Monday, December 31, 2012

And so it Begins...

... another New Year.  Fresh and untarnished like that first snowfall.  The snow so deep that it drapes all of the objects beneath it, rounding their surfaces and softening the landscape.  The snow as yet walked on, with its unblemished surface.  This is your year.  You get to lay down your own tracks, determine your best path. As you don your winter gear and head out into your year, what thoughts and plans do you have for what awaits you?

... another New Year.  Yours to do what you you want with it.  What are your expectations for the year?  A new job, house or relationship?  Perhaps it's time to focus on strengthening the relationships you have, or your skills in your current role.  Maybe it's time to focus on your personal and spiritual growth, perhaps your health.  If so, what new experiences and learnings do you have in store?  What path do you plan to take to get you there?

... another New Year.  To do more of what makes you smile, more of what stretches and challenges you, more of what creates memories worth holding on to.

... another New Year.  To close the door on the past year and open the door to the new and all it represents.  All of the new opportunities that await you, all of the new places to explore, all of the new people to meet, all of the new things to do and learn from.

... another New Year.  To step boldly forward into what can be, leaving what was behind.  Another year to be what you want, not what you were, to be 'more', however you define that for yourself.

... another New Year.  What are you going to do with yours?

Monday, December 24, 2012

Monday, December 17, 2012

What's your Advantage?

Your Competitive Advantage that is...

In the Industrial Age, having access to certain tools, whether knowledge, training or physical tools of some kind, provided you with a very distinct competitive advantage over others.    In today's marketplace though everyone has easy and ready access to information.  Experts are more accessible than ever, as is even education through the internet.  The accessibility of and to 'tools' therefore is no longer a defining feature or benefit in the marketplace.  Likely most people that you are competing against will have a similar educational background, a similar set of physical skills and abilities and comparable experiences.

How then do you differentiate yourself in the marketplace of today?

More than ever before, people are having to learn to position and sell themselves.  The 'personal' them, not just simply their skills and abilities.  In today's business place the job market is extremely competitive.  There are a lot of highly skilled and technically competent candidates competing for the 'good' available roles.  Employers then are able to be selective when hiring.  The key differentiator between those that receive offers, and those that don't, tends to be based more on the personal qualities and characteristics of the candidates than on their technical merits.

  • how likeable is the candidate?
  • do they appear to be someone that will fit in well with our existing team?
  • how self-focused versus others-directed do they appear?
  • what is their work attitude?
  • how trustworthy did they seem to be?
  • are they competitive, cooperative, innovative, conventional, group oriented, self directed...?
These are all questions that your interviewer is asking themselves - whether consciously or unconsciously - and likely basing their decision upon.  We know from research that the likeability of political candidates is one of the top three reasons for us voting the way we vote.  We know that apparent trustworthiness is one of the top two components to creating a strong first impression.   If you are not concerning yourself with 'how' you deliver your answers to your interview questions, with 'how' you come across to others in your first impression, you are likely not as competitive in the marketplace as you should be - certainly not as much as you would want.

Still the best, and easiest, way to assess this is to film yourself in a mock interview.  Pay attention not to the content of your responses, but to the delivery of them.  How did you look, sound, move?  What feelings did your responses stir and generate?  When you said you were delighted to be there did you look and sound delighted?  If you were meeting you for the first time through your videotape - what would you think of you?  Would you like you?  

All of the above is a great starting point for beginning to understand how others see you, allowing you to begin the work of strengthening the delivery of your secondary messages.  Having the 'right' answer is one thing.  Delivering it in a way that makes it - and you - memorable is an entirely different component but one that is proving to be the deciding element.  You spend time and effort in crafting and learning your interview stories.  Now... practice the delivery of them. 

Each should have underlying messages to the audience, telling them how they should think, feel, or respond to what you are saying - all communicated through how you deliver it.  These secondary messages may be indirect but they are powerful.  They can be the difference between your message being believed, or not, and are what is needed today to give you the true competitive advantage over your competition.  

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Science of First Impressions

We all have heard how important it is to make a 'good' first impression but just what constitutes a 'good' impression?  When I ask my clients how they would like to be seen by others the two most popular responses are that they want to appear confident or they want to be liked.  In wanting one or the other they then, both consciously and unconsciously, engage in behaviours that project either confidence or likability, in an effort to drive the desired response from the other party.

I have said for years though that what is truly needed, in creating a strong, positive first impression in business is... both.  You need to be seen as confident and capable, they need to know that you can get the job done but they also need to like you, to see you as a solid member of the team.  The better you do both, the more likely you are to get an invitation to join.

As it turns out, recent research findings reported by Amy Cuddy of Harvard Business School, have shown that 80 to 90 percent of the overall first impression we form of someone is based on the combination of two specific traits: Trustworthiness (gauging their intentions toward you) and Competence (gauging their level of capability and confidence).  What is particularly interesting though, is that her group was primarily studying discrimination and prejudice; how people categorize each other, in an effort to predict discrimination.
It seems that we universally sort groups on the matrix pictured above.  Most people are higher on one trait and lower on the other.  They found that when the status quo is threatened, the high-status minority groups are those that get targeted for genocide.  These are highly competent individuals.  High competence, but low trust. Therefore, typically it is groups that are hated, but respected that get targeted the most.  People in the bottom left?  Those that are both hated and not respected get pitied.

This is important to consider when it comes to generating your own first impression.  So many of us err on the side of wanting to appear confident... if nothing else... and tend to therefore swing too far to this side when nervous.  We attempt to mask our nervousness and discomfort by appearing 'more' confident, 'more' competent, 'more' capable, often at the cost of our warmth and engagement.

This newest research from Cuddy suggests that this will tend to clearly put us into the bottom right quadrant.  We may be seen as extremely competent, but we will not tend to be liked.  As a result, we may lose the desired opportunity to someone who is a little less competent, but liked more.  The ideal quadrant is obviously the top right.  We are both warm, engaging and trustworthy while also being perceived as someone who is capable of getting the job done.

The key to creating this balance is to ensure that people feel your warmth first, then move into demonstrating your competence.  In order to appear engaging and trustworthy, use some of the following tips:

  • Smile when first meeting someone.  This is a universal gesture that will not only communicate warmth, but demonstrates clear interest in spending time with the other person. 
  • Show interest in the other person.  Ask them questions about themselves and allow them to answer.  Make them feel listened to and understood.  This is a very powerful step in creating a strong connection and bond.  
  • Make small talk.  Although many strong 'business' oriented people hate the thought of engaging in small talk, research proves that it is an important step in the business process, increasing the value of the dialogue and negotiations to follow.
As in most things in life, it appears that balance is truly the goal.  Striking the right balance between appearing Competent and Trustworthy will serve to create the most positive first impression for you.  Warmth with strength.  It may not be the most common combination but it is the one we respond to the most favourably and the one we most want to follow.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Beware the Critics!

Have you ever received 'constructive' feedback that truly wasn't that constructive? Feedback that was more of a critical diatribe than anything practical or useful?

All too often people today are quick to criticize but slow to offer any truly constructive suggestions for improvement. Doing so would mean having spent time thinking about solutions for you and most people just aren't willing to invest the time. Talking about what's wrong, what doesn't work for them, what they don't like is easy. Being clear about what they want instead... well... that takes some thought. Unfortunately, many of your biggest critics don't happen to be the biggest thinkers.

The truth is...if you do something poorly... people will criticize you.
The truth also is... if you do something well... people will criticize you.

Your challenge, of course, is recognizing which critics to pay attention to. True feedback will always come with a clear understanding of not just what was 'wrong', but what is 'better'. Criticism without direction is simply an attack and more likely to stop you dead in your tracks and prevent forward movement then it is to create a course change and spur your momentum.

Additionally, those offering their critical insights often do so from a completely different world view than your own. Any behaviours that deviate from their view of what's 'right' must therefore be 'wrong' and corrected.  Listening to this feedback and making adjustments to your direction as a result of it only serves to take you from your chosen path and shifts you onto theirs. You must be diligent in ensuring that any critics you listen to are those that will serve you in moving further in your desired direction... not theirs.

