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  • 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:


    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.



    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.



    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.


  • feedwordpress 22:40:41 on 2017/09/19 Permalink
    Tags: Philadelphia Business Journal   

    Customer Service Reps Don’t Always Deserve a Bad Rap 

    I think people who make service calls get a bad rap. Some, more than others. Yet, if you really stop to think about it, I bet you’d be hard pressed to count the bad ones on one hand. That includes Xfinity, everyone’s favorite whipping company.

    Just this week, we had numerous service repair people to our home. The dryer was replaced. The air conditioner needed a tune up. A couple of people came out to give us an estimate on a water heater and Xfinity was in the neighborhood checking out an issue. They couldn’t have been nicer or more professional.

    Yet, according to a recent survey by Health magazine, customer service rep jobs are among the most stressful in America, on par with 911 operators. How can that be?

    I would think there are two factors. There is the rep you talk to by phone and the one that shows up at your door. On the phone, it’s easier to be a jerk. After being switched to various departments, being asked to repeat and re-enter the same information multiple times, being put on hold only to be disconnected, then having to call back and start the process all over again, angry frustrated customers can’t help but lose their call. Furthermore, it’s easier to blast someone you can’t see or interact with.

    In person, most of us are a bit more polite to the smiling visitor with an outstretched hand that you invite into your home. We can show these people what the problem is and we watch them, sometimes for hours, working hard to make things right for us again. Furthermore, phone representatives are taught to put up with our rude condescending behavior. If we resort to cursing them out, the worst that will happen is they’ll hang up. When we threaten someone face-to-face, we may risk a physical confrontation.

    Personally, I would not want the stress of being a customer service representative. Most, whether by phone or in person are genuinely trying to help you. Like any other profession, some are better than others. In today’s highly competitive environment, these people are getting squeezed from multiple sides. Managers are pushing them to take more calls, cut call times and sell more services. They also put reps through sensitivity training so they learn how to handle irate customers, even when these customers are completely out of line.

    We’ve conducted some of those trainings for construction workers, tree engineers and utility companies. Most people tell us they genuinely want to help solve people’s problems. Yet, the stories they share are chilling.

    Electric company workers are required to trim trees away from power lines to keep customers safe. One worker told us a customer threatened him with a knife because he didn’t want his tree touched. Utility workers frequently tell tales of angry dogs coming after them. Water department workers have similar stories even when they are working tirelessly to repair main breaks and restore water service. There have even been reports of customer service reps who have killed themselves due to the stresses of the job.

    As a result, companies are trying to help these employees. Nordstrom has created quiet rooms for people to meditate. Call centers have hired on-call psychiatrists. Other companies bring in massage therapists and conduct stress relief workshops. Our sensitivity training programs are focused on communication; how to communicate with angry customers, techniques to diffuse conflicts, body language and better listening skills. You can’t change someone’s obnoxious behavior, but you can change your response to that behavior.

    Regardless of the interaction, over time, people forget the specifics of what happened, but they never forget how the service representative made them feel. Just last month, I flew coast-to-coast on American Airlines. From less leg room to missed connections, to seat snafus, people are quick and often justified when complaining about today’s air travel experiences. Many of these stories even make news headlines. I fly a lot and have also had some of these experiences.

    Yet, on my flights, there are more good experiences than bad. One of the flight attendants on that American flight was exceptional: funny, personable and warm. I filled out a form on the airline’s website to recognize her for outstanding customer service. Most of us and I include myself, are far more likely to complain than compliment.

    So, whether you are the customer or the representative, here are a few tips that work for both sides.

    1. Word Choice. The words you use matter. Instead of “we can’t do that”, try “unfortunately, that is not a service we offer, however here is what we can do for you”. Now the message is positive and it’s about them, not you.
    2. 2. Take Responsibility. Customers want you to tell them how you will fix their problems. They don’t care about yours. Instead of “our vendor had an issue which prevented us from getting your service restored quickly’, try “let me see what I can do for you” or “here is what we are doing to resolve this as quickly as possible.”
    3. Shut Up and Listen. My first book was titled Shut Up and Say Something. In this case, the opposite is true. If someone is angry, let them vent without interrupting. When they are finished, instead of responding with a robotic pre-scripted answer, ask pointed questions that help them further explain the problem so you come across as someone who truly wants to help them fix it. If you’re the complaining customer, come up for air so the rep can ask questions and help you solve your problem.

    Thanks in part to technology making it easier to reach people, today’s consumers have high expectations and short fuses when it comes to customer service. While no one has a right to treat anyone disrespectfully, when someone has a bad experience, posts to social media can tarnish your reputation faster than ever before.

