Six Lessons Learned From Kittens

DSC_0584Over the past five years or so, I’ve fostered almost 250 animals for my local animal shelter. Most of my fosters have been kittens; from the “bottle babies” who need to be fed round-the-clock to teenagers who romp, pounce, and cause a lot of chaos.

Although they’re often a lot of work, caring for them is very rewarding, quite entertaining, and surprisingly educational. Here are some lessons I’ve learned from my kittens that I think we could all benefit from:

1. Communicate your needs. 

  • If you’re hungry, let someone know.
  • If you need some attention, let someone know.
  • If you just need some peace and quiet, let someone know.

2. Show appreciation when your needs are met.

My foster kittens love to eat. When I come in with their food in the morning, they dive in. However, when they’re done, they always come over and sit by me (or on me) and purr. I think that’s their way of saying “thanks.” When others help you meet your needs, let them know how much they’ve helped and that you appreciate it. If you need a little help, just read my mini eBook, “Thanks for the Kidney: A Guide to Providing Meaningful Appreciation.”

DSC_08273. When your needs have been met, let someone else have a turn.

Kittens seem to have a system of trade-off. They play with something, then let someone else have a turn. They eat and then move on to make room for someone else. They groom each other and get groomed in return. Most of us go through our days focused on getting our own needs met. When we get up in the morning, our first thought generally isn’t, “Gee, what can I do for someone else today?” Try setting a goal, even for one day, to find out what those around you need and how you can help.

4. Get enough rest.

When kittens are tired, they just stop and take a nap. Although we’re not always in the position to do so ourselves, most of us need to do a better job of at least getting a good night’s sleep. When we don’t, things generally don’t go well for us– we make mistakes, can’t clearly think through problems, and we don’t communicate well with others.  Try getting in your 8 hours– or at least more than you do now!

5. When in doubt, lean back and assess the situation before diving in.

Kittens are pretty clever. When facing an unknown situation, the smart ones don’t cower, but they’re cautious and take a second to breathe, observe, and “think about it,” before jumping in. It’s okay to be cautious, but being overly cautious can cost us opportunities we might not be able to get back. Sometimes you have to assess and then take a leap of faith.

6. When things go wrong, “shake it off” and move on!

Although kittens are generally cautious, they still manage to do some seemingly crazy things as they learn to navigate the world. They fall off ledges that are too narrow, misjudge their ability to cross the toilet seat without falling in, and even run head-first into walls because they’re so intent on catching up with one of their siblings. However, what they don’t do is stop exploring, they “shake it off” and take off running again. We could learn a lesson from that.

6 Tips for Sharing The Truth So Others Will Hear It

I doubt there’s anyone reading this who hasn’t heard the saying, “honesty is the best policy.” It’s a simple statement, but living the policy isn’t always so simple because people’s perceptions of honesty differ. Is a little-white lie okay? Is hinting at the truth the same as stating it? For those who believe the answer to these questions is, “yes” their only truth-telling options are to do one of the following:

  • LieIMG_1108
  • Avoid the person or the subject
  • Drop hints, such as, “Do you think that tie really matches your shirt?”
  • Use anonymous truth-telling techniques, such as leaving an unsigned note on someone’s desk with letters cut from magazines ransom-note style

On the other side of the spectrum are those people who just say whatever they think, without taking the time to ask themselves, “Is there an equally honest, but kinder way to say this?” These are often the same people who confuse “truth” with their own opinions and they don’t understand when they say, “That’s a stupid idea!” why other people might get upset.

If we want to be honest and straightforward, but still considerate of others’ feelings, here are some tips for sharing “the truth” in a way that others will not only hear, but can likely accept it.


1. First, decide whether you should share “the truth” or not.

Just because something is true, doesn’t mean you need to share it. For example, I was once at a dinner party where a guest made a point, in front of everyone, to note that the wine the host was serving was in the wrong type of glass. Does it really matter, especially when the wine has already been poured? It sure didn’t stop the critic from drinking it! Additionally, sometimes what we believe is true is really more of a matter of opinion. If that’s the case, do we need to share it? Sometimes there’s no benefit to sharing the truth. If there isn’t- keep it to yourself.

