Monthly Archives: October 2012

Part IV of Improving Communication Skills: Examples

Summary of Parts I-III

Parts I and II: Don’t underestimate how difficult it is to be good at something!  Obama and Romney are, by virtue of their accomplishments, good communicators, yet they screw up all the time, in spite of the extraordinary amount of practice they put into communicating.  Recognize that your communication and social skills are not very good (you wouldn’t be working here if it were good), especially once you’re communicating to those outside of your social circle.  Good communicators are able convince those with different values, standards, and vocabulary that they have something valuable to offer them.  How one communicates will have significant impact on one’s career and place in society.  Those who are solely concerned about feelings will be relegated to low-profile jobs.  Those who are concerned about feelings and standards, values, and vision will manage those concerned only with feelings.  Those intensely focused on standards, values, and vision become leaders.  Those who don’t care about (other people’s) feelings or standards, values, and vision are unemployable (even when employed).

Part III:  We develop communication and social skills by practicing asking questions, being logical (instead of emotional) by framing statements as “I think” instead of “I feel,” mirroring others, and explaining concepts to someone with totally different values, standards, and vision (eg. explain database to 8 year old, or trade deficit to a 10 year old, or difference between glycemic load and glycemic index to 12 year old).

Final installment of Communication series provides examples of what we consider appropriate and inappropriate communication while at work.

Examples of Communication

Text sent by employee: 
Since we’re out of mango should be substitute with pineapple or just stick with apples for the kale salad?

Edit: No mango, sub w/pineapple for salad?

Comment: keep text messages as short as possible so it can be read quickly under any circumstances.  Long messages are distracting.  You’re not graded on grammar.  You’re trying to communicate an idea as succinctly as possible so time isn’t wasted and I don’t crash car into ditch.


Text sent by employee

Sorry to keep bugging you, but I’m assuming that you are picking up lids?

Edit: Salad lids?

Comment: Sorry for what?  Sorry for doing your job?  For asking me to do my job?  This is the kind of communication that pisses me off.  First, it assumes that my “break” is a time for me to be idle, a time I shouldn’t be bothered with “work.”  That’s not how I operate and I don’t allow anyone to work with a union clock-watching mindset.  I use “breaks” to work in a different setting with fewer distractions.  Second, never privilege my feelings or anyone else’s over doing your job as best you can.  My feelings don’t matter much to me and I don’t expect them to matter much to anyone else.  The only thing I care about is if you can move us closer to expected standard and vision while expressing our values.  Don’t let other people’s feelings distract you from maximizing your productivity and reaching your goal.  We do our best to bring in similar minded thick skinned people so work rhythm isn’t broken by someone who wants to cry about hurt feelings.

Phone call: 
I’m, uh, I’m may be like, I’m in traffic, I’m stuck in traffic so…
Cuts employee off: “you’re going to be late.”  Hang up on her.

Comment: Be concise, succinct.  There are customers to take care of, work to finish.  More importantly, excuses don’t matter.  Just let me know that you’re going to be late so I can make adjustments.  The reasons don’t matter.  If I’m curious, I’ll ask for reason. If you want to tell me the reason, find a better time to do so.

On the floor
Andrew, would be please get me some beets?
Edit: Andrew, beets.  (use tone and inflection to communicate urgency of request).

Comment: Be concise, succinct, even when it isn’t busy.  Practice to be prepared for busy periods, when wordiness can throw off rhythm and screw up service.  Le Bron James doesn’t ask Dwayne Wade: “Dwayne, would you please pass me the ball as I head toward the basket.”  Nor does he ask:  “please cover your man the best you can so he doesn’t score so easily.” There’s a reason why kitchens aren’t polite.  It’s inefficient and often dangerous to be so (this stock is heavy and boiling hot, get the fuck out of the way NOW).

No Shit Sandwiches
Barry Horowitz on management communicating to employees:

A popular and sometimes effective technique for feedback beginners is something that experienced managers call The Shit Sandwich. The technique is marvelously described in the classic management text, The One Minute Manager. The basic idea is that people open up to feedback far more if you start by complimenting them (slice of bread #1), then you give them the difficult message (the shit), then wrap up by reminding them how much you value their strengths (slice of bread #2). The shit sandwich also has the positive side effect of focusing the feedback on the behavior rather than the person, because you establish up front that you really value the person. This is a key concept in giving feedback.

