WANTED: Poster

June 19, 2017

Sooner or later you will be asked to do a presentation, one requiring a full display of your creative and oratorical skills. So how do you overwhelm your audience if your greatest skill heretofore has been talking behind the backs of your coworkers?

The answer is the poster. Yes, that stalwart of boardrooms and bedrooms, the poster offers style, format, color, readability, attractiveness and showmanship—traits that, when properly applied, can easily camouflage your lack of knowledge.

Here, then, is my brief guide through the do’s and don’ts of creating an effective poster, one that, if followed to the letter, will spellbind your audiences and confound your critics. So let’s get started!

POSTER LAYOUT AND FORMAT

DON’T create your poster on just one or two large boards, especially billboards; they’re clumsy and a real nuisance to lug around. Billboards frequently don’t fit well into a glove box. They strain your muscles and your patience, and when they fall down, they generally tend to crush anyone standing beneath them.

DO make up your poster in a large number of separate sections of roughly comparable size. However, resist the temptation to shape each section irregularly so as to resemble a jigsaw puzzle. Mount each section individually on a colored board of its own of slightly larger dimensions; this frames each poster segment with a nice border. Where the borders are restricted, enhance them with barbed wire.

DON’T vary type sizes and typefaces, especially in the same sentence.

DO design your poster as though it were the layout for a magazine. Select fonts and sizes that work well together and dismiss the ones that don’t with only a week’s severance.

DON’T use too small a type size for your poster. This is the single most common error, aside from writing in crayon. Using 8- or 10-point type will only please your optometrist. And never, ever, use 2-point type except under a court order.

DO use a type size that draws a crowd around your poster. Failing that, offer free beer.

DON’T pick a font simply because it was the only one left after all the others had paired off. More importantly, avoid the urge to choose a font where the lower-case ‘m’ resembles a rear view of someone bending over at the waist.

DO, by all means, use colors in your poster. But always try to use them without letting them know they’re being used.

DON’T leave people wondering who did the work. Put the names of all authors and their institutional affiliations just below the title. It’s also a nice touch to include the full names of any correctional institutions they may have attended.

DO use a high-quality laser printer to print your poster. Where funding is an issue, select someone with good penmanship. Also, consider adjusting the kerningthe space between each letter—to reduce the risk from pickpockets.

POSTER CONTENT

DON’T use sexist language. Avoid gender-specific words, as in this example: “Anyone who parked in Lot 3 will have his car removed.” Instead, make this gender-neutral with: “Anyone who parked in Lot 3 is fired.”

DO consider adding a helpful tutorial section to your poster, complete with photos taken with a hidden camera and instructions on where to leave the cash.

DON’T use chalk outlines to represent the competition.

DO give credit where it is due; just do so in a low voice.

DON’T expect anyone to spend more than three minutes looking at your poster. If they do, check to see if you still have your wallet.

DO be descriptive. Remember, you are not limited to 50 words—unless it exceeds your vocabulary.

DON’T forget the Rule Of Three, which says that things repeated three times are more likely to be remembered. Don’t forget the Rule Of Three, which says that things repeated three times are more likely to be remembered. Don’t forget the Rule Of Three, which says that things repeated three times are more likely to be remembered.

PRESENTING YOUR POSTER

DO treat people you encounter with courtesy and respect; however, do not follow them home.

DON’T stand too close to the audience; it’s much easier to deflect objects when they are hurled at you from a distance.

DO realize that a poster should be accessible. A little informality can be helpful, but stop short of calling everyone “baby.”

DON’T put your hands in the pockets of your sport coat if you’re not actually wearing your sport coat.

DO offer a firm handshake to everyone in the audience; this should leave little time for your presentation and get you off the hook.

DON’T fidget or slouch, especially if you are lying on the floor.

DO ask for clarification if you do not understand someone’s question. Then ask again and again and again until they tire of speaking to you.

DON’T use correction fluid to hide a pimple.

DO offer to explain complex formulae as soon as you get back from break. Then take off.

DON’T tease the audience; it can only come back to haunt you later on when, after the presentation, they are outside waiting for you with baseball bats.


A Lesson From The Zen Master

February 17, 2017

A koan  (pronounced: /kuo-an/, Chinese; /mugwump/, French; /boring/, English) is a story, question, or statement etched in wet cement that is used in Zen-practice to test a student’s progress by provoking what Zen masters call the “great doubt” or “Big D.”