2. Time your truth-telling appropriately.

Ideally, when it comes to others’ actions, you’d tell them what you think about what they’re GOING to do before they do it, rather than telling them what they SHOULD HAVE DONE after the fact, especially when you had the opportunity to do so. If you didn’t have the opportunity beforehand, or if you did, and just didn’t take it consider how a person is going to feel hearing your honesty after he or she has already taken a different path? Likely, the person will feel stupid, criticized, and resentful that you’re telling them NOW.

In the example in #1, if the host really did need to know which glasses were appropriate for which type of wine, the guest could have let him know after dinner. If I’m already dressed and running late, is now the time to tell me that you like my blue shirt better than the one I’m wearing? If I’ve already purchased something, is now the time to tell me I should have bought something else? If the issue is an important one, maybe you should still share your truth.  

3. Consider asking the other person if they want to hear the information before you give it.

Rather than just randomly giving unsolicited feedback, you might consider asking if the person wants to hear your input. If a friend just presented at a meeting, ask, “Would you like some feedback on your presentation?” rather than just telling him or her the things they could do to improve. However, asking first only works if you’re ready to hear, “No, I’m not really interested. Thanks anyway.” If keeping the truth to yourself is not an option, then don’t ask the question.

4. Try to “soften the blow” if the truth you’re sharing is very personal. 

When it comes to personal taste and personal habits, people can become especially sensitive to feedback that is perceived as criticism. To share personal truths, you need to understand the difference between honesty and brutal honesty.

To tell someone,“Your perfume stinks” is not only brutal, but is really a matter of opinion. If the perfume is still on the market, there must be at least a few people who think it doesn’t stink, including the person wearing it. Instead, you might say, “I’m very sensitive to smells and am having difficulty focusing on my work because of your perfume. Would you mind not wearing it when we’re working in the lab?”  If you share a work space with someone and they never put things away, rather than saying, “I’m not a slob like you, I can’t stand it when you don’t put things away after you use them,” you could say, “I like to be able to find things when I need them. Since we’re sharing this space, I need you to put things back in the drawer after you use them.”

5. Focus on outcome or behavior, not the person.

There’s a big difference between saying, “You’re unreliable,” and saying, “You’ve been more than 15 minutes late, three times this week.” The former is not only personal and likely to trigger a defensive reaction, but is also unclear. What do you mean by unreliable? How do I fix “unreliable?”

Another example would be the difference between saying, “Your work is sloppy,” and saying, “There are more than 40 typos in your report.” The second honest statement not only tells the person exactly what’s wrong, but also focuses on the report as the problem, not the person, thereby reducing the likelihood of a defensive response.

6. Share what you need rather than telling people what they should do.

When you begin your honest phrase with “I think,” “I believe,” or “I’m concerned,” think about the direction your hand would be gesturing while you’re speaking. Likely, you’d be pointing toward yourself.

When you say, “you are” or “you should,” your finger would likely be pointing toward the other person, which comes across as condescending and accusatory. When you start your honesty with “I”, it will be easier for the other person to accept and is still just as honest. Here are some examples:

“I’m not sure the idea will work.” vs. “Your idea will never work.”

“I’m concerned it will cost too much money.” vs. “Are you crazy? We don’t have that kind of money in the budget.”


Being honest isn’t always going to be easy. However, using the tips above, you can be honest while still being thoughtful and considerate of others. Not only will the person hearing your truth benefit from it, but your relationship will benefit as well.

5 Discipline Habits of Effective Leaders

After writing the post, “6 Discipline Mistakes of Cowardly Leaders,” a few weeks back, several people asked me to write a follow up sharing what leaders SHOULD do when it comes to disciplining employees. So here’s my response.

Each of the following 5 habits are the exact opposite of the cowardly mistakes I wrote about in the previous post, so be sure to check out that post if you haven’t already.

1. Confront employee discipline problems clearly, specifically, and directly with the employee and do it face-to-face in private. 

Instead of the “Overhead Lob Approach,” which is a comment to the entire group made in the hopes that the offenders “get it,” or the “Mass Email Approach” which is the same as the overhead lob, but used by those who are too chicken or lazy to deliver the lob in a meeting.

