93 Things to Say and Do in a Pinch

When dealing with people at work or at home, do you find yourself at a loss as to what to do or how to proceed now and then? If not, good for you, but if you are merely human like the rest of us, here’s a bulletin for you. There are always things to say, things to do.

Here are ninety-three that you can pick from the next time you find yourself in a pinch. Just pick one, any one, and go for it. They all work in a pinch. If you have five minutes to explore the full set, it’s always okay to select the exact one that best fits what’s happening right now. If you are feeling rushed, just pick one and go for it. Either way, you will never again be at a loss as to what to say or do.

ShapeUp


Are you old enough to remember Ozzy and Harriet? If so, you will recall that only the children argued and then only in the most considerate and polite way. Everyone was thoughtful and, well, nice.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, just think about how well you think other families get along with each other when they get together for a summer barbecue or a winter holiday. If you think they get along great or at least better than your family does, you have bought into what we might call the Ozzy and Harriet syndrome.

If that doesn’t work for you, take your imagination along with you to work. Picture a workplace where everyone is positive and in an up mood all the time. You and your coworkers are always thoughtful, considerate and, well, nice. It’s always a pleasure to go to work and a joy to spend time with your coworkers.

If you are still struggling to get up to speed with all of this, focus on your relationship with your parents, your significant other, your children, your friends or maybe even your neighbors. It’s an Ozzy and Harriet world. Everyone gets along just fine with everyone else and that is especially true for you. You are always easy to get along with and are a joy to be around. Ozzy and Harriet could have picked up some being nice pointers from you.

Alas, it’s not an Ozzy and Harriet world, at least not in any world I know about. I doubt that it’s an Ozzy and Harriet world in any world you know about either.

Let me ask you this. In situations from coworkers to neighbors, from children to siblings, what do you want to change? What would it take to turn each situation into that Ozzy and Harriet world we all secretly think may actually be possible?

If you aren’t sure what it would take, I definitely know the answer. Everything would be much improved if my coworkers would just be more cooperative, if my children would just be less childish, if my neighbors would just be more neighborly, if my friends would just be more considerate, and if everyone would just shape up and get with the program, my program of course.

What do you think? Would that work for you too – with your program instead of mine of course?

You are probably thinking that I’m going to be giving you some advice now. It would likely have something to do with you being more thoughtful, considerate and patient with other people. Perhaps it would include the caution not to be too reactive or quick to criticize. It might even include a few tips about how not to get pulled into conflicts or controversy. I’ll bet it would definitely include the advice my mother gave me to mind my own business and not to stick my nose into other peoples’ business. As she like to put it, “It’s a full time job just taking care of yourself.”

No, I don’t think so. Not this time. I’m going to give you some advice but not the useless advice you are expecting. Since I have no intention to shape up and get with your program, I think your best choice is to shape up and get with mine.

Now you know, so there you go.

Let Others Be

For John O’Brien, his hope was that we may care enough to love enough to share enough to let others become what they can be; but how do we do this at home, at work, and in the context of our other important relationships? Consider the following strategies. They may or may not work equally well for all of us; but they are definitely worth considering.

Cooperation: Emphasize a helpful, supportive approach to all of your relationships and activities with other people.

Bertrand Russell said, “The only thing that will redeem mankind is cooperation.” You likely will want to set your sights a little less grandly than redeeming mankind; but you nonetheless get the idea. Cooperation is definitely the way to go and helping others is one of the best ways to get there. What’s more, Charles Dudley promises added benefits for you if you are helpful and supportive with other people, “It is one of the beautiful compensations of this life that no one can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.” Now, that certainly sounds like the real deal, don’t you think?

Loyalty: Emphasize accommodating to the special needs and interests of people and facilitating the resolution of problems.

It’s easy here to see how that benefits other people which, of course, is the point. At the same time, though, you also benefit. Jean-Jacques Rousseau said, “The most absolute authority is that which penetrates into a man’s innermost being and concerns itself no less with his will than with his actions.” Sure, if you accommodate to other people and help them work things out, you will feel better about who you are and what you do. It’s like Josiah Royce pointed out, “Unless you can find some sort of loyalty, you cannot find unity and peace in your active living.”

Caring: Emphasize concern for and interest in the activities, successes, and problems of other people.

Maxwell Maltz expressed it this way, “Take the trouble to stop and think of the other person’s feelings, his viewpoints, his desires and needs. Think more of what the other fellow wants, and how he must feel.” The message is simple. Take time to care; and remember Fred A. Allen’s words, “It is probably not love that makes the world go around, but rather those mutually supportive alliances through which partners recognize their dependence on each other for the achievement of shared and private goals.”

