Social Media and Communication Infantilization?

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I love infants.  When my friends with small children post photos on Facebook I giggle and hit the heart button.  And when I see babies in person I can’t help but interact with them.  I make faces to elicit reactions and I am amazed that they understand gestures and language.  If they’re nine or ten months old I ask them, “Where’s mommy?” and they point to their mother.   It’s a marvel that their feelings and knowledge are expressed without words and it is remarkable that we adults interpret them accurately and respond accordingly.  At their first cry after naptime we ask “Are you hungry?”  And as we approach them with a bowl, bottle or breast they reach to us – eyes wide and hands outstretched.

Late in 2017, I made an observation that gave me pause:  On some social media platforms, my feelings and reactions are expressed as though I am an infant – that is, with pictoral facial expressions to symbolize what I “like” or “love” or what makes me feel “sad,”  “happy,” “angry” or “shocked.”  Don’t get me wrong, it works for some media and in some situations.  A smiley face is sufficient for expressing that you’re genuinely glad your buddy’s power returned after a storm.  Enough clicked.  As an adult, however, it isn’t enough to “make a face” in most situations and relationships.  And as social media offer alternatives to face-to-face communication and live social and professional engagement, some possibilities and concerns are worth noting.  Are we becoming accustomed to “reacting” rather than “interacting” and “responding?”

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With my students, I’ve noticed a shift over the last two years.  Among those raised in societies such as the U.S. with ready access to the internet and social media, more seem to be “spectators” than “participants” than in earlier generations.  They “watch” my lectures and interactions with other students and are uninclined to participate – to exchange their ideas and feelings beyond, “I like it.”  Or, “it’s good.”  They may smile and nod their heads, but they hang back from the articulation of their assessments even after encouragement from me and prodding from their peers.  I cannot help but wonder why this is happening.  Sometimes I have a sense that I am the first live authority figure to press them to articulate clearly their thoughts and feelings.  Sometimes they don’t have the vocabulary to express the nuances of their sentiments and impressions.  Many confess that they don’t read – for school, to keep up with current events or for pleasure.  That certainly can stunt a vocabulary and limit one’s conversance on an issue.  Together, they’ll zap an undergraduate’s confidence and the development of original ideas.

Lately though, seeing many coeds go immediately to their phones and tablets during break and as class ends,  I wonder how long they’ve been voluntary and friendly hostages to social media platforms – platforms that may be conditioning them to be passive in their learning and to “react.”  You know this drill; view a post and be cued: “Like and share if you agree.”  That’s social media-speak for “pass along someone else’s viewpoint” – an anemic substitute for individual expression.  And “reacting” flies in the face of  Effective Communication 101:  Don’t react – respond.  A reaction is an uncensored, involuntary and immediate emotional release.   A response is a judicious decision about when and how to behave and speak.  Children react.  Adults respond.

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Marry that to the trend in my undergraduates away from primary source research – that is, the avoidance of face-to-face interviews and in-person visits when investigating speech topics.  These missing pieces in their due diligence put them in a one-down position from the get-go compared to their contemporaries who actually have a probe, look, smell, taste or listen for themselves.  Reliance on social media outlets for information puts a wall between students and the gold mine of empirical research.  Increasingly I find myself saying, “Let’s get out of our chairs and from behind our tablets,” to some blank stares.  For them, it might as well be an online course with a student to instructor ratio of 1000:1.

What’s the dynamic at work here?   It seems that while communication technologies continue to evolve, human nature hasn’t changed a stitch.  We muggles are attracted to appliances that make things easier for us and social media platforms and mobile devices square with our appetites for simplicity and accessibility.   Yet – and here’s the root of the paradox – we humans also long to express ourselves as individuals.  We crave being heard and understood by others.   And we aspire to feel confidant when we speak with and in front of other people.  Reality check: only actual live face-to-live face interaction satisfies these needs over time.

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Nonverbal cues like nodding, a pat on the back and eye contact impact us synergistically.  And verbal clarification in interviews and questions from live audiences help us refine our messaging and clarify our content – key ingredients for the superpower known as confident communication.   Knowing that we are being heard is gratifying.  Validating what we know and identifying what we’ve yet to learn feed our confidence – at any age and at each level of development and maturation.

So looking forward – literally – in 2018, let’s not allow social media to walk us backward or hinder our growth.  Let us avoid the infantilization of our communication.  Effective communication is our super power as human beings.

