10 Conversations You Should Never Start at Family Holiday Gatherings

family holiday

Family holiday gatherings should be a time to reconnect, enjoy great food and drinks, and most of all, to celebrate the “reason for the season.”

However, for many families, holiday gatherings somehow don’t turn out to be the idyllic events they hope for because:

  • expectations are too high,
  • inhibitions are too low,
  • people see family gatherings as an opportunity to drop a bomb,
  • people strike at the opportunity to “get even” for slights and hurt feelings of the past  year,
  • and more.

To avoid starting a family feud this holiday season, here are 10 conversations you should never start (or allow yourself to get involved in)at a holiday gathering:

  1. Any conversation that compares siblings, cousins, or grandchildren, and puts someone in a negative light.
  2. Criticism of the cook’s menu choices or cooking technique.
  3. Negative comparisons of the cook’s menu choices or cooking technique. “Well when I make stuffing, I NEVER. . .”
  4. Major “bomb drop” announcements that you know will cause shock or controversy.
  5. Bragging about accomplishments; either yours or your children’s.
  6. Questioning a family member’s habits. “You’re eating that? I thought you were on a diet?”
  7. Revealing family secrets, even if they’re your own.
  8. Rehashing old arguments, wrongs, or hurts.
  9. Stepping in to “parent” a child that’s not yours.
  10. Disagreeing, especially if just to be contrary, with someone else’s point of view.

And a bonus tip: If what you’re about to say requires sarcasm to make your point, keep it to yourself.

For more tips on surviving the holidays, check out my past blog posts:

Five Communication Tips for Surviving Thanksgiving and Other Holiday Gatherings

The Office Holiday Party: What to Know Before You Go

Five Do’s and Don’ts for Coping with Holiday Stress

Five Steps to Improving Your Communication Skills

communication skills program cover

I just completed a 30-day video series called, “Communication Skills for Career Success.” Over the 30 days, people who watch the daily 2-3 minute videos receive tips, techniques, inspiration, and goals for building upon their set of communication skills; from listening, word choice, and nonverbal communication, to making the decision whether to confront someone in person, on the phone, or via email.

Throughout the process of creating the video program, I realized there are five key steps to improving communication skills beyond the skills themselves:

1. Identify the need for change

Most people won’t undertake the process of improving anything unless they believe there is a need to make a change. Being aware of your communication weaknesses is the first step toward making a change for the better. When you say certain words to others, do you frequently get an unexpected negative reaction? Do certain elements of your body language or facial expressions cause others to interpret your meaning differently than you intended? When you communicate, is your goal to create understanding with the other person, or is it to be right, or to punish? Becoming more aware of your communication techniques will allow you to set specific goals for improving your communication.

2. Find an excellent communication role model

Is there someone you know who always seems to say the right thing AND say with sincerity? If so, this person might be a great role model for you. Study his or her communication techniques and identify those that would benefit you. Additionally, ask why he or she chose those words or used that body language, so that you can understand the rationale behind the method. If you can’t find a good role model, find a great book on communication or watch a video on communication techniques.

3. Practice new skills every day

Once you’ve identified skills you need to improve, set a goal to practice one or two skills every day for a few weeks until they become a permanent part of your communication repertoire. Realize too that some techniques, especially those learned from a mentor, just won’t “fit” your communication style or your work environment. That’s okay! Find the ones that work best for you and have the most positive results and let the others go.

4. Stay motivated, even if things don’t always work out the way you expected

When you first start using a new skill, things won’t always work out the way you expect. That doesn’t mean the skill doesn’t work. Even if you perfect a communication skill, the one thing you have no control over is the person to whom you’re communicating. For example, if you’ve decided to learn to say “no” to unreasonable requests, and your coworker gets upset because you won’t stay late to help her, remember, you’re not in control of her actions or feelings. Let her own them and don’t take responsibility for them. If you handled the situation appropriately, then accept the results and move on.

