Posts Tagged ‘business communication’

Why Your Boss is a Jerk

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

Yurlour boss is a jerk, right? It’s pretty likely you’ve told someone this or you’ve at least thought it. In an informal survey of people I’ve met in my seminars, on planes and at dinner parties over the last 20 years: out of four workers I’ve met has repeated the same refrain: “My boss is a jerk.”

Could it be true that 25% of the population is working for a jerk?

The last two times I heard someone say it, I was in my office during job interviews. Typically, after the candidate gets comfortable talking about their aspirations, their achievements and their experience, I ask a pretty predictable question.

Why are you leaving your current job?

Leaning forward in a kind of it’s-just-us-here posture, these two candidates told me about this jerk they each work for. Different interviews, people from two different companies, but apparently they work for twin jerks.

Are you working for a jerk?

The same topic came up with one of my executive coaching clients. He’s working with me on how to improve his communication skills.

He said, “I may be a jerk.” After all, he explained, I am the boss. That means my life is at the mercy of people who work for me. At some level,  I absorb every single mistake that every single person in my entire organization makes. I absorb the financial losses when orders are returned or orders aren’t taken, the stress of losing clients who are underserved, the distress of employees who are angry with one another, the fury of managers who see their subordinates waste a good part of the day gossiping or trolling the web, and the loss of talent because so much of our training and development walks out the door when a slightly better offer turns the head of someone we’ve invested in.

No wonder the guy is a jerk, albeit a good-hearted, well-meaning, hardworking fellow who provides jobs for over a hundred people. His rent alone would make you a jerk, if that’s what you woke up to every morning.

Maybe you don’t work for the CEO. Maybe you work for a junior executive, a department head or someone with “supervisor” in their title. Maybe you’re micromanaged, your best ideas are turned down, and your request for a raise has been denied.

I understand your impulse to name call, but when something happens that seems unfair to you, or even when you are put off, are you really qualified to feel jerked around?

What would change if you could relate to your boss as a person? If you felt empathy for your superior? It occurs to me that in all the trainings I have conducted, I have never been asked to train employees to act or think with empathy for their bosses.

We have to do a better job of educating employees on this, because it would improve so much of what’s wrong in the workplace. We must explain that sometimes you simply need to do what you are asked. That you must remember to follow instructions, if for no other reason than your boss will be a jerk when you don’t. We have to help you understand your boss has pressure that you might not see. That your boss typically has a larger picture of the work, than just what you’re assigned to do. And, we have to help you see, no disrespect intended, that you have perhaps less than all the knowledge, experience, goals, and responsibilities of those above you.

When you lack empathy, your boss will surely seem like a jerk.

Is your boss a jerk? Tell me why and I’ll give you some guidance on how to cope. Email: [email protected]. Subject line: Jerk.

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Listening Tests Your Self-Discipline and Leadership Potential

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

Ear_Small_2Listening is a strategic communication tactic. When you are not prepared to listen strategically, you can fail yourself and the other people in the room.

Strategic listening requires one skill first and foremost. You need self-discipline. You must give your complete attention to the speaker. Avoid doing anything that gives the impression that you are simply waiting to reply. And, when you do respond, make every syllable count. Bad news or good news, your response reveals how much self-management, and thus how much leadership potential you possess.

Here are the last three of the 6 listening strategies, which I started in my prior post.

De-escalation Listening
Strategic listening is key when you’re stuck with a temperamental person who is light on impulse control. Maybe you actually did something that irritated them, and then again, maybe someone in their household ate the last bowl of Cheerios. It doesn’t matter. The temperamental person is not about solving anything. In short, they just want an audience for their temper tantrum. Against all the advice you will get from listening gurus: do NOT use words to reflect back what you heard. I recommend you maintain solid eye contact, and only use sounds in response. Start with vowel sounds: ahhh, ohhh, and ooo. And when they run out of gas, switch to consonants: hmmm. Finish them off with a firm nod of your head. You will find when you withhold words; these dirigibles deflate and waft away.

