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Goals and Dreams

How many posts have you seen on resolutions within the last couple of days? I bet countless ones. What did you think? Did they have an effect on you or did you ignore all of them saying I don’t follow through my resolutions so why bother? I hear people saying this but I am pretty sure that one or the other thought crossed your mind. The New Year and the holiday season before make us slow down a little, make us think, and reflect. And then we are automatically looking at the big picture – our families, our relationships, our friendships, our careers, our GOALS and yes, our DREAMS. They exist and yes we can make changes and adjustments. We start asking ourselves questions. And all of us find a NO to some our questions. A NO as a sign of some discontent.

So what is it that you don’t want? What is it that you want to change? We tend to have these thoughts, dreams and goals, and shortly after we forget about them. Life happens, routines and old habits come along and everything seems to be gone with the wind. Until next time, until the next pivotal moment.

This is why we need to capture these moments. Don’t think of resolutions, they have too many negative connotations like not following through a diet or not doing more sports. Think of them as your GOALS and DREAMS. Capture them on a dream board or a in a journal. Capturing in pictures and words has an enormous effect on your actions. You will see how much more successful and happy you will be.

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Sprachtipp No.

53

What is the right word for “Hauptsitz” / “Zentrale” / “Hauptgeschäftsstelle” of a company?

In English you use “headquarters” and don’t forget the “s” at the end of the word. It is followed by “is” or “are”. E.g. Our headquarters is/are in Hamburg.

Kolumnen 2015

Labor Day Weekend

Labor Day in the US is celebrated on the first Monday of September. For most Americans it’s a long weekend. Labor Day, like in many other countries in the world, has its origin in the unions’ movements which were fighting for workers’ rights and advocated eight hours for work, and time for rest and recreation. In many countries, Labor Day is celebrated on May 1 and is connected to the International Workers’ Day.

In the US, Labor Day weekend is the final summer weekend as well. Most schools and colleges have started by then. Fall is approaching. The last long weekend of the season is there to enjoy.

For me it means returning back home to Germany, back to the routine of everyday life. It means leaving the sun and the ocean behind, the beach and the golf course around every corner. It’s quite a change after spending many weeks of day to day sunshine, after enjoying the days the way they come and go. What a different life we live when we are on vacation. This year’s summer break was blended by a lot of work and studying though, as I was working on two new websites, participating in a coaching congress, and preparing a new coaching program for the fall. And I still feel relaxed and energized by how much fun work can be. I hope you all had a wonderful summer time and I am looking forward to seeing all of my old and new clients, learners and coachees again in good old Germany.

 

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Positive thinking by positive people

What a fantastic evening I recently had.

I went to a talk of a great woman whose career I’ve been following for many years. I’ve admired most things she has said and done. She gave a talk on composure. 90 minutes of funny anecdotes and examples of positive thinking - on how to take life less seriously, on being less of a perfectionist, and on valuing little things in life. What a great time we had.

One of the most important sentences she uses is: Love it, change it or leave it. I love this sentence. It narrows down every aspect into one sentence. You love it, whatever it is, then be happy and show it. If something bothers you, change it. And if you don’t want any change, stop complaining. Sometimes you just have to leave it. It refers not only to conflicts, dilemmas, problems, but also to people in our lives.

Yes, sometimes there are people in our lives that don’t do us any good. They’re not there when you need them. If they there, they suck the life out of you and make you feel miserable. So why have those around? This is not what friends are for.

We sometimes have a hard time getting rid of long-term friendships only because they are long. They don’t make us happy, don’t do us any good, so what’s the point? It’s like having 1000 FB friends.

All of these ideas come from positive psychology. Positive psychology does not mean letting yourself go but it means doing things that do you good. And you know what else happens? Once you are positive, you attract more positive people around you. And this is so rewarding.

Like today, I went to meet a colleague of mine, who is also a coach. We have not seen each other for a long time. We originally just wanted to chat, but it became much more than that. It became a coaching session. Two and half hours later I went home with a plan I had been pondering for a long time. It goes to show that unconditional help/support from friends or colleagues is worth a million bucks.

People that we expect the least from are the ones that help and support us the most. Isn’t it bizarre in a way?

Did I make you think? I hope so. Sometimes you run into a brick wall which can block your way. You need a neutral person to regain your ability to decide. And that’s what a coach is for. It’s just one email away: violetta.krok@vk-coaching.com

 

Does “doing nothing” really mean “doing nothing”?

Do you know the idiom “to be snowed under”? We use this idiom mostly to express a load of work that we can hardly handle. Sometimes we have a load of nice things waiting for us, e.g. a ton of books to be read. Speaking figuratively, this is a positive ton of weight we want to lift, a ton of books we finally want to read. And the last cold Easter weekend was perfect for that. No plans, no calendar, no watch. A little cooking, a home-made brunch, and a short walk literally around the block. Is there more to ask for?

What I noticed though, and not for the first time, was that no matter if we are busy or just spending valuable time at home, time does not seem to slow down for us. So even if you do nothing, time flies. Those wonderful four days, including two public holidays, went by in the blink of an eye.

Just in that moment of pondering about time we never seem to have enough of, I came across my favorite magazine. The cover said “Nichtstun” which means “Doing nothing” in English. The article explains what I always say in my time management seminars. We create a time issue, then we say we don’t have enough of it, complain, and make ourselves unhappy. And yet we still jam-pack our calendars to no limit.

We don’t have any time left in our busy lives to actually do nothing such as just lying there in your favorite nook with some thoughts spinning through your head… Doesn’t this sound good? It sounds great to me. And in the article I mentioned, I even found the scientific proof for it. The busier you are the more important it is to take breaks of doing nothing. This is what our brain needs to be creative and to recoup.

So quit filling up your calendar to no end, and don’t feel obliged to meet all your friends and family. Instead, skip a session of workout, forget that spring cleaning, and take a break. And no, you are not lazy, you just do nothing ☺. It feels soooo good.

 

One’s weaker self or Der innere Schweinehund

Sometimes I just want to pull my hair out.

I always hear the same thing, “I want to improve this or I don’t like that.” This gets old very quickly especially when so many do nothing to change what they are complaining about. I give tips on how to learn, how do organize time, how to begin to make a change, and I encourage, motivate, give endless pep talks that …. Well, let’s just say it’s really difficult to battle their weaker self or their “inneren Schweinehund”, which is the picture perfect word for it in German.

It is all about self-discipline mixed together with the will to change and a large dose of self-confidence. YOU are the most powerful factor in this process – yes, YOU are the boss.

Put some self-discipline into immediate action by not getting lost somewhere in cyberspace or wasting time searching for more websites that are selling unrealistic promises such as “English/German in 30 days” or “Master this or that without working for it.” Do you really believe in it? These things are simply not real. Start the change by taking small steps and staying focused.

We live in an interruptive society. From the morning till the evening, there is news from social media, messages from your friends, countless emails at work, advertisement luring for your weakness.

Therefore, it’s so incredibly important to start the day productively. Use the power hours of the morning and follow through your to-do-list. Prioritize. Stay away from Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Pinterest, XING, etc. And if you want some updates to kill the curiosity, do it for 15 minutes, and not any longer.

The Internet is our frenemy, our friend and enemy. How often did you want to look up a word, but came a across books about New York, bought some jeans, or finished with booking a trip to Asia? It’s crazy, right! And yes, it has happened to all of us before.

Here’s what works ...

Make a commitment and schedule the time you want to focus on the change. Follow through. And I can tell you, it’s a great feeling.