The word koan comes from the Japanese mispronounciation of an obscure Tibetan phrase, “Chap sang gawa yo rey?” – literally, “Where’s the bathroom?”

Koans and their study developed in China within the context of open questions posed by Emperor Yong-le (Ming Dynasty) to newly-weds who had forgotten to invite his majesty to the reception. In most instances, the emperor was appeased with a slice of wedding cake, his weight in silk pajamas, and a twirl around the rumpus room with the Missus.

Essence Of Enlightenment

The essence of enlightenment came to be identified with the interaction between masters and students, as opposed to an earlier practice, wherein a master spent hours yelling at his reflection in the mirror. Whatever insight this “Eureka!” moment might bring, its verification was always interpersonal – and very noisy. Thus, enlightenment came to be understood not so much as an insight, but as a way of acting to get out of washing the dishes after dinner.

This mutual inquiry into the meaning of the encounters between masters and students gave rise to a paradigm: one now looked at the enlightened activities of one’s lineal forebears not only to understand one’s own spiritual identity, but to also understand why one looked so much like the milkman.

Literary Practice

Koan practice developed from crafting snippets of encounter-dialogue with the literati into well-edited stories. This interaction often resulted with the “educated class” being relieved of their wallets. Eventually though, the methodology was amended to affect a more literary approach: teachers whose vehicles were stolen found their books left behind on the curb.

There were other dangers posed by encounter-dialogue. An early poetry competition devolved into a free-for-all when a contestant was unable to rhyme “solipsism.”

The style of writing Zen texts has evolved over the years, from the use of exclamation points at the beginning of a sentence – indicating a master’s anger over a student’s temerity to even ask a question – to the excessive use of smiley faces and other emoticons.

Koan Practice, or What’s My Mantra?

A koan may serve as a point of concentration during meditation or other activities, such as pole dancing or dating a pigeon. During koan practice a teacher may probe a student’s ken using “checking” questions to validate an experience, or by surprising the student with an obscene phone call.

Koan practice is particularly important among the Rinzai sect. These practitioners concentrate on qi breathing and its effect on the body’s center of gravity – as opposed to, say, looking for oncoming traffic while crossing the street.

A qualified koan teacher provides instruction in koan practice in private, though some are known to allow viewing through peepholes. In one particular case involving a student named Hu, his teacher wrote:

“Concentrate yourself into this jar of pitted olives, Hu. Make your whole body one pickled inquiry. Day and night, work intently at it. Do not attempt nihilistic or dualistic interpretations.”

To which, it is recorded, Hu replied, “Are you nuts?!”

Historical Antecedents of Koan Practice

Before the tradition of meditating on koans, the renowned teacher Huangbo Xi (720–723 A.D.) was recorded to have said, “Yours is a clear-cut case, but I will spare you the thirty lashes.” This came as a relief to his students, who had no idea what their diapered master was talking about.

By the Sung Dynasty, the term koan had evolved to describe a teacher who, after advising a student over a cup of tea at a local restaurant, refused to pick up the check. The noted philosopher and teacher Wan-Yu is said to have instructed his students to contemplate the phrase, “Crime doesn’t pay, and neither do I,” while he slipped out the back door.

Modern Western Understanding

Today, English-speaking, non-Zen practitioners use koans to refer to universal truisms, such as, “A synonym is a word you use when you can’t spell the original word you thought of,” or ethereal, often unanswerable questions like, “Does being open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, refer to Eastern or Pacific time?”

Although there may be traditional answers to many koans, these are only preserved as exemplary answers by masters who couldn’t come up with anything original themselves.

Appropriate answers to koans vary, since different teachers demand different answers. In most cases though, the master is not looking for a specific answer, but rather for evidence that the student can pay the tuition.


Chairman Mao — The Lost Interview

December 13, 2015

In late August of 1975, Mao Zedong, leader of China’s Cultural Revolution and fashion icon, sat down with this reporter at the Imperial Palace — one of his favorite restaurants — for an impromptu interview.

tony garcia:  I really appreciate this opportunity, sir.

Mao Zedong (through his interpreter): You should. So, what do you think of the suit?

tg:  Pardon me?

