Category: Blog

In my early twenties after recently finishing college, I moved to Texas. About a year later, I was finally in a position to buy a pick-up truck (the obligatory cowboy boots and two-step dancing lessons already acquired). The local Chevy dealership had a special promotion going on—buy a vehicle and receive two airplane tickets to anywhere Continental Airlines flew.

I am sure I looked like an easy mark for the car salesman when I walked into the dealership that afternoon. Based on what I could afford, he showed me a no-thrills, four cylinder small pick-up with four-on-the-floor and bench seating. But it did have an FM radio and air conditioning. Sold!

After plunking down my hard earned deposit and signing my life away, I went to pick up the truck. To my horror, it had no back bumper. The truck looked ridiculous without the back bumper, and I’m sure it was dangerous to not have a bumper as it is an integral part of the vehicle.

Panicked, I blurted out, “Where’s the bumper?”

He replied calmly, “You didn’t ask for a bumper.”

I was livid. I snapped back, “Yeah, I didn’t ask for a steering wheel either, but it came with the truck!” We went round and round. My heart was pounding. I felt betrayed, taken, swindled. The salesman, on the other hand seemed incredibly pleased with himself and downright smug.

He feigned helpfulness. “Look, it will cost me, but I can sell you a bumper for $200.”

I knew that I had been sucker-punched by the salesman. I felt sick. “No thanks,” I said. “Just give me the Continental Airlines tickets and the keys to the truck.”

When I got home I called the airlines and booked a flight to the furthest place away from Texas I could go: Barbados. A friend went with me and we had a great week in the tropics. Upon my return, I drove to a Toyota dealership, traded in my white Chevy truck and bought a new, prettier, sexier, better equipped small pick-up truck that I was proud to drive for several years. I paid a hefty price to trade-in a car with less than 5,000 miles on it, but I didn’t care. I had to get the feeling of slime off me. To no surprise, I never set foot in a Chevrolet dealership again.

What happened to me happens to thousands of people every day. I got beaten at a game I did not know I was playing. The memory still stings. But it was an important life lesson that I have never forgotten, and it led me to create five tips for any kind of transactional negotiations. Here is my Caveat Emptor (Buyer Beware) list:

  • Educate yourself before you start a negotiation. Do your due diligence. Know what things cost. Know what’s included. Find out how well the product or service compares in cost, reliability, and resale value compared to similar products or services.
  • Get your emotions under control. When we are emotional, rationality goes out the window and we often end up with an impulse buy that we later regret.
  • Wait. Sleep on it. Come back another day. Do not let a sales person scare you into making a purchase that you have not rationally vetted.
  • Know your alternatives. There is not one perfect car, one can’t-live-without-refrigerator, or one perfect dream house available to you. Stay philosophical.
  • Get it in writing.




Decades before I knew about the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI), and learned that I was right-brain dominant, I struggled through an exceedingly painful year of chemistry taught by one of the most inflexible left-brain dominant instructors I have ever met. Just how inflexible was she? If I said, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand the concept you just presented,” her reply was, “I see.” Then, she would clear her throat and repeat verbatim the exact same thing she had just said—only a little louder. I often felt like saying, “I didn’t say I couldn’t hear you—I said I didn’t understand you!”

At the end of a dismal year in which I flunked, or nearly flunked, every single quiz and chapter test, I asked my exceedingly left-brain dominant father if he would help me prepare for the chemistry final. To understand my desperation, you need to know that asking my father to help me with chemistry was like the Cowardly Lion asking the Great Wizard of Oz for courage. Let’s just say that patience and tolerance were not two of dad’s endearing qualities.

After nearly three grueling hours at the kitchen table, my father sighed heavily, closed the thick chemistry book with a resounding thud, and slid the textbook across the table to me. With great deliberation, he said:

Astrid, I am convinced that you were born without the gene to understand chemistry. I give you permission to fail!

Everything changed in that moment. By removing our family’s version of the educational Sword of Damocles hanging over me, the fear to perform well on the final was no longer scaring me stupid (literally). I went to bed early and slept like a baby.

Next day, with no expectations to pass the standardized, 120-question chemistry exam, my brain disgorged an entire year of trapped knowledge that had hidden itself in the limbic (fright or flight) part of my brain.  Not only did I pass the exam, I got the highest score in the class—an A+. I passed high school chemistry with a D+ and never went near science again. (I wasn’t sure if that “permission to fail” would be good for any other classes.)

Today, I find myself fascinated by science, especially brain science. When I took the HBDI profile, I had a huge “aha!” moment.  There is nothing wrong with my brain—I’m just not a linear thinker. By learning about my preferences for thinking through the HBDI profile, my anxiety about intellectually fitting in with the way other graduate students thought, completely went away.

By the time I began doing research for my dissertation on brain dominance, I already knew that my dissertation would not start with a beginning, proceed to a middle, and end with an ending. In fact, my dissertation started in the middle and worked out to the edges.

By allowing myself “permission to fail” as a left-brain researcher and writer, I successfully completed a 250-page dissertation on the structuration of brain dominance in about a year.

And that’s the beauty of HBDI. When you know your preferences for thinking, you can give yourself permission to let go of the expectations of how something should be done, which then allows you the freedom to succeed by doing it your way.