 

Valentine´s Day

The day goes back in history; there are some historical facts and legends, so I will start with a little excerpt out of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valentine%27s_Day

…”The day was first associated with romantic love in the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the High Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished. In 18th-century England, it evolved into an occasion in which lovers expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending greeting cards (known as "valentines"). In Europe, Saint Valentine's Keys are given to lovers "as a romantic symbol and an invitation to unlock the giver’s heart", as well as to children, in order to ward off Saint Valentine's Malady.[6] Valentine's Day symbols that are used today include the heart-shaped outline, doves, and the figure of the winged Cupid. Since the 19th century, handwritten valentines have given way to mass-produced greeting cards.[7]…“

My take on it

Alright, many people say that Valentine’s Day is just another day of flourishing commercialism. They might have a point here. But isn’t everything commercialized nowadays? Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, I could go on and on. If you participate in buying heart-shaped soap or chocolates, bouquets of flowers or any other little gifts, it’s still your decision to make.

Isn’t it about the thought that counts here? It’s nice to think of people you love and as we live in this fast-pace society, we often forget that the ones around us need attention and relationships of all kinds need to be worked on at all times. An established relationship is nothing to check off your list of achieved goals, this is where the work starts ☺. Even if my Valentine has to wait for his gift as Amazon delivery let me down, he knows that I thought of him. And, he will be happy about the present two days later as well.

Happy Valentines everyone!

 

A message to fellow travelers

It amazes me to no end how unconcerned or oblivious people are about others when they travel. Sometimes I ask myself: Where were those people brought up? Don’t they have any manners at all? Do airlines need to play a “How to behave on board” movie as a must right after the safety briefing?

It starts with the announcement by the airline personnel in the boarding area. People don’t listen to a word that is said, but rush forward without regard for fellow passengers to be “first in line” fearing the plane could take off without them. It’s not a bus! Haven’t they heard about that yet?

Once on the plane, it takes forever until they finally store their oversized carry-on in the undersized overhead compartment and, on top of it, block the aisle. OK, boarding finally completed.

It is hard enough for every passenger to endure the cramped economy seat the airline has given us. But having a fellow passenger in front of oneself listening to his favorite music, talking to his rude wife with the headphones on and banging his head to the music against the headrest is nothing but pleasure. Oh yes, and the airline serves some cheap wine for free, so one cup after the other needs to be refilled. You can only hope that the alcohol will make him sleep soon.

And dear parents, your children need to be told how to behave as well. Being a child does not give you the right to jump in your seat and bother all passengers around you. It’s cute for a moment and annoying afterwards.

Call me old-fashioned, but what is it today with parents anyway? Some of them seem as if they were on “I don’t see anything bad about what my child is doing” drug. We experienced this during every visit to our hotel club lounge. A German family with three little ones took over 5 square meters around the buffet.  The children’s toys and the oversized stroller blocked one side of the buffet area so nobody could walk through. When a guest tried to walk by, the mother, and I kid you not, said: ”Sorry about that” and did not change a thing. Oh, I did not mention all the food that was spilled on, around, or under their table, a pleasure for all other guests. The icing on the cake was watching the mother carrying a 2-year-old coughing child (who never heard of covering its mouth) around the buffet was yet another pleasure to endure. And don’t tell me “you don’t know because you are not a parent”. That’s a pretty cheap argument.

The US (compared to Germany) is a very child-friendly country. There are family restrooms, parking spots for the strollers, children’s high chairs and toys in restaurants, family shopping carts in supermarkets, fun activities wherever you look, and cordial attention and help by staff in all public places. Traveling means being a guest in a foreign place and adjusting to the countries’ hospitality. It doesn’t mean taking advantage of it.

Thank you to all the nice travelers we met who know how to behave and appreciate the customs and hospitality of the country they visit. And thank you for sharing my thoughts.

2015 - Welcome

Another new year has come. Happy New Year to everyone! I hope you all had a wonderful Xmas time, enjoyed some relaxing days and happily brought in the New Year. So now it’s time for resolutions again, right? Do you make them? Many of my students, clients and friends say they don’t make any resolutions. But who does? This makes me ask the question: Doesn’t anyone think about the year that passed and the new one that just started? I want to believe we all do. I also think that we make some kind of resolution, too.

I like following the news about resolutions of some newspapers, magazines and TV shows in the beginning of the year. And I have seen a change. Losing weight and quitting smoking is always mentioned, but the approach is different. Now it’s more about living healthy and avoiding stress or just dealing better with it. It’s not your parent or friend who is telling you that you’ve stuffed yourself silly on the turkey or tofurkey over the holidays but your new wearable you found under the Christmas tree. So another new little computer which is connected to an app on your phone which is kicking your behind every single minute of the day is easily forgiven. And interestingly, it does not sound too harsh to your ears. The resolution is set. Now you follow the idea of becoming fit and fabulous. You can always flush the wearable down the toilet, seems to be the easiest way.

And for those who are totally reluctant to anything connected to weight or fitness should get ready to purge their clutter. You know what I’m talking about… those things we are always postponing. Small steps are enough. Start with the book shelf, next your kitchen cupboards and pantries, and then take it further by going through your clothes and shoes. The motto for 2015: Declutter.

And no matter what you have decided for yourself, following through is the hardest thing. But it is always fun to begin something new. Why not start again, even if you failed, did not follow through, procrastinated and/or just simply forgot your resolution. This is how we are. New goals are good for us and keep us going. Here’s my tip for you:

  • 1. Make a list of your goals.
  • 2. Track your goals.
  • 3. When you reach your goal, check it off.
  • 4. Congratulations – you’ve achieved it!
  • 5. Now you deserve an excellent reward.

The choice is all yours.

 

Kolumnen 2014

What is it about Christmas?

We did not want to talk about it in September although we saw the first signs of it, mostly in stores. The crazy “after- summer-pre-Xmas” season with gingerbread and other things that just don’t taste good right after we get back home from summer vacation. It has been getting closer and closer, like every year. At the beginning of November you could feel the slight nervousness in the air, the end of the year was approaching. People thinking about projects that need to be finished, reports to be written, and tax statements to be filed. Everything at the same time. And even if we don’t want to be part of all of it, we get sucked into by our clients, customers, and business partners.

And then there is our private life. Surprise! We all have families, clubs, associations we belong to, and these start to stress us out as well. Countless Christmas dinners and parties we want or have to go to, Christmas markets we don’t want to miss, presents we have to buy, trees to decorate, family gatherings to plan, cookies to bake, arguments to avoid ;-). The same procedure as every year. Being stressed out to the limit in the attempt to make everybody happy and end up exhausted under the tree.  This can be one perspective.

The other is to be part of it for a while and then escape. Just leave everything and everybody behind. Leave the foggy and cold town we live in behind.  Years ago, this was something I could not imagine. Being at home is just part of celebrating Christmas. That’s what I had thought. Well, this changed a lot.

I enjoy being at home but I also enjoy the freedom of being away. Away in a beautiful part of this world, where the sun shines almost every day, the palm trees just seem strange with Christmas decorations attached to them. People wearing flip flops and T-shirts and listening to Christmas carols played on the radio, it’s not the picture I have of the season.

So, I am skipping Christmas this year to enjoy the paradise I am in this December. Well, except one thing. My fabulous students gave me some home-made cookies and they just taste excellent everywhere in this world. They just had to travel with me.

Merry Christmas everyone!