2. Encourage employees to resolve issues between themselves, but if they can’t, it’s your job to help.

Instead of the “You Deal With It Approach” or the “Work Around Approach” which both tell the employee, “I don’t care and I’m not going to help you,” here’s what you can do:

  1. First, encourage the complaining employee to confront his or her coworker directly.You can help by talking through how the conversation should go and even role-playing the conversation so the employee can practice.
  2. If step 1 doesn’t work, try observing the behavior so you can confront what you’ve observed. If Stephen complains that Amanda doesn’t come back from lunch on time and he has to pick up her slack, be sure to be around at the end of lunch hour to see for yourself. If Amanda is late, you can address the issue and leave Stephen out of it.
  3. IMG_1047If you can’t do step 2, or there are multiple issues between employees, bring both employees in together.Bringing both employees in to discuss their relationships, schedules, or whatever the issue is helps ensure both sides of the issue are heard. Be prepared to break out your best mediation skills.

And no, confronting Amanda by saying, “a little bird told me,” or “it’s been brought to my attention,” is NOT an acceptable alternative to any of the steps above. This approach will only make the conflict worst in most cases. By trying to maintain Stephen’s anonymity, Amanda’s objective after leaving your office will be bird hunting, not improving her performance and relationships with her coworkers.

3. Address expectations, extenuating circumstances, and consequences of behavior before confronting employees. 

You can’t hold employees accountable for expectations you never stated, or didn’t state clearly. If there were extenuating circumstances, such as equipment failure, that kept an employee from doing the job, that must be considered as well. Finally, if there are no consequences for poor performance, then there’s no real incentive, other than personal integrity, for doing things right. For those who have that personal integrity, you won’t have to hold many discipline discussions. For those who don’t, what are you going to say at the end of your discussion after, “If this happens again . . .”? If this happens again, we’re going to have our 25th chat about this. If the first chat didn’t cause the employee to change the behavior, subsequent ones won’t either.

4. Send employees to training so they can learn new skills, not as punishment.

If one of the “extenuating circumstances” above was that the employee didn’t know how to do what was expected, then by all means, send him or her to training. There’s an old saying in training that if you could put a gun to someone’s head and he or she could do what you asked, it’s not a training issue. The “Send Them to Training Approach” only creates a disgruntled trainee who will not be very open to learning what’s taught in the class.

5. Address discipline issues immediately. 

This is probably one of the most important habits. Effective leaders don’t take the “Do Nothing and Hope it Goes Away Approach.” They never wait for a small problem to turn into a big one. They address ALL problems the first time they see them.

If Mark is late to work, even if it’s the first time, at least mention it out of concern. “Hi Mark, I’m glad you’re here. I was worried because you were 15 minutes late.” If Mark has a legitimate reason, then great, it likely won’t happen again and he’ll appreciate your concern. If this was the first in what will become a series of late days, he’ll likely think again before hitting the snooze three times tomorrow.

3 Reasons You Must Learn to Say No

This week has been a very hectic week for me, and it’s only Wednesday as I write this post.

I’ve had many competing priorities and others’ priorities have worked their way into my life as well. To make it through, I’ve had to say “no” a lot.

  • 7K0A0021I’ve told myself “no” when I’ve been tempted to move from a distasteful (but necessary) task to a more pleasant one.
  • I told myself “no” when I was tempted to volunteer to drive a dog four hours to another city to get her into a rescue group. (Thankfully, someone else was able to say “yes.”)
  • I’ve told colleagues, editors, friends, and others “no” because I couldn’t help them right now.

And I know it might sound terrible to admit it, but I don’t feel guilty one bit.



Because as a recovering “yes woman,” I realized several years ago that learning to say “no” to things is a critical survival skill you can’t live without if you want to live a successful and happy life. Now before all you kind, generous, and giving people get yourselves all in an uproar, I am NOT advocating saying “no” to everything and everyone. I’m simply saying when saying “no” is the right thing to do, you’ve got to do it.

