Category Archives: Behavior

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!

The Secret Power of Listening

power of listening

The skill of listening often gets a bad rap in today’s corporate environment.  After all, it’s usually the person who can shout the loudest and take the most credit for work completed that tends to advance up the ladder as quickly as possible.

However, those who dismiss the power of listening without understanding how important this practice can be do their careers a serious disservice.  I know that it can be difficult to get out of the habit of putting your thoughts and opinions first in your conversations, but trust me.  Learning how to listen effectively will help you take advantage of all of the following benefits and more!

Listening makes you more knowledgeable

While I’m not suggesting that you engage in excessive office gossip, the hard truth is that those who listen more – rather than trying to figure out what they’ll chime in with next – tend to have access to more information in their careers.

Listening is an inherently flattering process.  When you give up trying to make yourself appear intelligent, witty or “in-the-know,” you demonstrate to others that you value what they have to say.  And really, who in the world doesn’t like feeling as if others value their conversational contributions?!

The point is that, when people feel flattered by your attention, they’re more likely to reveal information about themselves, their projects and their priorities that may help you out down the road.  It’s up to you whether you use this information for good or for evil, but the bottom line is that you won’t even have access to it in the first place if you don’t learn how to listen!

Listening builds relationships

Because listening can be so flattering to your conversational partners, it’s also a great tool for building rapport with the important people in your life.  Take a second to visualize all of the following situations:

  • You’re in a pitch meeting with a potentially huge client.  Because you take the time to demonstrate active listening, the client feels as if you truly care about the issues facing his company and signs a contract with your company.
  • Your boss has to deliver some negative feedback on your performance at work.  Although it’s hard to hear, you take the time to listen actively, which helps your boss to feel that he’s being effective and that progress is being made to resolve similar issues in the future.
  • A person you’ve been assigned to work with on a group project has some serious concerns about the future direction of your work.  Since you take the time to listen – instead of steamrolling over him with your own thoughts – you’re able to eliminate potential disruptions before they occur.

In all these situations, you come out ahead – just because you made the small effort to listen actively instead of ignoring the counsel of others.

How to become a better listener

Hopefully, by this point, I’ve convinced you that it’s in your best interest to learn how to listen effectively.  If you’ve never purposefully studied this skill before, you should find the following recommendations helpful:

Tune into conversations fully – Perhaps the most difficult part of learning to listen is discovering how to turn off the voice in your brain that’s constantly thinking about witty retorts or ways to turn the conversation back to you.  To minimize this instinct, try to focus as much of your attention as possible on your conversation partner.  Does his voice sound confident, shaky, upset or joking?  What does his body language tell you about his mood?  The more you pay attention to the people you’re interacting with; the more likely you’ll be to hear, process and understand the words that they’re saying.

Repeat back questions and statements – Of course, anybody who’s ever interacted with a teenager knows that there’s a big difference between passive listening and active listening.  To demonstrate to conversation partners that you’re an active listener (in order to reap the benefits described above), try repeating back parts of the questions and statements you hear.  For example, if your boss tells you, “I’m concerned about you coming in late in the mornings,” responding back with “I understand that you’re frustrated about me coming in late in the mornings,” demonstrates that you’re actively engaged with the conversation.

Ask your own probing questions – Finally, to seal the deal on your active listening experiences, try to ask probing questions based on the information somebody has shared with you.  As an example, if a coworker tells you that he’s concerned about completing his part of a group project on time, asking questions about the factors that are causing delays and how these issues can be handled showcases both your proactive abilities and how closely you were listening to your coworkers concerns.

If you’ve never taken the time to improve your listening skills before, the process can seem strange.  But by consistently making it a priority to tune into the people around you, you’ll reap the benefits of being seen as more knowledgeable throughout your life and of forming the type of relationships that will help you to succeed in your personal and professional goals.  Believe me, it’s well worth the effort!

5 Business Habits You Should Stop Immediately

bad business habits

In work – as in life – we all have a tendency to let bad behavior slide.  “Sure,” we tell ourselves.  “Everybody has faults…”  However, if these bad business habits aren’t corrected, they could do serious damage to your at-work reputation, causing you to miss out on the promotions and awards that you feel should be coming your way.

So if you see yourself in any of the following habit descriptions, take immediate steps to correct your behavior – before any damage can be done that could permanently alter your career trajectory.

Habit #1 – Missing deadlines

When you miss a deadline, you’re rarely just affecting your own performance.  In nearly all cases, others are waiting on your work to be completed in order to begin their own assignments – which means that your tardiness is screwing over their work initiatives as well.  As a result, this type of behavior rarely goes unnoticed by supervisors who may deem you unreliable over your missed deadlines.