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Thanksgiving and the Commercial Craziness

In some of my lessons this year I realized that many of my new students don’t know the meaning of Thanksgiving, which, of course, is a meaningful day for Americans. Getting to know about English speaking countries is part of language lessons. I have written about Thanksgiving before, in 2011.

But with all the celebrations of Turkey Day comes the commercial aspect. Black Friday is the Friday following Thanksgiving in the United States. This day is regarded as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season in the US. Many stores extend their opening hours and have special sales for all shoppers. As many people enjoy a long weekend after Thanksgiving, they also enjoy the busiest shopping day of the year. And the stores hope for enough sales to put them into “the black”.

In our globalized world and commercialized society other countries such as Great Britain, for example, have adopted the same name for a day of special sales. Crowded stores with consumers fighting to get into them were pictures we saw on TV.

But it is still not enough. Online retailers want to be part of it as well so they offer special sales leading up to Black Friday.  And as this was not enough they introduced Cyber Monday, the Black Friday of online retailers. Germany has been swamped with all the crazy offers this year as well.

Did you think I was done? Not at all.  In one of my newsletters I found an advertisement for Black Friday flashback. A repetition of all the specials! And if you still did not get all the presents for your loved ones, your last chance is the store in your city center. But be fast! Stores close on Christmas Eve at 2pm  Lächelnd

The land of too many choices?

Have you ever thought about how much time we waste in our lives just with making up our minds on what we eat and drink? I have, and here’s my latest experience. We boarded our flight in Frankfurt. Take off. In the air.

Flight attendant: “What would you like to drink?”

Passenger sitting next to me: “Cola light”.

Flight attendant: “We only have Cola Zero. Is it ok as well?”

Passengers: “Yes.”

After this exchange, I had to hold myself back from not bursting out in laughter. In that moment I thought, “The next time I fly they will be offering “Cola One, “Cola Two”, and …” You know, I’m thinking of the individual calories that might be added by the producer. Has anyone ever thought about the nonsense of it before buying? When I was a child, there was no access to any soft drinks. We had tap water and juices made by grandma from whatever the garden delivered. No preservatives, no chemicals, just naturally healthy.

After this incident I was all ears. Where else are there decisions to make that sometimes appear easy and sometimes complicated? Is it really any different in Germany? Only in America are you bombarded with choices. Or are you? The world of consumption has achieved incredible dimensions.

Dying for coffee - early morning questions

Blurry-eyed, and desperately needing a caffeine kick on our first morning in NYC, I was not prepared for all the questions to simply get a bite to eat and a cup of coffee. Ordering my caffé latte I was asked what kind of milk I wanted: skimmed, half and half, whole, or soy ? Alright, this was not too hard… but now I wanted a bagel with ham and cheese. And again here comes the endless choices: What kind of bagel would you like? Plain, poppy seed, sesame, onion, everything, jalapeno,… the list went on and on. Just as I thought I had made my choice, I heard the next question. What kind of cheese would you like? Cheddar, Swiss, American, Blue, blah, blah, blah …? I didn’t listen to the rest of it. I wanted to say yellow, but I guess that poor young guy at the counter would not have understood my sense of humor. He was only doing his job and I was clueless. In the end, I did make my choices thinking I was finally done. Hmm, was I finally done? Well, almost: “For here or to go?”

We wanted to eat and be done with the questioning hour. And we finally did but just until lunchtime when I came up with the idea to have a salad. But of course there was the big choice of lettuce and dressings and more questions to be answered. My head is still spinning.

Keeping it simple

Thinking about the bizarre world of choices I asked a homeless person if he was hungry. The answer was yes. This puts it in perspective. I gave him a fresh warm meal, and it was heartbreaking to me. Seeing this in the environment of a rich, thriving city, where billions of dollars are made, where more and more skyscrapers are built, where millions of tourists enjoy their short trip to the city that never sleeps, makes me question our desire for ueber-consumption. This world of consumption makes us forget about the essential needs and dignity that are taken away from some people. Maybe they did not have a choice.

World Cup 2014

I must admit that I have not been interested in football or sports events of any kind. And despite being surrounded by all the football headlines for months, I found out last Thursday on the way to work that the World Cup tournament had started that day. All the football/soccer fans around me will now say: WHAT??

OK, I had followed some TV reports on all the preparations in Brazil and was very upset about some circumstances. One of them was about the German team’s training facilities in Santo André in the state of Bahia. It consists of not only a football training field in the middle of a nature preserve, but also a 5 star hotel that no one will ever need after the German millionaire team leaves the country. And this is done by a nation that wants to be the world’s sheriff in environmental protection. But of course it did not happen in our backyard, right and money, as everybody knows, makes the world go round.

As always, we will all get a little emotional when our team plays, and I guess there will be even more emotions in front of our TV when Germany plays against the USA. Everybody who knows me knows why ☺.

As I don’t want to spoil the world cup times and enable my students to have some talk about football in English, I prepared a glossary with all the necessary football language. So have fun watching and discussing!

Glossary One (PDF)

Glossary Two (PDF)

Time to chill out

Have I written that before? It’s too easy to get caught up in (my) business ideas, which grow like wild mushrooms, and get lost in my passion for it. Sometimes I lose sight of or neglect things in the private side of my life. Only the necessary is done such as household chores, and that is all often postponed, too. It’s not easy to manage time until you step back and take a close look.

But then there are moments, when the turbulence of business smoothens, and I finally have time for the ordinary things in life. Coming back home before 8 pm, not turning on the computer anymore, having time for cooking and enjoying dinner, lazing on the couch, reading a magazine or a book (that I have to start reading again from page 1 because I forgot what I had read months before), or just sitting there thinking and actually feeling how slow time can be when we don’t constantly push it.

These holiday breaks that are enforced by law in Germany and spoil us in comparison to any other country actually feel really good. Life is slower, there are less people in companies, there are less people commuting in the mornings, the number of incoming emails isn’t nerve-racking, the phone doesn’t ring off the hook, and you know what: the earth is still turning without us rushing. There’s a word that has been used for a while now in German: “Entschleunigung.” It equates to “deceleration” or “winding down” in English. And here’s the thing, it’s sometimes really necessary to just chill out.

There is this wonderful feeling of appreciation of actually socializing again, seeing people you haven’t seen for a long time, having interesting encounters, meeting new people who you enjoy being around, calling friends you haven’t spoken to for months and more. Getting back “your” LIFE IS GOOD FEELING.

What happened to etiquette?

I have been planning an etiquette course for children in my little tutoring center but this morning I changed my mind. I am going to offer one to college students because sometimes I am just shocked how inexperienced, if not to say dumb, they are. Here’s what I mean: I have been looking for some teachers. They not only have to like working with children and teenagers, but also have to be committed to the responsibilities of a part-time job. I believe most are in my experience. However, I just can’t believe HOW some applicants ask about more job details.

Even if you are asking for just a job and you are not planning your life career in a company like mine, think before you write. Here is what you do:

  1. Inform yourself; click the link to the page.
  2. Read before you write.
  3. Address the potential employer by name (if you can’t find the name, there is a way to do it: “Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren”).
  4. Don’t use the “DU” form in a German email. I’m not your friend! I’m your potential employer.

What happened to etiquette in the last decade? What about seeing the big picture? This world is connected, entrepreneurs know other entrepreneurs, and yes they talk about job applicants, and yes names are mentioned. And your chances are gone in the wind.

I am not talking about stiff etiquette. I am talking about common sense that I am expecting from someone who is doing their Bachelor’s, Master’s or PhD at a university. Yes, we live in a very fast social media-related world, we use email, text messages, Facebook, XING and so one, but it is still about polite and effective communication. Etiquette can’t be forgotten.

