6 Simple Changes You Can Make Today to Crush Your Next Virtual Meeting

You know you need to turn things around but you don’t know where to start.

Jan 12
2021

6 Simple Change You Can Make Today to Crush Your Next Virtual MeetingYou’re a powerful, confident and influential leader able to impact strategy and build strong relationships – that is until the past few months. Now you struggle to have the same level of impact you did in person in a virtual environment. You know you need to turn things around but you don’t know where to start.

You’re not alone. Many of the leaders I work with, as an executive coach, are trying to figure out exactly what they need to change to have the level of impact and influence in a virtual environment that they had in person.

The good news – it isn’t difficult to get your mojo back. Here are 6 simple changes you can make today to crush your next virtual meeting.

Read the Room Differently

Virtual platforms help us connect with others but make reading nonverbal cues difficult. Reading the room differently starts well before the meeting begins and ends after it is over. Learn as much as you possibly can about peoples’ concerns, patterns and what motivates them to take action so that you craft your presentation to take advantage of what connects with them.

Use Your Tech to Connect in the Moment

Select a video platform that allows a high degree of engagement with the audience and know how to use those tools. Tools like polls, whiteboards, emojis, thumbs up or down keep people interested and give you in the moment feedback about the resonance of the material you’re presenting.

Give Them a Heads Up About Their Role

You can’t expect people to fully engage when they can’t clearly identify their role or what you expect of them. A heads-up from you before the meeting sets a common focus, ensures people won’t sit on the sidelines and helps them recognize they have a role to play in the meeting’s success.

Keep it Strategic and Simple

The distractions are endless in virtual environments so it is important to keep your presentation strategic, simple and then be silent while you wait for answers to your questions. It takes longer for people in a virtual environment to digest and respond so active listening and asking follow-up questions is critical to the success of your meeting in a virtual setting.

Nonverbals Still Matter

Instead of attempting to read everyone’s nonverbal signals, which is impossible, choose a couple of key participants and focus your attention on them. This narrower focus exposes you to real time feedback about how things are going so you adapt as you need to.

What you do After Is Important

As important as it is to give people a heads-up before the meeting it is equally important to ask for feedback from a few trusted people after the meeting. Recording the meeting and watching it back from a participant’s perspective gives you insight into what worked and could work better the next time.

Virtual meetings aren’t going away anytime soon so if you want to crush your next virtual meeting tap into the strategies above. I look forward to hearing from you about what happens.

Best,
Susan

Getting Lost in Translation

How to get everyone on board with your vision

May 07
2019

Getting Lost in Translation Do you remember playing the game of telephone as a kid? You and your friends whispered a saying one to another, hoping that when it reached the last person it would be the same phrase that was shared by the first kid. But the sentence would always become hopelessly mangled, leaving everyone laughing.

It was hilarious then. Today, it’s sobering to realize how quickly your message as a leader can get lost in translation when it’s shared across your team or through your organization.

Your vision’s meaning can go astray in subtle ways.  Meaning derives from the perceptions of the listener and is therefore subjective.  When each listener shares your message with others, it may become more and more distorted as it gets mixed up with the misunderstandings of each person along the way.

Unlike the kids’ game of telephone, the more your vision gets muddied the graver the consequences for your organization and for you as its leader.

Getting your vision out with clarity is something every leader grapples with.  As you develop a message that all will comprehend, always remember that understanding lies in the ear of the listener.

Add these tools to your skill set to save your vision from getting lost in translation:

Filter It First

Remove all extraneous details from your message.  Remember that what you remove is as important as what remains.  Evaluate and refine what is left so that it is an unambiguous statement of your intended goal, the work needed to get there, and how you’ll track progress and measure success.

Tear Down the Walls

When you want to inspire others, it’s counter-intuitive to think about the misunderstandings that could block you from the goal.  It is hard to admit that success might not be achieved. Yet if you don’t tear down the wall of fear and talk about the challenges and difficult moments ahead, others won’t either. Break the ice to make it easier for everyone to admit when something isn’t working in the future.

Elevate the Intangibles

Focus more on the worthwhile, positive aspects of the process you are about to undertake, rather than on concrete rewards like bonuses or pay. When people have clarity about your expectations and a clear goal like elevating their skills in mind, they are better equipped to be resilient and to keep the essence of your vision as their focus. Persuade them to buy in to the big-picture benefits for the organization, your customers, and society.

Frame It for All

Ultimately, it is your obligation to discover the subjectivity of your audience. Pinpoint everything they need to know about your vision so that they can to act on it.

It isn’t easy to make your vision less subjective. In the end, though, doing so means that those who hear and understand your concept will know when something isn’t aligning with it and will quickly move to fix it.

Simple Strategies To Fine-Tune Your Pitch And Change People’s Minds

Apr 04
2017

Whether you’re pitching your new business idea to the CEO or pitching buying a new car to your spouse, crafting a winning argument, once you’ve passed the feasibility hurdle, is highly dependent on the tactics and strategies you use to sway the decision maker. We’ve all been on both sides of the equation—delivering and receiving successful and unsuccessful pitches. I’d be willing to bet that when you’ve been the person on the receiving end of an awful pitch you know exactly why the pitch failed. Awful pitches are horrible for many different reasons: sometimes the person is unprepared, sometimes they’re condescending, and sometimes the person believes that all it takes to win the day is including all the relevant information in the pitch, and letting the collective weight of the data convince the person to decide in his or her favor.