Misery-Interrupt Listening
A surprising number of people are not emotionally centered at various parts of the day, or in response to a variety of situations. We all have old “tapes” in our head that frequently play the kind of angry self-talk gangstas use in a war of words against their enemies. Assess whether you are listening to a fair, objective assessment of a situation, or if it’s the speaker’s own descant relaying depression, low self-esteem, or fear. If someone is mired in personal misery rather than reality, there’s only one response: compassion. If there’s a desk between you, come around the other side. Politely acknowledge their pain. For example, say, “Sounds like a lot is going on.” Then, normalize, so they keep their dignity. For example, say, “Almost everyone has this kind of thing happen from time to time.” Follow that with some hope, so they keep their sanity. For example, say, “I know you can figure this out.”

Joyful Noise Listening
Every so often someone scores a win, and wants to retell the story. I hope you are in this situation really often, both as a speaker and a listener. As the receiver of a triumphant tale, do not relate back your own successes – even if you’ve done the same thing and your experience is totally relevant, identical or even bigger and better (for goodness sake, don’t talk about that). Instead, be a great audience. Listen to the joyful noise coming at you, and smile. Listen carefully, and echo back the key points framed as questions. For example, “You didn’t get a call back until one minute before the end of the day, on the last day the deal could be done?” or “And then you slam dunked the deal, in that last minute?” Clap your hands, and if the flu isn’t going around: give a fist pump. If the flu is going around, holler: “Air five!” and pretend you’re slapping palms.

Would you like to have all six listening strategies to use for your business or career goals? Email me at [email protected]. Subject line: Listening

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Effective Listening Strategies for Career Success

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

Ear_SmallYou need a listening strategy, because listening is dangerous. No one tells you that.  When you get into an interaction, and fail to have a listening strategy, being receptive turns you into a receptacle. You’re just the recipient of other people’s concerns, personality quirks, beliefs, and goals. That means in the meeting, you get demoted to “just listening,” which is a role anyone and their dog can play.

Many successful job candidates, business people and managers have adapted an intentional listening approach, using six specific listening strategies. I profile three of those listening strategies below.

I always warn my coaching clients about “over-listening.” That’s when you listen endlessly in interviews, meetings, presentations, conversations, and pitches. Other people command all the attention and you lose any importance or significance.

The one immutable rule in business communication is to have an outcome in mind BEFORE you engage in any interaction. That is the start of employing a listening strategy.

By outcome, I mean: get a firm idea of what you want to happen by the end of the interaction. Know exactly what you want the other people to say to you or each other, before the interaction comes to a close. I coach clients to write down the exact words they want other people to speak, or an action they want to see by the end of the interaction.

These first three listening strategies help you guide an interaction toward your desired outcome. Whether you’re in a job interview, a pitch meeting to investors, conflict resolution with another employee, your annual performance review or a presentation you are giving – or attending: have an outcome in mind and a listening strategy.

Here are three strategies.

Opportunity-Response Listening
You ears are antenna for something specific you can turn to your advantage. You might ask a “magic wand” question, to prompt them to tell you what they really want. Then you listen for an opportunity that could match your goals and outcome.  For example, you listen to a hiring manager go on for a while about the department and the job. Then, you say: “If you had a magic wand and you could have the ideal person come to work for you: what would that person be like?” If they say, “hard working and loyal,” then you know what facts and stories you are going to bring into the conversation.

Reflective-Mindreading Listening
You swap words around, so you re-tell your audience what they just told you, plus take a small guess at what they really need. Listen intently, so you have the exact words they use. For example, your manager says: “The last time the client was here, he complained that customer service doesn’t get bids back to him in time.” You reply, “Customer service isn’t good about timely communication on bids, so this customer came in to vent. It would be good to know the current status of the bids he’s asked for now.” Because you listened, understood and took the issue one baby step forward: you are a genius!

