Monthly Archives: January 2013

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!