However, I’d also be willing to bet that when you’re on the delivery end of an awful or unsuccessful pitch you rarely know the exact reason why the pitch didn’t sway or persuade. And the truth is, we’re rarely given the opportunity to query the decision maker once we’ve pitched and failed to zero in on why exactly they weren’t convinced to decide in our favor. Often this leads people to go down a rabbit hole of wrong explanations, wondering if they weren’t specific enough or left out a critical piece of information, when in truth the answer is far more clear-cut. Setting aside being unprepared or condescending as reasons for a pitch not succeeding, most pitches fail simply because the person making the pitch shares everything they know about the matter at hand, rather than everything the decision maker needs to know to make their decision.

It’s no wonder the pitch was an epic failure—it was crafted from the perspective of the pitcher and not from the vantage point of the decision maker. An exceptionally subtle yet influential distinction that spells the difference between winning over a decision maker and a failing pitch. Avoiding your next disastrous pitch starts with making some smart and meaningful changes in the process that you use to craft your pitch that make a meaningful difference in how the pitch will be perceived by the person you need to make the decision.

These simple yet powerful tweaks will help pare down your pitch, focus it on the decision maker, and therefore substantially increase your ability to successfully win over any decision maker you face.

Be Sure That You’re Presenting To The Ultimate Decision Maker

It might seem a bit simplistic to say this, but be sure that when you’re pitching someone on an idea that you’ve targeted the presentation to the decision maker with the authority to ultimately make the choice. This is critical especially when pitching to a group where multiple players may hear the pitch but not have the authority to make the decision, or be the person you want to work with on a deal. Failing to target the pitch to your audience, even if it is only to one person in the room, can sometimes alienate the true decision maker you want to sway. Persuasion, no matter how effectively done, directed to a person who has no authority to make the decision is never going to yield the desired effect.

Know Your Decision Maker

Learn as much as you possibly can in advance about the person making the decision. The most important information to understand concerns their patterns around what motivates them to make decisions and draw conclusions. How are they motivated to do something or not do something? Is it to avoid problems or achieve goals? Are they convinced to take action when they know within themselves that something is right? Or do they use facts and figures to help them decide? And lastly, are they proactive or reactive: do they like to initiate change or wait until a situation is right to act?

The best place to get answers to these questions is directly from this person. Observe how this person has made decisions in the past, note how they present information, listen to their words, and notice their body language in certain situations. You could even sit in when someone else is pitching them and watch what happens, what they ask, and what works and what doesn’t. Look for little peculiarities that you might want to take advantage of: think “royalty deal” and Shark Tank’s Mr. Wonderful, Kevin O’Leary.

Know The Question And Know The Recommended Action You Want Them To Take

Have you ever tried making a decision when you didn’t really have a clear idea about what you were really being asked to decide and/or the person doing the asking didn’t know a hill of beans about what they were asking you for? You can’t expect someone to give you a decision when they can’t clearly identify the question they’re being asked to decide, or the action they’re being asked to take. Your first and foremost responsibility is to know the question that needs to be answered and to define what action you think would best works to solve/answer it. Without this level of clarity, you can’t ever hope to make a successful pitch. At this stage you’re really working to figure out your best guesstimate of what would work best and why the decision maker would want to take the action you’re proposing. Write both your question and answer down, keep clarifying it to make sure that there is no ambiguity and that your recommended action is the only action that will bring about the desired resolution to the question, and perhaps most importantly, that you can state why convincingly.

Carefully Lay Out And Select Your Best Points: Concentrate Your Ideas

Your very next step is to begin laying out the facts, information, and arguments that are central to your pitch and form the basis for your core action/recommendation. Laying out and structuring the information and arguments in a logical manner will help you spot gaps in your knowledge of the facts, understand where challenges to your recommendation might come from, and help you counter potential objections with real counter points. Pay careful attention as you go through this process to keep the information tight and concise, making sure to only include only the most compelling and salient points in your outline so that your ideas are concentrated and therefore have the most influence and impact on the decision maker. Select your best and strongest reasons why this action should take place—preferably no more than 3 or 4—and develop them fully. This is not to say that each of the 3 or 4 cannot have a few smaller points within them. However, loading up a pitch with everything but the kitchen sink and taking a scattershot approach is ineffective. It gives the impression that you don’t come from a position of strength and that you don’t have strong points that can stand on their own. Your criteria for including a point should be:

  • That it is essential to the core of your pitch
  • It is scrupulously accurate
  • It is presented from the vantage point of the decision maker

If it doesn’t fit these criteria, it isn’t going to help, and will most likely become a straw man that can sidetrack your pitch.

