Trends I Hate…Yes, I’m Old

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In my last post,  I discussed Signs You’ve Hit Middle Age. I recently realized that I left out one important sign…namely, that you are irritated by stupid trends. The following ridiculous trends aren’t even new; they’ve just gotten on my nerves long enough that I finally had to vent my supreme annoyance.

  1. Healthy Juice Bars. Unfortunately for this country, “healthy juicing” has taken over. Goodbye Jamba Juice and your affordable, sugar-laden, strawberry smoothie. You have been replaced by Nekter, the detoxifying, cleansing juice bar and its prohibitively expensive foodie crap. One such example is the Tropical Cooler, which is billed as “a puree of spinach, kale, and flavorless gourmet tropical shit, for douchebags like you.” Having recently been a douchebag who tried the Tropical Cooler, take my advice here and save your ten bucks. Instead, throw 2 cups of grass and weeds from your front lawn into a blender with 3 cups of water from your pool. The result looks and tastes the same. (Party tip: When serving to guests at your birthday luau, pour into a Tiki tumbler for added authenticity.)

 

  1. Birthday parties…for dogs. What the heck is wrong with people? It’s not enough to organize a killer bash with clowns, ponies and a snow cone machine for your one-year old who will sleep through half of it. Now you have to put party hats on your pets?

 

  1. Sleeping babies. For some reason, I am the only parent whose babies didn’t immediately sleep through the night. In fact, my newborns both woke up every 2-3 hours for weeks on end, the inconsiderate little brats. I suppose it’s my fault, though. If I had been gluten-free when nursing, my kids would have been better able to digest the milk, resulting in a fuller feeling and hours of peaceful sleep.

 

  1. Starbucks in Europe. Americans have figured out a way to take European coffee, add some quasi-Italian words, reverse engineer the espresso making process so it actually takes three times longer, and then sell it back to the Europeans at a higher price. As disappointing as this is, I guess I can’t completely hate Starbucks  – not only do they bring us the eggnog latte, but they are probably responsible for making coffee across America drinkable.

 

  1. Gender Reveal Parties. Millennial friends of mine, I love you, but knock it off. Just go to the ultrasound, find out the gender of your baby and call your mom. No one else is relishing in the suspense as much as you are. If you have to be trendy and insist on making everyone you know digest something to find out whether you’re having a boy or a girl, give them a blue or pink Tropical Cooler.

Signs You’ve Hit Middle Age

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How do I use this thing?
This post is for all you Generation X’ers like me. You can no longer hide from middle age. Trust me, I tried. That said, if you exhibit any of the below signs, don’t be completely depressed. There is hope….see number 11.

1. They remake your favorite movie from 7th grade, “The Karate Kid.” You refuse to see the new version, insisting the original version was better. C’mon people, you can’t beat Mr. Miyagi!

2. Speaking of movies, you saw the original Star Wars when it first came out in the theater.  You rub this in your kids’ faces to make them think you’re cool.

3. It doesn’t work.

4. While giving a presentation at the office, everyone on the other side of the room is fuzzy. Since those same people all put on their reading glasses to refer to the handout, at least you’re in good company.

5. You can’t figure out how to use your iPhone to actually call someone. To be fair it isn’t easy; unlike your home phone, it takes at least 4 steps to place a call.

6. You still have a home phone.

7. Your kids figure out how to use your iPhone’s camera without first entering in the password. You didn’t even know that was possible until you discover the inappropriate pictures they took of you in the department store dressing room.

8. You can’t figure out why your kids watch YouTube instead of good, old-fashioned TV. Instead of hours of  mind-numbing cartoons, they watch people playing with toys.  That’s what’s wrong with today’s generation!

9. You nearly get into a physical altercation with the doctor’s assistant when she measures your height and insists you’re an inch shorter. You’re definitely too young to be shrinking. At this rate, you’ll be down to four feet by the time you’re 70 (that’s 122 centimeters for my two, loyal non-U.S. readers).

10. When you recover from the shock, you wonder if you should start hair spraying your bangs up high again like you did in high school in the 80’s. That should give you another inch or two.

