Thursday, March 31, 2011

Giving back - when writing a check isn't enough

It is likely that you have already contributed to a variety of charitable organizations, from buying cookies from the Girl Scouts, to the offering you put into the plate at church, to the neighbor who asks you to support a favorite charity.  But more and more, people are deciding that their contributions should be more than money - they are giving themselves.

Bill Gates and Warren Buffet inspired when they created their Giving Pledge.  It set the tone for individuals to share their prosperity with others.  The philanthropic point of view has been there all along, but it has taken on new life in recent times - and heaven knows the needs are there.  But what's the difference to the giver whether the contribution is in the form of cash or in time and energy?  Here are a few:
  • When you are hands on, you see the tangible impact of your efforts.  You experience the progress, because you are right there to see it happen. 
  • You build a deeper connection.  Altruism, the desire to help others, runs very deeply.  When you are there to work, to help, you see the face of the problem you are helping to solve.  You see what's really going on, rather than a sanitized, public relations version of it.
  • You meet compatriots who share your interests and values.  Not everyone is interested in the same issues that you are, but you can find new friends when you show up to do your thing.  You build relationships working elbow-to-elbow with them.
You might not be a person who handles the "uglier" aspects of life very well.  You might be avoiding volunteering because you're grossed out by the sight of blood or depressed at the thought of sick children.  You might turn off the news because the sights are too upsetting too often.  You might be concerned that you are somehow not qualified to get out there and lend a hand.  Your reservations are understandable, and you many be able to contribute despite them if you simply look around for opportunities that suit you.  Not every project involves literally getting your hands dirty.  Bring whatever you have in the way of skills, temperament, even untrained willingness, to the table.

There is something about tough times that reminds people about the responsibility they feel for other people.  Perhaps it's the realization that job losses can come to anybody, and financial reverses can dramatically change the lives even of the wealthiest.  And serious, chronic illness plays no favorites - your family or your neighbor's family could be touched by it, no matter whether you live in a castle or a slum.

So even if things aren't going swimmingly for you right now, you can dig in and help someone else.  If you're unemployed, you can give yourself a sense of purpose, and rebuild your confidence by taking some sort of action - you give your values life when you give to somebody else.  You can help even when you can't write a check.  And the world will be better for it.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

How much is enough?

Fat Cat
Originally uploaded by The Wisdom Cube
Are you looking in the mirror in the morning feeling contented - as though you have "arrived"?  You probably have had guidelines in your mind about what success means for quite a while.  You watched your parents thrive or struggle, you have looked around at the neighbors, at your old college roommate, at community fat cats, even at your siblings - to refine your idea of what it means to be successful.

You might not define success in terms of money or stuff.  Your definition might revolve around family, or fitness, or free time.  You might be focused on achieving mastery in a craft, or on becoming an expert on a specific subject.  But how much is enough?  When will you be "done"?

We tease one of the moms in our neighborhood about her 100+ pairs of shoes.  Granted, she has something unique to go with every outfit, but how many is one pair too many?  I could say the same about the number of books on my bookshelf, and my brother could say the same thing about his trombone collection.  But we probably won't.

It's a wonderful thing to have a passion, and to embrace it with all that goes along with it, like my brother and his love of playing his horn.  He's always on the lookout for a new playing opportunity, for a new band, for an interesting sound.  (That's why he likes to try different horns.) He won't stop, because playing is invigorating to him.  He plays despite a heavy travel schedule and a demanding job. He has to play, simple as that.

There are places, though, where you might have given up, or at least decided that you're at a good enough spot.  You let go, relax, and coast.  There are battles you are choosing not to fight anymore, and muscles, physical and otherwise, that you choose not to develop further, or even choose to allow to atrophy.

Is it OK to sit back, to allow yourself to say that it's enough, that you have enough, or that you have done enough?  Perhaps.  There's something to be said for taking time simply to enjoy.  At the same time, passions give you purpose, and a sense of purpose fuels you.  People with passions believe that there is never enough - not in the sense of poverty and want, but in the sense that there is always something exciting right around the corner, and they want to find out what it is.

Are you truly enjoying the spot where you are right now?  Or have you decided that, despite the feeling that it's not enough, it's all you deserve to have or to experience?  Are you settling for a life, or relationships, or a job, or personal behavior in yourself, that truly doesn't align with your real self?  Sure, every frog has a few warts.  Not everything (or everyone) is going to be shiny every day.  But you're not finished until you decide that you are.  Are you?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Making a Case for Intolerance

World's Most Good Natured
and Tolerant Cat
Originally uploaded by Tahini
This poor cat is willing to put up with being plopped into a stroller and wheeled around the house.  The classic family dog endures wearing antlers at Christmastime or dress-up clothing during the kids' summer break from school.  Who knows whether they like it or not, but they are our pets, so we do what we want with them and many of them are likely to play along.  They tolerate our sometimes wacky, even mean, behavior - and they come back for more.

The dictionary defines tolerance as endurance or allowance.  When you endure you continue on, despite the fact that it doesn't feel good.  Allowance is a bit different in that it's giving space to another to engage in behavior with which you may or may not agree.  This post is about the endurance meaning of tolerance, and the premise is that you're probably putting up with too much that's not right in your world.

The late, great Thomas Leonard, coach and founder of Coach University wrote in his book The Portable Coach that

“Being flexible, adaptable, having gratitude – these are all virtues. But sometimes we operate at such a virtuous level that the virtues turn into vices.  And we all know it. Beyond a certain point you are simply tolerating too much.
Let’s define tolerations as thing that bug us, sap our energy, and could be eliminated! For most people I’ve coached, as much as 80 percent of their lives involved carrying tolerations around. There’s a small payoff to carrying tolerations. But, believe me, it’s a very expensive source of self-esteem.”