Create A Story

Now that you’ve worked long and hard on your outline and you believe that you’ve created a compelling pitch for the recommended action you want the decision maker to take, you’re ready to translate your outline into the story that will take the person(s) step by step through your pitch to its conclusion. Make sure that the story proceeds methodically through the information, starting with a statement of the question you want answered or solved so that the decision maker knows from the start the very decision they are being asked to make. Once the decision maker knows what they’ll be deciding, they’ll be more attune to the evidence needed to support the decision you want them to make, as you spotlight the most important merits for your core action or recommendation being adopted. This step guarantees that they’ll be better able to tie the facts back to the core action or recommendation and understand how the facts either support or disprove the course of action being sought. Make sure that part of your appeal is to the person’s common sense and not only the facts and evidence. Sometimes decision makers will make decisions on what their gut sense tells them and then look for facts to support it, so it is wise to appeal to both in your story. Avoid hyperbole and phrases that contain absolute negatives like “There will never be another…” or “No one has ever seen…” since these can result in a loss of credibility in your presentation, as negatives are always difficult to prove. Always make sure to begin the story with your strongest points because as they say: first impressions are enduring. Make sure that the story starts out in a positive vein, and if you have to address or refute something that you do it in the middle and not at the beginning or end. Close powerfully and explicitly tell the decision maker what it is you need them to do. Your closing should move the decider to action with a recap of the principal reasons they should take the action and why your recommendation is the only response.

Give Your Story A Test Drive

Practice makes perfect, and sharing your story with others before the actual pitch can help you hone your pitch and give you the needed practice so that you’re comfortable with giving the pitch seamlessly. Choose a group of people to practice your pitch with and ask to track your story against your outline and to give you feedback on areas that you might have missed or might be overkill. Then incorporate their suggestions and refine the pitch until you think you have it in its final form. Choose one person whose decision-making style mirrors that of the person you’re pitching and pitch for them as if you were doing it for the intended decision maker. Debrief them on what worked and what didn’t, and if they’d have made the decision in your favor. Hone your presentation again until you’ve got it where you think it needs to be. You might even want to video this session so that you can watch not only your presentation but also their reactions to what you were saying at certain points in the pitch.

Decide What Final Form The Presentation Will Take

At this point you already know a lot about the person you’re pitching and you’ve spent a great deal of time honing your pitch to match their style. You’re at the point where all that’s left to do is help them understand what you need them to do, and the key to doing that effectively is selecting the right format the final presentation will take. Deciding what the final form is may not always be under your control and that could go either way. It might be that the decision maker has preset the format to be what he/she prefers, and so understanding the best way to utilize the features of that format to showcase your pitch means making sure that you know and understand how best to showcase your information in a variety of ways. If you get to select the final form, be sure to choose one that you know makes it easiest for the decision maker to best understand and be presented with the information. Knowing in advance if they prefer reports, executive summaries, slides, or even an email with key decision and data points, followed by a face-to-face meeting or an in-person pitch, will go a long way to helping you showcase your idea in the most favorable light. No matter the presentation method—or if you’ve chosen it or not—as long as you’ve structured and crafted the pitch with the strategies above and ensure that you’ve placed what they are being asked to decide on early in the presentation, the presentation is pared down to include only the most salient points, your closing moves them to action, and you’ve told them everything that they need to know to make a decision, then you’ll be better positioned to be successful.

Remember that no matter what, you have to know your stuff, stand your ground, and do so as equals. When you step before the audience next time you pitch, have this clearly in your mind and know that you are there to help the decision maker understand what the circumstances demand of them, what they need to know to make the decision, and in doing this effectively, you’ll show them that you knew what you needed to know about the matter at hand too.

Let me know how your next pitch goes in the comments below.

 

Give It To Me Straight: Getting People To Tell You The Truth

Feb 01
2017

As a leader, each and every day you’re besieged with irreconcilable demands from those you work with and for. And although you have sway over the direction of your business, you rarely have access to the much-needed objective and ongoing feedback about your ideas, plans, and performance. Perhaps you’re not that worried about it, but here is why you should be.

Failing to seek out and encourage those you lead to share the unvarnished truth and actionable feedback about how best you can boost your performance and lead better can have dire consequences for you and your long-term success.

The longer you delay asking, the less likely it will be that you’ll get the type of candid perspective and opinion you need to keep you from making critical errors in judgment. You can’t become an effective leader by trial and error, but conversely, you certainly can become a terrible one.

So why are so many leaders afraid to ask those they lead to give it to them straight?

The answer is really two‐fold. As a leader they haven’t learned how to or don’t want to open themselves up to being vulnerable in this way with their team. They haven’t invested in building the trust that encourages people around them to tell them the truth without fearing negative repercussions—especially when what is being said will contradict them or be negative about their performance as a leader.  Realizing your success as a leader goes through and depends on those who work for you is the first step in getting those you lead to tell you what you might not want to hear.

