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Tag: Self-Development

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Engage in Small Talk to Reach an Easier Agreement

Engage in Small Talk to Reach an Easier Agreement

It is a common practice to build rapport before entering into a deeper conversation (Coupland, 2003). Often referred to as “small talk,” it is an opportunity for the parties to get to know each other on a personal level before getting down to a substantive discussion.  It seems that many people engage in this practice automatically as a cultural norm and to get over the initial anxiety of beginning a new conversation.

In a negotiation or other business dialogue, it is a highly advisable practice to begin with some small talk.  It helps establish rapport and a personal connection with the individuals at the table.  There is a significant potential upside that can be gained when s deliberate focus is applied to this early stage of a conversation.  People may be more open to seeking an agreement when working with someone they like and trust (Fisher & Ury, 1991).  We should use the time spent in building rapport to create the most amount of confidence and likeability.

People begin developing cognition-based trust and impressions about our character and motives within the first moments of an encounter (as cited in McKnight, Cummings & Chervany, 1998).  The use of small talk can be used to help foster good impressions in dialog participants (Bickmore & Cassell, 2005). Once these first impressions become established, a perception bias forms which is more difficult to alter in the future.

There are several excellent books on how to create great relationships with other people.  One of my favorites is Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People.  It is an excellent read and covers how to establish a positive rapport with other people.

A few key tips that have served me well over the years:

  • Be ready for the meeting beyond just the business terms. Understand who you are meeting with and read their LinkedIn profile.  Look for shared commonalities in their background, earlier work experience, and interests.  Furthermore, learn a little about their firm and industry.
  • Understand and adapt to the cultural norms of the other party. Not all cultures appreciate extended periods of direct eye contact or the shaking of hands.
  • Be punctual, courteous to others, and hospitable. For example, offering a beverage is usually advisable and some cultures expect an exchange of gifts of appreciation.  Be aware and sensitive to the cultural norms.
  • Dress appropriately for the occasion and mimic their formality if possible. People generally like to be around others that they see as similar to themselves.  It is important that dress code is followed and proper for the situation and profession.
  • Have a genuine smile and be enthusiastic. Ask them questions about their profession, company, and safe personal interests. Be genuinely interested in what they are sharing. Keep the personal interest dialogue in the safe zone such as outdoor recreational activities, volunteering organizations, and travel.  This is not the time to delve into politics or religion.
  • Keep them talking as much as possible about themselves. People love to talk about themselves, and when you engage in active listening out of genuine interest, it will translate into likeability, trust, and authenticity.

It is imperative that all emotions, interests, and enthusiasm displayed are genuine.  A person cannot fake interest very long before it is picked up by the other party.  A feigned lack of authentic interest may cause personal disengagement, distrust, and possibly resentment.

Being authentic and genuinely interested in other people’s thoughts and experiences builds a foundation for a strong working relationship.  It must be of genuine interest and not trying to manipulate their emotions as that will work against you.  This is not to say that emotional manipulation does not have a role to play in certain types of negotiations.  It does, but that occurs at a later stage and only under particular circumstances.

I have found that it is much easier to reach an agreement with someone you like and trust than someone you dislike or distrust.

Using the small talk time wisely, I have learned about other people and companies.  It has made a meaningful difference in reaching mutually beneficial agreements and forming strong and lasting working relationships with diverse groups of people.

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The Cultural Artifacts of an Office

The Cultural Artifacts of an Office

The building blocks of an organization’s culture consist of the shared artifacts, beliefs, values, and assumptions (Heskett, 2012, p. 34).  Corporate culture is often considered one of the strongest assets in a firm and may be regarded as the way the company conducts its business (Heskett, 2012, pp. 34-36).  Culture has a measurable impact on performance, and for this reason, leaders seek to build healthy cultures that align with their underlying missions. How an office culture consciously and unconsciously uses artifacts is a fascinating element of the corporate experience.

Today, I challenge you to walk around the office while looking and listening for cultural artifacts.  They are pervasive throughout the environment. From a one-person office to the enterprise level, these elements exist and serve a valuable but underappreciated function.

According to Professor Macrcoulides of California State University at Fullerton and Professor Heck of the University of Hawaii, cultural artifacts may be some of the most observable elements and include such things as the physical structures, logical structures, rules of conduct, policies, imagery, stories, and rituals (Marcoulides & Heck, 1993).  Additionally, they act as reminders of what is important to the organization’s members and frequently have a wealth of internalized meaning.  It is not uncommon for artifacts to be subtle and pervasive throughout the firm’s operating environment.  The reinforcing impact of cultural artifacts cannot be overstated.  By their nature, artifacts are durable and reinforce impressions in the collective’s membership. Finally, many cultural artifacts are encased in legends, stories, and rituals that become ingrained as institutional knowledge. This is a double-edged sword and must be treated with care.

Walk around and look at the painting, pictures, décor, layout, organization, and social practices, while listening to the stories and legends of the company. These stories are shared, part of the lore, and help in the indoctrination of new members to the established group norms. The artifacts are fascinating to watch and listen to when taking a moment to appreciate the meaning and subtleties they convey.

I urge people to ask about these elements when visiting other organizations.

