November 1, 2017

Tips on Dealing with Stress at Work

We all face stress at work and in our life in general. Typically, most of us do not associate stress with happy things or good and peaceful feelings. Therefore, most of us either try to avoid stress or dislike stress. It is impossible to avoid stress, so, even if we never like stress, we have to find a way to deal with it in a healthy and productive way. 

November 1st is National Stress Awareness Day (First Wednesday of November). So, to honor this day, and since this blog deals with work and career related issues, I thought of focusing on how we can handle stress in the workplace. 

Stress in the office place falls into three categories as noted by Joseph Thomas
1. Stress because of your job 
2. Stress because of your colleagues 
3. Stress because of your boss 

Tips to Handle Work Related Stress 
The tips below were collected from Facebook friends who generously shared their thoughts on this topic as research for this article. Some of my own two cents on these tips may also be sprinkled throughout the tips. Feel free to browse the Facebook thread, share your own additional tips on the thread or in the comments section below.

Job- Related Stress Relief Tips 
1. Learn project management. Break down projects into smaller chunks. Also learn how to set realistic deadlines and timelines based on project milestones.
2. Making to-do lists, prioritizing the tasks to be done.
3. If possible, schedule certain tasks for certain days and times of the week on a regimen. 

4. If possible, find new ways to do the same thing or learn the process and streamline it

Tips on Relieving Stress Caused by Colleagues 
1. If possible, work as a team; collaborate and to share the burden of tasks. Delegate or share duties when possible.
2. Team members can be cross-trained so that if someone is out, another co-worker can possibly take care of some tasks or meetings that need to be handled.
3. Laugh, play games, maybe do something together outside of work to get to know each other on more of a personal level.
4. Bring a sense of humor to the team to relieve stress or challenges.
5. If there are conflicts or policy breeches, it may be necessary to look into the company policy as to how to handle employee disagreements. In some cases, your manager or Human Resources (HR) may need to intervene or advise. 

6. Learn how to work with people who are negative. Some people will not think positively and are Negative Nellys or Doubting Debbies. Learn more about how to handle negative people and situations here

How to Overcome Stress Caused by Our Boss (or Client) 
1. What leverage do you have to negotiate timelines or deadlines? Can you have an open dialogue with stakeholders about what is causing stress?
2. Prepare ahead of time for meetings with the boss or the client. This will help you especially in negotiation or critical talks to be ready for some of the conversation to come.
3. Take a deep breath or a break in between client or customer calls to help the mind switch gears and take a break. This will help you handle situations with irate customers better

4. Do you have leverage to convince someone of your standpoint? What does he or she want that you have? What can he or she do for you to make your life easier? What information do you have that he or she doesn't have? 

General Tips To Overcome Workplace Stressors 
1. Try not to personalize work-related problems.
2. Learn conflict resolution skills and apply them appropriately.
3. Find a healthy way to take out stress outside of work (not on family or spouse).
4. Have rituals to separate work from home (even it’s as simple as a change of clothes). This really helps with work-life balance.
5. Get enough sleep, eat well, and go to sleep and wake up on a regular schedule.
6. Get exercise or have some physical activity in your life.
7. See if there are ways to integrate fun into work everyday or at least on special days (holiday or cultural programs, birthdays, annual days, or other company related events).
8. Don’t worry about things you don’t have control over. Try to do what you can in your own capacity, delegate the rest.
9. Don’t brood and loose sleep (when possible!).
10. Have hobbies outside of work to distract and relax the mind.
11. Have a set of friends outside of work that aren’t colleagues so that all conversations don’t go back to work-related topics.
12. Have a good support system- someone you can talk to about work or work-related issues. But, don’t talk to that person about only work all the time!
13. Keep a list of inspirational quotes or mantras or prayers.
14. Don’t forget to drink water and reduce caffeine intake. Try to eat healthy and on a regular schedule.
15. Step away from the situation if possible to clear your head.
16. Be nice. Treat others like you like to be treated. Show empathy. 

17. Take a step back from the situation and see if our own fears or responses are realistic or warranted. Sometimes we can be too close to the situation, take it too personally or blow it out of proportion.
18. Set aside time for worry. Don’t worry during other times. 