Here’s How You Make Give It To Me Straight The Rule Of The Day

Make sure you’re the one who shakes up the status quo and takes the active role in asking for feedback about how you’re doing on a recurring basis. Follow these simple guidelines:

  • Call Out The Fear – Recognize there is a degree of fear and risk when someone is willing to be candid with you. As the leader, it is your obligation to take the first step toward making the situation a relaxed one for the other person. Enable them to speak openly by calling out the fear and acknowledging it. Let them know that you appreciate and understand that it is difficult to share feedback with a boss—especially if it is negative in nature. Tell them you want to know no matter what because if you don’t have a realistic picture of what you’re doing well and not doing well, then you don’t improve as a leader.
  • Make It A No Repercussion Zone – Make it clear there are never any repercussions for sharing feedback that helps learning or growth, even if it is different than what you think or believe. Be consistent and apply this beyond these feedback conversations to meetings and all matters.
  • Have A Go-To Question – Have a go-to question that you can easily call upon to break the ice and start the conversation flowing like, “What is it that I can do to become a more effective leader for our team?”
  • Speak To More Than One Person – Make sure you ask more than one person the same question separately and outside of a formal conversation. Reiterate that you want them to give it to you straight. You don’t have to ask everyone every time—just make sure that you reach out to everyone over the course of a few months.
  • Read Between The Lines – Listen for what is being said and perhaps not being said. Follow up and get clear by asking for specifics and asking for examples and use open ended questions to solicit more input.
  • Get A Concrete Step You Can Take And Implement – Ask them for one future-focused suggestion that if you implemented today would improve your performance.
  • Share What You’re Going To Do – Look for areas in which to agree, and say so when you find them. Let them know what you’ve chosen from what they said to implement.
  • Reward The Sharing – With “thank you”—as a leader, remember that any time someone shares his or her insight with you it is a gift.
  • Make Asking For Feedback Your MO – Ask for their input often and in all things that impact the work and performance of the team. Especially follow up on how you’re doing with the suggestions you implemented from your conversation with them. It doesn’t just have to be in formal ways. Ask for quick feedback on ideas also. The key here is consistency.

The people who work for us shouldn’t be the only ones desperately seeking more frequent and actionable feedback—as their leader, you should shake up the dynamic and be the first one to ask for future-focused suggestions, opinions, and perspectives on everything ranging from business matters to how you can boost your performance as their leader.

Let me know how you’re planning to ask those you lead how you’re doing.

 

The Choice Is Yours, And It’s Simple: You Need Great People Skills

Jan 17
2017

A take-no-prisoners brashness with respect to people when it comes to leadership doesn’t go as far as it used to—you know this as a leader as well as I do, and if you don’t then you really need to read this post.

As a leader, you’ve focused on unabashedly pursuing the technical skills that sustain the setting of a vision, creating the strategy, and driving bottom-line results. However, you know that a myopic focus on the technical aspects of leadership and being high maintenance isn’t going to be enough to keep from being replaced, let alone excel, in today’s highly competitive and ever-shifting business world.

As a leader, you have to be unswerving in your pursuit of what distinguishes you from the rest of the pack.

Distinguishing yourself from the pack isn’t something that you can do on your own as a leader—success goes through the people that you’re interdependent with and work for. And the next part is what is really scary for you—you know that working with people can be really difficult and challenging. Sadly, many talented and industrious leaders have learned the hard way that they are expendable when they become high maintenance and toxic. No longer does high performing results producing leadership overshadow and excuse a gap in your people skills.

Leaders need to heed the wake up call, and—don’t shoot me for saying this—learn what they resent having to learn. But without learning it they won’t succeed – the people skills that will make possible their ability to excel as a leader.

As the founder of an executive coaching firm, I’m often asked, “Why is it that some of the most intelligent, creative, and trailblazing leaders never add acquiring mind-blowing people skills to their leadership development itinerary?”

The answer is straightforward: they’re far more adept at leveraging all the tangible aspects of running their businesses and have developed a shortsightedness when it comes to doing something they’re less skilled at: the difficult and challenging work of having to learn great people skills. And if you don’t believe me, just ask their families.

I’d like to share with you some surefire steps that will help you know if you’re ready to change, and then how to go about it.

Go From Thinking You Might To Knowing You Will

Having standout people skills seems like something leaders should have had on their leadership itinerary to develop early on, but unfortunately many don’t. Being aware of the need to make a change and actually being ready for change are two completely different things. Taking this journey begins when you first start contemplating doing so, and it ends when you discover what you’ll lose if you don’t make the change. If you have any question about your people skills and where they need to be, start asking yourself some hard questions like these: What’s at risk if you don’t get better? What has not being better already cost you, and what has been standing in your way? Ask the people around you what you can do better with respect to how you interact with them. I’m sure your colleagues, employees, and your family will appreciate having the opportunity to share their thoughts with you.

Know What It Will Take To Close The Gap

Now that you’ve gotten some insight into the skills you need to work on, you have to grab the bull by the horns and make a candid appraisal of where your people skills (EQ) stand today. There are various self-assessments, tools, and books that can support and guide you through the process of taking stock of your EQ skills. As the gaps emerge, you’ll learn exactly what you need to do and how much work it is going to take to get you where you need to be. Understanding what you value, how you’re wired, and how you apply what you know is vital to figuring out how to integrate your people skills and technical skills into your leadership operating system. When you have all the information you need, it’s time to turn thought into action. You can create checklists with specific behaviors based on the skills you need to acquire and invite trusted friends, mentors, colleagues, and employees into the process first by sharing the skills that you want to acquire and then by asking them for suggestions on how to go about doing it. These people will be able to further support you if you ask them to share in-the-moment feedback about how you’re doing against what you said you wanted to do, and offer actionable suggestions for improving that will make possible your taking a step closer and closing the gap.