MZ: My suit. You like it? I designed it myself.

tg:  Oh, it’s very original.

MZ: How about the collar? I call it the Mao Collar.

tg:  Reminds me of a jacket from the sixties called the Nehru Jacket.

MZ: Don’t mention that running dog Nehru! Guy calls me up and reverses the charges. Says he’s dying to play mah-jongg. So I invite him over and what does he do? Steals my design and eats me out of house and home! I should have invited Gandi over; he eats a little popcorn and he’s full.

tg:  Um, to get back to the jacket, I thought it was created in India in the 1940s.

MZ: Hey, it’s has a mandarin collar, doesn’t it?

tg:  Yes…

MZ: So there!

tg:  Right. So how does one address you? As Chairman Mao? Mr. Chairman?

MZ: Either one is fine. Just don’t call me Bunkie.

tg:  Bunkie?

MZ: I told you not to call me that, you sycophantic toady who suckles at the teats of the bourgeoisie! Zhou EnLai used to call me that back in school. He came this close to getting his ass kicked.

tg:  I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t mean to offend you.

MZ: Yeah, yeah. So tell me, when was the last time you were in Belgium?

tg:  Last year.

MZ: I understand that in some towns there the women can become pregnant by staring at their shadows.

tg: That’s news to me.

MZ: Never happened, huh?

tg:  I don’t think so.

MZ: I knew it. Damn People Magazine.

tg:  Can we talk about your formative years.

MZ: Which ones were those?

tg:  At Peking University.

MZ: Okay, if you say so. It’s all a blur to me.

tg:  I understand in 1917 you moved to Beijing where you worked at the university library. And it was there that you were first introduced to the sociopolitical theory of Marxism.

MZ: Huh? Sorry, my mind was on lunch. You see the waiter around here anywhere?

tg:  No, I haven’t. Getting back to your introduction to Marxism…

MZ: Oh, good grief, not that nonsense.

tg:  Excuse me?

MZ: Come on — a communist society, free from central government, and based on voluntary associations between the workers? Please…

tg:  I’m stunned; I really am. I mean, you’re the architect of the Great Leap Forward, land reform, the Campaign to Suppress Counter-revolutionaries, the Chinese diaspora–

MZ: What was that last one?

tg:   The Chinese diaspora?

MZ: You’ve got a way with words, you know that?

tg:  Mr. Chairman, I’m asounded that you’re calling Marxist-communist ideology nonsense.

MZ: Hey, I’m 82; I get confused. So sue me already.

tg:  Fine. So how were you able to implement such sweeping reform throughout China?

MZ: One night I had this dream: China as the cultural and financial mecca of the world, with the U.S. as a bedroom community. So I initiated a series of open-air forums, brought my vision directly to our Great Mass of People, and they bought into it.

tg:  That’s amazing — winning over their hearts and minds.

MZ: Well, it didn’t hurt that I also had more guns than our Great Mass of People.

tg:  I’m sure it didn’t.

MZ: So tell me, you purveyor of creeping capitalism, what do you think of Barbra Streisand?

tg:  What?

MZ: Barbra Streisand. You know, “People… People who need people… ARE THE LUCKIEST–”

tg:  I got it; I got it.

MZ: Well I don’t get it. How could she have married that putz Elliott Gould? As an actor, the guy stinks.

tg:  He starred in MASH.

MZ: Well, stop the presses! Elliott Gould was in MASH!

tg:  Not one of your favorite movies, I take it.

MZ: You watch that movie you think the Korean War was all about golf and football, big nose.

tg:  I think Robert Altman, the director, might have been trying to illustrate the absurdity of war.

MZ: Absurdity? You want absurdity? I’ll give you absurdity: Peter Gunn, a great TV show and they take it off the air after 3 seasons. Meanwhile, Mr. Ed, a show about a talking horse — a talking horse! — runs for 8 years.

tg:  It was the kind of escapist entertainment popular back in the 50’s and 60’s.

MZ: Ah, bullshit!

tg:  Okay, let’s move on.

MZ: Hey, before we do, I gotta ask you a question. Is it true some Caucasians still tie themselves together to keep from being snatched away by eagles?

tg:  Not where I live.

