Saturday, December 11, 2010

Active listening involves getting in sync with the other person

Listening involves far more than sitting there! The are three key elements to active listening: clarifying, pacing and backtracking. They help you get in sync with the other person and more easily empathize. Concentrating on them also helps us stay out of the “yeah, but” mode AND keeps us from overreacting to the other person.


To clarify is to ask open-ended questions─who, when, where, what, how─to gain a better understanding of the other person’s position and move them toward a solution. Open-ended questions can't be answered with yes or no, so you gain more useful information. It's a good idea to avoid “why” questions—they’re perceived as accusatory and can put the other person on the defensive.


Pacing involves subtly mirroring the communication style of the other person─their posture, facial expressions, gestures and the pace, volume and energy of their voice. You must be very careful not to mimic or ape them! We naturally pace people we’re comfortable with and we do the opposite with people we’re uncomfortable with.

Think back to your junior high lunchroom. Sorry, I know this is can be painful! Picture yourself and your buddies sitting at your usual table. When someone leans in and starts to talk in a low voice, what does everyone else do? Yes, they all lean in and start whispering. Looks like a huddle. Now, if the kid who loves to spread gossip walks by, what does everyone in the huddle do? Yup, they all rear back and start talking in a loud voice about something innocuous. Just watch—you’ll see pacing in action every day!

A vey useful application of pacing is to mirror the other person’s sense of urgency. Sometimes we stay too calm and they don’t get the sense that we heard them. For instance, if they’re speaking really quickly we have a tendency to slow down to get them to slow down. Unfortunately, it just ticks them off! Instead, build in a benefit to them for doing whatever you need them to do starting at their pace and slowing down.

Here’s an example: You would start at their rapid pace and say, “I want to make sure we get your loan processed as quickly as possible.” Then you would gradually slow down as you say, “ May I ask you to verify your current address so I may pull up your records and get the process going?”


Backtracking is similar to paraphrasing only you concentrate on using some of their actual words. We call these their essence words. You’ll know what they are—they emphasize them. They can also indicate any hot spots for them.

The risk of using paraphrasing is that we often change what they said into our own words. I’m sure you’ve heard someone come back with, “No, that’s NOT what I said!” Now you have a really angry person on your hands!

Backtracking is an essential technique if you’re dealing with an especially aggressive person. They put great credence in their words. In order for them to feel heard, you need to use some of their essence words when you ask a question or summarize what they’ve said.

Often, these three techniques occur simultaneously—you pace and backtrack while you’re asking clarifying questions. Focusing on getting in sync with the other person helps us concentrate on what they're saying─helps us really hear what they're saying. Stephen Covey said it well, "Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply."

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Spirit of Cavett Robert

It was my first National Speakers Association convention and the luncheon speaker asked us to turn to someone and tell them about one of our heroes. A kindly gentleman extended his hand to me and I told him about my Grandma. After he told me about one of his heroes, he took my hand once more and said, "Tell me again what your Grandma said." Through tears I told him what she often said, "I love you darling. How would you know unless I told you?"

I discovered later that I was talking with Cavett Robert─the founder of NSA. He was one of those rare people who made you feel like you were the only person in the room when you talked with him. And I'll never forget that luncheon exchange. When I unpacked after the convention, I pulled a silk jacket out of the suitcase and discovered spots all down the front. They were tears, of course, and the cleaner was able to get them out. The impact Cavett made on me─and all of us in NSA─will always be there! The Cavett Award is bestowed annually to a member whose actions─in terms of sharing, guiding and inspiring other members─most closely parallels his illustrious career.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Danger! Many don't─or can't─read

How many of those you write for or to can't read? Or don't take the time to read? We have turned into a nation of scanners. That's not a bad thing─too much is coming at us and we just don't have enough time to read. But time is just one issue. Another is the issue of adult literacy. When you have the time, you can read all the statistics gathered by U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics in the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL). Here's just one startling quote:

"One measure of literacy is the percentage of adults who perform at four achievement levels: Below Basic, Basic, Intermediate, and Proficient. In each type of literacy, 13 percent of adults were at or above Proficient (indicating they possess the skills necessary to perform complex and challenging literacy activities) in 2003. Twenty-two percent of adults were Below Basic (indicating they possess no more than the most simple and concrete literacy skills)."

