Tagged: Philadelphia Business Journal Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • feedwordpress 14:26:37 on 2018/04/06 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , Philadelphia Business Journal   

    Are you hearing me? Listening Skills for Leaders 

    A few years ago, my husband and I bought a kitchen table from a reputable furniture company. Within a week, we noticed a few flaws in the finish. I called the help desk and was instructed to buy an extended warranty policy. They said I would get priority treatment, have a direct dial in line for assistance and would be entitled to additional maintenance past the standard time period. So, we purchased the policy.

    A repairman came to our home and touched up the flaws. A few months later, more of the finish started peeling off. I called again. Another repairman fixed the problem. It happened two or three more times. Each time, someone came to touch up the table. At that point, I should have insisted that the company replace the table, but I didn’t. About two years later, the problem re-surfaced. This time, the company said my extended maintenance contract had expired so there was nothing they could do. They advised me to go buy furniture finishing sticks.

    Fast forward to today; I use those furniture sticks often, but now the table is warping. I contacted customer service. We exchanged multiple e-mails. A representative called me. She was responsive, apologetic and said she was forwarding her notes to management and would have someone call me. She did, and it went something like this.

    “You have a problem with a table?”

    “Yes,” I said. Did you read the notes from the emails and the person I spoke with?”

    She didn’t see any notes. I described the saga again.

    “Well” she responded, “we sent people to your house and everything was fine.”

    It wasn’t fine I stated. If it was fine, I wouldn’t have kept calling back.

    “What” she asked?

    I repeated myself.

    “I’m looking at your file and everything was fine.”

    Now I was annoyed. Again, I explained the situation. Again, she told me everything was fine. “Are you listening to me?” I asked.

    “Yes, she said. I see that every time we sent someone to your house, everything was fine”.

    Tired of talking to someone who wasn’t paying attention and didn’t seem to care, I told her I would never shop at her furniture store again. She said that’s unfortunate. I said it was fine and hung up. I don’t blame this company for failing to replace a table that is out of extended warranty. I do blame their management for failure to listen to their customers. I blame them for lack of empathy. And I blame them for not making communication a priority.

    There are several ways to tell if someone is really listening to you. In person, they will maintain eye contact, so you know they’re listening. They often angle their body toward you which signals they are in the conversation. Engaged listeners typically don’t fidget, tap their fingers or shift in their seats.

    When you can’t see someone, there are verbal clues that will signal if they’re paying attention. Ask a question or ask for their opinion. If they respond with “what” or ask you to repeat yourself, they probably weren’t listening. Then ask them if they’re listening. If they’re caught off guard or continue to repeat the same thing over or over, that’s a good clue that they’re not really listening.

    At work, poor listening skills translate to poor performance, poor relationships and poor productivity. That’s why listening is such an important skill for leaders to master. It actually takes more concentration and focus than speaking. When you listen, you show interest in others and make them feel valued.

    We worked with a candy company that manufactures and sells products in more than eighty countries around the globe. Despite the enormity of running this company, several times a month the CEO joins employees for lunch in the cafeteria so he can listen and stay in touch. It’s not a complaint session because most of his employees are happy. While they talk shop, much of the conversation focuses on families, current events and what’s happening in their lives.

    Employees feel that the CEO really cares about them, because he really does. They feel their voices are heard because they are. There is a big difference between leaders saying they want to keep the lines of communication open and leaders who really do.

    An article published in the Harvard Business Review lumped listening into three categories:

    1. Internal listening which is when you are focused on your own thoughts and concerns but pretend to focus on others.

    2. Focused listening is when you focus on others but are not fully connected to them.

    3. 360 listening is what they term “the magic”. Not only are you listening to what someone else is saying, but you are paying attention to how they say it.

    Listening improves productivity in the workplace. If you are truly engaged in a conversation, it is natural to ask probing questions such as “can you elaborate” or “will you share an experience that led to your thought process” or “how can this help our team achieve their objectives?” These are questions that show you are fully present and genuinely interested in understanding and learning more.

