Problem With The In-Laws

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This week’s issue:

Problem With The In-Laws


To add your comments and discuss the ideas in this email please go to my blog:

Last week I told you about a harrowing problem from a fellow reader. This week I have another one for you, not quite as harrowing, but still a problem for the lady concerned and rather embarrassing for me….

The Problem

We’ll call our correspondent Janet for the sake of anonymity.

Janet has a grandson. Quite understandably, she loves to go and look after her grandson and baby-sit for her daughter-in-law.

Though at first she got on extremely well with Sandra, her daughter-in-law, after a while relations became strained and she asked me for advice on how things could be resolved.

I asked what happened. (As usual I have changed a few of the details to keep it anonymous.)

The Incident

She went over to babysit and noticed that the washing had piled up rather so, as she was there anyway, she put a load of washing in. By the time Janet was home it was all done, ironed and put away.

Janet went berserk. She was insulted, furious and told her mother-in-law to mind her own business and only do the things she was asked to do.

There was a terrible phone call when Janet demanded to speak to Sandra’s husband. He went round to see if he could sort the problem out.

He failed.

There was a lot more to it than what I’ve put here, but I expect you get the picture.

How Embarrassing

As I read the email, I started to cringe. I remembered when my own mother-in-law had come to stay for the first time.

I was out for the day and when I came home things were different. Everything, including our bed and my underwear, had been ironed.

Things had been put away. I didn’t know where. Stuff had been made for tea. I could go on.

I felt insulted. Didn’t she think I could run my own house? I had lived on my own for over ten years, I knew what I was doing. And I never iron my knickers.

So I asked her not to do anything and just have a rest while she was here.

The Need To Be Useful

But the trouble was, she wasn’t happy. She felt useless because she wasn’t able to contribute. That hadn’t really occurred to me. So now I save up the jobs for her.

We have come to an understanding. She doesn’t do all those things round the house (particularly ironing the bed – it looked like a billiard table) or iron my knickers.

Instead, she does things that really help. I save up the ironing and, on Christmas day this year I had all the vegetables ready for her to peel and chop that morning. She always wakes up early on Christmas day so was delighted to have something to do. I was delighted not to have to do the sprouts.

This works really well for both of us (and no, I’m not renting her out, so don’t bother to ask).

Oh No! Am I Turning Into My Mother-in-Law?

Then something happened. I was watching one of my favourite sit-coms: The Big Bang Theory. Anyone who studied physics (or indeed any science subject) will probably like this reminder of their old socially incapable friends.

This episode featured one of the main characters, Sheldon, doing his laundry. He had a strange device for folding his clothes. He put them onto this piece of equipment that looked like several floor tiles loosely linked, and hey presto – they all came out folded the same size and looking like something out of Benetton.

I had to have one. (If you want one they are called Star Folders and you can find them on the web. I highly recommend them…) Now I can’t bear it if the towels and sheets in the linen cupboard aren’t correctly folded and filed. I’m hoping I’ll be able to resist the urge if my own daughter ever gets married…

Are You Denying Someone The Chance To Help?

I urge you to check if you are keeping everything to yourself and not letting others contribute somewhere in your life (work or home). Just yesterday I heard a doctor talking on the radio about out of hours services.

His point was that the government had dictated what those services should be and when they should be available. But these regulations did not suit all his patients, so he had developed a service that did suit his patients but did not comply with the government guidelines.

‘Why didn’t they involve us when they designed this system?’ He asked. Make sure you are involving the right people and remember to share the load.

Doing the Right Thing

In case you are interested, our next teleseminar is on 10th Feb on Dealing With Difficult People.

I’ll be covering a whole range of really simple easy things you can do with

  • negative people,
  • bullies,
  • nit-pickers,
  • thick-skinned insensitive people

and much more.  To book your place on this or any of our teleseminars use this link:

To get your discount for several teleseminars use this coupon code JAN19TELE

It’s valid till the end of January.


To add your comments and discuss the ideas in this email please go to my blog:

A few weeks ago I received a harrowing email from a Grapevine reader that completely grabbed my attention. I have made a few changes to keep the identity private.

A Really Difficult Problem

“I was hoping to seek your expert advice on a matter that has been bothering us. I manage an office of 10. One of my subordinates (an efficient worker) was recently diagnosed with a deadly disease. In my country the disease is much feared. None of my staff have a clue about it.