If you’re like I used to be and you have a hard time saying “no,” here are three reasons you must learn to say “no” starting today.

1. Saying “no” is actually beneficial to others. 

How many times have you said “yes” to something, only to fail to do it because you were overwhelmed and ran out of time? Wouldn’t it have been better to say “no” in the first place so that the person who was counting on you could have found an alternative earlier? Although it might seem at first like saying “no” is hurtful to others, when saying “no” is the best answer for yourself and the other person, you’re doing both of you a favor by letting the person know on the spot.

2. Saying “no” helps define the type of person you are.

A person who says “yes” all the time is telling others several things about themselves: they’re a doormat, they’re weak, they can’t create and maintain boundaries, they put everyone else above themselves, they’re not worthy of anyone’s respect or consideration. Is that the message you want to send? People who can say “no” to things for the right reasons send the message that they can prioritize, their time is important, and they’re worthy of others’ respect and consideration.

3. Saying “no” to some things, frees you up to say “yes” to more important things.

I’m a strong believer that when we say yes to too many things, things that aren’t OUR priorities seem to get done first. Maybe because they’re easier to do and we’re just procrastinating our own stuff, or maybe we’re afraid of others’ reactions if we put their request at the bottom of our “to do” list. There are probably a lot of reasons this happens, but in the end, they person who says yes to everything, loses.


Now that you know why you need to say “no”, you just have to figure out how to say it. If you need help, check out my blog post, Just Say No: Five Simple Ways to Do It.

6 Voicemail Greeting Mistakes That Drive Customers Away

One of my personal pet peeves is bad voicemail greetings.

I can’t stand calling someone’s home and hearing a four year old giving a voicemail greeting. Having the whole family on the line drives me crazy too.

In the workplace, it’s voicemail greetings like the ones below that make me want to hang up and call someone else, perhaps one of your competitors?

This is Bob Smith; I’m not available to take your call right now. Leave a message and I’ll call you back at my earliest convenience. BEEP

Hi! It’s Suzy! I’m not available to take your call. I’m either in a meeting, or out of the office, or at a doctor’s appointment, or running an errand, or in the restroom, or I might be on vacation. Leave your info and I’ll get back to you when I get back. BEEP

Hey! It’s Ned. Surprise, surprise! You’ve reached my voice mail. I’m out of town and will return January 5th. You know what to do. BEEP  (Oh, by the way, it’s July.)


The messages above need a complete overhaul.

Here’s why:

IMG_1277They waste time stating the obvious. I know you’re not there, that’s why I’m hearing your voice-mail greeting.

They tell callers they’re not a priority by saying you’ll call back at YOUR convenience.

They leave callers hanging because they don’t say when you’ll return the call, don’t give an alternative to waiting for you, and are outdated- causing confusion as to whether your message is old or you’re going to be gone for six months.


Creating a thorough, effective, voicemail greeting for your office phone is simple. Just include the following:

    1. Your name, department or position, and organization
    2. The date you’re recording the message
    3. What information you need from callers so you can be prepared to call them back
    4. Date or time you’ll be back in the office and returning calls
    5. Whether you’ll check messages during your absence (as necessary)
    6. Contact information for someone else who can help callers in the interim

It sounds like a lot of information, but if you write a script of exactly what to say before you start recording, you should be able to create an efficient, effective message that is only 30-40 seconds long, which is about the perfect length for a voicemail greeting.

If you do, you’ll find the messages callers leave you are more useful AND if you’re away from your office for an extended period of time, you’ll actually have FEWER messages because most people prefer to contact someone else, or call back later, than to leave a message and wait a week for a response.

9 TV Quotes to Live By at Work

amy-castro.comThis past weekend, I was recovering from oral surgery that left it difficult for me to talk or to get much work done. As a result, I spent a lot of time sitting on my couch watching television. (Here’s a pic from my vantage point on the couch.)

As I caught up on my favorite shows and watched a few new ones, I realized that although we often think of television as a colossal, brain-draining waste of time, there are the occasional nuggets of wisdom we can pick up if we’re paying attention.

Here are a few TV quotes to live by at work (and possibly our personal lives too). Let me know which ones are your favorites!