Criticism that serves you is helpful. Criticism that serves the other party is useless.  It's critical for you to know the difference. Pay close attention to the critic. If they are neither someone you like or respect, that's a good starting point for knowing you should probably ignore their input. Listening to, let alone acting on, anything they have to say will likely prove a waste of your time and talent.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Certainty of... Uncertainty

When you don't know what to do... what do you do?
Do you dig in... or do you fold?
Do you seek out the answer... or do you determine there isn't one?
Do you step up... or step back?
Do you take a risk on something... or seek safety by doing nothing?
Do you create a new path... or do you settle for the ground most travelled?

It is in your moments of uncertainty that we get the opportunity to see who you really are.  Your choices define you, determine your brand and let us know - CLEARLY - who you 'really' are... not who you tell us you are.

What do your past choices, in those moments of uncertainty, say about you? 
What do you want them to say?
What do you need to do differently?
What step can you take NOW to make a start?

Not knowing what to do is a common occurrence.  It is your common response to it that defines you.  Create your desired definition and make choices that support it, to create a strong brand message for others to read.  This... is certain.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Purpose of Customer Service

I'm in the midst of moving.  The house, the businesses... it's chaotic and never as straight forward as it should be.  Issues arise concerning repairs that need to be made, furniture that no longer works in the new place, appliances that don't fit, services that can't (or won't) transfer to the new 'geographic' location which is only 5 minutes away.  I am frustrated, looking for help, seeking answers.

And then... I enter your store.  I have a question about whether you have a specific product that you can sell me.  It is not on your shelves.  I have looked.  I need to know if you can get it for me, I am willing to pay.  I need a yes/no answer to make me happy.  Should be simple... right?

There is a store full of associates, all of whom approach me asking if they can help.  The downside though?  They can't.  No one knows the answer and, apparently, no one can find the answer except the 'one guy' in a department they don't work in.  They quietly drift off, pulling out their cells, leaning against display cases, texting.  I am still without an answer because the 'one-guy' is busy chatting with another customer.

I get that.  He's busy.  If I were that customer I would want him to focus on me and not waste my time answering questions for everyone else but me.  Except...  he does nothing to acknowledge me in any way.  No eye contact to say 'hey, I know you're waiting, bear with me I will be there as soon as I can'... no raised hand to indicate 'give me 5 minutes and I'm all yours'...  nothing.

I continue to wait.  10 minutes and... nothing.  Nothing but a studious intent to not make eye contact or acknowledge me in any way.  20 minutes... 30.  40 minutes and... I'm gone.  I go home, go online, find my answer, make my purchase... from a competitor.

That associate went home feeling like he had done his job.  He likely made comments about the 'woman' who was in the store but walked out before he could get to her but, hey... not his fault!  He's only one guy and he was busy serving a customer...  that's his job.

In a very small-view way he is right.  However, in the bigger picture he doesn't even come close.  Customer service isn't about the 'one,' it's about the many.  Your business isn't and can't survive by only servicing the few.  You have to be more inclusive of others and find ways to make them feel that you care, you're interested and you're there to help.  At the end of the day, customer service is simply about how you make your customers feel.  Your product offerings, deals, prices, points rewards and return policy are all nice but they don't ensure future sales.  How you make the customer feel about doing business with you will.

That store has lost any future business from me on the basis of that one interaction (or lack of interaction more specifically).  A quick glance my way to acknowledge me, a slight apologetic grin, would have made all the difference.  Instead, I won't be back.  Perhaps not a big deal for them in the long term, I am only one customer.  However, if this is the way they train their staff, if this is representative of how they view customers, then I am likely one of many potential customers that will find what they need elsewhere.

Delivering great Customer Service isn't all that difficult and it doesn't take big money programs.  Think about how you want your customer to feel and then make it happen.  It isn't any more complicated then that.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Power Posing

I love quick fixes.  I have nothing against spending the time needed to truly understand the source of problems, working to eliminate the root of the issue once and for all, but sometimes we just need an answer now.  Sometimes we just need to make our present better, while we do the background work.

When working with busy executives it definitely becomes all about the quick fix.  They need something they can act on right now that will help them in their next meeting, presentation or negotiation.  It needs to be effective and it needs to work fast.  The most popular 'quick fix' addresses the need to appear more confident and powerful.

In order to help with this instantaneous transformation, it is important to understand that the body helps shape the mind.  This means that you can drive your thoughts about yourself and how you interpret the world based solely on how you 'move' through life.  Therefore, if we want to shift how you are feeling about yourself and how you appear to others, we shift the way you hold and carry yourself.  You adopt a Power Pose.

Research addressing this very issue* has found that getting participants to adopt a power pose for as little as two minutes made them...

  • more willing to take risks
  • present their ideas with greater enthusiasm and confidence
  • perform better in demanding situations
  • experience an increase in testosterone, a hormone linked to assertiveness
  • experience a decrease in cortisol, a hormone linked to stress
The findings clearly supported the fact that adopting a Power Pose makes you feel more powerful and therefore results in your acting more powerful.  Just two minutes of Preparatory Power Posing, prior to engaging in a task, optimizes the brain to function better during those challenges.

In any Power Pose the main goal is to open your body up to take up more space.  In essence, you want to make yourself look as 'big' as you can.  I remember camping one year at Algonquin Park when my youngest son was maybe about 5.  My husband, son and I were sitting around the campfire one evening when a wolf came walking through the campsite, pausing just on the other side of the fire.  This was not a normal occurrence by any stretch, but what was unnerving was having that wolf pause and stare straight at my young son.  

I followed the wolf's gaze and saw that my son was tucked into a small ball, curled up in his camp chair.  I immediately told him quietly to slowly put his feet on the ground and to extend his arms out toward his father and me... effectively making him appear much larger.  The wolf stood watching closely as my son, in essence, grew larger.  He moved on.  The next morning we learned that the wolf had 'stolen' a small dog from a campsite down the path from us, shortly after leaving our site.  Perceived size and power mattered a great deal that day.

In business you want to recognise that taking up space equates with power as much as it does in the wild.  Powerless people contract their bodies inward, hunching in on themselves, making themselves appear smaller.  Powerful people expand out, opening themselves physically up to the world.

To practice your Power Posing, adopt one of the following power poses...
  1. Stand with an open stance, feet one to one and half shoulder widths apart.  Distribute your weight evenly between your feet so you are centered and firmly planted.  Extend your spine upward so that you are fully erect, your head is up and your eyes are looking directly ahead.  Place your hands on your hips or above your head in a wide 'V' position
  2. In a seated position stretch your legs out fully in front of you, propping them up on a desk or table.  Lean back in your chair and place your hands behind your head, lacing the fingers and angling your elbows out and away from your head.
Consider engaging in a couple of minutes of Preparatory Power Posing just before heading off to your next important meeting to ensure that you enter that room with a heightened level of confidence and power.  How you interact with others during those first opening moments serves to set the tone for what follows.  Let them see your confidence right from the start.  Remember... although you may feel that you are merely 'posing', your brain doesn't know the difference.  If you carry yourself confidently and powerfully, your brain will assume you must BE confident and powerful and will therefore ensure that you FEEL confident and powerful.  Give it a try.  It could just prove to be two of the most effective minutes you've ever spent.

*see work by Amy Cuddy, Associate Professor at Harvard Business School

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Problem with Problem-Seeking

You know them... those people that seem to move from one issue to another, one crisis after another.  We are astounded at just how much life seems to toss at them since they are always facing a new problem, a new issue, a new barrier.

We all run into unexpected and unanticipated problems from time to time.  Nothing tests our resilience like some of the curve balls that life manages to throw our way.  However, there are those that are not content to wait for those infrequent pitches, they actively seek out new problems themselves.

They may hide behind the belief that they are merely being proactive in dealing with the issue now, but make no mistake...
If you go looking for problems, you will always find them
Sometimes the problems we face are those of our own creation.