We are in a fix as to how to handle the situation. We can’t allow the person to continue without letting the other staff know about the condition, as the disease is feared to spread. We can’t even ask the person to leave, the employee is the only bread winner. My heart goes out to the person. We are based in XXXX, where lawsuits aren’t really a problem, so that is not what we are scared of. Can you help!”

Fortunately most of us will never be faced with such a dreadful dilemma. I spent a long time thinking about what to do and how I could possibly help this person.

I knew what I thought he should do: help the colleague as much as possible and educate his other colleagues. But I was also aware that it is very easy to give this advice from my safe little study where I do not have to deal with the cultural issues (which can be very hard).

What also preyed on my mind was the death, about 15 years ago, of a very dear friend of mine, from what I suspect was the same disease. Because of the stupid social prejudices of the time, our friend didn’t tell us he was dying, so we didn’t have a chance to say goodbye.

Whilst I know he got the best medical treatment that was available at the time, I still deeply regret that circumstances meant he couldn’t tell us.

The more I thought about this, the more I realized that our correspondent was likely to be a kind, caring person. Otherwise he would have simply fired the individual concerned. Perhaps even more importantly, I wanted his colleague and family to get the support they need.

So I cast about for examples of situations where people had done the right thing even though it was hard for them.

An Example

My mother’s mother, when advanced in years (certainly drawing her pension), was walking down the High Street one day and saw a ‘yob’ beating up a young Indian chap. She rushed up to him, brandishing her umbrella and shouted: ‘Put him down!’.

The ‘yob’ dropped his victim in surprise. They both stared at my grandmother. ‘Well run, you fool!’ She shouted, more on-the-ball than these men about a quarter of her age.

Over the years, I remember many occasions when my father made it quite clear to me that standing up for what was right was the correct course of action and nothing else was acceptable.

I knew he was right and that I had to give this advice, but had a concern that it would appear easy for me sitting in my comfortable office not having to live with the consequences. I sent some examples from my grandparents and from my father in the hope this would give our dear correspondent the support he needed.

A Week of Silence

I heard nothing for seven days. It was a long and worrying wait. Even though we had only exchanged a few emails I felt that this person was a friend in great need and I was really worried, for him and for his colleague. I wondered if I had gone too far and offended him.

Then, on 22nd Dec I had a really bad day. My mother-in-law was staying with us and she had not put the top on some soup properly so, when I reached for it, I spilled it all over my brand new fridge. I then had to spend half an hour cleaning it all out. As a consequence of rushing to leave I forgot two parcels I needed to post.

We left late. Then we got stuck in bad traffic. Then my mother-in-law decided that she wasn’t hungry and didn’t want to go out for lunch as we had planned. Then she changed her mind again. So I ended up missing my lunch (a nightmare scenario for me.)

When I got home I hastily wrapped the parcels I had forgotten from earlier and rushed to the post office to find it closed. I called Charlie to get directions to another, but the directions were wrong. Eventually I finally found one that was open, just in time to see the postman leaving. So I had missed the post. I felt very annoyed.

As I stood grumbling to myself in the queue waiting for a woman who took a full 10 minutes, I absent-mindedly checked my emails and saw one from my dear friend. Here it is:

The Rersponse

“Dear Nancy,

I cannot tell you how much I appreciate, you taking out so much time in writing back. Especially to someone whom you hardly know! The Lord has surely blessed you with a very kind and patient heart.

Thank you a million for the words of encouragement and wisdom. I must apologize for not having responded to you any earlier. But I surely spent the week working out and deliver what I now firmly believe is the right way to handle this situation. I actually took the liberty of sharing extracts from your mail with the other decision makers here. In a gist here is what we decided & actioned:

1. The Colleague can continue to work with us as long as possible

2. The rest of the staff were apprised about the situation and also educated

3. Their support was sought in ensuring that the disease or the matter be never discussed with the colleague, and every attempt be made to make the colleague feel comfortable.

4. Also take certain educational sessions on necessary precautions that need to be taken compulsorily

5. Provide all the necessary medical reimbursements to handle the course of the medication

6. All informed were sworn into maintaining absolute privacy about the matter. Its not to be discussed for any reason whatsoever”

The Best Christmas Present

I can’t tell you how happy I was to get that email. To know that someone had taken the  challenging but right path, in spite of the personal difficulties for him was truly inspiring. That’s why I’m sharing it with you.

I hope you don’t ever have to deal with anything like this, but we do all have smaller situations when we have the opportunity to do something to make others’ lives better, even though there is a cost to us (financial or otherwise).