1. “Once you’ve accepted your flaws, no one can use them against you.” – Game of Thrones

When we acknowledge and accept our flaws, we’re able to drop our defensiveness about them. As a result, they lose their power for those who would bring them up in an attempt to embarrass, anger, or hurt us.

2. “If you don’t like what is being said, then change the conversation.” – Mad Men

Plato is often quoted as saying, “Your silence gives consent.” If a workplace conversation is taking an inappropriate tone, a meeting discussion has diverted from the agenda, or you don’t want to be drawn into workplace gossip, there’s a simple solution– speak up and direct the conversation elsewhere.

3. “It’s so easy to do the wrong thing in this world. So, if it feels wrong don’t do it.” – The Walking Dead

I don’t think this one need any explanation.

4. “Change is neither good or bad. It simply is. It can be greeted with terror or joy — a tantrum that says, ‘I want it the way it was,’ or a dance that says, ‘Look, something new.'” – Mad Men

Let’s face it, most people are creatures of habit and don’t like change. However, change is inevitable, we can’t always control it, and the more we look at it negatively, the more painful the change becomes. If we choose to take a positive approach to change we’ll not only move through uncomfortable change more quickly, but we’ll also be better able to find the positive aspects of our new reality.

5. “I’ve never met a situation where I don’t have a choice in the matter.”– Madam Secretary

No matter the situation you always have choices. They may not always be great, but they’re always there.

6. “When the door you’ve been knocking at finally swings open, you don’t ask why. You run through.” – The Good Wife

We get a job offer and hesitate to accept because we’re afraid of trying something new or question our ability to be successful. Someone offers us an opportunity and we question their motives. The door to opportunity is open- something we’ve ALWAYS wanted, but when it’s right in front of us, we freeze. Too many times we allow fear and doubt to keep us from moving forward. Stop questioning and start moving forward.

7. “You want some respect? Go out and get it for yourself.” – Mad Men

People don’t give you respect, you earn it, require it, or command (not demand) it. To get respect you have to give it AND you have to have it for yourself as well.

8. “Sometimes when people get what they want, they realize how limited their goals were.” – Mad Men

Too many times people set the bar low because they fear failure. Easy goals are easy to reach. Reaching your potential is much harder.

9. “Don’t try too hard to please everybody. You’ll only end up with regrets.”  -The Night Shift

People who try to make everyone happy usually end up making themselves miserable. If we focus instead on doing the right thing instead of focusing on making others happy, it’s a lot easier to live with the outcome.

Have some other favorite TV quotes to add to this list? Let me know!

7 Bad Meeting Habits You Might Need to Break

Every time I teach a “Making Meetings Work” workshop, I ask the group, “How many of you enjoy going to meetings?”

Can you guess how many hands go up? You’re right — none!

Since so many of us don’t like to go to meetings, I think we’ve developed some bad habits as a subconscious rebellion. Unfortunately, our own bad meeting habits are what contribute to making meetings ineffective and as a result, make us hate going to meetings. We’re creating our own problem!

Here are some of the most common poor meeting habits I’ve observed and even some I’ve been guilty of myself. If you read one (or several) that sound like you- it’s time to start breaking those bad habits.

1. Arriving late. If the meeting starts at 9 a.m., this doesn’t mean you get there at 9 a.m. (or later) it means you should be seated and ready to go BY 9 a.m.

2. Completing other tasks. If you have other things to do that are more important than the meeting, skip the meeting. If you’ve been invited to participate in a meeting, you can’t do that and do other things at the same time.

3. Make or take phone calls. It doesn’t matter how important you are, it’s generally considered rude to take a call during a meeting. If you’re anticipating an emergency call, for example, if a loved one is in the hospital, put your phone on vibrate and step out of the room if  you get a call. If you’re getting several calls and need to keep stepping out, you’ve now become a distraction to the meeting and you should probably leave.

4. Arrive unprepared. If the meeting leader has sent out an agenda, be sure to review it in advance and come prepared to discuss the agenda topics. This might require research, bringing certain information/documents, etc. It’s a waste of time when agenda items have to be “tabled” until the next meeting because participants were unprepared to discuss an item.