What are you tolerating in yourself?
  • Feeling heavy?
  • Your disorganization?
  • Feeling tired?
  • Your impatience and anger reactions? 
What are you tolerating in your relationships?

  •  Inattention?
  • Unkind treatment?
  •  Lack of reciprocity? 
What are you tolerating in your living conditions?

  •  A cluttered or unclean house?
  •  Misbehaving children?
  •  A sticking screen door?
  •  Noisy (or nosy) neighbors? 
What are you tolerating in your circumstances?
  • A job you hate?
  • Inadequate financial resources?
Tolerating things saps your energy and reduces your ability to attract the things you want into your life. In order to endure the things that drive you crazy you have to sort of numb yourself and try not to notice them. Being numb is no way to enjoy all that life has to offer!

Here is Thomas Leonard’s list of the Top 10 Ways to Tolerate Nothing from The Portable Coach:

1.   Realize what tolerations do and why you have so many.
2.   Make a list of the fifty things you are tolerating in your life, big and small.
3.   Identify the benefit of having and maintaining your tolerations.
4.   Study the list and identify the hard and soft costs of those tolerations.
5.   Decide whether it’s worth it for you to evolve into a toleration-free zone.
6.   Pick the costliest toleration on your list and eliminate it 110 percent.
7.   Tell the people closest to you about this new track you’re starting.
8.   Find a friend, coach, or therapist to support you in this area.
9.   Progress down your list for the next ninety days.
10. Make some important infrastructure/goal changes to support your progress.

As Leonard details so well in his book, choosing not to tolerate any longer and following through on that choice isn’t easy. Some of your larger tolerations might be creating a sense of comfort and safety for you, even if they’re harming you in the long run. People in your toleration-full life might recede or even disappear from you once you decide to become toleration-free.

You’ll help yourself stay toleration-free for the long haul if you add people, habits, etc. that support you in the direction that you want to go.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Who wants to have fun?

How enjoyable would it be to watch a baseball game if they didn’t keep score? How different would the circus be without the clowns, balloons, and cotton candy? How much more likely are you to procrastinate when you are facing projects that you think are boring or distasteful? My thinking is that the difference in each of these scenarios is the attraction power of fun.

It’s obvious that kids are attracted to fun activities. They make up their own games (and usually with rapidly shifting rules that ensure that they win.) I guess that means winning is fun, even at a young age.

In our house we have found that one reliable method for motivating kids to pick up toys or go anywhere is to turn it into a game.  My daughter likes to count the blocks as they go into their container. And every time we go upstairs or downstairs she says “I’ll beat you up (or down) the stairs!” and then waits for me to say “ready, set, go!” before tearing in whichever direction we’re going.

Kids and fun seem to go together.  Even when something isn't inherently fun they are able to find (or create) the entertainment value in it.  But somehow when we grow older our tasks seem way too serious to turn into games and fun. Who would rather do the things that are enjoyable to do? I would, and I’ll bet you would, too. Here are some ideas for making the humdrum stuff more fun:

  • Dance or sing while you are completing routine or not-so-fun tasks.  Ramp up your favorite tunes to keep an energizing rhythm going.  (This brings back memories of my mom singing in rhythm with the washing machine.)  Who cares if someone is watching?!  They deserve a laugh too!
  • Time yourself to see how long it takes to mow the lawn, and then race against your record the next time you mow. Or create a different pattern in the grass each time you cut it. (Not to mention that it’s also good for the turf.)
  • Create a honey-do jar by writing that list of household projects on individual slips of paper and mixing them up in a container. When it’s your day or afternoon to do a project, enjoy the fun of surprise when you draw the slip that says, “Paint the dining room.” This is particularly fun if you’re the one writing the slips of paper and somebody else will have to do them!
  • Create a fun work environment. Track down a fun screen saver for your computer, and use colored paper clips or other desk accessories that make you smile. Use a pen holder that looks like a golf ball, for heaven’s sake, if that will give you a lift in spirits.
  • Make a point of remembering and repeating clean jokes. Ok, well they don’t have to be clean, but if they’re not, be sure to choose your occasions and audience wisely so you aren’t the only one having the fun when you tell them!
  • Take a lunch break, and while you're on it, do something that will energize or entertain you.  Is there a park nearby?  Can you do a bit of window shopping?  Nosh with your best friends?
  • For once, take the scenic route home. Notice I’m not suggesting that you take the scenic route on your way to work – you don’t want fun to create a problem with the B.O.S.S. if it makes your trip take longer.
Obviously this list is only the tiny tip of the iceberg – create your own fun. The point is for you to think about it and build it into your activities! Life is too short to be serious all of the time. It’s been documented that people learn better and perform better when they are in an upbeat frame of mind. Fun helps us relax, and relaxation helps us concentrate.

So go for it! Create a laugh or two today. But watch out – it’s contagious!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

You'll never know until you stop talking

There is no such thing as a worthless conversation,
provided you know what to listen for.
Originally uploaded by gege.gatt
Why do you think the guy on the left is checked out of the conversation?  At the very least he seems to be reacting with some disdain to whatever is being said - or to the person who is talking.  And talking.  And talking.

