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!