Friday, December 28, 2012

Shark Survival Tips

Many years ago when I was a marketing lecturer at San Francisco State University I was asked a very important question by my mentor professor. The question was, "Are you a shark or a guppy?" I had no idea what she was asking me and looked at her rather skeptical as if she had lost her mind. I stared at her with a blank look and she repeated the question as if I had not heard her, but this time she said it even louder. Once she interpreted my look of a deer in the headlights appearance, she grabbed me by my collar and pulled me into her office to start the valuable lesson about fish.

Not ever thinking about fish before I wasn't sure how to answer her question.  How would you answer that question?  Are you a guppy, gold fish, tiger fish, piranha or a shark? Well, she informed me that I was definitely a gold fish trying to become a guppy. You may ask why was I a guppy.  Here is why and see if this relates to you. As a guppy I was nice, sweet, held on to my childhood values, hated planning games and politics and was unaware of vicious people around me. Sounds familiar? At the time I was working at a major San Francisco radio station where the management was simply atrocious and ruthless. I would go to her begging for advice often as she was a great celebrity from the broadcast industry who totally understood the inner-workings of station management.

Have you ever been in a management or staff meeting where you often feel side swiped by others?  Well, I was many, many times until Dr. Lowe started to mentor and train me for combat which saved me in my work years later in Washington, DC too. As if you didn't discern, I was a big guppy, naive, and totally intimidated.

You may ask what were the tell-a-tale signs that I needed to work on ASAP?  Well here they are:
  • Lack of self confidence
  • Fear of public speaking
  • Lack of experience dealing with business colleagues
  • Lack of appropriate business style clothing
  • Understanding how to separate personal values from business values
Lack of Self Confidence:

This took a lot of work for me to get over childhood tapes of people telling me that I would never be successful. As a high school senior, my school counselor told me to not even consider trying to attend college because my grades simply weren't competitive and I should select a vocational school and become a mechanic or nurse's aid in a hospital. As any child would be, I was devastated and it almost destroyed me at the time if it had not been for the desire to prove her wrong. That was a good start so I went ahead and received a scholarship for college and graduated.

Dr. Lowe, my professor at San Francisco State badgered me and mentored me until I was able to obtain confidence in myself and to remember that the only opinion that really matters is the opinion that you think of yourself. In addition, I surrounded myself with true friends that I loved dearly that always, until this very day, tell you the truth and the way it really is but also helping you to find solutions. Those friends over the years have become my family. So great that you can choose your friends and make them your family.

Ways to Build Confidence:

Take action
Get it done. The most important step in building self confidence is simply to take action. Working on something and getting it done. Sitting at home and thinking about it will just make you feel worse. Simple. But not always easy to do. To make it a bit easier, here are a three of my favorite ways to make it easer to take action:
  • Be present. This will help you snap out of over thinking and just go and do whatever you want to get done. This is probably the best tip I have found so far for taking more action since it puts you in a state where you feel little emotional resistance to the work you’ll do. And it puts you in a state where the right actions often just seem to flow out of you in a focused, but relaxed way and without much effort. One of the simplest ways to connect with the present moment is just to keep your focus on your breathing for a minute or two.
  • Lighten up. One way to dissuade yourself from taking action is to take whatever you are about to do too seriously. That makes it feel too big, too difficult and too scary. If you on the other hand relax a bit and lighten up you often realize that those problems and negative feelings are just something you are creating in your own mind. With a lighter state of mind your tasks seems lighter and become easier to get started with. 
  • Really, really want it. Taking action isn’t something you have to force. Taking action becomes a very natural thing. It’s something you can’t wait to do.
Face your Fears

