Category Archives: Techniques

Make Major Life Changes by Altering Your Habits

Deep down, we’ve all got grandiose visions about how different our lives could be.  Maybe you see yourself several steps up the corporate ladder – enjoying the spoils a higher salary and greater prestige will bring – or maybe you envision a future where you’ve finally lost your spare tire and love handles after years of trying to lose weight.

But here’s the issue…  Tackling major life changes like these often seems so overwhelmingly stressful that we fail to make any progress at all!  As an example, losing 50 pounds might seem like such a daunting process that it’s just easier to go back to eating donuts and never get started in the first place.

As the saying goes, though, if you want to eat an elephant, you’ve got to start with one bite at a time!

In the case of making major life changes, these bites are the individual habits you can change in order to bring about a cumulatively large effect without being overwhelmed by the enormity of your goal.  In the example above, losing 50 pounds might sound too scary to even think about moving forward, but adding 10 minutes of exercise or cutting out a soda each day comes across as much more reasonable to hesitant goal-setters.

Here’s how to use the process of habit-forming to make major changes within your own life:

Step #1 – Set your major goals

As you might expect, the first part of setting habits in order to promote life changes is to determine what types of life changes you’d like to make in the first place!

Though your own goals will be unique, possible major changes to work towards include:

  • Reaching a healthy goal weight
  • Getting a promotion or industry award
  • Saving enough money for a down payment on a house
  • Running a marathon
  • Meeting the love of your life

Don’t limit yourself here or think that the goals that are important to you are either too silly to waste time on or too large to ever fully accomplish.  With the process of proper habit-forming, you truly can achieve anything you put your mind to!

Step #2 – Break major goals down into habits

Once you’ve got a major goal or two in mind, brainstorm a list of possible habits that could contribute towards your overall success in this arena.  Taking our weight loss example from before, any of the following habits could help get you one step closer to your future life-changing success:

  • Cutting out soda
  • Dropping fast food
  • Limiting desserts to one time each week
  • Substituting fruit for dessert three times each week
  • Not eating after 7:00pm
  • Eliminating processed starches from meals
  • Walking for 30 minutes a day
  • Adding 10 minutes of weight training a week

Obviously, some of these habits will have a bigger impact on your overall success in reaching your goal than others.  Adding a few sets of push-ups into your weekly routine, for example, is likely to have a much smaller impact on your overall weight than cutting out sugar will.  However, because the process of setting and following good habits isn’t necessarily a linear path, it’s a good idea to have both easy and more challenging habits at your disposal.

Step #3 – Tackle a single habit at a time

After you’ve compiled as many different habits as you can think of that will help bring you closer to your goal, choose one and start working on it exclusively – keeping everything else in your life the same.

Now, here’s where the variability in your habits’ relative difficulty becomes important.  If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the thought of making any life changes, start with an easy habit and celebrate every day you complete it successfully.  On the other hand, if you’re feeling excited about starting the life-changing process, try starting with a more difficult habit in order to bring about results more quickly.

Whichever option you choose, focus on this single goal for at least three weeks before adding another habit into the mix (and even then, add new habits only if you feel confident in your ability to maintain your original goal).  Yes, this makes the process of making major changes to your life much slower, but it also makes it substantially more likely that you’ll successfully reach your final destination.

Step #4 – Use habit tracking tools to stay on track

As you go through this process of tackling a single habit at a time, you might find it helpful to use a habit tracking tool that allows you to record and monitor your progress.  A few of my favorite tools for this purpose include:

You might also find it helpful to establish rewards for yourself for completing a given habit for a set number of days.  Knowing that there’s a special treat waiting for you at the end of a three-week long habit-forming road makes the entire process much easier to stick with!

Do you have any suggestions on how to set or stick with the types of habits that will help you to achieve major life goals?  If so, share your recommendations in the comments section below!

