Monthly Archives: March 2013

How to Be Awesome at Life

be awesome at life

Sounds like a pretty tall order, right?  Usually, we reserve the term “awesome” for people who do amazing things like climb mountains or break sports records.  But the thing is, you can be awesome too with a little effort!

If you’re ready to break out of the rut you’ve been in, check out the following action steps that’ll turn your life around in no time.

Step #1 – Try new things

First things first – nobody was ever called “awesome” for doing the same old thing, day in and day out!  If you want to be truly awesome, you need to have awesome things to talk about with others – and that means taking risks and trying new things from time to time.

For example, could you…?

  • Try a new restaurant
  • Join a new meetup group
  • Take up a new sport or hobby
  • Learn a new language
  • Check out a new band

Really, the list of possibilities is endless, but you don’t need to go all out at first.  Challenge your comfort zone by starting with small activities and then work your way up to larger attempts.

Step #2 – Pick your passions

As you go about this whole “trying new things” process, you’ll probably find that some activities “click” for you.  Maybe you hate spending your weekend nights listening to loud bands playing in dingy clubs, but you love the camaraderie and exercise you get from having joined your neighborhood’s pick-up soccer team.

That’s great!  Part of being awesome at life is knowing what to invest your efforts into and what to give up right away.  After all, awesome people don’t waste time committing to things they don’t truly care about.  Instead, they evaluate their options by actively experimenting with new things and then paring down their list of engagements to the ones that really matter.

In general, it’s a good idea to have at least a few different passions – nobody wants to be stuck around that guy who has nothing more to talk about than his love of craft beers.  Instead, choose a few passions – say, your career, a sport and a volunteer opportunity – that you’ll dedicate your time to and weed out other activities that don’t appeal to you.

Step #3 – Give 110% effort

Every office has that guy who half-asses everything.  For some reason, it’s become passé in our culture to act like you don’t care about things.  And while that might make you look “cool” in the eyes of your coworkers, it’ll never make you awesome.

Awesome people give 110% of their effort to all of the passions they commit to.  They explore the full possibilities of every activity they engage in – probing these situations for the opportunity to learn more and do better in the future.  They aren’t “brown-nosers” – putting in extra effort just to attract the attention of senior management.  Instead, they engage fully for their own benefit, eventually turning them into better educated, more well-rounded people.

Take a second to think about your passions.  Sure, you say you value your career, but how fully are you dedicating yourself to its growth and development?  Are you taking advantage of networking and professional development opportunities?  Do you waste time at work that could be better spent advancing your skill set by completing more tasks?

We all slack off from time to time – and that’s fine.  But what’s not fine is consistently underperforming when it comes to your passion projects.  If you aren’t giving 110% of your effort to these key areas, you’re never going to be truly awesome.

Step #4 – Give back

Last but not least, awesome people give back.  This may take a number of different forms – from volunteering in the community to serving as a mentor for younger workers in your profession – but what awesome people recognize is that they didn’t become awesome on their own.

All of us rely on the support of others in some way or another.  If you’re learning a new sport as a passion project, it could be the coach or teammate who gives you pointers on how to improve your technique.  Or, if you’re trying to advance your career, your support comes from the professors who gave you your background training, the managers who have encouraged you and the mentors who have guided you along the way.

Awesome people don’t presume that they’re awesome because of some in-born, pre-determined greatness.  What they recognize is that we all depend on others to enable our success – and they aren’t afraid to show their appreciation by giving back in some way.

So as you proceed along your own path to awesome-ness, keep an eye out for the people or systems that help you out as you move forward.  Then, make it a point to find some way to recognize them, whether you say thanks directly, do charity work in their honor or undertake some other activity.  Above all, doing so will help to keep you grounded – one of the hallmarks of the kind of awesome person we all want to be around.


Learning to Own Up to Your Mistakes

sorry note

News flash – nobody likes making mistakes!  But unfortunately, since we’re all human, there’s no good way to avoid the occasional slip-up.  As a result, it isn’t the fact that you make mistakes that matters.  What really counts is how you handle yourself when these failures occur.