“The way to develop self-confidence is to do the thing you fear.”
William Jennings Bryan
I could blow air up your skirt by telling you to do affirmations or other exercises for months in front of your mirror. It works for some people and helps one to focus. It may also have a positive effect on you. Just like preparing yourself it may help you to take action with more confidence.
To be totally honest, if you listen to the quote above and face your fears you may experience better self confidence on a deeper and more fundamental level. Having experiences where you face your fear is what really builds self confidence. There is no way around it. Scary, yes it is as I have been through it. Every new experience can be frightening but having the right tools to combat it makes a dramatic difference. However, there are ways to face your fears that do not include that much shaking and trembling of the knees. There are ways to make it easier for yourself:
  • Be curious. When you are stuck in fear you are closed down. You tend to create division in your world and mind. You create barriers between you and others. When you shift to being curious your perceptions open up. Curiosity is filled with anticipation and enthusiasm. It opens you up. And when you are open and enthusiastic then you have more fun things to think about than focusing on your fear. How do you become more curious? One way is to remember how life has become more fun in the past thanks to your curiosity and to remember all the cool things it helped you to discover and experience.
  • Realize that fear is often based on unhelpful interpretation. As humans we like to look for patterns. The problem is just that we often find negative and not so helpful patterns in our lives based on just one or two experiences. Often we may misjudge situations. When you get too attached to certain thoughts, you may start to believe anything that those thoughts may tell you. 
Understand the Order of How Things Happen
  • When you do things you don’t just build confidence in your ability to handle different situations. You also experience progressive desensitization. What that means is that situations, like for example, public speaking or maybe just showing your latest blogpost or design to an audience out there – that made you feel nervous can become more and more normal in your life. It is no longer something you psyche yourself up to do. It just becomes normal like doing a google search, putting on your socks, hanging out with your friends or cooking your favorite meal.
  • It may seem scary now. But after having done whatever you fear a few times you may think: “Is that it?” You almost feel disappointed of how anticlimactic it has become. You may even get a bit angry with yourself and wonder why you avoided doing it for so long.

Creating a Personal Commercial

  • One of the best ways to build confidence is listening to a motivational speech. Unfortunately, opportunities to listen to a great speaker are few and far between. You can fill this need by creating a personal commercial. Write or record a 30-60 second speech that highlights your strengths and goals. Then recite it in front of the mirror aloud (or inside your head if you prefer) whenever you need a confidence boost. Often I have recorded such a short affirmation or message on my iPhone, along with other positive notes and listen to each of them every morning or before bed. Positive messages before bed can help an individual to have positive dreams and thoughts as we often do a lot of mental work while we are sleeping and in the subconscious. Mornings are a great time to stimulate the brain.


