Monthly Archives: September 2012

Mastering an Assertive Tone of Voice

Though we don’t always like to admit it, appearances matter.  Whether that involves the clothes we’re wearing, how we hold ourselves or even the tone of our voices, the end result is the same.  If you aren’t able to project an impression of yourself that’s confident and collected, others won’t be able to see you in this way either!

So far, on this site, we’ve talked about how to create a personal style that conveys the impression you’d like to others, as well as how to master your body language to appear confident in any situation.  However, we haven’t yet talked about how to maintain control of your vocal tone – even though this element is just as important as any of these others when it comes to your overall appearance.

If you feel like your tone of voice sometimes betrays your anxiety, discomfort or anger, take a look at the following tips on how to master an assertive tone of voice:

Step #1 – Identify the situations in which your vocal tone seems “off”

Before you can start making improvements to the tone of your voice, you’ll want to start by identifying the situations in which you feel uncomfortable with your vocal delivery.

For example, a few situational prompts to consider include:

  • Do you feel comfortable with the way you communicate your needs in a business setting?
  • Do you share your thoughts and ideas in an assertive manner in team meetings?
  • Do your business colleagues respond positively to the ideas you present at work?
  • Would your coworkers describe you as timid, assertive or aggressive?
  • Are you able to tell your family members what you need from them to be comfortable?
  • Do the strangers you encounter in public (ie – in restaurants and at the bank) respond to your requests in the way you’d like?

If you aren’t getting the results you’d like out of these exchanges, it could be that your tone of voice is betraying your innate desire to be respected and taken seriously.  Think back to specific instances in your past when your words weren’t interpreted in the manner you intended and determine whether or not your tone of voice may have contributed to these misperceptions.

Really put some effort into remembering these scenarios.  Think about how you felt when you knew you were using the incorrect tone of voice to convey your thoughts and intentions, and imagine the look on your contacts’ faces as you made this mistake.  By making your recollections as vivid as possible, you’ll be better able to redirect future conversations to the assertive tone you desire.

Step #2 – Find your “pass the salt” voice

To understand what your assertive tone of voice sounds like, imagine yourself asking a dining companion to pass you the salt.  In this casual situation, you wouldn’t timidly whisper your request and you wouldn’t shout at your dinner mate to fulfill your request.  Instead, you’d ask simply and directly for the condiment you need in order to eat your meal.

That “pass the salt” voice is your assertive tone of voice, and it’s the one you should be using in all of the different situational prompts listed above.  Using an assertive tone in these situations will increase your odds of being perceived in an appropriate manner – as well as improving your odds of bringing about your desired result, due to increased clout give to you by others!

Step #3 – Envision yourself using this vocal tone in uncomfortable situations

Now that you know what your assertive tone of voice sounds like, run back through the situations you envisioned back in Step #1.  But this time – instead of remembering yourself using an inappropriate tone of voice – imagine yourself conveying the same information in an assertive tone.

Again, put some time into this step – no matter how strange it might feel.  By mentally rehearsing these interactions, you’ll be better prepared to use your “pass the salt” voice in real world situations.

Step #4 – Practice your assertive tone in the real world

Of course, all the visualizing in the world won’t solve your vocal problems if you aren’t willing to put your newly found assertive tone of voice to practice!

Don’t automatically assume that you’ll be able to run out and start speaking assertively in any situation.  Some people will be able to do this, but others – and quite frankly, I think most of us – will need a little bit of practice before we’re able to make the leap to using an authoritative tone in stressful or high-risk situations without reverting to our standard timid or aggressive tones.

So instead of jumping right in, practice using your “pass the salt” voice in low-risk situations first.  Speak clearly to shopkeepers, waiters, cashiers and other people with whom your interactions carry little weight.  Over time – and with regular practice – you’ll feel more confident using this assertive tone of voice in any situation you encounter.

Get What You Want by Getting to Know the Right People

The phrase, “No man is an island,” certainly rings true when it comes to achieving your personal and professional goals.  No matter how motivated you are, there will always be others in the world that hold the information or connections needed to help you achieve your aims.

But instead of bemoaning how unfortunate it is that you weren’t born with all the skills needed to succeed, take control of your life by finding and building relationships with the people who can help you to get what you want out of life.

Here’s a simple step-by-step process to help you get what you want by getting to know the right people:

Step #1 – Identify your needs

Obviously, simply knowing that you need to improve the caliber of the people in your life in order to achieve your personal and professional aims isn’t enough to bring about these changes automatically.  In fact, it takes time to hone in on the right people who can help you get what you want and to build the necessary relationships with these acquaintances to create meaningful change in your life.

As a result, your first step must be to identify the specific needs in your life that others can help you achieve.  For comparison, consider that –while learning to cook meals at home might help you to live a healthier lifestyle – this task can largely be completed on your own.  On the other hand, if earning membership into an exclusive club or society would significantly increase your odds of landing a better job, putting your effort into building relationships with existing members could have a major impact on your life.

Above all, think about your priorities.  Of the specific needs you’ve identified that others can help you achieve, focus on building only 1-2 relationships at a time, beginning with those that will make the biggest difference in your personal or professional goals.