11. You start hanging out with fiftysomethings whose issues with persistent chin hair and curling eyebrows make you feel young. Besides, they don’t know how to use their iPhones either.

 

 

10 Signs Your Vacation is NOT Normal

I recently wrote a blog post entitled “Rate Your European Vacation – A Short Quiz.” Unfortunately, I quickly noticed that publishing that post was premature, since we were still on vacation and overwhelmingly subjected to further torture by the Vacation Gods. In pursuit of my mission to provide cutting edge (albeit clearly uninspiring and unprofessional) journalism, I feel it is my duty to continue on with this topic. Thus I present to you, my loyal readers, 10 signs your vacation is not normal (and has probably landed you in the Twilight Zone.)

1. The side of the hotel room’s shower/tub combo is so high, you have to hoist yourself up on the edge and roll over the top. You wonder if pole vaulting in would be easier. Good thing the Olympics are on – you can watch the professionals to learn proper technique.

2. The bedsheets are starched like nothing you’ve experienced since the 1970’s. At least you wake up freshly exfoliated. Now you can cancel that expensive spa treatment you have planned when you get back.

3. The TV is set up so you can only see it by looking into the mirror above the bathroom sink.

4. After running around the ruins of the nearby ancient Roman amphitheater, your kids relax by watching YouTube on their iPads.

5. The hotel furniture your kids are relaxing on is so old you suspect it too may have belonged to the Romans. You entertain yourself by inspecting it for Latin inscriptions.

6. You find some.

7. The horse you take a selfie with while visiting your brother in-law’s farm keeps nudging you until you show it the picture. You wonder if it wants you to tag it on Facebook.

8. You watch in awe as a wasp lands on your dinner, bites off a piece of meat and flies away with it. You consider trying to sic that wasp and its relatives on the hotel’s manager, who turned off your Wifi without telling you and then went to bed.

9. After watching the Olympics every night from his bathroom sink mirror, your English-speaking dad has managed to pick up enough German to fill you in on all the highlights. By the end of the first week, he starts correcting your German grammatical errors. You fear what will happen now that he’s switched to the Italian channel.

10. You spend every morning at the hotel breakfast buffet trying to figure out how many packs of hot chocolate you have to steal to make up for the outrageous cost of the room. On second thought, you might recoup your losses more quickly by selling the Roman artifact furniture on eBay. Your plan is foiled when you realize the manager still hasn’t turned back on your Wifi.

Jump Into That New Job With Confidence

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Starting a new position can be somewhat nerve-racking. Not having changed jobs in over 7 years, I was somewhat anxious when I started with my new employer recently. Of course I was also really excited, having left my prior employer for an intriguing opportunity (translation: “more money”).

But, even with dreamy thoughts of the new gas-saving, carpool lane-eligible Chevy Volt I was hoping to purchase with my increased salary, as my first day approached, butterflies filled my stomach. Would I be able to win over my colleagues with my brilliance and wit? Would my office have a couch in it? Would I be able to map the new printers to my computer when the IT guy fails to show up after 3 days of nagging? Would the coffee machines be even less hygienic than the grimy coffee pots I was used to?

Well, rest assured, two months down this new road, I am here to tell you that if you too are contemplating making a leap to new employment, there truly is nothing to fear. In fact, you should be confident. You will soon find that, money aside, there really are some great upsides to the new gig and when it comes down to it, the usual stuff you’re used to at the workplace isn’t much different. Here are some concrete examples, to put you at ease:

New Upside: The travel expense and timekeeping systems are easier to use.

Usual Stuff: In theory this is true. In reality, you have no idea, since it takes weeks to actually get access. To avoid wanting to throttle someone in IT at your new company and winding up explaining your violent actions to Human Resources, don’t go on any business trips or get sick for at least a month.

New Upside: The Human Resources Department has a direct support line staffed with helpful, internal employees. 

Usual Stuff: When you finally get access to the timekeeping system, you realize after running a few calculations that your vacation isn’t accruing correctly. The external, non- Human Resources staff who are responsible for fixing the issue, argue with you that the “computer isn’t wrong.”