  • When you focus too much on what you want, the mind creates reasons why you can’t achieve it, therefore leading you to dwell on your weaknesses. The best way to avoid this is consciously focusing on gratitude. Everyday, I have learned to set aside time to mentally list everything that I am grateful, jotting down a list in my little notebook. I have been known to document everything electronically and also in writing. It helps to recall your past successes, unique skills, loving relationships, and positive momentum. You’ll be amazed how much you have going for yourself that can motivate you to take steps towards success.
 Compliment Others
Thinking negatively about ourselves can often project that feeling on to others in the form of insults, criticisms, and gossip. To break this cycle of negativity, get in the habit of praising or trying to see the good in other people. Refuse to engage in backstabbing gossip and make an effort to compliment those around you. In the process, you’ll become well liked and build self confidence. By looking for the best in others, you indirectly bring out the best in yourself.
Speak up
During group discussions many people never speak up because they’re afraid that others will judge them for saying what's right. Let's face it, not everyone is in a good space or has your best intentions in mind, especially managers, bosses or co-workers who may be extremely insecure and therefore behave as a bully.  I have learned that children as bullies only grow up to become adult bullies on the job, in your apartment or condo building, on the road, and everyone you may look. You know the signs, just activate your memory switch.  Often they become bully managers, speaking loudly to instill fright. Nevertheless, they are usually insecure and I like to think, lacking adequate intelligence or professional courtesy or the ability to be fair. In fact most people are dealing with similar fears. By making a concerted effort to speak up at least once in every group discussion, you’ll become a better public speaker, more confident in your own thoughts, and recognized as a leader by your peers.
Visible Appearance
Along the same lines as personal appearance, physical fitness has a huge effect on your self confidence. If you’re out of shape, you’ll feel insecure, unattractive, and less energetic. By working out, even once per week by walking, biking or doing yoga, you improve your physcial appearance, energize yourself, and accomplish something positive. Having the discipline to work out not only makes you feel better, it creates positive momentum that you can build on the rest of the day. It also helps your posture at home, at school, work or when out with friends. 
Focus on contribution
Too often we get caught up in our own desires. We focus too much on ourselves and not enough on the needs of other people. It's normal to become attached to different things that appear to have an affect on us in our lives. For example, my car windows were smashed and the hard top was recently stolen while parked on the streets of San Francisco. For weeks I examined my mind on why I parked the car where I did convincing myself that it was my fault. In reality and now I realized that it had nothing to do with me but more with the corruption and criminals that exists to take advantage of any and everyone. If you stop thinking about yourself and concentrate on the contribution you’re making to the rest of the world, you won’t worry as much about you own flaws. This will increase self confidence and allow you to contribute with maximum efficiency. The more you contribute to the world the more you’ll be rewarded with personal success and recognition.
What the #*^&?
You are probably thinking, what the heck does this have to do with Shark training? Dr. Lowe had a few favorites that she liked using to describe people. Well we started by observing and having a better understanding of fish and listed a few:
  • Guppies are considered happy go lucky small fish that swim around without a care in the world. Dr. Lowe considered me a guppy, the biggest type too. She considered guppies as simply food and deserved to be eaten or destroyed because they appeared weak, even if they were not. They simply didn't understand how to do with business colleagues. Most guppies would be unable to compete successfully in business and may lack confidence because they were taught properly. I can still hear her voice pretending to be a guppy moaning and groaning and dripping blood.
  • Piranha have a reputation as ferocious predators that hunt their prey. Recent research tells us that they "started off with the premise that they school as a means of cooperative hunting". They have been discovered to be timid fish that schooled for protection from their own predators, such as cormorants, caimans, and dolphins. Piranhas are basically like regular fish with large teeth. Piranha also attack for the sake of attacking. Whether you are a friend or colleague, eventually they will take a bite out of you. Have you ever heard of the saying, "Biting the hand that feeds you?" It's true with a piranha personality type person. Can you think of someone that behaves this way? Think very carefully.
  • Tiger fish is yet another ferocious species that is extremely territorial and protective. Learn who the tiger fish are in your surroundings and proceed with caution. Try not to disturb this one too much and if you do, let them know that you can be as equally ferocious when standing up for what you believe to be the truth. Seen any tiger fish lately?
  • Sharks are found everywhere. In families, schools, on jobs, restaurants, department stores, almost anywhere. According to Dr. Lowe, sharks only feed when they are hungry and have a strong sense of respect for each other. They don't attack each other. The predatory skills fascinate and frighten most people. They are beautiful creatures that appear to glide effortless, watching and listening very carefully to everything occurring around them. The best lesson I learned was how to observe and mimic a shark. Experience has taught me that it's better to learn shark training when you are not a shark. If you can convince a shark co-worker or friend, you will be invited into the inner circles and protected. Remember, practice makes perfect. Now do you know a shark personality?
Now, decide which one you are -- shark, tiger fish, piranha, guppy or a goldfish?  It's always fun to make a list of people and to label them according to these personalities. Now watch them and enjoy the ride.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Training Yourself to Work From Home

Most people have fantasies about working from home, thinking of all the great fun they could be having if they were not sitting in an office being watched or annoyed for 8 hours per day.  Believe me, I was no different from anyone else, having the same visions of myself in my one piece pajama outfit dancing through my head. Usually when you tell someone that you are working from home, they smile and think that you don't really do anything except watch television all day. It's not like that at all, although I wish it was sometimes. I thought I would scream when I realized that it's really hard work.

After many years of working in broadcasting, health promotions, and even as an elementary school teacher, I decided to take a risk.  For many years I successfully kept one foot on land and the other in the ocean. In other words, I kept a full time job, but also freelanced and nibbled in different types of marketing activities.  One colleague bravely said to me, "One day you will have to make a choice and bite the bullet". He was absolutely right and a decision had to made without any regrets.  The hardest part about making a decision is making it.  I was afraid that I would fail, but that certainly is not the challenge.  I have since learned that you can learn from each failure that you may encounter, as long as you keep trying it's the right track.