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The Perfect Rejoinder

I have made what may be one of the world’s seventeen greatest discoveries. It is this: “Always keep it short and to the point.” You may disagree, citing Robert Southey who said, “It is with words as with sunbeams. The more they are condensed, the deeper they burn,” or Shakespeare who promised in Hamlet, “Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit, and tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, I will be brief.”

Of course you are not questioning my point, just my assertion that I personally made the discovery. Naturally, I know that Baltasar Gracián said that “Good things, when short, are twice as good.,” in The Art of Worldly Wisdom; and Thomas Jefferson said, “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.”

These great minds along with many others counsel us to be concise and not impose on the patience of anyone when we can avoid it. They have mostly intended their advice for the written word. For example, Lord Sandwich advised, “If any man will draw up his case, and put his name at the foot of the first page, I will give him an immediate reply. Where he compels me to turn over
the sheet, he must wait my leisure.”

Or even more expansively and intending his point for every-day conversation, Mozart reported this, “My great-grandfather used to say to his wife, my great-grandmother, who in turn told her daughter, my grandmother, who repeated it to her daughter, my
mother, who used to remind her daughter, my own sister, that to talk well and eloquently was a very great art, but that an equally great one was to know
the right moment to stop.”

Dennis Roth made the same point but even briefer, “If it takes a lot of words to say what you have in mind, give it more thought;” and David Belasco was even more pithy, “If you can’t write your idea on the back of my calling card, you don’t have a clear idea.” The point is whether writing or talking, don’t be who Rabelais was talking about when he said, “He replies nothing but monosyllables. I believe he would make three bites of a cherry.” William Strunk Jr.cut to the chace for us, “A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.” Just omit whatever is not necessarily necessary.

That brings me back to my great discovery. Yes, I am still saying that it is my discovery, even though others have argued for brevity and conciseness long before I ever had a useful thought. Here is the discovery part of my discovery.

Whenever anyone starts to argue with whatever you have said or done, always keep it short and to the point. You will be tempted to reciprocate with a counter-argument, further explanation or justification, but there is seldom any point to the effort. Winning arguments is most always a futile hope. Instead, calmly wait until the other person has stopped pressing their argument – and they will stop sooner or later. At that point, simply say, “Thanks for sharing your perspective.” If the other person picks back up with arguing, wait and repeat.

You may not think this is one of the seventeen greatest discoveries ever, but don’t reject it until you’ve tried it.

Now you know so there you go.

Helping Is My Highest Priority

Have you ever had an experience that just defied any attempt to reduce it to a few words? Well the incident that goes with the play button comes pretty close. It’s one of those frustrating encounters we have all had in one version or another. There is nothing for it but for you to have a listen and see if there isn’t something there that you have personally suffered through. I’ve been there to and didn’t like it much either.

Speaking Thinking and That Little Voice

When speaking, what we say matters, how we say it matters and who we say it to matters as well. When we think, what we think matters and how we get in touch with our thought process matters. It is easy to just go on automatic but our success depends on doing better than automatic. Let’s spend a few minutes considering what it means when we do better than automatic.

Change Is a Process — not an event

I think we all know that things are constantly changing, whether or not we are paying attention to the changes. It may seem that everything is the same today as they were yesterday, but they aren’t. Even if we don’t notice, nothing is quite the same today as it was yesterday. Things change, people change, circumstances change, and we change too.

What this fact of life and living demonstrates is that change is a process and not an event. The outcome may appear to be spontaneous but never is. Fortunately, we can usually understand what happened if we stop to consider it carefully. Even if we don’t understand, we know that the change was a result of a process that is just not clear to us.

At times, we decide that we are not satisfied with the status quo and want things or circumstances to change. The change we want may be for us, our family, a specific relationship, our work team, our company or other organization, our community, or within any context where we think change is desirable or necessary. That is when we consider initiating the change process. We know we don’t like how things currently are, and we have a notion about how we would like them to be. Getting from where things are now to how we want them to be is an example of the change process that is always chugging away. For this change though, we intend to be the change agent.

Whenever you intend to be the change agent, there are twelve questions you should ask and answer before initiating the change process that leads to the change you want; and the bigger or more important the change is for you and for others, the more critical it is for you to ask and answer the twelve questions.

Here are the twelve questions. Answer each “Yes,” or “No,” in relation to the change process you intend to initiate. For these questions, “yes” is only “Yes” if you are quite sure. If not, the answer is “NO,” until you are sure.