If You Want To Fast-Track The Process, Hire An Executive Coach

Starting this process on your own isn’t out of the question. However, letting go of and replacing the behaviors that are holding you back, figuring out what works best for you, and getting exceptional results can be challenging to accomplish alone. Having someone in your corner—a strategic partner and sounding board—makes it easier and faster. Choosing to work with an executive coach gives you someone working side by side with you whose sole focus is you and what you need to do to improve your skills. Be mindful, however, that coaching isn’t a magic bullet or a short cut. It won’t absolve you of doing the difficult stuff that it takes to get better with your people skills. But it will certainly help fast-track the process as you work with someone whose expertise and guidance you can leverage so that you stop spinning your wheels and get really focused on what behaviors you need to target, learn, and stop that will have the most impact and bring about your success.

As you can see, it doesn’t require drastic measures to affect a change—all it takes are readiness, commitment, self-control, and following through on your part. Are you willing to add getting better at your people skills to your leadership development itinerary? I can assure you that making this type of investment in yourself will pay dividends well beyond the office.

 

Let’s Change The Conversation

Nov 08
2016

Let's Change the ConversationAre you still clinging to your predictable old and outdated feedback practices as a leader—those arbitrary timeframes and artificial exchanges that accompany performance reviews?

We all know there are kinks in the system. One of them is not delivering the timely and vital feedback that your people are desperately seeking. Your people want and need to know how they’re doing on the job more frequently than just at their annual review. And you struggle with the harsh reality that the status quo doesn’t cut it anymore, and you’re not all that sure how much you can really do to change it.

Instinctively you know you have to do something because lurking just below the surface are some dangers for you as a leader. You know that if you don’t take the initiative and step up to challenge the status quo, it will be quite costly in terms of your becoming a leader everyone respects as strong, trustworthy, candid, and highly competent.

Now I know exactly what you’re thinking—some days the enormity of the task and the uncertainty that goes along with providing timely feedback in an actionable way that recognizes contributions can be overwhelming. However, the downside of not doing so is much worse.

“How?” You Might Ask

Gone are the days of those stellar performers who will work just for the sake of a paycheck without seeing steady progress from one level to the next. Failing to deliver genuine feedback about a person’s performance—or not rewarding them for their contributions, results, and talents more frequently than an annual review—can cost you damage to your reputation and real impact to the bottom line.

The talented and motivated high performers will describe working for you as hopelessly boring and lackluster. Since they’ll feel as if they’re going nowhere, they’ll quietly bide their time until they can jump to a job that offers them the feedback that fuels their growth.

Trust me, recognizing and rewarding people for the work they do for you—and providing feedback in a timely and actionable way—doesn’t have to swamp your boat or leave you feeling uncertain about how you’ll actually get around to doing it.

So I’ll share my secret with you.

Being the kind of leader who gives authentic and actionable feedback is a process, and all you really need is a road map to get you where you need to be. Think of these things as your GPS for becoming the leader who separates real results from meaningless accolades, and gives genuine feedback on performance in real time.

Get Yourself So You’re Practiced At Giving Feedback

You’re the leader—so it all starts with you. You have to think and prepare long before that first feedback conversation. You need to be a model for both imparting and hearing the type of feedback that is impactful and helps other progress in their careers quickly based on their merit and ability. Increasing your own self-awareness is essential. Acquiring an appreciation for the feelings and thoughts of other people, recognizing your emotions, knowing why you feel the way you do, and recognizing the sway they have on those around you are some of the critical things you have to have on day one. Conveying your thoughts clearly, precisely, and explicitly while at the same time being sensitive to the needs of the other person, along with taking their temperature and perspective, is what will help you effectively guide the conversation to a productive outcome. Doing these things connects you with the other person and supports them as they see the feedback as the gift you intend it to be. My last tip—and probably the most important one—is to think before you speak, and by that I simply mean find your key point about every bit of why you are giving this feedback by asking yourself the following three questions:

  • Why am I sharing this? What’s my objective?
  • What is my key take on the topic? What’s my point of view?
  • Why does it matter to the person I’m trying to reach?

Field The Right Team In The First Place

Organizing and putting the right people on the field is critical to making certain that people are capable of what you’re asking them to do. Stack your teams with people who have the skills, are open to constructive feedback, and who can take a compliment with grace and dignity. This reduces the chance that you’ll have to deliver feedback to those who may react in an overly emotional or defensive way. Focus on making sure that all the people on the team have the resources they need to execute and make decisions, have a measure of autonomy and discretion, and are willing to challenge the status quo themselves. Encourage bi-directional feedback, let them know that you’ve got as much to learn from them as they do from you, and teach, as my kindergarten teacher used to say, sharing is caring.

Tackle Their Needs With As Much Focus As You Do The Bottom Line

Multitasking is a given when you’re a leader. And as much as you have to keep your eye on the bottom line, you have to tackle their needs with as much focus as you do the bottom line. Spending time with them means balancing priorities and making sure that the time you spend isn’t always about the nuts and bolts of what everyone is working on. There need to be moments when it’s just about them and what is going on in their lives—listening to them, learning from them, and sharing stories that have absolutely nothing to do with work. But what is the right mix of tasks versus personal connection time? You’ll have to see what works best in your workplace, and if you have to err on one side or the other, choose tackling the needs of the person before the business.