How to Give Better Compliments

The practice of giving compliments is something of a lost art.  In fact, even the idea of consciously improving your compliment giving skills calls up thoughts of the charm schools and finishing programs found in eras gone by.  However, giving compliments isn’t just for debutantes and overly-indulgent flatterers – it actually builds rapport with the people around you, creating relationship equity that can be cashed in when you need it most.

Of course, if you want to use the art of complimenting to grow your business and personal relationships, you’ve got to brush up your skills in this arena.  Giving a compliment isn’t something that comes naturally to most people, so you’ll want to pay attention to the following guidelines as you polish this necessary skill:

Be specific with your compliments (…but not weirdly so)

The best compliments we receive are those that are specific to ourselves.  Think about it for a second…  Which of the following compliments would you rather receive after giving a presentation to your company’s sales department?

“Great work today!”


“You really nailed it in your presentation today – great job researching all that information!”

The first version comes off as generic and bland, while the second option speaks to a specific achievement on your part.  If you’ve busted your ass to come up with unique and compelling statistics for your sales presentation, you’ll be much more appreciative of a compliment that reflects this effort than one that makes no mention of your hard work.

Whenever possible, try to tailor your compliments to something specific.  Instead of saying, “You look good today,” say, “That’s a great tie.”  Or, instead of telling a date, “I had fun tonight,” try something like, “I really enjoyed the movie you picked out tonight.”  Just don’t be too specific.  Complimenting a first date on how much you love the little mole on the backside of her knee only comes off as creepy!

Watch out for comparative compliments

Another caveat when it comes to compliment giving is to be wary of any messages that can be taken the wrong way.  As an example, saying, “You look good – have you lost weight?” could be taken to mean that the recipient of your compliment didn’t look good the day before (even if that’s not at all what you mean).

Realistically, you’re going to fall into this trap sometimes, and you can’t be responsible for people who overanalyze and take things too far.  Instead, what you can do is to minimize the risk of comparative compliments being taken poorly by following a specific complimenting formula…

Follow a compliment construction formula

If you struggle to make your compliments sound natural, one way to avoid discomfort is to have a formula in mind that you can use to put together future compliments.  For example, try something like this:

[how you feel] + [about something specific] + [why you feel that way]

Let’s take a look at how this works in person.  Suppose you want to compliment a colleague on her assistance pulling the data you needed for a big report.  Following the formula above, you might say:

“I really appreciate your help pulling the data for my report.  I couldn’t have made my deadline without your support.”

Altogether, you’ve got a feeling, something specific that you appreciate and a reason you feel that way.  Try this formula in a few different settings (or come up with a different variation that feels more natural to you) and before you know it, giving valuable, appreciated compliments will become second nature to you.

Choose your moment

One final consideration to keep in mind when it comes to giving compliments is to choose your moment carefully.  Even the best of compliments can go wrong when delivered at an inappropriate time!

For starters, try to give compliments when you’re alone with the person you’re complimenting (or, at least, when you’re sharing a private conversation with him or her).  Giving a compliment to a person who’s surrounded by friends or coworkers puts him on the spot, and puts you at a serious disadvantage should your compliment come out poorly.

At the same time, try to give your compliment as closely in time as possible to the actual event you’re complimenting.  Saying something like, “I loved that shirt you wore last month,” or “Great job on the presentation you gave a few weeks ago,” comes across as either absent-minded or intentionally manipulative – both of which you want to avoid!

Obviously, you won’t always be in a position to get someone alone immediately after something you’d like to compliment him on.  In these cases, let the compliment go, as you don’t actually need to give out a compliment every time that you could.  By simply making it a priority to engage in this practice more throughout your life, you’ll increase your odds of sharing the type of meaningful praise that helps to grow your personal and professional relationships.

The New Networking: Using Technology to Forge Connections

These days, we do just about everything online – from ordering food to maintaining connections with old friends, and even running entire companies from the comfort of our computer chairs.  And yet for some reason, when it comes to the subject of networking, plenty of business people view this practice as an “in person only” type of thing.