Recently I’ve been helping someone deal with being bullied his their manager. Happily he was able to get a transfer to another department. The question was, should he do something about the way the manager behaved (it was pretty bad) to try to reduce the chances of it happening to someone else?

And if so, what?

He just wanted to get away from the situation and leave it behind him, which is understandable, but in this case that means it is almost certain someone else will run into the same problem (we already know who that will be).

Do You Have An Opportunity?

What can you do to right a wrong? If we all did this on behalf of our fellow creatures, I suspect there would be fewer injustices in the world and perhaps more happiness.

Have a go.

The Easy Things

New Teleseminars

Today we launch our new series of teleseminars on many different topics.(You just need a phone, no special equipment to join the teleseminar.) We’re giving discounts to you if you buy places on 4 or more, and if you book places for more than one person in your organisation.

As always you get a full set of notes, a transcript and a recording of the teleseminar (as soon as they are available).

The topics include

  • Bullying
  • Objectives and Appraisals
  • Dealing with Difficult People
  • Time Management
  • Creating Tenders
  • How to Deal With a Difficult Manager
  • How to Create Effective Powerpoint Presentations
  • How to Improve Your Memory

See them here:

To get your discount use this coupon code JAN19TELE

Remember, just like any other product, these teleseminars are covered by our full money back guarantee: If you are not happy with the material, the teleseminar or any aspect, we will give you a full refund.


The Easy Things

I expect many of you will have really useful ideas on this topic that we can all share. Please add them by going to:

Just before Christmas I went to see my old friend Lindsey. It’s always a great conversation and I come away with lots of useful ideas and tips. This time was no exception.

Lindsey said she had decided that it was time to go through the house with a paper and pencil drawing up a list of the really simple, easy and cheap things she could do to improve it.

The Impact

As a result of this list and her actions she has saved between 25 and 35% of her heating bill.

The List

The simple things included:

  • Updating the draft exclusion,
  • Double-glazing one last window (a beautiful stained glass round window in the hall)
  • Adding more lagging to the hot water tank
  • Buying a water-reducing head for the shower

I was inspired and went directly to Wicks (a hardware store) to get an extra jacket for our hot water tank.

We have a solar panel on our roof and, as a result, a control panel that gives us the temperature of the hot water tank at any time of the day or night. I noticed an immediate improvement in the water temperature. It was up by between 4 and 5 degrees, and, not altogether surprisingly, kept up its temperature overnight much better.

As we have a very large tank, we had only been able to cover the top of it with the jacket I had bought, so we got a second one for the lower half and now it’s even better. I wish we’d done it years ago.

I checked a couple of web sites and they estimate the annual savings could be around £35 with an additional £10 for lagging the pipes. The jacket I bought was under £10.

My husband decided to sort out the drafts in the kitchen and I also invested in a radiator fan that sits on top of the radiator and makes sure the hot air comes into the room, rather than heating the wall.

Then we finally finished putting reflectors behind the radiators. This was a job we had started about 15 years ago when we had the heating installed. We had done all the radiators on the outside walls, but not the others.

All very easy stuff and really cheap.

Some Simple Things

So I started wondering what I could do at work along the same lines. Not surprisingly there were quite a few silly things I had just not got round to.

The Drawer

I have a handy drawer in my desk full of address labels, stamps and other postage things. I’ve it this way ever since I got the desk, when I was self-employed. But since then I have started the company and I now hardly ever send out any mail myself.

But there are lots of other things that I do do. So I took out all the postage stuff and put it somewhere else. I replaced it with equipment I use every day, including a stick of lip salve and some emergency chocolate. It sounds so simple, but what a difference it has made. (It has reduced the amount of exercise I get though.)

The Books

Spurred on, I went for the bookshelves. In my work I collect masses of books. Often things are recommended or it may be I am researching a new topic. But whatever it is I end up with lots of them.

The quality varies from the ones I would recommend to virtually anyone to the ones I would consider I’d get more value from if I lit the fire with them.

So I pulled down all in the latter category and put them in a pile ready for the charity shop, in the hope that someone else will find them useful. Suddenly there was a lot more space so I was able to tidy up a few other areas.

My Suggestion

Instead of making life really hard, what are the really easy things you could do to make it a bit better? Do let me know so we can all benefit.

Don’t forget to check out our new series of teleseminars:

A Lesson In Learning

Last week I mentioned a bit about learning to write ‘academically’ and also to ski. This week I would like to expand a little on this topic.