MZ: Live in a restricted neighborhood, do you?

tg:  Something like that. Now, during China’s civil war, your forces defeated Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists who then retreated to Taiwan. Shortly thereafter, you founded the People’s Republic of China.

MZ: What are you — writing your history term paper? Get to the present, for chrissake!

tg:  Okay then, let’s talk about President Richard Nixon.

MZ: That guy had the worst Chinese accent I’ve ever heard. Bar none.

tg:  I didn’t know that. It’s my understanding that when Nixon told his National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger that he wanted to open relations with China, Kissinger told the National Security Council that Nixon had lost his mind, primarily because you yourself had referred to Nixon as a gangster.

MZ: No! I never called him a gangster! I was very sympathetic to Mr. Nixon’s travails. I called him a psychopathic thug. But you know how these things get lost in translation.

tg:  Of course. But it must have come as a shock to you when Mr. Nixon, this staunch anticommunist, sought to normalize relations between the two countries.

MZ: I just thought he needed a fourth for bridge. I heard the guy loved to play cards.

tg:  I see. As I understand it, the subject of detente was first broached at a fashion show in Warsaw, Poland where delegations from the U.S. and China were in attendance.

MZ: Now, that’s true. After the show the American ambassador came running after us shouting in Polish: “I’m from the American Embassy! I saw President Nixon in Washington! He wants to establish relations with China!”

tg:  And how did your people respond?

MZ: They ran.

tg:  They ran?

MZ: Who knew what the hell the guy was saying? We don’t speak Polish.

tg:  Oh. So what did your people do?

MZ: They grabbed this guy who was urinating on a building and asked him to translate. Luckily for them he happened to be the Polish Ambassador to China.

tg:  Okay, okay… In 1969 you declared that the Cultural Revolution was over.

MZ: Yeah. With the Beatles breaking up, I figured it was time.

tg:  Wait — are you serious?

MZ: You trying to start a fight?

tg:   No, it’s just that… The breakup of the Beatles?

MZ: Come on, you couldn’t see that coming? Yoko hanging out at the studio all the time like some nitwit groupie. You hear that album she put out — what was it called, Fly? Sounded like someone strangling a chicken. Speaking of which, here comes lunch! You don’t mind Bird’s Nest Soup, do you?

tg: No, not at all.

MZ: Good. I hope you don’t slurp your soup. I hate that sound. Hate it. Zhou Enlai used to slurp his soup. He came this close to getting his ass kicked.


Love And Hate, Spelled X-K-8

June 3, 2014

A couple of months ago I bought a 2003 Jaguar XK8 coupe with a black metallic exterior (I had originally thought a dust storm had rolled through town until I realized that those flecks of gold were actually embedded in the paint). I had long wanted one of these beautiful cars, and so when I saw one for sale at a reasonable price, I made the leap.

The sleek, sloping lines of my XK8, harkening back to the E-types of yore, seemed to me to embody the human form at its best, providing the second best sensual experience I have ever had while alone. But my romance with my XK8 has not been as smooth as its ride.

1) The Codependent Relationship.  I could function without this car — take the subway, the bus — but leisurely rides on public transportation have gone the way of leather straps for standees. Besides, I need that 340-watt stereo system, leather seats, carpeting and — oh, my — the ogling from passers-by. And, as it turned out, the XK8 needed my bank account to remain mobile.

2) The Controlling Relationship. One partner makes the rules, the other partner follows them.

Rule #1: Any component relying upon electricity to perform its duties will suffer a falling-out with said partner, and the resulting divorce will have catastrophic effects on any component close enough to hear the owner cursing.

Rule #2: Any resemblance between the cost of Original Equipment manufactured specifically for the Jaguar XK8 and similar parts available at popular prices from a local auto parts store is strictly coincidental.

3) The Rebound Relationship. I suffered from a loss of enthusiasm for driving; my XK8 had suffered from a loss of power to the headlamps. We were both wandering around in the dark.

4) The Open Relationship. We are both committed to each other but, truth be told, we have both strayed. I did have a May-December dalliance with a Volvo V70 TC, a tour de force hidden fling with not one but two MG Midgets, and a Roman Holiday with an MGA during the gas shortage of 1973. My XK8 had a spate of adulterous affairs with various service departments of Chicago-area Jaguar dealers before settling down with me in Philadelphia.

