Are You a Closer Talker, Soft Talker, Loud Talker or Spitter?

You likely know someone who likes to lean in a bit too closely during conversation. Or speaks at a volume so loud it's nearly deafening...or so soft it's nearly inaudible. Last month, I joined Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie on the Today show to offer some tips. You can watch that video here. For some additional tips (and the inclusion of how to deal with a fast-talker and a spitter), read on

•Backing away will only invite the close talker to tighten the gap again, so step back and then immediately fill the void with a cocktail glass or small food plate (extended outward from your own body) or by talking with your hands. You can also place a fully outstretched arm on the close-talker's elbow, keeping him or her at a distance more comfortable to you.
•A loud talker is not always aware of his or her volume, so try to nip this one in the bud by speaking more softly yourself. Very often, the loud talker will match your level. If this does not happen, it's possible that the other person has a hearing impairment and is unaware of how loudly he or she is speaking. In such instances, if this is someone you know well, point out in a caring way (in a separate, side conversation) that sometimes the individual's volume is a bit elevated, and that you're certain he or she would want to know. Very likely, the person will be grateful you took the time to mention it.
•This one is perhaps the easiest to handle….let the person know you really want to hear what is being said, but are having a hard time doing so. Blame it on your own hearing or the loudness in the room, but ask the person to speak at a higher volume, because you don't want to miss a word!
•Fast talking is not always a bad thing….in New York and other cities, rapid speaking can be a sign of engagement, excitement, or sometimes, of being in a rush. But if you are having a hard time understanding a person because he or she is speaking too quickly for you to process (this is often an issue when the language being spoken is not the native tongue of one of the individuals), try speaking more slowly yourself to see if the other person matches your cadence. If modeling slower speech does not do the trick, as with the soft talker, simply ask them to slow down a bit because you don't want to miss anything. No one is going to be insulted upon hearing that you want to hang onto his or her every word.
•This is often a consequence of fast-talking, so getting the person to slow down may help. If that does not do the trick, offer him or her a drink…getting the person to sip and swallow will often clear the mouth of excess saliva and prevent spittle. If these tips don't eliminate the problem, refer to the tips for a close talker, and stand at a safe distance so you don't walk away from the conversation all wet!

Offensive Traffic Moves....America's "Bridgegate"?

Photo by Robert Jack 啸风 Will

As motorists of New York and New Jersey continue to fume about the hours they lost while sitting in an artificially generated traffic jam, there are plenty of us who spend a good portion of our days stuck in good old-fashioned gridlock....the kind having nothing to do with political payback. In fact, according to the Texas A&M Mobility Report, the average American commuter spends 38 hours per year stuck in traffic. For residents of Washington, D.C., the number inches into the high 60s, with San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York not far behind.

Given how much time we're spending bumper-to-bumper, you'd think we'd have the hang of it by now. But the fact is, there's plenty of road rage on our nation's highways, and bad driving etiquette shares much of the blame. If there's not a whole lot that can be done about the delays themselves, there certainly is much that can be done about the rude behavior. Here, then, are my top five picks for the worst-behaved drivers you'll spot in a traffic jam. If you recognize yourself on this list, take a good look in the rear view mirror and make that change.

1) The Non-Signalers: Despite the fact that a blinker takes a mere millisecond to activate and even turns itself off, there are far too many drivers who refuse to signal their intentions on the road. Listen up you folks: Just because you know where you're headed doesn't mean everyone else around you is aware.

2) The Shoulder Cruisers: Are you surprised that I give you the cold shoulder for riding at highway speed past dead-stopped traffic? By using the lane reserved strictly for emergencies, you're running the risk of creating a new emergency. You're also acting on an instinct that crossed the mind of every single one of us. Except we chose to do the adult thing and wait patiently.

3) The Exit Faker: Close cousin to the Shoulder Cruiser, the Exit Faker hops into the "exit only" lane, blithely pretends he's leaving the highway, and then, at the last possible moment, cuts back into stopped traffic. I'm giving you a time-out....for double the minutes you've just saved by cutting off everyone behind you.

4) The Median Maneuverer: Closely eyeing the "For Official Use Only" break in the highway's concrete divider, this traffic offender makes a quick switch into the express lanes from the local ones (or vice versa). Even worse, and exponentially more dangerous, is the driver who uses the divider gap as an invitation to make a U-turn. Word to the wise: don't try to beat the system or I might have to make a citizen's arrest.