    Over the past two decades, we have worked with hundreds of executives. Those who are sincere listeners have several traits in common. They come across as caring empathetic individuals. Employees tend to want to work harder for people that seem to care about them. Leaders who listen embrace people’s differences and try to understand how those traits can be utilized instead of trying to mold them into someone they want them to be. These leaders also tend to be open to new approaches and ideas, rather than thinking they have all the answers.

    Yet, published articles report less than 2% of all professionals have any formal training to help them understand and improve listening techniques.

    The furniture company I mentioned is a textbook example. After I hung up with the manager, I e-mailed a note of thanks to the original customer service representative who tried to help me. I said a manager did call as promised and then briefly recounted the conversation saying she was not helpful.

    The service representative e-mailed me back immediately, but to my surprise she wrote: “Thank you Karen. Did the manager resolve your problem?” At first, I thought I read it wrong. Then I realized, she didn’t read what I wrote. Chances are, her attention was challenged by multiple tasks other than my problem.

    Unfortunately, her failure to read my comments only further cemented my opinion that this company doesn’t really care about its customers. Because service representatives are the front line of many companies, they have a unique opportunity to shape reputations and forge relationships.

    Empowering employees with on-going education and training to improve listening and communication skills will surely reap great returns on your investment both inside the company and when dealing with important customers.

     
  • feedwordpress 18:33:08 on 2018/02/22 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , Philadelphia Business Journal, storytelling   

    Lessons from Chance Encounters 

    I had just touched down in Tampa when I glanced at my nails. Peeling, fading polish glared back at me. With back-to-back speaking engagements in the next few days, I knew I needed a manicure.

    A quick check at my hotel revealed the normally ten to fifteen-dollar cosmetic luxury would cost thirty dollars at the pricey hotel beauty shop. Not feeling that extravagant, I walked to the closest mall in search of a nail salon. That’s when I found De-Ja-Vu. They offered basic manicures for twelve dollars. Sold!

    Waiting for a manicurist to free up, I sat next to a woman about thirty years my junior. As women of all ages do, we struck up a conversation. She was from Baltimore; here visiting her boyfriend and interviewing for a job so she could move closer to him. Sensing she had the ear of someone slightly more experienced, she picked my brain for some interviewing and communication tips and said she felt fortunate we ran into each other. Like a good book you fail to finish reading, I sometimes wonder what happened to her. Did she get the job? Did she move in with the boyfriend? How did her life turn out?

    For those of us who talk to just about anyone, we are prone to chance encounters almost everywhere. I sometimes think about people I’ve met on airplanes, in train stations, on vacation, at the supermarket or waiting in line to see a ticketed event. Most of these people, we never remember or see again. Others, even if we don’t know it at the time, may have crossed our paths for a reason.

    Earlier this year as I was taking a walk, I had one of those encounters with people who had also accidentally encountered each other. It was a cold, blustery day so there weren’t many people out and about. As I turned a corner, there was a couple trying to take a selfie. I offered to help. That’s when I learned they had met fifty years ago at that very hour on that exact street corner in Longport, New Jersey. They had come back to celebrate at the exact time and exact spot where they began their life together.

    When they met, they were teenagers who lived in different states and had come to visit family who lived on neighboring streets. Unlike today, where texts and social media make it easy to stay in touch, they exchanged phone numbers, but long distance calls were expensive back then so they wrote letters. After college, they got together.

    Some experts believe if you prepare yourself to make the most of chance encounters, good things will happen to you. They even say you can significantly increase the chances of finding a great job, meeting your soul mate and creating your own luck. If this sounds like a bunch of malarkey, there is science to prove there could be something to it.

    Psychologist Dr. Richard Wiseman wrote a book called The Luck Factor which concludes that not only is luck is a way of thinking and behaving, but it’s also something that can be learned.