5) The Asexual Relationship. Oh, come on, now! I’ve only recently come to grips with why I spend so much time polishing the little beauty.

6) The Trophy Relationship. Who wouldn’t look good in an XK8? Okay, maybe me. Let’s just say I don’t look as bad as someone driving a minivan whilst on a cross-country trip with a 10-year-old who just learned to whistle.

7) The Imperfect Relationship. I know that owning a Jaguar XK8 is like descending through Dante’s 9 Circles of Hell…

1. Limbo: To buy an XK8 or trudge through a slough of Nissan Versas?

2. Lust: Always a favorite. I mean, after all, it is a JAG.

3. Gluttony: You can never have too much leather.

4. Greed: Ah, those who hoard possessions and those who spend lavishly on them. Yep, that’s a Jaguar owner.

5. Anger: Occurs every time I hand over my credit card for yet another Original Equipment replacement part.

6. Heresy: How dare you say there are better made, more reliable alternatives to my Jaguar!

7. Violence: Often follows a stint in Circles 5 and 6.

8. Fraud: Translation: Used car dealers.

9. Treachery: According to Dante, all residents herein reside in a frozen lake. Hmm… must have had that marvelous XK8 air conditioner running full blast.

 


Dealing with Status Quo Bias

November 22, 2013

Heuristics: The systematically biased, unconscious shortcuts people use to make intuitive decisions.

Look at figure 1 below.

Figure 1.

The clear sky gives the illusion that the buildings are closer than those obscured by the haze. Considering that we are in New York City and the objects in question are part of the Pheonix skyline, both photographs represent a distance greater than one can cover in a 10-minute jog.

Would You Trade?

Breaking from the status quo is, for most people, emotionally uncomfortable. Consider the following choices.

A famous experiment involved randomly giving students a gift consisting of either a coffee mug or a candy bar. When offered the chance to trade, few wanted to exchange for the alternative gift. Of course, none of the participants had been told that the coffee mug had had a tiny hole drilled into its base, or that the candy bar had been sitting in direct sunlight for 45 continuous days.

The power of this bias was quantified in a related experiment. Students at an Ivy League university were randomly chosen to receive coffee mugs – the candy having been withheld due to pending litigation over food poisoning. Those with mugs were asked to name the minimum price at which they would sell their mugs. Students at a neighboring community college, who were without mugs, were asked to name the maximum price they would be willing to pay to obtain the mugs. The median price – 6 months in jail and a $10,000 fine – was more than twice the median offer price, $1.59, plus shipping and handling. Clearly, ownership of the mugs increased their perceived value.

This bias may help explain why people who believe they can talk to wild animals are often eaten by them. Likewise, it might be a contributing factor explaining why companies choose to promote troublesome employees instead of simply shoving them off the nearest bridge.

Social Norms

Social norms tend to reinforce one’s preference for the status quo. For example, courts view a sin of commission (lying about your credentials to get the lead astrophysicist position at NASA) as more serious than a sin of omission (saying that the dog ate your credentials and still getting the job at NASA).

Another example: Government decision makers are often reluctant to adopt tax reform if there are “losers” as well as “gainers.” As most elected officials are themselves seen as losers, there is rarely an instance when gainers outnumber them, making tax reform nigh impossible.

For many organizations, lack of information, uncertainty, and a tendency to treat that gaping hole in the Titanic’s hull by calling a plumber, promote holding to the status quo. In the absence of an unequivocal case-changing course, why face the unpleasant prospect of change? Thus, many organizations continue to support under-performing executives due to either: a)  a lack of solid evidence that they’ve failed, or b) witnesses. Killing a capo di tutti capi may be a good business decision, but it is generally uncomfortable for the person involved.

Going Forward

We’ve explored some of the causes of status quo bias, now let us consider possible remedies. Here are some tips for countering status quo bias that can be immediately implemented:

  1. When you hear comments like “let’s wait and see” or “let’s meet next month to see how the project is going,” question whether you’re hearing status quo bias, or whether the conference leader has a job interview coming up.
  2. Think about what your objectives are, and whether they are best served by letting someone else fail for a change.
  3. Identify who might be disadvantaged by changing the status quo, and look for ways to eliminate them.
  4. Ask yourself whether you would choose the status quo alternative – a cheaper product made in Jaipur by preschoolers – if, in fact, you knew you could get away with it.
  5. Avoid overestimating the difficulty of switching from the status quo, unless it cuts into your lunch hour.
  6. Actively manage migration away from the status quo—communicate dissatisfaction with the status quo by holding your breath until you are blue in the face.
  7. Note that change becomes the status quo over time – unless it’s change for a $10 bill, in which case it becomes 2 fives, a fin and 5 singles, a roll of quarters, or the price of a gallon of regular gas.

