Are You a Pushover?

office pushover

In today’s competitive, demanding business world, being able to say “No” to projects that don’t fit your career objectives or schedule is a vital part of maintaining both sanity and productivity.

And yet, for many of people, saying “No” feels as if it’s as serious an offense as coming to work drunk or cussing out the boss over a bad review.  It isn’t easy, but if you’re an office pushover, it’s incredibly important that you learn to recognize and manage these behaviors in order to stay on top of your workload and your sanity.

Here’s how to do it…

Common behaviors of the office pushover

The first step in preventing the pushover mentality from disrupting your career is to recognize when it’s rearing its ugly head in your life.  To do this, ask yourself whether or not you can see yourself in any of the following common behaviors:

  • Allowing others to break your department’s rules – even when there’s no good reason for making accommodations.
  • Accepting additional work that falls outside of your job description when your “to do” list is already packed full.
  • Picking up the slack for others on committees or group projects.
  • Failing to defend your work or decisions against criticism from a superior.
  • Working late on a regular basis, because you’ve been too busy helping others to handle your own responsibilities.

If any of these descriptions hit a little too close to home, it’s possible that you’re an office pushover.  Don’t be embarrassed – plenty of people struggle to find the assertiveness needed to thrive in corporate cultures.  Instead, put in the effort to take back control of your career by minimizing pushover behaviors and employing more assertive techniques.

How to take control of your career

If you’re ready to make a change and develop the assertive behaviors needed to survive in today’s cutthroat business world, check out the following steps for instructions on how to be more authoritative and less of a pushover:

Step #1 – Prioritize your pushover behaviors

When it comes to managing pushover tendencies, you’ll first need to assess when they’re occurring in your life and which of these instances is most harmful to your career.  As an example, suppose you uncover two pushover behaviors – one that represents a huge drain on your time and self-esteem, and another that’s a mere inconvenience with no lasting ramifications on your personal or professional well-being.

In this case, tackling the first instance of pushover behavior will have a much greater impact on your overall career satisfaction than handling the second example will.  Start by addressing the larger issue first in order to bring about better results more quickly using the following steps.  From there, you might be surprised to find that your newly assertive attitude makes handling the other issues in your life a breeze!

Step #2 – Develop scripts to assert yourself

Going from meek and reserved to assertive and powerful is a scary transition.  If you’ve spent your entire life acquiescing to the requests of others, learning to stand up for yourself can seem as daunting as training for a marathon or adopting a vegan diet.

However, you can manage the discomfort of the process by developing anti-pushover scripts that enable you to stand up for yourself without having to think on your feed.  Any of the following examples should help to get you started:

  • “I’d love to help, but my schedule won’t allow it.”
  • “I’m sorry, but this is a bad time for me.”
  • “Unfortunately, my schedule is booked solid right now.”
  • “I can help with this task, but something else on my plate will have to go.”

Choose one of these scripts and modify it to your particular needs.  For example, if you have a boss who continues to pile more on your plate than you can handle, using a variation on the fourth script listed above can help you to have an honest conversation about what should be prioritized.  Or, if you’re constantly facing assistance requests from a slack-off coworker, saying, “I’m sorry, but this is a bad time for me,” can effectively shut down the conversation without impinging on your schedule.

Once you’ve chosen and modified an anti-pushover script to your needs, practice saying it over and over again until it becomes effortless to repeat it in the heat of the moment.  Practice your script in the car, in the bathroom mirror – whatever you need to do to make the words feel as natural as possible.

Step #3 – Recognize that it’s okay to make others uncomfortable

One of the hardest parts for pushovers to deal with is the thought that saying “No” might make other people uncomfortable – whether their assertiveness will result in angry bosses or coworkers who no longer want to make the weekly trip to happy hour together.

The thing is, though, that in pushover situations, somebody is always uncomfortable.  If you’re the pushover, you’re shouldering the burden of this discomfort in order to minimize the stress of others – which seems like a silly way to align your priorities!

Accept that it’s okay for others to be uncomfortable every so often – and that it isn’t your sole responsibility to look out for the emotions of others.  Obviously, you shouldn’t use your newfound assertiveness to tear your boss a new one over the way he’s taken advantage of you in the past.  Instead, make a commitment to moving forward from your past pushover ways and to enabling others to treat you with the respect you deserve in the workplace.