In fact, there are plenty of different ways to utilize technology to conduct the same type of networking that was once only carried out in stale ballrooms at business conferences.  Online networking represents a great opportunity for business professionals who are pressed for time, those with shyness issues or

Step #1 – Select your online networking venue

When it comes to online networking, there are dozens of different approaches you can take across several hundred social websites.

For example, you could focus your online networking efforts exclusively on LinkedIn by participating in industry Groups and sending messages to other professionals with whom you have some shared connections.  Alternatively, if your industry has a centralized social website (for example, “Legal On Ramp,” which serves the law community), building a presence on one of these sites may make more sense in terms of potential connections.

And heck, don’t count out traditional social networks, like Facebook, Twitter and Google+.  As more and more professionals begin seeing these websites as legitimate business tools, the number of business introductions that occur via social media sites is sure to increase.

Step #2 – Present yourself professionally

Once you’ve decided where and how you’ll go about forging your online connections, take a few seconds to assess the first impression given off by your existing digital presence.

Unlike in face-to-face interactions, the way you’ll be judged in the digital world isn’t tied to your hair style, the way you’re dressed or your personal mannerisms.  Instead, new contacts must go off of your profile picture, email address and general use of language in order to form the same impression of who you are and what you stand for.

As a result, if your profile picture comes from a wild Saturday night at the bar and your written communications are more suited to texting than to business language, you probably aren’t going to be taken seriously by your new online contacts!

To prevent this from happening, clean up your profiles (or at least improve your privacy settings so that what happened in Vegas actually stays in Vegas) and make sure the language you use in any professional conversation online uses proper spelling, grammar, capitalization and punctuation.

Step #3 – Target the right people

When you network online, you’ll have access to a much wider range of potential contacts than you ever would in real life.  While a local business networking event may only draw the same 10-20 people that show up every time for the free cocktails, networking online has the ability to put you in touch with professionals from around the world.

Of course, you don’t necessarily want to make the acquaintance of every single person in your industry, which is why one of the other major perks of online networking is that it allows you to laser-target only the people with whom you’d like to form new connections.

So before you start reaching out to new contacts, take the time to think about the people you’d most like to be in touch with.  If, for example, you’re looking to move into a new industry, identify professionals within 2-3 organizations that have the connections you’ll need.  Or, if you’re looking for a new mentor within your field, use services like LinkedIn that will allow you to search out new contacts according to existing connections and job titles.

Step #4 – Build relationships with low commitment interactions

Now, if you were networking in person, you wouldn’t immediately bully these new contacts into providing you with information on key business or job opportunities.  Instead, you’d open conversations with new networking partners with a bit of small talk – only attempting to cash in on your new contact’s knowledge once a stronger relationship had developed.

The same thing goes for online networking.   “Woo” the people in your online business network by exchanging messages of simple pleasantries, by promoting their digital content to your own online followers or by commenting on their most recent business blog posts (where applicable).  Allow these relationships to develop naturally before you attempt to extract any type of value from them, in order to avoid alienating the connections you’ve worked so hard to build.

Step #5 – Transition your online relationships to real life

Finally, whenever possible, make the effort to advance the relationships you’ve built online into real-world connections.

Obviously, you can’t do this with contacts that are located around the world.  However, if a new network member lives in your area, ask if it’s possible to meet up for coffee or for a working lunch.  One of the few disadvantages of online networking is that the relationships formed through these services tend not to be as strong as person-to-person interactions, which could put you at a disadvantage compared to the real-life members of your contact’s network.

To avoid missing out on the benefits of real-life connections, do your best to move your online relationships to the offline world.  Don’t be pushy, but do make an effort to get to know people away from the computer in order to form the types of connections that will lead to business or personal benefits down the road.

7 Prompts to Jump Start Small Talk

No one really likes making small talk – except, I suppose for the rare extrovert who’s done amazing things with his life and can’t wait to share with others.  But for the rest of us, carrying out these frequently-tedious conversations is, at worst, a waste of time and, at best, a part of the relationship building process that simply can’t be avoided.