Coming Soon To A Theater Near You!

February 25, 2011

The Return of Detective Frank Bullitt

Meet this season’s coolest police detective as Francisco Vargas Echevarra stars as Detective Lieutenant Frank “Bala” Bullitt in the 2011 sequel to the 1968 film, Bullitt, entitled “Bite the Bullitt!”

Bala Bullitt is the toughest cop on the tough upper east side of Guayaquil’s San Francisco district. Using his wits and a modified 1986 Yugo, Detective Lieutenant Bala is the city’s last line of defense against the naked brutality of Guayaquil’s criminal nudist colonies.

In this sequel, the owner of Isla del Fuego’s Broken Arms Inn, Hernando el Mentiroso, has been subpeonaed to testify in open court before a closed-door session of Mayor Jaime Honda’s City Council. The Honda Civic Improvement sub-committee has been investigating recent inroads by the Department of Public Works into Isla del Fuego’s lucrative binocular business. Bala Bullitt and his crack squad of action addicts have been assigned to protect Senor el Mentiroso until hearings start the coming Monday, or until the electric bill for City Hall is paid in full, whichever comes first.

Things turn ugly when underworld kingpin Diego “Nariz de la Aguja” Pendejo, known as The King of the Basement Apartment Rentals, puts out a contract on Senor el Mentiroso’s wife, only to learn that Senor el Mentiroso is a bachelor. Thus follows the gato y raton game of cat-and-mouse played out in the streets of San Francisco, Guayquil, including a thrilling remake of the original wild and woolly car chase, this time featuring Bala’s 1986 Yugo versus a 1963, 125 cc Yamaha Fun Scooter!

For sheer heart-pounding excitement and nonstop action, your entertainment dollar couldn’t travel farther if it had a passport! See “Bite the Bullitt!”


How To Handle Reactions To Bad News

February 20, 2011

A self-help guide for developing strategies to deliver stuff nobody wants to hear.

Breaking Bad News

No one likes to break bad news, and though you may not be able to give the news gently, you can still be sensitive or, failing that, you can yuk it up. In any event, avoid euphemisms, such as “He’s past suffering now,” when you really mean, “About time he’s gone.” Remember that silence is a powerful tool, but long silences may cause the aggrieved party to start humming.

Now, let’s start by identifying the person who receives the bad news as the aggrieved party or aggrieved, for short, and the person who bears the bad news will be known as you. And while the one who delivers the bad news may well be viewed as bad news, it is important to remember that this is a normal reaction, and not an entirely accurate description of you.

When delivering bad news, give the information clearly, in manageable chunks and in response to the aggrieved’s questions. If the content is dire, make the seriousness of this clear by wearing all black and carrying a trident. Observe the aggrieved’s reactions – if he (yes, to include she) loses consciousness, this is an indication that the aggrieved has heard enough.

Before starting to communicate any bad news, plan what will be discussed.

• First, confirm that the news is indeed bad. No sense wasting effort on someone who’ll get over it by lunchtime.

• Try to create an environment in which the aggrieved is comfortable. Candles, incense and peppermint are a good start; sing-a-longs are generally discouraged.

• Ensure privacy and openness; keep a box of tissues handy. Consider that a desk between you and the aggrieved will only serve to act as a barrier – unless of course he has a knife, in which case those tissues will come in handy stemming the blood flow until an ambulance arrives.

• Negotiate the time you have for the aggrieved. It will help them to know that you are allowing adequate time, but check your watch frequently to remind them that they’re on the clock.

• Ask the aggrieved whom, if anyone, they would like to have with them. This need not be a next of kin, but you should stop short of allowing anyone who has recently passed on.

• If the aggrieved is under 16 years of age, keep the door open.

