Monthly Archives: August 2012

Turning Your Failures into Learning Opportunities

I’m going to let you in on a little secret here…  I, AJ Kumar – the fearless leader you’ve all come to know and trust – have failed in business.  In fact, I’ve failed so often that I sometimes cringe when I think about some of the opportunities I had and blew (if you want to hear some of the dirty details, check out my recent Mixergy interview).

But as frustrating as those challenges were, I also know that I wouldn’t have been able to get where I am today if I hadn’t failed along the way.  In many ways, the failures I’ve had have been just as important as my successes – even if they were a lot less fun to deal with.

The secret to coping with your failures isn’t to avoid them at all costs (especially since this is pretty much impossible!).  Instead, what you need to do is to learn how to turn these letdowns into lessons.  That way, you haven’t really failed at all – you’ve actually succeeded at learning something new.

With that in mind, here’s the four-step process I use to turn my failures into learning opportunities:

Step #1 – Give yourself a grieving period

Failing sucks.  It’s miserable to know that your once-brilliant sounding idea isn’t going to turn into the tremendous success you envisioned – especially if you had tons of time or money invested in your plan.

But instead of trying to sweep this disappointment under the rug in order to move forward as quickly as possible, give yourself some time to come to terms with your failure.  Take a few days to eat ice cream by the pint, watch trashy movies, get drunk, cry or do whatever else you need to do to accept that your failure happened.

Just be sure to put a time limit on things.  Wallowing for a small amount of time can be a helpful coping mechanism, but wallowing forever only traps you within the failure.  As soon as you can start thinking about your mistakes without becoming overly emotional, put your sadness aside and move forward with the next steps in the process.

Step #2 – Identify failure points

Now that you’re able to look at your failure in a more rational way, try to identify exactly what went wrong.  For example:

  • Did you miss critical market information that would have indicated your product or service wasn’t a good fit for your target customers?
  • Was your offering priced too high for your market?
  • Were you unable to differentiate yourself effectively from your competitors?

Don’t pussy-foot around the fact that you might have been the problem as well.  If you didn’t have the education or skill set needed to make your idea successful, don’t beat yourself up about it.  Recognize the role that you played in the failure instead of placing blame inappropriately on external factors.

Step #3 – See what’s worth salvaging

After identifying the failure points that led to your idea’s downfall, go back through the process with a fresh set of eyes to see if there’s anything worth salvaging from your mistakes.  You might be surprised at some of the unexpected opportunities that this will turn up.

As an example, if your product wasn’t a good fit for your target market, are there economical ways that you could retool it in order to compensate for its perceived flaws?  Are there any additional features or services you could have added to offer a clearer value proposition to prospective customers?

Or, if it turns out that your own shortcomings led to your business failure, can you remedy these things?  If, for example, you pursued the necessary education or brought on a partner who could compensate for your weaknesses, might you have a more viable business plan?

Unfortunately, some failures won’t have anything that’s worth salvaging.  That’s okay too.  However, you must go through this process in order to eliminate all doubt – otherwise, you’ll always regret what “could have been” if you’d simply persevered with an idea that failed initially.

Step #4 – Let it go and move forward

Once you’ve completed this process, you should have a good idea of why your project failed, what specific factors contributed to its collapse and whether or not it’s worth pursuing future action.  This process gives you a clear jumping off point to either improve your idea or start a new project – so take it!

The people who truly fail are the ones who fail to let go of their failures.  I’m not saying it’s easy, but really, the last thing you want to be is that old guy at the gym who claims he “could have been someone” if he’d just followed through on his vision.  Wrap up failures in a way that works for you, but then take what you’ve learned and move forward.  Eventually, you’ll find success.

Can You Change Your Mood?

Ever heard somebody utter the phrase, “Somebody must have woken up on the wrong side of the bed!” in your general direction?  Not only is it hugely irritating to be reminded that you aren’t feeling bright and cheery – the statement itself seems to imply that your mood is set and that nothing can change it.

I disagree.  Personally, I think that our minds are a reflection of the thoughts we choose to dwell on – which makes it entirely possible to change a bad mood to a good one if you find yourself battling a sometimes-grouchy demeanor.

The following are a few of the different techniques I’ve either used or heard about that can be used to reset your mood to a happier state:

  • Aim for gratitude

Often times, I find that my bad moods stem from feeling deficient in some area.  Maybe I wish that my business was further ahead, that I was wealthier or that I was in better shape.  Even if these thoughts are unfounded, they can really get me down!

In these cases, taking the time to be grateful for the things I am fortunate to have puts me in a better mood every time.  To really put things in perspective, I’ll try to take some action that solidifies this gratitude – whether that’s making a list of things I’m thankful for, writing a thank you note to someone who’s helped me or some other task that helps me feel better about where I’m at now.

