Thursday, July 20, 2017

Things Better Left Unsaid



One of the principle skills of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is self-control: managing impulses to say or do inappropriate things even when the urge is strong to do them. The stakes are high when we don't think before speaking or don't consider the negative consequences of being impulsive.

In fairness, we all struggle with maintaining self-control because we have biological impulses that work against us. For the purposes of survival, we are hard-wired to feel before we think. A small gland in our brain triggers this instinct and for a brief moment takes over our rational thinking, as Daniel Goleman calls it "an amygdala hijacking." We have all been the victim of it, reacting in the heat of the moment and feeling out of control to stop it. And in some cases, the outcome may be serious.

Low self-control presents itself in angry outbursts, compulsive talking, interrupting or talking over others, impulsiveness, poor judgment, loss of emotional control (crying), and utter inappropriateness.

We have a good biological reason to have low self-control but that is absolutely not an excuse for it. There is no getting away with, "It's not my fault, I was the victim of a hijacking.” Sorry. Most of the time, the critical time to use self-control is the first five seconds of the trigger. When you feel the blood rush to your face and your heart race with adrenaline, is when you need to stop and count to five. The impulse wave will pass and you get your rational mind back.

One profession that could benefit overall from increasing self-control is sales. Most salespeople tend to talk way too much. When I am working out in the field doing performance coaching via job shadowing with salespeople it is very common to see chronic chattiness in interactions with customers. In one case, the salesperson spoke for 46 minutes of a 50 minute meeting (and yes, I timed it) and barely let a customer get a word in. It was torture for me to witness it and I couldn't get the song out of my head, "you talk too much...you never shut up...” Consider your talking/listening ratio when interacting with others, particularly customers.  

If you could use some help in increasing your self-control or need to coach someone else, here are some tips:

1. Be mindful of any impulses to say what you are thinking; use long pauses and take opportunities to buy time while you collect your thoughts.

2. Call a time-out if you sense growing anger; use cooling off periods and remove yourself from the situation.

3. Identify triggers for your impulsiveness; pre-plan strategies for dealing with people or situations that you know will test you.

4. Use the "draft" folder in email; it is there for a reason. Before sending any emails written in the heat of the moment, sleep on it and reread them the next day before you press Send.

5. Manage your stress; lower Stress Tolerance makes you more vulnerable to losing control.


Exercising impulse control is not easy, but with some conscientious effort it can be dramatically improved. And just think how nice it will be to spend less time apologizing for saying something that you later regretted.  

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Month in a Minute

Clockwise from bottom left:  Speaking at ACFO-ACAF in Canada, Engagement Day, Steve and me in the Sandbox at SNHU, Caitlin and Annie at graduation, Steve at Alkermes, Downtown Ottawa.
June was quite an adventurous month for us. It started with a trip I was scheduled for from Boston to Ottawa Canada. It is a direct flight, about one hour in length. I was booked with Air Canada at 6 pm. At 7 am, I was notified by TripIt (an amazing travel app, if you don’t have it, you need it) that my flight was canceled. I called the airline to get rebooked and they had no other direct flights that day which meant I had to add a stop in Toronto, adding another hour to my trip. As the agent was rebooking me to a 3:30 pm flight, she informed me that it had also just been canceled. That left me with a 12:30 pm flight to catch, still through Toronto. The reason for the trouble was Logan Airport in Boston has runway construction so fewer flights could actually depart on time and combined with the drizzling rain we had that day, there was low visibility.

I rushed to leave my house in New Hampshire by 9 am, prepared for the inevitable traffic going into downtown Boston on a weekday morning and the 2-hour international flight rule. I arrived at Logan and got through security by 11:15 am. My gate was one of 3 in a very small section of the airport. By 11:45 am, a delay was posted to my flight of 15 minutes. By noon, it was delayed another 30 minutes, making my connection in Toronto impossible to make. I prepared to go find a gate agent to help me with a rebooking and there were none to be found. They completely left the gate area. After speaking with a TSA agent, they told me that I would have to leave security to go out to the check-in desks if I needed to rebook. Really?

Off I went, only to be told that there were no other later options through Toronto, so basically, I was not going to be able to fly out that day. At that point, I had still not been notified by Air Canada of my initial flight cancellation or the delays. I was booked to speak the next morning at the Canadian Financial Officers Association conference as a keynote so canceling that was not an option. So, I tried to rent a car one way so I could at least keep the return half of my flight intact. All the car rental agencies at Logan were sold out. I got back in my car and headed north (essentially backtracking past my house). I arrived in Ottawa that evening at 9 pm, 12 hours after I left that morning. Ugh.

On the personal side, this has been a busy month too. I am officially engaged to David, Caitlin graduated from high school, I got an offer on my house (we are still negotiating terms), and I was able to travel to Seattle, Spokane, Salt Lake City, Denver, and Phoenix.

Hope your summer is off to a good start and free from travel woes!  