The shit sandwich can work well with junior employees, but has the following challenges:

  • It tends to be overly formal. Because you have to preplan and script the sandwich to make it come out correctly, the process can feel formal and judgmental to the employee.
  • After you do it a couple of times, it will lack authenticity. The employee will think: “Oh boy, she’s complimenting me again. I know what’s coming next, the shit.”
  • More senior executives will recognize the shit sandwich immediately and it will have an instant negative effect.

Early in my career, I attempted to deliver a carefully crafted shit sandwich to a senior employee and she looked at me like I was a little kid and said: “Spare me the compliment, Ben, and just tell me what I did wrong.” At that point, I thought that I was definitely not born to be a CEO.

We don’t offer shit sandwiches because we don’t hire those who enjoy eating them.

Example of Shit Sandwich (click on link to watch scene from 25th Hour)

Observe how boss interacts with employee, and employee with colleague, employee with low level worker.  How does boss create a “shit sandwich?”  What’s the bread made of?  Is it appropriate for employee to reprimand the mail boy in such a way?  What did the mail boy do wrong?

What If Our Communication Style Bothers Customers?
We tend to not worry too much about customer feelings or sense of decorum.  We’re more concerned about their health and providing them high quality products as quickly as possible.  If some macho sexist douchebag who thinks women are ladies and men are chivalrous and everyone should be treated as such, he can lunch at McDonald’s, where employees are polite to each other. Or Hooters, where gender roles are absolute, never ambiguous.  Put simply, he, or she, can fuck off.  We don’t teach employees to become whiny and fragile.  We prepare them to become responsible and to thrive under pressure.

Thinking About Your Future
How one communicates will determine their place in life.  The higher up you go, the less polite people are, except to those far below them.  The higher up you go, the more concise and succinct the communication style, the faster the pace.  Choose your communication style based on what you want from life.



Developing Communication and Social Skills, Part III of Improving Shitty Communication…

Part I emphasized that in order to become good at something, one first has to recognize that one’s not good at it.  Those who think they’re good communicators are less likely to work on their communication and social skills.  One has to work to become good at something.

Part II worked toward a theory of good communication and social skills.  There isn’t one absolute act and style of communication that’s “good.”  What’s “good” depends on situation and context.  It may be appropriate for a CEO to scream bloody murder at one of his executives who screwed up, but inappropriate to do the same to his receptionist or janitor.  The ones who are “good” are adaptable and flexible, able to read and keep up with rapidly evolving circumstances.  Hillary Clinton may be, if rumors are to be believed, foul mouthed and mercurial behind closed doors, but presents a different persona when communicating to constituents.  Put simply, good communication depends on:

1. Recognizing that each person has a different set of standards, values, and vocabulary
2. Figuring out how to negotiate differences, to communicate across cognitive and social divide.

In other words, don’t assume everyone wants what you want in life.  Those who don’t recognize difference are shitty communicators.  These primarily communicate for praise or empathy, not for deeper understanding.

To improve communication and social skills, we practice the following:

Ask questions, especially responding to questions with questions.  We’ll practice when it’snot busy.  Doing this requires thinking instead of rote memorization.  So when a customer asks “What’s your favorite drink,” we typically respond with a question, such as “do you like something fruity?”  Customer doesn’t really care what your favorite drink is.  Customer is just asking you to recommend a drink he’ll like.  Poor communicators don’t recognize that taste is subjective.  They don’t recognize difference, so they often don’t understand what’s being communicated to them.

Frame statements as something one “thinks” or “believes” instead of how one “feels.”  To begin a statement with “I feel” blurs line between emotion and rational thought.  Emphasis on how one feels is cop-out, a refusal to take responsibility for how one thinks, and leads to self-absorption and self-centeredness, making it difficult to recognize difference.  Part II surmised that those who are focused on (one’s) feelings tend to work in low-profile, low-wage jobs.  They become angry when someone doesn’t empathize with or praise them and they tend to be non-judgmental toward those who transgress values and standards.  Those who “think” and “believe” are less likely to seek empathy and are more likely to become angry and judgmental when someone disregards values and standards they hold dear.  That’s why it’s so common for those at the top to call each other all sorts of crude names.  That talk bounces off of them.  What brings executives to tears is when visions clash and a standard isn’t met (and when they’re betrayed).