5) The Bumper Hugger: Bad enough that we're all sitting here feeling claustrophobic. You've made the person in front of you feel even more closed in thanks to your refusal to allow more than a millimeter of space between his car and yours. Give us some breathing room. You're not getting to your destination any faster by riding his bumper.

So, motorists, please....whether you're sitting on the 101 in Hollywood, 1-30 between Dallas and Fort Worth or, indeed, the George Washington Bridge, please do your best not to make the experience worse with bad manners evocative of a Chris Christie staffer. No one but no one likes a traffic bully.

7 Holiday Gifts NEVER to Give at the Office

Still undecided about gifts for clients or those in your employ? Here are my thoughts on what NOT to give at the office:

1) Gift Certificates to Far-Flung Stores
•No matter how generous the gift, the certificate is essentially worthless if the retailer has no web site and no locations anywhere near the recipient's home.

2) Self-Help Books
•Imagine unwrapping a present and finding a tome called "Lose 80 Pounds in 80 Days" or "Learning to Be Okay With Yourself"! The message here is (at best) one of pity and (at worst) one of scorn. Steer clear.

You know no client wants this gift, but how about the other six items on this list?

You know no client wants this gift, but how about the other six items on this list?

3) Fruitcake
•Yes, it's the perennial joke, but what message does it send to the recipient? That your office friendship is a joke?

4) Cashmere Sweater
•This might have been okay in Don Draper's day, but no male boss should ever give anything this intimate to an assistant.

5) Expensive Jewelry
•Particularly when given by a male to a woman who is his office subordinate, this gift signals an intent beyond innocent Yuletide cheer.

6) Company Tchotchkes
•As if the employee doesn't spend enough time at the office, he now gets to celebrate his employer with at home with a branded T-shirt, key chain or mug? No thank you!

7) Random Causes
•You may be a big proponent of the Iowa Association to Preserve the Red-Spotted Acorn, but making a donation in the name of a co-worker will not mean very much unless you know he or she already has a strong affinity for that particular charity.

The bottom line in giving to co-workers is not to overdue the dollar amount, but to find something that is meaningful to that particular person. If you're doing otherwise, you're better off giving nothing at all.


Wait Till You Hear What Happened to ME!

Whether it’s the friend who’s always coming home from a trip far better than the one you just took or your next-door neighbor whose surgery was ten times worse than yours, we all know a “Story Topper.” Sometimes, this game of one-upmanship can contribute to conversation, keeping things lively and fun. But let’s face it….no one likes to have their best anecdotes ruined by follow-up from a “been there, done-that” acquaintance. With holiday party season right around the corner, all of us will undoubtedly find ourselves in the presence of a Story Topper. (You may even be one yourself.) This week on the Today show, I shared some tips for how to react if this situation happens to you--and it will. For some additional strategies, read on....

Could you possibly top this story? Chances are, you know someone who would try.

Could you possibly top this story? Chances are, you know someone who would try.

Await a Better Audience

Save your best tales for the company of those you know will appreciate them and not attempt to one-up you.

Stand Up for Yourself

Don't be afraid to let the other party know you were not finished. Be polite, but be assertive; don't let your story be derailed.

Bring an Entourage

Thwart a perennial story topper by having a wingman along who will jump in and move the focus back to your tale.


Change the Subject

Shift the subject of conversation to something that doesn't (typically) involve anyone's personal experience (including your own). Current events are a good start.


Excuse Yourself

Move on to someone interested in an actual give-and-take conversation. Rather than giving this needy story-topper any more attention, excuse yourself politely. Even if they don't get the hint, you'll be saving yourself from further annoyance. 

Be Honest With Yourself
Are you droning on too long? Bragging? Could it be that the story topper is trying to put you in your rightful place? Maybe it’s time to trim your tale a bit.

The takeaway here is that the occasional story topping (done respectfully, of course) is a sign of connection being made over common interests and experiences. The key is to keep your motives pure—don’t hog the conversation, and don’t try to steal someone else’s thunder. Finally, remember that the most mannerly person of all is the one who has an even better story but who nonetheless saves it for another time, kindly allowing others to enjoy the spotlight.