If you are interviewing, spend a few minutes asking about what you see and hear on your way into the interview. People in healthy corporate cultures love to talk about their environment. For other business meetings, it can be an excellent way to break the ice and start a conversation that builds trust. Artifacts of culture are everywhere. Take the time to look, listen, and value their significant messages.

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Work is a Means to an End

Work is a Means to an End

Meaningful work is a preferred method by which the majority of people wish to get many of their goals in life. Well, this is at least my firm belief. The work in-of-itself is not “the goal” or the be-all end-all purpose for our lives; it is a vehicle that moves us down a chosen path. Albeit a simple concept, it took me a while to internalize its meaning and applicability.  Many people get caught up in their careers while losing the connection to themselves. The inner person may become twisted and warped resulting from a lack of internal alignment between personal values, goals, and actions.

Looking back, I understand why my mentors and leaders placed a high value in the idea that work or a career is a method of achievement and not the purpose of life or the central point of our identity. My executive coach accelerated my learning in this area by incessantly challenging me to question my long-held beliefs.  I would seek shelter in the safety of what got me to that point before gently (or not so gently) pulling the rug out by merely questioning me in a way that cut right through the layers of obfuscation I had carefully constructed.  This is what I needed for me to realize the fallacy of my earlier logic that put work ahead of everything else and allowed me the freedom to explore new concepts.

The difference for me arrived when I understood that work and career are a vehicle of life and should be designed to give an opportunity for me to achieve, explore, and expand whom I am as a person while providing a valuable service to my firm and the needed financial support to my family.

I work because I want to work; where I want to work; and I am with the people I want to be around.  Work is not optional for me; I have to work if I want to fund my family’s lifestyle and prepare us for retirement.  Still, I work because I want to work, and I work where I want to work. My career is personally fulfilling, but it is not who I am or what I do with my life.  Work is no longer my identity. It is part of me but not all of me.

As I shifted and understood my real priorities, changes flowed naturally.  I have lower stress, a happier life, and even more professional success. I did not realize how much easier things become when you are aligned in thinking, values, and actions. By putting first things fist, I support the needed alignment for both personal and professional success.

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Strategies for Increasing Message Retention

Strategies for Increasing Message Retention

I know that it is troublesome that everyone else, “but us,” have such a terrible memory and inability to remember details. However, there is more going on when we dig into this commonplace challenge. Humans develop mental models, cognitive maps, frames, internal scripts, and other processing methods to understand the environment and situational context albeit with frequent misunderstanding and imprecise perceptions (Tversky, 1993). Even with these accuracy challenges, the automatic use of mental shortcuts is a power element of our existence and helped spur our advancement as a species. The realities of humanity’s unconscious mental information processing mechanisms are the significant loss of the content details from the beginning, middle, and end of an interaction (Edvardsson & Sund, 1998, p. 1). Think about that fact before walking into your next meeting. What we say at the start of a meeting is forgotten as much as what is said during the conclusion.

Remember, most people will not remember the details of communications or interactions. People will primarily remember the themes and generalities of a message (Edvardsson & Sund, 1998, pp. 1-2). To combat this natural loss of informational detail, we must address the issue of content’s significance. Research demonstrates the connection between the level of personal significance an individual applies to the content with the ability to recall the details of that content at a later time (Edvardsson & Sund, 1998, pp. 3-4). As we take part in meetings and exchanges with our colleagues, we need to adapt our messages to how people process and keep meaningful information.

If we desire participants to retain more details and for longer, then the content must possess a high level of personal significant to each member (Holbrook, et al., 2005, 749-752). This requires the content sender to understand from each person’s perspective their internal motivators, desires, and goals and how the information will speak to these factors. Challenging, to say the least, as many people may not be aware of their own motivators and goals. We can start by thinking about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. However, if the retention of details is a lower priority, the focus of the content development should be in the formation of an emotionally connected narrative story, so the participants retain the desirable themes, tone, and impressions.

Both approaches require meaningful forethought, planning, and solid execution. The process starts by taking the time to understand the goals and the level of retention required for the given situation. This is not as simple as it sounds, but that is another topic for another day.

Photo Credit: "Conversation" (CC BY 2.0) by Sharon Mollerus
Dealing with Different Decompression Times

Dealing with Different Decompression Times

I do not often post about other articles I come across online. I prefer to comment on them, and if I like them, I will post them to LinkedIn. However, when something speaks to me, or it is a topic that is under appreciated by the masses, I will take the time to write a short post. I came across one such article today. Ed Batista wrote a piece on Harvard Business Review talking about the conflicts that arise between couples when they get home from work. This is a topic that many people in leadership do not fully appreciate or acknowledge the toll it takes on families and relationships.

We work diligently in our careers and all too often take home the stress we experience during the day. While it is not fair to come home in this mindset, I believe we are human, and it is hard to shake off a rough day in the typical 30-minute commute home. By no means am I excusing the behaviors of people, but I am just as guilty as the next when bringing home a bad day from the office.

Below is my comment on the article. In addition to the recommendations provided by the author, a little early communication between partners can go a long way to disrupting the conflict cycle.

