Being laid off used to be taboo. But not anymore. And most of us have thought through some sort of plan for if it happens to us. Gone are the days when people pretend this is not happening.

One of the things my ex-husband and I did well, as did our peers, was learn to tag-team in the layoff department. We both got laid off pretty much all the time throughout the 90s. And somehow, we got a sort of routine, and it became a normal way of life.

Today there is a generation of us in the workforce, totally familiar with layoffs, and totally unfamiliar with the idea that a job is secure. Ever. The good news about this is that there is not a huge difference between someone laid off and someone not laid off in that all of us feel vulnerable and scared.

Which means the etiquette is different than it used to be for talking to someone who's been laid off.

1. Don’t ask “how’s the job hunt?”
Do you know how many times a day someone hears this if he is unemployed? Ten. And even if it’s not ten really, it’s ten in his head. He asks himself that, and he imagines other people asking that, and he stresses about the answer. Because the job hunt doesn’t change much from day to day, but it’s demoralizing to report that.

So trust that someone who is laid off who has something great to report will volunteer it without you asking. Read more

Ryan calls me from the office. I say, “Don’t talk to me now. I’m sulking.”

He says, “Okay. What are we doing about the five-year sales projections?”

I say, “I told you. I need ten minutes.”

“Nothing is going to change in ten minutes,”

“In ten minutes I'll be more pleasant on the phone.”

“Okay.” He hangs up.

I eat two waffles and then I write on the calendar how many calories I can eat for the rest of the week to make up for the waffles. Then I take out two more waffles and while they’re cooking, I change all the numbers on the calendar.

Then I look at my email, and there is another missive from Guy Kawasaki telling me that I am underutilizing Twitter. He even took a picture of two tweets he thinks I should respond to. He sent the picture to me.

He thinks I should give 140-character career advice.

Here’s some advice I think of immediately: Read more

One of the reasons my column runs in more than 200 newspapers is that I send out one blog post a week to about 1000 editors. I have to do the list manually because, big surprise, most editors at most papers do not subscribe to blogs.

Today I was besieged by out of the office responses. Of course, everyone is out of the office. Very little news happens between Christmas and New Year's that you can't predict and write beforehand.

The time between Christmas and New Year's is a great time for you to take things into your own hands. During this time, almost all of senior management is completely checked out in most industries. After all, this is what senior is all about — getting to go where you want to at the end of December. So you might find that there are opportunities to get a big break. Read more

This is the last thing I should be writing on my blog. Because it’s now clear that the blog is a great dating tool. Propositions all the time. So I should not tell you this, but here it is: It turns out that I’m a lousy girlfriend.

Not the bad in bed type. Well, sort of. Because I’m game for anything, but only as long as I don’t have to be vulnerable.

At work, I’m great because all workplace vulnerability is based in talking—everyone gets to talk all the time—and I’m a very good talker. I can say things that would seem vulnerable, but really, talking is a way for me to constantly make sure that I am in charge.

The farmer likes less talk.

When I was with the farmer, the first night, and we were having intellectual banter about if he should date someone who will never move to the farm and never make him apple pies, I was winning. I won when we argued if he needed to call God “He” in a prayer. I told him that I read Hebrew, and in Hebrew the word for God is gender neutral.

So after a bunch of verbal sparring, I leaned across the sofa and kissed him. Even though he said he didn’t want to kiss. He kissed back, and I felt victorious.

Flash forward: To now. To me next to his bed, typing. Because he told me that absolutely today we were not going to do arguing in bed.

“But that’s my favorite thing to do,” I told him. In bed. Gearing up for an argument.

“Let’s just have fun,” he said.

“That is fun.”

“Let’s go running in the corn field.”

He loves that. He says he loves running in his fields because he’s a guy and women feel close talking and men feel close doing things. But I think he loves running in the corn because the corn is high now, and it makes you feel cozy, and he runs too fast for me to keep up and talk at the same time.

Ten million times a year I write about how people would rather work with people they like than people who are competent. And then everyone asks, “How can I be more likable?”