Let’s say you’ve goofed up on a big project at work and – as a result – your team won’t be able to meet an important deadline.  Now that you’ve made the mistake, you have two options.  You can:

  1. Pretend like it didn’t happen and wait until somebody discovers that you’ve screwed up.
  2. Own up to your mistake and present your boss with a plan of action for dealing with any negative effects that stem from your error.

If you take the first route, you aren’t really saving yourself any hassle (although it might feel like it at the time).  Eventually, your mistake will be discovered and when this happens, your boss and your team members will all be upset that you tried to shirk your responsibility in derailing the project.

On the other hand, if you let your team know right away what’s happened and how you plan to deal with it, you’ll still face the same frustration – but that anger will be paired with a level of respect for you because you’ve owned up to your mistakes.  Neither situation allows you to avoid professional judgment completely, but one option lets you minimize damage to your reputation.

Of course, knowing that owning up to your mistakes will help you save face – actually doing it is another thing altogether!

If your “go to” move is to deflect and defer responsibility, don’t worry.  You can learn how to own up to your mistakes – even in the most uncomfortable of situations.  It won’t be easy, but it’s a valuable skill to develop when it comes to managing your professional reputation.

Here’s how to do it:

Step #1 – Assess the scope of your mistake

As soon as you’ve realized that a mistake has occurred (whether by that sinking feeling you get in your stomach or through the actions of a coworker), take a second to determine how severe of an issue you’re facing.  Is the mistake something that can be easily resolved, or will it require significant reparations to correct?

If you’re facing a small issue (like an email etiquette mistake), you may be able to correct the problem without the involvement of other parties.  In this case, owning up to your mistake may not be truly necessary.  However, if the issue is larger, take a few moments to trace out its eventual ramifications.  You can’t move on to the next step in the process – coming up with a plan of action – until you understand exactly who and what will be affected by your mistake.

Step #2 – Come up with a plan of action

Once you have a rough idea of how your mistake will affect others, it’s time to brainstorm a game plan.  As a general rule, you’ll find the owning up to your mistake is much easier – and much better received – if you also offer a series of possible action steps to resolve your issues.

Following from our delayed project example earlier, identifying this type of mistake could prompt you to develop a plan of action that includes any of the following steps:

  • Working nights to make up for lost time (if doing so will help)
  • Shuffling resources to ensure that other parts of the project can be finished on schedule
  • Apologizing directly to the customer (if necessary) for the delays you’ve caused

In the worst situations, it might not be possible to come up with a game plan if there are no actions that can be taken to help remedy your mistake.  However, even in this case, it’s important not to skip the next step…

Step #3 – Use scripts to make confessing easier

After you’ve completed the first two steps, it’s time for the most difficult part of this process – actually owning up to the issues you’ve created.

If the thought of telling others that you’ve screwed up leaves you shaking in your boots (especially if the person you need to own up to is your boss), you can make the process easier by creating a script and practicing it before you fess up.  For example, try something like the following:

“Hi [Boss] – do you have a second?  I just wanted to give you a heads up on an issue that might delay our project [or lead to some other issue].  I made [this mistake] and I expect that, as a result, we’ll have to [deal with these consequences].  I’m sorry for the inconvenience and my part in this, but I think we can make the situation right by [taking my game plan actions].”

Resist the urge to make excuses when delivering your script.  Everyone has excuses and they tend to be perceived as attempts to deflect, rather than to accept responsibility.  Hopefully, using this type of script will mitigate any disciplinary actions coming your way – but there’s no guarantee.  The only thing that is guaranteed is that you’ll avoid the humiliation of being called out on your mistake later on by owning up to it and taking responsibility from the start.