Mimic person we’re talking to.  We’re big on mimicking, or mirroring pace and tone of customer and colleague.  If customer is frantic, we speed the pace to let them know that we realize they’re frantic. It communicates that we care about them as an individual.  Occasionally we’ll practice mimicking speech patterns.

That’s it. )Probably missing a lot of other approaches to improving communication and social skills).  Occasionally, we’ll also practice reading body language and other forms of communication, like clothing. Part IV, examples, coming soon.

Matching Communication and Social Skills with Career. Part II of Improving Shitty Communication…

In Part I of Improving Shitty Communication and Social Skills, I argued that it’s difficult to communicate well once one is removed from one’s comfort zone, that place where everyone shares similar values, standards, and vocabulary. That’s why very few are good communicators and have effective social skills. It takes a lot of thought and effort to develop adequate communication and social skills.  Those who don’t recognize they have inadequate communication and social skills are unlikely to improve them because they don’t have reason to work on them. Put simply, employees who have good communication and social skills shouldn’t work for me.  They can’t learn anything from me.  They’re overqualified.

The great communicators are those able to change the way people think and live.  Howard Shultz, for instance, is a great communicator for convincing the average person that it’s worth paying $5 for a decent cup of coffee.  Presidents like Clinton, Reagan, JFK, for instilling in some Americans optimism, hope for a better future.  Ann Wigamore for convincing millions to drink something as useless as wheatgrass.  Hillary Clinton and Obama for convincing most Americans it’s ok to invade a sovereign nation.  GW Bush for convincing enough Americans that it’s ok to invade sovereign nations.  Math teacher, Jaime Escalante, for figuring out how to get low income Mexican American students to take Math seriously and pass the AP Calculus exam at rates unheard of except at the best schools.  Those without such accomplishments probably have meh communication and social skills.  And a Communications degree doesn’t make one a good communicator. Yikes, no.

Most employees arrive thinking that good communication and social skills is about being polite and agreeable.  Just smile, greet, and say “yes” often.  It’s that simple.

No, it isn’t.  Polite and agreeable may work well in despotic environments and in low-skill jobs, where fake obedience and superficiality are rewarded. It doesn’t work in the competitive world of capitalism, where checks and balances  and efficient proliferation of ideas are necessary to ensure maintenance of standards and movement toward vision.  Polite and agreeable is the language of the lazy, the self-absorbed and self-centered, the ones who don’t bother and don’t want to be bothered.  Polite and agreeable because it’s a lot easier than being considerate and responsible.

We beat polite and agreeable out of employees.  Once we asked a new employee to sample a soup and give us her opinion.  At that point, we’d already assessed her palate and determined that she likes salty and sweet.  We’d also determined that she’s a bullshitter who admitted to another employee that she doesn’t like fruit. The soup was unsalted, completely unseasoned.  Despite not liking the soup — expression on her face — she told us that the soup is great.  We weren’t done, lesson not over.  We left the soup out for customers, still unseasoned, because I really wanted to make a point.  Customer sampled it and told us that he didn’t like it.  One of us sampled the soup and determined he was right, it wasn’t up to standard. I apologized to the customer, seasoned the soup.  We then made a different soup. When this soup was completed, I commented on how new employee’s palate doesn’t match ours (it really doesn’t) so we can’t rely on it and had another employee try and critique it.  That’s how we communicated to her that being agreeable and fake isn’t tolerated, rewarded.  I’m sure she understood at some level that being fake is frowned on by most.  But I don’t think she ever experienced negative consequences from being fake.  She bullshitted because she has been rewarded for being agreeable and fake her entire life.  It helped her forge bonds with people, and that’s what she was trying to do with me.  She believed that complimenting me would be the best way to gain my favor.

Polite and agreeable works in low-skilled jobs where superficial camaraderie and personal feelings are privileged over vision, values and standards.  Think about what you fight about.  Do you become angry when someone calls you a label you disagree with (that bitch called me a slut!?  A loudmouth?! I’ll beat her ass) or because someone has violated/disregarded your core values, vision, and standards?   What sends you into a rage, when someone doesn’t empathize with you or when someone doesn’t meet your standards (eg. poor plating, sloppy cooking).  Do you tell someone you’ve fought with that you’re sorry for hurting his/her feelings, or you’re sorry for disregarding a certain standard of behavior?