19. Learn how to give feedback that inspires conversation rather than shut down. 
20. Listen more. Talk less. 
21. Place pictures of loved ones on your desk or on your phone or computer. Look at them to calm down. Pictures of religious symbols, saints or god(s) can also help. 
22. Have toys, stress relief balls or some gadgets on your desk or in your work area you can use to reduce stress, like a stress ball (pictured, right). 
23. Visualize a good outcome. Have positive thoughts. Take a break. Meditate. 
24. Try to understand what you can and can't tolerate. If everything is a stressor it's like the boy that cried wolf... when it comes time for a real stressor to rear it's ugly head, no one will believe the person who says everything stresses them out. 

Is There a Cure for Work Related Stress? 
There is probably not a one-size fits all cure, nor would stress magically vanish. We all have different thresh-holds for stress. What makes one stressed out may not even phase another person. Maybe we can learn from each other in these cases. In some cases, stress can be a motivator helping us to stay focused or on task. Some agree that stress will always be a part of work (and of life) and rather than try to avoid or deny it, we must find ways to handle and overcome it. 

A Stress-Relief Plan? 
I have worked with some professionals on a stress-relief plan. We would outline a few situations that cause stress on the job and a few solutions or ideas to reduce the stress. Maybe creating a stress-relief plan may be useful for you as well. If you need assistance with that, that is one of the services provided through Authentic Journeys personalized coaching services. 

Do you have any other strategies or advice on dealing with office-place stress? Share your thoughts in the comments section below or in this Facebook thread

Related Posts:
Conflict Management Model: Apply this for helping resolve conflicts on the job or in life. 
How to deliver bad news or criticism in a collaborative way 
Learn how to say no [to American clients]  
How to structure a negotiation conversation 

Images all from creative commons @flickr: Bernard Goldbach: eggs, Dennis Skley: stressed out man, Pedro Vera: stress ball
Positive thoughts: Jennifer Kumar (blog author)

October 31, 2017

What is Kerala Piravi & Facts about Kerala

What is Kerala Piravi? 
Kerala Piravi (Kerala Day) is the birthday of the state of Kerala is Southwestern India. See the map to the right. The red highlighted section is Kerala State. 

When was the birthdate of Kerala? 
November 1, 1956. As of 2017, Kerala turns 61! (Note: India’s Independence Day/Date is August 15, 1947.) 

How do we wish someone on this day? 

In Malayalam: Ellarkum ende sneham nirannya Kerala Peeravi ashamsakal.
This translates into English as: Heartfelt Kelara Piravi wishes to everyone.
Another Malayalam wish: Ente hridayam niranja kerala piravi ashamsakal 
An abbreviated wish: Kerala Piravi ashamsakal. Or, Happy Kerala Piravi. 

I have tried to twist my own tongue to wish you on this special day in Malayalam. Please forgive my horrible accent and the fact that I am pretty much reading off of a paper. Yes, I practiced, and yes, my clients helped me to draft this message (though they say I got it about 50% right with the limited Malayalam I initially drafted in it!)  

The photo to the right is of the author with a Facebook photo frame that reads Keralappiravi Ashamsakal in Malayalam. 

See the end of the post for the Malayalam and English translations.

How do people celebrate Kerala’s birthday? 

It is a working day. People may dress up in traditional Kerala dress, like the Kerala sari or settu mundu for women, and dhoti and shirt for men. See pictures of Kerala outfits and other Kerala national symbols below.

Jennifer (far right) dressed in settu mundu to dance the Onam folk dance of Kerala, thiruvathira. See video here.
Jennifer wearing the one piece, Kerala sari, far right for Onam celebrations at work
What is the difference between the settu mundu, sari, and dhoti?
  • The Kerala sari is a one piece, six yard white fabric with gold borders.
  • A settu mundu is a two piece white sari with gold or colored, one piece is wrapped around the waist, while the other is wrapped over the shoulder and around the waist. If you see a woman wearing a sari with a gold or colored stripe in the front, it’s probably a settu mundu and not a sari (as in the pic to the right).
  • A dhoti is a white piece a fabric with a thin colored or gold border men wear around the waist.

Schools may be the major setting for celebrating Kerala Piravi. Schools tend to celebrate the linguistic heritage of Kerala through Malayala bhaashaa vaaram- Or Malayalam language competitions. These cultural programs include literary competitions, recitations, elocution contests, reading competitions , debates, quizzes, and skits.

One of the most interesting Malayalam games I have witnessed was played among adults. Adults were asked to introduce themselves, saying their name, where they grew up, the school and college they went to, as well as a few elements of their current life. The focus was to say the entire introduction in Malayalam, not using even one English word. Out of 10 people, all failed, because everyone said, “school.”

Is Kerala Day celebrated outside of Kerala or India?