Collaborative-Permission Listening
You ask permission to participate and at the same time showcase your value. For example, you listen carefully to a client going on about an opportunity in a new industry. You ignore any prattle, but listen intently to estimate the size of the opportunity, how frequently it occurs, and the consequences of missing out on it. Then, you reply, “Is this very large, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in the new industry something that you would like to brainstorm about? Would it be appropriate for me to share my insight, because that might help you prepare to win it?

Listening can be the biggest compliment and relationship-building tool you have. On the other hand, listening can feel like drowning in an onslaught of words. Your strategy makes all the difference.

Would you like to have all six listening strategies to use for your business or career goals? Email me at [email protected]. Subject line: Listening

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Why Have You Changed Jobs So Frequently?

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

iStock_000005359781XSmall1This is another awful question brought to you by the same folks who invented: “What is your greatest weakness?” There’s a litany of these tough questions, so be prepared.

You might be surprised that no matter what is on your resume, a recruiter can put you on the spot. Remember, perception is reality. One recruiter might be uneasy with a few six-month stints on your work history, while another looks askance at a few two-year terms.

Don’t get defensive. When the interview gets to why you’ve job hopped, the question is NOT ABOUT YOU. It’s about them and the consequences to them if they hire you and you don’t stick. Recruiters and hiring managers have batting averages to protect. They don’t want to on-board you and have you quit, before enough time elapses so they get credit for making a great hire. Their job is like a sports scout who works for a professional athletic team. Scouts and recruiters don’t make money because they can play the game. They make money because they know how to pick talent that can play the game.

Your past history is one of the few inviolable clues to your future performance. However, recruiters know that your work history is like reviewing last year’s earnings from an investment. Past performance is not a perfect indicator of what might happen under different conditions. Listen to the ads for Fidelity, Charles Schwab, or any financial advisory firm, mutual fund or commodity. The disclaimer about risk tells their whole story.

That’s why you’re in the interview: to tell YOUR whole story. So, be prepared with a good account of what was going on at the time, and be honest. Tip: Write out what you’re going to say and practice it beforehand, so it’s coherent.

Sometimes, it’s painful to let a stranger into a private part of your life that influenced your ability to stay at a job. You’ve got to trust that a compassionate person is listening; someone who wants to help you get this job. Frame that relationship in your mind, so you can talk to the recruiter without being overly self-conscious.

For example, Ronan is one of my career coaching clients who had several jobs over five years. Some of them were part-time, a few were full time, and none lasted longer than eight months. On top of that, he had not finished college. However, he had kept up a personal blog and podcast on fashion for over two years, which showed real commitment because his audience probably didn’t amount to more than ten people. On the strength of that demonstrated interest in fashion, he reached out to a fashion magazine with a web content producer job open. We knew in the interview, he’d be called out for job-hopping.

Clearly, a recruiter would see him as a flight risk, maybe not worth the investment of on-boarding and missing out on another candidate who had a better work history. The truth of Ronan’s situation involved his increasingly ill grandmother. As an only child and only grandchild, he shared the care-giving role with his mother. He was traveling home on the weekends to spell his mom and get time with Nana.  The care-giving and traveling were emotionally and physically exhausting.  Six months before the interview, Nana passed away.

What she had in common with Ronan, beyond their deep personal bond, was her history as a fashion designer for a women’s sportswear company, back in the day. Ronan not only loved fashion, now he felt he was carrying on Nana’s legacy. As he and his mom were going through her things, Ronan only wanted her drawings, photos and the ads featuring her apparel. In his blog, he had done a good job of featuring some of them in a retrospective way. He even had some audio of an interview he did with her before she got really ill.

Your story might not be so heart wrenching. Maybe you were working just to store up enough cash to travel, and you left to explore the world every time you could buy a plane ticket. Maybe you were trying to find your purpose, your industry, or your heart’s desire. Maybe you weren’t sure where you wanted to live. The point is: tell the story that’s behind why you kept moving. Share the reason that you are no longer peripatetic.

Ronan just landed the job of his dreams. He’s being paid three times what he made last year, plus he got a relocation bonus, laptop, and expense account. What success story will you be able to tell, despite your past history?