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Never a Good Excuse for Bad Manners

“It may be years before anyone knows if what you are doing is right. But if what you are doing is nice, it will be immediately evident.” — P.J. O’Rourke

The idea seems to be that good manners can and often do cover up the proverbial multitude of sins. As Arthur Schopenhauer put it, “Politeness is to human nature what warmth is to wax.” It may quickly distort or otherwise transform reality. What seems sincere may merely be the latest example of Abel Stevens’ observation, “Politeness is the art of choosing among one’s real thoughts.” The point is that in an effort to “be nice,” candor can easily take a backseat to what Emily Post described as “a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others.” The desire not to upset or offend takes priority over the responsibility to be honest and straightforward.

Of course, W. Somerset Maugham did say, “I don’t think you want too much sincerity in society. It would be like an iron girder in a house of cards.” And Lord Halifax said, “A man that should call everything by its right name would hardly pass the streets without being knocked down as a common enemy.” The conclusion follows that there is an appropriate, middle ground between total honesty and bad manners. One should find that balance between excessive rudeness and being unnecessarily impolite on the one hand and knavery or excessive dishonesty on the other.

Are you tempted to agree with this argument? If so, you are probably aligning with the polite majority of people who behave as if the choice is between candor and insensitive rudeness. When it comes time to choose, they generally lean toward avoiding being seen as rude or as having bad manners. The result is that they are often dishonest, at least somewhat. Personal integrity is partially sacrificed to the god of good manners. When you are thus tempted, Cesare Pavese’s observation is worth considering, “Perfect behavior is born of complete indifference.”

Perhaps the real issue isn’t your honesty, your integrity, or your manners. Rather, it is your discomfort with how you fear others will react to you if you actually say what you think, accurately express your feelings, and practice the candor you profess to value so highly. Often the issue is dealing with the bad manners of other people. As Gabirol put it, “The test of good manners is to be patient with bad ones.” the famous Anon. expressed the idea this way, “Treat everyone with politeness, even those who are rude to you – not because they are nice, but because you are;” and F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “It’s not a slam at you when people are rude – it’s a slam at the people they’ve met before.” The best conclusion is that there is never a good excuse for bad manners and that “situational integrity” isn’t integrity at all. Calmly and respectfully stand up, speak up, shut up, and sit down and then politely listen, making it immediately evident that you indeed are nice.

Now you know so there you go.

Give In or Dig In

You’ve probably heard the advice that tells us that we have to go along to get along. Much of the time, if it’s not altogether true, it’s at least convenient. Christopher Morley puts it like this, “Lots of times you have to pretend to join a parade in which you’re not really interested in order to get where you’re going.”

We have our individual goals and agenda, but much of the time, prioritizing our personal interests requires too much effort or may actually be counterproductive. Michael Korda is on point when he advises, “The fastest way to succeed is to look as if you’re playing by other people’s rules, while quietly playing by your own.”

The truth here notwithstanding, there is a very real danger. On the one hand, we run the risk of becoming so accustomed to fitting in that we passively subordinate our goals and agenda to the will and wishes of others; or on the other hand, we are so intent on guarding our individuality that we become inappropriately rigid and inflexible. Finding the middle ground is difficult and staying on that middle ground is even more challenging.

Bill Veeck tells us what is needed, “I try not to break the rules, but merely to test their elasticity.” Nonetheless, for most of us, the trip from knowing to doing is frequently less than smooth. At this point, I think most of us either give up and go along or dig in and side with Bill Watterson’s choice, “From now on, I’ll connect the dots my own way.” As tempting as either alternative may be, experience tells me that the middle ground is still the place to be.

How do you think this works as a helpful way of understanding the middle ground between giving in and digging in? “I am not in this world to live up to other people’s expectations, nor do I feel that the world must live up to mine.” Fritz Perls’ perspective on the middle ground is one that I personally find helpful. I’m comfortable going along so long as I experience other people’s expectations as compatible with or at least not incompatible with mine. However, if I experience those expectations as incompatible, passively going along is no longer an option for me.

Saying this is easy but deciding to dig in and then doing it is not always easy and can be downright risky at times. Dr. SunWolf knows the truth of it, “Sooner or later, you will need the courage to be disliked,” or perhaps the courage to accept even more harsh consequences. There is a cost to giving in and going along, but perhaps an even higher cost to digging in. The dilemma is in understanding the cost and benefits of both choices and then living with your choice.