When I lead workshops on writing, I stress three key issues:
• Make sure your audience can see the relevance to them─quickly!
• Make it easy to scan
• And edit, edit, edit

Do I dare say it? Write on!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Moments of Truth

From bullfighting lexicon, it's also the title of a classic book by Jan Carlzon. Brought in as CEO to turn around Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), his famous quote started the First Wave seminars: "We have 50,000 moments of truth every day."
Carlzon defined a moment of truth as "An episode in which a customer comes into contact with an employee of a company and thereby has an opportunity to form an impression." He turned around the company within one year.

How many moments of truth does your company have every day? How many moments of truth do YOU have every day?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Having trouble getting heard?

"What?" "I'm sorry, what did you say?" Sound familiar? There are lots of reasons why people might not listen to us. They're busy. We catch them in the hall with a "Got a minute?" We ramble. We need to figure out how to get them to listen.

Try Procedure Setting. It's a three step process:
1. State your desire to talk.
2. State how long it will take. This step is critical. It requires you to know what you're going to say, knowing how long it will take and sticking to that time frame.
3. Ask if this is a good time to talk.

If they say "No," ask them, "When would be a good time to talk?" Now you've got to hold them to it. You'll want to verify a time and place. Then send them an Outlook New Meeting Request that will show up on their calendar. When the meeting time arrives, be sure you get to the point, stick to your original time frame and, er, uh, uhm. Oh! Don't ramble!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Stumbling blocks that sabotage credibility

I'm sure you haven't made as big a gaffe as the former CEO of BP, Tony Hayward. Yet, even the best speakers fall prey to some stumbling blocks─whether we're talking one-to-one or to the world. Once we identify ours, we can work to eliminate them and get on with the business at hand. Review this checklist and see how you do─you'll find some examples following each stumbling block:

 Hedge statements and qualifying phrases: This may not be important, but…

 Tag questions: Don’t you agree? OK? All right? The company car will be available, won’t it?

 Exaggerated superlatives: awesome, amazing, fabulous…

 Excessive apologies: sometimes "I'm sorry" are the only words that work; we just want to avoid excessive use of them.

 Self-effacing remarks: I’m just a… Well, I’ve done my best under tough circumstances…

 Overexplanations─many examples when one good one will do. Get to the point!

 Fillers: Um, er, like, you know, like, OK─you know...

 Rambling─we must know when to stop!

 Undefined jargon and acronyms. Every industry has them─what are some of yours?

It takes six weeks of concentrated effort to eliminate a nagging habit, so settle on the one that sabotages your credibility and get to work!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Take your PowerPoints from groan to great

You've seen the articles: "Death by PowerPoint" and other extremely uncomplimentary headlines. Many times these pejoratives are well deserved. Yet, research shows the power of visuals─see a previous post for details. To take your PowerPoints from groan to great, follow these guidelines:

Strive for simplicity

• Limit graphics
• Use bullets instead of complete sentences
• Don't overuse animation─spinning transitions grow old after one!
• Use only 2-3 colors. No surprise, blue is the favorite color of 80% of Americans.
• Strive for the strongest possible foreground/background contrast. Dark type against a light background is easiest to read─especially in subdued lighting. When using light type against a dark background, make sure it's legible.
• Recolor charts, clip art and illustrations to match your palette

Let legibility be your guide

Focus on Fonts
• Use only one or two fonts
• Pick one with a black or heavy version to make titles stand out
• Use sans serif fonts—Arial and Verdana are two classics
• 24 point is the smallest font to use—bigger is better!
• Avoid all caps—they slow down your reader by 13.4%
• Do not underline

Follow the 6 x 6 Rule, then change it up!
• 6 lines per slide
• 6 words per line
• For change of pace, have a slide with a single quote or few words

Keep punctuation to a minimum, avoid:
• Slashes—look like letters when projected
• Exclamation points—often look like the letter “I”
• Periods at end of lines—they’re usually not complete sentences
• Awkward line breaks

Choose an easy to read layout
• Set type ragged right
• Use centering sparingly─difficult to find the beginning of lines
• Use two to three indent levels─maximum