I never thanked my dad for giving me permission to fail, but it was the greatest gift he ever gave me.


As an associate professor, who spent the first half of her career working in public relations for Fortune 500 companies, I was curious to see what has happened to corporate communications in the ten years since I escaped and went to Academia. So, when the opportunity to apply for a Fellowship through the Plank Center at the University of Alabama appeared, I immediately jumped at the chance to go back into Corporate America with the eyes, perspective, and skills of an academic.

And I’m glad I did!

I worked for two weeks at the world headquarters of Harley-Davidson, Inc. in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the Corporate Communications department.  I thought I might just be relegated to observer status at the iconic American company, but to my delight, I was immediately treated as part of the team and asked for input at several high level meetings. My host, Joanne Bischmann, VP of Communications has a staff of 22 employees.

Like many organizations, Harley-Davidson is in the midst of change—its global presence is growing and the company has repositioned itself to be more competitive and innovative. As operations and marketing have expanded, so too, have the responsibilities of Corporate Communications. With resources deployed to the max, the department is looking for a better way to organize itself in order to maintain the quality of its service to internal and external constituents and audiences.

For several months before I arrived, an internal leadership team had been working with an external consulting group interviewing senior leadership and communication employees, and benchmarking the best communication practices of other companies. The amount of data collected was astonishing. But as impressive as that was, the real work was just beginning.

I completed two projects for Harley-Davidson. The first was a 40-page workbook I designed and wrote to help guide employees through the process of thinking about how a new structure for the department might look and what kinds of roles and resources would be needed to make the change worth the effort.  The second project was to design a step-by-step social media program that could be implemented at the upcoming dealer show, which is expected to draw more than 4,000 people from around the world. This is a low-cost, dip-your-toe-in-the-water effort that would give many of the social media-risk averse employees a chance to tweet and blog, and become familiar with location-based tracking.

Both projects were challenging and exciting, and required me to think strategically about how to engage employees in the change process, and how to introduce social media into a department that will eventually need to add new media to its list of core competencies.

What I learned was this: corporate America is fundamentally the same as it was when I last called it home, but the amount of work has increased exponentially for communicators, not just in the quantity, quality and authenticity of information flowing to, through, and from the organization, but in the number of channels and modalities.   Communicating is an absolutely relentless process in organizations. This is one of the lessons I will drive home to my students.

At the end of my two weeks, I got what I really wanted—a ride on the back of a big old Harley that took me along Lakeshore Drive, cruising by Lake Michigan on a beautiful Friday morning. It was the perfect ending to an extraordinary experience.

Many thanks to Joanne Bischmann and her staff at Harley-Davidson for the warm welcome and opportunity to participate in the “operationalization” of the Corporate Communications Department.


Just when I think I’m getting a handle on all the whiz-bang apps, platforms and social media sites, something new arrives on the scene. This past week it was the announcement of Google-Plus, which according to the hype, is designed to organize our connections better and feel more distinctive (my word) than Facebook (FB)

My first thought after reading the announcement about Google-Plus was, “Oh great, another social networking opportunity that will eat my time and dull my gray matter…”  And then I caught myself—I was experiencing a mild case of social media fatigue!  I would imagine (but have no corroborating research to verify this) that many, if not all of us, experience social media fatigue a couple of times a month.

So, I asked some of my students and friends, “How do you fight social media fatigue?” Here is a smattering of responses:

  • “I ration my time on social networking sites to one hour a day.”
  • “I’m bored with the whole Twitter thing, so I just don’t open it, I don’t read it, and I don’t respond. I just don’t care anymore.”
  • “When I meet a friend for a drink, I turn off my phone, so I am totally present.”
  • “I check for invites and discounted coupons and ignore the rest.”

To this list I’d like to add my own five remedies.

#1. Make a real connection.  When was the last time you took out a piece of paper and a pen and wrote a letter to your mom, dad, or sibling? Or when was the last time you actually bought a birthday card for a friend, wrote a personal note inside, found a stamp, and actually mailed it to the person? Sending a card or letter achieves what no tweet or post can do: it delights the receiver. Long after the tweet has scrolled into oblivion and the FB post has faded, a card or a letter has staying power.

#2. Get Perspective. The purpose of technology is not to overtake your life, but to empower your ability to enjoy life. Are you managing your social media or is it managing you? Do you really need a new network to join? If the answer is, “Uh, not really,” then let it go.

#3. Focus on the positives of social media. Everyday, I thank the technology gods for GPS, Yelp!, Google Search, university library databases, online recipes, Skype, funny videos on YouTube, mobile updates, and many other platforms, websites, and networks that make me a more effective teacher, researcher, consultant, and cook.

#4. Consciously choose your own tempo. One of the great things about social media is that you can start something, join in, drop out, vent your opinion, create an impression, learn something new, participate in your democracy, find a great cause, or just follow along. You are totally in control.

#5.  Take a break and go for a walk. Truly, the best way to get over social media fatigue is to step away from the keyboard and get out of your house or apartment without your mobile phone for an hour or longer. Connect with nature. Listen to the sounds of the neighborhood. Smile and relax.

I took my own advice this morning and now I’m back at the keyboard, refreshed and ready for research.