And who am I supposed to respond to if I receive an email from a.k3@ … with no name mentioned? Get real! This country needs qualified and smart people but etiquette is still part of the deal.

Just a short look back

Hope you had a wonderful Christmas with some quiet time with your loved ones. I liked it this year very much. Last day of work was on Friday, December 20. I really managed to leave all the work behind: closed my office door so to speak. So there was a whole weekend plus Monday for baking, shopping and preparing the season celebration.

We had an American/Polish cuisine Xmas, with a big turkey, many delicious sides and desserts. We also shared some little presents under a big and real Christmas tree. And we ate a lot, and not only on Christmas Eve but also the days that followed. So I haven’t checked if my pants still fit. However, I have just started a new resolution or whatever you name it.

It is 31 December, the last day of 2013. After a long 15 minute fight (man, I’m so out of shape) on my cross trainer I have had some thoughts about the past and the new coming year. It was quite a bumpy year. You probably know the feeling when there is not really a reason to complain but on the other hand nothing goes smoothly and you have to fight for everything. So I am going to say goodbye to 2013 with a big smile on my face and will welcome 2014 with an even bigger one.

I think it doesn’t matter whether you make some resolutions or not, looking back and looking forward gives us motivation for new challenges, plans and wish lists. And I am going to make my wish list for 2014 today. It is motivating for me to continue all the hard work that I love so much. Some of the wishes will come true, some won’t. But this is how life is, not always the way we like it.

Have a wonderful, healthy, and prosperous 2014! And may all your dreams come true!

Kolumnen 2013

Another Way to relax - Cooking!

A student of mine always tells me that she loves cooking when she is really stressed and tired after work. Well, this is something that I can hardly imagine for myself. When I am tired, stressed and hungry after a long day, I just want to eat; but not to cook. But, when there is a free day, like a Saturday, and I cannot see my desk with all the work piled up anymore, I like going to the farmers’ market, buying everything I need and experimenting in the kitchen. What I have always done is cooking a lot, big amounts or several recipes at the same time. As the saying goes: One kitchen, one mess, and a lot to eat and freeze afterwards.

I have recently discovered “Laura in the Kitchen”: http://www.laurainthekitchen.com. This young and passionate chef cooks in her kitchen, makes videos of her cooking sessions and posts them on Facebook and on her website. The recipes are given with the videos. It’s just cool!

So last Saturday I found myself enjoying a stroll on a crispy morning through the farmers’ market in town, bought some pumpkin and cabbage and experimented with Laura’s and my family recipes. As we don‘t have the pumpkin paste in supermarkets in Germany, nor the pumpkin pie spice, I used fresh pumpkin and I made my own spice. You just find everything online nowadays. I spent at least 4 hours in the kitchen, making pumpkin soup, pumpkin scones and pumpkin cup cakes, and Łazanki, that’s a Polish recipe that I know from my mom’s cuisine.

And to all my students who love cooking: This is great practice for your English. Have fun cooking and studying new English terms at the same time. Can you ask for more? I don’t think so.

As the weather was cold and wet, a typical November day, we kept enjoying our warm and cozy living room, good coffee and all the delicious results I created. Yummy! Thank you for the inspiration Laura.

This is one of Laura’s recipes: Pumpkin cupcakes Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of All Purpose Flour
  • 1/3 cup of Vegetable Oil
  • 2 Eggs
  • ½ tsp of Vanilla Extract
  • ¾ cup of Pure Pumpkin Puree
  • 1 tsp of pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 tsp of Baking Soda
  • ½ tsp of Baking Powder ¼ tsp of Salt

Process:

  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, line a 12 piece muffin tin with liners and set aside.
  • In a large bowl, cream together the sugar, vegetable oil, vanilla, eggs and pumpkin puree. Add the dry ingredients and mix just until everything is incorporated.
  • Using an ice cream scoop, fill the liners about 2/3 of the way full with the batter. Bake for 20 to 22 minutes or until when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let cool completely and frost with cream cheese frosting. Recipe By: Laura Vitale

Creativity Trigger

After a long and exhausting day of trying to catch up on an endless pile of work that had been waiting for me for weeks, to finally be read, sorted, modified or simply thrown away, I enjoyed a beautiful sunset. Relaxation set in! My mind started to work. New ideas, which I had been waiting for, just popped up like weeds in a garden. Creativity came back.

There is a new big project on my plate that demands fresh ideas. It’s amazing how long we can dwell on ideas which are just ideas. These ideas are there only for us. Nobody knows about them yet, and we don’t know the direction we are going to take either. We know our destination, but the bridge to get there has not been built yet. How do we get there, though? Well, we have to start being creative, and remember, being creative doesn’t mean we can simply press a button every time we need it.

It just doesn’t work when we are stressed and busy doing everyday tasks, and not when there is an overload on our minds. A clear mind is like a clear desk and office to me: I can’t work in chaos.

So I needed a sunset, which was my button to press, my trigger. Now it’s down to I kind of know what I am doing! What is your trigger for creativity?

Nothing but Excuses

Are there people around you who have nothing but excuses for just about everything? You know the ones: They are not really happy with what they have or what they do, they see all the things that others have or do, and the only thing you hear from them is “I wish I could”, “I wish I would”, “I wish I had”, etc. etc. But you know what they do about it? NOTHING! And this drives me crazy.

But here’s the icing on the cake. Those that ask you for advice usually are the ones that make up more excuses for why they will not take it.

Stop making excuses and start doing what you have or want to do. Period!

We are all responsible for the situation we are in. Life is what you make out of it. It is not about others, and it’s not about time that you supposedly don’t have. Make the time! It’s not about money that you don’t have. You don’t always need money for little things in life that make a change. And it’s not about other people. It’s about YOU and some self-discipline!

And if you don’t do anything about it NOW, you will end up being an excuse maker for the rest of your life. You will find excuses for the situation you are in, for yourself, for your partner, for your children. And life will never be on your bright side as you won’t see it. Or let me put it this way, you don’t want to see it. So stop using sentences starting with “I wish …“. Instead, take action and DO IT! Otherwise you will wallow in your self-pity for the rest of your life.

And remember it’s not the world that’s to blame, it’s YOU! You have the power to change yourself.

Reflections and Goals

So it is 3 o’clock in the morning, the only light you see is mine. The city is asleep. I‘m suffering from jet lag after a wonderful trip to the US. Nothing new but this time it seems to be worse than the countless times before.

Is this going to be another resolutions column? I don’t know yet. I think we get tired of hearing the new year’s resolution questions. And surprise, surprise, the world did not disappear and the big pile of work on my desk did not either.

Saying that, it’s a good time to reflect on our achievements and the achievements we didn’t quite achieve. You have to take the bad with the good. Why? It’s all part of it day in and day out. It’s also a good time to refocus.

Looking forward, making plans and/or setting goals for the new year. Why do I think it’s important? Because the fast pace lives we live make us just function. We don’t have the time to think, we don’t have the time to be creative, and we don’t take the time to stay focused. We need a trigger such as a break be it a vacation or a long weekend for example. I don’t have to forget my work, I need to reflect on my work. And this is what is motivating in the end.

This is exactly what I did on this last long break. I left one week before Christmas. No Christmas decorations at home, no shopping stress, and no cooking or baking. Just work until you drop, pack your bags and go. At the same time my clients and colleagues were still struggling through all their unfinished work before Christmas. But it was a fabulous idea to leave the hustle and bustle behind. And leaving it behind I did!