For this reason, it’s important to take whatever steps are necessary to get your work done before your agreed-upon deadlines.  If you truly can’t make it on time, say “No” to the project in the first place or fess up to your delays before the deadline has passed and offer your boss a concrete set of actions you’ll take to get the work done as quickly as possible.  Coming up with an alternate plan isn’t that much better than simply being late in the first place, but it does minimize your boss’s perception of you as being irresponsible.

Habit #2 – Failing to follow through on commitments

The bottom line – when it comes to workplace performance – is that if you say you’re going to do something, you’d better damn well do it!  And that goes for everything from major projects to passing on a file that a coworker requested in your last meeting.

Fail to live up to the commitments you’ve made for yourself, and you’ll notice that the people around you trust you less and less with every instance.  If you find yourself falling into this trap more often than you’d care to admit, get in the habit of writing a note to yourself about everything you agree to do – no matter how small.  Add these items to your “to do” list and treat them with all the seriousness you give to regular work assignments.

Habit #3 – Abusing your internet privileges

Now, I’m going to assume that you’re smart enough not to visit… illicit websites on company time.  Really, there’s absolutely no reason to put your career at risk in this way.

But abusing your internet privileges goes beyond the perusal of adult websites while on the clock.  If you’re using your spare time (or worse, your working time) to pay your bills, do your online shopping or catch up with friends on social networking websites, be aware that it’s not just your performance that’s suffering.  If your company monitors internet usage (and many, many companies do), you could face serious disciplinary action for something that’s better left at home.

Habit #4 – Sneaking out early

Don’t kid yourself – you’re not that sneaky.  If you sneak out regularly, it doesn’t matter how many clever disguises you wear, how many convincing excuses you come up with or how many different routes you take out of the building.  Your coworkers have noticed, and they don’t think too kindly of your behavior.

In today’s corporate world, if you want to be considered for promotions, awards and other perks, you’ve got to be taken seriously as a committed worker.  And really, that can’t happen if everyone from the janitor to your senior management staff knows you’re sneaking out before 5:00pm every night.  Do your reputation a favor and stick it out instead.

Habit #5 – Failing to take credit for your work

On last bad business habit to be on guard about is false modesty.  While it’s not a problem for everybody, failing to take credit for your accomplishments devalues the hard work that you put in the job.  Adopting an “aw shucks” attitude about your own work doesn’t make you a team player – it just means that you’ll never truly be given the recognition you deserve for your hard work.

Now, I’m not saying that you should go out and start tooting your own when, in fact, it was a team effort that helped you to succeed.  That’s just an asshole move that’s bound to backfire eventually when your thwarted colleagues gang up to stab you in the back in return.

Instead, if you’re serious about advancing in your chosen career, don’t be afraid to accept credit when credit is due.  If you busted your ass on a major project, there’s nothing wrong with emphasizing the hard work you put into your achievement.  If you don’t, your boss will have no way to recognize you in the future – causing you to miss out on the company recognition and future promotions you deserve.

What other bad business habits can you think of?  If you’ve got a great example that others should be aware of, share your recommendations in the comment area below:

How to Handle Criticism Like a Boss

handling criticism

Really, nobody likes receiving criticism.  There’s no doubt about it – whether it’s justified or not, hearing somebody speak critically of your work, your actions or your decisions stings.

But here’s the thing…  We’re all going to be criticized at some point or another.  So what matters isn’t that the criticism occurred in the first place.  What matters is how you handle it.

If you fly off the handle every time a negative word is spoken about your performance, you’re going to be harshly judged as someone who’s unwilling – or unable – to make improvements.  If you take criticisms too personally, you risk wasting time while you wallow in other people’s commentary.  At the same time, though, if you never take any of the criticisms you receive to heart, you risk missing out on tremendous opportunities for self-improvement.

If that all sounds complicated, it’s because it is.  Learning to handle criticism like a boss takes time, though you can speed up your own improvement in this area by following this step-by-step process:

Step #1 – Acknowledge the criticism

As soon as you’ve received a criticism, the best thing you can do for your personal or professional image is to acknowledge it gracefully.  Even if you’re seething on the inside or close to tears, it’s important that you learn how to give a brief “Thank you for your advice,” in the moment.

Here’s the thing…

Very rarely do people offer criticisms because they want to bring you down.  Even when the criticisms you receive come across as negative attacks, they’re often – if misguidedly – intended to help you improve yourself in some way.

So even if you don’t appreciate the effort, take the time to acknowledge the feedback that’s been given. It’ll go a long way towards improving the rapport you hold with the people in your life, as well as demonstrating that you’re a respectful, thoughtful person who’s capable of self-improvement.

Step #2 – Acknowledge your emotions

That said, just because you take a moment to acknowledge the criticism you’ve received doesn’t mean that you need to bend over backwards to accommodate the person giving you feedback!