The Element Of Shock

Remember: Bad news will cause a shock reaction, even if it is expected. Before disclosing their reactions, fears and worries, the aggrieved should be allowed to sit quietly, preferably without any sharp objects nearby.

There is always an element of shock when bad news is put into words and reality sets in. During this time, the aggrieved is unlikely to retain any further information or even hear what is said. At times such as these, when words become meaningless, consider bringing in a mime.

In a busy environment, it may be difficult to give enough time to someone who seems unable to grasp the situation. Understand your limitations and suggest that the aggrieved sit outside and cool his heels until you can find someone dumb enough to take your place.

Sometimes it is difficult to gauge the aggrieved’s reactions. His words might indicate acceptance of a situation, but his body language may suggest something quite different. To assess the situation properly, it is useful to tell the aggrieved how you are interpreting his reaction. For instance, you might say, “You say that you understand, but you look a bit puzzled to me.” This allows the aggrieved time to reconsider the propriety of actually shooting the messenger, while affording you an extra moment or two to reflect on the fine art of groveling.

Keep in mind that the more information you give at any one time, the less will be remembered. Start with the salient facts, and only move on when the aggrieved has actually come back from the bathroom.

Learn to listen attentively and acknowledge the aggrieved’s reactions. For example, practice nodding in a mirror; keep a slice of onion in your shirt pocket – when an empathetic response is required, lean your head forward and inhale deeply. He will think you are sighing, and the resulting copious flow of tears will earn you much-needed brownie points.

Use open-ended questions and statements to encourage the aggrieved to disclose his feelings, worries and concerns. For example:

• This must be difficult for you; it certainly is for me.

• I can see that you are angry, and I guess I would be too in this situation, though I might not try to stomp on your neck.

• You seem frightened to me. Are you frightened? Are you really frightened? You want me to give you something to be frightened about?

• Hey, how about those Knicks?

When The Aggrieved Party Is A Patient

When bad news is due to a medical condition, most people will have some idea what their symptoms mean. Others may have received some previous information; it may even have been about you. If this is the case, and the possibility exists that there is damaging photographic evidence, it is important to establish exactly what the patient knows or suspects before dispensing any helpful advice.

Questions might include:

• How would you describe me to a sketch artist?

• Ever wonder what you’d look like on the side of a milk carton?

• You wouldn’t happen to know a good lawyer, would you?

• So, how about those Knicks?

Occasionally the recipient of bad news will fall silent and seem completely unprepared or unable to respond. It may be helpful here to acknowledge his silence with a response like, “Say something, for crying out loud!” Give the patient some time before speaking (or yelling) again, and if he still does not respond, offer to meet him again at Le Cirque or Peter Luger’s Steak House, with the provision that he pick up the check.

It is important to give information at the patient’s pace; this may mean that he will not receive all the information at the same time. He is more likely to accurately absorb the message if it is given in manageable chunks. You will know when the patient has heard enough when he either changes the subject or falls asleep. He may ask you not to go on, giving reasons such as “I don’t understand all this,” or “All I’m interested in is the money; read the will.”

Only give information to someone other than the patient when:

a) the patient cannot pay,

or

b) the patient can pay but needs a translator.

If the bad news is about diagnosis and treatment, there is generally time to prepare in advance. Further questions from the patient, however, may contain the propensity for more bad news, for which you have had no time to prepare. In such a situation where you do not know the answer, make it up, or offer to refer the question to someone more appropriate, preferably someone more adept at lying.

Addressing The Future

Lastly, when you are sure that the bad news has been absorbed and first reactions have been addressed, it is important to consider the future.

If the bad news has been broken in public, it is important that neither of you be standing near a major body of water, as some aggrieved who consider shedding this mortal coil often look to take a buddy with them. If the aggrieved appears very distressed, it could help for you to run, as being chased is likely to call the attention of the proper authorities to your plight.

Remember, if the aggrieved is also a patient, he may ask questions about treatment, prognosis and other aspects of his future. If the diagnosis is terminal, this could mean more bad news, especially for you. Offer him inappropriate reassurance in order to maintain hope, both his and yours. Encourage him to set unrealistic goals for the future, but avoid expressions such as “What you need to do is…” and instead, offer to finish his dessert for him.

Finally, you may want to address specific issues with the aggrieved, such as not extending his cellphone contract. Remember, what’s left of his future is in your hands.


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