Yes, it is commemorated or celebrated by Malayalees (people from Kerala) who live in other states of India as well as in other countries of the world. Especially in the Middle East (Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Oman, etc.) where a large concentration of Keralites live, International and Indian schools will celebrate or commemorate this day.

What are symbols of Kerala:
(Click on the photo for a bigger size.)

Kerala state bird: the great hornbill

Kerala state symbol/emblem/seal

Kerala state fish:
green chomide / pearl spot / karimeen കരിമീൻ

Kerala state fish as a meal - Karimeen pollichattu

Kerala state flower: Kannikonna
Falling on the ground after Vishu

Learn about Vishu here.

Kerala state flower: Kannikonna
On a Vishu kanni (Vishu greetings
for good luck), with the famous
vallkannadi (special mirror)

Kerala state tree: coconut
Here the coconut flower, pookkala is used
in the para (vessel) for Onam decor.
Kerala state animal: elephant

Fun fact: The state of Karnataka, which borders Kerala to the north also shares it’s foundation birth and birthday with Kerala. Karnataka Rajyotsava or Karnataka Formation Day was also on November 1, 1956.

Kerala Piravi wishes in Malayalam and English;
Ellarkum Namaskaram. Ende peru Jennifer. Enda naadu Rochester New York annu.. Korcha korcha malayalam ariyum.. njan nalla Malayalam para illa. Kerala innikki othiri istham annu. Innikki Inji puliyum pullisheeriyum biangra istham annu. Ellarkum ende sneham nirannya Kerala Peeravi ashamsakal.

Hello everyone, I am Jennifer Kumar. I am from Rochester New York, near to Niagara Falls. I know a little Malayalam. I do not speak good Malayalam. I really like Kerala. Everyone is friendly and I love Kerala meals. I especially like inji puli, sambaram, and pullisherri. Kerala Piravi Greetings to all!! 

Author of this post, Jennifer Kumar is an expat from the United States living in Kerala, India. Contact her here.

Photo credits:
Kerala in India Map:
Ladies Dancing, Jennifer under tree, Vishukkani, lighting lamp, elephant: Krishna Kumar 

Meen pollichattu: Rini Raj of Mayooram School of Dance, Rochester, NY 
Hornbill, Kerala emblem, fish: Wikipedia

October 30, 2017

Small Talk Newsletter Sample for Halloween and the Time Change

If you like the newsletter below, subscribe by clicking here  or look for the sign up on the right ---->.

Greetings Fans, 

Hope the last few months have been going well for you. As we settle in Salt Lake City, I am committed to staying in touch with you!

I know several Indian holidays have passed since we last communicated- hope the holiday season has been as fun and amazing for you as it has for us! (Right, picture of me dressed up for Diwali.)

A few important days are coming up in the few weeks that I'd like to share with you.
Questions to start conversations about Halloween
Oct. 31
DST & Offshore Schedules After The Time Change 
Small Talk Starters 
Nov. 5, 2am
All about Veterans Day with videos! 

Nov. 11
A few more popular blog posts over the last month: 
See you in the next small talk newsletter.

Thank you,
Jennifer Kumar

October 26, 2017

Small Talk Conversation Starters: Halloween

Looking for a list of questions you can use to start conversations with your American colleagues about Halloween? The questions in this post can be used at the water cooler, in the break room or over lunch to make small talk about Halloween, which falls on October 31 every single year! 