The key here is to know how you personally respond to criticism.  If you tend to have a strong emotional reaction – as in the case of anger or weepiness – the best thing you can do is to excuse yourself from the situation until you’re able to calm down and reflect on both the criticism and why it triggered such a strong reaction within you.

If you’ve got a better handle on your emotions than this, you may be able to immediately jump into identifying possible behavioral changes that should be brought about as the result of your criticism.  However, if this isn’t the case, there’s nothing wrong with saying something as simple as, “I hear what you’re saying, but I’d like to take some time to think about your feedback before I give you a response.”

Step #3 – Investigate underlying causes

Once you’ve taken all the time you need to calm down, try to understand where the criticism itself is coming from.  For example:

  • Have you slacked off at communicating your progress to your manager and colleagues to the point where they feel the need to criticize your work performance?
  • Could different elements of your personality (as in the case of a sarcastic sense of humor) have been misinterpreted in a negative light by others?
  • Have you been failing to follow through on commitments you’ve made to others (making their criticisms entirely justified)?

In some cases, the reason for the criticism will be made clear by the person giving the feedback, though this won’t occur in all situations.  Some criticisms will come to you “out of the blue,” meaning that you’ll need to be the one to figure out the cause in order to find a possible solution.

Obviously, there will be some cases where you aren’t able to identify an underlying cause for the criticism you’ve faced, but keep in mind that few people truly “have it out for you.”  Nearly all criticism can be attributed to real or perceived shortcomings, and it’s up to you to figure out where these miscommunications have occurred before your personal or professional reputation suffers.

Step #4 – Develop a response plan

After you’ve identified the reason(s) behind the feedback you’ve received, it’s time to develop a response plan that details the actions you’ll take to prevent the same criticisms in the future.

Fair warning – this isn’t always fun.  If you feel a critical remark was unjustified, it can feel incredibly frustrating to force yourself to come up with a plan of action to prevent future criticisms.

But really, handling criticism like a boss means acting like an adult in these situations.  In nearly all cases, it’s possible to learn something from critical feedback and make changes that improve your life in some way.  If you aren’t willing to undertake this type of self-reflection and self-improvement, you’re going to face nothing but challenges as you continue down your personal or professional journey.

Are You Making These Email Etiquette Mistakes?

Guys, it’s 2013 – it’s not 1993, when the use of email in business communications was first in its infancy.  For that reason, if you’re still making any of the following email etiquette mistakes, it’s time to put a stop to them once and for all, before they have a chance to do serious harm to your professional reputation!

Mistake #1 – Overly-personal content

I don’t care how good of friends you are with your co-worker down the hall – if your message is being written using your company email address, its content needs to stay on a professional level.

The problem with business email communications is that you have no way of controlling what happens to your message once you hit the “Send” button.  Your email could be intercepted and read by your company’s IT department, or it could be accidentally forwarded on by your recipient.  As a result, if you wouldn’t feel comfortable telling your boss what you’ve written in person, leave it out of your message.

Mistake #2 – Abusing emoticons in professional messages

Again, keep things professional when it comes to corporate email messages.  Emailing your colleagues – or worse yet, your clients – messages that are riddled with winky faces and kissing faces just isn’t appropriate.

If you simply must use emoticons, limit yourself to the basic smiley face and use no more than one instance per message.  As a general rule, though, avoid these cartoon characters at all costs in your business communications.

Mistake #3 – Using “text speak”

When you’re chatting or texting with friends, it’s perfectly acceptable to use abbreviations like “LOL” or “OMG.”  Hell, you can even go crazy and throw grammar to the wind with phrases like, “Wut R U up 2 2nite” – as long as you draw the line at communicating in this way with friends only.

But really, this type of language has no place in your business emails.  If you insist upon speaking like a 14-year-old girl when emailing with your boss and colleagues, don’t be surprised when you find yourself passed over consistently for projects and promotions that require the ability to communicate effectively!

Mistake #4 – Failing to follow up in a timely manner

Email messages are meant to be the less invasive cousin to regular phone calls, but the fact that a question hasn’t been personally conveyed to you doesn’t make it alright to sit on a message for weeks upon weeks without a response.  If you struggle with delaying message responses an interminably long time, think about how you’d feel if you were the original sender and get your reply going!

Mistake #5 – No “Out of office” message

If you’ve ever waited in vain for a response to your email messages, only to find out that your recipient is on an extended vacation in Costa Rica, you know exactly how annoying this email etiquette fail can be.

And while I’m not always a big fan of “Out of office” messages that are set up to let senders know that you’re only checking email between the hours of 8:32 and 9:01am, these types of auto-responses do have their place.  If you know you’re going to be away from the office for a while, set up an “Out of office” message and give your recipients an alternate method for receiving answers to their questions.