Striking the right position in working from home can be challenging. Over the years I have learned a few tips that have been helpful in increasing productivity. Here are a few ideas that may reduce the potential stress of working from home and ensure a productive work day:

Preparing the Right Elevator Pitch

  • Be careful how you respond to the question from friends, family members and colleagues when they ask what you do for a living. It's one of the top 2 or 3 questions that people tend to ask you in the working world to try to get a better understanding of who you are and what you do. It's quite natural to say, "I work at home". Now watch the reception you may receive or did receive. Most people hear that you lounge around all day and can't find a job so you claim to work at home. They believe that you lounge in your pajamas all day and watch soap operas or day time reality shows where people fight over a parking space or a chicken wing. That's not the right impression to leave a potential client or employer with now is it? Most people don't understand the amount of discipline it takes to actually work from home and accomplish goals.
Designing a Schedule
  • Developing a schedule a great tool that leads to greater production. For me, working from home is no different than working from an office, after all, we have all done it at some point in our life and understand the routine of getting up, getting dressed and getting to your desk on time.  There really isn't much difference except you are usually in a better mood and a lot happier. Each day, I usually wake up between 7:30 and 7:45 in the morning.  Like clockwork I run through the following activities:
    • Put on the coffee maker or tea kettle for a cuppa
    • Shower and make myself presentable
    • Get dressed in clothes that are comfortable and presentable if I need to run out to meet with a client
    • Turn computer on and allow emails to download and calendar to open
    • Prepare breakfast to that will provide the energy needed to start the work day
    • Review list of Things to Do

Reviewing the Latest News

  • While sipping my morning beverage of choice, it's always nice to glance over the latest news headlines that can help you when speaking with clients or updating their Facebook or Twitter pages.
  • For a quick review, I glance at the following news sources: AP News, Washington Post, New York Times, local newspaper, Politico, Do It Marketing and Wired PR Works. Of course it all depends on your area of expertise and interest.
  • If there are websites that are related to your work -- I would recommend have a quick look at them too just so you are up to date on what's happening in your field.  For me, it's public relations and advertising so I check in on Advertising Age, Ad Week, and PR Week.

Keeping a list of Task to be Completed

  • Prioritize items to be completed on the To Do list. I usually use an electronic do do list or reminder list that is on my mobile phone and my computer that allows me to check off items once completed. 
  • Applications that I use for my phone are: Reminders, Notify Me, and/or Wunderlist which can all be downloaded from iTunes.
  • Keep a list of telephone calls to make or return.
  • Schedule a time during your day when you will return phone calls so that it will not interrupt your flow of work.
  • Check your voice mail throughout the day for urgent calls.
Be Organized
  • It helps to organize your work space, even if you are not an organized person. For me, I can't get my day started if my desk is in complete shambles. You can do one or two things: One, I usually clean and organize my desk at the end of my work day or spend the time during the morning to organize it. Clearly, the latter takes away from your work time.
  • Also at the end of the day, I review task that were completed and those that are outstanding, highlighting them to be completed at the appropriate time.
  • Create folders or notebooks for each of your clients so that the information is easy to locate when needed. Develop key sections of your notebook that will allow you to go directly to a certain section. It helps to keep detailed notes of the last conversation you had with your client so that you can remind yourself of key details. Clients are usually impressed.
  • Keeping my computer desktop well organized makes it easier to find files and information that you may be searching for.  Each client has a folder which is kept in a folder on the computer simply called, Clients. Each folder holds items such as -- design work, agendas, meeting notes, invoices, collateral material developed, contracts, communications plans, crisis plans, etc.
  • Check your calendar at the close of business for meetings that may have been booked for the next day.
  • In using most calendars, it's possible to set alerts that will email you or alert you a day before or hours before you are to be in a meeting.
  • One of the greatest project management tools that I have discovered and that I simply rave about to everyone is called: Base Camp - There is a 30-day free trial to check it out and you don't have to put up a credit card. Can't hurt to give a test drive. It helps me to stay in touch with my consultants, clients and to track task to be completed and see what has been completed during the month. 
Daily Routine
  • Taking a break is necessary. If most of your work is on the computer, it's beneficial to step away from your computer at least every 45 minutes to give your eyes a break from the screen. Taking a walk to your window or patio can help you to feel better. Even stepping out and looking at the sky or passing traffic can break things up a bit. Besides you are the boss.
  • Remember to eat lunch or to use that time for yourself. For me, I usually will take a 30 minute lunch break and go for a short walk or run an errand to the printer or copy center. I am fortunate that both are in my community and allows me time to interact with other professionals and change the scenery which puts me in an even better mood.
  • Track your time. Whether it's a phone meeting, a conference call, or working on a project, remember to start the clock. It helps at the end of the month when you are preparing invoices and trying to figure out what you did in the 4 hour slot of time that is sitting empty. For example, I have one client who request a detailed invoice that outlines exactly what I am doing each hour that I invoice for services. Other clients just want to know the number of hours you are invoicing and an overview of what work was conducted.  It helps to be prepared for either. I use yet another application on my phone that is worth it's weight in gold. It's called iTimeSheet and can also be downloaded from iTunes. It's simply a must or any other one that is similar. It takes time to find the one that's right for you.
  • When traveling, remember try not to stray to much from your daily routine of being productive. Often traveling to other coasts can throw one off a bit. Remember to give yourself adequate time to adjust to your new surrounding and be prepared for the work.
Ending  Your Day