New Upside: You work with a really friendly group of people who take time out of their day to teach you the ropes.

Usual Stuff: You still have no idea what the statisticians are saying. (Tip: just complain loudly about “data quality” and shout “chi-square” (pronounced: kīskwer) every few minutes, and you’ll make it through the discussion.)

New Upside: You hear about an exciting new project at the company.

Usual Stuff: You find out the project is staffed with consultants who get paid obscene amounts of money to put together colorful presentations with “swim lanes” (complete with “swim sprints”) and made-up words like “ideation.” When you look more closely, you find they were too busy doing important consultant stuff to worry about spell check or slightly racist undertones in their “user profile” slides.

New Upside: You get a huge new office with a couch. Wow, you’re really moving up in the world.

Usual Stuff: Facilities can’t seem to fix the overhead light which makes a constant loud buzzing noise. It looks like there will be no napping on that couch after all. Besides, it’s easier to work from home than sit in traffic for an hour.

New Upside: Working from home means you get to see your kids more often.

Usual Stuff: Your kids find every opportunity to interrupt you. You consider padlocking your office door and investing in a noise cancellation headset.

New Upside: Once you have access to the travel expense system, you travel across the country on exciting business trips.

Usual Stuff: Your last flight home is delayed by two hours, because no one can figure out how to fix the plane’s coffee maker.

 

As you can see, there really is no reason not to take on that new opportunity that recently presented itself. In addition to the many favorable things that await you, you won’t be pushed too far outside your comfort zone, because you will still get to deal with the same crap you’re used to. And if you have an extra bit of luck like me, the germy coffee pots will have been replaced by a Keurig.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Suck It, Crafters

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Everyone knows that to be a good mother, you must spend hours crafting with your kids. Thanks to modern inventions like blogs and Pinterest, crafting has risen from hobby to absolute requirement. This proves problematic if you are afflicted with crappy small motor coordination (known in medical circles as “CSMC”) and are from Generation X, meaning you were unaware of the crafting movement when you were trying to get pregnant. 

Had I understood that crafting skills would one day be the barometer in measuring my competency as a mother, I certainly would have planned my future differently. Don’t get me wrong; I am not suggesting that I would have chosen better birth control. I like my kids more than 50% of the time, which statistically-speaking, means they’re keepers. What I am suggesting is that I probably would have pursued a double major in college, supplementing my B.A. in Economics with a degree in Craft Shit.

On second thought, who am I kidding? Even Upper Division craft classes couldn’t help me conquer my CSMC. Because of my two left thumbs, I can’t cut a straight line with scissors or even fold a piece of paper in half neatly. I failed a summer school origami class when I was 7. In high school I never volunteered to make the bubble letters on spirit signs, because my bubble letters ended up squished on one side of the sign. I’ve never admitted this publicly until now, but my husband wraps Christmas presents better than I do.

Speaking of Christmas, my two daughters got a “style your own headband” kit last December (from one of my best friends no less…clearly she was pissed off at me about something). Using this kit, you were theoretically able to decorate plain headbands with lace, bows, ribbons and jewels. When I tried to help my 10-year old, I ended up with gobs of glue everywhere. As my daughter sulked in disappointment and I tried to peel glue off my body, my 6-year old took pity on us and neatly pasted a dainty piece of ribbon along the entire outside of my 10-year old’s headband. At least somebody in the family was qualified to be a mother.

As the reality of my incompetence sunk in, I knew it was time to take action. I needed a new approach if I was going to go head to head with the crafting mothers of the world.  I can’t tie bows, but I can create a PowerPoint presentation with bullet points, text boxes and process flows. So, suck it crafters. My kids and I aren’t going to build a birdhouse out of twigs and plant-matter we picked out together on our morning family nature hike and then decorate it with sequins. We’re going to sit in front of our computer with a cup of coffee and make slides in PowerPoint, and if I’m feeling really ambitious, we might even make ourselves a second cup of coffee and write some exciting formulas in Excel.

And when we’re through, we’ll pop a few Lean Cuisines in the microwave. Did I mention I can’t cook either?