    That said, word of mouth still goes a long way. Just today, I phoned a hotel chain, annoyed that I had submitted receipts and done exactly what the customer service representative told me to do, to receive a refund for a problematic stay at one of their properties. Despite repeated emails, I never heard back or received confirmation that my request was being processed.

    So, I called. When I was rerouted to the second department who said they’d have to transfer me to someone else, the representative sensed my annoyance and frustration. She apologized, asked me questions and listened. Then she stayed on the line and resolved the problem even though it wasn’t her responsibility. She surprised me by awarding me bonus points toward my next stay.

    While I’m not posting to social media, I was so pleased that I told my mother and my son and my husband and some friends. I will book a room at this hotel chain again and thanks to word of mouth, so will they.

    If you want your company to truly stand out, make sure exceptional customer service is center stage.

  • feedwordpress 19:32:34 on 2017/08/29 Permalink
    Tags: fake news, , , news, , Philadelphia Business Journal   

    Fake news is nothing new 

    If you’re like me, you probably hate political ads. There are the people who claim, if elected, they will solve all your problems. Others blame their opponents for the world’s ills. Then there are the special interest groups that raise tons of money to tell you why their message is the right one. Are these messages real or is fake?

    Many years ago, I ran for political office and had a front row seat to the process. I was fresh off a career as a television news reporter when a political party asked me to throw my hat in the ring. I had two things going for me:

    1. I had name recognition.
    2.The man who held the seat they wanted me to run for was in trouble for allegedly publicly pummeling his girlfriend.

    What I didn’t know is what I didn’t know. Elected officials would call me in the middle of the night to vent about their personal life. High ranking politicians said they couldn’t support me and urged me to change my position if it didn’t agree with the party. Then came my opponent.

    As the race neared an end, things were tight. So tight, that in a district favoring her party by 5 to 1 odds, pollsters thought I might win. So, days before the big vote, her campaign sent out a mailer to voters stating that unlike her, I had moved out of the district, was not really a long-time resident and didn’t fully understand the issues. Only, it was a lie or what today’s environment would label “fake news”. I did attend college a few hours away and then earned my stripes as a journalist in a couple of cities before coming home. I never moved out of the district. I never changed my residence and I continued to vote in the district.

    Ultimately, on election day, I lost by less than three percent in absentee ballots. While disappointed at the time, looking back, I’m glad I lost. While it was a great experience and I met a lot of fabulous people from both parties, I became better at what I do today because of the people I met and the skills I developed back then.

    Fake news isn’t new. When I was a television news reporter, campaigns used to plant spokespeople and naysayers at opponent’s events to get their point across. They would put out news releases that contained quotes without attribution. And then, like now, they would pay for air time to say what they wanted to say regardless of truth or fact.
    It’s not just politicians who spout fake news. According to recently released reports, in the 1960’s the sugar industry paid scientists to downplay the link between sugar and heart disease to promote saturated fat as the real culprit. Credible sources now suggest that five decades of research into nutrition and heart disease as well as many of today’s dietary recommendations, may have been shaped by the sugar industry to derail the real truth that sugar was the culprit.

    Like the childhood game, whisper down the lane, people would see something on the news and tell their friend who would tell their friend and so on. After it was repeated multiple times, some of the facts would be missing while others were exaggerated or flat out wrong. I recall spending days interviewing people at breaking news stories, only to hear some of my own neighbors share incorrect information about the story I covered. When I would correct them, explaining I had received information directly from the source, they would argue, insisting that what they heard was true.

    Campaigns to manipulate public opinion and advance personal agendas have always been commonplace, but today’s execution is unprecedented. Researchers from Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Research Project reported a “global inventory of organized social media manipulation”. The report found that social media propaganda was used in 29 countries to issue false news reports, attack journalists or support a government or political viewpoint. It goes on to say that in some cases, these efforts involved full-blown government bureaucracies of employees on fixed payrolls.

    Mainstream media has always had a soft spot for sensationalism and some might suggest that even respected journalists manipulate information. However, in years gone by, most people got information from newspapers, radio or the evening newscast and they were typically loyal to that news source.

    The difference between now and then is the reach of social media. Fake news is fast news. Social media platforms allow anyone with a phone to spread a lie around the world in seconds. In fact, research conducted by the Media Insight Project, a collaboration between the American Press Institute and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, says that people who see an article from a trusted sharer, even if it’s written by an unknown media source, have much more trust in the information than people who see the same article that appears to come from a reputable media source.