    In a post at Oprah.com, writer Ben Sherwood details one of Wiseman’s early experiments where he taped a £5 note to a sidewalk outside a coffee shop. Then he planted actors at tables inside. One actor was a ‘millionaire’; the others were not. Each person was instructed to behave the same way. Next, he recruited two subjects he calls Martin and Brenda. Martin described himself as lucky; Brenda said she was not a lucky person. When Martin walked up to the store, he immediately spotted the money, picked it up, entered the coffee shop and sat down next to the millionaire. They engaged in conversation and even started exploring opportunities to do business together.

    Brenda, however, never noticed the money when she walked past it. She also sat down next to the millionaire, but they never spoke. According to Sherwood’s post, when asked to describe his day, Martin said he had a lucky day. Brenda described her day as uneventful.

    Both people had the same opportunity, but acted differently. Wiseman says lucky people create, notice, and act upon chance opportunities in their lives. He believes that being in the right place at the right time is more than fate; it’s about being in the right state of mind.

    Clearly, every chance encounter isn’t life changing. While you might recognize when someone has made a difference for you, you don’t always know when you’ve made a difference for them unless they tell you. I recall sitting next to a young man on a coast-to-coast flight. He was struggling with personal issues which we talked about for much of the flight. He had saved my business card and nearly a year later, e-mailed me to thank me, saying my advice prompted him to move in a different direction and he was happier than he had ever been.

    Psychologist and theorist Albert Bandura studied how seemingly random encounters change lives. He writes that former President Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy met when she began to receive mail meant for someone else. She complained to the Screen Actors Guild, of which Reagan was president at the time. They met and were engaged shortly after.

    In a commencement speech at Stanford University, late Apple founder Steve Jobs says if he had not dropped in on a calligraphy course, the Mac may have never evolved the way it has today.

    Thinking back to nearly three decades ago, a chance encounter changed my life. My friend and I entered the same café where we noticed a man enjoying a bite to eat. I made eye contact. She didn’t. At a party later that evening, I spoke to him. She didn’t. She had a negative attitude, commenting he was too old for me (we’re two years apart), was probably married (he was single) and rattled off a host of other assumptions. I was more positive, perhaps more open to luck and chance encounters. That man is now my husband of almost thirty years.

    Bandura says chance encounters are important because they have branching power. That means, they could not have been planned, yet they frequently inspire a chain of events that can shift someone’s life course and open unexpected opportunities.To take advantage of chance encounters, Bandura recommends looking outward to grab the branches within reach. To me, this means the following:

    BE PRESENT
    Instead of burying your nose in your cell phone when sitting alone, look up and out so you make eye contact with others. If I had not made eye contact with my husband, my life would be very different.

    CHANGE ROUTINES
    Like a good workout routine, you need to change things up, so you work different muscle groups. The same can be said for daily life. If you walk to work, take a different route. Perhaps you’ll stop into a different coffee shop, talk to someone new, see a sign announcing an interesting program you might attend. You never know who you’ll meet along the way.

    IMAGINE POSITIVE OUTCOMES
    In the Journal of Positive Psychology, researchers demonstrated that people who imagined a “best possible self” for one minute and wrote down their thoughts, generated a significant increase in positive effect. Simply put, if we are optimistic, we are likely to turn chance encounters into positive experiences.

    Last week, I was seated next to a ninety-year-old woman on a plane. I had work to do and a movie I wanted to watch. Making idle conversation with a stranger was not part of my plan. Only to be polite, as I sat down, I said hello, how are you She burst into tears and said, “I’m scared”.

    Her husband had died. Her children and grandchildren live all over the country. She had never traveled by herself before. She was sad and felt very alone. We talked. I helped her to the bathroom and off the plane, then stayed with her until she was safely seated in a wheelchair with an airline attendant to help her retrieve her bags. She asked for my card.

    When I sat down to write this column today, it was not supposed to be about chance encounters. Then I received her email which read: “Just a note to thank you again for being so friendly and helpful to me on our flight!”

    To me, it was nothing more than being kind. To her, it meant much more. We never know how a chance encounter will influence or change lives. We do know that these seemingly simple moments happen to all of us and if we’re paying attention, they can have a positive life-long lasting effect.