It was an excellent break. Waking up looking at the ocean, watching the sun rise and set, basking in all the California sunshine, walking on the beach, seeing friends and relatives, and enjoying good conversations. “Exactly what the doctor ordered.” I feel rejuvenated. Now that I am back, it makes me sigh heavily. But I am looking forward to my work, new ideas, changes and the most important thing: my next vacation. I have already started looking for good deals. Lufthansa please send me a good newsletter! And does someone have a prescription for jet lag?

Kolumnen 2012

Vacation Season

It’s vacation season. Some of you are still gone, some are already back at work. You have been relaxed, probably tanned (when you were lucky and got some sunshine) and have had collected new energy for the amount of work that is waiting for you.

Have you ever thought about switching off on holidays? How does it work with you? Can you just leave everything behind you, and forget what is sitting on your desk?

And the next question is, when does the process of leaving the routine behind begin to happen? Is it still at home when packing your bags or when boarding the plane? With me it usually happens when I am on the plane. That’s when I know I am on vacation.

This year I vacationed in Germany, which is very unusual. We did not fly but drove to a beautiful part of the country in the very North. No guarantee for good weather there, but who cares.  Sightseeing, enjoying the sea, admiring the beauty of nature, and getting to know a part of the country that we haven’t known before.

I must say it really is beautiful here. Getting up in the early morning, taking a walk on the beach, seeing the sun rise and the town waking up. The elderly taking an early swim, children wide awake playing, the beach being cleaned, thousands of shells being washed ashore, this I could enjoy every day.

Starting the day without caring about the time definitely has got something, something really good. Deciding every day what to do next whatever you feeling is. Is this the feeling rich people have? Will we have the same feeling when we are old? I can’t say, I guess I have to wait and see.

Ok, I have been philosophizing away too much. My point this time is that I can’t switch off my mind from being connected to my work. No matter how relaxed I feel, I am making plans, trying to catch up with all the bubbling ideas for the next teaching season.  And after I have finalized one plan or the other I feel soooo good. One more thing gone from the long to-do list.

And now I can hear all the opponents crying out loud: “You are not supposed to work on vacation!” Well, it does me good and I think this is the most important part. Because now, after writing this column, I can go to the beach. But only if I want ;-) And this is a rich feeling.

Another New Year

So another year went by, with all the stress and rush, with even more stress throughout the advent because we still have the idea that the next year will not come. I’m not talking about the end of the world idea at all. I’m talking about our projects and reports that have been sitting on our desks for months and months and we always found a way to do something more important. But in December we want to finalize everything at once. We rush like crazy through every day. We wish each and every day could be longer. And the funniest thing to me is that on the 22 or 23 December we realize that we cannot manage everything and we give up. As we accept that it is not doable to finish everything we originally wanted to finish, it doesn’t matter to us anymore. Some of our colleagues are already on vacation, only some lonesome cowboys use the quiet time to clean their desks.

Then we enjoy the Christmas season, and it passes by quickly, too. We are waiting for the New Year to come and here it is. When I look back I ask myself what I still remember. Was I part of it or was I just pushed through the craziness of our everyday life?

There are a lot of contradictions we live. We are all equipped with smart phones, laptops, iPads and other high-tech stuff. Because of those we are supposed to have more time, but the opposite happens. Why? Because we take on more work as we have more time, right? We don’t think about a little balance, we think of more projects we can work on. And of course we want to be available all the time. But there seems to be a bit of a change, too. Just before Christmas, VW, the German carmaker, made a Christmas gift to its employees. The gift: emails will no longer be forwarded to their blackberries after their work day has ended. Who would have expected that? For myself, I’ve noticed that we might not remember all the things we worked on but we remember encounters we have had. People are the ones we remember, words that were said, things that were spoken about, and their impact is not lost because another year has gone by.

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Kolumnen 2011 und davor

Thanksgiving

You have probably heard of Thanksgiving before. Did you know that is it also called T-Day or Turkey Day? It is celebrated on the last Thursday in November in the US and on the second Monday of October in Canada. To some people it is more important than Christmas.  Millions of huge turkeys are sold and airlines are busy getting all family and friends to their destinations. But what’s behind this festivity? What is celebrated on this day?

In 1620, a group of pilgrims left England and sailed across the Atlantic Ocean. They arrived in North America during a very hard winter. It was a difficult time, and many of them died. In spring, they planted seeds that they brought from England, and the Native Americans showed them how to grow corn and catch fish and other animals. At the end of the first summer, the pilgrims had enough food for the second winter. They celebrated together with the Native Americans to give thanks for the harvest of corn, fruit and vegetables.

Today people celebrate Thanksgiving with a big meal. A turkey is the main dish and these birds are humongous. They weigh between 8 and 16 kg with no problem, so it takes almost a whole day to cook them. Then there is the stuffing which is a side dish cooked inside the turkey. Cranberries, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans and rolls are served as well. After all the yummy heavy food, pumpkin pie is served… if there is enough room left.

Since many people enjoy a long weekend, the Friday after Thanksgiving is the busiest shopping day in the USA. This Friday is called Black Friday and the beginning of Christmas shopping season.

I am looking forward to our bird next week.

For Women only

I was recently asked by a friend of mine if I had some tips on how to pack bags for a short business trip. Well, I think I am the totally wrong person to ask. My bag is most of the time too big or too jam-packed. There are those great packing tips in women’s magazines, but first of all I don’t buy them and second I don’t follow the rules anyway. And the fairytales that things don’t wrinkle in your suitcase… haha.

It is always hard to decide what to take with you. If you are going to a place where the weather is stable, this definitely makes life easier. But look at Germany and the so-called summer. The weather changed between 35 and 13 degrees within one week. So you better have something light but also a jacket that keeps you warm. Then it might be raining and yes it always happens when there is no place to get an umbrella. So you better take it with you and not look like a drowned rat. You have got your suits, your blouses, and your shoes. Here comes the difficult choice – which of my “I-have-no-idea-how-many-I-own” shoes in the closet do I take? If it’s warm you need this pair, if it’s cold that pair, and if you go out for dinner you need the other pair.

Life is hard Lächelnd. And don’t forget the appropriate jewelry. Next step beauty case and everything that the beauty industry tells us to use every day and night. Remember, you not only have to know what you are doing but also look good. Is the suitcase you chose big enough? No? Well, get a bigger one. Be prepared for all possibilities. Better safe than sorry. I warned you I wasn’t big on help.

Complicated New World

I love travelling. And in today’s world there are so many possibilities to do it. You buy the ticket, you check in, and 10 hours later you will find yourself in a totally different world. It’s amazing every single time to me. But we still tend to complain, right? Getting to the airport by car or train, checking in, security, flying, a layover, finally there. So, it’s actually more than 10 hours, but who cares.

My recent trip to the US gave me food for thought, though. We are surrounded by new technology wherever we look.  It is supposed to make our lives easier, but does it really? Every time you go to the airport you see less people to talk to but more machines you have to handle yourself.  I went to the check-in area, and what do I see? Check-in attendance for first and business class passengers  – for us lowly economy class passengers we have to check in using  a machine. Bummer, I don’t have the money for these seats yet. Maybe one day….  Ok, scan your passport, when the machine likes it, it will work, if not try another time with your booking code. Type in the address you will be staying in the country, type in the number of suitcases, choose your seat, print your boarding pass. But you still have your suitcase or two that you have to get rid of, right? Well, there it is, a baggage drop-off line you have to wait in. And you won’t believe it, there is actually a real person who talks to you at the counter.