  • Put on your favorite song

We all have songs that make us feel happier overall (plus songs that get us down – avoid these at all costs!).  Blasting these “feel good” tunes can make a big difference in lightening your mood.

  • Get some “touch time”

Believe me – I’m not trying to be dirty here.  In fact, studies have demonstrated that engaging in touch – whether that’s getting a massage, petting a dog or simply holding hands with your spouse – helps to lower blood pressure, improve the stress response and improve your overall mood.

  • Do something you love

If your bad mood is preventing you from getting your work done, take a break and do something you love.  If you love playing video games, take a 15-minute break away from whatever’s stressing you out to shoot some zombies.  If you play a musical instrument, a 10-minute jam session might be all you need to help you turn your mood around and get back to business.

  • Do something healthy

It’s no secret that exercise raises endorphin levels, which improve your mood and make you feel better overall.  Really, I’ve found that very few things turn my bad days into good days than a hard gym workout.  If you’re feeling down or angry, a long run, a kickboxing class or a weight lifting session might be all you need to start feeling better.

  • Try a new food

Sometimes changing things up with one sensory system – in this case, experimenting with new tastes – is enough to promote adjustments in other bodily systems.  And really, if you go out of your way to make sure the new food is one that you’ll enjoy, why wouldn’t you be in an instantly better mood?!

  • Sniff a lemon

Okay, I can’t personally say that I’ve tried this one, but I’ve seen it recommended in a few different places.  Basically, the idea is that the fresh, citrus scent promotes a positive mood – but I’ll leave it up to you if you want to try this one…

  • Stare at something blue

The idea that different colors promote different emotional responses is pretty well-established and, in this case, blue is important because it’s the color of relaxation.  Really, this is why therapists often recommend that patients stare at the sky in the hopes that its blue color will provide a calming effect.

To achieve these benefits for yourself, try putting on a blue shirt, sitting in a blue room or tucking yourself under a blue blanket.  Not only will you be warm and cozy, you’ll find yourself in a better mood as well!

  • Volunteer

This one goes along with the ‘expressing gratitude’ idea listed above, but really, if you want to put it into perspective exactly how lucky you are, spend some time volunteering.  The process of helping other people in the world to benefit their situations can be a huge mood booster, while also providing valuable services to the less fortunate in your area.

  • Put a smile on your face

Finally, if you’re feeling down, try plastering a smile on your face – no matter how awful you feel!  You’ll think that you look silly at first, but eventually, you’ll find that your mood begins to turn around and your interactions with others around you improve.

What do you do when you’re feeling down?  Share your best mood changing techniques in the comments section below!

How to Answer Difficult Interview Questions

Under even the best of circumstances, interviewing for a new job is one of the most nerve-wracking experiences ever.  If you’ve been out of work for any amount of time or are anxious to escape a bad employment situation, these competitive processes can cause even more anxiety.

For this reason, it’s important to prepare for the toughest interview questions you’ll encounter.  While being prepared won’t help to soothe your nerves entirely, it will make it easier to make a good impression and respond to your interviewer in a calm, professional way.

Here’s how to handle some of the most common difficult interview questions as effectively as possible:

Question #1 – What are your biggest strengths?

This common question, asking you to describe the specific skills you would bring to the organization, is likely one of the first queries you’ll encounter in any job interview.  But although it might sound straightforward, it’s actually more difficult to answer well than you might imagine!

There are two things to keep in mind here:

  1. Keep your answer experience-oriented.  Most human resources professionals believe that past performance is the best indicator of future success, so don’t just say that you have a certain skill – give examples that prove it.
  2. Relate your answers to the organization’s needs.  Having a stock set of strength-based responses won’t do you much good if they don’t match up with what the company is looking for.  Do the necessary research before your interview to find out what challenges the company is facing and then tailor your strengths to suit these needs.

Question #2 – What are your biggest weaknesses?

Once you’ve successfully answered the “biggest strengths” question, you’ll likely be hit with its corollary – describing your biggest weaknesses.

Now, let me be clear…  The absolute worst thing you can do here is to pseudo-brag about how you “just work too darn hard” or are “just too detail oriented.”  That’s a load of bullshit – you know it, and most HR professionals know it as well.

A far better approach is to focus on skills you haven’t yet had a chance to develop.  For example, if you know that the position you’re interviewing for will include presentations or public speaking roles, you could say something like, “I haven’t had as much opportunity as I would have liked to develop my public speaking goals, but I’m excited about the chance to push myself to learn these new skills at your company.”

Question #3 – Why did you leave your last job?

Handling this common interview question can be tricky, considering that many of us have left jobs due to incompetent bosses, inept coworkers and a host of other reasons unrelated to our performance.