I don't want to minimize real issues and problems that you are facing.  Know that you can count on me to be there to support and help you through the problem in whatever way I can.  But I do want to acknowledge the small contingent of drama queens out there that get a 'rush' being on the short end of the stick, that craft their problems with a deft hand, ensuring that they are regularly in crisis.  They are addicted to the high that comes from dealing with problems.  They love the adrenaline rush, the attention and 'poor you's' they receive, the false belief that they are 'strong' for having to cope with so much, so often.

To these people specifically I say... No More!
An emergency and crisis on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.
No more will I put my life on pause to hold your hand through a crisis of your making
No more will I listen to your tirades, your tears, rants and raves
No more will I sacrifice hours of my time and life to support yours
No more will I allow myself to be drawn into your tragedies and dramas

I prefer my life to run more as a  romantic comedy, less as a tragedy.  I'm not saying you can't enjoy your drama and play it out on the big screen in surround sound... just don't invite me to attend the viewing.  I'm sure I'm busy that night!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Managing Expectations

We all have a tendency to measure our relative level of happiness and success according to our
'expectations'.  If we fall short of our expectations we are disappointed, meet them we're satisfied, exceed them and we are delighted. As a result, we use our expectations to define whether or not something good has happened, whether we are successful (or not), whether we are happy (or not).

At no point in this equation though, are we evaluating whether our expectations were a useful or helpful measure.  We don't stop to consider whether the result produced by our actions delighted us, was productive, proved valuable or if it even made us happier.  Without this final measure we may continue to work toward meeting or exceeding expectations that don't, in fact, net us the desired return.

We need to build in an extra step, to measure the gains from the actual result.  

Failed to meet Expectations?

Fail to meet your expectations on an initiative?  Before you convince yourself that you 'must' be disappointed and need to work harder on this...  assess how you really are feeling.  If you don't feel as disappointed as anticipated, you may find that it wasn't a goal that truly mattered as much to you as once believed.  In fact, this lack of connection to the end result may account for your falling short on the result and may indicate that spending more time on developing this area is time wasted for you.

Met Expectations?
Met expectations but not feeling as 'satisfied' with the result as anticipated?  If you find you are feeling disappointed despite having 'achieved' your goal, this may indicate a goal that means more to you than you led yourself to believe or that you actually have higher expectations for yourself than you had thought.  Only by being clear about a goal's relative importance to you can you accurately judge the effort you should expend in its achievement.  

Exceeded Expectations?
Exceeded expectations but also not feeling satisfied with the results?  This could be a sign of two things.  Either you worked hard at exceeding a goal that really didn't have much perceived value to you (in which case you expended unnecessary effort) or you set your expectations bar too low on this goal.  Despite having exceeded the stated goal you may find that you actually wanted 'more'.  Being safe in setting the goal, but less than honest with yourself about what you actually want, may serve to undermine your level of happiness and sense of achievement.

It is only by being absolutely clear with yourself about what your expectations are for yourself that you can truly drive your resulting level of satisfaction, happiness and success.  Put your energy into achieving those things that truly matter to you, expending less on those areas that don't.  We all have a limited amount of energy.  Creating the best possible life for yourself means expending your energy in ways that create the most value for you.  

Monday, October 22, 2012

Finding Your Passion

When it comes to choosing a career direction we are often told to 'Follow our Bliss'.  The goal being,of course, to engage in work that we love and are passionate about.   For many of my clients this proves to be good in theory but much more difficult in practice.  Most lament that they don't seem to feel passionate about any job and therefore they feel they must settle for something that they are perhaps only mildly interested in.

Often the challenge in determining what 'job' might push your 'passionate button' rests in getting past the title. We have preconceived notions not only of what specific jobs and roles do, but of whether or not we are capable or suited to do them.  All too often we discount opportunities simply based on their title, and all that conveys to us.  'No, I wouldn't like that' or 'No, I don't have the skills for that' or, even worse, 'No, I could never do that'... are the phrases that limit our choices and restrict us from truly being able to explore, and determine, where our true passion lies.

The following exercise has proven useful to many of my clients in uncovering new paths and new sources of passion for them.  If you're feeling a little stuck or want to establish that 'path of purpose and passion'... give it a try.  You might be surprised what you discover about yourself, your interests and the path you could be on!

The Work...

Step One.  Get rid of your labels.  We want to start with a clean slate, no preconceived notions about what a 'job' is or does or whether you would be interested in it, good at it, or qualified to do it.  So... no focusing on titles, just ignore them completely.  For our purposes they are completely irrelevant. So too with job level...  we don't care what it is, how much money it pays or where it's located.  Also irrelevant.

Step Two.  Go to the job boards and read as many descriptions of different jobs as possible.  Read descriptions from different areas, disciplines, levels.  There is no pre-qualifying what might be a fit for you.  We are working from the broadest part of the funnel here, so you want to go as wide and broad as possible.  You don't currently know where your passion lies so don't disqualify anything before you check it out fully.

Step Three.  As you read over the descriptions, highlight for yourself any aspect of the description that strikes you as interesting or exciting.  It doesn't matter whether it is practical for your lifestyle or whether you have the skills to do it.  Keep an ongoing list of these elements, adding to the list any segment from any description you read that stirs your soul, or that moves you even a little!

Step Four.  Once you have uncovered a number of items and recorded them in your log, start to categorize them by their key skill and functional areas.

Step Five.  Analyze any of the trends and insights that you gain concerning the areas of interest that are now uncovered.  Spend some time thinking about how it fits to your current career path.  Are you on the right path already?  Are there some minor shifts and tweaks you need to make to strengthen your interest and passion?  Is it a major change that is needed to set you on the right course?

Step Six.  Determine what you need to create this new direction for yourself.  More education?  A coach or mentor to help bolster your skills?  A new role entirely?  Consider what you need to set you on the right path and list them.

Step Seven.  Should be intuitive...  go out and take action.  Even one step in the right direction will feel empowering and help stir the embers of your passion, filling you with purpose.

Oh, and one final caveat.  This is your list, your choices, your passion.  Other people get to choose their own path, don`t let them choose yours.  Sometimes what others want for us will not align with what we want for ourselves.  Uncover your passion and pursue it.  You only get this one go `round...  it`s a much more interesting ride to fill it with work that you love and that fulfills your purpose than spend it working to fill someone else`s.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Branding Lessons from Wine

How do we judge the value of a bottle of wine? What exactly is it that makes one wine 'better' than another?

The easy answer is that the value judgements of wine are a reflection of the palate of the taster. But, really, is it that simple?  Am I simply guided in my determination of a 'good' wine by my taste and palate OR is my experience of the wine influenced by; the story my friend shares about the wine as he pours it into my glass, or the review it received by an 'expert', or perhaps as simply as the price on the bottle?

Our judgements are never, seemingly, simply our own.  Every subjective experience that we have can (and is) influenced by the shared experiences of others.  This is an important sentence, it bears repeating...
Every subjective experience that we have can, and is, influenced by the shared experiences of others.
People's experience of your brand will be influenced by the expressed interpretation that others have of your brand.  Think of it this way.  You're at a party and you have a close friend talking to you about a co-worker you have never met.  They share not only some workplace anecdotes but also their feelings about that person.  When you finally meet that co-worker you are likely to view them through the lens of perspective  your friend has already provided you, regardless of whether their impression had been largely positive or negative in nature.  You have already been primed by your friend to interpret the co-worker's behaviours a certain way.

This is why the consistency of your personal brand is so important.  Your brand must be the same regardless of the audience or the situation.  The more consistently you craft the experience that others have of you and your brand, the stronger your brand.  When people speak about you, and you know they do, you need to ensure that the message they are sharing is one of your choosing and design.

All too often we go out of our way trying to please others, to be and do what we believe they want and need.  In so doing, we tend to dilute our brand.  Our efforts to be all things to all people in all situations tends to weaken our presence rather than build it.  A strong brand is built on consistency, but it starts by having clarity over just what your brand is.  Your behaviours and interactions are then measured against this image, ensuring that everything works in alignment with and support of the brand.