And since there’s no way to avoid it (short of holing up at home and living out your remaining years like Howard Hughes), you’re better off making an effort to improve your small talk skills.  To help get you started, here are a few specific prompts that you can keep in your back pocket and pull out whenever awkward conversations start to get the best of you:

Prompt #1 – “What are you up to these days?”

Simple, yet effective.  What I love about this small talk prompt is that it provides your networking contact with the flexibility to take the conversation in any direction he chooses – whether that’s “shop talk” about his job or more personal details about his home life.

It also meets the key small talk criteria of being an open ended question.  Worded a different way, as “Are you keeping busy these days?” gives conversation partners the easy out of a “yes or no” question, which should be avoided at all costs when it comes to small talk!

Prompt #2 – “Have you seen the recent news story about…?”

Discussing world events can provide a nice, arbitrary place to begin a small talk conversation (especially if you don’t know your networking contact well enough to inquire about his personal life).  But be cautious!

As with all light conversations, the subjects of religion, politics and money should be avoided at all costs.  This is sort of a no-brainer, but saying something like, “I can’t wait for Obama/Romney to win the election” isn’t likely to keep your conversation smoothly.  Instead, stick to lighter news topics – like whether you expect the Giants or the Tigers to win the World Series.

Prompt #3 – “How do you know the hosts?”

If you’re mingling at a private party, asking new conversation partners how they’ve arrived at the event can be both a good conversation starter and a useful way to learn new things about the people in your life.

For example, if you’re at a party thrown by your boss and ask a fellow attendee how he knows your supervisor, you may be surprised to find out that their initial introduction happened on a deep sea fishing expedition.  With this new piece of information, you’ve now got a conversation starter to use with your boss, should you ever need to make polite conversation.

Prompt #4 – “How long have you been in the area?”

When it comes to small talk, keep in mind that most people really enjoy talking about themselves – they often just need a little prompting to get started!

For this reason, asking about a person’s origins can be a fun one.  Most people will jump at the chance to share how their personal histories led them to your town, potentially setting off an interesting and lengthy conversation.

Prompt #5 – “What do you do for fun?”

Yes, this one can backfire – as you’ll occasionally use it on the type of “all work, no play” person who can’t wait to tell you about how he’s just too busy to have fun these days.

However, in most cases, asking people about the hobbies they’re into provides great fodder for conversation and may even garner you some great recommendations on fun things to do in your area.

Prompt #6 – “Really?  Tell me more about that…”

This prompt isn’t a conversation starter, but it’s a great phrase to pull out later on in order to keep your interactions going.

As an example, if a networking contact responded to Prompt #5 with a mention of a recent family vacation, asking, “Tell me more about that” both keeps the conversation going and gives you more information on future vacation options.  Just be sure to mix things up every once in a while so that you don’t wind up sounding like a “Tell me more!” robot.

Prompt #7 – “Let me introduce you to…”

Sometimes, the reality of small talk involves conversations that clearly aren’t going anywhere.  Maybe you can’t find any common ground, or maybe your new contact’s BO is so overwhelmingly powerful that it cancels out any potential networking benefits.  Whatever the case may be, this prompt gives you an opportunity to excuse yourself from a conversation gracefully, while still appearing to provide value for both parties.

To give an effective introduction, don’t just share both parties’ names – give a reason for the introduction as well.  Saying, “Jason, meet Benjamin,” and then fleeing reflects much more poorly on you than sharing something like, “Jason, meet Benjamin.  He’s a Java developer like you.”  Since you’ve provided a commonality, you’ve given Jason and Benjamin something to talk about – giving you the chance to make a graceful exit.

If you still don’t feel confident about your ability to deftly manage small talk, try to remember that nearly everybody gets nervous about maintaining conversations with strangers.  Most people will be so thrilled that you’ve taken the lead using your small talk prompts that they’ll be happy to respond to your prompts – boosting your confidence and reinforcing your newly-developed small talking skills.

