Verbal judo

Dr. Joseph Barber

There are many situations where being able to use your verbal skills to diffuse a tense situation can be helpful in an academic environment. Whether you are talking with your PI or supervisor or working with students, it is helpful to know about conversational techniques you can use to help. Let’s hope you don’t need to use “tactical language” or “verbal judo” that often, but it is worth exploring. Watch this video to hear from Dr. George Thompson, who received a Masters and Doctorate in English from the University of Connecticut (1972), and completed post-doctoral work at Princeton University in Rhetoric & Persuasion (1979) before becoming a police officer. How’s that for an unconventional and alternative career path!

Verbal Judo: Diffusing Conflict Through Conversation from Columbia Business School on



Clinical Volunteering with Older Patients

Amy Weiss headshotby Amy Weiss, COL ’13

Friends told me that volunteering in a long-term care facility would be sad and depressing.  “Why don’t you volunteer at a children’s hospital,” they said, “…where you can play games with sick kids who want to have a good time? After all,” they said, “nursing homes are just full of lifeless, hopeless people waiting to die.”

It turned out that this was not the case, as I discovered shortly after beginning my weekly visits to the Penn Center for Rehabilitation and Care, a nursing and rehabilitation center where patients suffer from a variety of debilitating diseases, including stroke, Parkinson’s Disease, and Alzheimer’s Disease.  Instead of leaving my three hours of volunteering each week with a feeling of sullenness, I leave with a sense of satisfaction.  I also leave with a much-needed boost in motivation to keep working through my pre-med course requirements because I am reminded of how much I want to be a doctor.

The patients at Penn Center have become familiar people to me, each with a unique personality and story to share.  Melinda, a 73-year-old resident, who owned and managed a restaurant in south Philly for her entire adult life, waits for me outside her room every Friday at2 pm, the time each week when I arrive at the center and head towards the recreation room where I play the piano to entertain the residents and help run art class.  “You remind me so much of my daughter,” she told me at least five times the first day I met her.  I look forward to seeing her every week as well; as a student at a big anonymous place like Penn, it is a wonderful feeling to have someone eagerly and warmly awaiting my arrival.

My experiences at Penn Center illustrated for me the basic difference between caring for young children and caring for the elderly.  Yes, the tangible tasks involved are often the same: they both need help eating, speaking, and going to the bathroom.  However, helping an adult with such needs requires an important additional component: you  must help them while also taking care to allow them to feel respected and dignified as adults.  Volunteering at Penn Center also gave me the opportunity to hear really cool life stories from the residents, many of whom are eager to share them because they are happy to see a young and vibrant  person who can  take the time to listen.  Ultimately, I have learned a great deal from volunteering at Penn Center about how to interact with sick people, but also from the wisdom of older patients who know a great deal about life in general.

Minding Your Mindset for Interviews

“Uggghhhhh.” That’s what goes through my mind when I think about the interviewing process. How many of you feel the same? The agony of figuring out what to wear. (“Is this suit too shiny on me?”) Not knowing what to call the interviewer. (“It’s nice to meet you, Justi– er, I mean, Mr. Bieber.) The nervousness beforehand, and trying to prepare for any question imaginable, no matter how ridiculous. (“If I could be any vegetable in the world what would I be? That’s easy – an eggplant for its lovely hourglass figure!”) The post-interview period of “not knowing” and the inevitable psychological-meltdown-slash-confidence-suck. (One hour after the interview: “Hey Mom, the interview went great! They loved me! It’s in the bag – let’s celebrate!” Three days later: “Nope, still haven’t heard back. I guess there were a few speed bumps…and I’m sure they have a lot of good candidates….” One week later: “Should I email them…again?” Three weeks later: “Uggghhhhh.”)

If you have ever experienced any of this, you are not alone. Interviewing is often awkward, annoying and a lousy way to spend an hour. But for most great jobs, it must be done, so in order to be successful, it all comes down to attitude.