The game goes on. The airline associate wants to see your passport, checks in the bags, asks if you would like a different seat, charges you for the second suitcase (the economy passengers pay extra) and finally you are done. Now tell me why we needed the first step? All the frustrating steps with the machine are repeated at the counter anyway. Who of these people responsible makes a decision like that? What about older people, people who are not used to operating machines every so often, and people who are technology illiterate? Well, good luck with finding an assistant who is cruising around the check-in computers. Welcome to the new world. You don’t like it, well pay another 1000 Euro for a ticket or more and someone will talk to you in person. I’m not kidding.

New York City Impressions

I have been to New York many times and it is surprising how much this unique city has to offer.

How is it possible that in a city of 8 million everyone can be so friendly with each other? Theoretically, they do not necessarily have to be. The chance to see a certain person again is probably minimal. They could just rush by and not care.

The city that never sleeps (this is really the truth not just a saying), always thriving, always energetic, with full subways, crowded streets, busy stores and restaurants. People of all nations, languages from all over the world, all skin colors, all religions, locals and tourists, passing each other on the streets. And they do not forget these little words that we all learned but sometimes forget to use: Sorry, excuse me and thank you.

What you also see are people giving space to others, offering a seat to an elderly person on the bus or the subway. These values seem to have disappeared in the German society.

You are a tourist, just looking at a subway map to find your way, looking lost? Without a doubt there will be at least 2 people offering help without being asked for.

What else is there to be offered in NY? An Island of peace and quiet, free Jazz concerts at lunchtime,  musicians of all genres performing in the parks, poets, painters. You feel like you are within a small community or small town. In the parks you can soak up the sound of the city.

You love vibrant night life, theaters, cinemas, cabaret, and clubs. You will find something for every taste. And don’t forget the shopping, especially Macy’s shoe heaven. Fly with one little suitcase only and come back with at least two.

You don’t know where to go next? I definitely have the answer… It’s New York City!

Applying for a Job Part II

Are you trying to find a position at one of the career and employment conventions, consider it as if you were at an interview. Somebody might be observing you and will remember your comments.  It’s like trying to sell your skills to a potential customer.

A negative aspect I have been noticing, especially in women, is their very defensive attitude and approach. There is nothing wrong staying home and taking care of children for a few years. However, as soon as you want to get back on the career track, start talking about the career, not only your family.

Have you always worked towards your goals, taken some courses or done any kind of continuing education and stayed on top of business news? If you have, then talk about it.  Watch men around you: they have absolutely no problem praising themselves even if it’s not worth mentioning in our opinion. I’m sure you know what I mean.

Employers might sometimes be interested in your personal life. For example: “Does your husband work full time?”, “Where does your husband work”, or “Do you have someone to take care of your children while you are at work?” These are, in fact, personal questions. I bet you’re now thinking: “They’re not allowed to ask me these questions?”  They might not be necessary and have no relevance whatsoever to the position, but that is the way it is. Don’t get upset, they are hiring a human being not a computer.

It’s a give and take on the job market, and playing the game is part of it.

Applying for a Job Part I

I recently received a phone call from a young woman who asked me for possible employment. She found my company, VK-Business Communication Solutions, on the Internet. She is planning on moving to the area and is looking for a new challenge.  She sounded very friendly, engaged and motivated. Well, I couldn’t offer her a job but my helper syndrome immediately kicked in. I started thinking about people I work with, people I know… Have they recently told me about hiring an assistant, could I forward her application to someone?  So, I told her to send me her CV and I would see what I can do for her. This was over a week ago, and I haven’t received anything. Now I made up my mind, I won’t put any effort in it. That’s how fast it happens. Why? Because no one has time to wait for you. This brings to mind an American idiom that I like very much: “If you talk the talk then walk the walk”. Words to remember.

You rarely get a second chance to make a first impression. Believe it or not, potential employers listen to what you say and how you say it. Therefore, don’t think they forget who they have talked to even though they receive many calls from many applicants. When you call a company to find out more information and details about an open position remember:

1. Who you talked to.

2. When you did it.

3. What you were told.

That way, when you are in the interview, you’ll make a better impression by mentioning some of the details.

Decisions

It seems to me that the New Year came too early. Do you have the same feeling? I was “surprised” by one of my customers at the end of November who was telling me that Christmas was approaching. What, Christmas is coming! I did not feel like celebrating it at all, but who am I to decide… In December I was done with buying presents and other things earlier than expected. I tried to get into the Christmas spirit but everyone, including myself, was so stressed out. Yet, I managed to drink a glass of Gluehwein with a friend of mine on the last evening before the Christmas market closed. And I managed to bake some cookies for my family “in einer Nacht und Nebelaktion.” At least the Christmas break was approaching; I was looking forward to a break. I booked some tickets and we left the country for a week. It was nice visiting friends and being away from the office.

But... here I am, it is the 3rd of January, and I am sitting at my desk trying to catch up on work that I did not manage to finish in 2010. What a start! And I get bombarded with decisions that I did not plan to make this year. My IT students tend to say: “Don´t stop a running system” and I am very much with them on that. But this year the system is chasing me to make decisions. Are you resistant to change certain things sometimes? I had the feeling that everything was so clearly structured and I could continue exactly like it used to be. But no, I have to think about new insurance, a new insurance agent (this comes first of course), a new trainer, a new bank because of their poor service, a new team member, the list seems to have no end.

This reminds me of Sabine Asgodom´s comfort zone, she writes about in her books. Sometimes I just don´t like leaving my comfort zone. I also remember a talk by Prof. Peter Kruse who was presenting his theory of instability. We just need it in order to be successful. I guess I do not have a choice. I could also tell you my horoscope predicted it.

To smoother sailing ...

Customer Service III

Do you work for a company where customer service is visible every day? Do you have to use positive words and expressions when talking on the phone or writing emails? Does your employer really work hard on your company´s image? Do you have to participate in special training? Congratulations, your employer really is customer-oriented!

Unfortunately, this is not the rule for all companies. Many customers complain about being put on hold when they call someone; about getting complicated, unclear explanations; about not getting quick answers to emails; about unhelpful or unfriendly staff; about salespeople with little or no knowledge of their products and services.

Therefore, there is one thing that you have to remember: Each time a customer makes contact with you, he or she forms an opinion about your company. No matter if you have to handle enquiries and complaints face-to-face or on the phone, deal with customers by email or letter, your role is to provide customers with first class customer care.  So, what are the do´s and don’ts?

  • Be positive and professional.
  • A prompt greeting with a smile makes all the difference.
  • Be attentive and patient. Do not talk to someone else at the same time.
  • Stay polite; take time to answer all questions.
  • Don’t treat a customer as if he or she were invisible.
  • Don´t use jargon that only people in your company or industry know.
  • Make sure you know all about the products and services of your company.
  • Feel responsible, be responsible.
  • Do not use phrases like: I don’t know; I’m not in charge, I’m not responsible.

I am sure you are very professional when using German but do you sometimes have to search for words in English? Well, here is a little help with useful phrases in English:

Make sure you ask for as many details as possible to deal with every issue effectively. Show the customer your intention to take care of the whole problem, avoid selective hearing.

Phrases for the phone or face-to-face contact:

  • How can I help you?
  • May I have your name, please?
  • Could you give me your customer number, please?
  • OK, let me just repeat that.
  • Can I go over your order again?
  • Can I help you with anything else?

Clarifying and explaining

  • What do you mean exactly?
  • Sorry, what exactly do you mean?
  • We just need to clarify a few things.
  • That means you need to …
  • In other words, you have to …

Checking comprehension

  • Can you find/see that all right?
  • Are you following me alright?
  • Is everything clear so far?
  • Do you have any other questions up to this point?

Taking action:

  • Could I take care of anything else for you today?
  • I will be glad to send this out today for you.
  • You should receive it by next week.
  • I´ll check the information and call you back in 30 minutes.
  • I appreciate you taking the time to call today.

When you write emails don´t forget to use formal salutations and closings. Give a reason for writing, offer help, take action and end the email politely.

Salutations and closes:

  • If you don´t know a name:
  • Salutation: Dear Sir or Madam
  • Close: Sincerely yours
  • When you know the name:
  • Dear Mr/Ms Brown
  • Close: Sincerely yours or Kind regards

Stay away from “Yours faithfully”, it is considered old-fashioned and rarely used although you will still find books that will tell you to.

Phrases for emails:

  • In reference to your email of …
  • We are writing to confirm …
  • We are pleased to inform you …
  • We would be delighted to assist you.
  • Please contact me if you have any questions.
  • We look forward to hearing from you soon.

You have to keep in mind that it is not only your attitude that is important; it is the attitude of your department and the entire company. Everybody needs to be involved in the whole process.  You will gain repeat business, customer retention and your customers will just love you.

Customer Service II

A customer, who has a problem solved well is more loyal than one who has experienced no problem at all. Would you agree with that sentence? I am pretty sure you would.

What is part of customer service? What is important for the customer?

We very often find it out only after experiencing a problem with a product or service. Let me give you an example. One of the most common and successful online companies is Amazon. You buy a product online. The website is easy to navigate, you choose a product, read the details about it, fill the shopping cart, place the order and receive your package by the promised delivery date or even earlier. Normally there is no problem. If there is one, there is reason to complain. You send back the product, bureaucracy is very limited, get your money back or a replacement. The time period for this process is short. Sounds perfect to me. You were treated well, your request was taken care of, you will tell all your friends about it. Good for the company and good for you. A negative experience made positive by good customer service.

After giving you so many negative examples in my last column I recently experienced some outstanding customer service.

About a half a year ago I ordered a bench seat for my dining room. After a short while, the bench broke, and the first thought was, of course, “Oh no, how long will this take, how much energy do I have to waste and will I have to deal with bad customer service?”

I am happy to say, my fears were proven wrong or let me rephrase it, I was satisfied to the max. Two days after my call to the company, I received a confirmation letter saying that the problem is being taken care of. After some more weeks I was told that someone from the company would come by. I thought to myself, do they want to look at the broken bench? To my surprise, they just delivered a brand new one. The delivery men were extremely friendly, on time; everything was just perfect. So, I grabbed the phone, called them up and said thank you for such great service. The lady on the phone was very surprised but glad and forwarded my appreciation to her colleagues. Two weeks passed and I received a letter. When opening it I wondered what it might be. The company wrote me to say thank you for my thank you and sent along a voucher for two for a meal in their restaurant. Will I shop at this store again?  Yes, without any question. It was one of the best customer service experiences I have ever encountered in Germany.

What is the lesson we learn from this example? Communication. The flow of information seemed to be just perfect. It did not stay with one person only but, instead, was given to all employees involved in a large process. As a customer I felt as if I wasn´t just one of thousands but an individual and valued customer. Be it true or not I like keeping the illusion.

Customer Service?

Are we living in an anti-customer society? What is wrong with businesses that don’t care about giving just a little extra service to their customers. Every single time I think things are changing, I am being proved wrong by another example of bad service. Am I too demanding? Are we as customers too demanding? You can make up your own mind.

Recently I went shopping in a DIY-store. I needed a shelf for my office cabinet. I took one that I already had at home. I thought this was the best way to avoid mistakes in measurements. Well, this must have been the way women think… I was told by the shop assistant to measure it myself and fill out a form with all the details! I showed the shelf to the guy and said that this is the reason I brought it with me. Well, he did not care. Supposedly, they are not allowed to take measurements themselves due to insurance reasons. This made me really angry. I ended up measuring the shelf myself and writing it down on the form. I gave him the form and this is what he did. He measured it! He measured it again to check and correct my figures. What was the sense in telling me to do it in the first place? No common sense at all. Why does a customer have to deal with this? Aren’t they the specialists or experts?

Another example happened the other morning. I was in a hurry rushing to one of my seminars. I stopped at a gas station, bought gas and wanted a simple roll with butter for breakfast not thinking it was too much to ask a poor clerk. I found out that it was. Here is what happened. He buttered the roll in slow motion, and afterwards started to search for the right button on his register. He supposedly found one for a buttered pretzel but not for a roll. The butter pretzel is more expensive but I told him I would just pay the price of the pretzel. He didn’t want to do this. I didn’t have time for this but he continued searching. However, this was not the highlight yet. He told me. “We usually don’t do that” and I asked, “You usually don’t do what?”. “Butter rolls. We are not a bakery,” he said. So it was a “mercy butter roll” I got. Isn’t that amazing! Am I supposed to be thankful? Are we supposed to be thankful for this kind of service?

Why is it so difficult to do a little more for a customer? Why don’t people in the service industry get it? Common sense should show that good customer service brings in more revenue. I recently asked for a smaller portion of soup as a starter. It was unfortunately not possible to pour less soup in a bowl and charge half the price. But it was possible, of course, to give me the whole portion and waste the rest. Needless to say, I didn’t add a tip.

It seems the standard situation in department stores or supermarkets is not to go with the customer to show where the product that he asked for or is looking for actually is. Instead, they only give you directions. For example, it’s the third aisle, fourth shelf on the right, behind the drinks, next to the joghurts. Great, why didn’t they just give me a map. Even worse is when these “service” people (they should be called “no-service” people) don’t know where things are and don’t put any effort in actually finding out. This is unbelievable to me. It is as if you as an assistant would tell your boss: “I am sorry, I have no idea where the file is you are asking me for.“

How many times have I been sitting in a restaurant or café, chatting with friends for hours and having one drink. Well, I could have had three in that time but I could no get the attention of the server and he or she did not bother to come by and ask.

Especially in difficult times, like we have been in since the economic crisis hit, it is so important to keep a good customer relationship, to do something little but extraordinary, so your customers come back and talk about you to others. It is the best marketing and advertising a business can get: Word of mouth, and it’s free. So all you shop assistants, clerks, servers, etc. just give a little attention, show interest and most importantly smile when someone enters your business. It’s worth it!

New Year's Resolutions

The time before the Holiday Season is nothing but hustle and bustle. Whether we want or not, we get caught up by countless appointments, endless meetings, deadlines and things that could be taken care of after Christmas just as well. But there is this widespread belief that everything or at least as much as possible needs to be finished by Christmas. And of course, all the Christmas dinners that we have to go to with our colleagues and/or club members.

Therefore, most of us don’t really have the time to enjoy the nice pre-Christmas atmosphere, the markets, the lights, the decorations. We just have enough time to rush through town to get some presents for our friends and loved ones. Or, thanks to the Internet, we use the time at nights to shop online and are thankful that the postman brings the packages to our homes. 

Finally, when the Holiday Season starts, we drop the pens, close the offices and enjoy a break that we really deserve. We enjoy all the good food, the friends and family we get to see. At home or on holiday we start thinking about the New Year that is soon to come. There they are, the New Year’s resolutions. We made some every single year before, little ones and big ones. We wanted to get back in shape, stop smoking, do more sports, have a more balanced everyday life, have more time for our friends and family and so on. It does not matter if we kept them the years before or not, we make them anyway.