Edit ruthlessly
• Eliminate introductory words—the, in addition
• Avoid awkward line breaks
• Cut redundant words and qualifiers—often, extremely, sometimes
• Replace long words or phrases with short ones

And whatever you do, don't read from your PowerPoint. Well, occasionally I'll read a quote for effect, but to read endlessly from your slides is insulting to your audience. And boring!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Assumptions can lead to miscommunication─even conflict


Have you noticed? We human beings often jump to conclusions─or make assumptions. These lead to miscommunication and even conflict. In workshops, I demonstrate this by standing much like the woman in the picture and ask the participants to describe how I'm standing. They answer impatient, irritated, upset─all assumptions about how I feel. Then I ask them to describe what they see by starting with, "I notice your..." Then they get it and say, "I notice your arms are crossed, you're tapping your foot and you have a serious expression on your face." Now they're getting closer to using Perception Checking.

Here are the three steps involved:
1. State your observation
2. State your assumption
3. Ask for verification or clarification

Let's continue with the example I started above:

1. I notice your arms are crossed, you're tapping your foot and you have a serious expression on your face.

2. I assume you're irritated.

3. Am I reading you accurately?

This gives me a chance to clarify, "Oh no, I'm just cold and I need to go to the bathroom!" Incorrect assumption─and serious miscommunication─averted!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Would you like fries with that?

No matter what you're selling, upselling adds dramatically to the bottom line. Trouble is, some employees feel uncomfortable─translate that to pushy─encouraging a customer to buy more. We need to share with them the rationale and make it easier for them by practicing scripts that they can modify.

A great place to start is to get them brainstorming the goals of upselling. They might come up with a list like this:
• Provide customers with what they need to make their project/purchase/experience/contract more successful
• Share new products and ideas with customers
• Educate customers about our product line─they may not be aware of all we offer
• Increase sales

Then, help them figure out specific recommendations they can make to the customer. Let them know it will depend on what the customer just ordered─or ordered in the past.

From there, it's as easy as 1... 2... 3...
1. Think of some typical items a customer would purchase
2. Come up with what you can recommend as an add-on sale based on what they ordered or purchased
3. Write down the phrasing you would use to recommend those additional items to the customer

Have employees create a number of their own scripts─with help from manager and coworkers─using this formula:
1. Customer orders...
2. You can recommend...
3. You would say...

Then, practice, practice, practice. Once employees have said their own scripts enough times, they can do it comfortably─when it counts!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

May you break a leg at your next presentation!

No matter the size of the audience, many of us are very nervous when we speak. Here are some pointers that will help:

Get grounded before you start

When I lead presentation skills workshops and attendees are about to give mini-presentations, many will start talking─often apologizing─as they head for the front of the room. Instead, walk silently to the front, place your feet hip width apart with your weight evenly distributed, look at someone in the audience and then start your talk. Oh, and make sure you're not starting with "Um" or "So!"

Talk to one person at a time

Literally. Look at one person for three to four seconds, then move on to the next person. Really make eye contact. Then you're not speaking to a big audience, you're talking to one person. And even better, they will respond─many will nod or smile─and you'll get feedback that you're on target.

And remember to breathe!

When we're nervous, most of us hold our breath. Pretty hard to speak when this is happening. I remember years ago when I was demonstrating on a model. She fainted into my arms! Turns out she was holding her breath and had locked her knees. Recipe for disaster. Check out a previous blog post where I talk about diaphragm breathing. Not only does it help calm you; it gives you a stronger voice.

Now, break a leg!

(BTW, Wikipedia lists many theories behind the etymology of that phrase.)

Monday, August 23, 2010

The impact of visuals

Remember sitting in that overheated classroom in high school or college listening─or not─to a seemingly endless lecture? Probably not, since your mind had gone numb. Why did so many of us need to write down every single word we heard? Because at least 65%of us are visual learners.

Consider the result of this study conducted at Harvard: people comprehend about 7% of information delivered verbally and 87% when delivered both verbally and visually.

