Do You Hear to Listen or to Understand?

A couple of days ago while wasting time on Facebook (yeah, I do that sometimes), I came across a video of a hilarious British comedian named Peter Kay who was doing a skit on misheard song lyrics. This guy cracked me up as I’ve recently learned that I’m not really the self-proclaimed Queen of the ‘70s lyrics lady as I once believed. You see, I’ve been going to the gym (sorry – should have posted a warning before that statement in case someone has a coronary over moi actually working out) and I’ve created a YouTube playlist of old rock ‘n roll faves to keep me motivated while secretly mind bashing the treadmill. So I mouth along with the tunes I’m listening to and have discovered I really haven’t been singing the right words for decades.

This revelation got me thinking about a line in a book I’d read a couple of months back about how we either hear to listen or hear to understand. And it’s clear I’m guilty of simply not paying close attention.

For years we women have accused men of having ‘selective hearing’ and only retaining what they want to remember, while easily forgetting the rest of the request or story we’ve been telling them. Yet it’s not just the guys who have this problem. Almost all of us at times go on autopilot and automatically tune out the words that someone is throwing our way in a conversation. Sometimes it’s because we’re really not that interested in what the other person is saying, or it could be that we’ve got a bajillion other things on our mind and we just can’t concentrate on the conversation at hand.

While hopefully nothing of great importance gets overlooked when we take those mini ‘hearing’ vacations, there are probably times when being slightly oblivious to the words coming our way have a cost or repercussion in our lives. When our spouse, child, friend, or even clients are trying to impart the importance of something that happened to them, or want to share a significant thought they’ve had with us and we’re in hearing to listen mode, that’s when we suffer a great loss. We can totally miss the reason or reasons behind the other person speaking to us. They could be hurting or in pain and we might miss the subtle clues offered by their words. We could also not comprehend that someone is so overcome with joy that they simply want to share it with us. And there we stand, nodding our head as if we’re totally getting what they’re saying… but we’re not.

Sure, we all have people in our lives that drone on and on and… (you get the drift and I’m certain I’ve been one of those people a time or three), but we put up with them because we like them. And yes, they can be as annoying as a mosquito buzzing around in your bedroom at night and you can’t see it to smack it and end the tale of misery. But the next time someone you care for starts a conversation with you, perhaps you could REALLY try to understand what it is that they’re saying to you. Give them ten minutes of your undivided attention before you slip into the ‘drone zone.’

And business peeps, that’s also something you may want to practice at your next networking event as well. You might actually impress a potential new client by comprehending what their business is all about and what they’re looking from you IF you’re listening to understand.

PS: Here’s the link to the Peter Kay’s skit on misheard lyrics for your ‘listening’ enjoyment. Man, I love British humour.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UMYorpYNMKc

This Cheque is for You!

I am ecstatic – over the moon, actually.

I was so relieved that I cried this morning.

Why, you might wonder?

Because today I received my very first Canada Pension Plan (CPP) deposit/cheque.

No, it’s not much in dollars and cents as I never held very high-paying jobs in my lifetime, even though I’ve been working steadily since 1975.

No, it’s not enough money for me to retire and live a luxurious lifestyle. And no, I didn’t cry because of the fact I’ve now officially moved into the ‘old age’ generation.

I cried for one reason only.

Back in 1984 there was a lady I knew very well who was starting her plans to retire. She worked as a hotel maid, cleaning motel/hotel and cabins in the community I was born and raised in during the tourist season. Hard work because I did it for one week and decided that it wasn’t something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. (Hence my unwavering gratitude for maids and later on waitresses because those are really hard jobs!). Plus after she’d put in a full eight-hour day at that job, she’d come home and make a full home-cooked meal that had to be on the table at exactly 5:00 pm. Some nights she’d nod off sitting in a chair at the same kitchen table because the bread she’d made that evening hadn’t finished baking and it was almost midnight.

She was tired. This was to be her last year of working so hard as she would be eligible to receive the spouse’s CPP allowance the following year when her husband turned 65. Requirements for eligibility have changed since then, but back in ’84, that was the rule.

