Book Review: The Language of Houses

The Language of Houses by Alison Lurie is a fascinating book. Below is an excerpt.



When two people live together, one of them may be largely responsible for the decor of any room, or it may be the result of collaboration or compromise. The true state of affairs can usually be determined by simply praising the way the place looks, and observing who takes credit for it. If both do, their relationship probably is (or recently was) a happy one. When one or both partner volubly refuses all acclaim, it may indicate either aesthetic indifference or emotional detachment, possibly both.

Sometimes different rooms will have very different atmospheres. There may be a bright, cheerful kitchen where one member of the family (not always the mother) is usually to be found, and a dark, dosed-in office or study where someone else seems to work and live. The opposite situation is also possible: a bright, cheerful, orderly home office and a dismal, dirty kitchen. If there is only a single adult in the home, we may have the impression of a split personality: someone who loves work and hates cooking, or the reverse.

Houses can also seem to have personalities of their own. As Libbie Block puts it in her brilliant but now almost forgotten novel about Hollywood, Tbe Hills of Beverly, “there were houses which made for laughter and some which made for tears, some which caused quarrels, and some which were so cold and emotionless that love froze in them and died.” There are homes in which we instantly feel comfortable: something about the shape of the rooms, the furniture, the light, and the colors makes us happy. There are also dwellings like Shirley Jackson’s Hill House, in the book of the same name, that feel wrong and make us uncomfortable. In Hill House, Jackson writes, “the walls seemed always in one direction a fraction longer than the eye could endure, and in another direction a fraction less.” It is a sensation that some people have also had in certain office and school hallways, or in high-rise public housing where the buildings tend to be peculiarly tall and thin, with windswept exterior passageways blocked by wire fencing.

As Joyce Carol Oates has written in a memoir of her childhood, “The house contains the home but is not identical with it. The house anticipates the home and will very likely survive it.” When we enter any residence we will be aware of it both as a house and as a home. In some cases, we will know or sense that there has been trouble there, and will therefore unconsciously see it as what sociologists call a broken home: a building symbolically split in half, as if by an explosion, with objects out of place and something wrong about the light. On other, better occasions we will feel a kind of euphoria, as if we have at last entered the Happy Home of our childhood dreams and drawings.

When It Comes to Performance Management, Employees Want More, Not Less!

Originally posted on Blanchard LeaderChat:

More than 90 percent of major corporations have formal performance management systems in place. Yet recent research by Deloitte Consulting reported that only 8 percent of these organizations find their performance management process worth the time they put into it. Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity seems to fit here: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Is the solution to abandon the process? Quite the contrary. A recent survey by The Ken Blanchard Companies found a 20 to 30 percent gap between what employees desired from their leaders during performance management conversations and what they were receiving. Simply put, employees want much more from their leaders than they’re getting!

Blanchard Cap Study Results

So what do direct reports want more of?

  • More specificity: Be clear on expectations. People want to know what their key responsibility areas are, how they are going to be measured, and what a…

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What I learned about customer service from an American Golf employee!

Originally posted on Why Lead Now:


Customer service is something we all come across in our daily lives. It can be used as a key differentiator for you and your company. 9 out of 10 US consumers said they would pay more for a superior service. I want to share with you a customer service experience I had a few weeks ago and how this made me feel valued.


I wanted to buy my partner (Daniel) Golf clubs for Christmas. I initially searched on line for the best deal but didn’t have a clue what I needed, so decided to visit American Golf.  The guy serving me knew I didn’t know much about clubs, so he advised what I should buy and gave me a 30 minute personal fitting voucher so I could return with Daniel.

A few weeks ago we took the clubs back to American Golf for our 30 minute personal fitting to find out how…

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Are You TOO Nice? 4 Ways to Be Compassionate and Fair

Originally posted on Blanchard LeaderChat:

Woman In Stress At Work Asking For HelpI once worked with a VP who was at the tail end of a situation that had gotten out of hand. Six months prior, one of his senior directors—who I’ll call Shari, had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Although she continued to work throughout her treatment, her performance suffered and team members had to take on extra work. My VP wanted to be as accommodating as possible and so he didn’t say anything.

Just as Shari was on the mend, her husband was in a car accident and as a result needed extensive back surgery. Shari still claimed she didn’t need time off and could handle her responsibilities while tending to her husband. Not wanting to add insult to injury, my VP still said nothing as more deadlines were pushed. At this point his team was really showing signs of frustration and resentment. My VP was at the end of…

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DTM: Stop Trying to Make Your Customers Smarter!

Peter Shankman writes a great blog on Duct Tape Marketing. Want customers who will do your PR for you? Please leave a comment below.


Stop Trying to Make Your Customers Smarter!

Waiting for a flight home from Bangkok the other week, I found myself leaving the lounge at the same time as a lovely elderly woman from Chicago. She was headed home, after being part of a two-week group tour around Thailand.

We struck up a conversation (of course we did, dear reader, do you not know me? I talk to EVERYONE!) – Anyhow, as I offered to carry her bag to the gate, we compared seats – She was sitting two seats in front of me, and she showed me her ticket. I told her that mine was on my phone, and she commented about how until she got to the airport, she was afraid that her ticket would be digital, but she didn’t have a phone that worked in Thailand, and there was a part of her that didn’t think she’d be able to get on the flight.

Fortunately, when she got to the airport, she checked in, and by showing her passport, was given paper tickets that would get her all the way home. That there was a strapping young gentleman like myself available to carry her bags was a bonus. ?

So why do I bring this up? Because sometimes, in our rush to embrace the latest and greatest in technology, we occasionally forget about some of our core customers – or at the very least, leave them worried.

Fortunately, United didn’t do that, and when my new friend checked in, her fears were immediately put to rest. But can you say the same thing about every one of your customers?

At the end of the day, we’re beholden to our customers – Not the other way around. It might be nice to adopt the latest mobile technology – But hey – If you have a customer who paid like, $11,000 for a round-trip ticket on your airline, you damn well better offer her the options that she wants. United did that. Does your company?

Want customers who will do your PR for you? Customers who will tell the world how great you are, and bring you future customers? Don’t forget customers like my new friend Rita – Who despite being eighty-one years old and traveling on her own, still prefers the paper ticket.

Want to learn how to get customers like that? Well, my new book on customer service, aptly named Zombie Loyalists, drops on January 27th, 2015. But buy it now by going to, and you can get a whole bunch of cool gifts. Because that’s what Zombie Loyalists deserve.

An author, entrepreneur, speaker, and connector, Peter Shankman is recognized worldwide for radically new ways of thinking about customer service, social media, PR, marketing and advertising. He blogs at & tweets random hilarity at @petershankman


Setting Boundaries: 7 Ways Good Managers Get It Wrong

Originally posted on Blanchard LeaderChat:

Sneakers From Above.Employees know when they have a “nice” manager who isn’t really in charge—and in the end, it makes them feel unsafe. Dr. Henry Cloud literally wrote the book on this topic, but I wanted to share a cast of characters to help represent some of the boundary-challenging habits I’ve seen that can undermine the good manager.

Please don’t be too alarmed if you see yourself in one of these descriptions—that was one of my intentions. I wanted to make it easy for you to identify yourself. After all, you can’t craft a solution until you identify the real nature of the problem. My intention in using the labels is to keep things fun and light, but also to be clear.  Okay, here goes:

The In-Director. You believe people don’t like to be bossed around, and you don’t want people to think you’re bossy.  So you don’t give super…

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