For a worksheet on how to tell your job-hopping story, email me at [email protected]. Subject line: job hop.

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Did You Get What You Wanted?

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

girl-with-presentsSuccessful personal brands spend much time exploring their psyches and behaviors to arrive at a position that will be enduring, profitable, and satisfying. After all, your brand must be authentic, easy to communicate, and welcome in the tribes you select to lead or at least be among. A personal brand must embrace who you are now, the origins of your life you want to bring forward in your career, and give you stretch goals so you have a destination to keep you moving forward.

Your qualities and values matter

It is not so easy to identify qualities that will last a lifetime.  But it’s worth the time to agonize over; because it’s your qualities and values that matter wherever you go. We career coaches now talk about your having 5 to 15 careers, which is sometimes comforting – let’s say you hate your current job – or daunting – perhaps you fear your knowledge, approach or skill set will become outdated.

I counsel my coaching clients to think of themselves as fractions, not integers. You are not just a consultant or employee. You may be both, or even more fractions of your whole working day or life. You may be writer, blogger, web series star, media pundit, seminar leader, industry opinion maker, and oh the list goes on. Just like you would diversify an investment portfolio, you must diversify the ways you make your fortune.

Your brain may now be screaming: I can’t do all that at once. I’m not a dollar that can be broken into several coins; I’m a person with only so much time. Stop hurling birds using a catapult at a nest of explosives, or whatever games you play on your so-called smart phone. Convince your brain you want to get ahead, not kill time or birds.

On the journey of your life, the one thing for sure you will take with you is: you. You will lose jobs, outlive pets, and undoubtedly some of your loved ones, survive friends becoming enemies, and you may even go to war against the one you love now. In life and work, loss is going to come your way, on the way to your making gains. It’s who you are that matters through it all, because that’s the basis of who you can become. And that outcome should be good for you, in every way.

Consider what qualities will sustain you. What are you going to look back and say, it’s because I was (fill in the blank) that I was able to (fill in the blank). Actually, I was able to do (fill in 15 blanks).

Sure with personal brands, you need to get attention, ignite emotional connections and remain indelible in the minds of your tribe in order to leverage your brand for life. The brand you sell to others shouldn’t be one you have to sell to yourself. It should be yourself. Then, just add a hefty dose of resourcefulness and resilience, a nose for opportunity and a desire to work hard, and smart.

Getting what you want isn’t just reserved for Christmas. Although, I do hope Santa, or the bearer of gifts in your culture, was good to you this year.

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Narcissism: The New Normal

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010 provides an email plug-in that flags sentences with words or phrases that may convey unintended emotion or tone, then helps you re-write them. I was kidding about that when weeks ago I introduced you to It’s an opt-in service that requires users of Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube or Tumblr, to go through a series of online co-ordination tests before allowing access those services.

True email screening

Well, now email screening of your screaming is no joke. ToneCheck is here and employers are happy to see it. Not only does it stop hate, anger, sarcasm, rudeness and other negative comments from making their way from your screen onto servers elsewhere – it also embargoes the overly happy, ebullient messages you might send. After all, who wants you to document your appreciation for a vendor that pulled out the stops and produced a miracle for your company, if 90 days later you’re trying to find a way not to pay the bill?

Of course, the world won’t be completely whitewashed. For now you can still get a giggle when you pull up, which allows you to read or report some of the dumb smart phone SMS messages you or someone else has thumbed.

Watch your mouth

Funny as these digital bloopers are to read, what you are saying and sending is no joke. Twice this week, I had to send messages to people I work with, telling them to delete among other things: the f-word and a comment that was meant to express disappointment about the Dream Act, with the unfortunate choice of words: “bomb them.” As we know from the Tribune Company’s innovation officer – who sent around pornography as part of a “frat house” mentality, poor judgment is an equal opportunity parasite on the careers of us all. That’s also something I called to your attention a few weeks back. It may explain why the Tribune is in bankruptcy, too much free time for the top executives.