Mistake #6 – Using “Reply All” instead of “Reply”

Really is there anything as frustrating as having your inbox overtaken by responses to a message you have no interest in reading?

If you want to be taken seriously as a professional, do everybody around you a favor and use extreme caution before hitting the “Reply All” button.  Seriously, take a moment to review the list of potential recipients and decide whether or not all of the people included in the original message really need to access to your response.

Mistake #7 – Forwarding chain emails

As I said before, it isn’t 1993 anymore.  There’s simply no reason to keep passing around those already-disproven-by-Snopes, “pass this on or you’ll have bad luck forever” messages from your Aunt Martha.  Just stop.

Mistake #8 – Not starting a new message chain when appropriate

When sending and responding to email messages, it’s often easiest to simply hit “Reply” and carry on your existing conversation as part of an ongoing email thread.  That said, once you’ve hit 60 or so back-and-forth messages, it’s probably time to start a new email chain.

If you’re sending messages between friends, this might not be much of an issue.  But in a professional capacity, lengthy email chains make it difficult to find specific pieces of information – especially if your most recent messages have deviated significantly from your initial starting topic.  For clarity’s sake, take the time to add your thoughts to a new message once things start to get out of hand.

Mistake #9 – Abusing the ‘High Priority” flag

Finally, keep in mind that what’s important to you might not be important to your recipient.  As such, email messages about Friday lunch plans or the latest NFL game probably don’t need to be marked with that little red “High Priority” flag (sounds silly, but I’ve seen it happen).

To prevent a “Boy who cried “Wolf” scenario from causing your actual high priority messages from being disregarded due to past abuse of this notification tool, only add a “High Priority” flag to messages that require an immediate response from your recipients.

Obviously, these are only a few of the different ways that you can screw up business communications.  If you have any good examples of past email etiquette mistakes made by you or others, share your stories in the comments section below!

Eliminating the Disconnect Between Goals and Actions

With the New Year upon us, it’s time to start thinking about the goals and resolutions you’ll work towards throughout 2013.  Really, the possibilities are endless – you could lose weight, work towards a major career milestone or even make an effort to seek out that special somebody you’ll spend the rest of your life with.

But with all these inspirational goals in mind, why does it seem so hard to get started?

The truth is that most of us experience a significant disconnect between the goals we set for ourselves and the actions we eventually take.  It’s one thing to think about how much better you could make your life with just a little effort – it’s another thing entirely to take definitive action in order to bring about the end results we desire.

As a result, the key to being successful in our endeavors is to determine exactly what’s causing this disconnect and to minimize the impact of these road blocks on our lives.  If we can eliminate the barriers that exist between goals and actions, we stand a much greater chance of eventually bringing about the success we so desire in our lives.

The following are a few scenarios that can create this disconnect between your overall goals and your eventual actions.  Read through them with an open mind and see if any of them might be contributing to your inability to make progress on your stated goals.

Scenario #1 – Your goal is too large

New Year’s resolutions always seem like the perfect time to make broad, sweeping changes to our lives.  After all, what better impetus is there to drop the 50 pounds we’ve been carrying around or to finally ask for that big promotion than the start of a new year?

Unfortunately, resolving to change major pieces of our lives all at once makes the entire process more intimidating than it needs to be.  As a result, we may feel too overwhelmed or burned out to take even the first baby steps towards achieving our goals out of fear for how long the journey will be.

To make big goals seem less challenging and to minimize the chances that this fear will derail us from working towards our future visions, break down your overarching goals into smaller, “bite sized” pieces.  Instead of trying to lose 50 pounds all at once, work towards losing 10 pounds, five times over.  Or, if you’re to work your way to the top of the corporate ladder, isolate a series of smaller career moves you’ll need to make and give yourself a timeline for achieving them.

By breaking things down into smaller chunks, you’ll ultimately make it easier to realize your eventual goals without your fear interrupting your progress.

Scenario #2 – You lack the information needed to make a change

Sometimes, the barrier that prevents you from making progress on a major goal isn’t fear of the process itself – it’s a lack of the information needed to make the change in the first place.

Say your goal is to lose weight.  While you might logically know that you need to eat less and exercise more to bring about this result, this isn’t the same as knowing the specific steps you should be taking.

For example, should you be eating fewer carbs, fewer fat grams or fewer sugary foods?  Should you walk, lift weights or take up kickboxing for your exercise routine?  There are dozens and dozens of different diet and exercise plans out there, which makes navigating through all the different options that are available challenging for even the most educated of dieters.