5. Have confidence in yourself

Self confidence and good communication go hand-in-hand. If you’re not confident in your abilities, you’re unlikely to use them. Start small and create small wins for yourself. For example, if you’re trying to learn to better express your feelings, start by doing so with someone you believe is likely to accept them. Don’t start with the most difficult, contrary person in your life and expect a great result. As your communication skills grow, so does your ability to navigate the various everyday and difficult situations and people, that you encounter. Use each “win” as an opportunity to congratulate yourself on your new effective communication skills and tell yourself, “I can do this!” Use failures or less-than-perfect outcomes as learning moments. Ask yourself, “How could I have handled this better?” Then focus on doing better the next time.


communication skills program coverAnnouncing My New Video Program: Communication Skills for Career Success

I’m proud to announce my new video program, “Communication Skills for Career Success.” It is a 30-day program offering tips and techniques for improving workplace relationships, being more productive at work, and experiencing more career success and satisfaction. It will teach you to look at communication as you never have before: as an essential life skill that you can’t believe you ever lived without. More importantly:

  • It’s fast:Daily 2-3 minute videos a day over 30 days – each day a different lesson on improving communication skills.
  • It’s simple: Each video contains a story, lesson, and action from me that reinforces everything I talk about in my workshops, classes, in my book, and on stage.
  • It works: The program was developed in Partnership with Avanoo, the leader in behavioral change video research.

As one of my blog subscribers, you can watch the first video for free. If you like it and want more, for a limited time, I’m offering my blog subscribers more than 50 percent off the regular price of $49.95. Use this coupon code to get the entire 30-day program for only $19.95. Coupon code: PracticalCommunication

If you think the video program would benefit your company, organization, or community group, please contact me for even more savings on group licensing.

Click here to view the introductory video!

5 Ways to Shut Down Stage Hogs

stagehogWe all know at least one. It’s that guy who only asks how you’re doing so he can jump in and tell you how he’s doing. It’s that gal who has to let you know all about the great things her son is doing, but never asks about even ONE of your kids. I call them Stage Hogs. If you’re more polite than me, you can refer to them as “Conversation Dominators.”

I was at lunch with a friend recently who was lamenting that she seemed to be a magnet for these people. She related several examples; from being cornered in a grocery store aisle to mistakenly sitting down next to one at a sporting event. Her biggest question was how to make it stop.

There are a couple of ways to deal with Stage Hogs. The method you choose will depend on your willingness to be assertive and your goals for the situation. If the Stage Hog is a close friend, you might choose differently than if the Stage Hog was a person you didn’t like and with whom you had no interest in continuing a relationship. Here are the options:

1. Let the Stage Hog know you want some of the spotlight. If I wanted a continued relationship with the Stage Hog, I would say,

“Amy, I enjoy our friendship and our conversations. There are times though, when I feel like I’m doing most of the listening and I don’t get to share with you what’s going on in my life. I don’t mean to criticize, but I wanted you to know how I felt because I value our friendship.”

Then I’d see where the conversation went from there. I’d also be prepared to let the other person know what I wanted, such as telling her directly that I’d appreciate being asked about my kids and for her to really listen. I might also use a little humor and say, “Would it be okay if I let you know when I’d like to have my turn to talk?”

2. Turn the tables on the Stage Hog. A more passive approach, possibly bordering on passive aggression, would be to become a mini Stage Hog yourself. For example, when the Stage Hog takes a breath to tell you about the next accomplishment on her kid’s list of accomplishments, use the opportunity to jump in and say, That’s so awesome, my daughter Kelsey just. . .” and then take over the conversation. Although not as assertive or direct as option 1 above, it can sometimes get the job done. Stage Hogs don’t like to converse with other Stage Hogs because they don’t like to compete for “air time.”

3. Communicate your disinterest nonverbally. If you’re not willing to take a more assertive approach, another passive approach would be to subtly disengage in the conversation. Stop saying, “uh, huh,” break eye contact and look elsewhere, or start doing something else. If you’ve been trapped by a Stage Hog in the grocery store aisle, turn sideways from him or her and look intently at all your rice options. If you do continue to converse, longer pauses between your comments, such as “uh (pause) huh,” will cause a disconnect in the conversation and will likely make the Stage Hog uncomfortable. Although it breaks all the rules of politeness, it will likely result in the Stage Hog moving on to something or someone else.