So I tell people the answer: “Be more vulnerable.” And then I suggest stuff that is easy for me but hard for most people: Admit shortcomings, confess stuff you are having trouble fixing, ask for advice on things you cannot figure out. If you let people see the cracks in your surface, that is where they will find a way in.

But in my personal life, this is extremely hard for me. So my own process for figuring out how to be vulnerable with the farmer is actually a good step-by step lesson on how to be vulnerable in any relationship.

Later, hours after the run, the farmer sits up in bed, head propped on a pillow. I am undressing at the foot of the bed.

I take down my pants and my underwear in one fell swoop.

“Hey. Hold it,” he says. “Do you even have underwear on? Why so fast? What about undressing slower?”

I think about it. I see he wants some sort of strip tease. Not the kind with a pole. But the kind that is sort of casual but has some zing.

It already took me three weeks to get rid of the underwear that could have passed for a bathing suit. So now I have the sexy underwear, but I can’t really use it. I’m very comfortable talking about it, not so comfortable seducing with it.

And then there is the bed. And we are on it. And I cannot cope. We are not sparring verbally. So I wait to hear him talk. He talks about things like the cattle, like my day. My meetings. The grass. His sister. Not small talk but not conflict. Something in between that surely is a building block of intimacy, but I cannot figure out how to do it.

I am quiet. And then, I think, he feels close to me because I am not arguing with him, so he rolls over on top of me and I nearly cry. From the stress of having to be vulnerable and intimate and not connect with words.

I want to talk about my meeting. We got a new board member and he was fun and he liked talking with me and I like when someone likes talking with me because I am so comfortable with that. He said there are not a lot of people in Madison like me and I took that to mean that when I told him that he was full of crap and he should talk to people with his heart, he liked me. I am good with words. I am good with talking.

People think I’m being intimate with the talking, because for example, I told the guy who I want to be on my board that I waxed off all my pubic hair because I read that 90% of Generation Y girls wax it off and I wanted to see what I was missing. So he thinks I’m all vulnerable and intimate with him and we are connecting, but look, I’ll tell that stuff to anyone.

For years I was the manager telling employees their career will tank if they don’t become more vulnerable with their co-workers. At the farm, I’m like my employees, but it’s the non-verbal stuff that flummoxes me. A hand on a chest. A peck on the arm. A stroke on the back. And no talking.

The farm is absolutely lovely right now. But I see the corn growing taller and blocking the views I’ve almost become used to. And I am worried that I don’t know what the winter will bring.

It all makes me nervous. And, like an employee who does not have the social skills for management, I wonder if I will get good at this girlfriend stuff any time soon.

I used to write about my brother Erik a lot. I wrote about how I retooled his resume to make his dead-end job at Blockbuster into the perfect collection of achievements. Then I let him guest post while he was getting ready to quit the investment banking job he was sick of.

Now he’s at Microsoft and his job is to buy companies. (If you work with him, you know him by his real name, which he won’t let me use.) I don’t write about him much now because everything he says to me begins with, “Don’t blog about this.” (And then I see it on Valleywag an hour later, which is, of course, very frustrating for me.)

But I talk with Erik almost every day. (Sometimes twenty times a day, like when a very large company called about buying Brazen Careerist and then turned out to be as day-after-difficult as a one-night stand without a condom.) Erik sends me great links that are harbingers of the future of work. So here are a few. And, if you don’t think they are as good as tea leaves for the office, at least maybe this gives you insight into what Microsoft’s acquisition team is looking at right now.

1. The tyranny of internships will be exposed and companies will have to pay real wages.
Stuff White People Like has a smart and hilarious summary of why internships are for white kids. But seriously, the fact that internships are practically essential starting blocks for a top-tier career is just ridiculous when you think about how well-connected you have to be to get into all the great summer internship programs.

2. The tyranny of tech support will be exposed and they will actually offer help.
Here is a parody of a call, but it is actually what happened every single time I called tech support while I was working in the Fortune 500. If you have ever called internal tech support from within a large company, this will make you laugh. (If the Onion did a documentary on the tech support call, this is what the Onion would come up with.)