Prepare For Things To Go Off Track – And Know How To Get It Back On Track

In spite of our best efforts, there are times when we’ve got to deliver feedback that is going to be difficult for the other person to hear. If you’ve done the work in step one you’ll be well-prepared to do the heavy lifting required here. Timing is everything—when at all doable, schedule these feedback conversations for the end of the day so that when the conversation is done, the person doesn’t have to go back to their workspace and can leave the office to process and think outside of the gaze of their coworkers. How you start the conversation usually dictates how it ends, so affirm that you’re in this together. If you’ve established yourself as an honest broker acknowledging significant contributions as well as areas for growth, you’ll have a baseline of trust to leverage. Focus on the performance and how you’ll work together to choose strategies that will help them succeed. Diffuse emotional reactions by leaning in and listening. If the conversation gets out of hand, delay responding by calling for a break, and regroup when everyone has time to cool down before things spiral out of control.

Follow these steps, defy convention, and become the one leader everyone respects as being strong, trustworthy, candid, and highly competent. The journey is less challenging when you have a roadmap and your focus is firmly on the destination. Share with me the stories of how you broke away from your old feedback habits and what happened when you did.

Give Less Advice And Listen More

Oct 19
2016

Give Less Advice And Listen MoreIn the early 1970’s there were a series of commercials on TV that featured a “know-it-all” spokesman for a brand of wine called The Answer Grape. He had a very stately demeanor and would answer any question posed to him. Why is it that like the Answer Grape, we feel compelled to impart our advice to others, even when we’re not quite sure what to say?

Perhaps it’s because over a lifetime we’ve learned and believe that giving advice, sharing our viewpoint, and telling others exactly what they should do—even when we aren’t quite sure ourselves—demonstrates credibility, adds value, and builds trust. But does it really?

Of course sharing your ideas and giving advice can be valuable to others—I’m just suggesting that when it becomes our fallback response to every request, it can have unintended consequences for both the advice seeker and giver. When people unduly rely on you, it disempowers them and wears you down.

I’m not suggesting that you abandon sharing your ideas and giving advice completely. Instead, I’m suggesting that it not be your default position when the matter at hand doesn’t require a practical or more expedient answer. There is another alternative, and it is simple yet exceedingly powerful: to give less advice and listen more.

Listening more starts when you can:

Resist The Urge To Answer The First, Second, Or Even Third Time

Jonas Salk is quoted as saying, “What people think of as the moment of discovery is really the discovery of the question.” Instead of diving in with an answer, ask a question that will trigger a dialogue and uncover what the true question is. Then listen without an agenda to the answer and experience the power in that moment. Questions open the door for the other person to take time to actually think and sort things out for themselves. In all likelihood, answering your question is probably the first time they have heard themselves verbalize what they’ve been thinking aloud. Resist the urge to jump in after your first, second, or even third question. Keep asking questions that help both you and the other person focus on what the challenge is, what they need to resolve it, and what they can do, and when you’ve finally gotten to that point you can then ask them, “What do they need from you?” And then you listen again.

Don’t Disguise Advice As A Question

Preparation is key in asking questions that support dialogue rather than advice that masquerades as a question. Choose a few all-purpose, open-ended questions that you can pull out whenever you need them. They can be as simple as: “What’s on your mind?” or “Under the present circumstances, what might you find helpful?” And one of my favorites: “And what else?” Keep them handy at first until they become second nature to you.

Banish the following questions, which are really a wolf’s advice in sheep’s clothing: “Have you thought of…?”, “Did you consider…?”, ”And have you tried…?” Always opt for the questions that curb your desire to give advice and lead to more opportunities for the other person to go deeper and explore their thinking. Remember too that this isn’t an interrogation, so asking one question at a time is key. Complex multi-part questions qualify as more than one, so also avoid asking those.

Recap And Ask Them If This Was Helpful

When the time comes and the person has really had the chance to explore and talk about what’s on their mind, you now have a great opportunity to guide the conversation toward a natural conclusion that may or may not include sharing your viewpoint. Recapping the highlights of the conversation and asking the other person what they found most helpful to them is a good way to gauge where they are and if they still need something from you—namely advice or perspective. You can simply ask them, “What might you need from me so that you can take the next steps?” If they ask you for your thoughts, now is the time to share them, and because you’ve listened intently you can better craft your advice to meet their needs. Remember it should be in the form of future-focused advice and things that they can absolutely take action on themselves. You can close out by offering your support and willingness to be an accountability partner too.

Asking questions doesn’t make you unsure, lack confidence, or even lack expertise. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Empowering others to discover their expertise, talents, and solutions guides them towards self-reliance and builds momentum in a powerful and personal way. It creates an enduring cycle of discovery and learning that breaks through bottlenecks and motivates all involved. What are you going to do to listen more and give less advice?

 

How To Own A Compliment

Sep 27
2016

How To Own A ComplimentWe set high expectations for ourselves and strive to meet those expectations, but when someone notices and offers us a well-earned compliment, many of us in a quavering voice quickly launch into a stream of self-deprecating comments, denials, and deflections. Perhaps you can empathize, because someone simply giving you a compliment disarms and dissembles you so completely that you immediately shift the focus, talk down, or cast off the compliment entirely.