  • Make sure you actually end your work day. Like so many of us who are freelancers or entrepreneurs, we tend to work 24/7. It can be a difficult habit to break but it's a lot easier if you don't start it.  It's normal and actually preferred to work an 8 or 9 hour day. The great part of working from home is that you get to organize it in the way that works best for you. Some people are early risers and like to get a jump on the day before the sun comes out. As for me, I love working during the night when the house is quiet. The greatest aspect of being in charge is being able to do both when necessary. Often I have early morning meetings or early morning conference calls with clients on the East Coast so one can easily redesign his or her schedule to meet their needs.
  • Remember that when you have worked the hours that you have set for yourself, it's important to turn off your computer and walk away from it to start enjoying your evening and your life with your spouse, partner, friends or colleagues. Just like in the workforce, their will always be an email dropping into your mail box.Try not checking mail from your cell phone if you are out enjoying your time off unless you are expecting an urgent reply or request. Most things can wait and if you set parameters, people will understand that the office is closed. For me, I usually work 9 to 6, sometimes going over a bit if I have been out in meetings all day. Other times may demand that you do work on a weekend or an evening. That's fine as long as it's not every evening or every night.
For the past 12 years I have been working as an independent business owner specializing in public relations, social media, social marketing campaigns, instruction design and facilitation and graphic design. I can't think of anything else that would make me happier. Granted, it's not easy and you work a bit harder because you are accountable to yourself who can sometimes be a rather tough boss to face in the mirror.  The best part of my work is selecting great consultants for my team. You get to choose the best for you as opposed to working for a company where you may feel stuck working with someone who may not be a good fit. Your team becomes your professional family and are invested in your success. The greatest gift of working as an independent are the skills that you will build to become a self starter, a creative thinker and someone who thinks outside of the box. It makes you more attractive when and if you decide to re-enter the job market.

I hope these ideas will help to secure your success. Looking forward to hearing your ideas too.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Delivering a Successful Pitch

From a network of fellow colleagues, I am pleased to share 8 tips to delivering a successful pitch to potential clients. Those tips include:

Understanding Your Client's Objectives

  • A very wise mentor shared with me one day in my early stages of training, "There is a reason we have two ears and one mouth." I asked why and she simply replied, "You need one ear to listen and one ear to hear."  The moral of the story, be sure to pay close attention to what your client or potential client is saying to you and what they hope to achieve.  It's wise to ask clear questions during the inquiry. It helps to review WHO the client is and who they are trying to reach, WHAT the client wants done, WHERE will the work be done, WHEN does the work need to be done helps you to set a clear timeline with deliverables, WHY is this project being launched or proposed, and finally HOW will you do it.
  • It's also important to be honest with yourself and with the client if you feel that you are unable or unwilling to work on the project or contract. It's always better to stay focused on what you and your company does well.

