Thursday, March 30, 2017

Tip Thursday - Body Language

When listening to an opponent speak pay attention to your body language. Studies have found that when a nonspeaking debater expressed continuous disagreement or disbelief in what their opponent was saying, by frowning, head shaking, mouthing rebuttals... the audience tended to view them as deceptive and the speaker as truthful. Some times speakers will use negative body language in an attempt to sway the audience to their point of view.

Studies like the one above indicate that if you are unaware of your body language you may be inadvertently influencing the perception of your audience - in a less than desirable direction. When listening to others pay close attention to what you may be inadvertently communicating - ensuring that your body language is delivering messages of your choosing!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Tip Thursday - The Brain Game

When it comes to the way that we tend to think, there are a number of biases and fallacies we
regularly fall into that have a highly influential effect upon our actions. One such bias is the Optimism Bias, which is a cognitive bias leading us to believe we are less at risk of experiencing a negative event than is someone else.

Smokes believe they are less at risk of cancer than are other smokers, drivers believe they are less likely to be in a car accident than others, traders believe they are less likely to lose money than their peers. The optimism bias influences many of the choices we make over the course of our lives, if not our days. However, overly positive assumptions can lead to miscalculations and poor choices like a failure to save for retirement, neglecting health issues or making a bad investment.

However, the optimism bias can also serve to motivate us and give us hope. As with all things, there is balance. Learning to recognise when our optimistic biases are leading us to make choices that don't serve us in the long term allows us to choose differently - ideally better. Conversely, there will be times when our optimistic tendencies will serve us well and should be allowed to instill us with the hope we need to persevere.

The challenge is in learning to differentiate the two.

Monday, March 20, 2017

What's the State of Your Skills?

You've been in your current role, and with your current employer, for a fair number of years now. Though the work may not always have been challenging the years have been busy, your coworkers enjoyable to be around and the pay has been more than fair. You are both comfortable and happy.

Things seem like they are going well. Until... your company gets bought out, you and your coworkers are let go and you are now looking for work. Although you have done well and been praised for the work you have done over the years, you are finding that new employers are looking for skills beyond those that you have. The industry shifted and moved. You did not.

It can become easy and comfortable to get so caught up in the day-to-day activities of work that we fail to notice the gentle and slow erosion of our skills until, suddenly, we find we are woefully out-of-date and sadly viewed as lacking. Remaining current and competitive takes work and focus, requiring us to ensure that we remain consciously competent in what we are doing, not operating at the unconscious or habitual level.

When we operate through habit we do what we have always done. We rely upon the skills we have. They got us to where we are and may be more than enough to meet the day-to-day needs of the role we have, but they are not going to be sufficient to meet the demands of the future - or of a future employer.

Sometimes working for one employer can be deceptive. If they, as an organization, are not committed to development, we may find ourselves feeling like we are growing, because our title advances, without ever recognising that our skills are not keeping pace. Their policy to hire from within, their comfort with the known, their reliance on the tried and true may mislead you into believing that it's enough, until one day when it isn't.

You owe it to yourself (and perhaps to your mortgage) to ensure that you remain competitive, that your skills will allow you to compete in the job marketplace should you unexpectedly find yourself there. Regardless of whether your current employer requires your skills to be updated, you do and should. The following are some of my top suggestions to help you sand off some of the rust that may be developing on your existing skills and to maybe add in a couple of bright shiny new ones.

  • Start by taking a skills inventory. Yes you can begin by listing all of the skills you have, but I urge you to spend some time reviewing the online Job Boards, reading the search requirements for those in your current role. If you found yourself looking for work today, what skills are they are asking for that you have? Which ones are you missing?  These are the gaps you should actively work on filling now. They are skills that will not only help you be competitive in a search, should you find yourself needing to be, but they will enhance the work you are currently engaged in, adding more value to the work you do.
  • Network with an eye to gaining insights into how others are approaching challenges within their organizations. What are they doing, how are they doing it, what skills are required to do that? Learn from the approaches of others, about best practices, about skills they are using that you could hone up on, about new systems, ideas, and processes.
  • Consider a reverse mentoring opportunity. We often look to mentor young people entering our organization, helping them to learn from our experiences. Consider instead what you can learn from them. Their approaches are often vastly different but may be more indicative of the 'new' ways work will get done. Use them to help you get and stay current. What do you need to know about new technology, social media, online networking and chatting? They have a wealth of information that you need - consider your mentoring a two-way exchange.
  • Google search the top challenges you face. Look for the 'newest' ways other companies are now dealing with those challenges. Keep abreast of the newest research and developments in your field. You may not ever want to implement the ideas but you should always know about them. It should always be a conscious choice not an unconscious one due to a lack of knowledge.
There is no down-side to making the polishing and refinement of your skills an ongoing habit. It serves to make you more valuable today and more competitive tomorrow. As for anything the best time to prepare is before you need it. Get started now bumping out the dings, sanding off the rust and maybe even slapping on a few new coats of paint. It's a strategic positioning that may not just serve you well in the long term, but may have a positive impact in your short term as well.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Tip Thursday - Time Management