4. Tell the Stage Hog that you don’t have time to talk. Take an opportunity when the Stage Hog pauses to take a breath and say, “Oh, I’m sorry, I need to go, I’ve got to be home by 3.” Then just say good bye and walk away. If you don’t really have somewhere else to be, you can still say you need to go. Everyone has something they could be doing that’s probably more important than being hogtied by a Stage Hog. If you have trouble lying, try this. Think of something you’d rather be doing. Got something? Now that’s your reason to leave.

5. Avoid the Stage Hog altogether. When all else fails, limit your exposure to Stage Hogs. Don’t accept her lunch invitation or sit by him at your kid’s sporting event; even if it means he has to sit by himself. If you see a Stage Hog in the grocery store aisle, turn around and skip that aisle for now. Although I’m not a big advocate of avoidance, it is an option in some situations.

Finally, a special appeal to Stage Hogs:  As a professional speaker, I have no problem taking the stage. I have to fight the urge sometime to dominate the conversation. I literally have to bite my tongue. However, seeing the negative impact just one Stage Hog can have on a conversation, and experiencing the disengagement of everyone in a group when a Stage Hog takes over, I find it a lot easier to keep my mouth shut. Instead of being the one talking all the time, make a concerted effort to engage others by asking them open-ended questions and really listening to their responses. Don’t interrupt, or try to “one up” people, just acknowledge them and then ask another question. Your stage-hogging tendencies can be curbed with a little bit of effort and some basic courtesy and concern for others. You’ll also gain the benefit of better relationships as people learn how much you really care.


Do You Suffer from Chronic “Pumpkin Without Stem” Syndrome?

pumpkin patchBack east where I’m from, it’s a tradition for most families to take a run to the local farm in the fall to pick out Halloween pumpkins. As I recall, it was more than just shopping for a pumpkin. There was apple cider, fresh cider donuts, and then the main event, heading to the pumpkin field to pick out the best pumpkin you could find.

While most kids looked forward to the event, I always had mixed emotions. I wanted that perfect pumpkin, but what about the imperfect ones? The ones who weren’t round, the ones that had a bump or imperfection, and worst of all, the ones without stems– those were the saddest to me. Luckily my mom was understanding and usually allowed me to buy a “perfect” one and one of the sad, stemless ones that would otherwise have been left behind.

pumpkinFlash forward into adulthood and I’ve realized that the need to care for, befriend, and otherwise try to “fix” stemless pumpkins doesn’t just apply to fruit (yes, pumpkins are fruit- Google it), but to people as well.

Now don’t get me wrong, most of my friends are perfectly wonderful, normal, people (stated just in case any are reading), but I have chronically attracted and held on to, more than a few stemless pumpkins over the years.

You know who I’m talking about. They’re the people who no one else wants to befriend because of their obvious flaws, such as bragging, lying, or other even more socially inappropriate behavior. However, you stick by them because you believe they need you and maybe, just maybe, they’ll change. When questioned why you spend time with them, you reply, “I know  he (or she) is  ____, but. . .” and then make excuses for your pumpkin.

On one hand, associating with a few stemless pumpkins can good for us. They teach us to be accepting of others, challenge our friendship and communication skills, and they can sometimes be very giving and grateful for our friendship.

On the other hand though, they can sometimes drag us down, drain our energy, and become a never-ending project that can dominate our lives.

So what can you do if you think you have Pumpkin Without Stem Syndrome?

Learn to identify a stemless pumpkin when you see one, so you can avoid a lot of heartache before taking it home. 

I can’t really tell you how to identify the particular stemless pumpkin that you attract, because everyone attracts a different kind. My pumpkins have been people who:

– have low self-esteem, but compensate by achievement, either academic or business,

– constantly have to remind others of their accomplishments by bringing them up at every opportunity

– put others down to make themselves feel better,

– get angry, insecure, or frustrated, and then lash out, apologize, and do it again next week.

If you already have a stemless pumpkin in your life, consider limiting their access to you or ending the relationship.

For help with this, read my blog post, “Getting Rid of Dead Weight Once and For All.”

As I’ve become more aware of my own problem with stemless pumpkins, I’ve taken action to cure myself of the need to maintain toxic relationships and to accumulate people in my life who suck the life out of me, and quite frankly, cannot be fixed. Just a few weeks ago, I took a trip with my best friend to New England to view the fall foliage. At one of our stops was a pumpkin stand. Although I still felt the twinge of guilt leaving the stemless pumpkins behind, I left the stand with just one pumpkin whose stem was fully intact.