Be Thorough in Your Research

  • Research starts immediately after scheduling a consultation with your client. It's your responsibility to learn as much as possible about your new client. It starts by reviewing their website starting with their mission statement and purpose, their successes and the overall look of the site. You may not be a web designer but you certainly will be able to get an impression of how their message is being shared with others, is it user friendly, are the colors soothing or irritating and can you tell what the product.

Think Outside the Box

  • Every client, if they have been in business for any length of time has an understanding of basic public relations and marketing techniques. Clients are looking for something that may allow them to appear on the cutting edge of reaching their target audience or market with a twist to make them  be noticed. It's also fun to brainstorm with your colleagues and friends to develop a wish list of ideas that could be implemented. Next step, review and sort through those creative ideas. The process will assist you in developing your plan of action.

Start Global, Zoom in for Details

  • As you plan your presentation, always start your presentation globally, sharing broad ideas. Start with clear strategies on how you would accomplish their goals, then move into the tactical details to be used in reaching those goals.

Speak with Confidence

  • Confidence in yourself and in what you are saying is reflected in your voice. Your voice is the primary vehicle for conveying enthusiasm, interest and setting a conversational tone. If you are genuinely interested the client will pick that up by your level of excitement, responses and well thought out questions.

Wow the Client with Your Presentation Deck

  • It's always helpful to have a presentation deck ready to be presented about you or your company before and after meeting your client.  The initial presentation is a time to introduce the client to your great work and services that you can provide. The post meeting presentation could be submitted to the client with strategic ideas and concepts to address information obtained from your client meeting. After meeting with one of my clients interested in a new logo for their organization, the Promotions West team created a powerful presentation deck and sent it off to the client for their review. Shortly after receiving the deck, the client called with an order to move forward with the idea. The presentation deck helps the client to see the big picture or can nudge them to also think out of the box visually.

Put Your Best Game Forward

  • After a successful presentation to the client, remember to present the most important piece of the puzzle -- the close.  So often we forget to ask for the job, contract or project.  Most people will go around and around as it may feel uncomfortable  or pushy. One simple way to close  using your same professional tone is to say, "This is exciting, how would you like to proceed or what are the next steps? This will allow the client to respond.

As always, the most important tip is to remember to have fun. If you love your work the way I do, it will come naturally.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