3. The tyranny of the discreet job hunt will be exposed and everyone will job hunt openly.
Accountemps reports that 75% of executives are comfortable with people job hunting while still on the job. And they would do the same themselves. This makes sense to me intuitively, because 25% of any office is people who are dead wood and are not going to look for another job—ever—and therefore don’t want anyone else to. The big news here is that most people are looking all the time. And since job hopping builds strong careers, the people who aren’t are the ones who have a problem.

4. The tyranny of high heels will give way to the pricey, good-for-feet-but-still-sexy, heel.
Academic researchers are finding on many fronts that men like to work with women who dress like women. This means shoulder-length hair or longer, a good amount of makeup but not too trampy, and, yes, high heels. They don’t have to be stiletto, but you need to look like you know how to pull an outfit together. This means that a lot of women are walking to work in flats and switching in the elevator, and kicking their stilettos off under the table during meetings. But that will end, soon, because the Wall Street Journal reports that shoe designers see a gold mine in saving female feet from career-girl frustration.

5. The tyranny of the prudish will be exposed for hurting productivity and coworkers will flirt openly.
Flirting at work has a positive impact on productivity, according to Heidi Reeder, professor of communications at Boise State University. This news doesn’t mean that upping the ante to sex actually ups the productivity level as well. In fact, you might ruin everything, especially if the sex is bad. But feel free to find the flirt in you and use it to get ahead.

Do you know the salary of every employee at your company? I think you should.

I mean, who is being protected by secret salaries? Certainly not the employee—the more transparent salaries are, the more accurately an employee can assess his or her value to a company.

You’d think that companies benefit from secret salaries and that’s why they keep them secret, but really, if salaries were 100% accurate—perfectly pegged at the employee’s worth to the company—then the company would have no problem revealing all salaries.

The only people who benefit from secret salaries is the human resources department. If they make an error, they can hide it. No one will know. And then they can make ten errors. Because no one knows if the secret salaries are hiding one error or one hundred.

So large companies keep salaries under wraps in order to hide all the mistakes, making the cost of transparency high. But today smaller companies often make salaries totally transparent.

I haven’t done it quite yet with my own company, but I'm going to. I’ve been giving everyone some data just to get them ready for the big picture. Almost everyone is not happy, because even in my little start-up, I’ve made salary errors.

For example, the person who was underpaid was not so much jubilant about a potential raise, but upset about his current underpayment. The person who's losing the housing allowance mostly for tax purposes does not seem to mind. The person who is making way more than everyone else minds a lot that I’m planning on revealing everyone’s salaries. But honestly, I think that person will work much harder if everyone knows the truth. And it should be that way.

This experience has taught me that you should always try to get to a company that has out-in-the-open salaries, because that means you have more out-in-the-open managers—managers that have so much self-confidence in their ability to value accurately a business contribution that they can set airtight salaries and stand by them.

Of course, most companies are not there yet. Especially the larger ones. Fortunately a bunch of companies have arrived with tricked-out tools for figuring out what you should be getting paid. And what your co-workers should earn as well. Here’s a sampling of the top tier of those companies: is my favorite. In fact, I like them so much that I was mentioning them in all my speeches and then I asked them to do a sponsorship with me. (And they did.) So, anyway, the reason I like Payscale is that they systematically collect data in very specific categories so you can match your situation—years of experience, geography, education—to get your real value in the market. Bonus: These are the people who bring you statistics on the real cost of corporate meetings. is a good one if you are trying to get a raise. is not as thorough as Payscale with its data collection. So employers generally favor Payscale. But skews higher than Payscale, so if you have to bring a first number to the negotiating process, use Bonus: These are the people who bring you the statistics on how much a housewife is worth.

But really, if companies are smart, the conversation about salary will go quickly. You tell the company how much you’re worth. You bring very good data to back that up, and the company pays it. Then other factors like company culture become much more important.