    Today, because people get their news from other people, and are more likely to believe someone they trust, it’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s fake. If someone prefers FOX over CNN, they will believe FOX and the opposite is also true. As my husband frequently comments, we all live in our own bubbles. That means each of us has our own version of reality. What we believe seems more real. What others believe could be fake.
    When we are quick to label someone else’s opinion or belief as fake, that’s the same as trying to shut them up. After all, if I insist you don’t know what you’re talking about and I am a trusted source, then I must be right, even if I’m not.

    Like a negative demeaning political ad that shouts at you knowing you can’t respond, labeling others as fake will only promote fake conversations instead of trying to understand others and solve real problems.

  • feedwordpress 17:37:09 on 2017/08/23 Permalink
    Tags: Philadelphia Business Journal,   

    When Mercury goes retrograde: How businesses can survive & thrive 

    If you believe in astrology, then you know when Mercury has gone retrograde. That means the planet Mercury passes between the earth and the sun, appearing to move in the opposite direction of the earth. As it slows down and appears to stop, it creates the illusion of a planet spiraling backward. According to believers, during this three-week time frame, the planetary influence wreaks havoc with your life.

    Because Mercury governs communication, travel and technology, it seems everything that can go wrong does. Technology malfunctions. Business deals are botched. Flights are missed. Communications are misunderstood. Computers and cell phones go haywire. You may even find yourself getting into bizarre arguments with people for no apparent reason. It feels like swimming against the tide. Everything that can go wrong seems to go wrong. Even though there is no scientific proof to back this up, if you are wondering what in the world is going on, chances are Mercury is retrograde.

    Recently, I felt the effects of Mercury going retrograde. It started when prior to presenting at a well-attended leadership event, my computer refused to project. No matter what we did, nothing worked. Despite precautionary measures that included having all of my slides and videos on a memory stick and stored in the cloud, even the professional IT staff couldn’t figure it out. The show went on without my slides and videos.

    Then there was the car rental issue. The windshield wipers didn’t work which I discovered in the middle of a tropical Florida rain storm. During the same time period, at it’s debut, my newly released book Ordinary People: Extraordinary Lessons had a printing issue and had to be re-printed. At home, the washing machine broke. The TV cable box went on the fritz and our phone lines went out. I should have known it was a sign of bigger trouble to come.

    The date was March 2. A friend called to warn me our company might have been hacked. I thought she was wrong. Then other friends and business colleagues started calling to say they received what appeared to be a suspicious email from me. My friend was right. Within minutes, malware had invaded our company database, deleting contacts and sending out emails to hundreds of people from my personal email address asking them to click on a document which would corrupt their database as well. Unfortunately, some clicked before we realized what was going on and alerted everyone.

    Here’s what happened. Earlier that day, I had received an email from a magazine editor I knew. She asked me to open a link and approve some edits to an article I wrote that she wanted to run. It appeared to come from her email address and a program called DocuSign that looked like the real DocuSign. Since I use that program, I clicked, thinking nothing of it. Unfortunately, the email tricks you into opening an attached file which downloads and installs malware on your computer. Since then, DocuSign revealed they were the victim of a data breach of customer email addresses that led to massive phishing attacks.

    For us, the damage was devastating. Even though our company has multiple back-up systems, while attempting to restore current information, much of it was compromised and unable to be restored. Not only did we lose years of contacts and notes, but current information was replaced with outdated information. Today, nearly six months later, we’ve recovered, but are still feeling the effects when looking up contacts that no longer exist.

    Advice to take precautionary measures before a retrograde spell is common sense business advice that we should all heed. Back up your computer, calendar and cell phones. Expect travel delays and double-check contracts and documents before you sign.

    However, there is a bigger lesson that applies personally and professionally other than being extra careful until Mercury returns to direct motion. What can you and your business do that you haven’t done to prepare for the unexpected? Even if you’re prepared, as we thought we were, what other steps can you take to manage chaos if it arrives at your doorstep? Consider these ten tips:

    1. Back up important data every day. Whether using an outside service or doing it manually, just do it!
    2. Have a crisis communication plan. Who will manage the issue? How will you communicate information? Who will be the spokesperson?
    3. Establish social media accounts and monitor them.
    4. Anticipate most likely situations in advance and draft basic message responses for each.
    5. Like going to the dentist, it’s important to get regular checkups to assess where the holes and weaknesses are.
    6. Identify subject experts who you can call immediately. If dealing with a public crisis, these people may also be able to speak on your behalf.
    7. Hold practice and training sessions which will help you identify strengths and weaknesses as well train your key spokespeople.
    8. Re-read all important contracts, documents and bank transactions
    9. Re-confirm appointments and travel arrangements
    10. Google yourself. Are the results positive or negative? What can you do to improve or enhance your digital footprint?