When you're yammering along, endowing the people around you with your limitless knowledge and experience, you might think that they need and want your expertise.  But it's important to think about what your goal for the communication is.  I'm betting that a knowledge core dump isn't your primary intention - and I am certain that it's rarely what the other person is looking for either.

If you are trying to help another person grow, learn, become more competent, is it more important to tell them what you are thinking, or is it more important for you to learn FIRST what they are thinking?  Exactly.  It's more important to know what's inside their head, and for several reasons.
  • You might be retreading over information that they already know, and that's a waste of time.
  • They might not be looking for answers right now, but rather seeking only to think out loud or to ventilate about something that's bothering them.  If you ignore that need you are subtracting from your relationship bank account with them.
  • You might not have earned the right to tell them what to do.  You can talk all you want, but in this case if you don't have the credibility or the relationship with them, they will simply tune you out.
  • Even if you are the answer man or answer woman by virtue of your defined role with them, you might be answering the wrong question.  They never had the chance to ask you the question.
  • If you keep telling you are feeding them fish.  Each gem of wisdom is a bite of trout, or snapper, or salmon.  You are going to grow tired (eventually) of seeing them looming in your office door asking for another bite of fish.  Teach them how to fish for themselves before their neediness prevents you from taking a vacation.
OK, it's mirror time.  Stand in front of one and ask yourself, "Self, is this more about helping the other person, or is it more about demonstrating and feeling good about my own knowledge and skills?"  Be real with your answer, because if you kid yourself the mirror will shatter into a thousand shards.  Not really, but why kid yourself?  If you are overtalking and underasking you might be under the influence of some bad habits, or you might have a need for positive strokes and recognition.  Either way, you have some work to do.
  1. If you are going into a scheduled meeting or interaction, think ahead about the goal for the interaction.  Then structure questions that involve the other party doing some brain work.
  2. It can be extremely helpful to ask at the beginning of the meeting, "What would you like to accomplish today?" or "What's on your agenda?"  Even if you are the boss you are not the only one who needs to be engaged in the conversation.  It's a two-way relationship building opportunity, and the other person deserves to be a full participant.
  3. If you are in doubt about the meaning of a question, ask for clarification.  Otherwise you could find yourself diving into an explanation that is three blocks away from their desired destination.
  4. Hit the pause button if you know the answer, and construct a question or series of questions that can help a person reach an answer of their own.  For a simple example, if an employee asks, "What should I tell Mr. Smith?  His order is going to be delivered late,"  ask them whether they have any ideas on how they would handle it.  They might know a good answer, and if you can use their answer you will build both their confidence and their competence.
  5. If you are in a situation where you truly need to give an answer, keep it brief, and then pull the other person back into the conversation.  They will ask a follow-up question if they need more information.  In addition, you can ask them about whether they have additional ideas, and what the thought process was that helped them draw that conclusion.  If it's important to do so, use the opportunity to help them develop their thought process in sync with the values and principles that the organization holds dear.  (For example, do you choose cost savings before customer satisfaction or vice versa, and why.)
  6. If you recognize that your overtalking comes from a need for affirmation, start doing some positive self-talk.  Blow up your own self-image balloon.  And if you need proof of your value, get going on setting and achieving goals.  When you truly believe that you are valuable you won't need to obtain constant adulation from somebody else.
I would be taking matters a bit too far to say that nobody cares how much you know.  There are situations where people may need to pick your brain for solutions, for options, for pothole avoidance, etc.  But to assume that information dump should be your default communication mode is to take a risk with relationships, work or otherwise.  Consider carefully whether you want to go there.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

This guy knows what his customers give up to buy from him

We have gotten to know and love Dr. Greg Bennett, my daughters' orthodontist.  Yes, I'm writing daughters in the plural, because just as the older one emerges from her journey of expander, braces, and retainer, it looks like the younger one will be going onto the orthodontic merry-go-round.  Oh boy.

I was reminded again this morning of just one of the reasons why we like Dr. Bennett:  he really understands what his patients give up to be treated by him, and he shows them that he understands.

My daughter, after 3-1/2 years, had her braces removed from her top and bottom teeth this morning.  As she emerged for the customary technician-and-parent pow-wow, I noticed her big extra-white smile (sans wires, brackets and bands), but I also noticed the bag she was carrying out of the treatment room.  After I finished talking with the technician I peeked inside to find an assortment of Tootsie Rolls, fruity chews and bubble gum.

For those of you who might have been fortunate enough to elude the orthodontic path, let me tell you that these items are some of the no-no list of foods that patients give up during the course of treatment.  They can break wires, loosen brackets, and wreak untold damage on that multi-thousand-dollar orthodontic work.  Many a battle is waged between parents and kids over no-no list Slim Jims, popcorn and tortilla chips.  And of course, the prohibition makes their siren call even more alluring to the metal-clad teen.

Parents grit their teeth while paying the bucks that could be going for movies or ball games, focusing their energies away from the financial burden and onto their future vision of a child with a healthy, beautiful smile.  And the patient has his or her first real experience with self-denial for the sake of a long term asset that will attract admirers.  It's not easy for anybody, but it's hardest on the patient.

That's why Dr. Bennett's small gesture had such big significance.  "You did it!  Now go enjoy yourself!  Congratulations!" those candies seemed to proclaim from the bottom of the bag.  Dr. Bennett gets it.  And that's why we'll be going back.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Uncovering the theme in your story about you

"I am disorganized."  "I am an addictive personality."  "I am an intelligent and creative person."  "I am nice."  "I am influential."  "I am uncoordinated."  "I can't draw."

