The Civilized Minute

a minute of manners and musings

Category Archives: Conversation skills

the face

There’s the face. And then, there’s the face. The face that can convey a thousand words and a range of emotion. As parents, wives and husbands, we learn early on how to make a face for nearly any occasion. One that says exactly what we are thinking. To my husband, I can say That’s bathroom humor and it’s not funny with my face. To my children, I can say You have got to speak up. This is an older person and they can’t hear you if you speak to the ground. Oh, and look at him when you’re talking…There you go. Much better. without speaking a word.

It took some time to perfect, don’t get me wrong. Once we were eating at a Mexican restaurant with friends. Parents in one booth, kids in another booth. I had watched Emma double dip for just about as long as I could, so I zapped her with a look. She thought I meant for her to wipe her mouth. I gave a short shake of the head. Zapped her again. She thought I meant for her to wipe Ben’s mouth. I gave another short shake of the head. Zapped her again. She thought I was asking her if she needed to go to the ladies room. So, I picked up a chip from our basket and held it up for her to see. Darrell grabbed it and said, “Thanks, Babe” and went on with the adult conversation taking place using words and not this crazy facial language I was trying to invent and use – all in one sitting.

But, there’s another kind of face. The face that sneaks up and jumps out.


I happened to catch Darrell’s face as Emma showed him her new eye make-up. His voice said, “You aren’t wearing that around any boys, are you?” but his face said My little girl. Wearing make-up. What happened to the time??  

Darrell’s face reminded me of me as I sat through a meeting this week. During the meeting, I found myself astounded as I listened to a person describe all the reasons he didn’t like his job. Suffice it to say he isn’t a big fan of work in general, so the whole 40-hours-a-week thing seems to be just messing him up.  About halfway through, I caught myself wearing a you have got to be kidding me expression.  Where I should have remained neutral, my face was likely giving me away. Not very business etiquette-y of me.

See, our faces give away our emotions and emotion should be rationed out in careful measures at work. Guard your reactions, keep them close and give yourself time to think through the situation before allowing your face to scream My baaaaaby’s wearing make-up!


Honesty? Not always.

This may come as a shock to some, but honesty is not always what people want or need to hear.

From you.

You heard me.

It’s your not plight in life to make sure people know your innermost thoughts. It’s not your place to “offer advice” to your co-worker on her hairstyle or clothes choices or, heaven forbid, husband choices.

Honesty has been a hot topic over the last couple of weeks. I’ve seen some online conversations about it and someone posted a question about honesty on my Facebook wall. Here is the question and my response:

Question: Dear Kate T. Lewis…[Let me just interrupt for a second. Feel free to call me Kate. You don’t have to say the T.  I know it can be confusing. An interviewer once referred to me as KT throughout an entire TV segment. I’ve often wondered if she thought I was rapper.] I have a question for you to ponder… listening to a popular radio program yesterday they were asking the question, should you give your friends/family unsolicated criticism especially about the way they look or are dressed? (ie… your dress is just a little too tight, or that hair style you’re going for isn’t working for you) I give it to my husband often, but he never gives it to me — so I ask… should we keep our thoughts to ourselves and let those dear to us look bad, or should we intervene?

AnswerI would ask you this: Does the person dear to you “look bad” because it’s your opinion that what she is wearing isn’t becoming? Or, do they “look bad” because they are struggling with something and it’s affecting their appearance? If your sister shows up at a family dinner looking rumpled and unclean, it’s your duty as someone who cares for her to find out if she’s ok. That’s a very different conversation than if you were to approach her with “your hair looks terrible and you need to iron your shirt.” Rather than unsolicited criticism, that’s inquiring about her well-being. If you are bothered by someone’s appearance because you would simply choose something different…well…there are some things that are none of your business. Great question!!

Got it? Good.

Another surprise, another lesson

We had the nicest surprise on Saturday afternoon. Friends we had not seen in years pulled up in the driveway! The Hubs and I were thrilled to see their smiling faces! I could not believe my eyes!   And, in hindsight, I could not believe I hugged and talked and laughed like my hair wasn’t wet and getting frizzier by the minute.

Unlike June Cleaver, my house and I are not often company-ready. Company-willing? Yes! I love drop-in company and spur of the moment get-togethers. But my lipstick is usually in the last place I look and my hairdo is usually leftover from yesterday unless I have a reason to fire up the flatiron. Our friends were quick to apologize for not calling first and I was quick to apologize for the Flashdance hair, so we spent a fair amount of time going around in that circle.