General Questions - Halloween at Work:  
  1. Do we celebrate Halloween at work? 
  2. What are popular costumes this year? 
  3. What was your favorite Halloween costume? 
  4. What do you usually dress up as for Halloween? 
  5. What is your favorite thing about Halloween? 
  6. What is a Halloween party at work like? 
  7. Is it ok if I don't wear a costume to work? 
  8. Are we doing anything for Halloween? (We is used in reference to the team or the company, hopefully!) 
  9. Do you like Halloween? / What do you like about Halloween? / What's your favorite thing about Halloween? 
  10. What are some symbols or colors associated with Halloween? 
  11. Are there special treats or candy eaten only on Halloween? 
  12. What is candy corn? 
Halloween Outside of Work (non-family related questions): 
  1. Do you celebrate Halloween at home? 
  2. Are you doing anything interesting for Halloween? 
  3. How do you normally celebrate Halloween? 
  4. I heard that people say 'trick or treat.' Do people really play tricks? What kind of tricks? 
  5. Do you like scary movies? / Do you like ghost stories? 
If they do celebrate, go ahead with any of these questions: 
  1. You do celebrate Halloween at home! How do you celebrate it? 
  2. What is a costume party? Have you ever been to one? 
  3. What are some fun activities I can do to celebrate Halloween or fall? 
  4. I heard kids may come to my house/apartment to trick or treat. What does trick or treat mean? 
  5. Do I have to give out candy? How do I do that? 
  6. Do you decorate your house? How do people normally decorate their house for Halloween? 
  7. I was invited to a few Halloween parties on the same night. How can I decline an invitation? 
  8. Have you ever experienced anything weird on Halloween? 
  9. I have heard some people claim to see ghosts on Halloween, have you? 
  10. Do you carve a pumpkin? Tell me more!! 
  11. When do you usually carve your pumpkin? 
  12. Where can we get a good pumpkin? How do you pick one out? 
If they do not celebrate Halloween, possibly try this: 
  1. Oh, though you do not celebrate the holiday, I am new to the US and don't know much about this holiday, would you be able to help me learn more or know someone who can talk with me about it? 
Halloween and Children (you can freely talk about your own children, but do not ask others about their children unless they have started the conversation first, especially if you do not know the colleague well): 
  1. I have a kid going to school here. I heard they are supposed to dress up and have a costume party at school. What is this all about? We did not have this where I am from....
  2. Where do I get good costumes? 
  3. What are the popular kids costumes this year? 
  4. Where can my kids go trick or treating? Where are the best places to go trick or treating? 
  5. If I go trick or treating with my kids, do I have to dress up too? 
  6. Can we go trick or treating in any neighborhood we want? 
  7. What time do we go trick or treating? 
  8. What are some other activities we can do to celebrate the holiday besides (or in addition to) trick or treating? 
  9. I heard people go to haunted houses for Halloween. What's a haunted house? 
  10. What are some foods or treats that people eat this time of the year? 
  11. I heard some people dress up their dogs for Halloween. Is that true? 
Asking about their children:
  1. What will your kids dress up as for Halloween? 
  2. Do your kids like Halloween? 
  3. Do your kids like to go trick or treating? 
  4. Do your kids go trick or treating alone? 
  5. What have your children dressed up as for Halloween in the past? 
  6. What is your kid's favorite candy? 
  7. How much candy do your kids usually get when they go trick or treating? 
If you are new to the US and there will be Halloween parties at your children's school and you do not want to ask your colleagues for advice, feel free to talk to your child's teacher. The teacher is actually the best person to ask these questions to, even if you do ask your colleagues as well, because the teacher knows what the exact event will be like at the school and if there are any special rules about the kinds of costumes or other related information. 

Halloween Greetings 
Wishing someone a Happy Halloween is as easy as saying 'Happy Halloween.' Other ways to wish someone on Halloween, especially if it is Halloween day or the weekend of and you know they are going to a party or trick or treating with their kids: 
  1. Have fun at the party this weekend! / Have fun trick or treating with your kids! 
  2. Stay safe and have fun! 
  3. Have a good time! 
  4. Don't eat too much candy! 
  5. Suggest another greeting in the comments section below! 
Dressing up at Work for Halloween 
Dressing up for Halloween at work can consist of different things depending on your company or team's culture. Here are a few ideas: 
  1. Wearing a costume to work during office hours. 
  2. Decorating the office in a Halloween theme or color pattern (orange and black). 
  3. A Halloween party during working hours, probably over lunchtime. 
  4. A meeting at a pub, bar or restaurant after work. 
  5. Others as defined by your company culture. Feel free to share interesting experiences or ideas in the comments section below! 
Don't be surprised that if you to a restaurant, a store, a gas station or any other place of business on Halloween, you may see employees of that establishment dressed up for Halloween while they help you as well! 

If you're looking to improve your rapport with your American colleagues, contact us for personalized coaching to help you build relationships at work and improve your career. 

Related Posts: 
What is Halloween and Trick or Treating? (with videos) 
The Mask Makes or Breaks the Man (Personal Halloween Story) 
Halloween Vocabulary in American English 
See more photos of Halloween at Oglethorpe University 

tags: English as a Second Language, ESL. ESOL, Phrases in American English 
Photo credits from flickr creative commons: Bear: Emma Story, Candy Corn: m01229, Pumpkin with candy: Jennifer Kumar, carved pumpkin: Matthew Dillon, dog as pirate, Anne Marie, Pug and Pumpkin: DePuglet Pugs, Keep Out Halloween Decor: Oglethorpe University

What Does the Phrase ‘Turn Down’ Mean?