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Confessions of a Mid-Level Manager

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I enjoy my job in corporate America, but my day to day life at work is somewhat different than I would have imagined in college. As a mid-level manager, my role consists of two main tasks: 1) leading meetings with people about topics I don’t understand and 2) creating PowerPoint presentations.

As to the former, here’s a snippet from a conference call I led yesterday with 2 statisticians. As you’ll see, by using a few well-placed, vague comments, I managed to pull off my role as meeting leader without being discovered for the fraud I really am.

Jim:  My concern is if  statistical formula , then   statistics 2  So, by including that set of values associated with variable X in our regression model, we’ll have the problem of perfect separation.

Me: I see.  (Actually, I have no idea what you just said.)  Steve, do you agree with this analysis?

Steve: Yes, Jim makes a good point. Let’s not forget, however, that  eetips_wrap1

Me: So, Jim, can you please refine the regression model based on Steve’s suggestions?

Jim: Yes, I’ll do that this week.

Me: Great, I’ll send out an Outlook meeting invite for Monday to circle back on this action item. (Phew, I made it through without completely embarrassing myself.)

Side note: Because I managed to use “circle back” and “action item” in the same sentence, I earned 2 bonus points on my corporate scorecard.

The bulk of my job, though, revolves around less frightening work – creating PowerPoints.  In fact PowerPoint is the main tool of communication at my company. We start a project, I draft a timeline in PowerPoint. We finish a project, I summarize the results in PowerPoint.  I have an idea, it goes into PowerPoint. I need to use the restroom, I take my PowerPoint. In other words, I live out my days in PowerPoint Purgatory (PPP).

As I’ve observed, to make it out of PPP you must either 1) rise to a higher level of management (the preferable solution) or 2) fail miserably and be forced to go back and join the ranks of the people actually doing the work described in the PowerPoints.

Since a pre-requisite to upper management is being able to sound like an expert in your area when you’re not even sure who reports to you, I’m hopeful that a few more meetings with the statisticians just might spring me from purgatory.

 

Corporate Mentoring Series: Ask an MBA

 

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I was recently chatting with my friend Brenda when the subject turned to corporate life. We quickly realized that we were confounded by similar situations at work. After further discussion, we came to the conclusion that this gap in our ability to comprehend certain corporate phenomena was most likely tied to the fact that, while we each had a B.A. and 20+ years job experience, neither of us held an actual degree in Business. It was clear that if we were going to ever find resolution to our questions, we would need to corner someone with a bona fide business degree.

Enter our friend, Marsha. Marsha has not only earned an MBA from a top university, but she is also one of the sharpest, well-adjusted people I know. If anyone could save us from ignorance, it was Marsha.

Marsha graciously made time for us over lunch and we took turns peppering her with questions. As follows are the highlights of our Q&A session:

Question #1

Brenda: I receive daily news feeds in my Outlook inbox from my company. I appreciate the company’s desire to help me stay informed, but it’s challenging to find time to read everything they send me and still finish my PowerPoint slides by the deadline.

Marsha: Learn to embrace the delete key.

Question #2

Brenda: Who is crazier, me or IT?

Marsha: IT

Question #3

Brenda: How do I resolve this?

Marsha: Your best bet is to find someone who has the Flu and get them to sneeze on you. Then you can stay home in bed watching soap operas and drinking Nyquil instead of dealing with the crappy data IT sent you.

Question #4

Me: We used to have an office whistler who whistled loudly all day long. Her specialty was holiday tunes. Why was I the only person who found this annoying?

Marsha: People like holiday music, even in mid-summer. Too bad the whistler is gone or you could have connected her to the Marketing department to help bring in more business.

Question #5

Me: She showed up at this year’s Christmas luncheon, despite the fact that she left the company a year ago. Who invited her?

Marsha: IT

Question #6

Me: Why do companies hire argumentative customer service reps? Wouldn’t it be more efficient for the customer service rep to resolve the issue, so he/she can move on to the next call?