Many companies work extremely hard at not only crafting their desired brand but also ensuring that everything they do, every decision they make supports that brand.  Consider Harley motorcycles.  You know exactly what type of bike a Harley is, you know exactly what your experience of a Harley will be, you know exactly what others will think of you on a Harley.  This is a strong brand.  It is clear, it is consistent, it is memorable.  This is the brand that others share and spread.  Whether you have ever ridden a Harley or not, you are already primed to 'experience' a Harley in a specific way.

Now consider what the advertised experience of 'you' is.  What messages are being communicated about you to others, priming their future experience of you?  If it's not likely one that you want... start crafting a new one and use it to guide all of your future behaviours and actions.  The more consistent these behaviours,  the more others can trust in them to be true, the more they will share them with others, 'selling' and spreading your message of you, for you.

If you don't like to brag about yourself, then this is the strategy for you.  Instead of having to toot your own horn... get someone to do it for you!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Building the Thankfulness Muscle

We seem to spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about what we don't have in our lives, with what's missing, with what ticked us off, with what's going wrong.  Why does it often prove so difficult to consider what we do have, what is right in our world, to think about what we are thankful and grateful for?  Like any skill in life, it turns out that being thankful takes... practice! As it happens, our thankfulness muscles may simply be a little underused and need a bit of a tune-up!

Let's face it, we probably would have little difficulty in creating a complaint list!  In fact, many of us might ask for a second piece of paper in doing so!  Would we find the creation of a gratitude list as easy? Likely not. We know from research that there are many benefits to becoming more proficient at being grateful:
  • writing in a gratitude journal for 15 minutes each evening helps you to worry less at bedtime and sleep longer and better afterward
  • increases overall sense of life satisfaction and happiness
  • increases your sense of achievement and success
  • tends to increase loving and kind gestures
  • improves mental alertness
  • staves off certain psychological disorders
  • improves overall physical health and well-being
It seems that thankfulness has a lot to commend it.  Rather than spending time dissecting why we don't seem predisposed to 'do' it more (or beating ourselves up about it!)... let's just jump to the recognition that displaying a little more thankfulness and gratitude in our lives would be a good thing!  Like any muscle that has been left too long unused though, our Thankfulness muscles have likely atrophied over time.  We many need to strengthen them a little before truly seeing and experiencing the full benefit.

Consider taking two minutes at the end of each day to write down three things you are grateful for that day.  That's it... just three!  

This may prove a little more daunting at first than it sounds.  It is not unusual to struggle to come up with some things we are grateful for that rise above... I'm thankful for air conditioning or... I'm thankful that the drive-through got my order right!  That's okay... baby steps!  You wouldn't want to hop up off of a lifetime on the couch and run a marathon without some preparation either!  We're just developing your thankfulness muscles here.  Over time you will gradually see a shift in the quality, nature and, perhaps, even the volume of things you are grateful for each day.

As with anything, you tend to get what you focus on.  Setting a mindset to begin to recognise and identify things to be grateful for helps you to recognise them when they come along.  You'll likely find that there were plenty of things to be grateful for all along... you just weren't disposed to notice them. Like anything, seeing the good (instead of the bad) is largely a conditioned habit.  It just takes focus. With a little two minute mental exercise each day, you can strengthen your thankfulness muscle and start reaping the positive benefits, an insight that I am truly thankful for!

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Perceived Leader

If you put a group of people together and give them a task, a leader will emerge. It's inevitable.

I was thinking about this concept the other night while watching an episode of Survivor.  There was a returning player telling the camera that his strategy this time around was to lay back and not take charge of the group.  He was going to avoid the 'leader' role. However, as soon as the group arrived at their home beach, he started tossing out ideas and suggestions about what should be done, how it should be done and the order of each.  He couldn't help himself.  The other players immediately labelled him as 'leader'.

In a recent study, published in Personality and Social Psychology, it was suggested that leaders emerge in problem solving situations due to two primary factors:
  • their outspoken behaviour
  • how others perceive this behaviour
It typically has very little to do with competence.  In fact, there is often a big gap between the actual Competence and the Perception of a leader's capabilities; the perception of leadership capability having been driven by the individual's outspoken behaviour and not their competence.  

In the study it was found that the leader's dominant behaviour during group problem solving led them to offer more suggestions than others did, thereby increasing their perceived value by others in the group.  It is interesting to note though that their solutions were no better or worse than anyone else's. There were just more of them.  When reviewing the content of the suggestions it was found that the 'leaders' did not add the best value, they were just heard from first and most often.

The results of this study help to understand a critical issue that Introverts face when looking to heighten their leadership profile.  They must learn to share more during group situations.  The difficulty that most Introverts face though is that they prefer to fully process something before sharing a finished conclusion.  They aren't comfortable in sharing a partially developed idea, since that does not have as much perceived value to them as an idea that is fully processed.  Therefore, Introverts don't tend to speak up as often as their more outspoken peers although they tend to share more solid content when they do.  As we've seen though, there is a gap between Competence and Perception.  Introverts may share more content and value-filled ideas than their outspoken peers but they are not likely to be perceived as a 'leader' by the group since they don't share as often. 

Despite their discomfort in doing so then, it is evident that Introverts need to learn to 'share' more often in group situations if they want to heighten their leadership profile.  The following are two solid strategies you can use to be seen as more of a leader within your team activities:

Speak up early, if not first.

Introverts will find it easier to speak up if they are not caught up in processing too much information.
Therefore, make a point of speaking early in a meeting, before there have been too many topics raised bogging down your thought processing centers.  First is best, but early and often counts too!

Go for Volume.

Pull from the studies above to recognise that it is the act of tossing out ideas and suggestions that has perceived value by the group, not necessarily  'good' ideas.  Introverts like to share solid content. Therefore, they tend to hold onto their thoughts until they have reached a finished conclusion.  This costs them visibility.  Instead, learn to let go of the need to share something that is fully formed and share the issues that you are mulling over.  The group will perceive that as having as much value as your finished conclusion would have netted you, getting you into the game earlier and more often.
That Survivor contestant engaged in all the right activities to be quickly perceived as and labelled a leader.  However, unlike in our careers, when you are playing Survivor it is important to know how 'not' to be seen as the leader, which meant keeping his ideas and suggestions to himself.  Although he believed he was merely being 'helpful', speaking up first and often will be perceived as a bid for power by the group.  In the board room this could be a good thing.  On the 'island' decidedly not.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Now or Later?

Our actions have consequences 

The difficulty that many people have in achieving their goals or in fulfilling their purpose rests in this simple statement.  Those who seek immediate gratification will rarely do the work today that is required to fulfill a goal down the road.  Often not achieving a goal is as basic as this.  Do you want your reward now or later?

Highly successful people know and understand the difference.  They are able to suspend any need for immediate gratification if it means that their 'bigger' goals down the road are more likely to be met.
  • you can't meet your goal of losing ten pounds if you are unable to delay the immediate gratification you would gain from a chocolate chip cookie... NOW
  • you can't ever buy the house of your dreams if you are unable to save the down payment because you need to spend your money on a movie... NOW
  • you aren't likely to get that promotion down the road if you aren't willing to put in your dues... NOW
  • you aren't helping to 'save' the environment if you can't forgo the convenience of buying bottled water...NOW
In the 1960's, Stanford professor Walter Mischel conducted what is one of the best known and classic studies in this area, referred to often as the Marshmallow Experiment.  He and his team tested hundreds of children aged 4-5 by doing the following.  They brought each child into a private room and sat them at a table.  The researcher placed a marshmallow on the table and offered each child a deal.  The research explained that they needed to leave the room for a while.  If the child did NOT each the marshmallow while the researcher was absent, then they would receive a second marshmallow.  However, if they did eat the marshmallow while the researcher was gone, they would not receive a second.  The researcher then left the child alone with the marshmallow for 15 minutes.