     
  • feedwordpress 00:21:15 on 2018/01/31 Permalink
    Tags: Philadelphia Business Journal   

    Deer in the Headlights: Overcoming the Fear of Public Speaking 

    We were returning from dinner at a neighbor’s just a few blocks away, when the sirens started whining and lights flashed behind us. I was driving. My husband was in the passenger seat.

    “Why would he be pulling me over?” I panicked out loud. “Was I swerving? I only had one glass of wine and that was with dinner.”

    “I’m sure it’s nothing.” reassured my husband. “You weren’t doing anything wrong. Maybe you have a light out or something, just pull over.”

    So, I did and rolled down the driver’s window as the policeman approached.

    “License and registration, please” he requested.

    “Officer, did I do something wrong?” I inquired.

    For a moment he just stared at me and then said he noticed I had stopped in the middle of the road about a block back, rolled down my window and appeared to be talking someone, but he didn’t see anyone in the road.

    “Oh, now it makes sense.” I stated out loud as my husband slumped in his seat and glared at me to shut up. Silently he was thinking, “No!!! Don’t tell him you were talking to the deer!”

    “That was just a deer.” I explained. He was in the road, frozen by the glare of my headlights. I told him he was lucky I saw him and didn’t want him to get hit by a car, so I was warning him to move away.”

    The officer said nothing. My husband slouched lower in his seat. The silence sounded deafening. So, I kept talking.

    “I explained to the deer that a lot of cars cut through this road at night when it’s dark and drivers can’t always see when deer like him cross the road.”

    The cop still said nothing. My husband silently communicated that I sounded like an idiot, so I stopped talking.

    “Ma’am”, inquired the officer. “Where do you live?”

    “Right there.” I pointed to the neighborhood on the other side of the road.

    He hesitated. Then he advised me to go home, not make any stops and not talk to any animals on the way. I thanked him and drove off. My husband shook his head in disbelief, though we still laugh about it today.

    For people who know me, seeing me talk to an animal is not out of the ordinary. I love animals and like any pet owner, I believe they understand us when we speak to them. However, I should have taken the advice I give clients when preparing them to speak. That simple advice, which I clearly failed to heed, is know your audience.

    Fortunately, in this case, my audience was a nice guy who probably decided ticketing me for speaking to a deer wasn’t worth the trouble.  But, why, when I clearly did nothing wrong, did I get nervous and not even think about how ridiculous I must have sounded?

    Like a deer caught in the headlights, many of us freeze in response to fear. Researchers say freezing or standing still when scared is a natural defensive reaction. It even has an official name. Glossophobia is the fear of public speaking. It comes from the Greek words: glossa, which means tongue and phobos meaning fear.

    In fact, research suggests that for most people, speaking in public is greater than the fear of death.

    Over the years, we have seen how this fear shows up in people. Prior to important appearances, we’ve witnessed clients throw up, start sweating, shaking, break out in rashes and a few have even had difficulty breathing. Some tell us they don’t sleep for days prior to a presentation. Others stutter or simply can’t make their words come out. To them, it can be so embarrassing that they turn down potential opportunities at work and in some cases, shy away from others.

    Stress coach Jordan Friedman says, when people are stressed, it is apparent as they may not come across as the person they want others to see.

    “Stress often causes others to steer clear of us and this is bad news if these people are our coworkers and companions”.

    If you search the internet for “tips to overcome fear of public speaking”, you’ll generate nearly 1.4 million results. Many of these articles will offer advice like “practice in front of a mirror”, “picture your audience naked” and “look at someone’s forehead so you don’t have to look them in the eye”. None of this will help you.

    I’m not sure who advised practicing in front of a mirror is the way to get rid of nerves. The idea is to observe your facial expressions, gestures and mannerisms. However, when you practice in front of a mirror, you become self-conscious and start focusing on how your eyebrows raise up when you say certain words or a shade of lipstick that you no longer like or the few pounds that have crept up on you. Your focus should be on getting your message across to your listeners. A better way would be to record yourself and play it back.