By the end of August, she went into the hospital as she was sick. By the first of September, she was formally diagnosed with incurable lung cancer. No chemo, no radiation, no reprieve. She couldn’t complete the necessary work weeks to even draw Unemployment Insurance (EIC as it’s known today) during her illness.

She died on February 13th, 1985, and never got to see even one CPP cheque come into the house with her name on it. All her lovely retirement dreams were never realized.

And now to today, August 29th, 2017, 32 years later.

All the health problems I’ve gone through in the past few years made me wonder if I’d ever get to see an actual CPP deposit come into my account. But there it was, showing up as clear as day, in my bank account when I checked online this morning. How wonderful!

Dear Mum, my first cheque will be spent in memory of you. 

You Are NOT Your “Story!”

I’ve been vowing to write this blog post for over two months and today is the day.

I belong to a great entrepreneurs group founded by the multi-talented Maureen Craig McIntosh (http://monctonrealitytherapy.com/join-eric) and on one of our ERIC calls the subject came up about beliefs that we carry throughout our life that somehow continue to define how we live our lives. I listened to a couple of other people on the call who spoke on the subject and then I blurted out in my usual interruptive way and said, “We are NOT our story!”

After a couple of minutes of silence, I proceeded to back up that statement by sharing the following point of view on the subject.

Frankly, at some point in all our lives, we have to let go of our past hurts, disappointments, and so-called failures. We can only blame our parents and others for the way we turned out for so long. I believe the expiration date on blame placement should end around age 40 because frankly, if we haven’t “grown up” by then chances are we aren’t going to. We’ll be forever finger pointing and beating our chest crying out in anger “If you hadn’t told me I was (insert appropriate limiting belief statement here) then I would have NEVER turned out this way!” Another great often used excuse for not potentially reaching a goal is “Well, if my (mother, father, sister, brother, uncle, cousin – you name it) had encouraged me to study harder and go to (college, university, trade school etc.) than I would be wealthy by now!”

People, pull a “Frozen” and let that story go!

Yes, it’s true that some people never receive the encouragement a young child needs to build healthy levels of self-esteem. And it’s also true that life seems to bestow great and wonderful things on some while heaping crud on others. Yet by the time we approach mid-life, WE are creating our own stories and beliefs. WE are making choices on how we wish to live our lives. I truly believe that if we keep rekindling hurtful memories and fanning the anger fire within ourselves, we will never, ever, achieve a state of happiness or be comfortable in our own skin.

What happened thirty, twenty, ten, or even a single year or day ago is in the past. Why are you still carrying around that incident or grudge? Aren’t you tired of living in sadness or rage? Plus think of the valuable “real estate” in your brain that you’re letting these people and thoughts rent for free! Why? And how are those thoughts serving you today?

Not very well, are they?!

Alexander Pope was spot on when he said, “To err is human, to forgive divine.” Acknowledge that so and so was mistaken when they made a negative judgement call on any aspect of your character way back when… and then forgive them. Besides, you are NOT the person today that you were years ago.

You are NOT your story, or at least not anymore.

 

Maybe it’s time you wiped the slate clean and started writing a new book called “My Life NOW!”

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Marlene Oulton, AKA “The Words Lady” and resident wordsmith of www.MarleneOulton.com derives great satisfaction from assisting authors, writers, coaches and SOHO entrepreneurs produce clean, crisp and concisely written articles, newsletters, website copy and other literary works. To find out more on how she can make your words sing and dance… without adding music visit www.MarleneOulton.com today!

 

Please Stop “Vaguebooking!”

Warning: rant ahead. Read at the risk of getting pissed off.

People, you have to stop “vaguebooking.” For those of you who might not know what this term means, it is “An intentionally vague Facebook status update that prompts friends to ask what’s going on, or is possibly a cry for help.” (Courtesy of www.UrbanDictionary.com.)