Attitude management can take work, especially if you are under a lot of stress. I often manage mine with music and media. There was a show in the 80s called The Greatest American Hero and it had arguably the best television theme song of all time. Ever since I graduated from college, I’ve used this song as an attitude adjuster, and it has come in handy, particularly before job interviews. I will play it two or thirty-four times, and as a result I typically bounce into my interviews feeling happy, confident and alive, ready to tackle whatever challenge is thrown my way.

I encourage you to find your own “Greatest American Hero” tool, whether in a song, an outfit, an exercise, a form of meditation or a person you can talk with who helps you enter into the right frame of mind. When it comes to interviewing, attitude really IS everything. Channeling yours will be key to your success in the workplace, and when you do, believe it or not, you’ll be walking on air!

Timely Advice on Job Offers

Right about now, some of you may be actively interviewing for jobs and internships, or in the process of receiving and deciding on job offers.  A big mystery is knowing “what you are worth” and evaluating the offers to make sure you are getting fair compensation, and the work conditions that will make you happy to accept the offer.  You can read tips on our website, “Deciding on Job Offers,” or gather data from Career Plans Surveys (including salary information for recent graduates) or learn about negotiation strategies.  Below is a short collection of blog entries written by career services advisors that provide great advice to anyone at this stage of the job search:

Hello? Hello!? Preparing for Phone and Skype/Facetime Interviews

I work with many students who are interviewing with companies all over the United States (and internationally).  A common occurrence within internship and job searches that cover broad distances is to have a phone interview.  Employers are also conducting interviews via videoconference, Skype and Facetime.  Aside from understanding the job, reviewing information about the company, and other preparation tactics (see here for a complete review of how to prepare for an interview), here are a few ideas to help you specific to phone and virtual interviewing:


  • Take a little time to practice – (well) in advance of your interview, try to replicate the scenario as authentically as you can.  Have a friend call you and ask you a few questions in preparation for a phone interview, or turn on your webcam and (if possible) record yourself answering a question or two.  This will give you ideas as to how loud you may need to speak; if your speech sounds clear and concise; where you should look if using a webcam to seem most natural; if you are smiling appropriately and showing good posture; and other such factors.
  • “Dress” the part – while you can certainly conduct a phone interview in your pajamas – and really, doesn’t that seem like a perk!? – it may make you feel and seem more prepared and focused to dress professionally – and of course dress if the interviewer can see you.  Do your best to understand the dress code for the industry and the type of employer with whom you’ll be interviewing and choose appropriate attire (at least from the waist up!).
  • Check your setting(s) – Make sure your environment is conducive to a successful interview.  Do your best to ensure you’ll have relative quiet and a good connection or signal for phone conversations – if you will be home, notify housemates of your interview so they can be quiet, and try to close pets out of the room to avoid distraction.  If the interviewer will be able to see you, make sure your backdrop and anything else that can be seen from your webcam is appropriate (your roommate’s unmade bed, a messy desk, or even if your back is to a window on a sunny day and your face is in shadow, may not be helpful).

During the interview:

  • Don’t forget to smile – even on a phone call, a smile can be heard.
  • Stay present during the call – remember that your interviewer over the phone can’t see a nod or know intuitively that you’re following along – try to interject some “listening sounds,” such as “hm” or “yes,” as your interviewer speaks – this also helps to clarify that your connection is working well.  Avoid any distractions that could take you away from the call – instant or text messaging, alerts, alarms, or doing anything at your computer other than engaging with your interviewer.
  • Don’t be afraid to help yourself – put up post-it notes, have your resume, cover letter and the job description in front of you, perhaps a few notes about recent news and current events around that organization, and have your list of questions all written out or typed out on your screen – not to the degree that you’ll be reading answers to questions, but as a helpful reminder of talking points you want to be sure to address.
  • Address any technical issues immediately – If you’re having difficulty hearing, think the connection is poor or otherwise need to make an adjustment, address it politely and as early as possible with your interviewer – it’s simple to hang up and click off and reconnect, and may reflect well on your problem solving and initiative!

For a few more helpful ideas, be sure to visit our site: