Thursday, September 29, 2016

Tip Thursday - Personal Development

There is a big difference between Complaining and Problem Solving. Venting about issues -
constantly - keeps you focused on the problem and not on moving forward in creating a solution.

Complaining implies a lack of power or control over the situation that is dis-empowering. Take charge of your attitude and cut out the complaining, redirecting your energies toward finding solutions that serve.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Talk the Journey, Not the Destination

Communications are a tricky thing at the best of times. 
Attempting to integrate technology into our communications serves to influence us in ways that we may not realize. We often hear that our time-starved audiences will not read emails of more than a paragraph, necessitating us being succinct in our written communications. Add in the popularity of texting and twitter and many come to believe that the best messages are those reduced to mere sound bites.

We hear so often that people's time and attention spans are in such short supply that we need to cut our communications to the chase, getting to the point as quickly as possible. I see this often when reviewing client's proposed speeches, where their talking points are more directed and their statements simply a sharing of final thoughts. In essence, people think that addressing the 'time and attention' issues are best given priority and they therefore focus on sharing their conclusions. The problem; shorter is not necessarily better.

What is lacking in people's messages today is a description of the journey. This is where the true meaning and learning in the messages is. What were the ups and downs, the trials, the tribulations? What did you experience that I can learn from? What were the hurdles you overcame that I can relate to? What were the fears you managed, the challenges you faced, the work-arounds you created?

By focusing on shortening the message to avoid 'losing' your audience you have lost the point. You have failed to engage me, connect with me or make me care. The journey is where your audience begins to understand why they should care, why what you have to share matters, why they should listen. People's attention spans may be short, which doesn't mean your messages need to be short but, rather, that they need to matter. Let people know why what you're sharing matters to them.

Instead of focusing on condensing your message into sound bites, focus on delivering your message in a more compelling way. Deliver it in a way that draws your audience in and makes them want to listen.  Beyond ensuring that you highlight what's in it for them, use techniques that capture the minds and hearts of your audience.
  • Variability.  Vary your vocal speed, your volume and your inflection to draw your audience in. Switching things up keeps you from sounding monotone. If you sound boring the audience tends to think your content is also.
  • Pauses.  Use pauses to help vary your speed but also to punctuate what you are saying. Pause before and after you make important points to ensure your audience is listening fully to the point and has a chance to store it appropriately, helping them to remember it. Use pauses to direct attention to you and what you are saying or to build some anticipation and suspense.
  • Gestures. Research clearly shows that speakers who use gestures are viewed more favourably and their content is remembered better. If they like you they will listen and having the audience remember your content is typically the point of giving a speech in the first place.
  • Eye Contact. Engage your audience by using your eye contact to connect with them and draw them in. Look at your audience to have them feel part of the conversation. 
  • Stories. Use stories, analogies and examples that help make your content more relatable and memorable. Give the audience a mental image they can take away with them that moves them and creates meaning.
People may be being pulled in multiple directions, they may be overloaded and stressed out, but they are far more capable of listening then we give them credit for.  Your job as a speaker is not to shorten and dumb down your messages but to work at your delivery, making it more interesting. Funnily enough, the more interesting you are the more interested your audience will prove to be. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Tip Thursday - Public Speaking

Using quotes in your speech is a way of reinforcing your ideas using a 'second voice'. This is infinitely more powerful than you simply repeating your key point. Quotes often serve to provide a concise and memorable phrasing of an idea that increases the take-away impact of your speech. If you are going to use a quote though make sure you get the quote right! The source should be a well-known credible expert but try to avoid over-used quotes that everyone knows. Quotes tend to work best in the body of your speech as a way of offering reinforcement to a point you are making. Although you may open your speech with a poignant or powerful quote, I would advise against ending your speech with one. Make the last words your audience hears from you be your own!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Challenging Beliefs to Unlock Creativity

As a Manager it can prove challenging to get your team to think of new approaches and ways of operating. So much of the regular day-to-day grind seems to drill in the 'this is the way we do things here' type of thinking that asking for out of the box thinking can prove daunting.

We've heard that change isn't easy. Rarely do we explore why. Primarily, change requires shifting our mindsets which proves problematical because they are largely held unconsciously. To change we must modify approaches based on beliefs that we hold as truths, which is responsible for creating the rigidity of our thinking. We hold truths as absolutes, meaning they are largely unquestioned. We hold truths and beliefs about...