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Learn How to be a Better Boundary Setter


When I explain EQ, I tell people that it’s about using situational awareness and empathy to read your audience to know how to make temporary adjustments in yourself that meet the needs of the other person over your own. Note that I said over your own, not instead of your own. Many people ask if using emotional intelligence means you have to be a pushover (the answer is no and if you want to learn more about that, see my article here). If you are looking for ways to balance your own boundaries with the needs of others, read on.

In order to gain more influence and be more effective with others, you should be a selfless communicator. That means putting aside your own agenda or sole perspective to better understand the viewpoint of others. It does not mean you have to agree with that perspective to understand it, but you do need to be a generous listener. The goal is to make small adjustments to others while still maintaining your own needs, by being firm but appropriate. 

Here are some ways to set communication boundaries with others:

1. Instead of having open door / on demand availability to others, set a time limit for an interaction, for example: “Can you talk tomorrow? I have a 30-minute window open at 2pm” or “I don’t want to cut you off, but I have a commitment in ten minutes." Even if you don’t, end the meeting as if you do.

2. Ask the person to give you the bottom line. Some people like to add a lot of unnecessary detail so don’t be afraid to say, “Can you first give me a high level overview of the problem? That allows me to ask for the specifics I need that will help me clarify my understanding without wasting your time.” 

3. If the person is a chronic complainer, say “I have heard you complain of this before, what have you done to change the situation since we last spoke?” This puts some ownership back on them and allows you to then say, “Let me know how it goes after you try…” to send the message that I am done listening to this until you have tried something new.

4. Make empathy statements that validate their frustration but don’t allow them to take advantage of your listening nature if you are not the person who can help them. “I understand it is a frustrating situation but I don’t think I am the one who needs to hear this, why don’t you talk to…?” “I wish I could help you with this, but it is out of my ability to do so."

5. Misery seeks company. If they think you will join them in their negativity/complaining or even if you stay quiet while they do it, it will continue. If you start being very positive with statements like, “I’ve learned that things are never really as bad as they seem.” “Don’t worry, things always work out for the best!” “Isn’t life great how it teaches us via setbacks?” “There are always two sides to every story.” They will stop. They don’t want to be around someone who is too cheery, optimistic or refuses to perpetuate their drama.

It’s not always easy or comfortable to set boundaries with others, but the more EQ you demonstrate every day the more others will respect you and your needs. Healthy relationships have an equal balance of candor and support, don’t be afraid to tip the scales as needed.   

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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Culture


This week's blog explores the concept of culture in the workplace, and what all the buzz is about.


The definition of Corporate Culture includes a common understanding of definitions and traditions, including the appropriate ways to behave. In short, it is the way things get done at your company.
 

 A strong culture gives a business an edge in two major ways: 

1) it empowers people to think of themselves on behalf of the company and it allows them to do it with confidence.  

2) it builds the brand image as the customer experience is shaped consistently and reinforced with every interaction.
Spend a few moments considering your corporate culture and how you can be more intentional about shaping it into the one you desire.
 
Questions to Consider

What five words describe your corporate culture today? Are you satisfied with those descriptors? 

By limiting your description you can hone in on succinct thoughts about your culture. Ask the same question of your team and compare answers. You may find their perceptions extremely insightful. 

There are several factors that influence a corporate culture: 
  •    Atmosphere - how the office or retail location looks, smells, and sounds. This includes how employees dress and are titled
  •   Policies  - what is formally allowed and isn't allowed
  •   Performance Measures - the behaviors and results that people are measured by both formally and informally
  •   Reward - what actions are noticed and incentivized
  •   Training / Onboarding Experience - how you welcome your new employees to your company 
  •   Folklore - stories that get told about your company by your customers and employees
  •   Tone of Leader - leadership will always have the most influence over your organization's culture  

 How does your atmosphere support your stated business goals and values? 

Are your policies directly supporting the behaviors you expect from your employees?
Take a look at your performance reviews; do they measure behaviors proportional to results?

Do employees receive rewards not just for the results they get but how they get them?

When new employees start with the company does the Onboarding experience consist of a review of paperwork and benefits with Human Resources in a conference room? 

Does the company encourage folklore as a way to keep traditions alive? 

Does every member of senior management set the right tone to support the culture? Duplicity is toxic to credibility. When you say one thing and then have hidden rules, you force employees to behave in self-preserving ways; they learn the loopholes, workarounds, and can go underground. Most employees will follow the path of least resistance to meeting their goals.

One way to know if your actual corporate culture is aligned to your desired one is to read about your company in the news, on its website, or in internal publications and ask if you (and your employees) feel like the picture painted is an accurate representation of the way things really are? If you are a business that draws the general public to your location, there will be a wealth of chatter online about the real customer experience. Check out what people are saying.

As a manager, you cannot control every aspect of your corporate culture, but you do wield a great influence over it. By understanding and intentionally shaping your company's culture, you can work and interact more effectively.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Interview with Jen Shirkani...Wait, What?