A study at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania found that presenters using visual aids:
- conduct meetings in 28% less time
- increase audience retention by up to five times
- get proposals approved twice as often

Further studies found that when visuals are used group consensus occurs 21% more often and the time required to present a concept can be reduced up to 40%.

The message is clear: use handouts, write on the board or paper, demonstrate, show a quick clip─get visual!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Practice diaphragm breathing to improve your voice and remain calm

Did you know─many of us breathe backward? If I asked a group to take a deep breath, many people would quickly fill their upper chest with air. This isn't enough to support a strong voice or help calm us. In fact, it just makes us more tense. Try diaphragm breathing instead:

• Sit quietly—with both feet on the floor if in a chair, perhaps legs crossed if on the floor

• Relax hands—holding nothing. Rest them on your knees or in your lap.

• Initially for practice, place one palm flat on the front of your waist between the bottom of your ribcage and your abdomen. Place your other hand on your breastbone.

• Close your eyes.

• Breathe in through your nose with your mouth closed.

• Feel your rib cage expand as your shoulders remain still (that’s your diaphragm expanding).

• Exhale sloooooooowly through your slightly open mouth—pulling your diaphragm toward your spine.

• Now try inhaling to a count of 3. Hold for 1 count. Exhale to a count of 3. Hold for 1 count.

• Breathe rhythmically. Eventually expand the count and focus on the exhale being even longer.

Practice diaphragm breathing and you'll find your voice will grow stronger. An added bonus? You'll feel like you've just had a short nap!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The power of a story well told

John Kotter, author, marketing expert and professor at Harvard University says, "Stories stick in the brain in a holistic way, better than charts, numbers and concepts. As a result the probability that the message will have an impact on behavior goes up."

I'll never forget one of the few times I substituted in an elementary school. I was sitting in a chair reading a story to the kids and they were gathered around me in irregular rows. As I read, I began to realize that the first row had moved up until several of them were touching me and even leaning on my knee. Remember what it was like to be caught up in the telling of a good story? We respond to the sound of the reader's voice, the visual images they are conjuring up, our empathy with the characters and our anticipation of the outcome.

Adults respond in the same way! We can use the power of a story to engage them and make our point. Whether you're mentoring one-to-one, leading a team meeting or speaking in front of a group─remember the power of a story well told.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Networking that nets results

New business development requires the ability to build rapport and trust quickly and create a professional, positive impression. Everyone in your company has opportunities to bring in new customers and new business. Whether they're attending a trade show, at a professional association meeting, or representing your company at a meeting or event; they need to be able to make the most of these opportunities. Are they ready to sell themselves, your company and your products or services?

Make sure they know how to:
• Enter into a group of people they don't know
• Start and maintain a comfortable, productive conversation
• Remember peoples' names—and what to do if they don't!
• Effectively answer the question, "And what do you do?
• Make the most of networking by following up effectively

No matter what the job title, in today's business environment we're all in Marketing!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Plan before you write to get results

So much of our communication today is through writing─largely emails. Some experts suggest that 30% of our emails are sent to clarify a previous email. What we need to do is focus on planning before we write. In fact, it is suggested that we spend 20% of our time planning a document, 25% of our time drafting it, a big 45% revising it and 10% of the total time proofreading it. I have no doubt President Lincoln followed a similar formula. Here's a list of questions to ask─and answer─as you plan any written document:

1. What’s the purpose of the document?

2. Who is my reader? Who is the audience? Position and decision-making authority, age, gender, education, personality type? Relationship to me? Are they formal? Informal?

3. How much does my reader know about the topic? Need to know? Want to know?

4. What reaction do I expect the reader to have? Hostile, receptive, biased, ambivalent? Are there special sensitivities between the reader and me or my company or organization?

5. What are the relevant points to cover? Check out mind mapping as an excellent technique for capturing your relevant points.

6. What do I want my reader to do after reading it? How do I want my reader to respond? Be clear and specific.

7. By when? What’s my deadline? It's a good idea to watch your tone with this last one. How about, "Please have your report to me by 3:00 on Friday, June 25, so it can be included in the department report to the board."

A little planning goes a long way toward getting the results you want.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Exercise verbal aikido and avoid getting hooked!