Lisa Bernard has prepared and represented people from all walks of life to speak publicly at meetings, on panels, in their places of worship and as keynoters. She herself has addressed audiences as large as 2000 and designed and delivered over 500 workshops, seminars and college-level courses on oral communication.  She has slowed down fast-talkers, turned “uhmers” into smooth-speakers and moderated accents from Brooklyn to Beijing – all to develop confident communicators.  Lisa has a Masters Degree in International Affairs from Columbia University and today manages Lisa Bernard’s SecuritySpeak, LLC, a consulting firm that makes available experts on national, global and cyber-security for distinguished lectures worldwide.  You can reach her at (203) 293-4741 or LisaBernard@SecuritySpeak.net and like her firm at www.Facebook.com/PodiumTime.

 

 

 

 

 

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I Love Lucy’s Feminism “In Deeds” not Words

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Last week in my “Sell Me Something Workshop” I brought in American grand dame Lucille Ball in the TV, advertisement and comedic classic: VITAMEATAVEGAMIN.   We learned from what Lucy (McGuillicuddy Ricardo) did masterfully in her “sales pitch” and from what she bungled for not “knowing her product.”  This episode is so cherished that a gentleman walking down the corridor couldn’t help but come in and join us.  He was belly laughing, as was I.  Lucy’s authenticity – her gestures and her expressions – speaks right to your heart.  And, from the business, entertainment and media perspectives, Lucy’s impact on TV and comediennes thereafter is nothing short of stunning.  Take,  for example,  my family’s favorite, The Nanny, brought to life by Fran Drescher.

But above all, I am thinking now about Lucy’s subtle and sophisticated contribution to us women in the workforce and in business world more broadly.  In this episode are men’s inflammatory references to “the girl” and her husband Ricky’s sexist frowning on her career and her use of her maiden name professionally.  He even scolds her – publicly no less – for defying his wishes.  Yet, in the scenes – and behind them – is a woman who is undeterred and unflappable.  In velvet gloves, high heels and a pill-box hat was a trailblazer who produced, starred-in and made iconic a TV phenomenon – and brought along a crew of colleagues.  Both the character she played – and the woman she was – forged forward in professional life and as a wonderful wife, mother, friend, colleague and business partner.  She did it all.

As a younger woman, I missed the satire for the comedy.  Now, as a gal on the other side of life’s heavy lifting – marriage, childrearing, career- building – I am reminded that progress and feminism take many forms.   Now, see the satire through the clarity of the rear view mirror.  Now, I have fallen in love with Lucy all over again – not blindly, but with great clarity.

Lisa Bernard has prepared and represented people from all walks of life to speak publicly at meetings, on panels, in their places of worship and as keynoters. She herself has addressed audiences as large as 2000 and designed and delivered over 500 workshops, seminars and college-level courses on oral communication.  She has slowed down fast-talkers, turned “uhmers” into smooth-speakers and moderated accents from Brooklyn to Beijing – all to develop confident communicators.  Lisa has a Masters Degree in International Affairs from Columbia University and today manages Lisa Bernard’s SecuritySpeak, LLC, a consulting firm that makes available experts on national, global and cyber-security for distinguished lectures worldwide.  You can reach her at (203) 293-4741 or LisaBernard@SecuritySpeak.net and like her firm at www.Facebook.com/PodiumTime.

The Final Word on Eulogies

Death takes people by surprise. Even when an elderly or infirm person passes we are shocked by the news. Funerals, therefore, unlike other ceremonies, aren’t scheduled far in advance and the eulogy is one ceremonial speech that is often prepared in haste and as the bereft speaker is experiencing an exhausting combination of shock and sadness.

Yet, amid this distress, it is the noble man or woman who accepts the responsibility of composing a final, formal statement of praise to the decedent. It is the noble man or woman who accepts the responsibility for articulating thoughts and feelings at the time others report that they “just can’t speak.” It is the noble man or woman who accepts the responsibilities of “saying a few words” just when others insist that words are insufficient to describe their loss or the meaning of their lost loved one’s life.

In point of fact, speech offers us a lot in this saddest of situations. A eulogy is actually a tribute in words to an individual at the time of his or her death, and the informed eulogizer can provide and find some much-needed comfort and guidance using language. While the challenge is great, the format and components of the eulogy offer direction and relief. You see, effective eulogies follow a very particular sequence in both preparation and delivery. As the decedent’s next of kin, clergy and undertakers each assume their traditional roles and responsibilities for observance of the death rituals, so can the eulogizer adhere to a long-established process of eulogy preparation and delivery.