The solution here is to seek the advice of experts who can help you to come up with the concrete plan of habits that will allow you to meet your goals.  In the case of weight loss, a personal trainer, nutritionist or dietician can help you find a diet and exercise program that will work for you.  If your goals are more career-oriented, a mentor or life coach can help you to identify possible career moves that may not be immediately obvious to you.  Even if your New Year’s resolutions are romantic in nature, trusted friends or information products are available that can help you develop the skills needed to be successful in love.

Really, no matter what your goals are, there are professionals out there who can help you achieve them.  Don’t look at seeking help as a weakness – look at it as a way to eliminate the barriers that may ultimately prevent you from carrying through on your New Year’s resolutions.

Scenario #3 – You’re scared of achieving your goal  

Finally, it sounds strange, but in some cases, the thing that prevents us from achieving our overall goals is a fear of how our lives will be different if we’re eventually successful.

Take our example of significant weight loss.  While dropping the extra pounds might seem like a dream come true, the reality is that your life will change tremendously as a result.  You’ll likely experience increased – and sometimes unwanted – attraction from the opposite sex, and amongst those you know, your weight will become a central topic of conversation.  You’ll almost certainly need to purchase a new wardrobe (which is an expensive proposition in and of itself), and you’ll always live with the fear that you’ll regain the weight as the result of any misstep.

Not to be a Debbie Downer here, but there can be down sides to achieving our goals – and sometimes these down sides can subconsciously prevent us from taking action in the first place.

So what’s the solution here?  This one’s a bit tougher to answer, as the best solution depends on your own personal tolerance for risk.  In some cases, simply identifying fear as the root cause of your inability to move forward on your goals is enough to eliminate these barriers entirely.  In others, you may decide to modify the scope of your eventual goal, in order to make the end result easier to bear.

Whatever scenario best describes your situation, the important thing is that you identify the root cause of the barriers that are preventing you from moving forwards towards your ultimate goal.  Only by identifying them can you take the necessary action to minimize their presence in your life and to ensure that you’re able to successfully complete the vision you hold for your future.

Stop Playing It Safe and Start Taking Risks!

For me, one of the saddest things about the economic downturn we’re currently experiencing is that it’s made us afraid to take risks.  When jobs are scarce, we buckle down and accept less than we deserve – all because we’re afraid of losing what little we do have in the pursuit of something better.

Now, I don’t say this to diminish the struggle that some people are going through.  Certainly, it’s reasonable to expect mindsets and mentalities to be shaped by massive unemployment, expiring jobless benefits and the increased expectations heaped upon workers who do remain employed.  My heart goes out to all the people that have been negatively affected by these circumstances, and I continue to hope for a recovery that helps people to return to the workforce as quickly as possible.

But that said, I’m afraid of the impact that this economic uncertainty has had on today’s workforce.  Because we know that employment is tenuous at best, we’re willing to compromise the “sure” thing of an existing job for the benefits we’d gain by taking more risks in our career decisions.

Taking risks sounds scary, but the thing is that it’s incredibly difficult to advance our personal and professional objectives without them.  It’s through taking risks that we achieve more than standard levels of incremental career growth, and it’s through risk-taking behaviors that we form the necessary skills and contacts that lead to further success down the road.

To see the difference, imagine a worker who stays in a single corporate job for the duration of his working life – simply because of the stable benefits and steady pay it provides.  Now, compare that with a worker who jumps between companies to take advantage of exciting opportunities – improving both his skill set, job satisfaction and compensation levels at the same time.

Sure, there’s something to be said for having a job that pays the bills.  And I’m definitely not suggesting that you take risks just to take risks.  Ideally, any risky moves you make in your personal and professional life should be carefully calculated to ensure the highest possible chances of success.  However, adopting a mindset that prioritizes security over satisfaction isn’t a great choice for your career advancement – or for overall happiness in general.

Now, if you’ve been reticent to take risks in the past, don’t worry.  Although many people think of “riskiness” as an inborn trait, I believe it’s a valuable skill that can be learned in the same manner as riding a bicycle or learning to drive.  Here’s how to do it:

Step #1 – Start small

If you’re a naturally risk-averse person, you don’t need to start off with some grand gesture, like quitting your job, moving to a new country or marrying the girlfriend you’ve only been dating for a few weeks.

Instead, start small.  Step outside your comfort zone by trying a new restaurant for lunch or by taking a weekend trip on your own to a new destination.  Try talking to a stranger while waiting in line for something or trying a menu item you don’t usually indulge in.

Again, your gestures don’t have to be large.  The idea is to get comfortable with the sensation of risk-taking so that, over time, you feel better about jumping into larger – and more beneficial – risks.

Step #2 – Envision worst case scenarios

As the risks you take become larger, the stakes that are pinned on your success grow higher as well.  If you want to achieve something big, you usually need to take a proportionately large risk – but because you’ve got more on the line, this can be scary enough to prevent you from jumping at all.