Our title borrows from a form of martial arts. The goal of aikido is to effectively neutralize an attack while maintaining the safety of the attacker and defender. Aikido uses the energy of the attack itself to immobilize the aggressor. They push; you pull; they pull, you push. You don’t challenge them.

We can apply the same principle in communication by using a technique called Limited Response. When someone throws out a sarcastic remark it's as though they're casting a fishing line with a big hook on the end. Don't bite! It's the tone that hooks us, so we need to repeat what they said─in our head─without the tone. Then we can respond to the seemingly neutral remark with an equally neutral remark.

In other words, we respond only to the subject of a remark, not the emotion behind it. For example, if you come into a meeting a bit late and a sarcastic co-worker says, "Nice of you to join us." You could come back with a defensive comment or an equally sarcastic one. Instead, repeat their remark in your head without the sarcastic tone. A likely response? "Thank you"─said in a very neutral tone. The big payoff for you? The sarcastic person will cast about for a fish, er, person who is more likely to grab their hook.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Want more empathy? Read more fiction!

Just read an article about an interesting study which found that: "People who frequently read narrative fiction scored higher on tests of both empathy (the ability to understand and identify with another person's feelings) and social acumen (the ability to make quick judgments of people and situations)." In addition, the study found that "frequent reading of non-fiction was associated with poorer empathy and social acumen." As I've written in previous posts, empathy is one of the cornerstones of Emotional Intelligence and EI (or EQ) has been shown to be a crucial leadership skill.

With that in mind, thought I'd share the most recent fiction that I thoroughy enjoyed.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery is about a concierge in a French condomium building. She tries diligently to hide her true self from the residents and is found out by a new resident. The other narrator is a young resident who is planning suicide. Quite a look at how we perceive one another and the impact simple kindness can have on others.

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese is the story of orphaned twin brothers who are raised by two doctors in Ethiopia. Those who traditionally don't read fiction, and are fascinated by medicine and the history of Ethiopia will enjoy this novel. As you get caught up in the story, you'll also be likely to develop empathy for the characters.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Use sensory recall when things heat UP!

In February I wrote about how effectively Olympic athletes use visualizations and promised another post about how we can use visualization to calm ourselves when dealing with a stressful situation or person. Get ready to rela-a-a-a-x.

Think of a place where you feel very calm. You might be hiking in the mountains, fishing, on a beach, reading a book, playing music, soaking in a tub of bubbles─it's a different place for each of us.

You want to be able to recapture the feeling that you have when you are there. Actors call it sensory recall and use the technique to get into the mood of the scene or the emotions of their character. You can use it when things heat up!

Try it with me. Get comfortable and shut your eyes. Recall everything you can about your favorite relaxing place—getting in touch with all your senses.
• Take a deep breath. What do you smell?
• What do you hear?
• How does the air feel? What are you touching or wearing?
• What do you see?

I'm about to head to Rancho La Puerta─a health spa in Mexico where I lead programs for guests and staff. I also enjoy a lot of exercise, eat wonderful food, meet delightful people, take lots of naps and rela-a-a-a-x. Here are some of the scents, sounds, sensations and sights of the Ranch:
• The scent of rosemary, lavender and flowers, flowers, flowers.
• The sound of the breeze rustling through the palm trees and the trickle of water in the many pools.
• The warm sun and my favorite orange hoodie that's so soft.
• Beautiful Mount Kuchumaa, the rolling meadows, the gorgeous grounds.

All it takes is the scent of lavender and I'm back at Rancho La Puerta─totally relaxed. What will take you back to your favorite place (Yes, some people call it their happy place!) when you need to get there? And I mean quickly!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Turning away customers with a blame game attitude

I had the honor of hearing Karl Albrecht, co-author of Service America!, speak and I’ll never forget three things he said: "Customer satisfaction relates to attitude. Service is about feelings. However your employees feel is how your customers are going to feel…sooner or later.” What attitude do you project to your customers? Certainly our tone of voice and facial expressions have a lot to do with it—and so do the words we choose. I’ve compiled a list of what I call Red Flag words and phrases; let’s look at a few of those and the attitude they suggest:

You should have let us know earlier if you needed it tomorrow.”

You’ll have to get a purchase order to us if we’re to expedite this order.”

