Best of TL: Four Ways to Rule the Company Holiday Party

December 2nd, 2016 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Uncategorized No Comments »

holiday-party-youngish-workersMany corporate holiday parties are among the weirdest hybrids of work and play that I have ever experienced. Few companies are able to blend the two seamlessly, so the parties become a veritable minefield in which no one will remember you if you perform well. Yet if you perform poorly, everyone will remember you for years to come—for all the wrong reasons.

In the spirit of ensuring the former and not the latter, I offer this simple advice to avoid awkwardness and create a pleasant atmosphere, without excessive effort.

Question: I don’t like parties, and I have a lot of work to do before the year’s end. Do I really have to go?

As a former boss used to deadpan, “Folks, this event is optional mandatory.”

Yes, you have to go, and you have to stay for the whole thing, or at least until 60 minutes before the scheduled end time. RSVP with enthusiasm, even if you hate parties.

Why am I so unyielding in this advice? When I interview employees about their work experiences, they tell me how let down they are when managers and executives skip the holiday party and other team-building events, even though I rarely ask the question specifically. Employees do all the work to make this party happen, in addition to their regular duties, and it’s more trouble than you think.

It’s also often the case that while this particular party may or may not be important to you, for some employees, it will be the nicest, kindest, and most festive thing they do through the whole holiday season. So, step up with a smile, and do your bit to make it a great experience for them.

You may never fully know what they are going through in their personal lives. Resist any urge to be cynical. Remember, for some of them, this party is a very special event.

Question: I’m no good at small talk. What should I say?

Here’s the good news: it’s not about what you say, it’s about what you ask.

In American culture, we behave as workaholic lemmings and instinctively ask the spouses (or “plus ones”), “What do you do?” and we ask coworkers, “What projects are you working on?” The truth is, though, that no one cares.

Become the greatest conversationalist they’ve ever met in their entire lives by not asking about work at all. Try asking, “What interests you outside of work?”, “What are you doing these days for fun?”, “What are your kids up to?”, or anything else that invites conversation on a subject of interest other than work.

Follow-up questions help, too. (“You do scrapbooking with your friends? I didn’t realize that was a group hobby. How did you become interested in it? So, your teenagers are budding Oaklandish T-shirt designers. I’ve never heard of that. Tell me more.”)

Don’t bolt from conversations with lower-ranking employees the minute you see a prospect, E-suite executive, or other VIP. With few exceptions, you’ll be laughed at not only by the people you abandon but also by the VIPs.

Speaking of VIPs, the holiday party is not the place to corner anyone with your great idea for the business. Say hello, engage in brief conversation, offer to introduce them to others, and move on. It’s OK to follow up with your business ideas after the party. But during the party, leave it alone.

If the event involves sitting down to eat, introduce yourself to every person at your table, and talk with each of them at some point during dinner. Include the spouses and guests, who will speak highly of you forever simply because you steered the conversation away from endless droning on about the office.

Question: These events are embarrassing because I can’t remember names. Can I get better at this?

You get major bonus points if you remember names and introduce people to each other. It’s worth putting in the extra effort to learn how.

Here’s a great trick for remembering names. Kirk and I swear by it. As soon as you’re introduced, say the individual’s name, as in, “Pleased to meet you, Kate.” Then, use it two more times early in the conversation. The repetition makes it stick in your head like glue.

Another trick that works well for me is to associate the name immediately with a character in a movie, a famous person, or someone else with a similar name. The more absurd the connection, the better. If a woman introduces herself as Dorothy, for example, think, “Wizard of Oz, Wizard of Oz.” Every time you see her, the wacky connection will bring her name right to the front of your brain.

And now, my favorite tip for a sit-down meal

When you sit down next to the CEO, avoid eating his or her food by remembering that your bread plate is to the left and your drink is to the right. Cue yourself by forming an o with your index finger and thumb. On the left hand, this forms the letter b for bread, and on the right hand, the letter d for drink.

Try it now. See? Nifty, huh?

Don’t worry about getting caught doing this. It’s a surefire conversation starter. For example, the person next you just might say, “Ah, I see you read Traveling Light.


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2013 Listening Challenge

July 25th, 2013 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Uncategorized No Comments »

On January 4, I recommended making one small change per month this year to become one of the best listeners in your organization and reap the rewards of better collaboration, higher trust, and improved teamwork. I want to thank everyone who’s reached out to tell me you’re doing the challenge and seeing the benefits. You rock!

If you’ve been participating, then pat yourself on the back because you are almost half-way there. If not, please join us now. It’s never too late. Just jump in and enjoy the adventure.

The challenge for June was to “Ask questions to understand his or her logic and reasoning. Two people often look at the same data and draw different conclusions. Poor listeners don’t bother to draw out the other person’s logic and reasoning. They just argue. Great listeners seek to understand the other person’s logic and reasoning as a means to constantly test and develop their own logic and reasoning.”

How did you do? Pop over to the 2013 Listening Challenge blog post ( and let me know how it went.

Now, your listening challenge for July, if you are willing to accept it, is a stretch assignment:

“Listen for the subjective elements. Subjective data includes interpretation, hunches, values, and even feelings. Don’t confuse the need to make data-driven decisions with refusing to hear subjective data. Leaders are often required to make decisions for which you will never have all the objective data you need. The ability to combine the subjective with the objective to inform an excellent decision is called good judgment, and it’s what you’re getting paid for. Don’t turn the subjective into a villain. Invite it in to every conversation.”

Let me know how it’s going, share your thoughts, and ask your questions any time at:

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In the News

May 11th, 2012 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Uncategorized No Comments »

WebFWDI recently created a webinar for entrepreneurs in WebFWD’s incubator program. I focused on free ways to leverage your natural energy patterns individually and as a team. Since start-ups have only time, a little money, and energy, I believe any free edge an entrepreneur can gain is an edge the entregpreneur should grab.

These energy patterns and tools apply to anyone who needs to sustain energy in a high-pressure work environment, though. Luckily, WebFWD makes their webinar files public within weeks, so you can now attend a replay any time:

While you’re there, check out the supremely cool, diverse open source companies in the program: Big Blue Button, CASH Music, Entropy Wave, IHeartCode, Open Photo, Meemoo, Symbiota, and Tomahawk.

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March 8th, 2012 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in News, Uncategorized No Comments »

Web FWDIn just one month, I’ll begin mentoring the brilliant entrepreneurs in Mozilla’s start-up incubator, WebFWD. WebFWD supports projects and companies that align with the Web principals outlined in Mozilla’s Manifesto. We’re in the early stages of shaping my role, so stay tuned for more details. Learn more about the WebFWD Mentors here:

Web FWD is new and exciting, but going to their San Francisco office feels like coming home. They are in the former Hills Brothers coffee plant complex where I worked during my tenure at Nestlé. I feel like I should be swiping a Nestlé security badge every time I walk through the courtyard, and I could swear I still smell coffee roasting over in the Commodities group.

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Engaging Resistance: How Ordinary People Successfully Champion Change

March 21st, 2011 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Uncategorized No Comments »

Engaging Resistance: How Ordinary People Successfully Champion Chang

After a slight delay, Dr. Aaron Anderson’s new book from Stanford Press, Engaging Resistance: How Ordinary People Successfully Champion Change is now available. Dr. Anderson has tackled the challenge of providing an empirically based explanation of resistance to organizational change and why some change agents succeed while others fail. Hurray!

I’m quoted in the book, which is quite an honor. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time I’ve been cited by a scholar.

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February 2nd, 2011 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Uncategorized No Comments »

Can’t get enough advice about how to optimize meetings and eliminate unproductive, wasted meeting hours? Selby Group is once again featured on ADVANCE for Respiratory Care’s site, and my tips apply to all businesses, not just those in healthcare:

ADVANCE for Respiratory Care

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It’s Time to S-t-r-e-t-c-h Your People

January 7th, 2011 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Uncategorized No Comments »

We’re coming out of an era of fear, hoarding, and playing it very safe. Now that the job market is improving and optimism is on the rise, people are getting antsy for better opportunities, and leaders will have to work harder to keep them. At the same time, leaders tell me they need to lead the effort to get the right people into the right roles if they are going to meet their company’s strategic initiative goals.

This is both a risk and an opportunity. Luckily, the same action will help you to meet both goals.

The best way to address this is to shift your mindset away from playing it very, very safe. In fact, the safest approach now involves taking some risk in how you assign roles.

It’s time to stop looking for a perfectly-fitting square peg for that square hole. Instead, look for the 80% fit and move people into those roles with a development plan to grow into the additional 20%.

Though it seems counter-intuitive, if you are effectively moving people into different roles, you’re actually not going to get the perfect match right away, but it will create more stability in the long run.

I’ve just come across increasing evidence that my perception on the eagerness of employees to leave for a better opportunity is consistent with a larger trend. A recent Wall Street Journal study indicates that over a third of white-collar professionals are underemployed in the sense that they can do their jobs in their sleep even though the jobs are stressful.

With no interesting stretch or challenge for several years now, they report that when the job market improves (and it’s already improving for skilled, college-educated professionals), they’ll leave their current employers in a heartbeat.

Leaders have had a big tactical luxury for two years now in that they could keep nearly everyone doing the jobs they could already ace, producing — tah dah! – instant optimal productivity.

However, with few people learning brand new skills or having new stretch assignments, leaders also didn’t have to deal with the inevitably inefficient process of learning, growing, and making mistakes.

Some leaders already understand this, and it shows in their plans for 2011. In a Mercer Management study comparing top talent retention strategies for 2011 vs. 2010, 35% of companies indicated that they’re going to invest in training and career development. This item didn’t even make the top three list for 2010. That represents a very, very big shift.

Are you in the 35%? If not, the tactical luxury of the past two years will eventually give way to a strategic nightmare. Get ahead of it now, while the year is still young.

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Engaging Resistance

June 18th, 2010 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Uncategorized 2 Comments »

Dr. Aaron Anderson is about to release a new book from Stanford Press, Engaging Resistance: How Ordinary People Successfully Champion Change.

I’m quoted in the book (well, assuming the quote survives the final edit), which is quite an honor. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time I’ve been cited by a scholar.

Preorder it now and Selby Group will donate 6.5% of the purchase price to McKinley School in San Francisco.

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Just for Fun

February 27th, 2010 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Uncategorized No Comments »

Eagle-eyed readers will note that there was no issue of Traveling Light earlier this month. I was enjoying a mini-vacation with my sister, my parents, and their best friends, Dea and Don Brown. We were relaxing in Orange Beach, AL. I had no idea Alabama had such beautiful, powder-white beaches.

Here I am with my sister and my folks on the last day of the trip. I look like I’m about to jump into the camera!

A few days after I returned home, Mom and Dad and Dea and Don participated in the “world’s largest wedding ceremony,” joining 410 other couples renewing their vows at a local watering hole owned by Jimmy Buffett’s sister.

What fun! My parents are a continuing reminder that the couple that plays together, stays together, and Kirk and I are following their lead.

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November 9th, 2009 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Uncategorized No Comments »

If you missed the Association for Psychological Type Conference in Dallas, you can order the CD’s at This includes my concurrent session Personal Fulfillment and Financial Security: Hidden Secrets to Have BOTH.

Want a chance to not miss it this time around? If you’re a facilitator, trainer, or OD consultant, read on. I have personally seen Jill facilitate, and it is amazing.


Meaning Making – debriefing skills for facilitators and trainers.

This is a special workshop presented by Jill Chivers, APTi board member and internationally known consultant from Australia.

Friday, November 13, 2009: 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
CPP, Inc. Office
1055 Joaquin Road, 2nd floor. Mountain View, CA 94043

Debriefing skills are essential for any facilitator. This session will explore the essentials of creating meaning and lasting value out of group processes, exercises, games and activities.

If you’ve ever conducted a workshop or training session and were left wondering what it all meant, then you can be sure your participants have, too. If you can’t help participants discover what the implications and applications are, the value of group processes, activities and games is vastly diminished if not completely lacking.

This workshop will help you guide participants through the crucial questions of “so what?” and “now what?”

This session takes us through a process starting with…

Pre-Briefing – where it all starts. If you set it up from the beginning, it makes it a lot easier to debrief it at the end…. then into

The Process – an effective model to take your participants along the journey of learning: from doing to reflecting to sharing to interpreting to applying…. followed by

Debriefing – processes, resources, questions, facilitator-centric essentials. An

exploration of some of the many and varied tools at your disposal


Exercises will be used to bring out the magic of the content.

$45.00 per person (includes refreshments)

Preregistration is recommended. Checks and questions can be directed to Julie Wright at 2314 Sweetwater Drive, Martinez, CA 94553;; 415-264-0217 (cell).

Jill Chivers (ESFJ) is passionate about and skilled in working with people. Jill’s work with people has included the front line through to CEO level and people with diverse backgrounds and cultures. Jill designs and delivers impactful and innovative learning initiatives and events that lead to real shifts in how people think, feel and behave.

Her extraverted and energetic style is engaging, and Jill has received repeated feedback that she creates a safe and open learning space that motivates.

Jill has an MBA and is certified in the Myers Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) and Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) both of which she uses in unusual ways. Jill is a Certified Professional Facilitator (CPF) through the International Association of Facilitators; and is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Professional Facilitators

Jill has created the unique downloadable video program, I’m Listening Now, ( which provides a listening ear whenever you need it.

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