Getting Prepared: Collect the Key Components

The eulogizer begins by gathering facts, acknowledging feelings and reviewing history as these are the three ingredients that combine to form an effective eulogy.

First, find the facts. List the facts of the death. Where did this happen? At what age did s/he pass? What circumstances surrounded the passing? As a eulogizer, you report the facts of the death.

Second, specify your sentiments. Identify two or three characteristics or personality traits about the decedent that account for your feelings. For instance, if you describe your late aunt as thoughtful and generous, note the illustration that she never once in twenty-eight years missed sending you a birthday card and it was each and every year the very first card and gift you received. If you describe your late great uncle as punctual to a fault, recall humorously the time that he arrived at the maternity ward before you did to deliver your child. As a eulogizer you share your own observations and sentiments as you reflect on the charms of the person lost.

Third, view the future through the lens of the past. Recall the personal history of the deceased, identifying the people s/he loved so you can mention them in the eulogy to offer the appropriate condolences. Reflect on the journey s/he took and the activities, roles and principles that characterized the decedent’s life. As a eulogizer your words move the mourners forward, pledging to keep alive the deceased’s values through specific acts.

Crafting the Eulogy: Rely on a Five-Step Format

Equipped with the facts about the death, feelings about the decedent and his or her personal history, you as the eulogizer are ready to weave them together in your own style and voice. The order and excerpts below will give you a model and feel for this.

1. Explicitly acknowledge the death. It is the responsibility of the eulogizer to articulate the facts of the sad news unequivocally and early in the eulogy.

It is said that the Lord works in mysterious ways. This seems true today as we gather to pay our final respects to a very young man. It is indeed a mystery why and how a twenty-two year old athlete–a college basketball superstar–could collapse on the very court where he typically exhibited excellent health and a prowess far above his peers. And yet, this is precisely the mystery of the passing of Jay Grabor. This past Monday night, Jay collapsed and died during a home game. We cannot help but ask “Why?” and “How could such a thing happen?”

2. Reminisce fondly about the deceased. One delivers a eulogy if and only if s/he genuinely loved, respected and/or admired the decedent. Accordingly, you might recall the words of the deceased, perhaps a saying he or she often used. You might tell an anecdote, a story that reveals a key characteristic or personality trait you admired.

I have coached scores, perhaps hundreds, of young athletes in my years at this university and I can tell you that Jay was one in a million. I met none like him before his time and I don’t expect to find another soul like him ever again. His maturity was as deep as his talent. Once, I summoned a freshman teammate of Jay’s him to my office for a chat. There were problems between him and the other fellows and although things had improved a bit, I thought that a sit down might help things gel. Well, this young boy sits down and starts pouring his heart out about how rough he’s had it ’n all. And just as I’m about to give him some fatherly advice the kid says, “It was a good thing that Jay Grabor had me over to his dorm room for a sit down! Once he and I talked and he took me under his wing, things really started to improve!” My fellow mourners, I wasn’t terribly surprised to hear that. That’s the kind of mature and caring team player that Jay was. Actually, it wasn’t just the way he was with his teammates. It’s just the kind of guy he was. He was like that with the campus community at large.

3. Offer your condolences. A conscientious eulogizer recognizes that others are grieving as well.

While the loss of a son is unspeakable, while the loss of a brother is unbearable, while the loss of a grandson, nephew and all the other roles Jay played in his brief but vibrant life is tragic, know that your pain is felt by peoples near and far. We mourn with you on the campus and in the community and in your neighborhood and all the halls this treasured young man graced. Our memories are now your memories. We share them with you and we pray that in time they give you some measure of peace.

4. Reassure the mourners that the deceased will be remembered meaningfully. It is the responsibility of the eulogizer to make a commitment to continue the efforts for which the deceased lived. These may be the continuation of the decedent’s work or the completion of plans to reach certain goals in the family or in the community.

A wise man wrote that, “true love is eternal.” And Jay Grabor truly loved the sport of basketball and the team he honored at the University of Southington. In Jay’s memory, this team shall go on. In Jay’s memory and for Jay’s memory this team shall prevail. He has forever changed us and it has been for the better. It is a change for the better of these players, for the better of us coaches and for the better of the sport of college basketball itself.