We had such a nice visit that I decided right then and there that we should all back off. Yep, that’s right. Back off the rigidity of looking for the perfect moment to make that phone call to the friend of a friend who lost a loved one. Back off looking for that perfect recipe for that delicious pie your mom once made to take to your neighbor. Back off the hesitation to tell your boss congratulations (yes, your boss!) on a job well done because you don’t think you will say it well.  

You may have heard me say this but having nice manners isn’t about following a bunch of rules. However, you should know the rules well enough so that you can show some grace and charm.

Just pull up in someone’s driveway and say Hello. You won’t believe what fun it will be.

it was a beautiful sunday

It’s Sunday afternoon. There’s a fire in the fireplace. Ben is up in his room doing his homework. Emma has her pre-algebra spread out on the coffee table. The Hubs is on the sofa with his laptop. The dishwasher is whirring it’s work on Sunday’s dirty dishes. I survey the scene. It’s a quiet afternoon. Everything is as it should be.

But, the phone rings. The land line.

Emma picks it up on the first ring and stares at the display waiting for the Caller ID to spill it. After the second ring, she tilts her head to the side and says “Columbus, Georgia?” and presses the green button.

Oh, no, they did not.

Since I work from home most days, I am on to the tricks of the skillful telemarketer. Have you noticed the latest strategy? Rather than Caller ID displaying the typical ‘Unknown Caller’, it might read something like ‘Abbeville, Georgia’ or ‘Florence, Alabama’.  Of course I’m going to answer a call from a real town. Now, if the display read ‘New York, New York’, admittedly, I probably wouldn’t answer. For obvious reasons, of course.


“Yessir. Just one minute, please.” And she looked at The Hubs.

“Such nice telephone manners, Doodlebug. Now, would you hand me that phone?” I said as I somewhat forcefully pinned her down high school wrastlin’ style and pried the phone from her shocked and fear-gripped fingers.

“Hello.” I said. It was a statement.

I walked out of the room with just a hair more intention than I meant. You see, Sunday afternoons are not for telemarketers. They are for Mamas.

“Uh. I was holding for Darrell.” I mean the gall. A real sounding man from a real sounding town.

“This is his wife, Kate. Is there something I can help you with?” Left hand on left hip.

“Oh! Hey, Kate. This is Chris with S&G.”  Customer. Hubs. Overreact? Completely. Left index finger on left canine tooth. I’m usually not at a loss for words.

I have no idea where that reaction to the phone ringing came from, but it scared Emma to death and forced me into a conversation of which I have no recollection with a person I really like.

This is today’s tale from the trail. Now, go forth with courage and answer your phone with grace. I’ve said it before…this is a ‘do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do’ kind of program.

anna says…


Party on! It’s New Year’s Eve!

Really. She does. That’s what she’s thinking, anyway. Subtlety is her specialty.

Actually, she told me to tell you this: If you’re gonna do it, do it right.

These people you will party with tonight? You will see them again.

Don’t post pictures of people on Facebook or Twitter doing something…unsavory.

You have all day to think of things to talk about other than things that are gossipy. Think hard.

Work up a good toast for the all the good things to come. Makes you look debonair.

Use a napkin.

Offer a napkin to the one who isn’t using one and being gross. Man, woman or child. 

Let your dog sleep in the bed with you every single night.

And feed him table scraps.



Early morning reminder


Our land line rang very early this morning, but it was just someone who had dialed a wrong number. I buried everybody in my family in the time it took me to find my glasses and stumble to the phone.  

The caller spoke with a British accent, so when he asked for ‘Samantha’ with a lilt found only across the pond, I really wanted to be her. I tried to get him to talk without admitting I was not Samantha, but I’m not very quick on my feet until I have my coffee. So, after hearing he had the wrong number, he went on to apologize. He said he would look up the number next time rather than try to remember.  Oh yeah, I got a full dose of that near-musical treat.  Immediately, this is the image that came to mind…

Old London Town.  Lights.  History.  Culture.  Mystery.  Style.  Sophistication.

Do you ever wonder what image people conjure up when you talk to them on the phone? 




 phone rage.JPG

You really should.

I gladly offer these suggestions to bear in mind the next time you talk on the teley.