The sentences above are examples of themes in the stories people tell about themselves.  They are beliefs, some deeply held, about how each person sees himself or herself in the world.  The stories talk about competence, incompetence, value, prestige, etc.  You are telling stories about yourself, too, but might not even be aware of the things you are saying.

Your stories help you sort information
When you buy a new car you suddenly notice other cars like yours on the road because your brain engages in selective perception.  You drive in the midst of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of cars in the course of a day, yet your eye is drawn to the vehicles of the same make, model, or color of yours.

Your brain works in the same way when you tell yourself a story about you.  If you have a story about being tongue-tied, you are likely to notice even small instances where you have difficulty choosing the best word, or where you stutter.  Your brain is attracted to information that reinforces your story - to information that makes the story "true."

Stories don't have to be true to have an effect on you
Your stories about you are based in large part on emotions that certain behaviors, situations, and results have elicited in you.  When you experience an emotionally charged event - like being laid off from your job - the strong emotions lock the event in the forefront of your awareness.  And it holds the potential to become the context, the theme, for future stories you tell yourself (and others) about yourself. ("I'm not worth keeping.")

What if you misinterpreted the meaning of the event?  What if your recent breakup was truly about them and their emotional immaturity, and not about you?  If you have a strong enough self-story about being unattractive or unlovable, you might have a difficult time entertaining any alternative explanation to the story that says that you're not worthy.

The impact of the story doesn't stop there.  You may inadvertently behave in ways that reinforce a negative story.  If you believe that you are not lovable, you can become so clingy and intent upon making the other person repeatedly prove that they care about you that you drive them away.  Sadly, you might feel some satisfaction in being right, even if you are upset about being dumped.

Who you are now vs. who you can become
Some stories describe only one event on one occasion.  And yet sometimes you might be allowing that one event to generalize into a bigger and longer-lasting "I am" story.  You are not a static human being.  Yes, you have a certain temperament and a set of preferences.  But you also have the power to choose.  "I am" stories create shortcuts in your decision making process that might not work to your advantage.  You may be ruling out possibilities (and opportunities for success) because they do not align with your current "I am" story.

Choosing your stories
Your stories create habits of thought.  Just like other habits, your habits of thought can be changed.  If you want to write a new story you'll need to be intentional about it.  Write your new story down and read it to yourself daily.  Take time to look for examples of actions you have taken or things you have said that reinforce the new story.  Or set short-term behavioral goals that would be congruent with the story you want to make true.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The stones in your jar

Originally uploaded by RENATACRETE
Today I am reminded of the demonstration of the stones and the jar.  The goal is to fit as many stones as you can into the jar.  The demonstration is a metaphor for the way in which you can set priorities for your time use and your energy use and live your life in alignment with your values.

Have you ever seen the demonstration? Piles of various sizes of stones, from larger river rocks to gravel, are used for the exercise.  You can fit the most stones into the jar when you start by filling the jar with the biggest stones, next add small stones, then smaller ones until the jar is really full. The little guys fill in the spaces between the big guys. On the other hand, if you start with the smallest stones they raise the bottom of the jar and the big stones won't fit at all.

What are the big stones in your life right now?  What are the things that have to go into the jar first so that you make sure that you do them?  Just like the jar is finite in its capacity, so is your day.  You only have your waking hours to fill, and the solution is NOT to eliminate sleep - that's not a sustainable model for productivity.  Big stones might include:
  • Exercise
  • Time with family
  • Prayer
  • Study and thinking
  • Sales activity
  • Planning
It can be important for you to communicate with others about the big stones, the important things that must be put into the jar first.  The less experienced person on your team might not know what is expected.  The new significant other in your life might not be fully aware of the things that are most important to you.  If the two of you are not in alignment in your values, later you'll either be choosing to pursue your individual interests alone, or negotiating (or arguing) about whose priorities come first.

Take a look at how you allocated your time so far this week. Did you feel like there weren't enough hours in the day? Did you feel stressed, pulled? Consider whether the things that consumed your time were big stones or little stones. If you didn't get done all that you wanted to, it's likely that some of the little stones went in first. Some of the little stones are your habits, and others are the shoulds that come from other people.

If you want to live more consistently with your real priorities you can start by tracking your time use this week. Do it every 15 minutes and write it down. It can seem cumbersome to do, but if you persevere you'll generate real data instead of a generalized feeling about your week. At the end of the week compare your actual time use with your purpose and your major values and goals. If you've been putting the little stones first you can stop and make a decision to do differently. Plan your week by scheduling those big stone activities - even if they are dates with yourself. It's a great step toward living more happily and congruently.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Selfish Woman and Self-Development

The Selfish Woman
Originally uploaded by

Sandy was a professional woman, married with two children.  Her job required her to invest about fifty hours per week at the office, but somehow Sandy managed to squeeze in visits to the gym at least three times per week and a run on her non-gym days.  Her good salary gave her the opportunity to hire someone to clean the house, and she had long ago mastered the art of getting a quick but nutritious dinner on the table after her long day at work.  Sandy was up to date on her preventive medical care and she volunteered at her church.  But Sandy was tired.

On some days Sandy felt like her life was a hamster wheel, and she wondered how long she could continue the juggling act without dropping a few of the spinning plates on the floor.  Some days it seemed like everyone around her was needing something from her, and she wasn't sure how much she had left to give.  And on some days she answered simple questions a bit sharply before she realized that she was feeling a bit resentful.