When everything on our To-Do list is important and we are facing too many priorities we often have to regain focus to avoid a feeling of overwhelm.

It is interesting to note that the word 'priority' was first introduced into the English language in the 1400's as a singular. It meant 'the very first thing'.  It remained singular for the next 500 years and only became pluralized in the 1900's, where we determined that we had multiple priorities.

When everything on your desk seems important and you are unable to define clearly what your true priority may be, try implementing a restricted time frame. Ask yourself... 'If I only had 2 hours left in my work day, what would need to get done?' When time is short we often are much better at cutting through to what really matters. If you're not under a time crunch (yet) then arbitrarily create one to help you establish the clarity you need.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Need Something? Ask!

I started this year out by taking on a new challenge. I took on the role of teaching an Entrepreneurship course at a local college. My biggest hope is that they are learning as much from me as I am from them.

One of my biggest insights thus far is the importance of 'the ask'. I offered to connect through social media with students and got hit immediately with requests. I offered to review their resumes and cover letters before they applied for internships and got requests for help. I always make myself available at least an hour before class to address any questions they may have, whether about the course material or anything else I can help with. Some seek me out. During class some ask questions about what they don't understand. However, not everyone connected, asked for help or asked questions.

What's interesting to me though is how this willingness to ask for what you need and want translates out into grades. For the most part all of my 'askers' are doing well.  The non-askers? There is some variability.  I have a couple I've never heard from who are doing well. For the most part though, those that aren't asking anything of me also tend to be those that are struggling.

Why wait for your paper to be graded to discover you didn't understand?
Why struggle on your own if you have someone willing to provide you with support?

This isn't limited to my classroom. The 'Askers' in life tend to do better. They certainly seem to get more. They get the flight upgrades when travelling, they get the discounts, the deals, the opportunities, the extra attention. Often we resent them for it but the plain hard truth is that all those things were also available to us - if only we'd asked.

I have people new to starting their own business that seek me out for my insights on how to get started. They ask me questions so that they can get up and running faster and easier, avoiding the pitfalls I experienced. They want to learn through my mistakes, avoiding having to make them themselves. Smart. I, however, started my business making all of those mistakes because I was reluctant to ask. For me it was a combination of being afraid to approach anyone with my questions lest I be rejected and a reluctance to admit I didn't know. This combination cost me time and effort that I could have used to become `successful` faster.

Some of my students though? They get this. They want the help and the shortcuts. They don't think it makes them look foolish to ask but, rather, that they would feel foolish by not asking. They aren't looking for me to do everything for them but they are looking to tap into the experience I have and to use it while it's available to them. Their mantra?
It can't hurt to ask.
Simple. Yet so difficult for some of us to implement. We worry we'd seem pushy or presumptuous. We worry we'll appear ignorant. We're afraid that asking for something makes us vulnerable, or that it is a sign of weakness. In short, we are poor advocates for ourselves.

What's wrong with asking for help or asking for something we want? What's wrong with asking for clarification or to connect or for the sale? People are far too busy today to second-guess our needs, they are struggling to identify and meet their own. You need something? Let them know. Ask for their insights. They can either help you or not but leave the choice to them rather than making it for them by never asking.

If not-asking hasn't been serving you well thus far in your career and life try giving asking a try. You want something? Ask. You need something? Ask. You don't understand something? Ask. What's the worst thing that could happen? You don't get what you're after, which is pretty much where you are right now.

This is my current lesson from college and one I'm going to start applying. Get ready world... I've got questions!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Tip Thursday - Self Awareness

To be as self aware as possible you must consider two key gaps in your potential understanding. First is the gap that exists between what all there is to know about yourself and what you actually know.