Answering a compliment with anything other than gratitude and a sincere thank you has only one lasting effect—it creates awkwardness for both the person extending the compliment and you. Failing to acknowledge the gift of that compliment can help you be seen as ungrateful, lacking confidence, and worst of all unappreciative. From your vantage point, how confident can you really feel about yourself when you second-guess, deflect, or deny what you’ve done well to the point where you can’t even concede that you were able to achieve something?

Here are four surefire ways that you can own a compliment the next time someone is gracious enough to offer one.

Let Your Body Language Speak For You

A smile and a nod go a long way in conveying that you appreciate what someone is saying to you. Before even your words express your sense of gratitude, your body language can be your best ally. Smiling and looking the other person directly in the eye not only indicates agreement, but it also goes a long way in building and reinforcing the trust and connection between you and the other person. If you’re feeling comfortable in your own skin, you’ll be less likely to walk down the road of shifting the focus, deflecting, or not accepting the compliment as it is intended and given.

Simply Say Thank You

You can simply express your gratitude by saying thank you, and then either adding a short personal anecdote about the thing the person complimented, or how you feel about what they complimented. A thank you can express so much in so few words, it’s really easy to learn to say, and it can be practiced beforehand. Saying thank you to others and watching how they respond can really help you become comfortable with saying thank you to others because you understand firsthand how powerful those words really are.

Don’t Trade Compliments

When someone gives you a compliment, your first feeling might be to offer him or her a compliment in exchange. No matter how well-intended and honest your compliment may be, in truth this is really another form of deflecting the focus from you and the compliment you were given. Trading compliments isn’t going to help you learn to accept a compliment any better. If you truly feel a compliment is merited for something they’ve done, save it for a time where they have the chance to be the focus and shine.

Be Humble Not Boastful

Sometimes we lean toward diminishing what we contributed or what we’ve done when others pay us a compliment because we’ve been taught that focusing on our accomplishments is boastful. There is a real difference in boasting and being overly focused on what you do, and being humble and accepting praise for what you rightly have earned. Knowing the difference will help you own a compliment without deflecting or attributing the good expressed to someone or something else. Not recognizing your abilities and strengths in an honest way—especially when someone else does—isn’t strength of character. It is false modesty. Being humble is about knowing what you know and what you don’t, and it doesn’t preclude being pleased that someone else notices.

The next time someone takes the time to offer you a compliment, I hope you own it with all the grace and gratitude you have. It will be the best thing you can do for yourself and the other person.

 

3 Easy Ideas To Halt Meeting Monotony

Sep 13
2016

3 Simple Ideas to Halt Meeting MonotonyIt’s 8 AM, and one glance at your calendar tells you it’s another day crammed full of an endless stream of mind-numbingly boring, antagonistic, and unproductive meetings. We’ve invested thousands of hours—which we will never get back—in contentious, monotonous, and frustrating meetings with nothing to show for it other than our being stressed, tired, and dreading the next one on the calendar.

If you’re anything like me, you’re continually on the quest for a few simple ideas to shake up and halt meeting monotony. Here are 3 simple ideas to make what seems like an impossible task possible.

1. Disruption Is Crucial

Even the most disciplined among us are inclined to approach familiar situations and people in routine ways. Disrupting well-known patterns is crucial to halting meeting monotony, along with shaking up the routine thinking that lulls everyone into a trance of just going through the motions.

There is no right or wrong way to disrupt the status quo. Simply changing the venue, length, format, players, and asking people to assume different roles (e.g. meeting manager, devil’s advocate, solicitor of other’s points of view) can create enough disruption to spark the various players to pause, reflect, think, and respond more intelligently.

Noticing when people seem to be coalescing around repetitive thinking is vital to halting the cascade toward monotony. Asking innovative questions designed to spur debate and challenge the common thinking reinvigorates the discussion and disrupts the trend toward groupthink.

2. Don’t Dictate The Approach

Disruption is vital to invigorating your meetings, and yet it isn’t all that’s required. Dictating the way in which the players interact in the meeting isn’t a great strategy for spurring enthusiasm, creativity, robust debate, and trust. How everyone will interact is fundamental to creating the space needed for transparency, fruitful dialogue / debate, and learning to happen. The approach must reflect the collective values and principles of everyone involved, along with those of the organization. Here are a few essential ones that you can build upon:

  • Common focus—the success of everyone involved.
  • Respect for each other regardless of title or position.
  • Free expression of perspectives, views, and beliefs, especially when they highlight flaws and assumptions.
  • No one sits on the sidelines—active solicitation of participation.
  • Recognition and support of the role of the ultimate decision maker.
  • Agreement to support the final decision once it is made.

These principles must extend beyond the meeting and become part of the DNA of the team or organization. Everyone needs to embody these at all times.

3. Design With The End In Mind

We are all well-versed in the trail of breadcrumbs that Hansel and Gretel use to guide them back home to safety when the moon rises. There is a lesson there for us. It is critical to the success of the meeting that we know EXACTLY where we want the journey to end.