To get over the potential loss these risks involve, make it a habit to fully explore the worst case scenario you’re envisioning in your head.

Say, for example, you’re thinking about quitting your job to pursue a career as an entrepreneur.  It’s a scary proposition, as leaving a steady paycheck can conjure up fears of imminent homelessness and poverty.  But instead of indulging in this self-sustaining fear, explore the limits of your worst case scenario.

In this example, the worst thing that could happen is that your entrepreneurial venture fails, you’re no longer able to afford food, rent or utilities and you’re kicked out onto the street.  The cardboard box you’re living in gets peed on by a stray dog, causing it to lose structural integrity and fall apart in the middle of a storm – leaving you hungry, wet and homeless on the street.  Eventually, you succumb to a case of storm-triggered pneumonia, which could have been easily treated with the benefits you would have had if you hadn’t left your steady job.

Step #3 – Weigh the good against the bad

Once you’ve reached the end of this vision, give yourself a reality check.  Even if your entrepreneurial venture failed, do you have family or friends who would help you get back on your feet?  Could you go back and get another job at a similar pay rate as before?  Or, even if neither of these situations apply to you, are there social services in your area that would provide a safety net to people in the exact situation you’re so worried about?

In nearly all cases, the scenarios we’re envisioning are those that are so remotely unlikely that we risk trading potential future fulfillment and happiness for something that will almost assuredly never come to pass.  And if you ask me, that’s a pretty bad tradeoff to make!

To help balance your visions of imminent disaster and ruin, envision how different your life could be if you take a risk and wind up succeeding.  Suppose, instead, that your entrepreneurial venture is a success.  Not only will this be personally and professionally fulfilling, the financial rewards could be significant – finally giving you the life of comfort and class you’ve always dreamed of having.

Now, weigh these two possible outcomes against one another.  Sure, the odds that you’ll be 100% successful in every risk you take are slim, but so are the chances that your worst case scenario will come to pass.  You’ll likely wind up somewhere in the middle, but by taking a risk and giving yourself the chance to succeed, your eventual outcome is much more likely to lean towards the good than the bad.

So stop convincing yourself that you’ll fail before you even give yourself a chance to succeed.  Taking risks is a skill that can be learned, and it’s one that will serve you well throughout your life.  You never know how much you have to gain until you try!


Say “No” In Order to Say “Yes” More Often

There’s a reason that so many of us wind up tired, stressed, burned out and overcommitted.  Although we’re taught throughout our lives how to make others happy through our words and actions, that same type of education rarely extends to helping us take care of our own needs.

As a result, we say “Yes” to taking on extra assignments at work – even when we’re swamped with other deadlines.  We say “Yes” to volunteering at a PTA event, simply because we can’t bear to disappoint committee organizers.  We even say “Yes” to family obligations that do nothing besides tax our limited resources and cause undue stress – all because we haven’t figured out how to say “No” effectively!

Well, I’m putting my foot down!  From here on out, I give you permission to say “No” when you need to.  In fact, what you’ll usually find is that saying “No” when you need to allows you to say “Yes” to the right things – freeing up your time and energy to fall into alignment with your desired goals.

Of course, it’s not quite as simple as just starting to say “No” after a lifetime of people-pleasing.  It can take some practice to figure out how to decline situations and expectations gracefully.  So if the thought of saying “No” more often makes you feel more than a little uncomfortable, take the following steps in order to learn how to bow out effectively:

Step #1 – Identify your top values

Before we look at how to say “No” more often, it’s important to understand why this is an issue in the first place, as well as what it indicates about our internal priorities.

The problem with saying “Yes” to everything is that it takes up time that could be better allocated to top priorities.  For example, take a situation where you’re repeatedly invited to participate in fundraisers or charity events at your office.  If you have a particular cause that you care about supporting, saying “Yes” to these other opportunities means saying “No” to the one mission you truly believe in.  As a result, your actions fall out of line with your values, leading to discomfort overall.

Really, any time you commit to something, you’re doing it at the expense of another opportunity.  Hanging out with the guys means spending time away from your wife.  Choosing to travel with your immediate family over the holidays might mean missing out on celebrations with extended relatives you rarely see.  Even taking on new projects at work might mean losing steam on initiatives that are more important to the company’s overall success.

This concept is called the “opportunity cost” of missed experiences, and it’s an important component in understanding why it’s important to say “No” in certain situations in order to free up time for higher priorities.

To do learn how to use opportunity costs to your advantage, start by making a list of your top values and priorities (for example, your career, your financial situation, your relationship with your spouse, your friendships, etc.).  Then, choose the top 3-5 values from this list that matter most to you.  In the future, weigh any requests for your time or money against these top priorities and consider saying “No” if they don’t support your most important values.

