Kerrying On

Kerrying On: Confessions of a Professional Trick-or-Treater

Kerry Patterson

Kerry Patterson is coauthor of four New York Times bestsellers, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Accountability, Influencer, and Change Anything.


Kerrying On

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With Halloween just around the corner, I thought I’d draw this month’s material from my childhood trick-or-treating experiences. I’ll start with a rather bold allegation. I just may have been the best candy grabber in the history of Halloween. “Pshaw!” you say. Well, here’s the evidence.

As I walked home with my best friend one crisp October afternoon in 1956, he asked me a rather naïve question: “Do you want to go trick-or-treating with me?” What a hayseed! Didn’t he know anything about the finer art of extracting candy from strangers? First of all, going door to door with friends is a huge mistake. When you travel with friends, you slow down as you talk.

Trick-or-treat rule number one: During the precious few hours of the one night of the year when candy is free for the asking, don’t slow down for anything. Every moment lost could cost you a candy bar—which, by the way, just happens to be your only reason for going out in the first place. (It’s all about the chocolate.) One Halloween, I sprinted by a house that was on fire and didn’t break stride. You think I’m going to go trick-or-treating with a friend?

Here’s another time-related hint. Today’s kids tote plastic pumpkins and other such store-bought trinkets for holding their goodies. I carried, and I’m not making this up, a ratty looking burlap bag that originally contained a hundred pounds of potatoes. I chose this cast-off carrier because I didn’t have time to be swapping out bags in the middle of the evening. This choice, quite naturally, caused problems. By the end of the evening, a potato sack jammed with candy weighed just about as much as I did. Equally bad, a lot of people were offended by it. “Look at that thing! It’s positively disgusting!” they’d say as I held out a bag large enough to schlep a yak.

Rule number two: Run from door to door. When you only have a five-hour window to get free candy, you run. You don’t walk, you don’t jog, and you don’t even trot. You run. Of course, to be perfectly honest, not everybody took advantage of the full five-hour running period, but I did. I was always the first and last kid on the street. Every year my Halloween adventure started with: “It’s not time yet you moron! I’m still doing the lunch dishes!” and ended with: “You woke me out of a dead sleep!”

Rule number three: Put the trick back in trick-or-treat. The candy companies of the fifties didn’t produce the pathetic miniature bars they now make in such abundance, so when someone gave you a candy bar back in my day (and I firmly believe this qualified them for sainthood), you got a full-sized candy bar. This didn’t happen very often, but when it did, you scored big.

So, here was the trick. I’d carry three masks. I didn’t normally don a mask because it would limit my vision and slow me down. But if someone gave me, say, a Hershey bar (most people gave out penny candy) I’d hit a couple of neighbors’ doors, put on a mask, and return to the place that was giving out the mother lode. I would repeat this stunt with a different mask until they caught on to me. “Say, haven’t you been here before?” I once scored ten Almond Joy bars from the same house.

Rule number four: Beware of baked goods. I was raised at a time when a handful of homemakers still made their own treats—cupcakes frosted with an inch of gooey chocolate icing. They’d beam with pride when they opened their front door. “Here you go sonny,” they’d say as they held out a tray full of their baked concoction while eyeing my bag suspiciously. Now what was I supposed to do with a cupcake? Consuming it was out of the question. That violated the fifth rule of trick-or-treating: Never eat on the job.

One year I made the grievous error of letting a well-intended grandmother drop a cupcake into the center of my bag. I swear the chocolate-covered treat had its own gravitational field—sucking every decent piece of candy into its icing atmosphere until, by the end of the evening, it had grown to the size of a medicine ball. I learned to take cupcakes gingerly in my hand and then use them to mulch the neighbors’ flower beds.

Now for today’s broader (and less halloweeny) lesson.

Before writing it down for this column, I’d never shared this childhood story with my own children. As much fun as it is, I suppose all these years I’ve had a fear of exposing a certain quirkiness about me and my love for chocolate, or revealing that at one time, I was a bit greedy and weird. This hesitance to share a shadier side of my past raises an interesting issue. When you mostly share your accomplishments (as the majority of us are wont to do) and fail to share your embarrassing moments, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities, you’re less interesting and less human. All of this superficial perfection amounts to an individual who is less approachable and doesn’t connect well with others.

The same could be said for your relationships at work. I’m pretty confident in assuming that most everyone has a peculiar story like my Halloween ritual that they’d rather keep locked away than aired to friends and coworkers like dirty laundry. Instead, we delight each other with long and impressive lists of accomplishments, noble experiences, and stories that aren’t really told, but rather boasted to anyone in ear shot.

Ironically, sharing a list of accomplishments typically creates more distance than unity. However, sharing oddities, fears, and stories of your personal faux pas creates the very glue that binds people together. Of course, we typically don’t share such personal information at work. It’s just not done. Nevertheless, at a time when companies expect employees to work in more collaborative and “team-oriented” ways, how can we expect to be unified into anything that even approximates a social unit when all we know about each other is what can be found on our resumes?