  • Your mouth should be empty.  We can hear you chewing and it’s no less audible over the phone than in person.
  • No typing and talking.  Multi-tasking is a necessary skill these days, but there is no way you can give your full attention to the person on the phone if you are typing an email to someone else.
  • Be ready to talk.  Haven’t you answered the phone to someone saying, “Oh, hold on just a sec.”?  Don’t waste their time.  Dial the number and state your piece.
  • To really appear genuine on the phone, use your facial expressions as you would if the person were right in front of you.  This will give your end of the conversation a friendly and purposeful tone.
  • Eliminate background noise before dialing.  That means you may need to wait until you are off the street, out of the store or off the subway before dialing.
  • Don’t use the “Please enjoy the music while your party is reached” feature if you use your cell for any business purpose whatsoever. It’s unprofessional. 
  • Lastly and obviously, please, please don’t yell.  Modern technology allows you to use your inside voice. 




Now. When you hear your phone ring, converse with confidence. You never know! It might be that cute British boy that called me. You can have him.  I’m married. You may need a date this weekend. Oh yeah, or a job. Or a new client.

Sorry. I forgot why I was writing this.

christmas party time at the office

It’s Christmas party time at the office and it’s not all play time, ya know…

Office parties offer a great chance to make a great impression – or not. You can either put your best foot forward or shoot yourself in the foot, so go into party mode knowing what your objectives are. Are you there to mingle with your co-workers, build rapport, earn their respect or are you there to win the traditional game of quarters that happens late at night every year? Are you there for a chance to impress the company president and his wife or are you there for the beef tenderloin?

 You should be considering the office party a way to promote yourself. Use these tips to make yourself comfortable, charming and absolutely fabulous:

  • Attend. Don’t give up the chance to hang out with your colleagues and get to know what makes them tick.
  • Don’t drink too much alcohol. Stories that come from drunken office party mishaps do not die quickly or quietly.
  • When you get there, seek out the highest level person responsible for the gathering, shake their hand and thank them for a nice event.
  • Hold your drink in your left hand. This leaves your right hand dry and ready for a handshake.
  • If you are to wear a nametag, wear it on the right side of your chest.
  • Don’t go through the food line more than once piling your plate high. First, it looks greedy. Second, you shouldn’t spend so much time on the food when you could be rubbing elbows with the new marketing manager putting together a team to evaluate a new client from Rio.
  • Some people simply are not comfortable in a group social setting – even if it is a for-business function. Be sure to speak to those that look most uncomfortable. Your initiative will be noticed by higher-ups and you can be certain the favor won’t be lost on your co-worker. This is the sort of act that will come back to you twofold.   

Savvy Suggestion Practice these tips at purely social events so you will be ready when office party time rolls around.

new holiday etiquette, part 1

You heard it here first: There are some rules of etiquette that are old and, dare I say, not cool. They don’t apply in today’s society and can even make people feel uncomfortable. The new etiquette world is riding high on thoughtfulness, tolerance, open-mindedness and kindness while the stuffy ole’ rules of years past have been tucked away for another time and place. 

This week, I’m going to be posting about New Holiday Etiquette so I hope you’ll stop back by often. This is Part 1…
Entertain This Way, Not That Way 

The massive undertaking of putting together a soiree (big or small) used to fall solely on the host and we have all had that it-seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time feeling when guests are due within the hour. But, that was when June Cleaver was in charge. Today, I don’t have one friend who would be able to pull off a cocktail party given the time spent caring for kids, aging parents or, heaven forbid, themselves. Well, you are in luck! Potluck, that is. The new way to entertain, especially during the hectic holiday season, is to fashion your event potluck style. It is perfectly acceptable to plan a gathering and ask each guest to contribute a food item. It is enough that you are willing to open your home as a venue for friends and family to hang-out and let their hair down. If you are lucky enough to be invited to such a hip and happnin’ party, be sure to contribute your best. Running through the market on your way to the party to pick up the cheese tray in that clear plastic container is not acceptable. It doesn’t look good or taste good. Break out an old family recipe or one you know will win over even the pickiest of eaters, whip it together, put it in an attractive serving piece and you are set. You could even print out several recipe cards that could be placed next to your dish for those that are particularly fond of your tasty treat.

Funky Flower Series Recipe Cards

Trifle Recipe Cards (add 5 or so completed recipe cards to this one, tie up with a ribbon and voila!…Hostess Gift!)