The choice was clear.  1 treat NOW or 2 treats LATER.

Some children ate the marshmallow immediately, while others visually struggled until succumbing. A much smaller group waited the 15 minutes out and received their second marshmallow.  

The fascinating part of this research was what was revealed during the follow up.  Researchers followed the children over 40 years, tracking their progress in a number of areas.  What they found was that those children who were able to delay their gratification...

  • ended up with higher SAT scores
  • had lower levels of substance abuse
  • experienced a lower likelihood of obesity
  • had a better response to stress.
Those wo were able to delay gratification out performed those who didn't in whatever capacity the researchers measured.  It makes sense when you consider... those who are able to delay watching TV in order to study are far more likely to have better grades.  Those who can delay the immediate gratification of eating a donut (or 2 or 3) are less likely to gain weight or become obese.  

Every seemingly small action we take today either works in support of our desired end goals or it doesn't.  It is that simple and that difficult.  You need to determine how much you want that bigger picture and take the time to review your current actions against it.  The 'now' will always be alluring, working to seduce you away from achieving that end goal, unless you can keep yourself fixated on the true benefits of what that 'later' goal will look like and feel like for you.  The better you can feel it, see it, taste it... the more likely you will be to stick with your plan for getting there.  If you make it feel real, it will feel achievable and therefore actionable.  

Building your willpower is all about making your end goal as tangible as possible and differentiating between the benefits of NOW versus LATER.  Making your 'later' look and feel better than any immediate gratification you get from doing something 'now' will help you stay true to your course.  

Monday, September 17, 2012

House Wanted!

We're moving.  Soon.  The problem is... I haven't yet found a new house to move into.  Okay, so there have been some hiccups along the way preventing me from taking action on this sooner (aren't there always?), but now that I have started looking it is interesting to see the life lessons that I am getting.

To start with, we are downsizing.  We don't need a large house anymore (kids are 'mostly' gone!) and, quite honestly, I would rather travel the world with my money than sit in something my money pays for.  I don't consider myself particularly materialistic, so I figured that the downsizing 'thing' would be a snap.  However, it is amazing how much 'stuff' you accumulate over the years that becomes labelled 'necessary' to and for the way you live.  Sheer number of books alone requires more shelving than I will ultimately have.

I started the house-search with few requirements.  I, mistakenly, believed that I would be an 'easy' client to please.  Once out looking though, it quickly became apparent that instead of my adapting to fit the house, I am going to require adaptations be made to the house, to fit the way I live.

For instance, I do not and will not require both an eat-in kitchen and a dining room.  One or the other will need to go to give me more usable space.  Kitchens are make or break areas for me.  If it doesn't at least have the potential to be a kitchen that is functional for me... I'm done.  Don't even show me the rest of the house because I won't get past it.

What I am discovering is that in order for any new house I purchase to become my 'home', I will need to make some changes to the house that allow it to work to fit the way I live. I am unwilling to modify the way I live to fit the house.

This is a lesson hard-won over my lifetime;  having often found myself over the years compromising my choices on behalf of others.  Typically, these 'compromises' made the other party far happier than they ever made me.  Perhaps I'm unwilling to compromise my wants in purchasing a house because I have money on the line, but it's sad to recognise that all of my compromises in the past also came with a price.  One which I'm not sure that I was clear on having paid.

My lesson through all of this?  Ensure that you are clear about exactly what you are getting from your exchanges with others AND what the cost to you is.  Don't ever say yes unless it is a price you are willing to pay.  I know that I have been guilty of over-paying in the past.  If this experience has taught me anything it has highlighted for me an unwillingness to continue to pay for something that I am not getting an equitable return from.  Certainly not in business and not in my personal life anymore either.

Will I find the perfect house?  No.  But really, I'm not looking for perfection.  I simply want a house that has the potential to become my home.  As long as it has the ability to change to fit my lifestyle I'm willing to sign.

Monday, September 10, 2012

A Pearl of a Book

On my most recent vacation, a driving trip along the East Coast of Canada, I had the opportunity to catch up on some of my reading.  Of particular note was the book A Pearl in the Storm: How I Found my Heart in the Middle of the Oceanby Tori Murden McClure.

For those not familiar with Ms. McClure, she is not only the first woman to ski over land to the South Pole, but the first woman and first American to row solo across the Atlantic ocean.  A Pearl in the Storm is her recount of her attempt and ultimate successful crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in her rowing boat, The Pearl.  Tori's first attempt to cross the Atlantic was in 1998, at age 35, in her 23 foot plywood boat.  1998 is still on record as the worst hurricane season ever experienced on the North Atlantic.  Multiple hurricanes, gales and storms caused her to abandon her crossing when a series of storms nearly tore apart her boat and killed her.

With no ultimate goal or thought to make another attempt, Tori was struck by the words of Muhammad Ali when he told her... "You don't want to go through life as the woman who almost rowed across the Atlantic".

In 1999, at the age of 36, Tori travelled 2,962 miles in 81 days, in a 23 foot long, 6 foot wide, 1,800 pound rowboat to be the first woman to successfully row solo across the Atlantic.  No, as it turns out, Tori was not content to live out her life under the description of  'almost'.

What 'almosts' are you currently living under?
What goals have you fallen short of achieving - for whatever reason?
Are you content with 'almost' having attained them?
What's stopping you from going after them now?
What actions could you take right now to start you back on your path?

Give it some thought.  Often 'life' gets in the way of our achieving something meaningful, pushing and pulling us off course much like the hurricanes and gales Tori experienced.  In calmer times and seas though, it is up to us to correct our course and renew our efforts.  If it is something that matters then it is something worth doing.

My 'Almost'?  going for my 3rd Degree Black belt in TaeKwondo.  Too busy, too old, too out of shape, too something!  The excuses are gone now though.  I am in training and am making the attempt.  Next Grading is in December.  Let's see if I can wipe out my 'almost'.

What's yours?

Monday, September 3, 2012

It is Personal!

I am tired of the phrase... 'It's not Personal, it's Business'.

I'm tired of its overuse, I'm tired of people brandishing it like a shield to preface every potentially 'bad' conversation and, in particular, I am tired of people using it as an excuse for poor, rude and insensitive behaviour.

Where's the love people?  Where are the conversations that get personal?  Where are the conversations that let others in our lives - even those we work with - know that they matter?   Where's the 'constructive' feedback?  You know... the feedback that we can actually do something with.  Not the comments that are simply mean, cruel and spiteful... but those pieces of information, offering insights, that are coupled with ideas and suggestions for improvement?  Hmmm...  apparently it takes more thought than to simply offer criticism.

Let's face it folks... we're all human beings.  We all have feelings.  (yep... even him!)  Let's start taking accountability for the words that we say, the information we choose to share and take ownership for their impact and results.

Want to take it a step further?  Join a movement.  I happened to come across this site on the internet - a site that is dedicated simply to bringing a little more joy, happiness and... well... gosh-darnit... love into people's lives.  It's a site dedicated to writing and sending anonymous love letters.  A great way to perk up some stranger's day.

As much as you can use the site to forward a letter for you... why not take the initiative to write and leave a letter somewhere, for someone?  If you leave the 'more love letters' site name, you can always check back to see if your letter gets posted/mentioned... see how your gesture impacted someone.

Come on...  let's band together on this one...  let's MAKE it personal!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Influence Technique - the Benjamin Franklin Effect

Benjamin Franklin is known for many things..
  • Printer (built numerous printing businesses and was even responsible for printing all paper money for Pennsylvania & Delaware)
  • Newspaper Owner
  • Inventor (invented first original American musical instrument - the glass harmonica (Armonica), which even Bach & Beethoven wrote music for)
  • Musician (played violin, harp, guitar &, of course, the Armonica)
  • Inventor (Franklin stove, bifocal glasses, Lightening rod, Rocking chair, Odometer...)
  • Politician (one of the famous signatures on the Declaration of Independence)
  • Educator (formed an Academy for higher learning which, in 1791, was officially renamed... The University of Pennsylvania)
  • Developer (established the first circulation library for the colonies, first volunteer fire company, first insurance company, first  hospital...)
Truly a gifted and insightful man, despite having been born the son of a soap and candlestick maker, with little or no education.  Like many with drive and intelligence, he did not allow his lowly station to preclude him from learning all he could.  He was passionate about self-improvement and went out of his way to network with anyone that had something he could learn.  As a result, he became very adroit at human relations, at influencing and persuading others.