Before some of you get your knickers in a knot, I get where “vaguebooking” when used as advance marketing tool builder of excitement for a product launch or an advertising campaign for a company is semi-acceptable (although some of them can be downright annoying due to repetitiveness). It’s the “I don’t know what I’m going to do!” type of posts that leave the reader hanging, not knowing what the person who posted that sentence is going through. When I see comments like that it creates within me a sense of urgency and anxiety – as if the poster is going through something horrible or may need real help. Then three posts and fifteen minutes later they write, “Phew! Turns out it was just a bad spark plug that made the car not start this morning.” I mean, wtf people? I thought you were going through some life or death situation, not having crappy car problems! Meanwhile, myself and 132+ others have been worrying ourselves needlessly over you.

The other “vaguebooking” posts that totally suck are ones like “Something awesome just happened! So excited!” or “This is huge! Can’t wait to share!” Really? You should have waited to share your big news WHEN you knew for sure it was REAL news. (Don’t get me started on ‘fake news’ or I’ll be here all day.)

I’m happy that your company is releasing a new and improved (although they can’t be both of those items at once) type of adult diaper, or that you’ve reinvented a better mosquito trap that humanely captures and releases the little buggers outside via a reverse vacuum system. I get that you want to sell us these items by creating a big hoopla about their eventual release into the unsuspecting psyche of the buying public by creating a buzz (pun intended) before launch day. But those of you who deliberately and habitually practice “vaguebooking” need to get over your love of creating drama at the expense of having the rest of us worry for nothing.

Because if you don’t, one of these days you might just cry “wolf” … and no one will come to your rescue.

From Grade School to Greyed Fools

Let me tell you, there’s something soothing about sitting at a table surrounded by old friends that you once knew forty plus years ago.

And there we were. All gathered again because one of our high school friends had decided to she wanted to celebrate turning the big ‘60’ by having a few of her 180+ fellow grads from 1975 show up at a local restaurant/tavern to help her celebrate the momentous occasion. Most of the members of that class will be turning that auspicious number at some point in 2017 so what better time to get together with people we hadn’t seen in over forty years.

Twelve people ending up at the table once you included friends and spouses. Three of us had been friends since meeting in grade five while the other three had joined the rank of ‘Elgineer’s’ when we met at the beginning of grade seven. We each played a part in the molding of each other’s character from grades five on through to high school, although we didn’t know it at the time.

These people had been a part of my life from those carefree grade school days when the worst that happened to me was when someone stole my lunch and I had to bum a half-sandwich from one of them, to those terrible teen-aged, hormonal angst fueled days of high school where everything minute thing was a major occurrence (or seemed so at the time).

I looked at all those familiar yet slightly altered faces and let my mind wander back in time to specific roles that each of them had played in my life. In most cases, the sound of their voice and laughter was exactly as I remembered it from way back when. For a moment time seemed to slip away and I could picture them as they looked at twelve… fifteen… eighteen. I knew that when I’d hugged the friends who meant so much to me on graduation night that I’d probably never see them again, and that’s why this gathering was a touch more special than an ordinary evening out. I made sure that my sweetie went around snapping pictures of me with my trusty camera phone so that I’d have a hard copy remembrance of this evening, although I doubt my memory will need to see the evidence to be reminded of the joy and happiness being with these lovable and memorable people has brought into my life.

This morning as I was looking at the photos from last night’s reunion, a very old country and western song played through my mind. I think Tom T. Hall said it best when he sang “Ain’t but three things in this world that’s worth a solitary dime, But old dogs and children and watermelon wine©” from the song of the same name.

We were mere children when we met, my friends, and the bonds forged back then are still strong, even if it has been forty plus years since we all sat a table in the cafeteria of our high school bemoaning the fact that our grades sucked, Mr. X was a shitty teacher, and who had an extra cigarette that so and so could bum.

Hey, guys and gals, look around. Somehow we’ve made it this far. Isn’t that a hoot?

Let’s do this again before another forty years has passed, okay?

©Watermelon Wine – Tom T. Hall

 

 

So Long Sweetie

Let me be perfectly clear: I love my dogs more than I like some people. While there are some humans who might take offense to that statement, there are other pet loving people just like me who adore their furry or feathered friends just as much, if not more.

The reason why I love dogs so much is because the ones I’ve picked over the years seemed to have had a heightened sense of knowing – brainpower, if you will. While some of them might not have won awards for being best dog in show, they all had two things in common: 1) they loved me unconditionally, no leashes (pardon the pun) attached, and 2) none of them ever took the washer and dryer (or any appliances for that matter) when the relationship between us ended.

Take this little beauty pictured here. After bidding a sad adieu to my previous canine companion, Chuck, a totally too big and fur-shedding Sheltie that resembled a Border Collie, five years prior, I decided it was time to get another dog. My partner, Allan, and I discussed it and batted the idea back and forth for some time and agreed that a dog might be a great addition to our household. Said partner and I had only been together for a year at that point, but we both loved dogs so the idea was set in motion.

One morning after Allan had set out on a road trip for work, I happened to pick up the Times-Transcript and saw a teeny ad that read: “West Highland Terrier puppies for sale. Purebred but no papers, located in the Miramichi. Wormed, first shots, ready to go. Call X.” I couldn’t believe my eyes! I ran to the phone, called Allan on his cell phone and said, “You wouldn’t happen to have some time after your business calls at lunch today to go look at some puppies, would you?”

He called me about three hours later. “They’re awfully tiny,” he said. “And the breeder only has one female left, so if we want her we’re going to have to act fast.”

“Do you have any cash on you?” I asked.

“I think I have $60.00” he said.

“Then drive back to that ladies house and give it to her, okay?”

And so the deal was sealed.

We picked her up on the coldest day of the year, Feb. 15th, 2003. It was a balmy -28C with windchill factored in and this poor little furball had never set foot outside of her birthing cage. And then I wondered why she didn’t want to go pee in the snow on the side of the road half-way on the drive home. Duh!

It took us the better part of four months to housetrain her, and there were times I was certain she’d never catch on to the fact that the hardwood floor was not a good place to do her business.

However, she only chewed the laces off one pair of sneakers and the heel of a friend’s shoe. Not bad for a new pup.

In the blink of an eye, she was five years old. An unknown allergy suddenly caused her to start scratching uncontrollably and she lost most of her beautiful white fur. The next nine years were spent ferrying her back and forth to the vet for monthly Depo shots and almost bi-monthly ones of antibiotics in an effort to try and combat the nasty skin infections. Weekly baths became a normal way of life for her and me with both of us ending up soaking wet. Countless new food trials and different shampoos were tested but nothing else besides the medication worked for her.

Then in January of 2014, diabetes became her next affliction. Both Allan and I had to learn how to give her twice daily shots of insulin which we took in stride, even if needles give us both the heebie jeebies. Next came a profusion of skin growths for which she had two surgeries to remove them, only to see them grow back with a vengeance.

2015 brought about increasing deafness, the development of cataracts, arthritis in her back legs, and cognitive disorder where she would awaken with a start in the middle of the night and cry out because she didn’t know where she was anymore.

To see her constant daily struggle to move from room to room finally became too much for us to bear and we said a tearful goodbye to our beloved Angel this afternoon at 3:30 pm.

Last night, while saying my prayers, I asked my Dad who passed back in 2001, to be on the lookout for her today, and to introduce her to Chuck so she’d have someone nice to play with at her final destination.

I hope you’re running full out, Angel girl, just like you did when you’d escape your leash and revel in your sudden freedom.

Run, sweetie girl, run!

Unsung Victories

girl-woo-hooI’m sure that for every braggadocios posting in Facebook that veritably screams at the reader, “Hey! Look at what I did today!” there must be hundreds, even thousands of other people who never utter a single word about the amazing feats they’ve managed to accomplish in the run of their average, everyday life.

Like the person who’s been struggling to lose weight and finally saw the numbers go down on her scale this morning, even if it was only by a half kilogram. Or the person who has been trying to cut salt out of their diet to help lower their blood pressure and their doctor has finally taken them off medication. Or what about those quiet, caring people who look after sick loved ones, day after exhausting day, without so much as a word in social media about how ‘brave’ they’re being doing what they feel in their heart that they must do for those who are fading away from this earth. Or what about the people who routinely do what to others may seem like small, insignificant advances towards becoming a better all-round, caring human being?

I have more respect for people who DON’T say anything about their small, unsung victories than I do for the thousands who feel compelled to regal us all with their tales of heroic (or stoic) behavior. Don’t get me wrong here, folks. I’m very glad that we have enthusiastic volunteers who do a myriad of things for others, and yes, they should be applauded for their efforts. Yet I am more in awe of the silent warriors who wage personal wars in their world every single day and win.

I believe that it’s those unsung victories that add a wealth of ‘feel good’ moments into our lives. It’s that little voice inside ourselves that says ‘Holy crap! I didn’t think I could do that… but I did. Yay for me!’ and then we go about our daily tasks.

So if any of you reading this blog post experienced a teeny, tiny, ‘woo hoo’ happening today that you’ve not bragged about, I applaud you. May those little victories keep adding up in your heart until it’s overflowing with love and gratitude for the small things that make a life whole and rewarding.

Cultivate the ‘Service’ in Customer Service

satisfaction survey showing marketing concept to improve sales

Lately I’ve seen some posts on social media sites where people are complaining about receiving poor customer service at all types of businesses. The list runs the gamut from receiving terrible food at restaurants, retailers whose sales people never make a move to help a customer out – you name it, the complaints are there for all to see.

So what’s happened to the word ‘service’ in customer service?

From the first day I went into business, I realized that if I were to make sales and achieve repeat customers, I had to first earn their trust and treat them as I liked to be treated when shopping. It doesn’t matter if you’re searching for a new vehicle or a new pair of running shoes – the basics of solid customer service is the same. And I believe that principle starts with one thing: respect.

If you can’t show respect for another person’s wishes and requests, then you shouldn’t be in sales. Most everyone I know works hard for their dollars, and if they decide they want to spend their money at your establishment, they deserve the undivided attention of your sales people.

Here are three key elements that I’ve found to be invaluable in running my business:

  1. Listen carefully to what the customer says. If Ms. ‘X’ says that she want an 8 ounce rib-eye steak, done medium rare, and charred on both sides, then be sure that’s what you serve her. If you fail to take note of the customer’s preferences and then offer them something that is totally different than what they’ve asked for, they’re not going to be happy campers. And unhappy customers are not repeat customers.
  2. Ask relevant questions. Failing to ask the right question of your client will give you incomplete information as to their expectations from you. This step also falls into the category of ‘assuming’ that you know what someone wants before they ever open their mouth to speak. Always ask the customer what they desire from your business. And if you can’t provide what they’re looking for, move on to step # 3.
  3. Be honest – always. No wants to be talked down to or made to feel as if they’re being pressured to settle for less than what they desire. If you haven’t got exactly what they want, by all means suggest an alternative, but don’t try to force something that is totally the opposite of what they want down their throat. Trust me. If the buyer wants a half-ton truck and I try to convince him to buy a two-door sedan, do you really think he’s going to make a sale with me? Nope.

It really doesn’t take much effort to offer good, solid, customer service. In fact, some businesses get by with providing the bare minimum in courtesy and haphazard goods. But wouldn’t you rather be known as the company that actually cares about their customers and goes just a little bit further in the sales process?

Cultivating loyal customers is crucial if you want to ensure that they’re repeat customers.

Carry a Bag, Doofwad!

Max with bowl July 16 12 adjHey you! Yeah, you. The guy who walks by my house every day with that cute little white-haired doggie. YOU, sir, are the reason why dog owners who walk their precious pooches get a bad rap!

This past Saturday, I saw you walk by my house on the opposite side of the street with your dog. Said dog walked up on the neighbour’s lawn, did the usual ‘circle’ dance, and then proceeded to do a #2 business. Now that in itself isn’t unusual because when you gotta go, you gotta go, right? It’s what happened next that made me want to reach out and smack you – the owner, not the dog!