We went skiing with friends over the break. One of those we have been skiing with often is my friend Sam. He is 16 and I have known him all his life. I was there ten years ago for his very first skiing holiday.

Since then his level of skill has rocketed. He flies effortlessly down the slopes, swaying elegantly.  It is a joy to watch him skiing.

How Did He Do It?

How has he reached such a level in ten years? Well, there are two main reasons.

Lots Of Practice

The first is that he has been on many skiing holidays since that first year. Some years two holidays, perhaps even three. I’m afraid practising is really useful when it comes to learning a skill. But it’s not all.

Approach To Learning

The way you approach learning makes a real difference too.

You Learn By Your Mistakes

How often have you heard this? It is rubbish. But it’s close to the truth. Let me tell you more about Sam’s approach to skiing and you’ll see what I mean.

He Doesn’t Mind Falling Over

I don’t think I have ever heard Sam complain about falling over in all the years I have seen him skiing (and falling over). When it happens, he just gets up and gets going. Often he laughs.

He Is Always Trying New Things

Last year Sam was keen to try some complicated jumping. We went to the ‘ski park’ and he tried many times to jump and do various twists at the same time. It looked really hard but he didn’t give up.

He fell over lots of times and didn’t end up achieving his goal before the end of the holiday, in spite of many attempts.

But that didn’t dampen his enthusiasm.

Playing It Safe

You don’t learn from your mistakes, you learn from trying out new things and finding ones that works. The key to learning from these situations is not being worried or embarrassed about making a ‘mistake’.

Knowing Your Limitations

One of the things you often come across on skiing holidays is people keen to show how good they are by being very ‘macho’ and hurtling down black slopes. Funnily enough, Sam wasn’t bothered about doing the black slopes. In fact, I don’t remember him being that concerned about doing them last year either.

He clearly doesn’t feel the need to prove how good he is.

Asking For Help

Another thing you notice about really skilled people is that they don’t mind asking for help. I suspect that’s probably one of the ways they have become so skilled. They’ve just asked for help when they needed it or wanted to know something.

So often I see people who don’t want to do that because they think of it as a sign of weakness.

Speaking German

We were in the German-speaking part of Switzerland for our holiday this year. As we had dinner one evening, Sam asked me how it was that my German was so good (it is compared with his).

I had to laugh when he asked. His German is very poor (he has less than 10 words available to him I think) in spite of three years of lessons. I explained to him that the reason I am still able to communicate in German some 30 years after learning it at school later is because I have used exactly the same technique as he has used in skiing:

I use every opportunity to practise, I don’t mind making mistakes and I’m happy to ask for help when I need it. In the many queues for the ski lifts I practised translating the posters just for a bit of fun.

The Key Lesson

So here’s the main point. There are probably areas in your life where you are applying Sam’s great strategy for learning to ski. But there are probably other areas where you are applying his strategy for learning German (do no work, take no risks, avoid at all cost).

Perhaps you could gain a great deal by changing your strategy and trying something new or taking a few risks. Research tells us that risk-taking is one of the best ways of improving performance, second only to getting clear accurate feedback. It even comes above having clear objectives. So have a go.   Let me know how you get on.

Do you think it’s good to take risks?

An Unfair Advantage

First let me wish you a Happy, Successful and Prosperous New Year.

This week I was talking to Kathy, a friend in the village. Since I last saw her, she has taken up teacher training as a mature student. She’s really looking forward to teaching junior school children (8-10 year olds).

I asked her what the course was like. She sighed. She has had to do a long assignment. She didn’t mind the work; it was the writing up that was causing the problem. As an experienced scientist she is used to writing.

However, it seems that her tutor is not happy with her style. It is not ‘academic’ enough. I asked Kathy what her tutor meant by that and my friend said she didn’t know but suspected it might mean ‘use longer words’.

I asked her if she had asked the tutor to give her some more useful information. She had. She had even asked her tutor to give her an example of what she meant. The tutor told her that she couldn’t do this, because if she were to show Kathy a sample she would have to do the same for all her other students or Kathy would have ‘an unfair advantage’.  So she’d have to show the example to all the other students.

I was shocked.

What did this tutor understand her responsibilities to be? Did she think she was there to make it as difficult as possible for Kathy to learn the skills she needs? And what was all that rubbish about an ‘unfair advantage’? My friend had no problem at all with all her peers seeing an example. What was causing Kathy the problem was that the other students had all recently graduated so were much more familiar with an ‘academic style’ than she was (she graduated more like 20 years ago).