We all have a favorite author that has inspired us in one way or another. For me, one of my favorite authors is Stephen Covey who presented a framework for personal effectiveness called the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. This is a book that I continue to read over and over again.  With each passing year, I learn more and more about ways to become and exist as highly effective person.  The most compelling part is that it’s a habit. We are so use to being told about our bad habits and how we need to change them and Mr. Covey talks about effective habits.
Let’s say you want to create a new habit, whether it’s exercising more often; eating healthier or setting financial goals.  The big question is how long will it take to become a part of us? Clearly it will depend on the type of habit one is trying to form and how single-minded you are in pursuing your goal. Ask Google and you will get a figure of somewhere between 21 and 28 days to change a habit or to create a positive habit. It really does work if you can make a concerted effort to stay focused.
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People presents an “inside-out” approach to effectiveness that is centered on principles and character. Inside-out means that the change starts within oneself. This approach represents a paradigm shift away from the personality ethic and toward the character ethic.
The following is a summary of the seven habits of effective people:
Habit 1: Be Proactive
Change starts from within, and highly effective people make the decision to improve their lives through the things that they can influence rather than by simply reacting to external forces.
Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind:
Develop a principle centered personal mission statement. Extend the mission statement into long-term goals.
Habit 3: Put First Things First
Spend time doing what fits into your personal mission, observing the proper balance between production and building production capacity. Identify the key roles that you take on in life, making time for each of them.
For me, this is a struggle as I tend to get distracted and bombarded with setting priorities when clients, family or others are pulling at you for attention. I have learned to be consistent and true to myself.
Habit 4: Think Win/Win
Seek agreements and relationships that are mutually beneficial. In cases where a “win/win” deal cannot be achieved, accept the fact that agreeing to make “no deal” may be the best alternative. In developing an organizational culture, be sure to reward win/win behavior among employees and avoid inadvertently rewarding win/lose behavior.
All too often we find ourselves in relationships that are a bit one sided leaving each of us feeling drained of energy to deal with our own issues. One personal example is a relationship that I have with two people who are always seeking advice but never seems to listen or follow through on the advice at all. I consider them to be drama queens because there is always a hot issue. The true lesson is to try contacting them when you have a minor issue and need an open ear. Don’t be surprise if they become deaf and move the story back to their own issue.  One way to deal with an issue of this nature is pure ELIMINATION of the relationship or distancing yourself or developing a habit of putting up invisible walls of protection.  A very good friend has taught me to train my ears to hear only what’s important from these emotional vampires. It beats walking around with garlic around your neck.
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
First seek to understand the other person, and only then try to be understood. Mr. Covey presents this habit as the most important principle of interpersonal relations. Effective listening is not simply echoing what the other person has said through the lens of one’s own experience. Rather, it’s putting oneself in the perspective of the other person, listening empathically for both feeling and meaning.
Habit 6: Synergize
Through trustful communication, find ways to leverage individual differences to create a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts. Through mutual trust and understanding, one often can solve conflicts and find a better solution than would have been obtained through either person’s own solution.  Remember, there are always two sides to everything, listening is a great skill. A great trainer reminded me that it’s the reason we have two ears and only one mouth. Two ears to hear everything, two eyes to see everything and one mouth so there is only one voice at a time.  The things I have learned through active or passive listening have been remarkable.
Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw
Take time out from production to build production capacity through personal renewal of the physical, mental, social/emotional, and spiritual dimensions. Maintain a balance among these dimensions. Covey provides with the example of the goose that laid the golden egg. In the fable, a poor farmer’s goose began laying a solid gold egg every day, and the farmer son became rich.  He also became greedy and figured that the goose must have many golden eggs with her. In order to obtain all of the eggs immediately, he killed the goose. Upon cutting it open he discovered that it was not full of golden eggs at all. The lesson here – if one attempts to maximize immediate production with no regard to the production capability, the capability will be lost. Effectiveness is a function of both production and the capacity to produce. The balance applies to physical, financial and human assets.
Are there things that make you a more effective leader, trainer or person?  We would like to know. Please share those incredible ideas with us. Together we can become a community of highly effective people.
For more details about the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, download or pick up the book by Stephen Covey today.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Training to Succeed in Life

Reposted by popular demand

As we propel at the speed of light into 2012, I have noticed the need for more and more training of staff in the job market. You are probably thinking, of course, training on the job is a great thing and needed so that each employee can do a better job.  Well, I would like to see training start a step further to address the lack of soft or social skills needed to be a productive team member.

Once upon a time, soft or social skills were taught in the home by parents.  Children were always taught to say excuse me, thank you or a simple salutation of hello when walking into a room or elevator where others were already gathered.  It seems to be the norm in certain parts of the country to avoid any human interaction at any cost; making eye contact is out of the question with the fear that someone may address you in some way.

Some of the places where we are all guilty of being unsociable or polite include:

  • Airplanes and other types of transportation– everyone seems to try wearing the invisible cloak from Harry Potter. If they don’t exist and I haven’t been introduced to them, why say hello or excuse me for coughing or sneezing all over the place without covering their mouths.

  • Supermarkets – apparently the word excuse me must be eliminated from one’s vocabulary as soon as they enter the store. Even saying hello to the cashier seems to be difficult for most people. Quite often a simple smile can do the trick. How often to you smile?

  • Restaurants – How often do you say hello to the people or person at the table next to you that you just showed your bottom too as you squeezed in to sit at your table. It’s always a good idea to say hello to your server and ask them how they are doing? Believe me, it will make his or her day because no one ever asks. The key here is to be sincere or don’t bother because people know when others are being fake.

  • Super Shuttle – Today I tried an experiment when taking Super Shuttle from Dulles International Airport.  There were 3 other people on the bus and I wanted to try wearing my invisible cloak to see what would happen. Just as anyone would expect – absolutely nothing happened. People looked at each other and never made a sound. Half way through the 2-hour trip, I said something that made people laugh and from that moment on everyone was chatting with each other and having a delightful time. Even the driver chimed in with a few comments.