One day, Sandy was flying to a client appointment out of state when she inadvertently listened to the safety instructions being delivered by the flight attendant.  (Her head was usually buried in a book by this point in the trip.)  "If you are a parent traveling with children, please secure your oxygen first before you assist your child," the attendant said.  "Secure your oxygen first," Sandy repeated in her head.  "But that would be selfish, wouldn't it?"

Sandy closed her eyes and allowed her thoughts to wander.  She thought about all of the time and energy she was investing in being a good wife, mother, and manager.   Sandy had built up a lot of internal "shoulds" over the years, some that were draining her energy.  Suddenly it occurred to Sandy that she needed to do something for herself.  She needed oxygen of her own in order to be able to continue to be effective in helping other people, in fulfilling all of her life roles.  So she decided while sitting on the plane that day that she would invest in a self-development process that would reinvigorate her professional and personal life.

There was one more hurdle for Sandy to overcome - that of making a financial investment in herself.  "Wow - that money could be used for a vacation with the family, or for new carpeting in the family room," she thought.  "It feels selfish to spend it on myself."  But Sandy was reminded of the days when she was performing at peak levels, and she knew that right now she wasn't at her best.  She needed to refuel, to secure her own oxygen.  So she chose to join a group of other women like her and embark on a process of self-discovery and self-development.  And she never looked back.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Pressure - the kiss of death for sales

Originally uploaded by willycoolpics.
It's hard to resist the neighborhood Girl Scout selling cookies - but as for the Girl Scout's doesn't take long for the overly-enthusiastic parent (dads too) to cause colleagues and family friends to run for the hills.  Yes, the scouts are cute and it takes a lot of courage for them to ask you to buy.  But the big difference is the pressure you feel from the parent.

So what is pressure?  Pressure is whenever you create the environment where you are asking your prospect to make a decision he or she does not want to make, or to make one before he or she is ready.  When they are on the fence you push.  The problem with pressure is that it backfires - the prospect pushes back.  Let me say it another way: if you push your prospect will say no, either now or later.  Even if you have managed to pull a "yes" out of them for now, it is likely that they will have second thoughts (buyer's remorse) later.  They might try to cancel their order or return the item that they purchased "against their will."  Or they will be looking for flaws and mistakes, and will gladly pass the word about them.  A sale should not be a shotgun marriage - not if your goal is to have long-term, loyal, repeat-buying customers.

Some examples of pressure tactics:
  1. "This deal won't be available after today."
  2. "This is the only one, and there is another interested party waiting."
  3. "You could be the first one on your street..."
Where pressure comes from
Pressure stems from the competition between the salesperson's goals and the prospect's goals.  Sometimes the salesperson is so self-absorbed that he or she only sees the prospect as a "win," and objectifies them during the process  The "it's all about moi" salesperson tells rather than asks.  The prospect might as well be sporting a wallet instead of a head, for all the salesperson cares.

Often a salesperson finds himself or herself pressuring inadvertently when results are scarce and this prospect right here could make the difference between achieving monthly numbers or not.  (Which reminds me of a riddle:  Why do salespersons sit on the edge of their chairs?  So it's easier to drop to their knees and beg for the sale!)

Experiencing pressure
The measurement of pressure can't ultimately be done by the salesperson - it's the prospect's experience that matters.  Some people are raised never to make a decision without sleeping on it, some are worried about making a wrong decision, and some have a strong aversion to feeling out of control or overpowered.  Prospects in these categories can be sensitive enough that they interpret even enthusiasm as pressure.

Preventing yourself from applying pressure
  • Ask questions that are open-ended to discover the prospect's wants and needs and their motivation to buy BEFORE you present a solution.  This places their goal in priority, and places you in the role of Assistant Buyer rather than in the dreaded role of the stereotypical high-pressure salesperson.
  • Keep a lot of activity going.  You are less likely to press if you have other opportunities going on at the same time.  Lots of activity means that no single transaction will make or break your results.
  • Relax. Turn down the enthusiasm dial.  Big gestures and invasion of personal space, even a loud voice or fast pace of speaking can be interpreted as pressure in your prospect's eyes.
  • Stop selling.  This is about helping them buy.  If they are going to say yes it's because of their reasons, not because of yours.  Your product or service probably has more features and benefits than they need or want.  The one or ones that they need or want are the important ones - when they have told you what they are, stop and determine next steps with them.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Seven Reasons Why You Are Not Getting The Results You Want

Are you "panning for gold" and coming up with only silt in the pan?

Pannin' for gold...In the coaching process I talk to a lot of people who are frustrated about their seeming inability to achieve their goals. Some of these goals are work related and some are personal, but I have seen some common denominators that apply in either situation. Take a look at these and see whether any apply to you.