(I also wondered what possible use this assignment was going to be in giving her the skills to teach children.)

Why Do People (Teachers) Do This?

I wonder if it’s because they think learning should be hard and people should struggle. Perhaps it’s because they themselves struggled, or perhaps they think people should work it out for themselves.

Or perhaps they see their job more as marking papers and catching people out rather than enabling their students to get the best possible grade.

Working It Out For Yourself

The thing about this is that it is a very nice idea, but not everyone can work everything out by themselves every time (more about how to do this next week). A moment’s thought easily illustrates the point.

Newton worked out his laws of motion himself, but it took him quite a while (many years). Einstein worked out his theory of special relativity himself, but that took him some time too and I think you’ll find both were quite clear that they couldn’t have done it without ‘standing on the shoulders’ of others.

We don’t have time to work out all these key things ourselves. The job of a teacher is to give us the tools and information we need to do this. This includes drawing our attention to the relevant specifics.

Helping You To Work It Out

In preparation for my skiing holiday I bought Timothy Gallwey’s book, ‘Inner Skiing’.  I have long admired his approach to learning and coaching. He tackles this topic with great skill. He explains that the coach needs to help the learner focus their attention in the right area (or shine the light on the right area as he puts it) so that the individual can learn.

This narrows down the field but does not rob you of the experience of working it out for yourself. What it does is make learning easier and more fun.

On a personal note, if you are a skier of any level of skill I would highly recommend this book. My friends noticed quite a leap in my skiing skills this year and it was purely as a result of reading this book. (When I say ‘leap’ I don’t mean to say I was making jumps or anything like that….). More on that next week.

The neuroscience I am familiar with (and you will have read about here on many occasions if you have been getting this for a while) backs up his approach completely.

By saying that the report must be more ‘academic’ the tutor has not narrowed the field enough for my friend. (Or for me – I don’t really know what she means.) She needs to give my friend a piece of text, it can be on any subject at all, but needs to be in the correct style (whatever she thinks it is) and then ask my friend a question that will focus her attention in the right direction.

It’s Not That Easy

Of course I’m making it sound easy, but helping others to learn is a great skill. It’s very much about asking the right question. This takes a lot of thought and practice.

But It Works

I once met Timothy Gallwey. I asked him for some advice with a client we’ll call Mike. He had a student working with him for a while. The student had a very poor level of meetings skills and was also very shy. Mike wanted to help him improve his skills, but was concerned about upsetting him.

Tim suggested that Mike ask the student to identify what he thought were effective and ineffective meetings behaviours over the following two weeks.

Two week’s later Mike gave me a ring.  ‘You’ll never believe this,’ He said. ‘That student came to see me this morning and said ‘My meetings skills are really bad, can you help me?”

With not much help the student improved drastically.

As Tim explained to me, all the student needed was for his awareness in the right area to be raised. From the neuroscience we know that this means he was then getting the correct feedback in order to learn.

Poor Teaching

Just telling someone that their writing needs to be ‘more academic’ is sloppy and lazy, or it could just be a very poor level of skill. Whichever it is, it’s a very poor example to set to someone training to be a teacher.

What’s even worse is that, when asked the right question, this tutor did not give any useful information. In other words when asked what the difference was between my friend’s style and the ‘academic’ style, she did not give an answer.

It’s hard not to conclude that she doesn’t know the answer herself.

And that’s the beauty of the questioning style to assist learning. You don’t have to know the answer. Just the question. So all the tutor had to do was to provide an example and ask Kathy what she thought the difference was.

Have you ever been in the same situation as Kathy? Let me know. What did you do about it?


You may be interested in our:

Teleseminar on Dealing With Poor Performance

12 January (or the recording if you can’t make the date)

This one hour session will include:

  • What poor performance is
  • How to Identify it quickly
  • What to do about it
  • If you are the manager – how to manage these situations
  • If you are the individual – what to do to make sure you are fairly treated and you meet the required standards

You will also get a full set of notes and have access to the MP3 of the recording as soon as it is available, along with a full transcript of the session. You can just phone in.

It costs £25 (including VAT) and you can sign up using this link.

Once you have signed up we’ll send you all the details. If you come along and don’t find it useful, we’ll completely refund your money, just as we will with any product or service you are not happy with.