Regardless of how old you are, and all that you have done in your life, there are still untapped skills, latent talents and hidden strengths. To narrow this gap you need to continue to challenge yourself with new activities, new experiences, new learnings. You just might uncover an interest and talent residing in you that opens an exciting new chapter in your life.

The second gap is the one that exists between how you see yourself and how others see you. Through their observation of our behaviours others can become privy to information and  insights about us that we don't have. Seek our feedback, remain open to receiving the insight of others, to narrow this gap and come to understand yourself better.

How well we understand ourselves has a profound impact on our ability to interact with others successfully and is the foundation for growing your Emotional Intelligence. If you want to truly be understood by those around you, you must first work to understand yourself.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Eliminating 'Overwhelm'

We have all experienced a time in our lives when we felt that there were so many things requiring our focus, when there was so much on our plates, that we were unsure how (or even if) we were ever going to be able to get through it.  For many of us these moments of overwhelm tend to arise relatively infrequently.  For others, it almost feels like a constant state.

Regardless of the frequency with which we have to face this feeling though, we know how paralyzing and crippling the feeling of overwhelm can be.  Enough so that we may find ourselves shutting down, refusing and unable to move forward. With so many priorities and so many things screaming for our attention we can quickly become so overwhelmed that we are unable to determine what actions to take next.

Think of all the mental noise that our constant thoughts of items on our to-do lists and things we need to remember create. If we envision all of those thoughts that enter our brains flowing like water into a glass we see how quickly our glass (and brains) become full and overflowing. We become overwhelmed when we feel that we can no longer contain and hold onto all of those thoughts, we become fearful of forgetting, of overlooking a priority, of falling short.

One of the easiest ways to manage this feeling is to create a Dumping Ground List. Get out a pad of paper and begin dumping all of the thoughts that are in your head onto the paper. Think of this as one massive list of all of your thoughts, your priorities, your to-dos, your 'cannot forgets'.  As you purge those thoughts from your mind, capturing them on paper, begin noticing how much lighter you feel. The stress of potentially forgetting something floating in your head lessens as a concrete journal of all those 'somethings' takes shape.

Don't qualify any of your thoughts thinking it's not important enough or that you won't forget it. Anything that you are trying to remember in your head needs to be recorded on the list.  Don't take up unnecessary brain-space.  Clear the clutter in your head by committing it to the Dumping Ground.

Once your list is complete take highlighters in 3 different colours. Designate one colour for your 'Immediate' priorities. These are the items on your list that must be completed within the next two days. Using a second colour highlight those items that need to be completed within the next 5-7 and a third colour for those that must be completed within 7-14 days.

You likely have items on the list that have not been highlighted. These are either items you have been carrying around that you feel you 'should' take care of, but that really aren't that important or urgent, in which case let 'em go, and those that may be important but whose time frame is long enough that you need not worry about them today.  These items you can revisit in 3-5 days and build into your action list.

Actively focus and work on the few items you have highlighted that need completion within the next 2 days. Don't worry about the rest - you'll get to them.  Just know that they are recorded there for you to reference when you have the available brain space to focus on them.

If you are someone that suffers from a sense of overwhelm often, you may find that maintaining this running Dumping Ground List becomes your best tool.  Cross off items as you complete them and continue adding to it as more things arise. Maintaining the list means you always have a concrete record of items to refer to, freeing up your brain space and power to focus and hone in on those priorities that are important 'now'.

Dedicate a small lined book to your Dumping Ground and develop the habit of taking it into meetings with you, adding to it as items get assigned or you are extending promises.  Using the book to extend and direct your brain's focus may be one of the best productivity and success tools you activate. Certainly it's a great way for you to eliminate the feeling of being overwhelmed by everything on your plate and get down to the business of managing them instead.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Tip Thursday - Body Lanaguage

When it comes to tough negotiations any little edge you can get is a plus. Successful negotiators
know that it is often the small, unconscious signals and cues that can influence your outcome in a positive way.

When someone is saying something or behaving in a way we don't like, we often make the mistake of looking them straight in the eye, which can create a more confrontational environment.

Instead of looking them in the eyes look at the bridge of their nose. It won't get their back up the same as looking them in the eyes might, but it will prove unsettling to them and will often lead them to drop their eye contact and stop their rant.

It may take a little practice but it can serve to help stop a tirade or to undermine a power play.