5. State a clear goodbye to the deceased. It is the responsibility of the eulogizer to do what may be too painful for other mourners to do and that is to specifically bid farewell to the deceased. It is the responsibility of the eulogizer to mark the departure from life of the person we knew in life.

In a penalty we do not understand, with a time out that comes out a lifetime a head of it’s time, we all as fans of Jay Grabor, bid farewell to him, a true champion.

Delivering for the Occasion: Lean In and Let Go

In sharing the stories, words and traits of the deceased, don’t shy away from material that will make you laugh and cry. It is okay to get emotional when delivering the eulogy. You won’t be alone. Others will be comforted that you share their many emotions and they will admire you for expressing them nonverbally as well as with words.

It is my wish that your need for this skill-set be minimal. It is my hope that when the need for it does arrive you are equipped with the know-how to guide you through the challenge with as much ease and confidence as such circumstances allow.

In With the Old and Season with the New: What Food Communicates from Past to New Years

When my older daughter emailed me from Israel to tell me she was coming home I wrote something as well– a grocery list. Then I put up a big pot of lentil soup. Only then did I call her and verbally express my delight. And she squealed when she received a photo of my freezer shelf lined with Mason jars filled with the lentil soup that will be here for her when she arrives. I just close my eyes and see it going down: her flight will be delayed, we’ll hit traffic, the weather will be treacherous and the wear and tear will make us both cranky. But once we get home and heat up the soup, crisp up the semolina bread, boil up those Ditalini (little thimbles pasta) and sprinkle a heaping tablespoon of freshly grated Romano cheese, she will close her eyes and feel, “I’m home.” And my message will be clear to her, “I am so happy to have you back.”

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Reflecting on the above, I realize that food communicates. It doesn’t speak, but it certainly transmits feelings and thoughts. And the way we select, preserve and edit our recipes are choices we make from year to year articulating our evolving sentiments and ideas. Last fall when I observed my annual ritual of harvesting my potted herbs before the first frost, I made pesto as usual. However, I did not use just basil; I modified my recipe to replace half the basil with sage. I gleaned that from the pesto my daughter and I shared in Tuscany last summer. It was a very different texture, color and flavor than any pesto I had ever eaten in America and it was served tossed with pasta we’d never seen before. We talked quite a bit about how we could replicate the flavors at home and with every draft of the family pesto recipe we relived our trip together and took our pride in our Italian heritage to a new level. Altogether it provided a clear interpretation of my behavior for my now adult children—from why I grow my own herbs to why I only buy the cheapest generic toilet paper but spring for extra virgin olive oil imported from a specific region in Italy that costs more than a dollar an ounce! Toilet paper is temporary. Food leaves a footprint. You can use it to trace back or guide you forward. That pesto “translated” my behavior into terms my family now understands including why my herb garden will be larger and more varied in this New Year. And when I showed up at my younger daughter’s dormitory with jars of the coveted frozen green sauce it spoke volumes to her about the transcendence of tradition across time and place.

It fascinates me that food can be less ambiguous than most other nonverbal messages. If I rub my hands together one may interpret this as me having just applied hand lotion while another may think I am nervous. Yet another might assume I am cold. But food sends clear signals. Kids attest to this. They are the keenest observers of signals long before they use words to order their world. “Out of the mouths of babes” as they say when my then ten year old came into the kitchen one morning and said, “It’s fall; you’re making oatmeal in the mornings again!” And on Fridays when they inhaled the aromas from the simmering chicken soup, roast chicken and fresh-baked challah they would dash into the kitchen, smile wide and exclaim, “It’s almost Shabbat!” No calendar required. And like word choice and tone of voice, food can transmit respect and affection. I catered my daughter’s college graduation party with a menu that was nut-free, kosher, in full Mediterranean fare and with vegetarian and vegan plates. Every guest was considered and had a tasty and thematic option that included them in this key part of the celebration and acknowledged their individual needs and preferences.

I am learning that food is a language that evolves alongside the relationships it attends. I am reminded of the changes in our meal preparation when my younger daughter was diagnosed with potentially fatal food allergies. Having almost lost her to an almond cookie seventeen years ago, I cleared our kitchen and every recipe of poppy seeds, peanuts and nuts (not to mention my bar of Amaretto and Frangelico). The table is where one finds community and sanctuary and her safe place had narrowed considerably. So then did my ingredient list. But the message she got from the safe zone I provided was large: “your well-being matters.” There was another message communicated by our abandonment of lemon-poppy seed pound cake, PB&J and cranberry-pistachio biscotti: “this is not a handicap but an inspiration!” That’s because each New Year since she was first diagnosed has yielded fresh innovations in our favorite family recipes that actually give our food its own “dialect.” When she was first diagnosed in 1996 there were few laws for labeling of foodstuffs and fewer chefs and wait-staff trained to insure “nut-free” dishes, so we ate-in for nearly ten years. We cooked and seasoned in our own unique way and all that experimentation with foods to mimic the textures and flavors of nuts and seeds not only yielded three creative cooks in the family but a rather idiomatic menu as well. Come for a meal here and we’ll share our interpretations with items we call by slang names like “salad dressing chicken” or “cheese toast.”

Set aside cooking for a moment and think about eating itself. With food so connected to relationships I wonder how many have fizzled or bloomed based on how we eat together. How we eat provides all sorts of information about our backgrounds and personalities and by extension our compatibility with others. I had a date with a man who claimed he was from New York. When he ate his sushi with a fork I seriously doubt that. Turns out, in culinary terms, he was full of baloney. He won’t be around in the New Year. On the other hand, when I walked into a random bagel shop in Fairfield, Connecticut and ordered a bagel with a schmear and belly lox and the gal behind the counter didn’t bat an eye, I didn’t need to hear a New York accent to know she was indeed my home-girl from the Big Apple. That nosh and her demeanor were delicious and I will be back there in the New Year—and with my friends. Now that’s word of mouth advertising!

Bar none, my dearest memory of food-handling as a measure of creativity and commitment dates back to when my daughter with the food allergies was sitting in a diner beside her best buddy from the fifth grade. We were ordering lunch and she really had a hankering for a big juicy American burger but was concerned that the bun might have stray seeds that she must avoid. She was debating out loud and lamenting that usually the bottom half of the bun is where the errant poppy seed appears. It took him a nanosecond to accommodate her wishes and allay her fears. Eyes wide open he volunteered, “When the burgers come, I’ll give you my top and take your bottom!” Clearly, that man is one we took from past years into last year and into this New Year for sure.

This is certainly not an exact science but close enough for conversation: Tell me what you put in your eggs this morning and I’ll tell you your roots and a bit about your journey. You see, food doesn’t fib. It narrates your story just as it happened. Today, I sautéed onions and sweet red peppers in olive oil and when they were soft I added three leaves of sage I had grown last summer and froze for this purpose. I cracked in three egg whites beat with freshly ground black pepper and a dash of grated Parmesan cheese. As it gelled in the pan, I added some cubed fresh mozzarella. That went alongside a toasted slice of sesame-encrusted semolina bread with fig jam. That’s what my Italian grandparents ate, plus the egg yolks and with basil instead of sage. Those healthy and culinary changes were my own revisions from new years back. What will I bring into 2014? Nearby, there is an authentic new Middle Eastern café that prepares a variety of hummus and pita breads alongside time-honored fresh falafel. I am in the process of tasting them all so that when both my daughters are home we can pool all our finds—from nut-free dishes prepared on one’s college campus to the vegetarian delights from the salad room at the kibbutz where another works. Perhaps we’ll call it “The Cutting Board.”

Lisa Bernard retired this New Year from twenty-plus years as Principal at Lisa Bernard’s Word of Mouth, Inc.  She continues to publish via http://www.CueCardCommunications.com, teach at the college level and consult for people and firms with compelling communication challenges.

Over Fifty? Work Your Generational Edge in Job Interviews

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The not-so-subtle ageism that lingers in our society makes it questionable whether or not folks over fifty can get a fair shake at an employment interview these days.  And make no mistake about it, the door of fairness swings both ways.  Coaching numerous professionals for employment interviews over the last five years of this recession, I see a consistent bias the over-fifty crowd holds toward the forty-and-under interviewers as well as the bias against the fifty-something set that underlies the process and puts them on the defensive.  That’s the tragic part of the interview reality in a recession that has employers thirsty for loyal talent while experienced and dutiful people remain unemployed and demoralized for two and three years at a stretch.  The encouraging news is that with just a few fresh insights and generation-friendly behaviors, employers and candidates for jobs can explore their compatibility with a genuine and mutual respect, greater efficiency and more comprehensively towards a win-win outcome.

The bottom line is that the fifty-something generation brings to the table thirty years of research, people, time-management and problem-solving skills unmatched by generations that came later.  Before Google, this generation got out there and researched by interviewing experts, making their own observations, fact-checking and reading up.  Before Facebook, this generation conducted detailed correspondence with people, kept files and notes, had coffee with friends and regular nights out in real-time, face-to-face social and business situations that built relationships that endure to this day.  Before technology made communication “instant” this generation planned ahead for appointments, showed up on time and prepared ahead leaving little to the last minute. Before the days when a report could be research form one’s desk, typed without a secretary, and emailed in seconds, deadlines were respected and real and required consideration for the consequences to the people involved.  Before WikiHOW, this generation theorized, experimented and built through trial-and-error systems that move the productivity of the workplace forward and did so while learning patience and building confidence in themselves and their colleagues.  And, because fifty-somethings have raised the next generation by raising their children, they can also SKYPE, Google, Facebook, text, tweet and email.  Cumulatively, what does this mean?  Fifty-somethings have deeply ingrained skills and traits that make them valuable in the workplace in ways others are not.  For the most part, they are patient, have relationships with the right people, and can work as easily on an iPad as on a yellow pad with a pencil.

One thing that obscures these assets is the occasional attitude fifty has when s/he goes for an interview.  What eeks out is their belief that they “deserve” a position given their thirty years of experience in the workforce. With so many real and enduring responsibilities for family, friends and community commitments, fifty feels and may also send the message that they “need” the job, coming off as desperate as well as arrogant.   Both attitudes may be more palpable after a prolonged period of under-employment or a dislocating run of unemployment.  But what is true for all other generations is true for fifty: one doesn’t get hired in this recession or any other economic cycle because they desperately “deserve” or “need” anything.   Fifty, like any other age, is offered a position when and only when fifty makes clear to an employer that fifty can reliably and more effectively take the firm to its goals better than the other applicants while being a comfortable, content and contributing member of the company culture.  In a word, fifty must prepare to translate for an ageist interviewer the erroneous notions of “old and obsolete” into the accurate picture of “active and adaptable.”  Seven steps can get fifty there.

Step one.  Research in the old-fashioned way the firm and the department at which you are interviewing.  Unlike other generations, fifty understands that a “web” presence may not reflect at all the culture of a workplace, its actual goals nor the dynamic of the day-to-day operations.  And lucky for fifty, one hallmark of the generation is the ability to do thorough and comprehensive primary and secondary source research.  Go there.  Look around.  Ask questions.  Make observations.  Talk to people who work there.  Talk to those who are clients or patrons.  Read up.  Check out the website for sure, but not as an absolute indicator of much.  Review industry journals and the papers – local, regional and national when appropriate – for the current issues in the field, the firm and the trends that affect both.  Then think about your relationship to your findings.  Take these insights into the interview with you and use them to respond knowledgeably to the interviewer’s inevitable question, “Do you have any questions for me?”  Then you ask an informed question that reveals your interest in the company’s goals and needs such as “With the success e-tailing for ladies accessories do you have any plans to start an on-line version of your men’s accessories line?  I set up an on-line store for our discounted off-season merchandise in my former position including the Pay Pal mechanism and could imagine setting up your website—even just as a pilot program to test the market.”  And especially if you are interviewing for a promotion or different position within the firm or organization for which you have already worked, do start your research anew.  Other candidates from outside that company may reveal more cutting-edge insights as an outsider who has done his or her homework that you possibly can if you rely solely on your insider’s perspective.  For most of us, once our impressions and relationships are established in a work environment, we lose some degree of objectivity, passion and perspective.  Fresh research will stimulate new ideas which you can then deliver with the added benefit of being a trusted insider.  Use your status as a member of the team to pitch the possibilities your research generated.