3 Steps to Becoming a Better Leader

great leaders

Leadership is one of those skills that’s highly valued, but difficult to develop if you aren’t born with the propensity to direct and manage others.

But don’t let that stop you!  Because leadership is so highly valued in the workplace, it’s a good idea to put some effort in developing your own skills in this area.  If the thought of putting yourself in the spotlight makes you panic a little, try the following steps in order to become a better leader:

Step #1 – Identify your strengths and weaknesses

Before you begin this process, clear your mind of any pre-existing conceptions you hold on what “leadership” means.  Too many of us think of leaders as drill sergeant, attention-seeking types who get their thrills from telling others what to do – but the reality is that this is only one type of leader.

In fact, there are plenty of different leadership styles out there – including one that prefers to operate from the shadows by delegating tasks to others and only following up to ensure their completion.  So don’t worry if you don’t feel like barking out orders like some sort of commander heading into battle.  There’s a place for everybody at the leadership table!

To get started on your own leadership journey, take a few moments to identify your own strengths and weaknesses.  How do you feel when you’re placed in the spotlight?  How do you prefer to communicate and interact with others?  And how to do you handle situations in which tasks aren’t completed on time or to your specifications?

By understanding the unique skills and perspectives you bring to the table, you can begin to develop your own concept of what “leadership” means to you.

Step #2 – Lead from a “you” perspective

If you’re comfortable giving direct, sometimes critical feedback, then a more extroverted process of leadership will suit you best.  Or, if you tend to avoid conflict, a strategy that relies more heavily on delegation and teamwork will help you to get the job done.

But whatever leadership strategy you decide to pursue, it’s important to manage from a “you” perspective.

Essentially, this means that a project or objective isn’t about you, the leader.  Instead, it’s about managing the resources on your team effectively in order to ensure that the necessary work gets done.

To do this effectively, you can’t prioritize your own success as a leader ahead of the achievements of the group.  While it’s natural to want to take credit for your accomplishments, putting the potential for your own recognition ahead of your team’s dynamics is a sure-fire recipe for disaster!

Instead, take the time to get to know all the different members of your team – as well as how they operate most effectively.  If you’re working with a mixture of introverts and extroverts, you may need to adapt your management style in order to help each employee to reach his or her own potential.  Support your team members and take more pleasure in their success than in your own – believe me, your value as a manager who can balance these different challenges and still wind up with a successful project outcome will be recognized and rewarded by others in your company!

Step #3 – Solicit honest feedback

Of course, this vision of a team working harmoniously in balance is often just that – a vision of what could be, not what actually is!

Be aware that it can take time to develop your leadership skills and to embrace your own unique style of leadership (especially if your skills put you in direct opposition to commonly accepted forms of leadership).  However, the one thing you can do to speed up the process of leadership learning is to solicit honest feedback from both your superiors and the people you’re supervising to determine where improvements can be made.

This can be done in a number of different ways, from asking staff members to provide feedback throughout a project to sitting down with individuals after the fact and asking for their honest reviews.

Unfortunately, you may not always like what you hear.  Negative criticism can be difficult to accept and can bring down your confidence in your ability to lead effectively – that is, unless you choose to view this feedback as a learning opportunity.  Even if you’re truly upset about a piece of feedback that’s given, thank the deliverer and allow yourself some time to process both your immediate feelings and your later, more rational thoughts on how you can improve.

It can be a frustratingly slow process – especially if you feel that you aren’t inherently suited for leadership roles.  But by taking the time to understand the unique strengths and weaknesses that you bring to the leadership table, you’ll go on to develop both a highly valuable skill and the respect of people below you and above you within your organization.

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!

Improving Email Communications with ToutApp


We all know how important email communications are, so I’m not going to belabor that point here.  The way you handle outgoing messages and manage your inbox says a lot about how you conduct yourself professionally.  Sending the right message at the right time can result in leads, sales and more – while the wrong combination of these elements can tarnish your reputation and affect your career in a negative way.