Did you calmly reach into your jeans pocket to retrieve a doggie doo-doo bag? No… Were you carrying a left-over grocery store bag or perhaps even a sandwich bag with which to collect the afore-mentioned # 2 drop? No… You just calmly kept walking with Fido after he/she/it was finished. I mean, what the hell dude?

Then, to make matters worse, you walked to the top of the street and then came back down on MY side of it. My friend and I were standing in my garage when you and your pooch paused at the end of my driveway. She, being more vocal than myself (yes, folks it IS possible that someone is more outspoken than I am!), hollered out to you, “Hey buddy! Would you like a bag so you can go pick up your dog’s crap on the lawn across the street?” You never even acknowledged her – just kept your head down and walked away.

This morning as I was taking my fur-baby out for our morning saunter, guess who is stopped at the end of my driveway? Yup, you guessed it – Mr. “I-don’t-pick-up-dog-crap” and his pooch. I turned to my own dog and said, “Think we’ll wait a few minutes before walking today, Maxster” and you heard my voice as you looked right at me. (Actually I think you were glaring at me but I wasn’t 100% awake so really couldn’t tell for sure.)

I gave you a good five minute head start, but you and your dog were only about 5 cement walk blocks ahead of me when we set out. And did I see any type of bag in your hands? Nope. Hanging perhaps out of the back pocket of your jeans? Nada.

It’s people like YOU, dipstick, that give dog owners like ME a bad reputation!

I know that Mercury is going into retrograde as of today and perhaps that’s why I’m so ticked off at this common occurrence, but seriously, people. If you’re going to take Fifi or Fido out for a walk, be considerate enough to carry a plastic bag of some sort with you in case nature calls so you don’t have to leave an unwanted ‘gift’ on someone else’s property.

Arrgghh…  Some people’s children…

Here’s to You, Mrs. Karen Robinson!

KarenRobinson2016.jpegBack in 2006, shortly after opening my doors for business, I was invited to attend a networking event sponsored by the Community Business Development Corporation (CBDC) Westmorland Albert, located in Shediac, NB. The hostess of that event was their Executive Director, a vibrant lady by the name of Karen Robinson. I, being the shy and retiring type of gal I am (NOT!) struck up a conversation with her where she asked me tons of questions about what a “Virtual Assistant” was and the type of services I had to offer to the public.

I was still fine-tuning my offerings as it were, and happened to mention to her that I loved to help other entrepreneurs promote their businesses by writing articles for them to include in their newsletters/ezines, or for publication on the web. Before she walked away, she told me that she’d give me a ring in a couple of weeks as she had an idea in mind of how she’d like to promote the CBDC and thought I might be able to help her out.

Sure enough. Shortly after our first meeting, Karen called me and invited me to come out to the CBDCs office to get together with her and some of her staff to brainstorm some ideas.

And so began an almost ten year work relationship between myself, Karen, and the team of wonderful people at CBDC Westmorland Albert.

Over the years, that initial meeting between Karen and me has morphed into a combination of part business and part friendship, with healthy doses of laughter always included in our conversations and dealings. I’ve watched this dynamo of a lady work tirelessly championing causes for rural entrepreneurs, always believing in that every business owner is capable of success if they have the right tools and training.

Today, July 29th, 2016, at 4:30 pm, Karen is “hanging up her hat” as the saying goes and retiring from her position at the CBDC. I hesitated typing that word “retiring” as that is not a word anyone would associate with this lady.

I’d like to tell her to relax, read some good books at the beach, and enjoy an occasional glass of wine, but something tells me she’s not quite finished with her desire to help others. I highly doubt she’s going to quietly fade into the sunset, never to be heard from again as that’s just not her style.

I do, however, know I’m going to miss her ongoing presence in my life, as will so many others.

So….

“And here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson,
Jesus loves you more than you will know.
God bless you, please Mrs. Robinson.
Heaven holds a place for those who pray,
Hey, hey, hey
Hey, hey, hey.”*

Enjoy your “time off” Mrs. Karen. You deserve it!

*Lyrics from the song, Mrs. Robinson, copyright 1967, “Bookends” by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9C1BCAgu2I8

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