MEL for DSC Magazine, September 2020

In this month's issue, we're improving ourselves.


Mistook your monthly magazine for a pack of One Wipe Charlies and flushed it down the toilet? No worries, here’s the online version!

In this edition:

  1. An Acting Coach’s Guide to ‘Fake It Till You Make It’
  2. How Do I, Um, Like, Become a Better, Uh, Public Speaker?
  3. Back to School, Online Edition
  4. What’s the Expiration Date on Your Home?
  5. The Professional’s Guide to Negotiating a Better Job Title
  6. Oh FAQ! How Do I Talk to My Barber About a New (and Improved) Hairstyle?


Psst! Hey, you! You wanna know the secret to a fulfilling life? 

No, it’s not “42” — it’s actually near-constant self-improvement. Our brains are just happier when we’re accomplishing stuff, no matter how small! While you might think that your capacity for self-improvement decreases as you get older, surprisingly, you’d be wrong. And heck, if a baby can learn an entire language before they learn how to walk, you can learn how to talk to your boss about that promotion, right?

Since, traditionally, September’s always been associated with the idea of “back to school” and learning, this month, we’re highlighting all the ways we can learn how to better ourselves. Like how to, um, stop saying “um” all the time; when and where to start those home improvements; and how to fake it till you make it, in case all else fails.

Oh, and if you want to go back to school as an adult, but are looking at a bunch of Zoom classes thanks to the ongoing pandemic, we’ve got you covered there, too. One way or another, by the time you’re done reading this month’s issue, you’re going to know more about how to look and feel more confident. And that’s a fulfilling accomplishment in itself.

1 – An Acting Coach’s Guide to ‘Fake It Till You Make It’

Actor and drama teacher David Dean Bottrell explains how — and how not — to put on the performance of a lifetime.

How can ‘faking it till you make it’ work in your favor, say, at a new job?
I was a pack-a-day smoker for 23 years. During that time, in order to make myself feel more confident and attractive, I’d imagine myself as a non-smoker. When I walked into a meeting or rehearsal, I’d pretend I’d never smoked a day in my life. If I acted confident, I’d behave confidently.  

Confidence is everything, got it. Where shouldn’t you ‘fake it till you make it,’ then?
I would say that “faking it” is never a good idea in a love relationship.

Is there a threshold at which point it’s better to admit you really can’t fake it any longer?
I wouldn’t advise “faking it” in any situation that might become physically dangerous, or where it might cost you or others a ton of money. Gambling — literally or figuratively — should only be done by people who can truly afford to lose.   

How do you read an audience to help figure out whether your “faking it” skills are working or not?
In my experience, if you think you’re bombing at work, you probably are. The best actors have the same skill that all successful con artists possess: The ability to assess things quickly, not panic and adapt to whatever is happening. If you want to get to the part where “faking it” becomes “making it,” you will have to get others to trust you, and that means making them feel heard. Perfection is rarely expected by others, but actions speak louder than words. Adjust your behavior. Trust is earned.

2 – How Do I, Um, Like, Become a Better, Uh, Public Speaker?

Follow the advice below from Communication Specialist Janice Tomich to eliminate so-called filler words like ‘um,’ ‘like,’ and ‘uh’ from your vocabulary.

Why It, Like, Happens
When you’re stressed, your brain triggers a fight-or-flight response. This response might’ve worked well for our caveman ancestors, but during public speaking, being in flight-or-flight mode hurts, not helps. That’s because your brain is focused on keeping you safe, instead of focusing on delivering your speech. Thoughts such as whether your speech is good enough, or second guessing how you look, will consume your mind instead of focussing on your presentation.

Breaking the, Um, Habit
There are two great tips for breaking a filler-word habit that’s in overdrive. The first is to breathe. When you’re stressed, you take shallow breaths, which ramps up nerves and anxiety. By taking deep breaths that fill up your lower abdomen (belly breathing) you will be able to regulate any nerves/anxiety. The second tip is to take a pause. When you “feel” a filler word coming, stop it in its tracks by going quiet. That’ll help you think through what you want to say next. 

Practice Makes, Uh, Perfect
Elite speakers will put in 30 hours or more for a one-hour speech. When we present, we put our reputation and credibility on the line. So isn’t it worth it to practice? Recording yourself is a good feedback tool, as is having a colleague provide insight. To benefit from the feedback takes a mindset shift, because you need to view it as an opportunity to learn and take your ego completely out of the equation.