That's where Glassdoor comes in. It’s US magazine for the company you are considering—a little gossipy, with first-hand information about companies from the people who suffer in them. Bonus: Glassdoor is a new company and there are not a lot of competing perspectives on the site yet. So if you drop a bomb about the place you work, it’ll hit hard.

One of the most important indicators of whether or not you should switch jobs is if you are in line for a promotion. It’s not so much that you should be climbing a ladder, but more that if you are not being recognized for great work then you’re probably not doing great work. And if you are not doing great work, this is not the job for you. We should all be doing great stuff.

So take this quiz to find out if you will get promoted.

1. Are you friends with your boss?
The hardest workers don’t get promoted. The most likable people get promoted.

Here is the big test for you: Did that sentence make you angry? You lose one point. That’s because you are wishing that you did not have to be likable and you are mad that people who work less than you do get promoted ahead of you.

If the sentence did not piss you off, then you are in good shape. But maybe you should work a little less and do office politics a little more. This is not obnoxious advice because office politics is about being nice.

Did you already know it’s about being nice? Give yourself a point. If not, click here to read about it. And then give yourself a point for reading. Hold it. Look. I’ve just invented a new form of the self-quiz where you become more likable by clicking on my blog posts. Great traffic-building tactic.

2. Are you working on high-profile projects?
Do you work on the project that everyone else wanted? Give yourself a point. Did you say to yourself, “Who knows? I don’t know what everyone else wanted.” You lose a point. How can you get yourself onto good projects if you are not in the middle of the fray finding out what’s available and what’s hot?

The key to making yourself useful to your boss is to work on the stuff that matters to your boss. Sure, everything matters, but some stuff matters more than others. The stuff that your boss’s bonus depends on matters more than properly filling out your expense report. That’s a good place to start. Hopefully you can approach the issue of managing up in more nuanced ways than that.

If you made a mental note to click on the link to managing up, give yourself a point, because you care. If you moused-over the link and saw you already read the post, you can still take the point.

3. Are you paid at the high end of the range for your position?
Investigate the salary range for your job. Check PayScale, and then ask around at work — don’t be shy because everyone else is asking too. If you’re at the top of the range, give yourself a point. If you were embarrassed to tell your co-workers how much more you are making than they are, give yourself two points, but don’t bring this topic up again.

If you’re at the low end, then you were not highly valued to begin with, so getting people to switch their opinion of you is going to be hard. You can do it by asking your boss to get you to the top of the range, and then back up your request by listing all the achievements you’ve made in your new position.

Too scared to do this? You lose three points. Did you do this and the boss ignored you? Lose two points (and remember that you got a point for trying—it’s a good lesson meant to inspire fearlessness later.)

4. Do you work fewer hours than everyone else?
If you work fewer hours than everyone around you, I can promise you that they are annoyed. Did you just click to your email to tell me that you work less hours because you’re smarter than everyone else? Take away two points. Because no one cares how smart you are (see number one on this list).

You should not be the hardest worker because that makes you look desperate. But you can’t work the fewest hours either, because then you look like you don’t care. And that’s being a bad team player, even if you are getting the work done. If you find you have a lot of extra time because you’re a total genius and you finish everything early, spend more time networking at the office. Because you can never have enough time for that.

Can you remember the last time you initiated a conversation with someone who dislikes you? Give yourself a point for good office politics and a point for bravery.

5. Do you feel like you are due a promotion because of your experience?
No promotion is set in stone. Even if you have it in writing. You can be laid off, right? So you need to work constantly campaigning for yourself if you want to get that promotion. Do you spend your days focusing on doing your job, or do you do a little bit extra so you can be a star performer?

Give yourself a point for setting aside time each day to let people know how great you are. Take a point away if you think people who do this are annoying.

Give yourself a point if you can think of the last thing you did where you consciously said, this is way beyond the call of duty, but it will be good for my career.

Score yourself:

5 or more points – You will probably be promoted. Maybe you should announce your score in the comments section of this blog and leave a link to your resume, because everyone should want to hire you.

3-4 points – You’re doing well. Look at where you lost points and fix it. Obvious advice but in fact, very few people can actually fix their shortcomings. With a score of 3 or 4 points, you probably can.