Practicing Calmness: Maintaining Control in Difficult Situations

Unfortunately, when it comes to facing stressful situations, Master Yoda, you are not.  Developing the type of Zen-like calm that will enable you to exit trying circumstances gracefully isn’t easy to do, but it’s vital.  If you’re prone to outbursts of anger or tears whenever you feel threatened, learning how to remain calm will ensure that you’re taken seriously in both your professional and personal lives.

So if you’re sick of being dismissed by others or feeling that you’ve let your anger get the best of you, consider the following 5-step process for managing your emotions in stressful situations:

Step #1 – Acknowledge when you’re feeling stressed

As usual, the first step to resolving a problem is to admit that you have one in the first place.  After all, you can’t learn how to maintain control in difficult situations if you aren’t able to identify when your reactions are getting out of hand.

Generally, there are a few key symptoms we can use to assess when stress is occurring.  Our pulses increase, our faces flush, our hands begin to shake and we feel a rush of emotion – whether anger, teariness or some other strong feeling.

The key to managing difficult situations is to detect these symptoms at their onset, before you become so overwhelmed that a graceful exit is no longer possible.

Step #2 – Excuse yourself from the situation

Now that you know which symptoms indicate that you’re becoming stressed, practice excusing yourself from difficult situations as soon as you notice them.  If you delay and try to force yourself to regain control, you’ll typically only compound your emotional response – making you even less likely to come out of the scenario in a calm, controlled way.

To do this, use the following template:

“I’m sorry.  I’m feeling [stressed, upset, angry, etc] because of [this situation].  Could we regroup in [a certain period of time] once I’ve had a chance to think more clearly?”

Sure, there are some situations that you won’t be able to get out of, but you’ll likely find that these are few and far between.  Most people will respect your ability to advocate for your own needs and will give you the space necessary to gain control of your emotions privately.

Step #3 – Analyze your frustrations

Once you’re alone, take a few moments to think about why you experienced the reaction you did, putting a particular focus on your personal emotions and rationale.  For example, complaining to yourself that, “My boss is such a jerk,” doesn’t give you much to go off of, since you can’t do much to change your boss’s personality.

However, what you can do is to identify which of the elements of your earlier encounter are making you upset.  As an example, while your boss might truly be a jerk, you might also be able to identify that what’s really got you frustrated is the way he gives your co-worker better assignments than you ever seem to receive.  Knowing exactly what’s got you upset will go a long way towards helping you to brainstorm potential solutions and eventually change your mood.

Step #4 – Identify potential solutions

Following with the example above, if you’ve identified that you’re upset over perceived favoritism, it’s now on you to explain to your boss that this is how you see the situation.  And quite frankly, that conversation is going to go over much better if you can pair your observations with some practical ideas for solutions.

In this case, you could be missing out on prime opportunities because your boss thinks you’re too busy to handle them.  As a solution, you could offer more frequent check-ins or ways that other priorities could be handled more efficiently in order to free up your time for higher profile projects.

Of course, not every difficult situation has a solution.  Your boss might just not like you, and if that’s the case, no amount of calmness is going to resolve the scenario you’re facing (though you might also take that as a hint that it’s time to find a new job…).  But really, nine times out of ten, excessive displays of emotion can be avoided by taking the time to calmly think through what’s really bothering you and what can be done to improve your situation.

Step #5 – Carry out necessary follow-up professionally

Finally, if you promised anyone involved in the difficult situation you faced initially that you’d follow up with them at any point, now’s the time to do so.  Don’t let your discomfort prevent you from sticking to your word, as that’ll do much more damage to your reputation in the long run.

With consistent practice, you may find that you don’t even need to excuse yourself and follow up with the people in your life at a later time.  As you practice keeping your cool when faced with difficult situations, you’ll find that you’re able to identify your core emotions and deal with them in a calm, rational way in the moment, preventing your feelings from ever getting out of control in the first place.

Learn to Remain Calm in Any Situation

These days, there are enough stressors in our modern life to raise the blood pressure of even the most devout religious monks!

However, learning to remain calm and change your mood in the face of these stressful situations is vitally important, as people are less likely to trust and respect the people they see flying off at the handle in the face of minor challenges.  Over time, being perceived as a person who can’t maintain control of his emotions can do serious damage to your personal and professional reputation – so take the time to implement any of the following tips to learn how to maintain a calm exterior:

Tip #1 – Take a deep breath

First things first, when you feel stressed out or anxious, pause and take a deep breath.  Not only will this increase the amount of oxygen flowing throughout your body – which provides an immediate calming benefit – it’ll also help you to avoid making rash and regrettable decisions.

Tip #2 – Put things in perspective

As you’re taking your deep breaths, take a second to put your situation into perspective.  On a scale of 1-10, with one being surrounded by unicorns and rainbows and ten being living in box on the street corner, how bad is your situation?  Chances are even if you’re facing a legitimate stressor, there are plenty of other things in your life that could be much worse.

Tip #3 – Compare your experience to the “worst case scenario”

If you’re struggling to keep your stressful experiences in perspective, get in the habit of imagining the absolute worst case scenario that could occur.

For example, suppose you’re facing rumors of possible layoffs at work.  While this is certainly a stressful situation, allowing your anxiety to influence your on-the-job performance won’t do you any good!  Instead, think through what the absolute worst possible thing that could happen to you would be.  In this case, if a layoff might be in your future, your worst case scenario might be losing your job, running out of money, being turned away by your parents and finding yourself in the “living in a box” scenario described above.

Now, take a closer look at each of those elements.  Could you lose your job?  Possibly, but there are also plenty of things you could do to either improve your performance or make it easier to find a new gig.  Might you be turned away by your parents?  I suppose, but even if this unlikely situation comes to pass, you probably have at least a few close friends who’d be willing to help you out of a tough spot.

By taking the time to envision the absolute worst possible thing that could occur, your own stressor will diminish in importance, allowing you to move on in a calm, clear-headed way.

Tip #4 – Give yourself a break

When faced with stressful situations, try to remember that your immediate reaction may not be your best one.  You might initially jump to conclusions that aren’t correct, or you may experience an emotional reaction that will change as you’re able to consider the logical, rational side of your dilemma.

So instead of reacting rashly, remove yourself from the situation and grant yourself the necessary space to process the stressor.  You’ll likely find that, after doing this, you’re able to return and address challenging situations in a much calmer manner.

Tip #5 – Take care of yourself

It should go without saying, but you’re a lot less likely to be stressed out when you take the time to get adequate rest, feed your body with nutritious foods and take part in regular exercise.  If you need convincing, think back on the last time you dealt with a stressful situation while you were tired or hungry.  How much more likely were you to snap or jump to conclusions as the result of external stressors?

By taking the time to ensure that you’re rested and healthy, you’ll be better prepared to remain calm in the face of challenging situations.

Tip #6 – Surround yourself with supportive people

Another great way to handle stressful situations is to build relationships with people who tend to be level-headed and calm.  While these people can help you to see the positive side of a stressful situation, you may also find yourself embarrassed to freak out in their presence.  It may not be the most honorable of motivations, but heck – I say, do whatever it takes to project a calm demeanor!

Tip #7 – Fake it

If none of these solutions help you to maintain a calm demeanor in the face of stressful situations, you have one more option – fake it ‘til you make it.

Because there are plenty of negative consequences associated with blowing up or acting rashly in the face of stress, you’ll find that you’re taken more seriously and that you’re more likely to achieve your desired ends by simply putting up a calm exterior.  Even if you’re seething on the inside, never let the people around you see you sweat!

Do you use any of these techniques in your personal or professional life?  Share your personal “remaining calm” strategies in the comments section below:

How to Become an Expert in Any Subject – Fast!

These days, there are plenty of advantages to being seen as an expert in your industry.  If you’re pursuing a traditional career, your in-depth knowledge is likely to lead to promotions and raises due to your perceived value as a leader amongst your peers.  If you run a blog, authority figure status means more website traffic and more income from the products you sell, simply because you appear more exciting to prospective customers.

