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Photo Credit: "Congressional Simulation Exercise" (CC BY 2.0) by West Point - The U.S. Military Academy
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.

Photo Credit: freeimages.com/Barun Patro
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.

Photo Credit: freeimages.com/Robert Lincolne
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.

Photo Credit: freeimages.com/Mark Puplava
Leaving a Good Boss

Leaving a Good Boss

Harvard Business Review recently published an article on employee turnover that challenges conventional wisdom. The article is titled Employees Leave Good Bosses Nearly as Often as Bad Ones by Ravi S. Gajendran and Deepak Somaya. The authors write in a thought-provoking approach that leads me to question how as leaders may we stem the loss of our most talented people.

As I posted on LinkedIn, the leaders whom I have worked for invariably encourage me to take on fresh challenges.  They consistently work with me to help focus my attention inside and across the company for new prospects of growth and development.  In many businesses, there is enough opportunity internally that finding an external position may not be warranted and may arrive from a lack of awareness on behalf of the employee or leader. This was my big take away from the article.  As leaders, we need to show our best people how to move internally to achieve the growth and development opportunities they seek, need and deserve.  I would rather “lose” a star employee to another department inside of the firm instead of to another company.

We spend a significant time developing our people, and we need to help our team look at all opportunities inside of our walls. This includes actively lobbying on their behalf and working to open those new assignments. We cannot let our best people become our future competitors because we fail to help them explore all of their options before they consider an exit.