  1. It's not REALLY what you want. Every time you have the opportunity to take action toward your goal or choose to do something else instead, your mind makes a decision about which is more attractive. If you're not attracted toward working on your goal, consider whether it's a SHOULD rather than a WANT TO. "Want to" will win over the long haul, whereas "should" will generate tension and/or dissatisfaction (or lack of action) in the same time frame.
  2. Prior habits are fighting you. These habits might be ways of thinking (I'm not a salesperson) or ways of behaving (being consistently late for appointments.) It's estimated that 88% of your daily behavior is conditioned, meaning you are operating on autopilot and not really choosing during the bulk of the day. It takes a process of taking yourself off "auto" and onto "manual" until new habits are formed.
  3. You don't see the path to achievement. If this result is really important, set a SMART (specific, measurable, achievable yet realistically high, time-deadline stated) goal and then plan it out in detail. You want to include the rewards if you hit it and the consequences if you don't, the obstacles that are blocking you, possible solutions, specific action steps and target dates. Your detailed plan will help you believe in the outcome (which also helps with #2 above.)  At the risk of sounding confusing, here's one more idea:  there might be more than one path to your goal, so it's important to be flexible and not rule out alternative paths that might pop into view.  If you keep your desired result in mind you can evaluate new solutions as they come along, and you might find that they speed your progress.
  4. Too many things are competing for your attention.  Few people have the luxury of only focusing on one thing at a time.  Prioritize.  Write your goals down and decide, consciously and with intention, which comes first for you.  You might find it difficult, for instance, to save $5,000 extra into your bank account WHILE you are taking a Hawaii vacation.  Which would you rather do?  Choose, acknowledge your choice, and start with the goal that is more important.  You might have to knock one or two goals completely off of your list for the next few months, to preserve energy and time for the goals that matter most.
  5. There might be additional skills or knowledge that you need. Buy a book, take a class, talk to an expert - do whatever method works for you, but without the foundation you need you will lack the competence and the confidence to take action.  Without the necessary skills and information, you could spend more time in trial and error mode (thereby wasting time and energy) than is necessary.
  6. An outside, uncontrollable factor is holding you back.  Weather conditions might put the brakes on your panning adventure. A new competitor might enter your market.  Some of this can be managed by #5 - adding to your skills or knowledge in order to minimize risk.  You know, though, that there are things you can control, things you can influence, and things that are totally out of your power to change. Focus your energy on the things you can control or influence and throw the rest over your shoulder. 
  7. You simply haven't taken action. DO something. Anything. Sometimes there is no way of knowing whether a particular action step will work. Tom Peters says "test and measure." I agree. Don't let dueling egos stop you - get out there and move your hands and feet. The rules of physics say that a body in motion stays in motion, so the momentum of taking action will pull you forward. Will it work? The proof, as the old salt says, is in the pudding.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Seth Godin says your market needs herbs

Herb Pot
Originally uploaded by timbarton
Seth Godin's blog rocks.  And metaphors rock, too - they provide instant and multiple connections for people.  One of Seth's recent posts proposed that "your market needs herbs."

No, your grocery store does not need parsley.  Seth's saying that your customers and potential customers need the touch of extra flavor that makes your products and services taste better.  Compared to the cost of a roasting chicken, the cost of a pinch of rosemary is miniscule, yet the spice is left in the produce section because "It's only dinner."  You invest a lot in whatever you're producing, but you may be scrimping on that little bit extra that would make a huge difference to your customers.  Still not making sense?  Let's go with some examples:
  • Your company prides itself on quick delivery, to the point that your trucks are immediately recognizable in your community.  You know, however, that your trucks sometimes show up dirty at your customer's site.  Are your dirty trucks telling the market something that you don't want to communicate?  Cleanliness is an herb.
  • You're a manufacturer whose product is at the top of its peer group in performance.  But your customers find your invoices hard to read.  Ease of use is an herb.
  • You are a consultant with years of experience and tons of expertise to share.  But if truth be told, you're a bit boring, so some of your great information zooms right by.  Stage presence and good stories are herbs.
Without the spices, tomato sauce is just tomato sauce.  Buy any brand and it won't really matter.  But my Italian aunt's spaghetti sauce - that's a completely different thing.  It's the garlic (and plenty of it) and the oregano, and the cooking time that make her sauce to die for.

What is that little increment that will make you memorable?  It isn't "just dinner."  This next transaction could be the beginning of a long-term relationship if you spice it right.

Friday, March 11, 2011

What is wrong with a simple round of golf?

Golfers Silhouetted
Originally uploaded by WHUhnnnnnnnn
The recent Time article about comparable pay for women has generated some rather interesting discussion online.  In one discussion group a participant cited an article about perceptions of being overpaid and underpaid and the "felt" concept of fair.

It's one thing to be paid fairly - whatever that means and how ever it is felt - and another to be paid fairly in comparison to another in a gender, ethnic, or religious category. What is "comparable work," anyway? Is it fulfilling the same job description in exactly the same way? Working the same hours? Working the same number of hours? Getting the same results?

I used to work in a "boy's club" environment in financial services. I really liked all of my colleagues, and my ability to navigate the informal male-oriented power structure helped me progress in my career. But there are countless stories like the one I'll tell next that illustrate the insidiousness of the boy's club setting:
I was a baby commercial lender, about 25 years old, and the only woman doing commercial lending at my small bank. Every Wednesday, the other commercial lenders went golfing. They (all men) left the office right after lunch and didn't come back. They weren't entertaining customers - they were entertaining one another. And I was back in the office covering for them. Every Wednesday. I was 25, and in my job less than 12 months.

One Wednesday, in preparation for his afternoon of golf, my boss came to me with a touchy customer case. A prominent client had an investment that went south, and as a result our bank was going to have to convert his letter of credit covering the investment to a loan. This meant that instead of earning income, the customer was going to have to pay out. The customer was going to come in while my boss was out for the afternoon and I was left to handle the documentation of the transaction.

I called my resource at the home office in a nearby city (a woman) and she talked me through the necessary steps. Nervous, but determined to do it right, I met with the customer and handled what surely was for him, given his demeanor, a loss-of-face transaction. I returned to my office (on another floor of the building) and called my colleague back, recounted the transaction, and told her "At least I achieved my goal." Without my seeing, the customer was at the doorway of my office (how he found me I don't know) and he was furious with me! Icily he said, "At least you achieved your goal!" and stalked out of the office.