I think this is underappreciated and recognized condition for many people in the professional community. It is incredibly tough to shake off a rough day at the office when we walk through the door to our home.

My wife or I will typically call each other on our way home to give and receive brief rundowns of our respective days. It is also an opportunity for us to understand each other’s current state before walking in the door. This way, we help each other cool down when we get home even if it means just providing some quiet space.

Photo Credit: "Facts Do Not Cease To Exist" (CC BY 2.0) by sillygwailo
Our Truths are also our Facts (regardless of the underlying facts)

Our Truths are also our Facts (regardless of the underlying facts)

“Archaeology is the search for fact… not truth. If it’s truth you’re looking for, Dr. Tyree’s philosophy class is right down the hall.”Indiana Jones (and the Last Crusade)

Is there a conceptual difference between truth and fact?  I see a clear separation of these ideas. The concept of “Facts” embodies the tangibility and concreteness of existence or knowledge of an occurrence. The meaning behind a fact may be debatable, but its occurrence or existence is widely accepted. The idea of truth is murkier. The “Truth” of something is real and factual for a person, but it is bound and understood through their personal perceptions and interpretations. As such, truth is subject to debate. What is the “truth” for one person may not be true for another. It is important to understand that each person’s truths are also their facts. This is one of the reasons why we have a fractured world. I base this position on Max Wertheimer’s excellent 1934 paper entitled “On Truth”.

As we understand the idea of individual’s truths versus facts, our ability to interact with people achieves a new level. Often, it is the truth of the situation that must be addressed and not the facts. Connection breakthroughs occur when we seek to understand the other person’s truth before we try to apply our version of the truth. Interestingly, as we do this our view of the acceptable possibilities and potential of any situation is expanded as we experience more of the other person’s truth.  New ideas and creative concepts sprout from this level of mutual understanding.

The variability in perceptions and interpretations of the truth is the source of its power and mystery. It can make people think and seek a level of understanding before it is possible to internalize its meanings. Finding truth is a scary process for many people as it shakes the foundations of their knowledge and long-held beliefs. I love the concept of truth because it can be soft and guiding, or a quick jab to people’s tender underside. It all depends on the individual’s openness to pursuing understanding at that moment. The truth may also be seen as an action or the search for understanding, meaning, and applicability beyond the sterility of the underlying facts.

Finally, the clarity experienced through understanding the truth when supported by the facts and applied to life’s purposes can become a fundamentally altering event for a person.  This leads to real wisdom. I see wisdom as the application of understanding that derives from the pursuit of truth that is grounded in facts. While I do not consider myself wise, I work each day to understand the world through the lenses of truth and facts. One day with continued effort, I hope to reach a stage of wisdom.  Of course, the truly wise may say that state is unachievable but its pursuit is the right journey, but that is a line of thinking for another day.

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Aligning Professional and Personal Roles to Core Values

Aligning Professional and Personal Roles to Core Values

Having a strong work-life role as part of our overall identity is healthy and normal for high-performing people.  However, it is easily taken too far.  People may become so emotionally connected to the business that it consumes their identity until “the company” represents a huge part of the individual.  On the other hand, having a weak work-life component of our identity leads to career stagnation, mediocrity, and disengagement.

When we permit our personal identities to be compromised by allowing the corporation to supplant our true selves, we are letting our family, team, and company down.  Our objectiveness and priority system is unbalanced, and that compromises our judgement.  This situation leads to burnout, frustration, and an ever escalating level of damaged relationships.

FYI: This post is not what I intended to write.  However, it is some honest thoughts, and I feel it might be worth sharing.  I hope you find some value in it.

This is avoidable by aligning our priorities and actions with our core values. This requires us to understand what matters the most to us as a person.  Frequently, it is our family. I have learned the importance of regularly looking at my obligations and roles through the lens of my core values. This approach allows for the separation of the corporation from the person. I am not advocating for the separate identities for work-life and home-life.  This would create an entirely different set of problems. I am a complete person that has multiple obligations and roles in life.  When integrated together through core values, I am a unified and authentic person. I would recommend that we look at where our efforts/resources are being directed while asking a couple of questions.

  • Do I understand the needs and expectations of my stakeholders? Even if I am sure, I will ask them again. This understanding must be comprehensive and include both internal and external such as family, friends, colleagues, business and community.
  • Are my actions and resource allocation (time, energy, mind share, and financial among other items) aligned with those needs and expectations?
  • Do I agree with the current alignment between my core values, conduct, the external expectations placed on me, my internal expectations for myself, and my allocation of resources? If not, what beliefs, actions, or assignments need to be modified to gain the required alignment?
  • If I feel my resource’s allocations, actions, and beliefs are aligned with my core values, do the desires of my stakeholder’s need to be modified? If so, what methods may I use to help them in recalibrating their expectations?
  • How often should I recheck my alignment with my stakeholders and core values?

The allocation of resources and assessment of our behavior moves as our life situations change. The aim is to keep the true priorities that are derived from our core values first in our personal and professional lives. When we have an agreement between our core values, behaviors, and stakeholders, we are free to experience higher levels of fulfillment, clearer judgement, and ultimately the success we seek.