Marsha: Maybe, but you’re missing the point. In the corporate jungle, efficiency or even common sense don’t necessarily drive decisions. It’s all about “cover.” The guy running the customer service department may not be qualified for or capable of doing his job but is being covered by his senior manager. Chances are this senior manager has either never called the call center or, even more likely, doesn’t know there is a call center that reports up to him.

Question #7:

Me: How is it that the senior manager wouldn’t know that he has a call center under him?

Marsha: Most decisions affecting people are not well-communicated. Often you have to rely on an independent news source to tell you that you were actually let go three weeks ago. So, if your company’s stock price is tanking or you think you might have a call center reporting up to you, then you should definitely check out Reuters.com.

Question #8:

Brenda:  How can we keep people focused, so that they don’t waste everyone else’s time during weekly meetings?

Marsha: Keep a log of the amount of time each person has wasted. At the end of each month, make a PowerPoint chart and pass it out. Explain that the results will be aggregated at year-end, and using the below formula, each time-waster will be forced to pay out a portion of his annual bonus to all meeting attendees made to listen to him drone on about irrelevant topics.

Since no one will understand this formula (or want to risk looking stupid by asking how it works), the group will be terrified into compliance.

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Question #9:

Brenda: What if an executive manager is one of the time-wasters?

Marsha: Whistle holiday music when you hand out the chart. Three weeks later google your name on Reuters.com.

4 Super Crappy 2016 Resolutions

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In the spirit of the New Year (or as my company’s language-challenged marketing department calls it, “The New Starts”), I have come up with the following list of resolutions to make myself a better person.

1. Stop referring to that kid in Corinne’s first grade class as a douchebag, just because his parents gave him a pretentious Italian name.

After all, his great grandfather’s cousin’s neighbor’s dog’s brother’s owner did come from Sicily. In all fairness, this really does make him nearly full-blooded Italian.

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In fact, given that two of my eight great grandparents immigrated from Tuscany, I am going to rename my children. From now on, they will have to answer to Raffaella and Alessia. It might take some getting used to, but it’s all about your heritage, right?

 2. Be less ambitious.

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If I stop trying to produce accurate results at work, I won’t be annoyed when my efforts are blocked by idiots. As I’ve learned from my friends in IT, the data doesn’t have to actually be correct if no one is going to check it.

 3. Play more strategic board games with my kids.

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The idea here is not to enhance their cognitive abilities, rather it’s to improve my self-confidence. There is really no better proof of one’s own intelligence than beating a 10 and 6 year old at Clue. In fact, by conveniently forgetting to explain all the rules, I can greatly improve my chances of continual game domination.

 4.  Find out what my offspring are actually watching on YouTube.

This is particularly important since Elizabeth has been talking a lot about Bronies (adult dudes who like My Little Pony).

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In other words, I probably need to intervene before some 35 year old Furry in a Rainbow Dash costume shows up at my door.

That said, if his name is Massimiliano, he works in IT and likes to play Monopoly, then in the spirit of the New Starts, I should probably welcome him in.

Power-Hungry Art Coordinator

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In my previous post The Volunteer Part II, The Art Docent, I discussed my role last year as a volunteer art docent for my oldest daughter’s class. This proved to be a fascinating experience, particularly because, much to my surprise, the behavior of a room full of elementary school students was not all that different than the antics I’m subjected to in company meetings.

This interaction was close enough to my corporate comfort zone that the kids can consider themselves lucky I didn’t break out a bunch of Excel tables and start lecturing on the importance of using the correct variables in your statistical regression models. (I’m not actually a statistician, but I work with one and have figured out how to imitate him well enough to sound considerably more intelligent than I really am. Look people, it’s all about perception.)

With this school year came a unique opportunity. The son of the volunteer lady who coordinated the art docent program was switching to the local school for smart kids. This meant her position was open. Since no one else wanted the job of coordinator (which should have been a sign to me), I jumped at the opportunity. After all, as coordinator couldn’t I wield my newly-gained power across not only the art docent program but maybe even the PTA? Who cares if I didn’t get paid? Since I had no actual power at work (and zero power at home with my kids), my dictatorial cravings would finally be satisfied.