1-2 points – You need coaching because you’re not understanding what you need to do at work in order to meet your goals. You’re focusing on the wrong stuff and you’re going to come to a point where you want things in your life and your career that you can’t get because you didn’t understand the underbelly of the business world.

less than one point – You’re in trouble. Maybe your best bet is to retake the test…

The update on my company is that Ryan Healy and I are not talking to each other. Well, he is talking to me, but I am giving him the silent treatment.

Still, I am confident that things are going well. First, because I am bad at the silent treatment—I have too much to say all the time. Second, there is very good research about what makes a good entrepreneur. And the answer is that there is no single personality, but rather it is the type of person who can see their weaknesses and get a partner to compensate for that.

Ryan and I have done that with each other. And during my short stint of silence, I thought about how in fact, we are doing a lot of things right. Here are six things that entrepreneurs must do in order to have successful partnerships, and I think Ryan and I are doing them:

1. Make time for arguments because they are inevitable. You must consider this part of your job, in order to have constructive conflict.
We fight like we are married. Which says a lot, since I am in the middle of a divorce and he has never had a girlfriend for more than fifteen seconds.

So I call him from my kids’ soccer practice to tell him I am not calling him for a week. And I am the parent at soccer who is on my phone instead of cheering every good kick. This is my way of bringing diversity to Madison: if it were not for me, only men would do this at soccer.

To be annoying, Ryan calls me at 5pm, which is death hour to all parents who have hungry kids who are a half-hour from food, and he says he can’t manage cash flow because any question he has must wait 24 hours if it comes up at 2pm, which is when I stop working.

I want to be like, Duh! If I stopped working at 2pm then I would not have any time to fight with you from the soccer field. But I stay quiet because I am trying to be a more reasonable person to work with.

2. Remind yourself why you picked that person. You probably still need him for that reason.
I remember when Ryan and I were first thinking of going into business together. And we spent two months arguing over equity. There was the day I got so angry that I had to pull the car over to fight with him. And neither of us walked away from negotiations. Someone who really hates fighting would have called off the partnership right there. It was a sign that this is what our partnership would be, and we both signed on the dotted line.

In that fight, Ryan was more mature than I was. I was definitely right on the business issue we were arguing about, but he handled himself better. He was very calm. And that only made me more hysterical. (I hesitate to use the word hysterical, by the way, because I know that it validates Ryan’s propensity to call all women he ever comes into contact with “crazy” but whatever. Now he and his friends can have a four-syllable word they can use for variety.)

So, anyway, that’s how it is now. I envy Ryan’s ability to be even-keeled. I am not an even-keeled person.

3. Give each other feedback on strengths and weaknesses.
I’m also going to tell you the worst thing he said. He has no idea that this even bothered me. So right now is the part in the paragraph where he will jump ahead, amazed that I didn’t tell him something that was offensive. Because believe me, he hears about it every single time he is rude to me.

So, anyway, it was a day when we both got dumped. We had each had about four dates with people from Madison, which is, in itself, a miracle, because we are both fish out of water here, and neither of us really expects to find a long-term relationship.

But miracles happen. And we were both smitten. And then we were both dumped. Ryan is the great analyzer of our social lives because he thinks I am a social mutant and only know how to talk if CNN is interviewing me.

So, he says that he was dumped because she was a college girl and didn’t want the structured dating life that a recent grad wants. Then he tells me that I got dumped because I don’t dress like a girl. “You don’t even try!” he says, with his patented combination of exasperation and incredulity.

I’ve been around Ryan long enough to know what this means. He thinks I look like those moms who throw on designer jeans and a Calvin Klein T-shirt and think they have stepped up their game. And they have, for a going to a preschool play date.

So I wore that and I thought I was dressing up, and Ryan thinks I look like I’m in preschool-play-date mode.

4. Use the other person's expertise to improve yourself.
Really, Ryan gave good information about my wardrobe because there have been many times that I have not dressed quite right for television appearances and people have been largely unimpressed.