How to Leave Your Job without Burning Bridges

burning bridges

We’ve all been there.  A once-promising job that’s soured to the point where even the thought of waking up and driving to work leaves you shaking with cold sweats.  Where it’s impossible to imagine working diligently at your desk for even one more day without exploding in rage at your incompetent and/or abusive boss.

If you’re lucky enough to find an exit strategy – whether to another position or to a temporary career break – it’s tempting to use your resignation as a chance to make your true feelings known to your coworkers, to HR and to your boss.  But all the career advice out there recommends that you not burn bridges on your way out the door.  Should you follow these recommendations or make a one-time exception to the rule in order to let of a little steam once you’re able to quit your job?

Here’s the thing…  The world is a small place.  Even if you can’t imagine any possible connections between your boss and other members of your personal life or business community, that doesn’t mean that none exist.  And really, the last thing you want is to belatedly find out that the boss you just cursed into oblivion is actually second cousins with the HR manager at the company you now desperately want to work for.

The bottom line is – don’t do it.  Don’t risk your future career prospects on a somewhat-fulfilling blowout speech on your last day.  Your reputation as a blowhard will follow you no matter where you go – even if you can’t yet see the mechanisms by which this will occur yet.  In just about every case, it’s better to be safe than sorry when leaving your job.

Of course, holding your tongue is easier said than done.  Here are a few guidelines and recommended steps to help you leave a difficult situation without burning your professional bridges:

Separate the personal from the professional

To be fair, it isn’t always the best idea to bottle up your emotions and leave your current position without uttering a peep to anyone.  Not only can this be damaging emotionally, it’s also important for the human resources department of your company to know why exactly you’re leaving.  If they identify a trend – for example, a series of talented employees leaving as the result of a single bad boss – they may want to take action to prevent further losses.

For this reason, if certain on-the-job conditions have prompted your resignation, it can be a good idea to share them with HR during your exit interview.  The key, though, is how exactly you do this.

If you go into your final interview ranting and raving about your boss, your feedback won’t be taken seriously and won’t be used to promote positive changes within the company in the future.  What you need to do is to separate the personal from the professional in order to provide your HR personnel with useful information.

For example, saying, “My asshole boss was a huge jerk who never gave me enough time to get things done,” isn’t going to help your case.  Instead, telling HR that, “My manager struggled to provide timely feedback and prioritization advice in a professional manner,” is much more likely to result constructive changes for the future employees who will take up your position.

Vent frustrations through the appropriate sources

Of course, it isn’t nearly as satisfying to phrase your personal complaints in a professional manner as it would be to run through your office’s halls, gleefully yelling about how you’re finally free.

But really, that’s why you have friends.  That’s why you have family members.  And that’s why you have coworkers who have gone through the same grief that you have.  Buy these nice people a round so that they’ll indulge your frustrations periodically.  Just be careful that any coworkers – whether current colleagues or soon-to-be ex-coworkers – are the discreet type who won’t go running back to your office with news of your job bashing!

Focus on the future

Finally, if taking these steps isn’t enough to prevent you from going crazy on your last day, try to keep the future in mind.  Remember, you’re out of the bad situation.  You’ve found your exit strategy and, very shortly, you won’t have to deal with your bad boss or your company’s frustrating policies any longer.

Truly, the only way the grief of your almost-former job will continue to bother you in the future is if you allow your frustrations to cause you to do something stupid in the moment – something like burning bridges that you may need to rely on for professional advancement down the road.

So before you dish out the verbal beat-down you’ve been longing to share since day one, take a deep breath and focus on the future.  Your career’s long-term well-being just isn’t worth the risk of burning bridges in a short-lived blaze of glory.

How to Build Rapport with Anyone

building rapport

Quick – off the top of your head, what’s one of the most valuable sales and business skills that anyone can possess?

Let me give you a hint…  It’s not negotiation, it’s not copywriting and it’s not networking.  In fact, it’s the ability to build rapport with everybody you encounter!