Step #2 – Identify areas where you’re over-stressed

At the same time, try to pinpoint any sources of excess stress in your life, as feelings of stress can often help clue you in to the situations that aren’t serving your top values.

As an example, suppose you take an inventory of your current life and find that the amount of travel required by your job is pulling you away from your friends and family members – two priorities you’ve identified as higher values in your life than your career.  The amount of stress you’re feeling because of this scenario is indicative of areas you’ve said “Yes” when you should have said “No.”

Of course, your stress points don’t need to be quite that large.  Even something as simple as a cocktail party you feel obligated to attend when you don’t want to could indicate priorities out of whack.  Don’t panic about finding these instances of out-of-order values in your life – simply use them as learning opportunities to pursue future activities and events that are closer in-line with the priorities you’ve established for yourself.

Step #3 – Say “No” to low investment situations

Steps #1 and #2 in this process covered ways to identify situations that are causing undue stress in your life as the result of their disproportionate opportunity cost.  Unfortunately, this investigative work was the easy part – now you’ve got to actually do something about it!

If the thought of telling your boss that you’d like to travel less (or making other major changes to the things you’ve made priorities in your life) is overwhelming, start by saying “No” in low investment situations in order to build up your confidence in this area.

Saying “No” to a PTA event you don’t want to attend, for example, will be much easier than telling your parents you aren’t coming home for the holidays.  Try to rack up at least a couple of “No” wins under your belt before tackling the bigger issues in your life.  Over time and with practice, you’ll find it much easier to say “No” to the things that are sucking time away from your top values and to say “Yes” to the priorities you truly care about.

Self-Promotion for Normal People: Earn Recognition without Being an Asshole

These days, you can’t simply sit back, do your job well and wait for the praise to roll in.  In today’s tight economy, you’ve got to make others aware of your accomplishments – lest you wind up ahead of your office’s resident ass kisser in line for a lay-off notice.

But with self-promotion – as with so many other things in the current business environment – there’s a right way, and a very wrong way to go about doing it!

Think about it for a second…  How many of you know somebody who just won’t shut up about the amazing things he’s done (even if they aren’t all that awesome in the first place)?  You can call it “managing up” or you can call it “brown nosing” – either way, it’s frustrating for fellow employees to be around and for managers to tolerate.

You don’t have to go down this road.  In fact, it’s very possible to promote your accomplishments and earn the recognition you deserve without coming across like a complete tool.  To see how exactly to do this; give any of the following strategies a try:

Strategy #1 – Phrase updates to mention the work you’ve done

One of the sneakiest ways to let people know that you’re on top of your game is to work your accomplishments into the updates you give to others.

Let’s look at an example…

Suppose you’ve just finished work on a big report that had you working all hours of the night.  When you run into your boss the next morning, which of the two following statements do you think puts you and your achievement in a better light?

“Hey boss!  I had to put in a few 80-hour workweeks to do it, but I just finished that report you wanted.  I can’t wait for you to see what a great job I did!”


“Hey boss.  Now that I’m finished with the report you requested, is there anything else I can help you with?”

One of these two options makes you look like an asshole; the other showcases your efforts without coming across as “braggy.”  Guess which one’s going to come across a hell of a lot better to the person who ultimately makes the decision about your continued employment??  Basically, cut the crap and start finding ways to showcase your accomplishments in a positive, mature way.

Strategy #2 – Give credit where credit is due

Another shortcut that assholes often take when it comes to self-promotion is taking credit for other peoples’ work.  This is especially common when work involves committee or team work, as it’s all too easy for one employee to start making bold proclamations to senior management regarding his involvement in the project, as soon as other team members are out of ear shot.

Obviously, this usually backfires.  Not only does “Captain America” usually alienate his coworkers to the point that it jeopardizes future projects, managers are usually pretty quick to catch on to this type of behavior.  And really, the last thing you want to be is the guy that all the managers laugh at behind closed doors!

Instead of being quick to accept all the praise for group achievements, go out of your way to say good things about your coworkers.  It might seem risky – especially given how much of today’s career opportunities rely on strong performance reviews and demonstrated accomplishments – but trust me.  Managers notice when a single employee repeatedly appears on successful teams, and that recognition will translate into appreciation.

Strategy #3 – Announce achievements quietly

Finally, if you’re lucky enough to be recognized for your hard work in some way, the last thing you want to do is run your mouth off to the entire office.  Again, this type of overly-aggressive behavior is only going to alienate your coworkers and frustrate your manager.

