and something to keep in mind.

The book is very textbook-like (probably because Carnegie intended to use it in his course). He has three fun­da­men­tal techniques for handling people:

  1. Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.
  2. Give honest and sincere ap­pre­ci­a­tion.
  3. Arouse in the other person an eager want.

These are probably the best tips in the book with respect to personal relationships (ie not professional and not intimate). Carnegie also provides lists of techniques for the following topics:

  1. Six ways to make people like you
  2. Twelve ways to win people to your way of thinking
  3. How to change people without giving offense or arousing resentment

You can see all of these techniques (without details) in the Wikipedia article.

All-in-all a very good book that everyone should read. I don’t buy everything 100%, but it is a good place to start with ne­go­ti­a­tions, dealing with people, and just getting through every day life.

What makes me wonder about these techniques are that I read about a number of people who do the exact opposite and succeed. For example, I was just reading today about an anecdote involving Richard Fuld, previous CEO of Lehman Brothers. Quoting from “Too Big to Fail” by Andrew Sorkin:

Kaplan, cupping the receiver with his hand, turned to the young trader, ex­as­per­at­ed. “You always think you’re the most important,” he exploded. “That nothing else matters but your trades. I’m not going to sign your fucking trades until every paper is off my desk!”

“You promise?” Fuld said, tauntingly.

“Yes,” Kaplan said. “Then I’ll get to it.”

Leaning over, Fuld swept his arm across Kaplan’s desk with a violent twist, sending dozens of papers flying across the office. Before some of them even landed, Fuld said, firmly but not loudly: “Will you sign it now?”

While it makes for a good story, and goes completely against what Carnegie advocates, we never really know if Kaplan signed the trade or not. My guess… he did.

Managing Employees After a Mistake

Here are the highlights from a good article on the Both Sides of the Table Blog about managing an employee after a mistake. Managing employees after a mistake is akin to re-engaging in a relationship after a fight. While the foundation and purpose of a professional relationship and intimate relationship are vastly different, there are some similarities as well. Here are the steps to managing an employee after a mistake:

1. Highlight the error Best to do this after the situation has happened, not when emotions are flared on both sides or you wont have a rational discussion or reflection. Tell the person that you’d like them to reflect on what happened so you can debrief on the topic in 48 hours. Obviously if the situation is urgent you need to put the situation right before reflecting on what happened.

2. Discuss what you would have expected I never understood why when managers did reviews they’d say what you did wrong without a clear ex­pla­na­tion of what they think you should have done. If you don’t have an answer for what the right process or right behavior would be then you’re not going to be very effective in helping the person to be better next time.

3. Help them plan the new rules / process to ensure the mistake isn’t repeated Be a problem solver. Work on the new process with them. Talk about exactly what needs to happen next time. They need a map for success not just a this better never happen again arse kicking.

4. Don’t im­me­di­ate­ly go back to buddy buddy nice guy. To be an effective dis­ap­point­ed dad they need to feel a little distance and a sense that all is not OK. This is really hard as a parent because you want to just go up and hug your kids. I feel the lesson isn’t absorbed as much this way. Think of it as the penalty box or a time-out or whatever. But they need a cooling off period from being in your good graces. They need to know it is not OK what happened and shouldn’t be taken lightly. But not a sense that they are now not to be trusted. In fact, I think the best approach is if they feel they need to re-earn your trust.

5. Don’t yell. Yelling yields resentment in the receiver and often makes the message un­palat­able (I have a temper like anybody. I cannot say I’ve never yelled. I got really angry with my assistant, for example, but only one time since we’ve worked together. I yelled. I had regret for weeks and we had to spend way more time working through the issue because I inflamed the situation than would have been the case if I would have kept my cool. I lost twice. I had to rebuild trust. It worked against me, not for me.)

6. Praise people publicly, but discipline people privately If you do need to discipline people don’t try to make a public spectacle of them to set an example. People won’t learn they’ll just think you’re an asshole. People absorb their mistakes when they aren’t em­bar­rassed by them.