Not only will the effort you spent be appreciated by your host, it will serve as an ice-breaker when you find yourself standing next to someone you’ve yet to meet. “Hi, I’m Kate Lewis. My sister just emailed this sun-dried tomato and pesto dip recipe to me. She likes to make this for her book club. Do you like to read?” “Yes, I do, in fact, I just bought a Kindle.” And so the conversation goes… 

And since you mentioned it, here are other conversation tips: 
* Old etiquette dictates a “respectable exchange of pleasantries” before anything really meaty can be discussed. New etiquette says to simply be pleasant and respectful. Note a person’s body language. If their eye contact is minimal and their shoulders are angled away from you, they don’t want to talk. If their eyes are engaging, they are smiling and their body is fully facing you, go for it! Ask what their plans are for the holidays. Ask if they have any big travel plans this season. Ask if they have stumbled upon this year’s must-have gadget and what they think about it. Start with “Tell me…”, which forces a better response than Yes or No. Just don’t fall into the “So, what do you do?” routine. Go to a party with a list of conversation-starting questions you can draw upon. That will give you the confidence to walk up to a stranger, put out your hand, introduce yourself (with first and last name) and begin a conversation. Your host will love you for helping everyone have a fun time. 
*If you find the conversation well running dry, talk about somebody else – in a good way. “Have you met John Wellman? He is the architect working on the new office building by the river. Let me introduce you.” Make the introduction and when a new conversation emerges, make your escape with a soft “Excuse me”. You do not have to wait around to make sure a lasting friendship develops. Do not, however, lose your charm by starting a gossip fest because you couldn’t think of anything else to say. You would rather someone consider you shy than consider you a busy-body. 
* Old etiquette says in the case of a forgotten name to not let on for fear of hurting someone’s feelings. Life’s too short for that sort of pretense. Just say, “I’m really sorry to ask this, but would you tell me your name again?” 99.9% of the time I say this, the person laughs and says, “I’m glad you said that because I’ve forgotten yours, too!” Crisis averted and easy conversation about forgetfulness ensues. 

Easy as pie. 
Or, easy as the pie ingredients you could ask a guest to bring to the Pre-Party Preppin’ Time. 

Be sure to check back this week and learn more about New Holiday Etiquette. Oh, yes, there’s more. LOTS more.

just put it all out there and let it grow

You want to know the hard truth? Sometimes, you just have to put yourself out there to keep moving forward.

Not literally. Not in a cleavage and thigh bearing kind of way. I’m talking about willingly throwing yourself into a situation whose outcome you can’t predict. Some people crave that feeling of uncertainty, that adrenaline rush, that dash to make something happen. Others dash in the other direction if they are asked to step one millimeter outside their comfort zone.

Lately, I’ve had a few situations in which I’ve had to put myself out for display. I guess it had been a while since I had challenged myself in that way because it was hard! Terrible insecurities crept in. Insecurities that should have long ago been squashed. Like around the 7th grade, they should have been squashed. When thoughts like I hope nobody laughs at me start swimming around in your head, it’s time to put on the proverbial big girl panties.

At an event over the weekend, someone snapped a picture of me talking to a man whose book I had just signed. I wish you could have seen the way I was holding my mouth. At that particular moment, he was doing the talking so I should have had a pleasant expression on my face, I should have been looking him in the eye, etc. Oh no. Not the business etiquette professional that I am. I was looking at his face, generally, but my lips were curled around hiding my teeth. And, do you want to know why? Three hours ago, I had eaten a brownie. As this man approached my table, I had this sudden fear that a piece of brownie was stuck in my teeth. From three hours ago? That’s not even logical! A piece of spinach, maybe, but not a brownie.

At some other point, I remember trying to hold my head upright as I signed someone’s book because I didn’t want them to see my gray roots. Thankfully, no one got a picture of that one. I can only imagine how graceful and poised that came across. I’m nearly 6 feet tall. Exactly how many other ladies can even see the top of my head, I ask you? So, that’s not logical, either.

Do you see the trend? We find ourselves in a situation that is challenging and weirdness starts to emerge. I had a friend in college who would try to twirl her eye brow on speech day in our Public Speaking class. I know…that begs a couple of questions, but that’s off topic.  The really depressing part is that we do these things and sometimes don’t even realize it. Not until someone takes our picture with our lips doing gymnastics. Ok, maybe that’s just me.

But, there is a light at the end of the tunnel! The more you put yourself out there, the easier it becomes. Swear. You get accustomed to the unexpected. You become more and more comfortable with yourself and other people. As adults, we have the freedom to stick with what we know and like. Ultimately, this will, in fact, take your freedom away. If you will push yourself beyond your comfort zone, feel the feeling of success and enjoy the gratification of doing something you thought you couldn’t, you grow. As a result of this growth, there is freedom beyond what you can imagine today.

So, the next time a smart-mouthed 9 year old boy tells you you look like Lady Gaga as you walk out the door to give a presentation, exercise your new found freedom by telling him, politely, that he smells like a mud puddle. If he’s 9 and he’s a boy, it’s likely that he does.