    Then there’s the naked thing. Picturing your audience without clothes is supposed to calm your nerves by making you feel that they are as vulnerable as you are. That’s ridiculous.  What it will do is distract you and take your focus off your presentation, not to mention that it’s kind of creepy. If you want to visualize, then envision connecting with your listeners and giving a great presentation.

    Eye contact is critical to making that connection. If you are looking at someone’s forehead, you are not looking them in the eye. The belief is they will think you are looking at them, but this is not true. People can tell if you are looking directly at them. Better advice is to think of a room as a quadrant and pick a person in each quadrant. Throughout your talk look at each of these people, which will give the appearance that you are making eye contact with the entire room. The more comfortable you become, the more people you can start to look at.

    As someone who coaches speakers and presents often, below are realistic tips that can help you overcome nerves and increase your confidence.

    Practice out-loud

    Practicing out-loud helps you internalize your presentation, so you really know it and can speak to it rather than read from a script. Practicing out-loud also helps you simplify. You’ll be able to sense if it’s organized correctly, what can be eliminated or if something is missing. When practicing, try to speak a little bit louder than normal conversational tone. If you are recording yourself, you’ll be able to tell if you are coming across as energetic and engaging, rather than monotone.

     

    Arrive early

    When I arrive early for a program, I can greet people as they come into the room. Shaking hands, making eye contact or having brief conversations with strangers makes them feel more familiar and less intimidating to you.

     

    Pause

    When people are nervous, they often talk too fast, which can make you more nervous and cause you to run out of breath. Learning to pause is one of the best pieces of advice I can give you. The pause allows people to process what you are saying and stay with you. If you don’t come up for air, they will miss key points. Pausing also allows you to emphasize important points.

     

    Examples and anecdotes

    Using examples and short stories to illustrate points makes information more meaningful and relevant to listeners. It will also help you speak the way you speak to friend, which is more comfortable and easier to remember than delivering a data dump.

    When you do that, you are giving audiences something unique: you! Your stories and experiences can’t be found in a book or on line. These connect you to your listeners.

     

    Hire a professional

    Lastly, consider hiring a professional. Working with a coach or joining a group like Toastmasters will force you to practice and receive constructive criticism. The more you present, the better you will become.

    If you come across like a deer in the headlights, not only will your nerves be evident, but you will make your audience uncomfortable. Audiences want you to be great.  When you succeed, so do they.

     

     

     
  • feedwordpress 19:28:34 on 2017/12/11 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , Philadelphia Business Journal, Sorry   

    Do you believe these men are ashamed of their behavior? One former Philadelphia TV reporter doesn’t. 

    Saying I’m sorry is becoming overused. Today Show morning host Matt Lauer is sorry. CBS morning anchor Charlie Rose is sorry. Actor Kevin Spacey is sorry. Senator Al Franken is sorry. Movie producer Harvey Weinstein says he’s sorry. Because the word sorry is used so often when someone admits doing something wrong, it has lost is power.

    In our business, we have always advised clients in trouble to apologize if they erred and if they were genuinely sorry.  Saying I’m sorry acknowledges vulnerability and humility. However, when it’s heard too often, it begins to sound insincere and void of any real meaning.

    That’s why I find it interesting that “I’m sorry” is now being accompanied with two new words; ‘ashamed and embarrassed’. The growing list of powerful men accused of inappropriate workplace behavior say they’re “ashamed and embarrassed” that they’ve let people down.

    Should we weep now or hold our tears for a more appropriate moment? I don’t believe for a second these men are ashamed or embarrassed about their behavior. They are ashamed and embarrassed that their behavior is now public. The real shame is for the people these men allegedly harassed who have been living in silence all of these years for fear that their careers or reputations would be damaged.

    Harassment in the workplace is nothing new. What is new, is that people, especially women, are now empowered to speak out. It doesn’t matter how long ago something inappropriate happened. Survivors are regaining power by stripping power from high-profile men who apparently made their own rules. What is new, is what some once laughed away as ‘boys will be boys’ is no longer an acceptable thought process. What is new is that “I’m sorry” is no longer and should no longer be enough.