I think I may be cured.


Thanks to those who attended my  SMART Goal Setting Workshop today for voting on this post for this week!

Break Down Your Listening Barriers in Five Easy Steps

A few years ago I worked with a man named Martin. He was a condescending know-it-all and I avoided him whenever I could. As soon as I saw him walking toward me, I could feel myself getting annoyed. Any time he spoke to me, all I could think was, “Who does he think he is telling me what to do? I wish he would just shut up.”

Unfortunately, I couldn’t just ignore Martin because I needed information from him to do my job. So I decided to try an experiment. When Martin approached me, I conjured up the image of my best friend and pretended that she was the one speaking to me instead of him. Immediately I lowered my psychological listening barrier and the negative thoughts in my head drifted away. From then on, I was able to set aside my feelings about Martin and truly listen to him.

Every day we face barriers to listening; from our own egos to construction noise. Although we can’t eliminate all listening barriers, we can certainly take steps to eliminate the ones we can and work around those we can’t.  However, the first step is identifying what barriers exist.

There are three basic categories of listening barriers. Psychological barriers are made up of your own thought processes and emotions. Physical barriers are those barriers related to your body, such as hearing loss, or even a speaker’s speech impediment. Environmental barriers are those external to you, such as other conversations or the aforementioned construction noise.

Although we can’t eliminate all listening barriers, good listeners take steps to eliminate the ones they can and work around those they can’t. Here are five ways you minimize the impact of listening barriers.

1. Ensure you’re ready to listen. If you’re angry, frustrated, or preoccupied, you’re unlikely to listen well. To listen, you need to be in the right frame of mind. If you’re having a bad day (or bad moment) ask the speaker to wait until you’re able to really listen. If that’s not an option, take a deep breath and mentally “let go” of what’s bothering you, telling yourself, “I need to let X go for now so I can really listen to Y.”

2. Choose the best possible listening environment. If your office is loud and you’re trying to talk to a customer on the phone, ask the customer if she minds holding so you can move to a quiet place where you can hear. If an employee stops you in the hallway to discuss a personal issue, ask him to accompany you to your office so you can talk privately. Taking control of the listening environment will ensure a better outcome for both of you.

3. Minimize distractions. One of the number one complaints employees have about their supervisors is that they SAY they’re listening, but they’re doing other things at the same time. If you say “yes” to listening, you must say “no” to everything else. No answering the phone. No checking email. No continuing to type up that report. Shut off the phone ringer, close the computer, and step away from the keyboard and really listen.

4. Don’t prejudge the message. Prejudging involves thinking ahead of the speaker and predicting what he or she will say next. One example of prejudging is interrupting and try to complete the speaker’s thoughts. Here’s what I mean:

Amy: “I was thinking maybe we should reconsider those vacation dates, I. . .”

LeRoy: “We should probably wait until August?”

Amy: “No, what I was going to say was. . .”

LeRoy: “We should fly out on Saturday instead?”

Amy: “Would you like to keep guessing or would you like me to tell you what I was going to say?”

Another type of prejudging is when the listener basically stops listening, assuming where the conversation is going, and spends the time formulating his or her response. You can tell when a listener does this because he or she blurts out the answer to your question or comment immediately after you finish speaking.

listening5. Focus on demonstrating proper listening body language. You can tell me you’re listening as much as you want, but until I can “see” that you’re listening, I won’t believe it.

Yes, I know, if you have your back turned to a speaker, you can still hear the speaker’s words. However, a large portion of what someone is communicating will come from his or her body language. If you’re facing the speaker and using good eye contact, you can “listen” to what the speaker’s body language is telling you.

For example, if you were giving instructions to an employee and asked if she understood what needed to be done,  the employee might say, “yes,” but if her face looks concerned or doubtful, what her face is telling you is more important than her words. She doesn’t want to admit she is unsure, but her face gives her away. When body language contradict the verbal message, the body language tells the truth. A good response might be, “I appreciate your willingness to take on this project, but I’m sensing some concern. Let’s go back over the steps once again.”

Finally, using good listening body language communicates to the speaker that you are truly interested in what he or she is saying. Facing the speaker, leaning slightly in, and using facial expressions the demonstrate understanding, give the speaker a “warm fuzzy,” that you’re really listening.