But bring these complaints up in your interview (whether or not they’re valid), and you’ll be immediately branded a whiner.  Instead of focusing in on your credentials and merits, your interviewer is now wondering whether or not you’ll make the same complaints about his organization after you leave!

To answer this question appropriately, put the onus of your decision to leave your most recent job entirely on yourself.  Even if it isn’t entirely accurate, it’s a far better approach to claim that your decision to leave was due to your desire to “expand your knowledge base” or “develop new skill sets” than to put the blame on your previous employer.

Question #4 – What are your salary expectations?

Be warned – discussing salary expectations during the interview process benefits your interviewer, not you!

As a general rule, the best time to negotiate salary is once a job offer has been made, demonstrating that the company wants to have you on the team.  This gives you significantly more leverage to negotiate higher rates than if you throw out a random number to an HR lackey who’s only trying to filter out candidates based on their salary expectations.

Since your best bet here is to stall, consider any of the following lines to delay discussing salary until you’re in a better position:

  • “I’m flexible in terms of salary, but would rather discuss it later on in terms of total compensation.”
  • “I’m open to discussing salary in the future, but would like to learn more about what the job entails before determining what the appropriate compensation would be.”
  • “Do you have a salary range in mind for this position?  If so, is that range flexible based on employee experience?”

Question #5 – How many ping pong balls can you fit into a 747 airplane?

Finally, keep your ears open for oddball questions like this one, which was made famous by Google’s HR team in the 1990s.

The purpose of questions like these isn’t to determine what specific factoids you’ve memorized – it’s to see how you think on your feet.  If you’re hit with one during your interview, take a second to think and then talk your interviewer through the process you’d use to come up with an answer.  Even if you can’t provide a final value, you’ll demonstrate your ability to think clearly and flexibly while challenged – a major asset to any organization.

Of course, as the job market becomes even more competitive, interview questions will naturally become more challenging.  If you’ve got a great story of a tough interview question you faced and how you handled it (whether good or bad), share it in the comments section below!

The Anatomy of a Persuasive Offer

If you’re a professional salesperson, it’s in your best interests to become more persuasive.  The better able you are to convince people to take action based on your offerings, the more successful you’ll be financially.

However, developing the ability to craft and deliver a persuasive offer shouldn’t just be a priority for salespeople.  All of us will have to negotiate with others at some point in our lives – whether that occurs as part of a salary adjustment request, a car purchase decision or even smaller scale exchange in which both parties have the potential to benefit.

To learn how to handle these negotiations appropriately, it’s important that you learn how to develop a compelling offer that will persuade your contacts to close the deal with you.  Here’s how to do it:

A persuasive offer focuses on benefits

Features refer to a product or service’s characteristics, while benefits encompasses how these features will improve the user’s life.  As an example, if you were in the market for a new TV, a feature might be one model’s higher resolution, while the benefit of this feature is a clearer, more enjoyable viewing experience.

In general, when crafting your persuasive offer, be aware that people tend to respond more strongly to benefits than features.  Whenever possible, frame the effects of your proposal not in terms of “what” you’re offering, but by how your offering will improve your negotiating partner’s life in some measurable way.

A persuasive offer is delivered confidently

Of course, knowing the benefits that your offer provides isn’t enough.  If you want your negotiating partner to respond well to your stated benefits, you’ve got to deliver them in a way that he or she can get behind!

For this reason, it’s important to practice delivering your offers confidently before deploying them in the real world.  Try to put some excitement and a sense of reassurance into your voice, and make sure that your hands or body language aren’t betraying you with nervous ticks.  Controlling your physical and vocal nervousness will help to make your offer seem much more persuasive overall.

A persuasive offer is limited

When crafting your offer, keep the concept of “limited time only” in mind.  The most persuasive offers are those that come with some limitations – whether those limitations exist in terms of quantity or time available.  After all, do you really think people would sign up for time shares or “exclusive” membership programs if they weren’t so afraid of missing out on a good deal?!

If your negotiating situation doesn’t inherently include some type of limitation, find a way to introduce this concept.  As an example, if you’re negotiating for a new car purchase, make it clear to the salesperson that you intend to make a firm decision within a day or two.  Creating this narrow window provides an additional incentive for the salesperson to work with you, lest he lose out on your business entirely.

A persuasive offer avoids extra choices

Next up, when creating a persuasive offer, be aware that offering too many choices can confuse negotiating partners – making it less likely that you’ll reach a satisfactory conclusion.

It can be tempting to think that, by padding your offer with multiple options, you’ll be more likely to close one deal – even if it’s not based around the particular option you want most.  If you’re negotiating a job offer with a new company, for instance, you might decide to request a higher salary, or more vacation hours, or a larger sign-on bonus.