So, this Halloween season, dare to be vulnerable. Consider donning a new costume this year, not one shielded by masks of sobriety, perfection, and accomplishments; rather, expose your coworkers to the more interesting you—the geek you, the childlike you, the oddball you. For instance, did you dunk for apples as a teenager until you choked and spit up on your date? Did you make your own costume for a neighborhood competition only to have critical parts of it fall off during the awards ceremony? Or, as related earlier, did you aggressively knock doors on Halloween night until someone finally shouted: “Hey kid, it’s time to haul your potato sack home!”

Knowing stuff like that binds families and teams together.

Crucial Conversations QA

Crucial Applications: Office Haunting—How to Have Scary Conversations at Work

Across the U.S., employees are haunted by something scary and destructive—and it’s not ghosts and goblins. According to our research, more than 70 percent of people run in fear from a scary conversation with their boss, coworker, or direct report.

Respondents shared examples of the four scariest conversations at work:

  1. Bad behavior: “I had to tell my manager that my supervisor was a terrible leader and doing long‐term damage to the company.”
  2. Obnoxious behavior: “My coworker was meddling in my life and criticizing my children. She actually said my daughter looked like a hooker.”
  3. Illegal activity: “An executive accused me of changing a document after he had signed it.”
  4. Performance reviews: “I had to explain to my direct report that his intentions/actions were not being well received by staff, and that it would hurt his credibility to continue on that path.”

But these conversations don’t have to be scary. Follow these tips for approaching and conquering scary conversations about bad behavior:

  • Talk face‐to‐face and in private. Don’t chicken out by reverting to e‐mail or phone.
  • Assume the best of others. Perhaps the other person is unaware of the effects of his or her actions. Enter the conversation as a curious friend rather than an angry co‐worker.
  • Use tentative language. Describe the problem by saying, “I’m not sure you’re intending this . . .” or “I’m not even sure you’re aware. . .”
  • Share facts not conclusions. Not only are conclusions possibly wrong, they also create defensiveness. Say, “In the last two meetings you laughed at my suggestion. I expect people to disagree, but . . .”
  • Invite dialogue. Next, ask if he or she sees the problem differently. If you are open to hearing others’ points of view, they’ll be more open to yours.
Crucial Conversations QA

Changing Your Mind about a Job Offer

Joseph Grenny

Joseph Grenny is coauthor of four New York Times bestsellers, Change Anything, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.


Crucial Conversations

QDear Crucial Skills,

Some time ago, I rejected a perfectly good job offer. I now realize that I made the biggest mistake of my life. The line manager actually personally called me after the interview process to reassure me that he was very eager for me to join his team. Is it a good idea to call him back to inquire about possible opportunities?

Provided I am granted a face-to-face meeting, how do I ask to join his team after I rejected a previous offer?

Overcoming My Biggest Mistake

A Dear Overcoming,

By all means, make the call! Now! You have nothing to lose. It’s possible that the hiring manager will only feel flattered that you reconsidered. Of course, he may have found another candidate already. Or he may have felt hurt if you gave some indication that you would accept and then didn’t. Or if you just went silent and never actually shared your decision to decline, he may feel insulted or have a negative view of your emotional maturity.

Here are two possible scenarios as well as tips for handing each conversation.

Scenario 1: You clearly and respectfully declined the offer. You need to do three things in your conversation:

  1. Reaffirm your original feelings about the offer.
  2. Help him make sense of your change of heart.
  3. Make it easy for him to let you know the position was filled.

This might sound like, “I know it’s been a couple of weeks since we’ve spoken, and I fully understand that you may have extended another offer for the position. If it is still open, I want you to know I have changed my mind about staying where I am. I realize now that I let a fear of the unknown keep me back from something that would be truly exciting to me. This job would give me a chance to use the full range of skills I’ve been trained for. I’m ready to jump in if the job is available. And if it’s not, I want you to know I would like to talk about other options in the future.”

Scenario 2: You didn’t handle it well. If you expressed enthusiasm then changed your mind, or if you waited too long to let him know you wouldn’t be coming, or if you offended him in some other way, start there.

For example, you might say, “I want you to know I’ve changed my mind about your offer, and I’d like to explain why. But I also want you to know I’ve been feeling some guilt over how I may have offended or inconvenienced you when we discussed the position earlier. I was embarrassed to let you know I had changed my mind so I waited two days to call you. In retrospect, I think I may have caused you to waste time in filling the position. I am sorry if that is the case . . .”

Let him respond by either acknowledging that this was an issue or bringing up any other concerns you might have created. Give him permission to factor these concerns into his decision about reconsidering you. Then move on to explain why you’ve changed your mind.

I wish you the best in this decision. I know making such a leap can be scary. I hope it works out well for you and the organization you’ll join.