A couple of days later my boss the golfer took me along with him to visit the customer so I could apologize. As you can probably tell by the way in which I'm writing this, even if the apology satisfied the customer it didn't satisfy me. I made some mistakes - AND I was placed in a situation that was not mine to be in. The bank had to respond to an angry customer. All because of the guys' weekly golf game. I wonder how that customer felt about losing face and being handed off to a wet-behind-the-ears junior lender that day? Not to mention that in my inexperience I inadvertently made the experience worse for him. I have a hard time letting this go - and it's been more than 25 years since it happened! Perhaps it's partly because it's only one of many, many stories I could tell you about the different world that men - even "enlightened" men - live in compared to women in the workplace. 

I started my career thinking that work could be completely gender-neutral.  But the fact is that it isn't.  It can't be.  Women have body parts that require them to be the one in their couple who carries and bears children.  Culturally most working mothers I know do two full-time jobs - work and home.  Then there's the whole  other discussion about whether performance is evaluated based upon hours in the office or upon results.  And that's too much breadth for one day.

I am sharing this story with you in hopes that the situation can come to life just a little bit for you. I am not a victim - I've had my own company for more than 20 years now, and have served many satisfied customers. I chose to leave that boys club setting and make my own way on my own terms. But my point is this - unless you live on the outside of the fishbowl you don't notice the water that the fish are swimming in - that you may be swimming in. The culture is the water. But the fact that you think you can see through it doesn't mean that it's not there. Sermonette concluded.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Seems like old times for women at work - and that ain't good

Women at work series
Originally uploaded by sue-tarr
Remember the bad old 1960's, when women were fighting for the right to equal pay for equal work?  Many of you readers remember the Women's Lib seventies, where women struggled to be defined by more than housekeeping, childrearing, and certain other, er, personal assets.

Well, a recent Time magazine article tells us that it seems like old times, and that's not good news for women in the workplace.  The 2010 Census reveals that women are earning approximately 77 cents to a man's dollar, and that's only 1/2 cent better than they earned forty years ago.  Inequal pay for equal work has been illegal for years - yet here it is in black and white.

According to the Time article, the situation is even worse for women of color.  Black women earn only 68% of their male counterparts and Latina women 58%.  So while women as a whole will only have to work until April 20th this year to earn last year's male salary, women of color will have to work even longer.

Some studies have dissected the workforce into industries and occupations, and there are some in which there is greater gender parity - union workers, for instance, earn 91% of their male counterparts.  But often high-achieving, well-educated women are clustered in "woman-appropriate" jobs like nursing and teaching, which pay less than more "man-oriented" careers like science, engineering, medicine and law.

On The Bill Press Show on XM radio yesterday, a few men called in to justify this disparity on the basis of women "not working as hard as men," that they "come in late and leave at 4 or 5 in the afternoon," compared to their hardworking male colleagues who stay until 10 at night.  That, they said, make them deserving of less pay.  (How do these guys think that the men are able to stay until ten?  Oh yes, it's because their wife is going home to make sure the kids aren't out on the streets or burning the house down!) 

Of course there was no caller, as Bill Press cited, to talk about 2-hour lunches or late ins and early outs for golf.

There are career choices that every person makes.  A man, as well as a woman, might choose not to take a certain opportunity because of demands from a grueling travel schedule, or long hours.  But if they are doing the same work women must be paid equally.  It's not a supplemental income.  Many women are supporting families singlehandedly - their work is not for the proverbial pin money.  This a family survival issue.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Four reasons why you should go to the mat

Sumo II
Originally uploaded by
"If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything."  - Malcolm X

Individual approaches to conflicts and potential conflicts cover an entire spectrum, from perpetual warrior to mouse.  You can probably identify other individuals right now who fit the more extreme profiles on the continuum - people who seem to thrive on the adrenaline from a picked fight, and those who might as well change their middle name to doormat because they allow themselves to be stepped upon so often.

Perhaps there is something in your life right now that isn't sitting well with you, a situation where you would prefer that the outcome fall in a particular way.  This situation is causing you an acidic stomach or a tension headache.  Should you step out and get involved in order to resolve the issue?

Here are four reasons why you might want to choose to step off of the sidelines and onto the mat:
  1. A proposed action or direction is in conflict with your values, or in conflict with espoused values of the group to which you belong.  Not to step in here would be a de facto abdication your responsibility to live in alignment with the value.
  2. The action or direction will harm people.  This reason for going to the mat becomes even more compelling when the affected parties aren't able to defend themselves, or don't have adequate power to move the situation on their own.
  3. The proposition or unresolved situation will create long-term negative consequences.  Sometimes a wrong decision made now doesn't matter, but there are choices that will create fallout that could last years, even generations.
  4. You haven't been to the mat recently.  Don Quixote is the archetype for the person who wants to tilt with every windmill in sight.  When everything is important, nothing is really important.  When you become an active player in a conflict you have to expend relationship capital.  If you use up your capital too quickly, you lose your ability to be of as much influence.  Choose your battles wisely.
Would you rather know where another person stands, or would you rather get along, regardless of whether they are being authentic in order to do so?  Most people I talk to say that they would rather know where somebody stands on conflicts that arise.  You can share your opinion on the situation without going to the mat and wrestling with someone over it. 

It's not an all-or-nothing proposition.  There are degrees of conflict in which you may choose to engage, and levels of persistence that you may choose to call upon in order to accomplish something important.  But if you sell out when you know that it's important to stand up and go to the mat, you're not being a real leader.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Do the Gratitude Dance!