Step #2 – Identify the people who can help you meet these needs

Once you’ve decided which types of relationships to build first, you’ll need to narrow down your relationship targets to a few potential candidates.  Depending on how familiar you are with the resources in your community, this could be easy – or it may require a certain amount of research in order to determine who to approach.

However, as you build your lists, you’ll want to have a few options in mind.  Not everyone that you approach will have the time or inclination to support you in the way that you need – which is why it’s always a good idea to have a backup plan before moving on to Step #3!

Step #3 – Build your new relationships

Now that you’ve clarified the needs you have and identified the candidates who can best help you fulfill them, it’s time to start building your relationships!

There are a few things you’ll keep in mind when interacting with your new acquaintances:

  • Be clear about your intentions – If you’re attempting to build a relationship with someone in order to gain access to a separate group (as in the example above), don’t try to hide it.  While you don’t want your first impression to come across too strong, camouflaging your true intentions until you can “cash in” on the relationship will leave your new contact feeling used.
  • Give more than you get – The foundation of any good relationship is a certain amount of give-and-take.  If you’re expecting your new acquaintance to do something for you, you’d better be willing to turn around and offer something else of value to your contact.  It doesn’t need to be an “exact match,” tit-for-tat type of exchange, but it is important to be sure that both parties benefit from your arrangement.
  • Respect your contact’s time – These days, we’re all busy.  So if someone goes out of his way to help you get something that you want, be thankful for the sacrifice he’s making.  At the very least, try to avoid being too pushy about achieving your aims.  By respecting your contact’s time, you’ll keep the relationship going strong – leading to potentially greater benefits down the road.

In general, approach building relationships with the people who can help you achieve your goals as you’d pursue a new mentor or friend.  Be yourself, and focus on being the type of friend or mentor you’d like to have.  In time, your efforts will pay off in the form of relationships that help you to obtain the information or connections you need to reach your goals.

Step #4 – Focus on consistently improving your network

They say that surrounding yourself with people who can help you achieve your goals is one of the fastest ways to become truly successful, so don’t just look for people who can help you to meet a single, specific need.  Try to surround yourself with people who empower you and help you to make the most out of each day.

By constantly improving the value of your network – whether that includes seeking out a more supportive partner, more goal-oriented friends or stronger mentor-mentee relationships – you’ll make a significant difference in the quality of your life.

How to Tell if Somebody is Lying

Ah, if only the world was full of people whose noses extended out like Pinocchio’s every time they uttered a falsehood…

The truth is that being able to detect when somebody is lying is a vital part of being successful in both your business and professional lives.  It might not seem like a big deal – after all, everybody fibs or tells little white lies from time to time – but just think about how much of our world is based on the implicit trust that each party in a discussion is telling the truth.

You work extra hard on an assignment under the implicit promise of a future promotion – even though your boss knows the money just isn’t there to reward top performers.  Or maybe you purchase a great looking car off of Craigslist on the previous owner’s assertion that it runs great – even though he’s hiding the thousand dollars of transmission work that’s going to come due shortly.

Heck, just think about the thousands of people swindled by Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff to see just how devastating lies – when believed incorrectly – can become!

In order to protect yourself from less-than-truthful people, keep an eye out for any of the following signals that may indicate you’re being told a lie:

Tip-off #1 – Avoidance of eye contact

One dead giveaway that a person is lying to you is his inability to make and hold eye contact with you.  In many cases, you’ll find that liars are able to make eye contact throughout the parts of your conversation that are factually correct – but that their gaze immediately diverts away from you whenever falsehoods are uttered.

Obviously, a failure to maintain eye contact isn’t conclusive evidence of lying – after all, there are plenty of awkward, uncomfortable people in the world as well.  For this reason, it’s important to also look for the following clues in order to corroborate suspicions of lying.

Tip-off #2 – Extra fidgeting

Similarly, if you notice that someone you’re speaking to is fidgeting excessively, you could be seeing the physical manifestation of the person’s discomfort at telling a lie.

Tell-tale clues to look for here include:

  • Shifting from side to side while seated
  • Moving weight from foot to foot while standing
  • Fiddling with the fingers
  • Twiddling or twirling small objects in the fingers

Again, this sign isn’t conclusive – as you could simply dealing with a naturally fidgety or nervous person – but if you notice these behaviors in conjunction with other signs of discomfort, you could be dealing with a liar.

Tip-off #3 – Evidence of distress

Beyond the avoidance of eye contact and an increase in fidgety behaviors, the human body has a number of other ways to telegraph the distress that may be present when a lie is being committed.  For example, in many cases, the pupils dilate during periods of intense stress – making this physical change on possible indication that a person is lying.

Other physiological signs you may encounter include:

  • Flared nostrils
  • Sweating
  • Goosebumps
  • Tensed shoulders
  • Rigid body language

Of course, these signs can result from any type of stress, not just lying (in fact, dilated pupils are connected to arousal levels as well) – so proceed with caution.  Use these clues together as evidence that somebody might be lying to you – not that it’s happening for sure.