For more information on improving your listening skills, check out my previous blog posts on listening:

Improve Your Listening Skills in Six Easy Steps

Eight Bad Listening Habits Everyone Should Break



The High Cost of Poor Listening Skills

 tenerife islandTenerife island is the largest and most populous islands in the Canary Island chain a few hundred miles off the coast of Morocco. About five million tourists visit the island each year and partake of Tenerife’s beautiful mountains, beaches and many cultural festivals.

klm pan am crashHowever, most of these tourists don’t realize that Tenerife holds a more deadly distinction. It was there, on March 27, 1977, that a KLM Flight 4805 collided with a Pan Am Fligth 1736, killing 583 people in what remains the biggest air disaster in history. Although there was more than one factor attributed to the cause of the crash, most experts agree that several common listening barriers contributed to this disaster.

  • The KLM pilot was preoccupied and concerned about staying on the planned flight schedule.
  • Before the First Officer had finished reading back the tower’s routing clearance, the pilot suddenly took off, possibly assuming approval was forthcoming.
  • Six seconds into takeoff, the First Officer transmitted, “… we are now at takeoff,” but language barriers resulted in misunderstanding, and the aircraft control tower responded, “Okay… standby for takeoff… I will call you.”
  • Hearing the exchange, the doomed Pan Am pilot, sent a desperate transmission, “We are still taxiing down the runway!” However, his transmission was blocked by the  KLM plane, which was still transmitting to the tower.

Although this story is an extreme example of the impact of poor listening, every day we experience errors, miscommunication, and bad customer service due to poor listening skills on the part of the people involved.

Why?  The number one reason is that people incorrectly assume that because they hear, they listen. Nothing is further from the truth. Hearing is a passive, physiological process- if your ears process sound, you hear. Listening however, is an active psychological and physical process. It requires effort, skill, and most importantly, training.

Listening barriers are all around us and within us, blocking and distorting messages we need to receive. From psychological barriers, including our thoughts and emotions, such as a pilot’s worry about a schedule, to physical barriers such as noise, or a lost radio transmission due to poor technology, to physiological barriers, like a speaker’s accent, or words that get “lost in translation”, as occurred when the Dutch and US pilots communicated with the Spanish air traffic controllers. While we can’t control all listening barriers, by understanding what they are and using good listening techniques, we can eliminate many of them.

In my next blog post, I’ll share ways you can minimize or eliminate the five biggest listening barriers in your life.

Five Things You Should Never Tell Your Boss


duct-tape-over-mouthI’m all about building rapport, communicating, and creating great relationships with people at work, including your boss. However, there are some things you should just keep to yourself if you want to continue to be successful, and climb the ladder, in your career.

Yes, I realize when you read some of these items, some of you will say, “They would never use that against me, ” and you may be right. However, when you don’t get the promotion, the pay increase, or some other opportunity, you’ll never know that it could have been due to sharing one of these things. So, why take the chance?

Here are the five things you should never tell your boss.


1. Your outside income, including your spouse’s.

Telling your boss that you have outside income is just asking for trouble. In fact, a previous employer once told me, when he decided not to give me a promised pay increase, “I had to make some budget cuts and I didn’t think you needed it.” Additionally, imagine a scenario where you have outside income and you’re competing for a promotion against a coworker whose spouse is unemployed or underemployed. Your supervisor is aware of both situations. Even if it’s not conscious on your supervisor’s part, you could lose out on a promotion even though you’re equally qualified because he or she may think you don’t “need” the promotion as much as the other person.

2. Your outside commitments.

Telling your supervisor that you can’t stay late because you’re going out with the girls, or your son has a baseball game, makes you a good friend or parent. However, your supervisor may interpret things differently. It could send the message that your priorities aren’t aligned with his or hers or with the mission of the organization. It could cause others to question your commitment to your job. Therefore, it’s better to say, “I can’t today, I have another commitment.” Then, if you can offer an alternative, such as, “. . .but I can come in early tomorrow to help,” or “. . .but I can work on it through lunch tomorrow,” so much the better.