Also, I am good at taking criticism (lucky, since Ryan is good at dishing it out). So I implemented his recommendation to be girly in Austin, while everyone was Twittering at SXSW about how Mark Zuckerburg's interview sucked. I was down the street at Nordstrom buying accessories.

(There is no Nordstrom in Madison. I plan all my shopping trips at the intersection of the Nordstrom store finder and my speaking engagement itineraries. And, by the way, the next time I use scientific data to choose where to live I will never move farther than 15 miles from a Nordstrom. Nordstrom customers have good taste and Nordstrom opens stores near their customers. )

5. Be aware of generational differences, and don't assume you're above them.
We know we are a shining example of the generational train wreck in corporate America. And it’s not for nothing that Ryan just wrote a post about how the biggest problem in work life for Gen Y is not the Baby boomers but Gen X.

Sometimes we find ourselves laughing about what a stereotype we are. For example, Ryan always wants to collaborate and I want to be alone and answer emails.

He wants to socialize with everyone at work, and I am all about picking up my kids at school.

I asked him to fax something to a client, and he said, “Fax? Do I look like I’m forty years old? I don’t even know how to use a fax. Can’t they take a PDF?”

Ryan and I have parents who are roughly the same age, yet his parents call all the time because they think the company is so cool, and I don’t even think my parents could tell you the name of my company.

6. Startups are difficult for everyone. So don't get hung up on hierarchy. Or anything else.
I was going to tell Ryan today that his problem is that he doesn’t manage up. I was going to say, “Look at the sidebar on my blog. I write about managing up all the time. How about brown-nosing once in a while?”

But he would not take that criticism well. And anyway, he’d tell me he managed up the only night maybe in my whole life that I was drunk: at TechCocktail in Chicago, which I promised I would blog about, so thank goodness I’m getting it in now.

Ryan took off my nametag in an attempt to gain some anonymity while I was totally drunk and probably inappropriate. For us, that qualifies as managing up, probably. But then again, that was the night he told me I am the most socially eccentric person he has ever met, and I’ll never get a date.

I told him that men like socially eccentric because in bed it’s not about being social, so there’s just eccentric left, and men think that means a likely possibility of anal sex.

Ryan was silent. He was driving. But I don’t think he was silent because he was driving.

I said, “See. I told you I’ll get dates.”

Men are hard-wired to think they are funny. They use it as a courtship technique. A study by Eric Brassler at McMaster University finds that women rate men as more attractive if they make more jokes. And men are somehow aware of this, because they are more likely to make jokes if women are around.

This is probably part of women being hard-wired to select an appropriate mate; people who are funny are generally smart and creative people, because humor is about putting two unlikely things together in a clever way, according to an interview with Chris Robert, professor of management at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Also, Robert says his research shows that people who are funny are more likely to be promoted.

In the category of research to support what we already know, Adrian Gostick and Scott Christopher surveyed more than one million employees to find out that people like fun offices. This news is revealed in their book, The Levity Effect: Why it Pays to Lighten Up.

Anyway, their point is that fun people are more likable. Which is the problem with women: We are not as funny as men. That is not their point. It is my point.

But my gut tells me it’s right. My gut tells me that most funny women are gay. First of all, Brassler’s research found that men do not think women who are funny are more attractive. Also, Christopher Hitchins has a great piece in Vanity Fair, Why Women Aren’t Funny, where he points out that Jewish women are funny, but only because they have male qualities of humor -angst and self-deprecation.

All this makes me happy because people often ask me if I’m gay, and I used to think it’s because I am awkward when it comes to flirting. (Quote from the first guy I dated since the onset of my divorce: “You are an incompetent flirt.”) But now I take the question of my sexual orientation as a compliment: it means that I’m leveraging my angst-riddled Jewish upbringing to be the funny girl.

But back to The Levity Effect. Gostick and Christopher define lighthearted as something more broad than humor. Maybe this is because their book lacks the amount of humor you’d expect from people who write about the importance of levity. But they have a few chapters about how you don’t need to be a comedian in order to create levity. (Which may or may not be justified encouragement to the unfunny.)

I want to tell you to be careful about being funny – because trying to be funny and failing is so lame. But I am certain that men are hard-wired to try no matter what, because they want to mate. Which means they get a lot of practice outside the office. So women should try, too. It won’t help us get a mate, but it will help us get the career we want, (which, in many cases, does help find a mate).

Now that I do a lot of public speaking, I am flying a lot – two or three times a month. There are a lot of perks to travel, like expensive hotel rooms and a break from my kids. But my favorite perk is meeting sales guys.

Warning: here come generalizations with no data to back them up. Most people who fly on Sunday night and Thursday night are consultants – all those young people who clawed their way to the popular starter jobs at Deloitte and Ernst & Young. But most of the people flying during the week are speaking or selling, and the people in those careers who travel a lot are men. So it’s no surprise that I’ve been meeting a lot of sales guys.

It’s great for me, because I was not born with good social skills, I’ve learned them. So I see the time on the airplane as a time for learning specific tips from people who make a living from having good emotional intelligence.

Here are three things I’ve learned from the sales guys I’ve met.

1. Count how many times you interrupt someone.

If you ask a sales guy why they are good at sales, they always say they are good listeners. And then, in fact, they display those skills during the flight.

I am not a good listener. I spend the flight hearing myself interrupt. Constantly.

It sounds like a moment that is bad for my emotional intelligence work, but really, it’s good. It’s good because it allows me to go to the next step, which is asking myself why I am so reluctant to wait to hear what someone has to say. That’s where I am now – asking myself that.

And I think I’m on the right track, because I think better social skills come from asking yourself better questions about why you are the way you are.

2. Learn to read very specific types of language.

Last week I was having lunch with a guy I met on a plane. He will have a fit when he reads this because the first thing someone with high emotional intelligence tells me when they sit down with me is that I can’t write about them in my blog.

We were talking about what his company could do for a blog strategy, and I was thinking about how I could convince him that his company should pay my company to do something. And Mr. Salesguy asked me a question, and I didn’t like what the answer was going to be, so I started trying to think of another answer.

And he said, “Hey, are you going to lie to me right now?”

I said, “What?” I tried to say it in an incredulous way, but in hindsight I’m sure I just sounded panicked.

He said, “When you ask someone a question, if they are right-handed and they look to the left before they answer, then they are trying to recall the information. If they look to the right then they are trying to make up something new. You looked to the right.”

It was so smart of him. Because for the rest of the lunch I was very honest. Not that I’m not honest in general, but I basically gave the first answer that came to my head for everything because I was so nervous that I wouldn’t be able to control my eye movement. It’s a great way to get the upper hand in a conversation.

I can’t wait to catch someone else in this act.

3. Stop thinking your situation is special. It’s not. Rules are useful to everyone.

Here’s another thing I learned from sales guys. They ask the same questions everyone else asks on the plane, like, “Are you going home or leaving home?” I would feel stupid asking that, because it’s so conventional, but it works as a way to start a conversation. Every time.

These routine conversations are just social conventions to allow strangers to start talking. Which drives home to me that social conventions are there to help.

Take something as simple as holding a door for someone. Social convention says do it if someone is right behind you. But the rule is actually just there so the door doesn’t slam in someone’s face.

A lot of times, people think that their particular situation is so complicated that you can’t have rules – you just have to wing it. This is where having a threesome comes in.

I get a lot of books in the mail from publishers who want me to write a review. When I got The Threesome Handbook by Vicki Vantoch, I thought the publisher had gone nuts. But I noticed she is a sex historian and she writes for the Washington Post. So I took a look at the book.

And it turns out that a threesome is actually a very complicated social situation, and the best way to make sure everyone stays happy is to have rules that people follow. I’m not going to into the intricacies of negotiations, but chapter four is called “Strategies for Navigating Freak-outs, Jealousy, and General Messiness.”

And, winging it actually means guessing what people want. But guessing is hard.

So asking for rules is important, listening is important, practicing very specific skills is important. Also, making a public commitment to having better social skills is important, which is why, I think, I blog about this topic so often.