Why didn’t you let us know about this earlier?”

You should have… You’ll have to… Why didn’t you…? You might as well shake your finger at your customers and tell them, “It’s your fault, you’re bad, bad, bad.” Often when a customer needs something right away it’s because they just found out. OR, they just realized they forgot to do something. Of course, then they’re mad at themselves. The last thing they need is us telling them they’ve messed up. A little empathy goes a long way! How about we replace the Red Flag phrases with polite phrases that show some empathy:

“I can see why you were unable to order this earlier; let’s see what we can do.”

“May I ask you to fax your purchase order to us? Our fax number is…”

“If you anticipate needing any of these supplies in the next six months, we’re happy to keep them in stock for you. Is this a good time to review a list of your potential needs?”

The customer may not always be right, yet we certainly don't need to make them wrong!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Your Dress Code: Part of your branding initiative

According to David Acker, author of Building Strong Brands, “A brand is a set of associations that provides a distinct image and the basis for a loyal relationship.” Certainly the appearance of those employees your customers and clients come into contact with has an enormous impact on that image.

In many cases, employees have little idea what to wear to project the appropriate image. In a study conducted by Marketing Professor Dennis Tootelian of California State University, Sacramento, 68% of the participants said they are uncertain about the differences among business attire, business causal and casual. And, 62% said they had felt inappropriately dressed at a business or a social function.

And, according to Robert M. Howie, Chair of the Labor and Employment Law practice group at Riddell Williams P.S., “Hostile workplace claims often start as a failure to enforce a professional dress code. [And, we must] ensure that dress codes are enforced consistently to avoid disparate treatment claims.”

Your challenge seems clear. Make sure you have a professional dress code in place; one that reflects your corporate brand and the image you want to project. And, be sure you enforce it consistently.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Four essential factors in communication


There are four essential factors in communication—our intent, criteria, content and process. With a situation in mind, explore each of these with me.

Our intent is our purpose—what we want to accomplish in the exchange. So often a conversation is like a pinball machine—we pull a lever and that little steel ball just ricochets off this peg and that. A good conversation is more like archery. We must take careful aim if we want to hit the mark.

I'll give you three synonyms for the second essential factor in communication: our criteria, expectations or needs. These are the relevant factors to be taken into consideration. Each of us can bring very different criteria to the same situation. Some of us want things right now, others want things to be perfect, while still others want to avoid conflict. It's important that we share our criteria with the person we're talking to.

The content is what we end up talking about. If we haven't made our intent clear and haven't shared our criteria, the content can become the battleground. There are two words that signal the discussion we're having is about to deteriorate into an argument. We call them absolutes—always and never. "You're always late." "Am not." "Are too." "Am not." "Are too." Conversation over and nothing accomplished.

The last essential factor in communication is the process—how we communicate. Albert Mehrabian in his book, Silent Messages, determined that if our message is incongruent, people will depend on what they see—our facial expressions and body language—for 55% of the message they receive; what they hear—the tone, volume, pace and pitch of our voice—for 38% of the message they receive; and our words for a mere 7% of the message people receive. These statistics refer to face-to-face conversations and IF our communication is incongruent. We want to make sure our voice and body language agree with the words that we way. We need to strive for congruent communication.

When we are careful to share our intent and criteria with others, when we think through our content and process, we are much more likely to get the results we want.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Keep Your Customers and Clients Coming Back

While researching his book, The Customer Driven Company, Richard Whitely surveyed fourteen corporations and found that 70% of the identifiable reasons customers stopped doing business with a company had to do with service lapses such as a lack of personal attention or unhelpful employees.

Another survey revealed that the average American business loses 15% of its customer base each year: 68% of these customer leave because of an attitude of indifference from a company employee. That is, the customer's perception of the employee's attitude.

Training needs to focus on helping customer-contact employees develop an awareness of how others might perceive them. Simply becoming aware of the impression we make on others can be the motivation to change. Here are seven steps you can take to lead customer-contact employees toward a service image that places satisfied customers at its heart.

1) Start by asking, "How do you want customers to perceive the people who work in our company?" In his book, Silent Messages, Albert Mehrabian cited results of his experiments: "…people's implicit behavior has more bearing than their words on communicating feelings or attitudes to others."