If I’m calling these folks out on it, you can only imagine how many people are quietly disgusted with the ugly verbiage and the people throwing it around. But, it’s going to get worse. We’ve entered the new normal of narcissism, where the world and media is all about you and largely from you. After all, you tag yourself on your pictures, you make comments on them, and you go up on Facebook largely to see what’s been said about you or to you.

Enough about me – what do you think about me?

Narcissism has just been removed from the official list of personality disorders that therapists can treat (and insurers reimburse). Apparently, we’ve outgrown our concern about narcissism, which is on the spectrum to sociopathy. It’s no longer an aberration, because so many of us have it as a “quality.” This now pervasive quality previously was a serious psychiatric condition that we know is destructive to relationships with family, work, community, and society. Now, it’s okay! Who needs empathy anyway? It just gets in the way of increasing the value of shares.

We are in for a firehose of hedonism that inevitably will destroy what could have been called polite society. But, as long as we are hanging on to that fallacy, we can stick ToneCheck on your email, to give you a second chance to rephrase that angry missive – or overly affectionate one – that you are creating on company time.

Casual dress, professional behavior

I blame the demise of civilization not on the Internet, but on casual Fridays. A zillion years ago, I remember arriving at the office of my attorney on the first casual Friday I encountered. There was a sign on the reception desk: “Our dress is casual but our behavior is professional.” I silently added: “And, your fees are astronomical.” Then my attorney appeared with his middle-aged gut, wearing a polo shirt and jeans. He still charged me $550 an hour, with no discount for not showing up in a pressed dress shirt, silk tie, tailored pants and suit jacket. It was a long case and I suspect he saved enough on clothes and dry cleaning to retire early.

Personal brands: do you really want to be doing what seemingly everyone else is doing? Do you want to be identified with swear words, casually throw around hate language, tell us how “sick” your new bike is, and where you went with your “ho?” Do you want your so-called friends to be posting trash on your threads so your employer, prospective employer or client can see it? And, no your privacy settings don’t protect you.

Consider where you can or can’t go with the language you speak. And, I don’t mean it’s time to learn something new like Mandarin, Arabic, Spanish, or French. Let your first language be your best language.

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Where Have All the Elves Gone?

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

AA004822I had plenty of “they should get coal in their Christmas stockings,” thoughts when it comes to customer no-service at Macys, Bloomingdales, Mercedes Benz, and the City of Beverly Hills with its pothole on Sunset, as I was attempting to finish my holiday shopping on Sunday. I started out with a reasonable budget of money, time and patience. I was worn down and pretty shocked by day’s end.

Similar stories

You are probably having similar experiences, whether you are shopping or just running errands around this time of year.

What strikes me the hardest is the contrast between the “haves ” versus the “not haves.” Not when it comes to the attitude of billionaires versus the rest of us. The hardest attitude to stomach is from people who have work, especially holiday employment. In large measure, the people who have jobs don’t seem to be happy about working.  How can this be, when there are so many people who are out of work right now?

Haves and have-nots

I am an ardent advocate for working people at all levels, in part because I am the daughter of a milkman and a homemaker. I worked three jobs to put myself through UCLA from the age of sixteen. Believe me, I understand the service sector job stress. I worked in admitting on overnights at the UCLA emergency room, sold class notes during the day, and had a stint as an activity coordinator for the local board and care home for mentally ill patients – while I was earning my degree. Sleep was optional.
I have always worked for a living, and been glad for the work even when it was hard and my feet and smile were tired. I am disappointed in myself because now I am finally in agreement with nearly everyone else on how horribly consumers are treated.

Succinctly put, as my fiancé said after listening to my Sunday ordeal: “Service is just terrible these days. No one is nice and it’s nearly impossible to get someone to help you if you’re looking for something at a store.” What feels shameful about our attitude is that we both come from backgrounds where there weren’t money trees in the backyard. We are not “Good help is hard to find people.” We are “Get this economy going so everyone can take care of their family and build their careers” people.