  • how work gets done
  • how people should think
  • how people should interact with one another
  • science, technology, human nature, business, religion...
Everything we say and do is built upon our beliefs, our expectations of what works, why and how it works and beliefs concerning the application of that information we hold to be true. But, what if we challenged one or two of those beliefs? What if one or two of the beliefs we hold were... wrong?

The impact of shifting only one or two beliefs would be huge. Other beliefs, that are based on or dependent upon that first belief being true, would also be called into question. Challenging only one belief would open up avenues and opportunities of change. Shifting only one belief could lead the way to creating new approaches and ways of thinking. Certainly questioning even one belief would challenge the rigidity of our current thinking.
Often it is our existing beliefs that are standing in the way of change. We need to challenge those beliefs to open a new door of opportunity.
To begin the mental shift necessary to unlock your creativity you need to start by acknowledging that a different outcome or reality is possible. This acceptance allows the potential for a shift in thinking to occur.  Without it your mind remains closed to a different way of thinking. Allowing for just the possibility that 'different' or 'other' might exist is a critical first step.

Interestingly, even the process of thinking about how your thinking and belief structures are built begins to shifting your thinking. Opening yourself to accepting that some of your beliefs may not be absolute creates the possibility for new opportunities to take root.

If you want your people to become better at recognising opportunities, to being more creative in problem-solving, in finding different solutions, you need to begin by getting them to challenge some of their current thinking beforehand. Start by getting them to think about the structure and routines in their day that might be contributing to cementing their belief systems and stifling their creativity. Open their thinking by getting them to switch up their routines.
  • take a different route to work
  • sit in a different seat at team meetings
  • reorganize their office layout
  • do something different at lunch
  • eat a new food for dinner instead of 'it's Wednesday so we have spaghetti'
Switching even small elements of your daily routine gets your brain shifting out of auto pilot and becoming more aware. After all, you can't take advantage of opportunities you don't see. Once your team's brains are primed to begin seeing possibilities and potential get the them to begin asking the critical question... What if this wasn't true?

This is the question that opens up those new doors by challenging assumptions, beliefs and truths. By questioning one belief, by asking what the impact is of it not being true, you create a domino effect of possibilities. Though all may not play out, you are likely to find some that are worth pursuing, that create the very possibility you needed.

To unlock the creative talents of both you and your team, begin by getting your collective brains off of autopilot by challenging some of your beliefs. Shifting just one belief or 'truth' may be all it takes to unlock a host of new approaches and possibilities. True change doesn't happen one person at a think but, rather, one thought at a time.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Tip Thursday - Body Language

In order to engage someone in more productive conversation, especially on a topic that may be
difficult or challenging, consider where you are going to sit, relative to them.

Sitting directly across from them will feel confrontational, creating more of an 'us' versus 'them' dynamic. Instead, consider sitting on the side of the table that is kitty-corner to them.

This position diminishes the confrontational feel and makes the conversation feel more collaborative. Changing the environment can help change the mood, which may be all that is needed to open the dialogue.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Why Ditching 'Plan B' May be the Best Plan

We have all been taught that we should always have a 'Plan B', a backup plan in place, just in case 'Plan A' fails.  On the surface, this advice seems both sensible and reasonable.  There is an inherent logic to the need to have a fallback position in the event that things don't go as planned.

However, in challenging this assumption, researchers are beginning to discover that having a backup plan may have an influence on the potential success of your Plan A.

Having a Plan B may be what prevents you from achieving your Plan A

Researchers Jihae Shin (University of Wisconsin-Madison) and Katherine Milkman (University of Pennsylvania) found that people in their study who had a back-up plan for obtaining a reward, if their performance on an assigned task was insufficient for obtaining it, performed significantly worse on the task than those who had no alternative means of obtaining the reward.  

In another study, conducted at the University of Zurich (Christopher Napolitano, Alexandra Freund), it was found that backup plans altered the way people pursued their goals; backup plans served to undermine participant's motivation. Having an alternative, a fallback position, led participants to push less toward the achievement of their primary goal. 
"If you have a backup plan, then you've already admitted defeat" Henry Cavill (aka Superman)
We generally make backup plans in an effort to manage uncertainty. There is less risk to us in going after Plan A if there is alternative waiting for us in the wings. We lose less turn-around time if we have another option to pursue, should our first option prove unattainable. However, the question researchers are asking, and one that we should consider, is... If you prepare for failure, are you more likely to fail?