Tip-off #4 – A lack of details (or excessive details, provided without prompting)

In addition to observing how people act around you, listen to the words that they’re saying.  Many people telegraph their discomfort through changes in their normal speech patterns, though you’ll need to pay close attention in order to pick up on these modifications.

Two speech pattern changes that are associated with lying include vague descriptions or an overabundance of details.  In the first instance, be wary of anybody who refuses to fill in blanks in a conversation or who has trouble recalling details when questioned directly.  If you suspect a lie, ask direct questions to determine whether the person has truly forgotten this information, or if he’s attempting to avoid providing details on purpose.

At the same time, keep your ears provided for extraneous details that appear to be presented without reason.  If a person is quick to provide more information than you’ve asked for, it could be because he’s attempting to keep his story straight from the get-go.

Tip-off #5 – The phrase, “I’m being honest!”

Finally, one tell-tale tip-off phrase to listen for is, “I’m being honest” (or any variation on this theme).  Most of us go around assuming that we’ll be taken seriously and that the information we share will be accepted without question.  It’s only when we attempt to pass on falsehoods that we doubt this usually-automatic approval – causing liars to subconsciously hone in on concerns that they’ll be discovered.

Above all, trust your gut instinct.  If you have any reason to suspect that a person is lying to you – based on these clues or on any others that you identify – play it safe and don’t make any rash decisions until you’re able to sort out fact from fiction.

7 Motivational Tools That Will Keep You on Track

Every now and then, all of us need a little extra push to maintain motivation and keep making progress towards our goals.  No matter how driven you are or how important your goal is to you, there are going to be days that drag and days that feel like you’re never going to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Instead of letting these downtimes get to you, check out any of the following motivational tools to help keep you on track:

Tool #1 – LifeTick

LifeTick is one of the most fully-featured goal tracking programs on the market today.  Upon signing up for the program, you’ll start by identifying your key values and then creating SMART goals that align with your overall priorities.  The paid version of the program (which costs just $20/year, compared to the more limited free version) includes advanced features like status widgets, charts, reports and mobile access – all of which help to keep your primary objectives at the front of your mind.

Tool #2 – Joe’s Goals

Joe’s Goals is a simpler goal tracking alternative, which is based on the “Don’t Break the Chain” behavioral change method.  Essentially, you use the program to monitor daily habits – adding a smiley face to every day you successfully meet your goals.  Over time, you’ll build up a chain of smiley faces, motivating you to continue moving forward with your habit goals in order to avoid breaking the long chain you’ve created.

Though Joe’s Goals doesn’t offer as many features as programs like LifeTick, it’s free to use and provides a simple, easy-to-use alternative to more advanced tools.

Tool #3 – LifeTango

If you know that you want to make improvements to your life, but you aren’t quite sure where to start, LifeTango may be for you.  The program offers an innovative brainstorming area with prompts that encourage you to think of ways that your finances, family life, health, fitness or education could be improved.  You can also peruse goals set by others using the service to gain inspiration for your own personal improvement plan.

Once you’ve decided which specific goals to work on, you can create a free LifeTango account, which will allow you to communicate with others on the site via your personal profile, track your progress towards your goals and even start your own goal-setting blog.

Tool #4 – 43Things

43Things offers similar functionality as LifeTango, but boasts a much larger community of fellow goal-setters.  Sign up is easy, and the program makes viewing the goals set by others a breeze.

Unfortunately, this program doesn’t offer much in the way of goal break-downs or ongoing habit tracking – all “things” tracked by the program are either marked as in-progress or done.  However, where the program shines is the “How I Did It” section, which encourages users who have marked goals as completed to share more about what made their efforts successful.  Reading through this helpful advice can be incredibly motivating and offer unique insight into the way other people have met the goals you’re currently working on.

Tool #5 – StickK

StickK offers a fresh take on goal-setting by allowing users to bet money on whether or not they’ll reach their stated aims.  To use the program, visitors start by stating their goals, as well as how progress towards these eventual aims will be measured.  Once their goals are set, users can choose to add “stakes” to their goals which will charge their credit cards (or worse, send the money to an “anti-charity”) should they fail to meet their goals.

If you’re having trouble sticking to your goals, putting money on the line that will go to a charity that you dislike may significantly increase the odds that you’ll follow through!

Tool #6 – Aspire Goals

If you’re more of a “goal tracking on the go” type of person, the Aspire Goals app may be right for you.  Available for just a few dollars in the Apple app store, Aspire Goals allows you to create mini movies that will motivate you to achieve your stated aims.

To do this, you’ll start by adding your desired goals to the list and then adding motivating statements, “moving towards/away from” images and music to the setup area.  Once you’ve added all of these elements, clicking the “Goal Visualizer” button will allow you to view customized, motivating movies whenever you feel like breaking your commitments to yourself.

Tool #7 – GoalTracker  

Finally, if you’re on the Android network, you’ll want to take a look at the GoalTracker app.  It’s a free program that will allow you to perform many of the same functions as the online LifeTick program described above.

Although the program isn’t as visually intuitive as it could be, you’ll likely still find the advanced brainstorming and tracking features to be worthwhile tools when it comes to setting and meeting your life’s goals.