Perhaps one of the best-known persuasive techniques employed by Franklin, which is now credited to him and known as the Franklin Effect, plays against our intuitive belief that we do nice things for those we like and do not go out of our way to do anything nice for those we dislike.  

What Franklin's study of human nature determined though is that our brain cannot uphold contradictory information.  If we believe that we would only do nice things for those we like, then the logical implication is that if we do nice things for people...  we must like them!

In his biography Franklin described a particular situation and gentleman that was not a fan of his.  In fact, this particular gentleman delivered a long speech to the legislature denigrating Franklin, in an effort to prevent his reelection into his role as Clerk of the General Assembly.  Although Franklin won the role, he recognised that this colleague could gain more influence in the legislature that may impact Franklin's future opportunities.  Franklin therefore realized he would need to turn this individual into a fan.  

When faced with a similar dilemma, most of us would follow the more common route of going out of our way to say and do 'nice' things for and about the other party.  However, Franklin was not willing to be seen as servile in any way, nor did he want his influence attempts to be obvious.  Instead, he employed a much more subtle technique.

Franklin was well known as an avid book collector, reader and library founder, all of which gave him a reputation as a man of exemplary tastes.  His adversary also happened to have a private collection of books.  Franklin therefore sent him a letter asking if he could borrow a particular book from his private library.  This book though, was very rare and difficult to come by.  The rival, flattered by Franklin's request, sent the book right away. Franklin read it and sent it back a week later, accompanied by a simple thank you.  That's it!

The next time that the legislature met though, Franklin was approached by his adversary who engaged him in conversation for the first time.  In Franklin's own words he explained that this gentleman  "ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends, and our friendship continued to his death." 

Most of us, in trying to build a bridge between ourselves and someone we dislike, would think that the easiest way to do so would be to do a favor for them, to do something nice.  Not so.  They may feel the necessity to reciprocate in kind, but then they are merely paying off a debt.  To shift their thinking about you permanently, you need a different approach.  Instead of doing them a favour, you need to get them to do one for you.  In so doing, their brains begin to modify their beliefs about you.  

We believe that we would only do a favour for someone we like.  Therefore, if we have done a favour for someone... then we must like them.  We can't hold inconsistencies to be true in our brains, therefore our brains sort them to make sense of them.  Getting someone to do you a favour will go a lot further to making them feel more positively disposed toward you than your doing them a favour ever will.  

So... stop spending all of your time doing for others...  get them doing for you!  You'll seem a lot nicer for it!

Oh... and... could I ask you to do me a favour?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Change your Posture... Change your Thoughts

We are hearing a lot in the media lately about how to 'read' someone's body language to uncover their feelings about our product, the situation, the offer, or even us.  But little seems to be written about the impact of body language on how we feel.  When learning to read and interpret the body language of others, instructors will often have you shift your body into the position of the other party. When you are standing or sitting exactly like them, question yourself about what you are feeling while in this posture.  Odds are... it's similar to what they are feeling.

As much as we can use this to help us understand others, it has another important lesson for us.  If we can shift how we feel by shifting how we sit or stand, then we can strategically Craft our thoughts and feelings by modifying our posture. Want to feel more confident?  Adopt a more confident way of standing and moving.  Want to feel happier? Start smiling.  Want to feel more energetic?  Stop slumping and shorten the length of your gestures, moving your limbs a little faster when speaking.

You want to feel more positive, energetic and happy about life?  You can take the long route and explore why you aren't those things already, eliminate barriers and obstacles to those feelings, and then forge ahead to experience more of them in your life.  Or...  you can adopt the body language of someone who is positive, energetic and happy and... begin to feel and experience more of them in your life.  Either path gets you to the same place.  One just gets you there faster.

The simple truth is that our brain doesn't know the difference.  It believes that if we are standing, sitting, or moving a certain way then we must 'be' a certain way and it makes it so.  Pretty powerful stuff.  The following are 5 examples of shifts you can make in your body language to experience more of these in your life...


To appear more powerful to others and, more importantly, to feel more confident and powerful in your interactions, you need to learn to adopt a more powerful pose.  Powerful people take up space so plant your feet firmly (at least shoulder width apart) and open up your limbs.  You want to make more expansive gestures, ending them away from your body.  Elongate your spine, ensuring that your shoulders are back, your head is up.


Willpower implies that we are feeling challenged, but that we are pushing through.  It therefore has a tension to it.  You want to feel willpower in those moments when yours are slipping?  Tense up your muscles.  Studies show that when you firm up your muscles you can better withstand pain, take unpleasant medicine, resist temptation, etc.  So the next time you are faced with the display case of 'goodies' en route to ordering your 'skinny' latte, don't slink on past and avoid eye contact with the case, tighten up your muscles while elongating your spine.  This will give you the willpower you need to resist and will also communicate to your brain that you have the strength to do it again, and again, and again.

Insight.  If you are trying to solve a particularly difficult problem... lie down.  Let's face it, we often solve major issues or come up with our best ideas after we sleep on them.  Lying down increases our propensity for arriving at creative solutions.  Sure, they may think you're a little crazy at work (you might want to ensure you're in a room with a closed door!) but hey... it works!


We all have times where we need to influence or persuade the thinking or decisions of others.  Know that hand gestures are critical to helping increase the persuasiveness of your argument.  The most effective gestures, of course, are called Illustrators; those gestures that help to support and illustrate the point you are making.  Any gestures that help your audience to 'visualize' what you are saying, helps to bring them closer to your message and find it more agreeable.


It is generally safe to say that most of us could do with feeling happy more often.  As mentioned earlier, if you want to feel more happiness... smile.  The smile is the only universal gesture that there is.  It transcends gender, age, culture, socio-economic status, or ethnicity.  A smile... is a smile.  Babies in the womb smile.  Those born blind at birth smile when happy.  Research has shown that the simple act of smiling, whether you mean it or not, releases endorphins into the body that help you feel good and... happier.

The bottom line... if you are feeling an emotion that isn't serving you then shift your posture and body language to one that does.  That simple shift will move you into a mindset that will be more productive for you and will net you more positive results.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Speaking Tips of the Pros

You have all likely heard the statistic that more people fear standing up and delivering a speech than they fear dying.  Jerry Seinfeld said it best when he said..
“According to most studies, people's number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
Puts it into a different visual context doesn't it?  We know that, because most people fear public speaking, that those who are capable of doing so are viewed as possessing many more positive leadership traits than simply the ability to speak.  They will be viewed as more confident, likable, attractive, decisive and so on, simply because they spoke credibly.

For the lay-person then, the implication is that any time spent becoming a better and more effective public speaker (and note that any time you are speaking out loud, to an audience of one or more, you are technically speaking in public!) will help you position yourself more positively with that audience. It will always prove to be time well-invested.

To help you improve I have gathered for you some of the best tips to consider when preparing.  These aren't the technical aspects of delivering a solid speech, but some of the impactful, but often overlooked, elements for you to consider that I use with my clients.  The Pros know and do these.

Tell Stories.  We've loved 'em since we were kids!  Stories keep us engaged, make us wonder what's going to happen next and are memorable.  You could tell your audience what you want them to know OR... you could tell them a story that delivers the message for you.  Which would you rather listen to?

Don't Speak to Impress.  Novices often try to sound smarter, confident, professional...  by trying to impress their audience.  Note though, that this is all about you.  It is all about how good you are, how much you know, how important you are.  Audiences don't care about you (yet!), they care about themselves.  Make your speech all about them, show interest in and respect for your audience, and they will listen to what you have to say.