3 – Back to School, Online Edition

While nothing will replace getting wild with your new BFFs during Frosh Week, online learning is quickly usurping in-person teaching. Here’s how to get with the program.

Hold Yourself Accountable
Many younger students have the benefit of a parent to guide and enforce the online learning process. Adults usually don’t have that structure,” says elementary school teacher Lee Hruska. “Telling a friend or family member what you plan to achieve by a certain time adds positive pressure to stay on task and meet deadlines,” he says. 

Stay Focused
Though you might be tempted to multitask while watching a pre-recorded lecture — or even participating in a live Zoom class — it’s imperative to give schoolwork your full attention. “There should be absolutely no video games open in other tabs,” says Hruska. “You cannot play video games and get real work done.” What about tunes? “Listening to music should be a reward for making good progress,” says Hruska. “Don’t start with music; get started, and add music when you hit a lull and need some extra motivation.” 

Speak Up
Too often, students tend to stay silent during online classes. “Adults need to get over their fear of speaking in front of other adults; talking is necessary to be fully part of the learning environment,” says Hruska. “Make a comment or ask a question — it shows you’re engaged. Just don’t do it 10 times. There’s a happy medium on the ‘speaking up’ continuum.”

4 – What’s the Expiration Date on Your Home?

If you’re considering a little home-improvement, too, it’s helpful to know roughly how long the various parts of your home are likely to last.

The Roof
Asphalt shingles may not cost you as much as other materials, but they’ll only last you around 20 years — assuming you keep them free of leaves, branches and other debris that could dislodge them or cause water and mold damage. Clay, slate or even concrete shingles are more expensive, but can last you more than 50 years!

Big ticket items like gas furnaces and HVAC units will only need replacing every 20+ and 14 years respectively, while cheapo appliances like dehumidifiers (eight years) will bite the dust much sooner. The general rule is, the more you use an appliance, the faster they’re going to die on you.

Thought that cool claw-footed tub was going to last forever? You thought wrong. You’ll want to go ahead and get a new tub every 20 years or so, assuming you don’t want any expensive leaks. Don’t stress about that shower head, though — with a few regular dousings in equal parts white vinegar and water, they’re rated to last a lifetime.

Here’s the good news: Your new marble countertops and Shaker-style cabinetry should last you around 50 years — plenty of time for them to go completely out of style (along with the farmhouse sink you had to have). Now here’s the bad news: Your dishwasher is not even going to make it a decade.

It might cost a small fortune to install, but natural wood flooring can literally last hundreds of years. Laminate, on the other hand, might look cheap, but considering you’ll likely have to replace laminate in high-use areas of your home after around 10 years, it’s pretty pricey, too. 

The Foundation
Any type of poured concrete foundation should last a lifetime. But each comes with its own headaches: Slab foundations bury their plumbing underneath, so if you need to fix something, you’ll need to dig it up. Homes with a crawlspace, on the other hand, are prone to moisture damage. And, as anyone who lives in the Northeast knows, homes with a basement have mold problems. Pick your poison!

5 – The Professional’s Guide to Negotiating a Better Job Title

Why rest on your laurels as a Senior Manager when you can be a ‘Chief Troublemaker’ at twice the take-home pay?

The tech startup era has gifted us with an abundance of ridiculous job titles, including Chief Happiness Officer, Hacker in Residence and Galactic Viceroy of Research Excellence (we’re not kidding — those are actual job titles).

The absurdity on display here would have you believe job titles are superficial (meaningless, even!), but for many professionals, that couldn’t be further from the truth — their job title determines their rung in the corporate bureaucracy; their compensation (to a large degree); and their perceived value when interviewing and negotiating for future jobs and salaries.

And so, negotiating a boss-sounding job title is as important, if not more so, than securing a sizable compensation package. Yet, in her nearly five years of coaching people how to negotiate during the hiring process, interview consultant Barbara Wally says she’s never heard of anyone trying to negotiate for a better job title.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t, however. In fact, you most certainly should. Here, then, are a few tips on how to become your industry’s next Chief Troublemaker…

A Good Job Title Is As Much About Future Jobs As It Is for Your Current One
At many established companies, job titles are directly tied to compensation. This is largely due to legal reasons, says Chris Collins, director of the Center for Advanced HR Studies at Cornell University. As companies have grown more sensitive to the gender pay gap and other implicit biases in their hiring and compensation practices, they’ve moved away from allowing candidates to negotiate individual salaries and started to embrace strict salary guidelines for each job title. That is, a person’s compensation is determined by their job title, not their negotiation skills.