“I was turned down some 40 times before I was hired at this company!” 

This was said by a person who applied for 40 different positions at the same company in different parts of the US. Apparently, he loved that company so much he kept trying until he got it! 

I heard this sentence in a speech recently, and thought it was a great example of an idiom that can be commonly and frequently used in corporate communication (as well as in ordinary speech). Let’s look at four definitions of this phrase and possible meanings. 

Before looking at that, let’s keep in mind all the forms of ‘turn down’:

  • Turn down 
  • Turned down 
  • Turning down 
  • Turns down 
“He was turned down 40 times before he was hired!” 

The phrase ‘turn down’ and it’s forms can be used in terms of hiring or getting a job. This phrase can be used by job hunters, Human Resources (HR) managers, or anyone talking about someone not taking or accepting a job offer. So, in this case, turn down means “to reject something or to be rejected.” It can also be translated as not wanting or desiring something. 

Other example sentences inside and outside of work: 

1. She was turned down for the promotion. (Meaning: She did not get the promotion.) 
2. I will be turning down the team leader role. (Meaning: I will not accept the role./I don’t want the role.) 
3. He turns down every offer he is given! (He will not accept any offer!) 
4. I'm surprised he turned down the job because he did so well in the interview! (I don't know why he did not accept the job when he obviously prepared well for the interview.) 
4. She turned down a man who asked her out on a date. (She will not go on a date with any man!/She doesn’t want to date anyone.) 
5. He keeps on turning down every offer on his house as he wants more money! (He says no to every offer on his house because it’s not enough money.) 


The use of the phrase in this way really only has one meaning- to reduce the volume. Some may use the expanded phrase ‘turn down the volume,’ as well. The opposite of this can also be used, ‘turn up,’ or increase the volume. 

Note that the phrases ‘turn up’ and ‘turn down’ cannot be used to ask someone to turn down the volume of their own voice or to be quiet. 

Also, in this usage, many prefer to change the phrase slightly to add in what needs to be turned down in between the words ‘turn’ and ‘down.’ For example:

  • Turn the music down 
  • Turn the tv down 
  • Turn the base down 
(Another phrase pair which is used in a similar way is ‘turn on’ (switch on) and ‘turn off' (switch off). I will turn on the lights. I will turn the lights on. I will turn off the computer. I will turn the computer off.) 


When talking about folding down a collar on a shirt or jacket or folding down sheets on a bed, we can use the term ‘turn down’ as well. 

1. Your collar needs to be turned down on the left side. (Please fold your collar down on the left side.) 

2. It looks like you forgot to fold your jacket collar down. (Please fold your jacket collar down.)
3. The bed sheets need to be turned down for the guests. 


When giving directions, some may use the phrase ‘turn down,’ as well. 

Sample conversation: 

Stan: Yesterday I tried to find the library, but couldn’t get there. How do I drive to the library from here? 
Andy: It’s easy. Drive down Main Street, then take a right turn down Book Street. After you turn down Book Street, take the first left down Library Street. You can miss this turn because it comes almost immediate after you take the left. 
Stan: Oh! That must have been what happened? I found Court Street and took a left turn down that street. 
Andy: Oh yes, you turned down the wrong street. Actually, you can still turn down Court Street and then turn into the back parking lot of the Library, but it’s not so easy to find. 


Building off of the meaning to turn down the sheets, some fancy (five star) hotels offer a turn down service. What is a turn down service? 

Typically, room service will come clean the room, make the bed and tidy up the place in the morning. This service is not called turn down service. Turn down service happens later in the evening, maybe between 4-7pm depending on the hotel. The staff will come into the room when the guests are not in the room, make the bed, fluff the pillows, and fold open the sheets on one side in a diagonal way (opening up the bed, so to speak). They may put chocolate on the pillows, flowers or fruits in the room, give complimentary wine, or turn on soft music. This all varies from hotel to hotel. Some may organize a turn down service as a trademark of their hotel brand. Some hotels may do special honeymoon turndown service with wine, folded towel animals, and more. 

Author, Jennifer Kumar, helps you to communicate better in the U.S. with your American colleagues. Contact us for more information. 

Hope you found this post on the meanings of 'turn down' useful. Here are some more posts on idioms: 
Bite the Bullet 
On the Rocks 
Buried in Work 

Photo credits (all at flickr, creative commons):
Volume credits, Rodrigo Senna, Shirt collar, Robert Sheie, Turn it off and on, unknown source. Elephant turndown, collectionlaw. Simple turndown, Kirt Edblom.