Step two.  Reflect on the details of your vast on-the-job experience but focus on those from the last ten years only.   You ve an arsenal of stories about dealing with different difficult personalities in the workplace, crises that arose and were managed, unexpected opportunities that were recognized and exploited, complex problems that were solved, business and economic cycles that posed challenged and workplace transitions that were intimidating and unwelcome but inevitable. These empirical experiences are your means for pushing politely and unequivocally ahead of the pack of the younger and less experienced applicants.  They can distinguish you decisively from those candidates with the very same objective credentials but who lack the in-the-trenches experiences that add up to a track record of reliability and pride in a job well done.   Anecdotes that are well-selected from the last ten years and delivered with just the right amount of details can dwarf the on-paper credentials of your competition.  Cherry pick the ones that reveal your generation’s characteristic skills while addressing contemporary concerns.  And stick to the last ten years.  Going back any further dates you in the ears of a generation where the perception of time has changed. Twenty-somethings refer to six months ago as a long time ago.  In response to the interviewer’s question, ”What are your strengths as a manager?” you are prepared to respond by saying not just that you think out-of-the-box but by relaying a story.  “Five years ago, when I noticed that my sales rep was starting to miss team meetings I was concerned as he was always a model rep and shared good ideas with the group.  I took him out to lunch to ask in a private, non-threatening way and place about what might be going on in his life. He was widowed two years earlier but seemed to be stabilizing things well for him and his four year-old son.  Turns out, he pulled his son out of day care to give his unemployed sister a job as the boy’s caregiver.  Well, as his sister started to get more interviews and call-backs, she left him without care for the boy and he was rushing back and forth to cover for her.  Since our meetings are always scheduled in advance, that was a predictable time for his sister to plan her outings as he could plan to be home for that block of time.  He was embarrassed as he shared this unenviable dilemma with me so I asked him to focus on the issues for a moment.  His sister needed a job.  His son needed day-care for another year until he started school full-time.  His sister was a teacher’s aide for over ten years with a stellar record.  Together, we figured out that if we could secure even a temporary position in our company’s daycare center for his sister, he could return the boy to childcare and focus on work with peace of mind.  We approached a buddy of mine in HR and we worked it out pretty much just that way within about one week.  Within a week, I had a less-stressed and more productive sales rep who had peace of mind vis-à-vis his family.”

Step three.  Replace stories about your kids with comments and questions about events and situations.  Fifty has enormous experience as a scheduler, diplomat and logistician given the nature of parenting over the last fifteen to twenty years.  Fifty has learned to get work done well and in time to support and enjoy family life.  Fifty has learned to memorize the names and deal with the personalities and foibles of teachers and coaches that keep changing.  Fifty has learned how to move people, meals and gear with competing budgets for time, energy and money.  With all the accomplishments and skill-sets fifty is proud to claim, fifty must keep this in the dining chair and out of the interview chair.  While seeing the diploma on the wall from the same college your kid is attending may bring a warm feeling of familiarity to you and a sense of something in common with your interviewer, avoid mentioning your child’s attendance at that school.  Don’t point to the diploma and exclaim, “Oh I love visiting your alma mater; my youngest son is a junior there now.”  The meta-message to the interviewer is that s/he is interviewing somebody’s “old man.”  This runs the risk of playing into any latent or active ageism on the interviewer’s part.  Instead, say something like, “I am impressed with the new stadium your alma mater built this year.  Have you been up to a game yet?”  You come off as attentive, well-rounded, sociable and contemporary.

Step four.  Polish up your physical appearance with a view towards looking as healthy as you are.  Fifties are generally adherents to healthy lifestyles that can, ironically, make us look older than our years.  For instance, if you consume the daily green tea and red wine your doctor advises they will yellow your teeth.  If you avoid the harsh chemicals of hair-dyes and the ultra-violet rays of sun you may appear pale and washed out.  If you are fit because you run outdoors, swim in the ocean or play tennis regularly you may well have calloused feet, chipped nails, and a few darkening age spots on your hands.  Any or all of the above perfunctory and often misleading signs of age send signals that can play right into the ageism of an interviewer who is twenty, thirty or forty-something.  Recognize that younger generations grew up in a buffed, waxed, dyed and polished culture with a nail salon in every strip mall.  While a woman at fifty today likely had her first professional manicure and pedicure at age twenty-five before her wedding, by age twenty-five a member of the millennial generation has had only professional manicures and does so each and every week as a priority right up there with brushing one’s teeth.  And younger men do so as well.  They do not, generally, perceive salon treatments as luxuries but basic and routine grooming rituals and subliminally, they will identify an applicant with anything less than pearly-white teeth, freshly colored hair and manicured hands and feet as old, unkempt, out of shape, and by extension, out of touch.  With the market-place offering us so many products and services at various price points, affording oneself teeth whitening, hair-dye, manicures, pedicures, and a full complement of face make-up will level the employment playing field for men and women fifty and over.  Teeth-whitening, nail trims and buffing, hair styling and a smooth complexion will keep an interviewer focused on what you say, rather than how old you are.  For both men and women, a contemporary flair to one’s grooming sends the message to a younger interviewer that the fifty-something respondent is not as much “unemployed” as “between jobs.”