Prepare... and Prepare Some More.  Yes, you must know your content.  BUT....  don't memorize it!  Too scripted a speech will feel soulless to your listeners.  Know your content well enough to be able to let go of it, and just talk to your audience instead of at them.  Doing this will build you instant credibility.

Make Eye Contact.  I know that many books on delivering speeches tell you that you can look at people's foreheads, or above their heads, and they won't know.  People know.  You must connect with your audience and your eyes are a primary tool to help you make that connection.  Don't try to fool 'em...  they are smart and know the difference!  Even short eye contact, acknowledging their presence in the room, is a personal enough connection for them to feel more positively disposed to you.  Avoid their eyes at your own peril.

Focus More on How than What.  Inexperienced speakers put all of the time and effort into creating the content of their speech, the 'what' they are going to say.  However, they miss then focusing on 'how' they are going to deliver it.  The 'how' of the message provides all of the secondary cues to your audience, the cues that tell them how they should feel about what you're telling them.  This is the emotional component of your message.  You may have the right content, but if 'how' you deliver it looks and sounds like you're bored or scared, it will negatively impact the strength of the content received.  When practicing your delivery, tape yourself to hear and see your 'how'...  is it saying what you need it to say?

If it's Important, it's Worth Saying Twice.  This point speaks to the value of repetition.  Don't count on your audience hearing everything that you say the first time.  If you have one key take-away message for your audience, make sure that you have said it more than once in your speech.  Repetition is memorable. Martin Luther King Jr. didn't tell his audience once that He Had a Dream...  he repeated it over and over until it became his audience's dream as well.

The Rule of Three's.  Taking the concept of repetition a little further is the rule of threes.  Our brains work in interesting ways and one of the tricks to helping our brains remember informational content better is to cluster it in groups of three.  Have three main points, use three examples of a point, repeat a key message three times.  Breaking your information down into three distinct clusters of information helps to ensure that it gets remembered.  ("Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness", "Blood, Sweat and Tears", "Friends, Romans, Countrymen", "Stop, Look, Listen"... 3 Wise Men, 3 Stooges, 3 Musketeers, 3 Bears... get the point?)

Feel First, then Think.   Get your audience to feel you and your message first, then you have them listening.  To do this you want to hijack their Amygdalas. What?  The Amygdala is the emotional power center of the brain.  It governs the fight or flight response, and it's responsible for the release of chemicals that put us into a heightened state of arousal and it triggers our emotions.  For your speech, you want to ensure that you turn 'on' the Amygdalas of your audience, so that they feel and react to the content of your message.  You therefore want to ensure that you connect with your audience before you say anything of substance.  Get them feeling, and you've got them listening.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The True Purpose of Communication

Regardless of 'what' we are communicating...
Regardless of 'why' we are communicating...
There is only one true purpose for communicating.
The purpose of ALL communication is to influence.  
We may have a primary purpose for our communication of sharing information but we will always have a host of other secondary purposes, at least one of which is to influence our audience... about us. As you are speaking to anyone, about anything, you are also attempting to convince them that you are...
  • important
  • knowledgeable
  • desirable
  • capable
  • competent
  • confident
  • an expert
  • passionate
  • energetic
...and so on. Unfortunately, most of us focus only on the need to get the primary information out and don't focus on the delivery of any secondary messages, missing out on significant opportunities to craft the way that our audience thinks and feels about us and about the information we're sharing. 

What's important to note though, is that whether we craft those sub-textual messages or not we are still delivering them.  They just might not be saying what we'd like them to say.  Becoming a strong communicator does not mean that you have to learn to love giving speeches, but it does require you learn to present you and your message 'well', by learning to say what you mean in a way and tone that strengthens, rather than diminishes, that meaning.

For example: you can't simply 'tell' people you are passionate about your topic and expect to be believed, if you don't deliver your topic WITH passion.  people will need to hear it, to see it, in order to believe it.  In fact, you shouldn't have to 'tell' people that you are passionate about something. Telling them should be redundant because they should be able to see it and hear it, to feel it, for themselves.  It is much stronger for them to experience it.  That will be infinitely more memorable for them and will become part of their definition of 'you'.  

You are communicating sub-textually already.  Every time you say anything.  In order to begin using this messaging more consciously, to influence others to see and hear desirable messages, you must begin by being clear about what those messages are.  Ask yourself what you want your audience to think and feel about the information you are sharing with them and, perhaps, even what you would like them to do with it.  If you are ultimately building to a call-to-action your delivery of the information should help support that.  Additionally though, you need to also ask what you want your audience to think and feel about you.  How do you want to be seen?  What is the branded message you want to build and deliver?  

In order to strengthen these two main secondary-messages, to influence your audience to respond how you would like, use audiotape to 'play' with your method of delivery. The following are the top 3 vocal elements to listen for and to play with...
  • Speed.  Pay attention to the pace of your delivery.  Let it speed up a little to show excitement and passion, slow down a little to appear more thoughtful and thought-filled about your subject. Bear in mind that at all times you need to speak at a speed that your audience can listen without a lot of undo effort.
  • Volume.  Again, you need to speak at a volume level that can be heard easily, in whatever venue you are speaking in. Beyond that though, we naturally tend to speak a little louder than normal when we are excited about something and a little softer when we are more reflective or sharing something serious.
  • Variability.  Listen for the amount of variation present in your speech.  Too flat an affect will sound boring.  Your audience will find your topic boring and label you the same.  You want to have enough variation to hold the interest of your audience. This is your baseline.  Play from there. Add more variation and animation when story-telling, trying to add energy, build commitment and engagement, passion etc.  When communicating something serious and absolute, use a little less.  Don't go completely affect-less, but to make something sound like it's a done deal it will need to be delivered in a way that does not sound like it is open for discussion.  Less variation helps accomplish this.
Understanding how to use your secondary messaging systems is a key trait of all great communicators.  Not only does it help you to strengthen the credibility of your main message, but it serves to heighten your personal credibility too.

(Want a review of your videotaped delivery?  Contact us about setting up an online review session.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Make Learning a Priority

I am often astounded by the number of people I meet each week whose biggest reason for not being 'where' they want to in their careers, or not having achieved 'what' they want in their lives is a lack of education.  

'My boss won't pay for me to take any courses' they lament.
'Our company doesn't offer tuition reimbursement'
'I can't afford to pay for these programs myself' 

Yes, I agree...  formal education can be expensive.  However, not continuously learning what you need to stay current, if not ahead of the pack, is perhaps the biggest disservice that you can pay to yourself and your career.  It's an easy and ready excuse to blame others for your not continuously learning and exposing yourself to new ideas and concepts, especially when all the 'reason' brings you is the end result of NOT having what you need to succeed.

Continuous Learning is a Key Success Trigger

In today's electronic age, it is easier than ever to access - for FREE - the information, training, programs and tools that you need to learn what you need.  Not accessing it, not reading it, not learning it  - well, the fault rests solely on your shoulders, since the cost issue is truly no longer a barrier.  Of course, the second most common reason I'm given for not learning is that it takes 'time', and time is one of those commodities that everyone seems to have in short supply.

Certainly we all have a myriad number of things vying for our time and attention over the course of each day.  However, you are ultimately the one making the choices about how you choose to allot your time.  If you find that you have little trouble in finding the time to keep up with a number of your favourite shows on television, then you have time available for learning.  You are simply not choosing to do so.

The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you.B.B. King
Try out any of the following ideas for increasing your access to new thoughts, messages, skills and learnings.