Excited at the thought that people would finally listen to me, I immediately set goals, made a PowerPoint, and met with the school principal to align on said goals. I could barely wait to begin assembling my team of minions, um, I mean volunteer art docents.

Despite my and the principal’s enthusiasm, I quickly learned that running a volunteer program is not an easy task. This is primarily due to the fact that an astonishing number of volunteers are flakes with a limited sense of responsibility and urgency. In all fairness, I suppose this shouldn’t have shocked me, since they aren’t getting paid; even a number of salaried people at my corporate job are neither accountable nor timely for anything not directly related to a department potluck. (People love food…organizing it, making it, talking about it, eating it, etc.)

After the Back to School Night volunteer sign-ups, I had at least one volunteer for each of the 15 classrooms. However, as time passed and the first art lesson was only a few weeks away, half of the parents had stopped responding to my e-mails…and I suspected some of them had even changed their identities.

While I struggled with the concept of grown-ups signing up for something that they weren’t actually interested in doing, it occurred to me that the reason these people had gone into hiding may have something to do with the fact that they realized they would actually have to stand up in front of 30 kids and try to teach them something.

Having attended numerous official company meetings where adults spent most of the hour ignoring the agenda and competing for laughs (kind of like an episode of “Last Comic Standing”), I was used to free-for-alls and teaching unruly kids, while at times frustrating, was only marginally more frightening.

Sadly, there was no room for power-wielding despotism. To keep the program intact, I couldn’t afford to lose any more parent volunteers. There was clearly only one solution.  I was going to have to schlep the group to a series of meetings at my company…and follow it up with a potluck.

5 Ways to Improve Your Corporate Communication Skills

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Appropriately expressing one’s thoughts and ideas can be challenging in the business world. In light of certain communications I’ve recently been subjected to, I feel compelled to share with you some DOs and DON’Ts which will hopefully help you climb the corporate ladder more quickly and do so without getting on your colleagues’ nerves any more than necessary:

1. DON’T sign your e-mails with your initials unless you are high up on the corporate food chain. These are the only people who have earned the right to save precious time by signing with two letters.

If there is any question as to whether you are high enough up on said food chain, check your title to see if it can be reduced to a 3-letter acronym starting with the letter “C” (e.g. CFO, COO, CIO, CTO, etc).

  • If the answer is “yes”, you may begin signing with your initials.
  • If the answer is “no”, as disheartening as it may be, you must go back to signing with your full first name. Don’t be sad; at least you will no longer come across as a self-important douchebag to your co-workers.
  • If you are uncertain if your title can be made into an acronym, ask Human Resources.
  • If Human Resources informs you that you are the CEO, you may sign with just your first initial.

2. When responding to someone in writing, DO find a way to sound professional without using big words which do not belong together. For example,

  • DO say: I have spoken with John to ensure this doesn’t happen again.
  • DON’T say: I have spoken with John to circumvent recurrence.

If you are circumventing recurrence, you might want to look for another job that doesn’t require you to write anything.

3. DON’T try to get cozy with executive management over the lasagna at the holiday party. This will be seen as a last minute attempt to increase your bonus when you should have been working longer hours all year long. If you aren’t sure who at the party is an executive manager, check everyone’s title for one of the previously mentioned acronyms.

4. If you work in IT and manage to single-handedly, irreparably crash an application people need to finish their time-sensitive projects, DON’T pretend the application works fine on your end. Instead, beg their forgiveness and find someone to do your job who actually knows what they are doing.

5. When you are responsible for leading a meeting, DO make a reasonable effort to prepare first. While you are undoubtedly extremely busy, it will be a colossal waste of time to those who are forced to watch you think out loud as you try to figure out why you called the meeting it the first place.

If, despite the above, you still insist on not preparing for your own meeting, you must take the following steps to ensure your face doesn’t end up on a dartboard in someone’s cubicle.

DO:

  • apologize profusely
  • bring snacks or otherwise bribe your colleagues to not stand up and leave
  • promise to circumvent recurrence

 

Note: For an explanation of common terms used in business discussions, please refer to my previous posts on this topic: Corporate Lingo – the Key to Success in the Corporate Jungle and Heteroskedasticity.