Step five.  Use, and offer to use, all the contemporary technologies for communication as well as the more traditional ones.   While the technologies that facilitate faster and more abundant means of communication with more channels and choices are changing, human nature hasn’t changed a bit.  And that means that some forms of communication that worked well and reliably in the “old-days” still are meaningful and enduring for people of all generations.  Hand-written thank you notes and snail-mailed greeting cards signed in one’s penmanship are still more than likely to communicate appreciation, respect and positive thoughts than some instant and disposable forms of communication like texts or emails.  Fifties are versatile communicators having lived through and adapted across all known communication channels and making sensible and situation-specific choices about how to effectively send a clear message. Make initial contact in a voice mail message during off-hours to reveal that you are articulate and have modern telephone skills.  Younger generations don’t call as often or spend as much time on the phone and as a result have fewer telephone skills, generally preferring email.  Especially if telephone skills are required in the position, give them a sneak preview of a skill you possess and the department needs.  Make interview appointments via voice mail and confirm via email.  Offer SKYPE and email addresses for your references. Upload your second interview presentation to a private YouTube account and tweet them an alert. Send a handwritten thank you note.

Step six.  Review your vocabulary for terms that are obsolete or subject to a new meaning or interpretation by the younger generation.  If you ask the interviewer to “hook you up” with the right person in Human Resources, they may think you are looking for a date or sexual encounter.  If you assure the interviewer that by “business casual” you mean no “thongs” in the summer, s/he may believe you mean that you don’t wear underwear rather than the summer sandals nowadays called “flip-flops.”  Fifty’s most reliable dictionary is your trusted eighteen to twenty five year-old kid.

Step seven.  Dress in your own sense of style but accessorize like the younger generation.  When the interviewer is forty or under, s/he is less likely to wear a watch, hosiery, sport jewelry that is a coordinated set, carry a briefcase, or avoid eye glasses.  As such, the tasteful, valuable, pure gold watch you wear proudly as a remembrance of your parent or grandparent is among the first subliminal sign your secretly ageist interviewer gets that you are “over-the-hill.”  Younger generations grew up with digital clocks and use their cell phones to tell time.  While some do wear watches, they are contemporary costume jewelry more like accessories than timeless timepieces.  Socks and hosiery have seen a change as well.  Young people are college campuses are wearing sports socks under the sandals – the very look that sent our generation into a deep blush of embarrassment when our parents and grandparents did it.  We, too, thought no self-respecting woman would leave the house without hosiery.  Today, covered legs scream, “over fifty.”  Veins, marks and cellulite are on display without judgment.  Jewelry is unisex so men over fifty can proudly sport their earrings and bracelets while women over fifty must work at selecting earrings that are not the same stones or metals as our necklaces and even leave off one or another in favor of non-coordinating bracelets in layers, belts and rings.  Whereas female fifty was taught to wear the same genuine stones, styles and precious metals in the ring, earrings, necklace and bracelet quartet, this now sings out “old lady.”  The back-pack has bumped the briefcase off its seat at our society’s desk.  With options for many materials and styles at various price points the contemporary professional backpack is lighter, water-bottle and cell-phone friendly and says, “going places.”  Your heavy, leather, high-quality, last-you-a-lifetime briefcase will keep your over-sized umbrella company at the family tag sale.  Once upon a time we only wore our eyeglasses out of the house when we were too sick to put in our contact lenses.  Today, twenty, thirty and forty-somethings sport their eyewear as fashion statements just like any other accessory and any other article of clothing selected for style, comfort and function.  With all the computer work we do, eyeglasses are easier on the eyes.

Lisa Bernard has prepared and represented people from all walks of life to speak publicly at meetings, on panels and as keynoters. She has addressed audiences as large as 2000 and designed and delivered over 500 workshops, seminars and college courses on oral communication.  She has slowed down fast-talkers, turned “uhmers” into smooth-speakers and moderated accents from Brooklyn to Beijing – all to develop confident communicators.  Lisa has a Masters Degree in International Affairs from Columbia University and today manages Lisa Bernard’s SecuritySpeak, LLC, a consulting firm that makes available experts on national, global and cyber-security for distinguished lectures worldwide.  You can reach her at (203) 293-4741 or LisaBernard@SecuritySpeak.net and like her firm at www.Facebook.com/PodiumTime.