Some people say that it is senseless to keep them when you break them. But to be honest, even when people deny making them, I think they make resolutions anyway. The new year has got an effect on us. In this fast moving world we finally have time to reflect on the past year, on decisions we took, on things that happened around us. And I think it is fun looking forward to a new year, making vacation plans, dreaming of sunshine when it is snowing outside, being motivated to start a language course, continue any kind of education or just making the unfiled papers disappear from your desk like I did :-) My first resolution was fulfilled, and now I am working on the second one using my home trainer. But it’s only January, right :-) !?

Telephoning IV

How much time do you spend on the phone every single day arranging appointments? It is a time killer in an assistants’ daily routine. You have got all the helping devices, Outlook that the whole team is connected to, maybe a paper calendar as an old-fashioned back up (you never know when the software collapses one morning) and Doodle, the new simple online scheduling program etc., etc.

But can you, when using all the modern technology, avoid phone arrangements? I don’t think so. As flexibility plays such an important role in business and we always try to accommodate our business partners’ schedules, there is no way around having to grab the phone and make last minute changes. So how do you do this in English?

You should first check whether your partner has got the time:

  • Is this a good time to talk?
  • Do you have a moment to fix an appointment?
  • I won’t keep you long.
  • This should only take about five minutes.

After clarifying if your telephone partner is all ears, you might need some of these questions:

  • Can we schedule a meeting for next week?
  • Could we set up a meeting for Friday?
  • Is Monday convenient?
  • How about Tuesday at 10.00?
  • Does next Thursday suit you?
  • If you have to cancel or postpone a meeting:
  • I’m sorry but I have to cancel our appointment next Wednesday. Something unexpected has come up.
  • I’m afraid I can’t make our appointment next Thursday.
  • Can we postpone our meeting next Monday?
  • I am really sorry about this.

When juggling your schedule, you will need the following responses:

  • Yes, Thursday’s fine by me.
  • Yes, I’ll be free at around 11.30.
  • No, I can’t make that.
  • I’m tied up all day on Monday. Tuesday is ok, though.
  • Could we possibly make it an hour earlier?
  • How about Thursday instead?

And at last, after setting the date and time, you should be clear about the venue:

  • Shall I come over to your office or do you want to meet me here?
  • Where would be best for us to meet?
  • Let’s meet in the conference room.

TIP: Have all the above-mentioned sentences at hand and you will tame the time killer.

Telephoning III

You have already learned how to connect a caller. You took a deep breath and confidentially transferred the call to the person responsible. But, as it often is in business the call took a little loop and is coming right back to your line. The reasons might differ: Your colleague is in a meeting, has just stepped out of the office or is away on business. Connecting was not successful so you will be trying to help the caller yourself. What can you say?

  • I’m sorry, there’s no answer.
  • I’m sorry, the line’s busy (GB: engaged)
  • I’m afraid she/he is on another line at the moment.
  • I’m sorry but she is on a business trip.

It depends on the caller’s response what to do next. Have one of the following suggestions up your sleeve:

  • Would you like to hold?
  • Would you like to call back later?
  • Can I ask him/her to call you back?
  • Would you like to speak to someone else?
  • Maybe his colleague can help you if it is urgent.
  • Can I take a message?
  • Would you like to leave a message?

The last two of my suggestions are the openers for all the important information you have to gather. You will simply ask for the caller’s name, company and his telephone number to make sure he receives a call from your colleague/company. Do not forget to forward the message to the person responsible.

Another important skill in telephoning is listening. While you are listening carefully to the caller, you have the chance to seek information that might be valuable for further actions. Remember, you are like a detective and this active listening saves precious time. Check if all the information you noted down is correct by saying:

  • Let me repeat that, just to be sure.
  • Let me read that back to you.
  • Your name was Shadow, is that right?

Assure the caller that you will forward his message:

  • I’ll tell him/her that you called.
  • I’ll ask him/her to call you back as soon as possible.
  • I’ll make sure she/he gets the message.
  • My colleague will get back to you tomorrow.

End the call by saying “Good bye” and “Thank you” to the caller.

TIP: Good impressions are what the caller keeps in mind.

Telephoning II

In the last column I started talking about telephoning in English and this is where I am going to continue today.

Do you ever wonder why you get a phone call from abroad and the caller simply says: “Can I speak to Mark Schmidt?” What is your reaction to it? Do you think it is rude or unprofessional? Do you just transfer the call without asking for details? I don’t think so. But you, working at the reception desk or in an assistant’s position, certainly need to know who you are going to connect or which company this person is with. So to solve this problem you might ask:

  • May I ask who is calling?
  • Could you give me your name, please?
  • Where are you calling from, please?
  • What company are you with?

The caller will be glad to answer your questions because you are the one who helps him to reach a certain person at your company.

Do not hesitate to ask the caller to slow down if necessary. Native speakers do not do it on purpose when they speak fast, they just speak. You do the same thing when you speak your native tongue. So what can you do? Well, first of all try not to get nervous. Take a deep breath and say:

  • Could you speak more slowly, please?
  • Could you repeat that, please?

After you know who you are going to connect, you will probably need to find out what the call is about. When asking for that information, you are making sure you are connecting the caller to the right person. You are like a detective who needs to ask the right questions:

  • May I ask what this is about?
  • What is this regarding, please?

When you have all the necessary details you will connect saying:

  • Just a moment, please. I’ll put you through to Carol Walker.
  • Mr. Schwarz is familiar with that subject, I`ll transfer you to him.
  • Our customer service will be glad to help you in that matter.

The way you handle the telephone reflects on you and your company. With using the above mentioned phrases, you will sound confident and professional. Furthermore, you will be satisfied with yourself for handling a phone call in English. Next time I will tell you how to take and leave messages.

TIP: Take a deep breath to stay calm. Ask the caller to slow down and tell yourself: I can!

Telephoning I

The world is becoming smaller the more we do business internationally. Fast travel, international media, and the Internet have made it easy for us to communicate with people all over the world. As a result, the need to communicate effectively with different people from different cultures is not only necessary but vital in order to succeed in the marketplace. Intercultural awareness and communication skills, both verbal and non-verbal, give us the ability to work well across cultures.

Let us start with English on the telephone. How do you react when the telephone rings and you know exactly that this is a call from the USA, the UK or another English-speaking country? Do you feel like running out of the office?  Do you want to become invisible? Panicking and looking for a colleague who might be in the office and in your opinion much better in using English? Well, these are some of the fears I hear in my seminars. It is definitely more difficult to have a conversation on the phone than in person, but, on the other hand, it is not very difficult to learn some techniques to handle the situation professionally. You need to have the standard phrases available: keep a little cheat sheet next to your telephone so you will not get nervous. Only if you know how to answer, how to ask for the caller’s name, what to say when you connect the call, will you be able to concentrate on the conversation. To help you out here are a few examples of standard phrases for calling and answering:

  • This is Donna Greenwood of Chemsoft Incorporated.
  • Could I speak to Mr Jones, please?
  • The reason I’m calling is…
  • I’m calling on behalf of Mr Wagner.
  • May I ask what it is about?
  • One moment, please. I’ll try to connect you to accounts.
  • May I take a message?

Trust me, if sentences like those above come to you spontaneously you will feel and sound more confident.

TIP: Always smile on the phone. This makes you sound more polite and friendly. Moreover, the caller will be thankful even if your English was not perfect