So if you feel like your inbox has gotten the upper hand in your relationship, it’s important to look into solutions that’ll help you manage your email communications as effectively as possible.  ToutApp is one such tool that offers a combination of different features – from email scheduling to CRM tracking and more – making it a great option for busy professionals who are feeling overwhelmed by the email monster.

In the interest of full disclosure, the ToutApp team reached out to me to write this post.  I’m not being compensated for it in any way, but I do think it’s a legitimately cool tool that you should check out if you want to improve the efficiency of your email communications.

Anyways…  That aside, the following are a few of the different features that I think make ToutApp worthy of your consideration:

Email tracking

There’s nothing like sending off an email to a hot new contact and then waiting (impatiently) for a response.  If that return message never arrives, you’re stuck wondering what happened with your once promising lead.  Even though the answer may be something as simple as your message being buried in an overly-cluttered inbox, it’s hard not to read more into delayed email responses.

For this reasons, one of my favorite features on tools like ToutApp is email tracking.  Tout’s particular email tracking program allows you to see – in real-time – who’s opening your email messages and when they’re doing it.  There’s no more watching and wondering – just the data you need to make informed decisions about your business relationships.

Email templates

Another great feature that ToutApp offers is email templating – which, if you send as many email messages as I do, is a pretty big deal!

Basically, email template programs allow you to save the chunks of text that you type over and over again as templates that can be called up and personalized with a few quick key strokes.  There’s no more painstaking re-writing of similar messages – all you need are a few clicks to automatically pull up message templates and CRM info using ToutApp.

Email scheduling

Email scheduling is another “big deal” feature that I love seeing in programs like ToutApp.  This service allows you to compose email messages whenever you have time and then schedule them to be sent out later.  As an example, if you have an important message to share, email scheduling allows you to avoid sending it during periods when your contacts’ focus will be low – say, on Monday mornings at 9:00am.

It might seem like a pretty simple thing, but the ability to have your message delivered at the exact right point in your contacts’ days shouldn’t be underestimated!

Gmail and CRM integration

One final ToutApp feature that I want to give a shout out to is its suite of different integrations.  Not only can you use the program from within a number of popular CRM systems, ToutApp will automatically sync your CRM database with contact information (depending on how you’ve set up certain parameters).  These integrations can save you a serious amount of time when it comes to both contact management and email communications.

If you pay for some of the service’s professional plans, you’ll have access to a ton more features than I have time to go into here – including website tracking, custom link domains and analytics reports.  The company also offers plenty of great training products designed to make your email communications as effective as possible.

Initially, my biggest concern about the tool is its cost, which seems to be much higher than the prices offered by competitors like Yesware.  According to the company:

“Yesware is a good tool for basic view and click tracking. However, with Tout, you’ll not only get view and click tracking, but we take it a step further with Website Tracking, Presentation Tracking, deeper integrations into the CRM, ability to group contacts and send them emails with a click and even meeting scheduling. Enterprise teams also favor us because of our white-labeling options around email tracking. If you’re looking for basic email tracking, Yesware works. If you’re looking for a complete sales communications platform, you use Tout.”

So I’ll leave it up to you.  If your email tracking needs aren’t that complicated, Yesware might be able to provide all the features you’re looking for at a lower cost.  However, if you want to get more in-depth with your email management processes, the added functionality of Tout might be worth the extra expense.

In addition, keep in mind that ToutApp offers a free “lite” version that should give you a feel for whether or not the service is right for you.  If any of the services described above sound interesting, I’d recommend taking a look at the company’s website in order to determine whether or not this particular tool will met your email management needs.

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.

How to Get More Done in Less Time

While we might all like to talk a big game about being more productive in the New Year, the sad reality is that far too many people say this while staring down a never-ending “to do” list of worthless tasks.

You see, the problem isn’t always productivity.  It’s entirely possible to fill your working hours with meaningless or unnecessary tasks that don’t ultimately contribute to your personal or professional goals – just to feel the sense of satisfaction that comes along with staying busy and checking off items on your many task lists.

Instead, what matters is that we’re focusing our time and energy on the tasks that truly have the potential to benefit our lives in some meaningful ways.  By getting more done in less time – using the following three-step process – you’ll free up more time and energy to invest into the goals and projects that actually matter to you!