5. Not participating. Assuming you’ve done your homework by talking to the person who invited you to the meeting and you’ve both determined you need to be there, participate! Actively listen, ask questions, if you don’t understand something- say so, if you disagree- do so- respectfully. Your presence was requested, along with the other participants, because someone believed you had something to give– do your part!

6. Monopolizing the conversation. On the flip side of # 5 above, don’t take your participation obligation too far. It’s great to contribute, but be sure you let others participate as well. Additionally, if you’re someone in a position of power, consider withholding your opinions until others have had a chance to so you don’t influence their opinions or input.

7. Taking the meeting off the agenda. Even though you might have other topics you’d like to discuss with the group, stick to the agenda. If the meeting leader has planned well, the agenda items are exactly what can be covered in the allotted meeting time. Bringing up other subjects takes the meeting off track and is a big reason why meetings run past their end time.


These are just a few of the things you shouldn’t do in a meeting. What other “bad behavior” have you observed? Comment and let me know!

11 Communication Weaknesses that Will Kill Your Career

No matter what industry you’re in and no matter what your job title, your job description likely includes some requirement pertaining to communication skills.Log Out

“Great oral and written communication skills a must.”

“Excellent interpersonal communication skills required.”

“Must have experience communicating with staff, managers, and customers.”

Unfortunately, many people tend to spend more time worrying about and working on their technical proficiency than they do their communication skills.

The result? A lack of career progression and sometimes even career death.

It’s unlikely that having just one of the weaknesses below will cause a person’s career to come to crash and burn. However, having several of them, or having a few of them that get worse over time, may have a cumulative negative impact most of us would probably like to avoid.


Here are some of the most common career crushing communication mistakes.

1. Having a poor handshake.

2. Poor written communication skills.

3. Inability to adapt your communication style to different audiences, including people of different generations.

4. Nonverbal communication that conveys weakness or negativity, such as slouching, leaning away from a speaker, mumbling, speaking too softly, and vocalized pauses (uhs and ums) to name a few.

5. Inability to maintain eye contact, especially when confronted by an aggressive, angry, or powerful person.

6. Being a poor listener.

7. Saying, “I’m sorry” too much, especially when something isn’t your fault.

8. Using qualifiers, hedges, and hesitations. “I uh, sort of think we maybe should start the meeting, don’t you?”

9. Failing to praise or thank people for their good work.

10. Being late to meetings, thereby communicating that you don’t care, or that you think your time is more valuable than other people’s.

11. Not planning for difficult conversations BEFORE you have them.


What other communication “career killers” would you add to this list?

7 Signs that You’re Probably a Blamer

Over the years, I’ve discovered that there are two types of people when it comes to the issue of accountability.

The first is the accountable person. This is the person who is self aware and understands his or her role and responsibility in a problem situation. The accountable person is someone who learns and grows from every mistake and is less likely to make the same mistakes again.

The second is the blamer. This is the person who always has an excuse, explanation, or scapegoat upon which they can dump responsibility. This person is the one who is most frustrating for me because he or she never benefits from learning from mistakes and is destined to make the same ones over and over again.

For example:7K0A0752

  • an employer who repeatedly loses great employees
  • an employee who is repeatedly “let go”
  • a politician who runs for office repeatedly and never gets elected

What’s the common denominator here? (Or should I say “who?”)

In order to learn, grow, and move forward in life, it’s critical that we identify and take responsibility for our actions and even in-actions. The sooner we say

“I am responsible.”

“You’re right, I made a mistake.” 

“I’m partly to blame too, I should have …”
or ask
“What was my role in the situation?”
“What could I have done differently?”
“What can I do better next time?”

the more likely we are to identify the true source of the problem and begin taking steps to fix it.

The following “red flag” statements may indicate you’re attempting to avoid responsibility, deflect blame, or worst of all, reverse blame onto someone else.

When you feel the urge to say them, stop and think, “What’s my responsibility?” or “What part of this situation can I own?”

1. “You shouldn’t have asked me to do it in the first place.”

Then why did you accept the responsibility for the task? Perhaps you should have refused it.