Quick!  For what do you feel grateful?  Are you happy about the sunny, mild days but grumbling about the rainy (or snowy), chilly ones?  Some days it's hard to keep the gifts in the front of your mind, soooo...

It's time to bring back the dance!  Rock on!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Tending the sprouts

Spring sprouts
Originally uploaded by graphixoutpost
In your work and in your life, new things are growing.  They might be peeking through the mulch, or they might still be underground.  Just because you can't see them yet doesn't mean that nothing is happening.  But a few things are true about these new beginnings:
  • You can't rush them.  A plant comes up on its own time, and so does a relationship, a new sales account, etc.  If you are waiting for an organic thing, it's easier to be patient when you remember that it has its own plans, regardless of yours.
  • You can choose to create a nurturing, nourishing climate.  You probably have a good idea of what these little plants need.  Garden plants need rain, sunshine and room to grow.  Little people need food, sleep, warmth and care and attention from you.  If these conditions aren't being provided automatically by nature, you help things along.
  • Small shoots are tender.  A long-term relationship might be able to withstand a major transgression, but in a new relationship the same mistake could kill the plant.  You want to do a good job for customers all of the time, but your first transaction or two with a new one establish their perceptions of you and set the precedent for future opportunities with them - or determine whether you will be able to have future opportunities.
  • It will often benefit the sprout if you have a process.  Water the garden once every week if nature hasn't done it for you.  Send monthly e-mail contacts to your customer base.  Visit your mother on Sunday afternoons - every Sunday afternoon.  Keep a regular date night with your loved one.  Read to your child every night before bed.  You can disrupt the process sometimes, but the sprout often thrives best when the soil isn't allowed to dry out before you water it.  And of course you can't feed your child a week's worth of food in one sitting!
Some things grow without your intervention.  Some plants wilt despite your best efforts.  You can't rush the flower, or the fruit, but you can help it to have the best chance possible.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Five factors in acquiring and keeping volunteers

Back in the day when I was a Jaycee (JC - Junior Chamber of Commerce) member, the creed we recited at the end of every meeting ended with "Service to humanity is the BEST WORK OF LIFE!"  We had a pretty large chapter, and ours was one of the early ones to integrate women as members.

Last evening I had the opportunity to speak to the York Jaycees about a potential volunteer opportunity for the group.  The chapter has been running "Big Bucks" projects for years, including the Baked Potato Stand at the York Fair (from way before my time through today,) the Chili Cookoff, and the Jaycees' youngest venture, "Brews, Brats and Bands."  Through these events my old chapter has acquired incredible planning and event execution skills.  This community service organization for young adults has been instrumental in teaching leadership skills in the toughest of settings - working with volunteers.

I say toughest of settings for this reason - a volunteer is only there because they want to be there.  They aren't being paid.  They can shirk their responsibilities or walk whenever they are ready.  So what has worked to attract and retain them?

First, in any organization, volunteers only become involved in your organization for a few main reasons.  These might be single motivators, but most often are in combination:
  1. They believe in the cause for which they are volunteering.  Some are rabid advocates, and some are more moderate supporters. 
  2. They like or respect the organizer.  Volunteers will often show up when the right person asks them, as a personal favor to the requester.
  3. They enjoy the other volunteers.  Jaycees have fun.  It was a different kind of fun years ago when the organization was a guys-only thing.  But loyal chapter members develop a strong rapport that comes from shared experiences and shared values.  Many now-married Jaycee couples met as singles in the local chapter activities.
  4. They are interested in this particular event.  Some people like to plant trees, some like to work with kids, some would rather eat chili.  With beer, of course.
  5. They feel needed and appreciated.  They are donating their time, and want it to be worthwhile.  There is a "what's in it for me," even in volunteerism.
If you need volunteers in order to function effectively, your job becomes to influence these five factors.  And perhaps also bring some beer.  Or pizza.  But don't forget the beer.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The thought-pain connection

_The Associated Press reports the results of a study, performed by Hamburg's University Medical Center and Oxford University, that connects negative thoughts to an increase in pain sensation.

In the study, researchers attached heat-generating devices onto the legs of volunteer participants.  They zapped participants' legs to a pain sensation as high as 70 on a scale of 100.  Then they hooked participants up to an IV of a powerful painkiller.

The painkiller they used is a variety that metabolizes quickly, enabling the researchers to change the variables in the study fairly rapidly.  They could turn the painkiller on and off, give the participants the medicine or plain liquid.

The researchers misled the participants several times to observe the impact of expectations on pain relief. In one instance, they told the particpants that they were injecting pain killer and that the volunteers could expect relief.  They had never turned the pain reliever off, but patients sensed greater relief, up to double the painkilling effect.

In another test, the researchers told participants that they were turning the painkiller off, even though they actually kept the medicine flowing.  Despite the actual presence of the pain medicine, volunteers' expectations of renewed pain placed their perception of pain almost at pre-treatment levels.

The Science Translational Medicine journal reported that expections of more pain fired up sections of the brain that control mood and anxiety.  Brain scans confirmed that the study participants really did experience the pain sensations that they reported. The "nocebo effect" had as much negative impact on them as the "placebo effect" had positive impact.

In Lauran Neergaard's AP article it's reported that "Spine surgeon Anders Cohen puts a lot of stock in patients' expectations.  He prefers to operate only on those who "grab you by the collar and say, 'I can't take it anymore.'"  The study appears to confirm that "pessimism can override the effectiveness of treatments."