If you’re more concerned about feelings, particularly your own, then stay out of high-stress, high-profile jobs.  The higher up you go, the less polite and less agreeable people are.  The higher up you go, the more concise and succinct the communication style.  Higher up you go, the fewer excuses you’ll hear.  If you want to be a world class scientist, or an NBA star, or a CEO, you have to think and talk like one.  If you think  and act like a receptionist, you’ll likely become one.  If you care about your career, be reflective, pay attention to how you think and talk!

Those who don’t care about feelings or standards and values are unemployable.  Those who only care about feelings work low-skilled jobs.  Those who care about feelings and standards and values manage low-skilled labor.  Those who only care about, are intensely focused on standards and values become leaders.  Figure out what you’re comfortable with (I’m definitely not comfortable with being a leader, that’s why I’m searching for my Darth(ette) Vadar).

Examples of acceptable and unacceptable communication and social interactions in next post, Part III.

How We Try to Improve Our Shitty Communication and Social Skills, Part I

(Primarily written for employee training but welcome feedback).

We do what we can do develop our communication and social skills so we can adequately serve customers.  It’s mostly a sometimes farcical blind leading the blind process so don’t hesitate to make suggestions and point out problems with our approach to developing our communication and social skills.

A lot of people mistakenly believe they have good communication and social skills.  They believe so because they’re able to seemingly communicate and get along with their friends effectively.  What they don’t realize is that they get along with their friends because they share the same values and standards.  It’s a lot tougher to communicate with someone who doesn’t share the same values and standards. Those who don’t understand this point often consider those they don’t get along with — typically those socio-economically above and below them — as poor communicators and lacking in social skills.  They never blame themselves, so they never work on their communication and social skills.  They gradually become entrenched in a way of thinking and living and are never able to explore and understand other perspectives.  (Which may be way they tend to be non-judgmental and superficially accepting of difference).

For instance, I once overheard an administrative assistant complain about her boss — a world renown scientist — claiming she lacks social skills.  “I can’t work with her anymore,” she told colleagues.  “She exploded today, telling me to get out of the way if I can’t help her! How am I supposed to help her if that’s her attitude?  She’s really smart, but like so many smart people, she has really really bad social skills. She needs to grow up and understand that hurting my feelings isn’t effective. She just has low emotional IQ”

Think about the absurdity of her claim.  Lab directors at a leading science research institution have to have extraordinary communication and social skills in order to convince people from several industries and government agencies to give them millions to do what they do, including enough to pay for an administrative assistant.  It never occured to the administrative assistant that maybe she, not her boss, is the poor communicator and lacks proper social skills to get her job done right. She, self-absorbed and self-centered, thinks the world should revolve around her feelings, which are more important than finding the cure for cancer.

Lab directors are highly competitive and passionate people completely focused on a vision or a standard and not on people’s feelings, including their own.  They work long hours and at a pace that would frighten most.  Effective administrative assistants are able to read the director’s mood and adjust speed, just as an orchestra does. If they can’t adjust, they won’t last because they’re momentum killers and throw everyone off.  That’s why lab directors go through so many administrative assistants and will do anything they can to keep the ones with adequate communication and social skills to help realize the vision.

The point is, those who are focused on “feelings” (mostly their own) will be relegated to low-stress, low-pay jobs.  Like receptionist, or janitor.  The boss never yells at the receptionist or janitor for screwing up or making lame excuses.  Most everyone is friendly toward them, except for maybe those just above them in social rank.  (We tend to treat those just beneath us with contempt, and those far below us with compassion).  Those who work for something greater than themselves and are focused on protecting their core values, principles, and standards — and not their own feelings — will be the leaders.

Steve Jobs illustrates this point in his “difference between a janitor and a vice-president” talk.

Jobs tells the VP that if the garbage in his office is not being emptied regularly for some reason, he would ask the janitor what the problem is. The janitor could reasonably respond by saying, “Well, the lock on the door was changed, and I couldn’t get a key.”