That’s why securing a high-ranking job title is so important. Not only does it mean that you’ll make more at your current job, it gives you a good starting position when negotiating a salary for a different job in the future — a higher salary that will have a compounding effect in all subsequent jobs.

“For the individual, there’s a huge incentive to make your title sexier,” Collins says. “That way, when you have your title posted on LinkedIn or wherever, you seem like you’re above where you currently are professionally.”

Why Negotiating a Job Title Change is So Hard
Herein lies the paradox when it comes to negotiating a job title  —  a company often can’t grant a person a higher job title without also giving them a raise. Theoretically, getting a bump in job title should be a cost-free way for a company to placate a candidate or current employee, and thus, easy to obtain. But when salary guidelines are strict, title and compensation increases are inextricably linked.

Negotiating a job title change is dicey even when money isn’t involved. “[Changing a person’s title] doesn’t cost the company anything. They’re just words,” says Collins. “But it might open the company up to a discrimination lawsuit.” For instance, research shows women don’t always negotiate as aggressively as men, so a company could end up with a disproportionate amount of male senior vice presidents, making them liable to such a lawsuit.

A Job Title Increase is Easier at a Younger, Smaller Company
That said, if you don’t ask, the answer is always no. And there’s zero risk to bringing it up in an interview. The worst that happens is the hiring manager says that it’s not possible. (Unless you’re a relentless jerk about the whole thing and manage to annoy the hiring manager.)

Collins says negotiating a better title is much easier when the company is relatively new and small, and roles are loosely-defined and malleable. “When a company is just making up titles for everybody, argue for whatever title you want. There’s plenty to negotiate there,” Collins says.

This, in part, is why we’ve seen so much “title inflation” (for lack of a better term) the past 10 to 15 years, Collins says. It used to be there was only one C-suite job at each company, and that was the CEO. Now there’s a Chief Financial Officer, a Chief Marketing Officer, a Chief Technology Officer and so on and so forth.

Have a Good Rationale for Why a Job Title Change is Necessary
When you do argue to have “senior” or “executive” added to your job title, you better come with a proper rationale, Collins says. Because an employer might be more amenable to changing your job title if you can demonstrate that the title doesn’t align with the responsibilities of the job, or how other jobs in the industry define their titles.

Wally says the best chance for a bump in title is when a person is on the cusp between two different titles at a company  —  say, associate, and manager. “A company may be more willing to give a title bump without a salary bump in this context. Having that more senior title is indeed likely to be helpful for future titles and pay at future jobs.”

It might seem like a case of semantics, but in this case, semantics result in cold hard cash — or at least more cold hard cash than you had when you were the assistant to the regional manager.

6 – Oh FAQ! How Do I Talk to My Barber About a New (and Improved) Hairstyle?

Hair stylist Cynthia Barraza has the deets on what you need to say and ask to upgrade your lewk.

1. Don’t Be Afraid. “Talk to your barber or stylist about your look. Is there anything that you loved or hated about your last haircut? Do you want less maintenance, more maintenance? Do you have more time to style? You should be having a thorough consultation every time you sit down in that chair before your haircut.”

2. Get the Picture. “The easiest way to explain what you want is to bring in a photo (like of a celebrity) of the kind of cut you like to your hairstylist. It might not be able to be a perfect haircut for everybody, but they should be able to tweak it so it’s perfect for your face and for your maintenance.”

3. Have Faith. “If you really trust your stylist and they really know you, ask them for suggestions. If they’re good, they should know what the trends are. And if the look is not right for your hair type, trust them to tell you, because they know your hair, they know the growth pattern.”

4. Speak Up. “Also, if you don’t have a photo or don’t know exactly what you want (but know you want something different), at least know what you don’t want, like ‘Not too short,’ or ‘I hate when my hair flips like this.’ Nobody should be cutting your hair until you’ve explained what you want or don’t want.”

5. Don’t Settle. “Sometimes it even takes styling it yourself at home to see if you like it. If there’s something that you don’t like, let your stylist know. They should want to fix it because they want you to leave the chair happy and feeling confident. A happy client is a client that comes back or refers their friends.”

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