Step #1 – Eliminate redundancies

The first step in freeing up your time and enhancing productivity is to eliminate redundant or unnecessary tasks from your life.  As an example, if you open your email messages – only to leave them unanswered and unfiled in your Inbox – you’re engaging in a redundant behavior.  After all, nothing has been accomplished as the result of your initial action – you’ll still have to go back in and deal with the message eventually.

Once you get in the habit of identifying these extraneous behaviors, you might be surprised to see how prevalent they are in modern society – and how unnecessary they truly are.

Do you copy items from a physical calendar into your digital device?  Eliminate the physical version altogether and look for programs that sync your schedule between computers and mobile phones.  Do you ever fill out worksheets or reports at work that provide no new information or serve any real purpose besides keeping you busy?  Talk to your boss about a more efficient way to handle these chores.

Be ruthless in your pursuit of eliminating redundancies.  When left to their own devices, people love to work for work’s sake – but you absolutely can’t let this behavior go unchecked if you want to get more done in less time.

Step #2 – Ask yourself one important question

After you’ve made your initial pass and weeded out as many redundancies as you can uncover, look at the rest of the tasks that remain assigned to you and ask yourself one simple question: “Is this task necessary or am I doing it to be busy?”

Keep in mind that just because a task isn’t redundant doesn’t mean it’s actually necessary.  This is especially common in corporate settings, where entire processes and procedures are kept in place, “because that’s how things have always been done.”

In these instances, though, you may not be able to be as ruthless about eliminating unnecessary work, as your specific responsibilities may be out of your control.  While you might be heralded as an innovator for drawing attention to corporate inefficiencies, it’s just as likely that the people who have been blindly following these same procedures will be threatened by your proposed upheaval.

However, if you can’t get rid of unnecessary or unimportant tasks by addressing systemic or structural inefficiencies, you’ve still got one productivity trick up your sleeve…

Step #3 – Delegate or outsource tasks

One final way to get more done in less time is to simply not do it yourself!  Outsourcing isn’t just for Fortune 500 companies anymore, and delegation doesn’t require a managerial-level title (often, a well-worded request will be enough to get others to help shoulder your burden).

Consider the following examples to see how these practices could be implemented in your own life:

  • If your job involves a tedious amount of data entry, research or other skills that don’t require your personal involvement, consider outsourcing them to remote workers found on sites like Guru and Elance.  These workers can often be hired for as little as $1.00/hour – just be careful not to outsource any tasks that involve your company’s confidential information!
  • Or, if you’d rather not outsource your professional responsibilities, allow a personal or virtual assistant take some of the burden out of your home life.  When given the right permissions, these remote workers can handle everything from scheduling doctor’s appointments to coordinating your bill payments to creating meal plans and corresponding grocery lists – saving you time that can be better spent elsewhere.
  • You can also look to others in your life to provide the same type of support.  Parts of projects can be passed on to coworkers using persuasive language and careful flattery of their individual skill sets, while household responsibilities can be shared amongst all members of the family.

Too often, it’s tempting to think that we’re the only ones who can handle our responsibilities, when the reality is that we hold on to more than we need to in order to feel more important.  It might take some “outside of the box” thinking to determine how exactly to eliminate unnecessary tasks and share those that can be completed by somebody else, but the end result of getting more done in less time is entirely worth it!

5 Strategies for Getting to “Yes”

Whether you want to experience more success in your business or personal life, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to understand how to get people to say “Yes” to you.

Obviously, this skill will come in handy in sales negotiations, but that’s not the only application for such a vital talent.  Being able to sway people to your side comes in handy when you’re seeking promotions, trying to earn special discounts on major purchases or even asking out a member of the opposite sex.

All of the following strategies are based in an understanding of human psychology, and should improve your odds of getting more “Yes” answers in your life.  Use them wisely, and you could see a major shift in your ability to get what you want!

Strategy #1 – Use the chain of affirmations

Human beings love to be consistent, which is why you’ll often find people standing up with unpopular opinions – simply because counteracting the prevailing wisdom would make them inconsistent in other areas of their lives.  You can use this internal need to your advantage.