It’s an irritation for Jobs, but it’s an understandable excuse for why the janitor couldn’t do his job. As a janitor, he’s allowed to have excuses.

“When you’re the janitor, reasons matter,” Jobs tells newly minted VPs, according to Lashinsky.

“Somewhere between the janitor and the CEO, reasons stop mattering,” says Jobs, adding, that Rubicon is “crossed when you become a VP.”

In other words, you have no excuse for failure. You are now responsible for any mistakes that happen, and it doesn’t matter what you say.

We know about Steve Jobs losing it and calling a team a bunch of “fucking dickless assholes” for telling him that they can’t meet a product deadline (they did, after three consecutive all-nighters).  I highly doubt he’s ever called a janitor or receptionist anything similar.  He’s likely very polite toward them, as someone of his position should be.

We ask employees about their career goals.  If they want to be a doctor, we treat them like a doctor.  If they want to be a receptionist, we treat them like a receptionist.  We do this to prepare them for their careers.  They’re allowed to change career expectations anytime.  Those who think they can make the adjustment when they get there don’t get it.  It takes years of practice to finally make it.

Again, this is all blind leading the blind talk.  But my hunch is that employees who know they have inadequate social and communication skills are the ones most likely to improve them.

Examples of good and bad communication in Part II.

What I Tell Your Kids

There are some teenagers who want to work here.  Parents should know what I’ll tell them.

1. I’ll likely tell them to drop out of school, even if they’re in high school.  I *may* encourage them to stay in school if they’re aiming for an Ivy League type college or want to study Math, Physics, Engineering.  But if they tell me that school is boring — and most do — that they’re not learning anything, it’s guaranteed that I’ll tell them to drop out, to stop wasting time and taxpayer money, to start learning about life from the ground up instead of passively listening to asinine social theories and internalizing self-destructive habits and attitudes taught at most high schools and colleges.  If they’re in college studying something like Math, then maybe they should stick with it because at least they’re building discipline and maybe some sort of nascent bullshit detector that’ll help them steer clear of most socks, drugs and rock and roll classes.

I also tell them to drop out because in most cases, whatever methodologies, attitudes, and behaviors they’re learning in school is the opposite of what I’m trying to instill in them.  I’m tired of trying to get employees to unlearn the habits they acquired in school.  If they’re attending a school like Lakeside or a highly competitive IB program, maybe, maybe we can work something out.  Otherwise, the schools are working against me.

2. I’ll then tell them to save up so they can spend a year living as an illegal migrant worker in another country.  Like Afghanistan, Nepal, maybe somewhere in the Amazonian jungle. Anywhere where they have no access to Facebook, parents, and friends and have to work for survival for a year.  If nomadic life isn’t for them, I’ll encourage them to join the armed forces.  If not the armed forces, I’ll encourage them to move as far away from home and friends as possible, to start over.

So if your 16 year old teenager works for me, there’s a chance that he/she will turn into an AWOL high school drop out who rarely keeps in contact with you.  If that’s ok with you,  read on.

3.  Your child will often be reminded that he/she isn’t special.  Unless the kid already knows that, in which case, I work with the kid on developing and refining technical and social skills.  I’ve learned that those who think they’re special also think they deserve special treatment, despite being useless and unteachable at work.  There are studies showing that kids with inflated self-esteem are more likely to turn out as fuck ups.  I can’t have fuck ups working for me.  I’ll only work with those who will become failures, like me.

4. I’ll tell your kid what to drink.  4Lokos, Mike’s Lemonade, Long Island Iced Teas, mixing Red Bull and vodka — not allowed.  I don’t like working with people who don’t know how to drink.  I can’t imagine most of my customers taking someone who drinks Long Island Iced Teas seriously.  Anyway, depending on their personality and what they want to communicate, I usually recommend certain ghetto malt liquors (eg. Old English, 40 oz), scotch (good and bad ones), microbrews, wine that isn’t cloyingly sweet.

5. I’ll tell your kid to stop being polite and obedient.  Employees are reprimanded for being polite and obedient.  I’m not kidding, ask them.  We have policy sheet written about it.  This is a lean and mean operation.  Those who are polite and obedient are too slow and stupid to work here.