When you’re able to build rapport with a diverse range of people, you improve your ability to form the relationships needed to advance both your personal and professional life.  Whether you’re petitioning your boss for a promotion or trying to convince a new senior-level buyer to purchase your company’s product, being able to develop rapport immediately gives you the edge needed to get things done.

But if forming person-to-person connections doesn’t come naturally to you, don’t worry!  The following steps to building rapport with anyone are easy to implement and can quickly make a major difference in the way you interact with new people:

Step #1 – Mirror your subject’s body language

One of the most important contributing factors to rapport is your body language – and one of the most important things you can do to build rapport using this tool is to mirror your subject’s posture and gestures.

This is important for two reasons.  First, mirroring body language creates an unspoken level of comfort between you and your subject.  When we see ourselves in the people we’re talking to, we naturally feel more at ease – making this technique a powerful way to minimize barriers that would otherwise threaten to derail your conversation.

At the same time, keep in mind that we all have nervous physical habits that manifest themselves whenever we’re uncomfortable.  This could include things like constant leg tapping or tightly crossed arms – whatever your case may be, these behaviors telegraph your lack of confidence, diminishing the rapport you hold with your partner.

By mirroring your subject’s body language, you’ll be able to prevent these behaviors on your part.  Just be careful to not mirror your subject’s own nervous habits!

Step #2 – Match your subject’s vocal tone and pacing

Next up, focus on your voice in order to build rapport with your subject.  Again, we tend to respond more favorably to the people who look and sound like we do, so any of the following techniques could come in handy when it comes to forming new relationships:

  • Match the tone your subject is using – Is your subject speaking loudly or softly?  Does he tend to speak from his diaphragm or his nasal passages?  Are his sentences spoken in a way that sounds authoritative or unconfident?  While it’s important that you avoid coming across as condescending, allowing some of these vocal qualities to filter into your own speech is a great way to build rapport.
  • Match your subject’s vocal pacing – Listen also to whether your subject is speaking slowly or rapidly.  Though many people tend to think of vocal speed as something natural that can’t be controlled, it is possible to modulate your voice in order to better match your subject’s.
  • Match accents carefully – One advanced rapport-building technique is to allow some of your subject’s accent to slip into your own speech (whenever his native accent is different from your own).  Although it’s tough to do so without appearing to mock your conversation partner, mimicking this vocal element in a subtle way can build a major bridge of rapport between you.

Step #3 – Repeat and affirm

Aside from the ways in which you can manipulate your own physical and vocal performance, one simple technique for building rapport is to simply repeat and affirm the things your subject says to you in conversation.  As an example, consider the following conversation:

Subject: “So, you’re telling me that you need to raise your rates?  That’s unacceptable – it’s been a tough year for my company and we don’t have the extra budget for this.”

You: “Subject, I know it’s been a tough year for your company and that budgets are tight.  I completely understand, but I hope you can see that…”

In this example, you could have just as easily responded to the subject with a careless, “It doesn’t matter what your budgets are like – our rates are going up.”  However, by taking the time to repeat and affirm the subject’s concerns, you’re building rapport that could go a long ways towards helping the two of you resolve the situation successfully.

Step #4 – Assume rapport from the start

Finally, be aware that one of the biggest inhibitors to building rapport is the discomfort experienced upon meeting and interacting with new people.  And really, it’s natural to be afraid of saying the wrong thing or looking stupid in front of a new contact.

But here’s the thing…  Everybody feels that way!  It’s not that you’re the least confident person in the world – just about everybody in the world goes through the same type of social anxiety at various points throughout their lives.

So if everyone else feels as nervous as you do in social situations, one simple solution is to assume rapport from the start.  Treat everyone you speak to as if you were already close friends – effectively negating the discomfort that many people feel when interacting with new people.  With practice, you’ll find that assuming this level of rapport puts people at ease and makes implementing the steps described above feel much more natural and much less like an uncomfortably foreign process you’re working towards artificially.

Any other recommendations on how to build rapport with the people you encounter in your personal and professional lives?  Share your tips in the comments section below!