In looking at this question more fully researchers agree that there is a difference between goals that primarily require effort and those involving luck. Goals having a significant number of factors that are outside of our direct control (require luck) to achieve will definitely benefit from having a backup plan, or two. However, those goals relying solely on our own effort should be approached with an 'all in' mentality, with no alternative plans in sight. The mere act of thinking through a backup plan may be enough to influence us to put less effort into achieving our goals.  Instead, think only of the primary goal, that it's Plan A or bust, to achieve it.
"There's no reason to have a plan B because it distracts from plan A"  Will Smith
The need is to therefore become more strategic about how and when we use Plan B planning. Consider whether the goal you are pursuing is driven primarily by your own effort. If so, ditch the Plan B mentality and go all-in pursuing Plan A. You are far more likely to experience success by going all-in.

For those that still want and need a safety net of sorts, consider outsourcing the Plan B planning. In business this may mean you have an A-team and a B-team, where the role of the B-team is to plan an alternative route/option in the event that the A-team fails to achieve the objective. For individuals you may want to leave the B-planning to a parent, friend, spouse or coach, while directing all you have to your primary plan. Plan B exists but it is outside of your mind and focus and therefore does not have the same influence over your thinking or actions.

Operating without a net may be scary at first but you just might discover that it was your Plan B thinking that was holding you back from achieving all that you could.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Tip Thursday - Networking

Often, at networking events, people become uncomfortable in knowing how to end one conversation so that they can move into meeting other connections. Consider starting a conversation with an artificial time constraint.

"I need to catch Fred before he leaves, but we haven't had an opportunity to meet yet..." or perhaps...
"I'm on my way out but before I left I wanted to ask you..."

Both options start the conversation in such a way as to imply you have limited time, providing you with a built-in reason to have to cut the conversation short. You have an established 'out'. Smooth, easy, comfortable and natural. Give it a try at your next networking event.

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Danger of 'I Get It' Thinking

Let's perhaps start by defining terms. 'I Get It' thinking, often synonymous with 'I Know It', occurs
when we immediately decide that we already know about or understand a concept or situation that someone is describing. I'm sure there is no one reading this that has not experienced this thinking at some point. The danger in doing so is proportional to both the frequency with which we employ this thought and also the importance of the situation in which we apply it.

Each time we believe we already 'get' a particular concept or situation, we are telling ourselves we already know what there is to know. We shut ourselves off from listening to or picking up any new information on the subject.  We therefore end up ignoring or overlooking deeper insights or even new opportunities or perspectives. As soon as we believe that we 'get it', we don't explore the subject any further, which may seriously restrict the quality of the decisions that we make.

I see this often in training sessions, where participants have pre-determined that they already 'get' the subject we're discussing, that they know all that they need. They have closed off their minds before entering the room and therefore leave the session with no further insights or advancement in their thoughts on the subject. Their parting comment that the past hours were a waste of their time is accurate.  Indeed, they learned nothing, but not because there was nothing for them to learn. Had they not believed they already 'got it', they would have been able to pick up a few more insights, gained a little more depth to their current understanding, or even come to understand where they might support other team members with their advanced understanding.

The 'I Get It' syndrome is insidious and can creep in at any level.  Corporations that believe they 'get' the market, future trends, the continual demand for their products or services will make decisions based on those thoughts but may fail to continue to check their understanding and miss shifts and nuances that cost them opportunities.  Companies that get locked into the belief that they 'get' their business either come to learn that it is a constantly evolving understanding or they become defunct.

Individuals aren't any different. When we believe that we 'Get It' we close ourselves off from learning more or from being open to accepting alternative views. We then make decisions based on inaccurate or limited data which clearly will have an impact on the quality of the decisions we make, whether personally or professionally. For unimportant issues this is likely fine. It's the important decisions that will suffer and that will cost us.

The easiest way to combat the 'I Get It' Syndrome is to question everything. Question your preconceived notions about how things work and about why they work. Question what you know about your business, about the market, customers needs, about what's not working and why. Some of the most successful business leaders of all time used this technique to great advantage. Challenging assumptions and beliefs opened them to exploring 'new' possibilities.

Ask... 'If this weren't true, then what?

The more important your decision, the more important the need to suspend your 'I get it' thinking. Listen, Question, Learn. The more open you can remain, the broader your insights and the better the decision. Better quality decisions lead to greater success and opportunities. A nice price to pay for not 'getting it' quite as often.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Tip Thursday - Influence

When you are looking to have a serious conversation with someone, a conversation you want them to take seriously, consider holding something 'heavy' when doing so. For instance, a heavy clipboard rather than a single sheet of paper.

The imagery created in the person's mind of carrying something 'heavy' lends more 'weight' and credibility to the seriousness and import of the message you are delivering.