    A quick unofficial survey of my professional female friends and colleagues reveals that almost all of us have been the victims of inappropriate male behavior. It may have been a touch in an inappropriate place or language that was sexually explicit.

    As a younger television news reporter, I would come home and recount some of the things that happened or were said in newsrooms I worked in. Horrified, my husband used to say if this happened in his office, these men and women would have been fired. He would urge me to report them. In most instances, no one would have done anything about it.

    I recall a television videographer graphically recounting his sexual experience with a woman he was dating. Given we were in a news van traveling at a high rate of speed, I couldn’t get out. I repeatedly told him I was not interested, and he had crossed the line. He just laughed. There was no one to report him to because he would have denied it. It would have been his word against mine.

    In my day, television newsrooms were often synonymous with bad behavior. Inappropriate conduct that didn’t make the news was almost the norm. It wasn’t just sexual advances or inappropriate flirting. It was intimidation, aggressive behavior and a barrage of obscenities hurled at individuals. It was putting someone down in front of others, reducing them to tears.

    I once worked for a news director who threw his typewriter through the plate glass window of his office as the staff was readying for the evening news. The newsroom stopped. Everyone looked up. Then, as quickly as the glass had shattered, everyone resumed working as if the outburst had never occurred.

    Don’t get me wrong; there were many trustworthy ethical people in the multiple newsrooms I worked in. But, like a fast-moving virus, it sometimes felt like the few people with bad values contaminated the entire space.

    I recall an evening that I was asked to cover a specific story. Due to medical reasons and a note from my doctor, I was unable to go. The night time editor cursed at me, called me names, insinuated I was a liar and then proceeded to criticize my qualifications and questioned how I was ever hired.

    Visibly shaken, I called my boss, explained what happened and told her I was going to file a complaint with human resources. The next day, she cautioned me not to ‘make this a big deal’. She said she would talk to him, but he probably didn’t mean anything and was just doing his job. She said if I made waves, it would come back to haunt me. She was the only woman in management and on a fast track to move up the ladder. She didn’t want me to get involved, because she didn’t want to be involved.

    Different times. Different standards. Yet, cultures of silence and fear still exist today.

    While NBC says they had never had a single complaint against Matt Lauer in all his years at the network, I find it difficult to believe that no one even had an inkling that he may have misbehaved. If he did what multiple people said he did, then many must have known about it. They were simply too afraid of him to complain.

    Since Harvey Weinstein was first accused of sexual assault and harassment, three dozen men have been accused of varying degrees of misconduct. Chances are, more complaints will surface. The question the rest of us face: will we become de-sensitized to these accusations as we have to societal violence and other unfortunate but common occurrences?

    Change is always slow, but change can lead to improvement. At the Today Show, CBS, Netflix and other companies who have come under fire for the bad behavior of their employees, we are witnessing management doing the right thing to reinforce what their organizations stand for.

    The immediate firing, publicly communicating and not tolerating this kind of behavior shows us that as organizations, they are the ones who are sorry, ashamed and embarrassed that this has happened under their watch.
    In the past, an apology and statement saying what your business stands for often made things go away. Today, it’s one thing to say what you stand for or have your core values printed on posters that are plastered on walls around the office. It’s something entirely different to enforce those values.

     
  • feedwordpress 22:26:31 on 2017/11/26 Permalink
    Tags: Philadelphia Business Journal,   

    Don’t put words in someone’s mouth. 

    I agreed to do a radio interview about challenges that small businesses face. Only, when the hosts called a few minutes prior to the live interview, I knew I had probably made a mistake. They were throwing out a few F-bombs, trying to sound like shock-jocks and clearly knew nothing about my new book or business, which was why they invited me on their show. I realized it was their shtick and given we teach people how to turn communications to their advantage, I was confident, perhaps over-confident, that I could handle it.

    It started out well. I interjected tips to become a more compelling communicator, specifics for small businesses and provided examples that I knew listeners would relate to. Then, one of the hosts asked: “what is the biggest challenge in your business”?