Some of your kids really, really want to work for me.  Some parents really really want their kids to work for me.  I’m asking parents to reconsider.  Do you really want your kid to become a high school drop out who rarely talks to you (and is never polite when she does), may have participated in unspeakable activities in some faraway land, is routinely disobedient and is on track to become an alcoholic and a failure?  I’m not trying to be funny.  I’m serious, this is what I’ll try to turn your 16 year old kid into.  This is the only way I can make my business work.

Business Partner, CEO Trainee Wanted

In order to expand, I’ll need a business partner, a CEO in training.  Business partner should have 30k in cash to start an Alive Juice Bar franchise.  I provide consulting, human resources, menus, and marketing vision to get second store running.  I would have no ownership of second store.  Partner will be trained to manage the store and business and will be expected to work on the floor at one of the stores 365 days a year for at least two years.  Should have extensive experience working 80-120 hours per week, with nearly all leisure time devoted to exercise and education (eg. reading appropriate books, exploring culinary trends).

The purpose of a second store is to test the reproducibility of products, workflow processes, and supply chain tactics at a different location under different management.  If we can duplicate and refine products and processes at second location, then we’d consider a partnership and open a third store together.  Purpose of third store is to test leadership skills, to see if stores can run without our near constant presence at each.  If none of the stores fall apart, then we’d consider investor funds to open more stores, to expand quickly.  Like two per year, with one of us handling expansion, the other focused on day-to-day store operations (most likely me).  Can also explore entry into other business areas, such as school lunch products and services.  Or online recipe and grocery list generator.  Or even the grocery business, especially if it simplifies supply chain processes for all Alive Juice Bar locations. Whatever gets people to think that living well doesn’t have to cost a lot of money and work. Anything to challenge narratives that insist that healthy living is available only to the wealthy (eg. Whole Foods).  The medium is irrelevant, the possibilities are endless.

Trying to create a balanced ticket.  Don’t have requirements, but have preference for:

  • Woman, esp. lesbian.
  • High school drop-outs.
  • Those without business degree.  Business is too small for that kind of book learning to be useful.
  • Degrees in Math, Physics, Philosophy, Engineering, if college educated.

Brand is blue-collar libertarian intellectual.  We’re like a 10 year old white Toyota Camry with The Economist and The Nation strewn in back seat, an onion wedged between seats.  We’re not pretty, and we don’t intend to be so, but we get shit done as cost-effectively as possible.



Sample Break-Up Dinner Menu

Want to get rid of your significant other but want some help doing it so you feel less guilt?  We can help.  After all, we practice getting rid of people all the time.  We’re pretty good at it.

Below is a sample Break-Up Meal to help you and your significant other make a clean break without guilt or sorrow so you can continue living life as you think it should be lived — free from a needy lunatic wrapped around your ankle.


Music to help you get your message across.

Led Zeppelin: Babe I’m Going to Leave You
The Smiths: Unhappy Birthday
George Michael: Everything She Wants
Alannis Morisette: You Oughta Know                                                                                                                          Kate Nash: Dickhead
Cee Lo Green: Fuck You

Extra bright lighting so all facial imperfections are apparent.


There will, of course, be no knives and forks.  We want to reduce chance of bloodshed.  Spoons, yes, but only the flimsiest, and it wouldn’t be a soup spoon so you both can look like ridiculous childish losers while slurping soup.

The menu:

Slow cooked spareribs w/sticky slimy honey mustard sauce so you both look as unattractive and boorish as possible, to minimize chance of changing one’s mind.
Potato fries cooked in animal fat w/ketchup served in tiny packets you have to open with your greasy hands.  Again, to make both unattractive.

Juice for you: attitude cleanse w/extra garlic.  So your breath stinks, reducing chance that the dumped will beg for yet another chance to make you miserable.
Juice for About to Be Dumped: Anything that reduces stress, likely a sugary drink that will remind Dumped of pleasant childhood memories.

Oxtail soup, meat on bone.  Again, to make both of you attractive.  Won’t be falling off tender so you get tendons stuck between your teeth.  There’ll be spinach in the soup.

Desert: Chocolate fudge w/side of cheap whiskey.  Nice way to give Dumped an early start to rest of the evening.

We can only guarantee that you’ll be free from needy lunatic for a week.  It’s up to you to decide if life is better with needy lunatic or living life alone as a needy lunatic.