But, at the same time, you don’t want these achievements to go entirely unnoticed, as some level of recognition is a vital part of ensuring that your efforts result in tangible career benefits.  Consider any of the following strategies, should you find yourself in this position:

  • If you complete a training course or receive a small award certificate, ask your manager to have a copy of the documentation placed in your personnel file.
  • If you earn a larger reward or trophy, place it on your desk without calling attention to it.  Believe me; your coworkers will notice!
  • If you earn a promotion, title change or other achievement, update your resume and online business profiles (for example, your career page on LinkedIn).  Pass on new copies to your business acquaintances where appropriate, and trust that these close contacts will notice the changes in your status.

If you’re struggling to find a balance between self-promotion for normal people and coming off like an asshole, get in the habit of asking yourself, “What would I think if my coworkers took the actions I’m considering?”  If your answer is, “I’d think he’s a douche bag,” find a more subtle way to earn recognition for your accomplishments.

What Can Sports Fans Teach You About Succeeding in Business?

Take a look at any group of dedicated, committed sports fans, and it’s obvious that there are some pretty tight bonds that form between fans and their teams.  Sports fans don’t just follow their teams’ activities passively – they publicly announce their affiliations with clothing, social networking posts and regular attendance at games.

And while your business probably doesn’t have games or publicly-available logo wear, wouldn’t it be great if you could build this same type of passion with your company’s customers?

The following are five lessons that all businesses should take from the way sports fans interact with their chosen teams.  I hope you find them useful when it comes to developing brand loyalty between your business and its customers!

Lesson #1 – Good brands are transformative

The visual image of groups of beer-bellied, bare-chested men with team logos painted on their torsos is a staple of sports imagery – but take a second to appreciate just how unusual that is.  Really, is there anywhere else in the world where these groups of men would feel as comfortable letting it all hang out in this way?

Good corporate brands can achieve the same level of commitment by making customers believe in things they wouldn’t otherwise.  Middle-aged men don’t by sports cars because they like the paint color – they buy them because they’re already picturing the sexy blonde sitting in the front seat.  Because they believe in the brand, they’re willing to commit a significant amount of financial resources just to participate with such a transformative brand.

So when it comes to your advertising efforts, stop thinking about what people want to buy or what features your latest product has.  Think about how you can make your customers feel something, and then let that spirit of transformation guide your promotional campaigns.

Lesson #2 – Traditions can be magical

When taken objectively, plenty of well-loved sports traditions seem downright silly.  From ceremonial coin tosses to annual match-ups played to decide the winner of some arbitrary trophy, there’s a lot that goes on in the world of sports that doesn’t actually relate to the mechanics of the game.

However, it is these traditions that make sports as enjoyable as they are for fans.  What would baseball be without a beer and a hot dog?  Would attending a live game be as fun without a team’s standard chants and cheers?

In fact, businesses can learn a thing or two from the adoration that sports teams are able to generate through the strategic use of traditions.  While your corporate traditions don’t need to include trophies or cheers, putting together a few memorable traditions – perhaps based around holidays or annual events – can help to increase the loyalty that exists between your business and its customers.

Lesson #3 – Criticism will be loud and public

While companies are often called out on their perceived failings and misdeeds, no entity faces as much public criticism as the sports team.  When plays go wrong, coaches and their star players are called out in a variety of media sources, and are brought to task in weekly press conferences that break down their mistakes in a very public way.

If you think that it must be fun to get on stage, week after week, to apologize for disappointing fans – think again!

But despite how unenjoyable being ripped apart by the media must be, coaches and players learn to develop the thick skin needed to brush off public criticism.  Your business must do the same thing when your brand is condemned in the press or on social media websites.  Even if your receive an unnecessarily bad review on Google+ or Yelp, remember that people will be watching your reaction – so stay as classy and professional as sports figures do in their post-game interviews.

Lesson #4 – There are always going to be haters

No matter how well-renowned your sports program is or how many top-tier athletes your recruiting class has been able to sign, there will always be team fans who disagree with your decisions.

Similarly, when it comes to business, you’ll always have detractors who seek to tarnish your brand’s reputation at every turn.  Maybe these people had bad experiences with your company in the past, or maybe they’re just mean-spirited.  Either way, you can take a page out of a sports teams’ book by responding in a tactful manner and doing your best to improve your performance in the future.

Lesson #5 – …but you’ll always have “true blue” fans as well

Of course, on the flip side of that argument, you’ll also find that both teams and businesses benefit from the loyal support of “true blue” fans.  No matter how poorly a team plays during a given season, there will always be diehard supporters who buy tickets, watch games and brag about their underdog affiliations on Facebook and Twitter.

As a business owner or professional, you’ve got these fans in your life as well.  However, if you want to continue to maintain their support, you need to identify who they are and what you need to do to keep these relationships strong.  Take the time to recognize and reward these fans’ commitment to your company, and you’ll see the goodwill returned in the form of repeat business and increased referrals.