    I replied that the challenge for all businesses, large or small is to stay current and relevant. Specifically, I explained, as technology changes by the second, it’s tough to keep on top of everything. I said that’s why it’s important for business owners to have partners and reach out to others who can help.

    That’s when she said: “So, what I hear you saying is that you don’t feel relevant anymore.” What? Did I say that or was she putting words in my mouth? Rather than appear defensive, argumentative or repeat her negatives, I responded like this.

    “We pride ourselves on being relevant because we work hard at staying current and constantly reinventing ourselves, challenging ourselves so we are the best we can be for our clients.” I reiterated that it is critical to stay on top of change and look for new ways to address client challenges. I said, “We are constantly creating new content, materials and how-to-videos to stay current.”

    That’s when she said she’d like to offer me advice about my business. I am always open to advice and learning something new, but I was a little leery to accept it from a radio host who put words in my mouth and I wasn’t sure even knew what we did. However, I was on live radio so I said “sure”.

    She told me that I should hire young people right out of college and have each one of them shadow the coaches who work for me. Considering our coaches have extensive communications experience, multiple awards and provide communication guidance to senior executives, I wasn’t sure why she was offering this suggestion.

    She said the young people could learn from the experienced people and say what they say. I explained that knowing what advice and guidance to provide comes from experience, not following a script or repeating someone else’s words. Then she suggested they could improve our social media footprint to which I said, “We’re very active on social media. Is there something you observed that we can do better?” She hadn’t visited any of our social media channels but said she was offering this advice because “You said you didn’t feel relevant”.

    I wanted to blast her and hang up, but that would have become the focus of the story and I would have appeared argumentative. Instead I said “Please don’t put words in my mouth. That’s what you said, not what I said”. She started to interrupt and this time I cut her off. It went something like this.

    “You invited me on your show to discuss the challenges that small businesses face and based on running my firm for two decades, you asked me to provide solutions that may be helpful for your listeners. Instead, you are twisting my words, offering your own advice when you seem to have no real understanding of our business and I clearly made a mistake accepting your invitation. So, we can end the interview now or you can allow me to speak to the challenges of your listeners.”

    There was silence and more silence until she said, “Oh sure, go ahead”.

    Assuming you know how someone else feels or what they think can backfire on you especially if that someone calls you on it. Sometimes, it’s not even what the person is saying, but rather how they are saying it. What if she had asked, “Do you ever feel irrelevant?” Or what if she had said, “Have you had specific experience that made you feel less relevant and what did you do about it?” That takes someone off the defensive and they will likely respond less defensively. Assuming how someone else is feeling and projecting your words onto them will shut down any communication.

    In an article about divorce published in Psychology Today, author Michele Weiner Davis says, “The words we choose can mean the difference between loving, constructive conversations.” She says, “It’s important to say what you want to say in a way that someone else can hear you and not become defensive.” Even if the person thinks you are over-reacting to what was said, she advises backing up a step or two and trying again, using different words.

    The same is true in business. Asking questions prompts two-way conversations and indicates you are truly interested in someone else’s opinion.

    Eventually I did discuss the challenges I believe small businesses face. Here are my top three:

    1. TECHNOLOGY

    Keeping up with technology, having the right systems in place to prevent breaches and having the right tools available to market and grow your business remains a top challenge. Making the right choices and having the right partners is critical.

     

    1. IMPROVING CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE

    Improving customer experience and staying current to keep your customers is key. That means launching new products, creating new content and being open to change to deepen existing relationships and create new ones.

     

    1. ATTRACTING NEW TALENT

    Looking for ways to attract people with skills that can contribute to the business and be a good match for clients. It’s also important to make sure those who have worked with you for a long time continue to feel valued and appreciated.

     

    When the interview was over, surprisingly, the host said, “That was a great interview, thanks for the advice.” Trying to be gracious, I thanked her in return. The interview wasn’t great because of me. It was great because she stopped talking, started listening and stopped trying to assume what someone else was thinking.

     

    We had a real conversation that was focused on helping her listeners.

     

     
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