3. Your political interests.

Bringing up your political beliefs and causes you support at work gives you a 50-50 chance of ending up on the opposite side of an issue with your boss. Why risk it? Unless you work for a think tank or are working on a political campaign, leave your politics at the door when you get to work.

4. Mental health or other issues for which you’re pursuing therapy.

If you’re going through a divorce or are seeking help with depression, your supervisor might be very understanding. However, it can also lead your boss to question your ability to do your job. Therefore, unless there’s some immediate, compelling reason to share this information, it’s better to keep the specifics to yourself. If you have to leave work early to see a therapist or psychiatrist, simply tell your boss that you have a doctor’s appointment. If you need to take a day off, keep your reasons vague. Your boss doesn’t need to know the reason you need a personal day.

5. What you REALLY think of him or her, right before you quit. 

There may be times, especially during an exit interview, to share ideas for making the workplace better or what might have made you stay. However, NEVER see quitting as the opportunity for an unedited rant of “100 Things I Hate About You.” Not only is this unprofessional, but remember, just about every future company you apply to will contact your former supervisor for information about you; even if you don’t put him or her down as a reference. In fact, for some employers, the fact that you didn’t put your previous supervisor on your list of references is a red flag that will put your former supervisor on the top of their call list.

Behavioral Interviewing: The Key to Hiring Success

behavioral interviewIn my last blog post, I identified reasons why traditional interviewing just doesn’t work. I also promised to share what does work, and that is behavioral interviewing.

So what is behavioral interviewing? It is a structured interview process where questions are focused on inquiring about a candidate’s past performance.


“The single best predictor of a candidate’s future job performance is his or her past job behavior.”

“How do we know this is true?  Because  it’s been proved in thousands of actual job situations for more than two decades.  Interviews that probe for past behavior have been found to be more reliable than ones that focus on personality traits, such as ‘I’m dependable,’ or ‘I’m hardworking,’ or even, ‘You can count on  me.’ And hiring decisions based on actual behavior are far more accurate than those based on gut feeling.”

“What many successful interviewers have found is that the way in which a person handled a specific situation in the past gives you valid information about how that person will approach similar situations in the future.  If a person worked well with customers in the past, he or she will most likely be effective with customers in the future.  If the person has had trouble communicating well in the past, you can predict that he or she will continue to have communication problems in the future.” 

“This is the foundation for behavior-based interviewing.  Once you understand this concept, you can plan to ask the kinds of questions that will give you the information you need to make good hiring decisions.”

– Excerpts from the video, “Interviewing: More than a Gut Feeling,” Richard S. Deems, Ph.D.

So what types of behavioral interviewing questions should you ask? It depends on the skills you’re trying to assess. However, here are some common skill sets that are important across a variety of positions and fields. These questions should give you an idea of the types of questions you should be asking to weed out that truly “great fit” candidate!


  • Give me a specific example of a time when a co-worker criticized your work in front of others. How did you respond? How has that event shaped the way you communicate with others?
  • In your past interactions, how do you ensure that someone understands what you are saying?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to present complex information.
  • Tell me about a time in which you had to use your written communication skills in order to get across an important point.

Decision Making

  • Give me an example of a time you had to make a difficult decision.
  • Describe a specific problem you solved for your employer. How did you approach the problem? What role did others play? What was the outcome?
  • Give me an example of when taking your time to make a decision paid off?

Planning and Organization

  • Describe a situation when you had many projects due at the same time. What steps did you take to get them all done?
  • How do you determine priorities in scheduling your time? Give me an example.
  • We’ve all been in situations where something just “slipped through the cracks.”  Tell me about a time when this happened to you and how you handled it?


  • Describe a time where you were faced with problems or stresses that tested your coping skills.
  • Describe a time when you put your own goals aside to help a co-worker understand a task. How did you assist him? What was the result?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to drop everything and focus your attention on a new task.  What did you do and how did it affect you?


  • Tell me about a time when you influenced the outcome of a project by taking a leadership role.
  • Give me an example of when you involved others in making a decision.
  • Think about an employee you hired for your team and tell me how you helped this person assimilate into his/her job duties and the team.

Time Management

  • Tell me about a time when you failed to meet a deadline. What thing did you fail to do? What were the repercussions? What did you learn?
  • Tell me about a time when you were particularly effective on prioritizing tasks and completing a project on schedule.