2. “You didn’t give me enough time.”

Then why didn’t you negotiate a different deadline BEFORE you missed the one you agreed to?

3. “You didn’t give me enough information.”

Then why didn’t you ask for more when you were given the task?

4. “Well, I suppose you never made a mistake.”

Whether someone else has made a mistake isn’t the issue. The issue is yours- address it.

5. “Oh yeah, well you’re__________.”

Whatever someone else may be, as in #4 above, it’s not relevant now. If you had a problem with that person prior to this conversation, you probably had ample opportunity to bring it up before this moment. Now is not the time.

6. “What about (fill in person’s name)? Why don’t you ever say something to him/her?”

Turning the conversation to another person, especially someone who is not part of the conversation, is just another deflecting technique like #4 and #5 above. If you have a beef with someone else, take it to him or her.

7. “You never liked me.” 
When all else fails, turning the conversation away from behavior to the other person’s feelings about you is a classic technique for redirecting the conversation. How the other person feels about you CAN be addressed if they’re relevant, but only after addressing the concern that person originally brought to your attention.

Can you think of any more blaming phrases? Let me know!


The #1 Way to Avoid Misunderstandings and Conflict: Perception Checking

IMG_3289Most of the conflict I have experienced in my life, both first and second hand, has not been the result of factual disagreement, but of differing perceptions.

Every day we interact with others, “notice” their behavior, and then proceed to draw conclusions about what it is, what it means, etc.

Our interpretations, and thus our final perceptions, lead us to act on what we believe to be true when in fact, we have no idea what the truth is.

For example, before leaving for work in the morning, you tell your teenager to take out the trash before walking to the bus stop. The teenager agrees. When you get home after a long day at work, you walk into the kitchen to the smell of last night’s fish dinner wafting from the still-full trash can. Aforementioned teenager is watching re-runs of “Sponge Bob Squarepants” while lying on the couch.

What do you do?

A. Take out the trash yourself, saying nothing (not likely)

B. Ask the teenager politely why he or she didn’t take out the trash? (not likely)

C. Go Ballistic! (yes, that’s it)

For most of us who are parents, the answer would be C. There’s no reason to verify our perceptions, right? We know exactly what happened. That irresponsible, lazy kid forgot to take out the trash because “Sponge Bob Squarepants” is much more important.

So, what’s the problem with that?

Well, although we might be correct some of the time when we run with our perceptions, there are many times when our perceptions are flat-out wrong.

The above scenario is a true one presented to me by a workshop participant who had learned the Perception Checking technique at a previous workshop of mine that she had attended. She told me that the “old her” would have selected “Option C,” but having been to my course, she thought she’d give a Perception Checking Statement a try.

Upon entering her kitchen, she paused, took a deep breath (despite the fish odor), and calmly said:

“Derek, the trash is still inside when you were supposed to take it out this morning. Did you forget, or did something prevent you from taking out the garbage? What happened?

To which Derek replied (and the mom later confirmed to be true):

“I was going to, but Mrs. Davis called because she had a flat tire. I went next door and changed it for her so she could go to work and by the time I was done, the bus was coming so I ran to the bus stop.”

A simple perception check turned what would have been a fight, into an opportunity for a mom to praise her son for doing the right thing.

Perception checking is equally applicable to work situations. Before you assume to know why Karen didn’t get you the report on time, or presume to know what “that look” means on the face of that employee you know has a bad attitude … check it out with a Perception Check. 

Steps to an Effective Perception Checking Statement

  1. Describe the person’s actions or behaviorin a factual, nonjudgmental manner.
  2. Offer two possible interpretations of the behavior—one can even be “negative” as long as the second gives the other person “benefit-of-the-doubt.”
  3. Ask the person to share their “truth”—before you respond or take further action.


Perception checking is a great tool for ensuring you don’t start a conflict unnecessarily and for clearing the air when there is a problem. Give it a try this week—your coworkers and loved ones will appreciate you taking the time to “check it out before you challenge.”


For more perception checking information or examples, as well as other critical communication techniques, check out my book, “Practical Communication: 25 Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Getting Along and Getting Things Done.”