  • Walking to work while talking on your phone or trying to check emails is probably the rudest trait of all. Quite often those who strive to multi-task and get things done really aren't getting very much done at all, well at least not well.  They also cut people off, bump into people and quite often fall down flat on the sidewalk. Challenge yourself, try walking to work or home without being attached to your mobile device one day out of each week. Figure out a reward for yourself if you can actually do it.

For the past year, I have been working in our nation’s capital, Washington, DC and the lack of social skills feels deeply rooted and here to stay. This lack of these skills has nothing to do with the amount of education that one may have, nor what their economic status is or can potentially be, or even one’s cultural background – it’s simply across the board throughout the workforce. It exists with people making over $100,000 and with those making less than $20,000 per year. Initially I thought that the lack of soft or social skills only existed with financially challenged people, but I was wrong. I challenge you to become more aware and observe for one day how many times someone was socially inept for the job they were doing. Have you ever noticed how excited we are to reward any worker for actually doing their job? For example, in restaurants when we find a great server we all tend to leave no less than a 20% tip when they are basically doing their jobs well. Most of us are so accustomed to bad service or difficult staff providing inferior outcomes that we are overjoyed when someone really does that job in what we consider exceptionally.

The challenge is to check yourself out first and become aware of the number of times you may have been rude or impolite to another person for no apparent reason or didn’t use the social skills that you were taught as a child or learned along the way to becoming an adult.  Often we can all be guilty of being lost in the pressures of our work. Today I was craving a small dessert and my car drove me to the nearest Whole Food.  Did I mention I was also hungry? Well, when the staff person presented herself to me I immediately started giving orders of what I wanted. When she returned I said to her, please forgive my rudeness; I forgot to say please and hello to you. She laughed and said you are the first person to say anything at all to me or smile. She then told me a story about how her young daughters ages 7 and 8 always remind her to say thank you and please. We had a good chuckle about it and promised to check ourselves and our behavior even during those stressed times.

After conducting trainings with local corporations, community organizations and government agencies it became clear that companies should be obliged to take training to the next level.  Research states that most of us spend more time on our jobs than we do at home, therefore spending more time with our co-workers than with our families. Try counting the number of people that you may have contact with from the time you start your day to the end of your day.  I conducted an experiment with myself and I was surprised at the number of people that I encountered throughout my day.  Let’s see, it started with the concierge staff in my apartment building, people on the street that I speak to everyday, people that are lost and asking for directions, the clerk at Caribou Coffee, the security team in my building, people on the elevator and co workers.  This list goes on and on and that’s only a small portion of the morning.  In a day, I may come in contact easily with 75 to 100 people. All to often we assume that everyone has great manners and skills to communicate effectively if they have a college degree or if they are from the dominant culture in America. Fiction. There are a series of things that can be done to incorporate the workforce, where people spend so much time, into their lives.  Here are a few examples that friends and colleagues shared with me over the Thanksgiving holiday:
  • New staff orientation or structured welcome– It’s important to introduce new staff to other staff members. Granted they may not remember all the names but it will be more difficult to not speak to someone the next day if they have been properly introduced.

  • Creating a team of energetic, outgoing staff members to be on a welcome committee. This team could share or develop a list of things to do in the neighborhood. For example, where to get coffee, lunch or the best place to meet friends for cocktails if they are new to the area. They could also provide information on the local transit system.

  • Take a new staff person to lunch day, especially if they are in your department.

  • Try talking to new staff members in everyday language instead of using acronyms which can be more confusing. If you must use things like COB (close of business) or other ridiculous words that really aren’t that easy even when you know what it stands for – at least in the beginning verbalize the entire meaning. For example, CDC – Centers for Disease Control, etc. 

My challenge to you is to take a day to watch yourself and jot down your initial reactions
to others.  Many people have told me that often they don’t interact with others, especially if they don’t know them because of perceived fear of the unknown. If someone is wearing a beautiful dress, tie or shoes share that thought with others. If someone’s label is hanging out alert him or her to the fact. Or if someone’s fly were down, they would appreciate knowing it before stepping into a meeting.

Remember, even a dog knows the difference between being kicked and stumbled over.

Tip: Try assuming the best of others.

Let us know your thoughts and what you have observed in your surroundings.