However, by failing to focus on a single priority, your offer becomes disjointed – and, therefore, less persuasive.  To combat the indecision that may occur within your negotiating partners, select a single priority and make it the basis of your entire offer instead.

A persuasive offer highlights your prospect’s pain points

Finally, when developing your offer, think about your prospect’s “pain points” – the specific things he’d like to avoid.  As humans, we tend to be more motivated by avoiding pain than by seeking rewards, so it’s a good idea to spend the time necessary to understand what exactly your negotiating partner stands to lose by not following through with your offer.

As an example, if you’re negotiating to buy a house that’s been on the market for a while, keep in mind that the seller is likely sick to death of preparing for frequent showings that never end on a positive note.  By offering a quick escrow period and a fast close, you may be able to get the seller to accept a lower offer in exchange for the resolution he’s been seeking for so long.

Obviously, the process of crafting and delivering a persuasive offer takes time to master.  However, by practicing frequently and incorporating the above elements into your proposals, you’ll soon be on your way to better resolutions for all your future negotiations.


3 Nervous Habits That Betray Your Self-Confidence

There’s no arguing with the fact that we’d all like to be taken more seriously and perceived as being more self-confident.  In life, it’s the self-confident people that get the raises, the promotions, and the best looking singles at the party.

But no matter how much of an effort you put into your clothing choices, your posture and your body language, it’s possible that there are still nervous habits that are betraying your self-consciousness to others.

Do you have any of the following habits?  If so, follow the steps below to break them once and for all!

Habit #1 – Biting your nails

Biting your nails is widely regarded as one of the most common nervous habits.  In fact, it’s so prevalent that New York psychologist Penny Donnenfeld estimates that as many as, “[A] third of young children, 44 percent of teenagers and 19 percent to 29 percent of adult,” all bite their nails.

And while Donnenfeld posits that nail biting exists as an extension of thumb-sucking – a mouth-oriented self-soothing behavior that’s common with babies and young children – the bottom line is that it doesn’t look good.  Adults with the ragged nails of a nail biter are less likely to be taken seriously, and may even be seen as less competent by their peers and bosses.

To get rid of this nervous habit, consider painting your nails regularly (men can use a clear, matte-finish polish).  Doing so will make your nails taste bad, in addition to making the signs of nail biting more obvious – which may subtly pressure you into avoiding this habit.  Also, consider setting up a series of rewards you’ll receive, based on how long you’re able to go without biting your nails.

Habit #2 – Fidgeting with your hands

Another common habit that makes people appear less self-confident than they really are is fidgeting with the hands and fingers.  According to a Survey Central poll, fidgeting was listed as the third most common nervous habit – affecting more people than lip chewing, knuckle cracking and teeth grinding!

Although many practitioners of this habit can’t describe exactly why they do it (meaning that they don’t associate the behavior with observable instances of stress, pressure or other negative emotion), observers may still believe that those who fidget with their hands are uncomfortable or anxious.  Because both of these observations can lead to fidgeters being perceived as less confident, it’s important to nip this nervous habit in the bud!

To stop yourself from fidgeting with your hands and fingers, start by removing any external stimuli that may prompt unconscious fidgeting.  For example, if you tend to fidget with small desk items (like paper clips, rubber bands or other office supplies), store these products safely away in your drawers.  If you fidget with your watches or rings, consider removing these objects when you know you’ll be interacting with the people you want to impress.

Once you’ve removed potential fidget-inducing objects, try to become more aware of what your hands are doing at any given time.  If you notice that you’re unconsciously fidgeting, take a second to clasp your hands and focus on keeping them stationary.  Over time, it will become much easier for your hands and fingers to assume this calm, confident position without thought.

Habit #3 – Touching your face or hair

One final nervous habit you’ll want to eliminate from your personal and professional life is touching your face or hair.

According to Carol Kinsey Goman, PhD, former therapist and author of The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help—or Hurt—How You Lead, “These kinds of self-pacifying gestures can be interpreted as a signal of insecurity or deception.”  And no matter what type of interaction you’re having, odds are the last things you want to be perceived as are insecure or deceptive!

In order to stop using these subconscious behaviors to unintentionally convey weakness or a lack of self-confidence, you’ll first need to become aware that you’re doing them.  The next time you interact with a superior or other person of power, count the number of times you touch your face or hair.  The results may surprise you!

If you find that you use these behaviors to comfort yourself in frustrating or anxiety-laden interactions, you’ll want to practice keeping your hands at your side or folded on your desk (when seated) as much as possible.  It can be a challenge to minimize these nervous habits – especially when you find yourself in tense or uncomfortable situations – but doing so is an important part of being taken more seriously and perceived as more self-confident throughout your life.

Do you experience any of these three nervous habits?  Or do you have others that you’ve identified in your own life?  If so, share your experiences – as well as how you’ve banished your negative habits – in the comments section below.