But fortunately, while the process of becoming an expert in any subject might seem overwhelming, the amount of information available for free on the internet makes it easier than ever to attain this recognition.  Don’t worry – you don’t need to go back to school for your PhD.  Instead, simply take the following steps in order to boost your own perceived authority:

Step #1 – Identify the authority bloggers in your subject

In order to position yourself as an authority figure in your industry, you first need to know what these experts look like.  What kind of subjects do they talk about?  How do they interact with their followers?  What resources do they recommend that you can take advantage of?

Depending on your familiarity with your industry, you may already know who the top bloggers in your niche are.  If not, use tools like Google’s Blog Search or the recommendations of your friends and colleagues to identify the current experts with the biggest, most robust web presences.

Step #2 – Read their most popular posts

Aim to find at least three authority figures that you can follow, and then take the time to read through at least 5-10 of the most popular posts on their websites (which are typically listed on the site’s sidebar).

As you read these posts, pay attention to both the specific topics covered in the articles and the “words of wisdom” shared by the authority figure.  If the site allows comments, read through these as well to gain additional insight into the opinions and concerns of other members of your niche.  Because you’ve taken the time to identify the most popular posts, written by the most popular people in your industry, you’re earning a great deal of insight into the subjects that matter most to your new audience.

Step #3 – Find the three most popular books on your subject using Amazon

Next up, head to Amazon and use the company’s lists of most popular books and recommendations from past purchasers to identify the most popular books on your desired topic.  As a general rule, these books will give you a greater level of industry oversight, compared to the shorter, more immediate concerns of individual blog posts.

Step #4 – Read them (or scan their tables of contents if you don’t have time)

If you have the time, purchase these books (or check them out from your local library) and read through them, taking notes along the way to highlight new ideas or topics that bear further research.

If, on the other hand, you don’t have time to read through three separate books, take the time to at least scan through the index of each book.  These pages are often published for free on Amazon or Google Books, and should give you a brief overview of the topics you’ll want to familiarize yourself with in order to be taken seriously as an expert on your chosen subject.

Step #5 – Ask and answer three questions that have come up in your reading

Finally, once you’ve finished the readings described above, go through and identify three specific items on which you need further clarification.  Maybe you’ve encountered a term that you didn’t immediately understand, or perhaps on blog post referenced a related topic you’d like more information on.  Whatever the case, write down these three questions and use the internet to find the answers you need.

Now, will this process make you a Nobel prize winning expert on any subject?  To be fair, no.  Perusing blogs and reading books on your chosen topic simply isn’t the same as studying for years upon years in order to deepen your knowledge in a specific field.

However, I’d also argue that in today’s digital world, that level of expertise isn’t always necessary.  In nine cases out of ten, attaining perceived expert status in any field simply involves keeping a step or two ahead of the people you hope to reach as an industry expert.  And given how many people make absolutely no effort to better themselves through the pursuit of knowledge, this isn’t that difficult!

So follow the process above, and repeat it from time to time.  Deepen your knowledge by pursuing other resources you encounter that interest you, and share your newfound insight with others in conversation or in digital communications.  Often, there’s no better way to improve your own mastery of a subject than to teach it to others, so get out there and start sharing your new wisdom.  You’ll quickly be on your way to expert status!

Mastering an Assertive Tone of Voice

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

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

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

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

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

For example, a few situational prompts to consider include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get What You Want by Getting to Know the Right People

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

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

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

Step #1 – Identify your needs

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step #3 – Build your new relationships

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

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

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

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

Step #4 – Focus on consistently improving your network

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

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

How to Tell if Somebody is Lying

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

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

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

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

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

Tip-off #1 – Avoidance of eye contact

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

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

Tip-off #2 – Extra fidgeting

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

Tell-tale clues to look for here include:

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

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

Tip-off #3 – Evidence of distress

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

Other physiological signs you may encounter include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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