    Like the period before Mercury retrograde, quiet times are often the best times to prepare for the future. In our case, I never thought something good could come out of something so awful. Yet there was. Our database is now updated and more organized than ever before. This has led to more efficient and productive email notifications. We’ve also implemented an additional backup system that we didn’t have before. I am more careful than ever when it come to clicking on links and opening attachments. That means taking extra time to check email addresses even when an email appears to come from someone I know.

    Whether the planet Mercury is to blame or you’d rather label the circumstances bad luck, the key to both is planning in advance so you survive the ride; then recognizing how you can improve so you’re better prepared next time. Yes, next time.

    Mercury goes retrograde three to four times each year. Astrologers say it’s important to be extra cautious during these times. Crisis management experts claim a number of small problems occur in companies every week. They say sometimes managers don’t recognize the crisis or they refuse to accept a crisis is happening.

    When my friend first called to advise we may have been hacked, at first, I didn’t believe it either. I remember thinking, how could this happen to us? After all, we have precautions in place. Despite that, it did happen to us.

    If you think it can’t happen to you, perhaps you need to think again.

  • feedwordpress 03:37:20 on 2017/07/21 Permalink
    Tags: Philadelphia Business Journal   

    If your public presentation is boring, blame yourself not your topic. 

    My team and I were recently hired to conduct speaker training at a global meeting. Before participants joined us for breakouts and coaching, we sat through their meeting where experts presented information. Surprisingly, each speaker was worse than the next. Their slides were text heavy, written in sentences, as the presenters read through them while randomly waving laser pointers at no particular place on the slide.

    It was a scientific meeting being held to educate attendees on a specific subject. Following, these attendees would work us in breakout sessions to learn how to effectively communicate this information and engage different audiences.

    It struck me as unfortunate that the company putting on the event missed a huge opportunity to select presenters who could exemplify how to be great speakers and set the tone for the meeting.

    Instead, the meeting chair led off apologizing for the dense slides; as he shoved his hands in his pockets, appearing bored at what he was about to share. He spoke far too quickly, without pausing to give listeners a chance to process what he was saying and spent a good deal of time talking to the slide instead of his audience. It was a global audience where English was not everyone’s first language so it was likely listeners struggled to keep up.

    The best way to become a good speaker is to start by watching good speakers. Being captivated by a strong communicator often inspires you to up your game so others want to listen when you talk.

    Given we’ve been coaching speakers for more than two decades, I can share the most common reason people, especially scientific and technical experts, say they can’t convey complex information in an interesting way.

    “My subject is different than others because I need to present very dry technical information that isn’t exciting.”

    Your subject may be different, but it’s up to you to present it passionately and in an interesting way. Instead of blaming your topic for being boring, look for ways to excite your audience. When you change your mindset, you will change the way your audience sees the subject. If you think of your subject as dull, then you will likely come across that way.


    Start by summarizing the key take away of your talk in one sentence as if it is a headline. As an example, if you are speaking about a new therapy, you may start by saying this new therapy can protect your children against future disease. If you’re delivering financial information, you might begin with a startling number or statistic to peak your listener’s curiosity. Always think about your listener when you create content. If you were them, what would you care about?


    When we converse, we are typically animated and have inflection in our voices. We tell stories and share examples that support that story. Your presentation should do the same. Think of your talk as a story and use analogies, examples and case studies to bring the information to life.


    An oncologist I once worked with was presenting at a medical symposium packed with colleagues. Instead of launching into the new study data right away, he began by talking about problems oncologists face and then discussed how the study results may help them address these problems. He instantly had their attention.


    While your talk may be longer than ten minutes, Ted Talks are great examples of how to make any topic interesting. There are talks on house painting, making tasty pizzas and even one on doodling. Instead of delivering a 45-minute talk ripe with spreadsheets, text and bullet points, you’ll observe techniques good presenters use to make listeners feel like active participants which keeps them interested. You’ll also notice powerful delivery techniques such as the pause.


    As a former reporter, I learned how to breathe life into my stories. The same applies to organizing business talks. Like developing an outline, pick three to five key concepts you want to convey. Look for places to insert the three V’s: vignettes, videos and visuals. The more interactive you make your talk, the more involved your audience will become.

    At the speaker training I referred to at the top of this article, the closing speaker, unfortunately, was as dull as the opening speaker. Instead of leaving her audience with a key take away, a call to action or a powerful reminder of why this information is important to them, she ended by presenting a slide that included approximately 200 words in small font, written in sentences.

    In what seemed like an eternity later, she said “this is the take home message”, which was highlighted in dull blue at the very bottom of the slide that people in the back of the room struggled to see.

    Everyone applauded and at first, I wasn’t sure why. Then I realized they probably weren’t clapping at the take away. They were applauding because her talk was over.


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