Starting with the end in mind stems tangents and unnecessary side discussions that quickly derail and catapult us toward decisions that don’t serve our needs and that we aren’t invested in. Designing meetings with the end in mind, simply stated, means delineating and clarifying what the ultimate goal being sought is, and establishing the path that gives you the best chance of seeing it come to fruition. Agreeing in the short-term on where we are ultimately headed—even when we don’t all agree on the nitty gritty of the how this will be done—is what creates the shared enthusiasm and investment in striving for the same result. Here are two quick ideas for you to experiment with:

  • Start with the meeting invite. Include a request for people to get ready for the meeting by thinking about the ultimate outcome, and what gives the team the best chance of attaining it and get the creativity and focus going.
  • Use technology to gather the data and share the information with everyone so they come aware, informed, and prepared. A low-tech way is to collect people’s thoughts and ideas at the start of the meeting on a flip chart.

The information gathered becomes the genesis for the conversation that will build consensus, set the ultimate outcomes, create enthusiasm, and define the trajectory of the meeting.

Perhaps implementing these strategies will feel strange and uncomfortable at first—most change is. However, in the long run, changing the direction of your next meeting is critical to leveraging the differences, bonds, and insights of the brilliant minds in the room, and most of all their impression of you as the meeting leader.

What tips have you used to take a break from meeting monotony and give your meetings a well-deserved shot in the arm? I’d like to hear them so please feel free to share them below.

 

Spike Your Assertiveness EQ

Aug 02
2016

spike-your-assertivenessIQ is fixed and immovable therefore the actual key to spiking your performance is to nurture, balance, and develop your EQ skills. Infusing your life with just the right mix of EQ skills that work for you is a great way to separate yourself from the competition, and vital to living a less-stressed and happier existence.

Are you ready to spike your EQ? If so, let’s take a look at one of the most misunderstood EQ skills: Assertiveness. A bit ironic, isn’t it?

We often confuse being assertive with being aggressive—failing to realize that aggressiveness is assertiveness gone wrong.

Assertiveness isn’t aggressiveness. The failure to make that distinction leads to hurting others, discounting others’ desires, appearing unlikeable, and often not getting what you set out to attain. Aggressiveness is highly corrosive to relationships—both personally and professionally—where learning to be assertive supports connecting with others and achieving mutually satisfying outcomes for all concerned.

But what does assertiveness look like?

Assertiveness encompasses the ability to communicate clearly, confidently, and unambiguously, while at the same time being able to be responsive to and considerate of the desires of others in any given encounter.

If you’re looking to spike your assertiveness, here are some time-tested strategies to get you where you want to be:

1. Picture What Being Assertive Looks Like

In your mind’s eye, picture the line between the words “passive” and ”aggressive.” The midpoint between the two is where assertiveness thrives. Assertiveness is characterized by:

  • Letting others know what you think, feel, believe, and want in an unambiguous way.
  • A clear statement of one’s beliefs and / or feelings in conjunction with consideration given to the thoughts and feelings of others.

2. Cultivate the Assertiveness State of Mind

It doesn’t matter how smart you are, how influential you are, or how much power you have in any social interaction. The ability to assert yourself is dependent upon your cultivating an assertive state of mind. To do this you need to:

Assess and figure out the self-talk that is interfering with your ability to be more assertive.

  • Over the course of the next two weeks, notice and write down times where you behaved assertively, passively, and aggressively.
  • Keep track of the things you were saying or thinking in those moments. Note the tone of your voice and how your body was responding.
  • Debate, dispute, and identify the defeating self-talk, and brainstorm new and more positive ways in which you could respond in the future.

3. Push Yourself to Behave More Assertively

Use what you’ve learned from cultivating an assertive state of mind to and begin turning ideas into actions. Push yourself to behave more assertively by experimenting with the following strategies:

Start Small

Cherry-pick low risk situations at first, and practice being clear about what it is you want in ways that demonstrate thought for others. Involve those you know well and trust to support you and serve as practice partners. Note the difference in how the other person responds. Evaluate yourself afterwards, tweak what needs adjusting, and use successes to motivate you the next time.

Identify Times When Opinion is Masquerading As Fact

Vital to your being more assertive is being able to identify and articulate the difference between what we believe to be fact, and opinions that are masquerading as facts. Look for clear, undeniable evidence to confirm and / or deny the position you’re advocating for. Develop a keen sense for spotting when a preference, point of view, or opinion tries to masquerade as a fact. Shift your language and begin using “I” statements to let others know you’re sharing your thoughts, beliefs, or opinions.

Run Through What You Want to Say

Use the lessons learned from cultivating your assertive state of mind to practice responding more assertively to the common scenarios that seem to trigger either your behaving passively or aggressively. Write down what you want to say the next time, and then say it out loud. Do a little perspective taking, and ask a friend for direct feedback about your response.

Increase Your Exposure Over Time

Increase your exposure over time to situations and people who present increasing degrees of challenge for you. This serves to gradually build up your skill level so that it becomes second nature to you. Remember that learning to be more assertive happens over time and under pressure.

These time-tested strategies will help you hold your ground when others offer resistance and increase the probability of you attaining what you set out to achieve.

READY, SET, SPIKE!