How are you doing on either side of the buying and selling or service relationship? Are you snarling at anyone at work? Are you diffident about whether someone buys something from your company? Do you resent answering some version of the question: “Could you look to see if you have any more in the back?”

Every moment counts

You may not be under the best working conditions right now. You may wish you were home by the fire or skiing in the Alps. You might be like me where taking off Christmas Day and New Years Day will suffice as my winter vacation this year – so every free minute counts.
I know we are not elves, born to be happy toiling all day and night. I do know if we are in business, either for ourselves or someone else – we are lucky to have work.  And, that attitude should show up when you do.

Consider that every time a sales person is rude to a customer, we all lose one more chance to build companies that will survive, much less thrive. Consider what you do on the job may be sucking the life out of your company, your customers and this economy.
Even if you are far from Santa’s workshop in the North Pole: try to make magic in this economy – just by pleasantly doing your job. Smiling shouldn’t be reserved for payday.

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No kidding: There’s Danger in Anger

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

TeenAngerCynicism, hostility, and anger are going to kill you. Actually, if they don’t kill you, they will definitely kill your career. Or, if you don’t have a career, these three demons may be what’s killing your chance of getting a job offer.

Demons that kill your chance

Author Redford Williams’ book, Anger Kills, documents how heart disease, blood pressure, and assorted health risks correlate with what I think can be distilled down to one word: hate. Now you probably don’t think of yourself as a hater. You think you are simply impatient. You think you are just smarter, faster and better at doing whatever it is you that irks you about waiting in a line or not being picked to lead that new project. Maybe you don’t think a word comes out of your boss’s mouth that isn’t stupid. After all, we all know that the higher up the ladder, the less in touch with what’s happening on the ground – and you may be the guy on the ground.

It’s an odd time of year to be talking about hate, anger, cynicism, and hostility. Isn’t it the Grinch who stole Christmas – and you like Christmas! The time off, the drinks, the office party (which is making a small sized comeback this year)…oh and the end of the year review where you’re told your bonus this year is you have a job next year. Some bonus.

If there ever were a good time to talk about your darker side, this is surprisingly a great time for two reasons.

Holiday’s darkside

One, everyone else believes that no one is hiring, promoting, or even working during the last two weeks of the year. So, that means if you are looking for work or looking to trade up the ladder or looking for a freelance gig, you have the least competition that you will see until next year around the holidays. Yes, pretty much everyone else has kicked it. But, if you are making calls on December 24, guess who will be in the office? The boss, certainly if he or she is a business owner. That’s when we get our work done along with New Years Eve day, weekends, and all the official holidays. The assistants and receptionists are home under the mistletoe or at Best Buy. So, calls come directly into our offices.

Two, you are about to make some sort of New Year’s resolutions. Oh, you might not make them official. But your brain feels one door closing and is looking to see what other doors you might open. So, it’s a good time to give you brain a really serious talking-to.

I had a coaching client in the office last Friday. Joanna had great experience in marketing and advertising. She had gone back to school to get a degree in interior design. She is now credentialed, capable, and experienced to create environments for brands, so consumers and prospects can experience the brand personality. This plays to hotels, museums, pop-up stores – the list is nearly endless.

What’s stopping her? Why is she only getting to the third and fourth stage of every job opening set up by her recruiter? I didn’t know, because she is so perfect in almost every way. So, then I had her talk about her past job experiences to me. Although she is a lovely person, she goes through her resume with a witty but catty, cynical or sarcastic comment on each job or boss. Each one accompanies the reasons why the company is great but there’s always this whiplash – always funny – but always angry.

Did she know that? No. Not at all. I might as well have told her she had a turnip on her nose. She had no idea. She didn’t even feel angry – it was just her “sense of humor.”

Discover what’s killing you

Her homework now is to write all of that down. Then, tear it up and throw it away. Her next assignment is to write down pages and pages of why she loved each job, what she learned and why she admires the people she worked with and for.

If you can’t afford any other gift for yourself this holiday, give yourself the gift of time. Write away the thoughts that are killing you. Then, celebrate all that you’ve had and all you will.

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