  1. College Programs.  There are a growing number of Colleges and Universities that are beginning to post free programs on the internet, for all to access.  Even colleges like Harvard and MIT have joined into the mix.  Check out iTumesU for a listing of many you can access or search for Open Curriculums in Google to find a subject and program that interests you.
  2. Blogs.  Given the multitude of blogs on the net it should not be a problem in finding someone who is an expert in an area you are not and follow them.  Let them research the topic for you, condensing it and sharing their insights.  Consider checking into well-known and admired publications for blogs that they offer from respected guest-bloggers (such as Harvard Business Review's blog)
  3. Online Videos.  Video blogging and posting is growing at an exponential rate and is a great way to gain exposure to new concepts and thoughts.  Many are quite short and give you exposure to ways of thinking and insights you might not have otherwise.  Although many might not be in your direct field, it is always interesting to discover how an insight made in one field can create a new awareness in another.  My favourite of course is Ted for interesting talks on topics I might never have learned about otherwise.  You can even search for a talk based on time.  Only have 5 minutes?  Ted can offer you talks that fit that timeframe.  Even Youtube has many educational resources you can tap into.
  4. Podcasts.  Another great resource, also accessible through the itunes library, are podcasts.  Many experts in their field offer a regular podcast on short topical issues and discussions.  Search through the various offerings and check out a couple to follow to keep yourself informed.  Download them to your favourite electronic device and listen on your way to or from work.
  5. Books.  Often overlooked but definitely my favourite resource.  Reading not only expands your mind,  but it also helps to develop your vocabulary and communication skills, helps to train and develop your brain's ability to think and conceptualize ideas. Although you can certainly purchase your books directly, whether in hardprint or in a downloadable format, don't overlook the value of your local library.  My card is well-used.  I will often borrow business books on tape to make use of my commuting time to help keep me well-informed and up-to-date.
“Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.” ― Walter Cronkite

With so much information available to us with no cost beyond our investment of time, there are no barriers to continually growing and advancing our knowledge-base.  I guess the only real question to ask then is one we often ask our children over dinner...

What did YOU learn today? 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Building Trust

We have often heard it said that trust is difficult to develop, yet easy to lose.  In business, we know that solid relationships are built upon a foundation of trust.  And yet, research shows us that only 49% of employees 'trust' Senior Management.  The implication seems to be that despite our 'knowing' we need to cultivate an environment of trust, we aren't 'doing' what it takes to build it, let alone support it.

Stephen Covey says that 'Trust is confidence born of two dimensions:  character and competence". Character being comprised of elements such as integrity, intentions and motives, and competence elements like capabilities, skills, results and track record.  It is not enough to simply demonstrate that you have the skills to fulfil the responsibilities of your role if you do not also enter into your business dealings in an ethical manner.  Conversely, the reverse is also true.  You may demonstrate integrity in your approaches, but if you lack the requisite skills to get the job done, then others won't trust your in your ability to make it happen.

The truth of the matter typically rests not in the 'good' times.  When things are running smoothly it is easier to be more trustworthy.  It is easier to hit deadlines, easier to show interest and compassion in others, easier to be more upfront in your business dealings and relationships.  Trust then is typically really made or broken during the tough times.  It is during those difficult moments, when making those tough decisions, that your strength of character determines the path you follow and, ultimately, how trustworthy you are.

Often, the cost to us of straying from the path of our convictions, of compromising just the slightest, is much larger than we may realize in that moment.  We become much more aware of the price that was levied when we attempt to rebuild what was lost, discovering that in many instances we have inadvertently created a gulf far too large to be bridged.

Use the following to help you find ways to build, and maintain, your trust-level with others and perhaps also as a gauge of where you may be making compromises that are damaging the trust levels in your relationships and your reputation.

You build trust by...
  • Making the 'right' decision, even when it might not be popular, or cheaper options exist
  • Showing up when it's not convenient for you
  • Saying what you feel even when risky
  • Keeping your promises to others, even when you might have gotten away with not doing so
  • Being transparent in your motives and intentions
  • Telling the truth, even when it would be easier to lie
  • Doing what you say you will, when you say you will, even when something 'better' came along
  • Righting wrongs, even when you could have walked on by them without anyone knowing you were there
  • Being open about what your expectations are of others, situations, and yourself
  • Holding yourself accountable to your agreements, handshakes, promises, potential
  • Trusting others will earn your trust in them, rather than withholding your trust until they have 'earned' it
Remember that there are typically two options to any choice we face - the high road and the low road. Trust is always built on the high road.  If you find yourself journeying along a lower road option, know that it is rarely the short-cut that it might seem at the time.  Short cuts generally create distances and gaps in other pathways that may more than offset any perceived advantage that the low-road seemed to provide.

Trust me on this one!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Dream Less but Expect More!

We have all been told, on numerous occasions I'm sure, to dream big, that if we can't dream it we can't achieve it. The cold hard truth is though... Dreaming doesn't make it so. It turns out that thinking about what we want in life doesn't get us closer to achieving more. However, becoming clear about what we 'expect' will.

The Placebo Effect in medicating and treating individuals is well documented. A patient administered a sugar pill, if they expect it to reduce their pain, will typically experience pain relief. The patient expected the 'drug' they were receiving to be effective, to a certain degree, in reducing their pain and therefore they experienced that degree of pain relief.

In a well-known study students were divided into two groups; high and low IQ. Only teachers were informed which group each student was in. The students knew nothing of the division. After eight months, the High IQ group was performing significantly better than the Low IQ group. However, unbeknownst to the teachers, the students had been randomly assigned to the two groups. The groups actually had no bearing on the actual IQ of the students. Remember also, the students knew nothing about the assigned groups and yet their performance suffered due to the arbitrary classification. The determining factor? The expectations of the teachers themselves. The teachers 'knew' which group each student belonged to and therefore had different expectations for each that unconsciously influenced the results and achievements of each.

This is big. Think about it for a minute. What you expect of/from others influences what you will likely receive from them. Pretty powerful stuff!

Take this concept and apply it back to the concept of your dreams. We all know that our dreams aren't true. We don't really expect them to occur, we don't hold them as a certainty. Is it little wonder that we don't achieve them? Instead, we have to reframe our dreams as certainties. We have to 'expect' them to occur if we want to truly experience and achieve them. It is through these unshakeable expectations that we continue to persevere, that we continue to move forward. It is this certainty of expectation that helps us to cope with frustration and disappointment along the way. We may experience setbacks but we are better poised to keep going and pushing through when we expect that things will turn around.

I see this phenomena play out often with coaching clients. It is not unusual for people to express a desire for more, better or different in their lives. However, when questioned about their expectations I find that, although they would like or hope for better, they don't truly 'expect' things to change. As a result, they don't tend to engage in the behaviours necessary to drive the change they want. If you don't expect that your efforts will make a difference, you'll be hard pressed to expense the time and energy into those efforts.

Our expectations are critical to our experienced outcomes. Note that expectancy is a non-conscious process. It is an unconscious prediction that manifests in the conscious mind as a certainty. Hoping for something does not convey that same sense of certainty that expectancy does, therefore you do not feel the same compulsion to invest in making it happen. Expectations drive attitudes and behaviours which, in turn, lead you to engage in actions that drive your desired (expected) results. Hoping or wishing for something does not generate a call to action and therefore you tend to remain safely ensconced in your armchair, surrounding by those unfulfilled hopes.

How does this look?
  • You hope to win a lottery some day but you expect to spend the rest of your life earning $50,000.00 per year. Your current salary? $50,000.00. Typically, research shows us that we each tend to earn the salary that we truly expect that we are worth, that we expect is possible for us.

  • You want that new promotion, but you expect the boss to say no. You're not surprised when that is what they say.

  • You want to lose weight and keep it off but you expect that you will always have to struggle with your weight and yo-yo dieting. Sure enough, you somehow manage to regain those 10 pounds you just lost
Sound familiar?

The difference between wanting or hoping for something and what our true expectations are is the key differential in what we truly experience and receive in our lives. If you truly want something different then you need to build the expectations that will support that desire. Challenge your limiting beliefs and existing expectations, replacing them with those that support those desires and dreams. Otherwise... they will continue to remain simply hopes and dreams, as ethereal and unreachable as the clouds drifting by outside of my window.

In a nutshell...we GET what we EXPECT. 

Was this blog post insightful, interesting and helpful for you?  I expect so!