Birmingham and Southern Living

Would you think less of me if I confessed that I didn’t know there were mountains in Birmingham, Alabama? Well, big hills, anyway. What a beautiful town! Em and I had such a wonderful time eating and sight-seeing our way around for, oh, about 18 hours.

We stayed at The Aloft Hotel. Very contemporary with yummy beds. It was also across the street from Tutti Frutti, a yougurt shop where you serve yourself. That’s right, heap on the toppings, Honey. After you build your creation, it’s weighed to determine how much you owe. I think it’s a little wrong that they use a scale to determine its weight right in front of you. Red Velvet Cake yogurt with crushed Oreo’s, chopped up Kit Kat and just a touch of Ghirardelli caramel add up in a hurry.  In more ways than one.

For dinner, we met my friend who took us to The Club. The view overlooking Birmingham was spectacular. Not to mention the hummus and the bibb rolls. And the mushroom risotto.  Interesting tidbit…the producer for the movie Staying Alive grew up in Birmingham and modeled the famous dance floor in the movie with lighted blocks of color after the dance floor in the main dining room there. As my friend, standing on yellow, was telling us about this, the song Staying Alive was growing in my head. It was like someone was slowly turning up the volume as she made her way to the punch line.  Louder, louder, louder until it was all I could do not to burst out with Ah, ah, ah, ah, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive. If this etiquette business doesn’t work out, I may just call her up, see if she wants to take that show on the road.

For breakfast the next morning, we ate at Another Broken Egg. It was just as yummy as the beds at The Aloft. And, we saw the cutest couple. Had to be in their 80’s. She was wearing a lavender suit, her long gray hair up in a bun, slingbacks with a square heel, nude pantyhose, pearls around her neck with pearl and gold ear screws. Screws, not clips. I was immediately thrown back to my great grandmother’s bedroom playing with her pearls and ear screws and anxiously awaiting the day it would take me more than 5 minutes to be ready to walk out the door. (Be careful what you wish for, right?) He, the perfect gentleman, was starched and creased. We overheard them discussing what they would be having for breakfast and, get this…when the server got to their table, he ordered for her. When done right (and he did it right), it’s not a show and it doesn’t scream I’m in charge, it’s a nicety. It’s sweet.  It’s thoughtful. Guys should learn how to do this. Honestly, that 82 year old gentleman had me swooning.

And then…the highlight of our trip…we toured the Southern Living headquarters. My life is now complete. I can die a happy woman. Well, after that man from the breakfast place teaches The Hubs how to order my breakfast for me using my name, describing my eggs the way I like them and does it with a twinkle in his eye AND after touring the Southern Living headquarters, I can die a happy woman.  As we walked from the reception area toward the offices and the TK (that’s SL lingo for Test Kitchen), we could begin to smell the smell we all aspire to produce when we dare to try a SL recipe. I didn’t smell the first bag of burned popcorn in this office, that’s for sure. It was heavenly.

Every person we met was so friendly! The photographer who was shooting a bowl of cut up melon with chopped mint didn’t seem to mind at all that we were salivating on her props. It was the color coordination that was driving me insane. And the perfectly ironed napkins. There was an entire rolling cart full of props that I just wanted to pick up and rub my cheek against. It looks so simple, yet…as we all know…not.  We spent the most time in the Test Kitchen where, again, everyone was so willing to let us gawk and drool. We even met the lady who produced the white cake on this month’s cover! I asked her a couple of very intelligent questions, naturally. She was kind enough to act like they were that, anyway.  

Personally, I’m typically intimidated by a SL recipe unless it has 5 or fewer ingredients. Not anymore and here’s why. One of the first things I realized as we walked into these kitchens is that they are so normal! They don’t look anything like the gourmet ones featured in the Homes section of their magazine. They use a regular, everyday Whirlpool oven and a regular, everyday Weber grill. I finally had to say, “Ya’ll are killing me with the McCormick spices and the Arm & Hammer baking soda! I was expecting something really fancy!” (I didn’t say it exactly like that.) Their response was very matter-of-fact. “Of course not. We cook like the average person cooks using what the average person can get at Kroger or Publix.” Well, how about that.

So, I left Birmingham and Southern Living inspired to do 2 things.

1)      I am going to brush up on that little added touch that can make a person feel special. I probably won’t order breakfast for The Hubs, but I might work out a system to remember facts about people I meet so I can ask them about what’s going on in their life the next time I see them.

2)      I am going to be more willing to try things that, at first glance, look too hard. I’m going to dub my kitchen the TK more often, I’m going to organize the shelves in my office and I’m going to start learning how to speak Spanish.

Now, I want to know. What are you inspired to do?

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