Recently someone in my writing class hired a lawyer to tell me she wants a refund for the class. The lawyer sent an email to me requesting $25,000 in damages for his client. I sent this email in response:

Dear Sir.

I don’t give refunds for the class. I do not say anywhere that I give refunds.

It’s not against the law for me to have a student who didn’t like the class. This is a 12-month class. There is no law that says Lucy has to receive everything in the first two months. I have not broken any laws.

There are 85 people in the course and Lucy is the only person complaining. I wonder why that is? Do you have any ideas? Read more

I told this guy, Brendan, that I would write about his baby bottles on my blog. Well, first I told him he had to pay me. Then he sent the bottles to me, and I liked them, so writing about them on the blog didn’t seem like it would be that difficult. Also, Brendan has been reading my blog for a long time. It felt good to tell him yes. Read more

Negotiating is not a work skill—it’s a life skill. File it in the have-good-social-skills category, not with make-more-money.

People with good social skills do much better in the world than people with high IQs by all measures except for winning the Nobel prize for economics. So then it should make sense to you that you should think about negotiating tactics all the time. Read more

In a survey of graduating professional students, Linda Babcock, of Carnegie Mellon University, found that only seven per cent of women attempted to negotiate their initial offers, while fifty-seven per cent of the men did so. After years of analysis, she concludes that women might, in fact, be better off not negotiating.

Babcock is not the only person to draw this conclusion. Here’s why: Read more

Melissa is driving through Darlington trying to avoid the police. If they see me they'll arrest me, and we know they know my car. I put the front seat back all the way so I'm out of view. I keep my seatbelt on because in case they see us, I don't want to be breaking any extra laws.

I have to start this story when I was getting a divorce. People told me the cleanest, easiest divorces are when there are two good lawyers. So I asked around for the two best lawyers in Madison. They knew each other, of course. And negotiations went smoothly, except for my lawyer quitting first when I started blogging about the divorce and then when I agreed to talk about the divorce with the New York Times.

The police are not actually chasing us. But we feel like we're on the run. I told my lawyer — not my divorce lawyer but my new lawyer, who deals with about-to-be-arrested types — that the police have been to my house three times to arrest me. The Farmer is so stressed he's not even coming back from the hayfield for lunch. The lawyer says, “You'll have to stay away from the house til I can get the papers signed by a judge.”

I was thinking of staying at Jeanenne's house for a few days but I feel bad asking her to harbor a fugitive. So Melissa and I are on our way to Madison.

As we pass the turnoff for our house I worry that we don't have our computers. Read more

Coats are very important on the farm. Mine are always not dry enough, not warm enough, or not dirty enough for going into the chicken house. So when I'm on the farm I just wear one of the farmer's coats.

1. Clarify personal needs that are threatened by the conflict.
And hats. Do you see the red hat in the picture? It's from Amsoil Lubricants. When I first met the farmer I thought it was hilarious to have a hat that said lubricants. So the first time he dumped me I tried to get the lubricants hat as a relationship souvenir.

Later I realized that he would dump me a lot. It was his way of coping with the feeling that intimacy is scary. So then I focused more on learning conflict resolution and less on who gets the hat.

2. Accept conflict as a natural part of personal progress.
In fact, most of life is about conflict resolution. It's either internal conflict or external conflict, but if you don't have conflict then you are probably not trying to do something interesting with your life. (Not that interesting is everyone's goal, of course.)

Michael Stainer, who writes The Great Work Blog, once told me that if you are not annoying someone you are not doing anything new. I think this is true. (Sometimes I think it could all come down to this: you either scare your mom by creating an unstable life or you scare yourself that you are living merely the life your mom wants for you instead of the life you want for yourself.) Read more

I am back with the farmer.

This probably is not surprising to you, because admittedly, it is absurd to be engaged one day and not engaged the next day. But there are exacerbating factors, and basically, the way I got him back was to be more likable.

I have spent most of my career overcoming my lack of social skills by studying research about what makes people likable. And I think the research I've applied so systematically in my career is finally helping me in my personal life.

Here's what we know about being likable:

1. Don't give ultimatums. It's disrespectful. Instead, be a negotiator.
The farmer does not want to be in this blog. As you might imagine, we have this discussion a lot.

First it was like this:

Him: I don't want to be in the blog.

Me: You have to be. I can't live without writing my life.

Then the conversation was like this:

Him: I don't want to be in the blog.

Me: How about if you can edit whatever you want? Read more

I think its safe to say that for the majority of people, Thanksgiving is not about goodness and gratitude, but rather, family drama.

Until now, I have been pretty much on the outside of this American tradition: The tradition of building up Thanksgiving to be a great family moment and then the family not living up to it. But everyone still does Thanksgiving basically because they love their parents. I'm not gonna say here that I don't love my parents. But it's a special kind of love that does not involve being with them for holidays.

But this year is a big switch for me, because I'm doing Thanksgiving family drama—with the farmer. There is family drama because the farmer has three sisters who think I have a morality problem. Like I don't have morals.

In fact, the whole family thinks this, and those with Internet connections print out blog posts about sex acts and send them, via US mail, to less connected family members. The outcry crosses state boundaries from Wisconsin to Illinois, and sometimes, I think they are googling terms like Penelope Trunk and sex. I mean, it's not easy to find the stuff they are finding.

Wait. You are wondering, right? What they're finding? Here. Here's a list of some links. And, now no one has to do any morally-compromising searches. It's all right here: Read more

Most of us think of a dream career as one that affords us flexibility for personal relationships and high engagement for personal growth. And while flexible work used to be limited to women, USA Today reports that increasingly, men, too, feel stress from the personal impact of inflexible work. So the question for everyone is: What’s the best path to get this dream career?

Retail is a great way to get flexible work, (which is why I think we should see a surge in educated people taking retail jobs.) But most people don’t aspire to retail because the work is not intellectually engaging. On the other hand, most of the intellectually challenging work in this world comes with inflexible schedules.

So the trick is not to get flexibility, the trick is to get it without losing engaging work and avoiding a pay cut. Also, keep in mind that flexible work is not about the hours, it’s about control. Because most of us are fine with working long hours as long as we have control over those hours. Read more

Here is a map of where all the single men are:

http://creativeclass.typepad.com/thecreativityexchange/2007/04/the_singles_map.html

I do not live near any single men. Well, I sort of do. My divorce lawyer has set me up with a few men in my hometown, Madison, Wisconsin. He told me that I am too focused on my work life. I need to get my personal life in order.

Here’s how things went:

One guy was a little chunky in the middle, but he is a real estate mogul. I know, you’re thinking, real estate mogul, in Wisconsin? Are there any? There are a few. I mean, Lake Michigan is a nice place in the summer, and also, someone’s gotta own the real estate around the Green Bay Packers stadium. And besides, you can invest in real estate from any state, really.

So I went out with the real estate guy. Read more