These are just sample questions you might ask. However, I hope they give you an idea of how to phrase a behavioral-based question. Now, your task is to go back and assess the position for which you’re hiring AND identify key competencies and commitment (attitude/value) elements that will ensure success, and write behavioral-based questions that will help you find that “right fit” employee!


You’re Not the Person I Hired! Five Reasons Your Employment Interview Process Fails

princeI was facilitating an employment interviewing workshop the other day and as we were discussing why people were taking the course, one participant said,

“I want to learn why the person I hired isn’t the person who shows up on the first day of work?”

It’s all too common to have the prince or princess of the applicant world show up at the interview, but on the first day of work, a frog is napping at your front desk.


What happened?

Your employment interview process failed.

Here are five reasons why:


1. Your job description for the position you seek to fill is 20 years outdated.

Therefore, you’ve basically scammed the applicant into taking a position that doesn’t really exist and then are expecting that he or she will just go along with the “all other duties as assigned,” cop-out clause.

2. You’re still asking the same questions you’ve been asking for 20 years.

YOU: “What do you think is your greatest weakness?”

APPLICANT: “I am so dedicated to my job, I sometimes forget to go home at the end of the day.”

Guess what? EVERYONE knows the “right” answer to this question. Don’t believe me? Google it!  While you’re there, check out the right answers to these questions as well:

Where do you see yourself in five years?

What’s your greatest strength?

Why do you want to work here?

Why should I hire you?

And for you contrary types, I know you’re thinking, “Sometimes people must answer truthfully.” Yes, you’re right, but not right enough to keep using these questions. Anyone dumb enough to say that his greatest weakness is his inability to get to work on time in the morning will likely weed himself out of the interview process on another question.

3. You’re asking leading questions.

YOU: “This job requires you to work every other Saturday. You don’t have a problem working every other Saturday, do you?”

APPLICANT: (Thinking. . . hmmm, I”ve got a 50/50 chance, but I’m guessing the answer she wants is NO), “Uh, no.”

If I want the job, which answer do you think I’m going to give?

And for you contrary types. . . go back and read the last paragraph of #2 above.

4. You’re asking closed questions. 

YOU: “Do you have experience working directly with customers?”


So what did you learn from the applicant’s answer? Nothing more than when you ask the same question to an excellent customer service provider. In fact, if you ask too many questions like this, both will appear equally qualified at the end of your process.

5. You’re asking hypothetical questions.

YOU: “Imagine you’re walking by a burning building and you see a woman on the fifth floor, leaning out the window screaming for you to save her baby, which she is holding in her arms. What would you do?”

APPLICANT: It doesn’t matter how the applicant answers!

Hypothetical questions aren’t always inappropriate. However, what would you hope to find out about the applicant for your front desk clerk position by asking this question? Even if you get the answer you’re looking for, the gap between the hypothetical and reality is often a big one. What are the odds the applicant would REALLY behave that way?

I’d much rather ask a REAL question about what the applicant REALLY did in a RELEVANT task in one of his past positions.


Now you’re saying to yourself, “Okay, so all my questions are junk. What kinds of questions should I be asking?

Be sure to check out my next blog post for the answer.



10 Signs that You Need to Improve Your People Skills

“People Skills,” otherwise known as interpersonal communication skills, are the necessary emotional, verbal, and nonverbal skills to successfully interact with others on a one-on-one basis. Since interpersonal skills aren’t generally taught in school, we take what we learned in childhood from our parents, and go forth into our lives doing the best we can. Here are 10 signs that your interpersonal skills may need a tune-up and some tips for getting started.

1. You’re not well liked in the office.
Most people who aren’t may not like to admit it, but they usually know it. If you’re left out of lunch invitations, the last to know about the latest “news”, and routinely left off social invitation lists, your coworkers may not like you. Do you have to be liked at work? Yes and no. You don’t have to be best friends with everyone in your office, but you do need to be able to get along with others. Even if you’re the smartest person at your company, you won’t get far in your career if you can’t get along with others. Work on building your workplace relationships one at a time. When you do, you’ll get more cooperation, colleagues will “have your back,” and the workplace will be more pleasant overall.