2) Communicate specific expectations of behavior to employees. There's no such thing as common sense!

3) Take time at staff meetings to role-play how to deal with customers on the phone. People need, in the words of Robert Waterman, "directed autonomy." They need both specific direction and the freedom to make choices that help accomplish the goal.

4) It's essential that employees be able to recognize benefits to themselves,for everyone is tuned to that radio station—WII-fm. What's in it for me?

5) Rather than saving praise and suggestions for that dreaded performance review, offer them freely and frequently. Compliment employees on their everyday achievements. Come up with ways to acknowledge them: send a thank you note or bestow a fun award at a staff meeting.

6) As employers and managers, we can serve as models of the behavior we would like to see from our employees. It's important to realize that we can't change other people, we can only change ourselves. But, by altering our actions and reactions, we can influence the response we get. By altering their actions and reactions, employees can influence the responses they get from their customers.

7) Remember to acknowledge employees' strengths. Celebrate what you already do right and then take a look at those things you can do to better manage the impression your company projects.

You can create a service image that draws customers and keeps them coming back. For, customer satisfaction is about feelings. In the words of Karl Albrecht, co-author of Service America, "However your employees feel is how your customers are going to feel, sooner or later." A satisfied customer is a loyal customer and in a service business, that's the bottom line.

Giving feedback that can be heard—and gets results

Our goal when giving feedback is to establish mutual purpose and demonstrate respect. To this end, here are six steps you can follow:

1. Start with a positive statement or point of agreement

2. Describe the current situation
• Be specific as to what the violation is—avoid general, vague terms
• Reference the employee guidelines or special directives

3. Describe the impact and consequences
• Effect the behavior has on customers/clients
• Impact on the organization with a personal hook for the employee—what’s in it for them
• Sanctions that will be applied for repeated offenses, if appropriate

4. Get them brainstorming solutions
• Help them create an action plan

5. End with a positive, future focus

6. Follow up. Give them positive feedback when they are doing things right!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Olympic athletes use visualizations and so can we!

Better than most humans, Olympic athletes—both summer and winter—use visualizations to spectacular effect. When you were watching the downhill skiing at the Vancouver Olympics, you may have noticed Lindsey Vonn and Bode Miller using visualization at the top of the run. With their eyes closed, they swayed, gently moving their shoulders and hands. They were picturing the run they were about to take—at anything but a gentle speed! Do you think they were picturing themselves falling? Of course not. So why do we?

Think of the last time you gave a speech or presentation. Did you visualize a successful result or were you picturing the disasters that could befall you: forgetting something important, developing dry mouth, having everyone tune into their pdas? Try this next time. Practice, practice, practice and while you're practicing, picture a smiling, supportive audience. Picture the room you'll be in and what you're wearing—you look terrific! Picture the audience's response when you finish—warm applause and lots of congratulations. And questions—always a sign they were interested. Visualizations can also help you calm yourself when dealing with other stressful situations. More about that in another post.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Want to get better results from your emails? Write an effective subject line!

Perhaps the most underused feature of emails is the subject line. All too often they're a one word label or worse—there's no subject line at all! In any writing, our biggest challenge is to show our potential reader—within seconds—that what they're looking at is relevant to them. Think of it like a headline in a newspaper or magazine. That's what captures our attention. Your only challenge? Make sure it doesn't look like spam! Here are some ideas to consider:

• Include your point

• Highlight actions and completion date

• Ask a question

• Emphasize a benefit

And use the subject line to save your reader time. One of the reasons we don't read is that we don't have enough time.

• Help them sort and prioritize by providing deadline information if the message is truly deadline driven.

• If you are replying—and the topic has changed or you're asking another question—change the subject line so they don't think it's one they've read. The thread remains.

• Identify FYI messages in the subject line.

• When forwarding a message, delete the FW: and change the subject heading if the original subject is not relevant to the person you are sending it to. All too often FW: is a signal that it's a joke or other waste of time.