Hello everyone!  In September of last year I had the great pleasure of interviewing my close colleague and friend Greg Hawks of Hawks Agency.  This week he decided to turn the tables and put me in the hot seat!  It was a fun interview with an incredibly enthusiastic, thoughtful, and gracious host!  Together we, "open the kimono," a bit about my own personal story, and inspiration for my new book Choose Resilience.  I hope you enjoy it! Thanks Greg!



Jen Shirkani Interview from Hawks Agency on Vimeo.


Thursday, June 8, 2017

From Victim to Victor




A Franklin Covey study on productivity and effectiveness issues involving 11,045 U.S. workers, found that just 31% feel they can express themselves honestly and candidly at work and only 34% say they work together in a "win-win" atmosphere.  Overall, U.S. workers gave their organizations a score of 51 out of 100 for their lack of focus and execution on truly important goals.

Indeed, a sad statement for leadership at large.  But what is the message here about the employees themselves?  How many of these individual contributors made exerted efforts to impart change in their business culture or even in their immediate work environment?  Only 13% of those surveyed said they are extremely satisfied with the results of their work at the end of most weeks and only 30% take time to plan their work schedule every day.  

And a whopping 46% of those employees reported that they have more creativity, resourcefulness, intelligence, and talent than their job requires or allows.  Requires?  Allows?  So has it now become someone else's responsibility to not just proactively develop us but also to ensure we are applying ourselves in our own lives? This trend of employee passivity seems to be creating a work culture filled with overgrown kids and leaders who feel more like parents.  Sounds like another outbreak of The Victim Virus.

Challenge Fault-Finding Thinking

A victim blames others for their circumstances, creating a comfortable insulation from any responsibility they may bear for creating or allowing the conditions or events that happen in their life.  According to Locus of Control theory, a psychological and sociological concept, there are two types of people - internals, who attribute events to their own control, and externals (or "victims"), who attribute events in their life to external circumstances.

Due to assigning control outside themselves, externals tend to feel they have little power over their fate.  They often communicate this belief (subtly or obviously, consciously or subconsciously) in day-to-day communication.  As leaders, our greatest opportunity to convert externals into internals is by challenging this fault-finding thinking, each and every time.

Listen closely for times when they describe others as being barriers or challenges to their success but stop short of explaining what they intend to do about it.  Practice making this a "time-out" opportunity for you to share what you have observed and how victim thinking increases Office stress, decreases job satisfaction, and undermines their present and future goals.  Help them see the payoff for making it personal.  Highlight their strengths to give them energy to break through into new ways of thinking.   

The Million Dollar Questions

Victor Frankl survived the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz by discovering the ultimate freedom: "to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."  Frankl explained, "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."

The most effective way to help someone overcome the victim-hood stronghold is to help them take back the power they have willingly given away by taking responsibility for every action and circumstance in their life.  Often this requires showing them how.   To do this, practice asking the Million Dollar Questions any time you encounter victim thinking:
  • "What IS within your control?"
  • "Are you a part of the problem or the solution?  How so?
  • "What can you contribute to help solve the problem?
  • "What is your role in creating what you want to see happen?"
  • "What can you learn from this setback or challenge?"
  • "Are you holding yourself accountable to the same expectations you hold for others?  How so?

Settle for surface responses and that's exactly what you will get.  Help them objectively think through their problems and challenges and extract the lessons to be learned.  While this may be uncomfortable at first, it will require less of your involvement as you create a pattern of positive confrontation and condition your team to focus on individual accountability.  Also, keep in mind that this requires an environment of trust in which the leader consistently models ownership behavior.

Through consistent accountability and proper modeling, you can end the cycle of whining and cultivate a culture that lives by the motto - "Although I may not be able to control my circumstances, I can always control my response."  



Thursday, June 1, 2017

Month in a Minute

If you are a regular reader of my blog, I am going to assume you know that the focus this month has been the publication of my new book, Choose Resilience. For my first book, Ego vs EQ, I used a traditional publisher and this time I self-published, so my experience with the process has been very different. Although maneuvering the world of self-publishing has been challenging, it has been a good exercise in adaptability for me. And unlike my first book, this one tells so much of my personal story, it has also been an exercise in vulnerability.
 
Bright and early on the laundry truck
We did manage to also accomplish a few others things this month. Steve made several trips to New England to facilitate programs, I spoke at the Central Massachusetts HR association year-end meeting, I spoke at a global leadership meeting for a new client, and I had one very interesting day working in the field with another client to better understand a day-in-the-life of a front line employee.
 
The company is a very large uniform laundry service provider and I rode in the truck with one of their route salesmen. Our day started at 5am and ended around 1pm (we took no breaks) with stops to a grocery store, mechanic shops, chemical plants, a couple of restaurants, and even a butcher. We dropped off clean uniforms, towels and rugs but also had to pick up the dirty ones which were quite stinky, covered in rotting food, gasoline, and blood. And I had it lucky, I went in May. I couldn’t imagine doing that job while trudging through 2 feet of snow, or the odors that must permeate the whole truck by the end of a hot August day. The experience left me feeling quite grateful for the people who are dedicated to the service industry, and for the work I am lucky enough to do (which doesn’t involve anything smelly).