2. You don’t adequately show appreciation.
When it comes to praise, don’t hold back the applause. If a coworker does something for you, no matter how small, thank them! Identify at least one positive attribute in each of your coworkers, and let them know about it. Show colleagues you value their input by asking their opinions. By showing others how much you care about them, you’ll encourage them to do the same in return and give you their best work.

3. You’re not “tuned in” to the lives of your coworkers.
Being tuned in doesn’t mean being nosey. It’s simply taking note of what’s happening with your coworkers. Recognize the happy events in their lives, such as their birthday or a child’s graduation, and show genuine compassion when they face a personal tragedy.

img-boss_tantrum_14. You can’t control your emotions.
Are you quick to anger, or easily frustrated? Are you just as quick to let those emotions loose on your colleagues through tantrums or sarcasm? If you can’t control your emotions and keep a cool head when the going gets tough, you won’t be respected at work. Additionally, those on the receiving end of your tantrums will soon get tired of being your target. One time, people might chalk your bad attitude up to having a bad day. Beyond that, you need to learn to cool it and not take your frustrations out on others. Emotional outbursts are threatening to co-workers and colleagues, and can result in low productivity and turnover. Learn to manage your emotions and express them appropriately. You’ll also need to learn to leave your personal problems “at the door,” when you get to work.

5. You lack self confidence.
It’s normal to feel challenged as you make the larger transitions throughout your career. But it’s one thing to feel nervous, quite another to let them see you sweat. If you don’t have belief in yourself, you can be sure that no one else will. Additionally, insecurity often comes out as negativity, anger, or condescension toward others. Figure out what’s causing your lack of confidence — lack of training or experience, for example — and address it head on. Sometimes by pretending you believe in yourself, you’ll start convincing yourself you actually do. And once that happens, others will be convinced as well.

6. You’re a poor listener.
Do you have too many conversations that others swear you already had? Do you forget important conversations or appointments? Have others told you that you don’t listen? Good listening skills are necessary to develop the strong interpersonal skills that are so integral to an organization’s success. Being an active listener shows that you intend to both hear and recognize another’s perspective. Using your own words, repeat what the speaker has said. By doing this, you’ll know that you’ve processed their words, and they’ll realize that your answers have been genuinely thought out. Colleagues will feel more connected to you knowing that you’re a good listener, and you’ll begin to gain a better understanding of them as well.

7. You’re a complainer.
Almost every organization has a chronic complainer, and you’ll notice they tend to be the least popular person in the office. If you constantly whine about this and that, your negativity will push others away from you. If there’s something you really need to get off your chest, write about it in a journal or briefly chat about it with your friends and family. When in doubt, if you feel the urge to complain, stop yourself and ask, “What am I going to do about it?” At minimum, this will begin the process of searching for solutions rather than focusing on problems.

8. You’re judgmental, self centered, and you lack empathy.
A judgmental, self centered person cannot get out of his or her own shoes to “step into someone else’s.” An empathetic person can understand how another person feels, and empathy is an important trait when working with others. Always consider circumstances from another person’s viewpoint. What may seem like the obvious, correct answer to you could have entirely different implications when seen from another perspective. Above all, keep in touch with your own feelings; if you can’t, you’ll likely have difficulty empathizing with others.

9. You’re chronically late.
People who are chronically late have all sorts of excuses. However, there really is no excuse for being late to just about everything. What does this have to do with communication, you ask? Your lateness communicates a lack of caring about others’ time, lack of caring about the event for which you’re late, and it can also send negative messages about your competence. Start getting a handle on your time by being more realistic about how long tasks take (your commute, meetings, etc.) and setting a more realistic schedule. Seek additional time management help if you need it. Remember, apologies and calling ahead are no excuse for being late. Want to read more about the impact of being late? Check out this post by Greg Savage, “How Did It Get to Be ‘Okay’ for People to Be Late to Everything?”

10. You can’t be trusted.
Steven Covey once said, “Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principal that holds all relationships.

Trust is something that is difficult to earn and easy to lose. If you make promises and commitments and don’t keep them, your reasons and excuses won’t matter to others. Trust will be lost and so will the relationship. Therefore, before you make a commitment, think carefully about your ability to keep it. If you’re not sure, don’t make the commitment. Even if you didn’t sign a contract or give your commitment in blood, once you make a commitment, you should keep it.