• Finally, here's something you can set up with a co-worker to save you both time. If you're asking a quick question, thanking them for a favor or making some other brief comment, do it in the subject line followed by EOM (end of message). If they need to reply, the can do it in the subject line and neither of you even has to open the email. Of course, this only works if they know what EOM means!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Empathy: You can't effectively lead a team, serve a customer or communicate with a co-worker without it

Valentine's Day seemed the perfect day to write about empathy. Not that empathy is a touchy-feely, mushy kind of thing. It is something that we can give to any frustrated or upset person we encounter. I like to think of empathy as the ability to step into someone else's shoes and see the world through their eyes. When we have it, it's far easier to avoid falling into two traps: condescension and defensiveness. I saw the former in full force recently. The manager of an IT department at a big company was in a training I was leading. The disdain she felt toward her less technologically savvy customers—and they were co-workers, incidentally—was startling. I immediately thought of three emotions that employees who are having a computer problem are grappling with: they're frustrated that they can't get their work done, they feel stupid that they can't fix the problem and they feel at the mercy of the IT department.

Part of this is just plain people skills. Rather than immediately hitting the frustrated person with a barrage of questions—many of which they can't answer—we can say something like, "Whew, that's gotta be frustrating. May I ask a few quick questions so I can get to the bottom of this?" In two brief sentences you've projected empathy and a sense of urgency about fixing the problem. Empathy's not really so hard if you think about it. After all, we've all been there!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Features tell; benefits sell

Whether or not our job title says Sales, we're all in sales. Every day we're promoting ourselves, a proposal, a service or product, concept or idea. We may be speaking one-to-one, leading a meeting or in front of a group. We may be face-to-face, on the phone or exchanging emails. No matter what or who, we need to think about what's going to motivate or persuade them. We're all tuned to a radio station: WII-fm. What's in it for me? All too often, we try to sell something based on what motivates us. And we talk too much about its features. A feature is what a product or service does; a benefit is what it does for the customer, client, end-user or decision maker. Seems like a simple concept, but it's surprisingly difficult to get your head around.

Say you sell screwdrivers. You might say, "Our Magnojet screwdriver has a magnetized tip." A potential customer would likely respond, "So what?" All you've given them is a feature. Turn it into a benefit: "Ever had trouble sinking a screw because you kept dropping it? Our Magnojet screwdriver has a magnetized tip so it holds the screw in place until you can sink it—even in tight places!" (Can you tell I've been there?) That's what your customer needs to feel—I've been there and this takes care of my problem. If you are in sales, check out Jeffrey Gitomer's Sales Caffeine. Its a Weekly Multi-media Sales Jolt!

Of course, we need to apply this concept to sell ideas, too. Say you're proposing a new system for taking and processing orders. You can tell the group your proposal is more efficient or you can sell it by giving them the results of your research. You would have calculated the time to take and process orders under the old system and your proposed system. Then you'd calculate the costs based on salaries and demonstrate the time and dollars saved. Sold!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Social Skill: One of the five components of emotional intelligence

Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, defines social skill as "friendliness with a purpose: moving people in the direction you desire, whether that's agreement on a new marketing strategy or enthusiasm about a new product." Purpose and enthusiasm remind me of my Mother, who would have turned 90 today. She died last March and, of course, I'm often reminded of her. She loved finding out about people and would plan gatherings in her apartment with one person as the focal point. She was fascinated about where they had grown up, where they had studied, where they had lived and the career paths they had traveled. Mother was an excellent teacher and leader. If you lead people, you'll want to read a comprehensive article by Goleman published in the Harvard Business Review. Entitled What Makes a Leader?, you can download it for $6.50. I'd call that intelligent!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Setting S.M.A.R.T.E.R. goals for the new decade

With a new year many of us have made resolutions. Thing is, they're more like wishes and are rarely accomplished. How about starting this new decade by setting goals that can be achieved? I'm not usually high on acronyms, but this one seems to hit the mark: S.M.A.R.T.E.R. goals are specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, time-bound, able to be evaluated or adjusted and provide a reward when accomplished. President John F. Kennedy set such a goal before a joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961, "I believe this nation should commit itself to achieve the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth." Was it accomplished? Of course! On July 20th, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin walked on the moon and returned safely to earth. What are your goals for the new year? For the new decade?