The key to the chain of affirmation is to get people to agree to smaller statements that eventually lead up to the question to which you want the “Yes” answer.  For example, consider the following sales negotiation exchange:

Person #1: “Would you consider yourself to be someone who keeps up-to-date on the latest technology?”

Person #2: “Yes, definitely.”

Person #1: “And would you say that adopting these new solutions is a priority for you?”

Person #2: “For sure.”

Person #1: “So you’d be someone who’s interested in learning more about how my product can help you stay on the industry’s cutting-edge?”

At this point in the conversation, Person #2 has established that he’s someone who likes new technology and gadgets.  Therefore, to remain consistent in both his string of “Yes” answers and his personal conception of himself as a technological innovator, he must respond “Yes” to Person #1’s final question – opening the door for more promising sales negotiations.

Strategy #2 – Give people a reason to say “Yes”

Another interesting psychological construct to consider is that people prefer to think of themselves as rational, logical beings – even though we’re often anything but!

Take, for example, an interesting experiment conducted by Harvard research Ellen Langer, as cited in Robert Cialdini’s classic book, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.”  Langer’s experiment involved approaching people in a crowded copy shop and asking, “Excuse me, I have five pages.  May I use the Xerox machine?”

Surprisingly, about 60% said “Yes” to this basic query.  However, Langer’s results improved even more dramatically when she rephrased the question as, “Excuse me, I have five pages.  May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies?”  Even though the “reason” given in this scenario was essentially bogus, Langer’s positive response rate shot up to 93%.

If you want people to do something for you – in this case, get to a “Yes” response – give them a reason to do it.  For an even stronger impact, use the word “because” in your request, as this word alone is strong enough to trigger a behavioral sequence that eventually leads to a “Yes” answer.

Strategy #3 – Create scarcity

There’s no arguing with the fact that scarcity is a powerful motivator.  Just think about how your heart starts to race and your palms start to sweat when you’re afraid that you might miss out on a deal you’re interested in.  Hell, companies like Groupon and Living Social have made a killing on this concept by releasing only a limited number of deals on any given day.

Scarcity can be introduced to your interactions in a number of different ways, whether you limit the number of products you’ll sell, the time during which you’ll offer a special promotion or even your availability for potential dates.

However, one thing to steer clear from is introducing artificial scarcity – that is, scarcity that doesn’t really exist.  We’ve all seen sales letters online that promise “limited time offers” and “limited quantities sold,” only to come back months later and see the same sales copy listed unchanged on the page.

If you’re going to use scarcity as a tactic for getting to “Yes,” stick to your guns.  Make your promotions truly special and offer them for a limited time only.  Believe me, your buyers will respond!

Strategy #4 – Encourage reciprocity

Another technique for getting to “Yes” is the idea of reciprocity – that is, the psychological gimmick that “I scratched your back, now you scratch mine.”  Human beings tend to hate being in one another’s debt, so if we feel like someone has gone out of their way to help us, we feel naturally compelled to even the score in some way.

This is one of the many reasons that you see websites offering free products to their visitors.  It isn’t just altruism – it’s also predicated on the idea that giving a reader a free product leaves them in your debt and interested in finding a way to pay you back (preferably through actual product sales).

Again, this technique can be introduced in a number of different ways in a number of different scenarios, but it should be used carefully.  Being too obvious in the fact that you’re helping the people in your life so that you can collect on some perceived debt later doesn’t just destroy your credibility – it’s unlikely to be effective in the long run.

Strategy #5 – Offer social proof

Finally, keep in mind that humans tend to be social creatures – which means that we tend to look at what the crowd is doing before making our own decisions.

You can capitalize on this instinct in your personal and business negotiations by offering social proof.  If you’re a business owner, testimonials from past clients or contact information from references give potential buyers the social proof that others have used your products or services and liked them.  If you’re using this strategy to get a date, having a good friend make your introductions gives potential partners another reference point that will vouch for you.

Really, getting to the “Yes” answers you want in life isn’t that difficult – as long as you maintain a basic understanding of human psychology and the way these ideas can be applied in practice.  Give the techniques described above a try, see which ones come most naturally to you and then hone your skills in this arena so that your persuasive statements come across as confidently as possible.

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.