Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Be The Bearer of Your Own Bad News

A young woman has come up with a method to help students who, like her, have to deal with anxiety in school. The first question people now ask her is “How could someone so young help others with a serious issue like anxiety?”

A prime minister, who has held office for many terms may experience considerable anxiety knowing that voters are in the mood for a change. How does he handle it?

The truth is the vast majority of us know where we are vulnerable—and so do the people you are trying to persuade. In this interconnected world we live in, your reputation precedes you. Just because they don’t bring it up during the Q&A portion of your pitch, doesn’t mean that those you are trying to influence aren’t thinking about it. Bring it up before they do. Acknowledge what they are likely saying to themselves. How could someone, in the case of that young woman, barely out of high school come up with a protocol for students who are too anxious to perform well in school? The woman in question began talking about her own issues with anxiety and how she conquered them. She then went on to speak about her research in the area and how she successfully helped contemporaries with the same challenges.

The prime minister also focused on the elephant in the room that many voters thought it was time for a change. By bringing up the issue himself, he was able to frame it to his advantage, offering a personal perspective on why his experience had served the nation well in the past and will be even more important as his country faces more difficult problems in the future.

This is not to say that investors, customers, or voters aren’t going to have some tough follow-up questions of their own no matter how you frame the issue but you’ve set the parameters and your opinion on the subject is now on the table. You also come off as a stand up man or woman who is not afraid to confront legitimate concerns.

Bring up the bad news before they do. Ask and answer your own questions. This will strengthen your case and your credibility.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

What's Stopping You?

I have this habit of asking people what they do for a living. More often than not, they hate their jobs or are maybe just bored. I then say to them, "Let's say I could waive a magic wand and give the perfect job, career or profession. What would you do?" What's interesting is that their secret gig isn't crazy, out of reach or unrealistic. The accountant doesn't want to play next to Kobe Bryant. The middle-aged lawyer has no eyes to be an astronaut. It's more like they want to be a play write, a painter or a radio talk show host. So, when I ask them, "What's stopping you," it all begins. I don't want to use the word excuses, that makes it sounds like they are lazy. It's hardly the case. More than likely they are afraid. And that's what this is about--seeing if we can figure out what's stopping us from doing and getting what we want. I always wondered what it would be like for these people at the end of their lives, looking back disappointed, maybe even angry that they didn't take a chance. I

I knew this guy who was a doctor. He hated it. He did because his father insisted that he go to medical school.

A good friend of mine owns one of the most famous restaurants in New York. Maybe the world. His place is loaded with celebrities. He wants out. He'd rather be a yoga instructor and a business coach or better yet a combination of both. Yet the velvet cage of power, money and prestige hold him back. I know this man is desperately unhappy.

Another physician I know pines to leave his reasonably successful New York City practice and write novels in Vermont.

A singer is trapped in the body of a network television producer. The list goes on.

For decades, my wife Susan had a successful career in the home furnishing direct marketing business. She was really quite good at it but she was losing interest. Her real passion in life is food. Even as a little girl, she gobbled up recipe books. In her mid-fifties, she decided to get her Master's in Food Studies from New York University.
Never wanting to stifle dreams but also a bit pragmatic, I asked her what she wanted to do with this new degree. She honestly said, she didn't know. She just wanted to learn about food. In the course of her studies, she discovered she could write. I mean really write, really well. She wrote about food. Is she making a ton of money at it? No but she loves it. Getting up in the morning and sitting in front of her lap top is something she looks forward to.

If you're one of the fortune ones who loves what you're doing, be grateful. But if you're not, what's stopping you?

What stops us isn't about money. Its about fear. I'm not saying that you have to hand in your resignation as a soft wear designer. You do have to pay your bills. But you still can write at night or start your own Internet talk radio show. You may even be good at. You might discover that you can make a living at it.

And yet, something stops us.

So, what about you? What stops you from doing what you want?

Friday, April 9, 2010

How Will You Screw Things Up?

Tom Seaver, the great Hall of Famer pitcher reportedly before every game he would pitch, sat down and read the line up of the opposing team. He was looking for players who could beat him. Maybe they had success against him in the past. Or maybe he just needed to change his approach to pitching to these particular hitters.

What about us? More than likely in our careers or personal relationships, we are not going up against opponents. If there is someone who could defeat you, it's probably going to be you. So, the question is: what would you do to screw up a new business deal or job, for example? What's been your pattern in the past? Do you start out on fire and then get lazy? Do you miss deadlines or not full fill promises you've made to your boss or your customers? Do you lie? Do you cheat on your expense account?

You might be able to fine similar self-sabotaging behaviors in personal relationships.

To avoid tripping your self up, you need to make a brutally honest assessment of your behavior. Too many people rationalize b.s. behavior or duck any responsibility. They are looking to blame everyone but themselves. You'll never grow until you own up to what you've done without finger pointing or excusing. When you are fully conscious of your pattern, you can be aware of when you maybe heading down that road of self-inflicted pain.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Does Self Help Really Help?

Each year, Americans spend billions of dollars on a parade of self help programs. The self-improvement segment of the book market alone is worth nearly $700 million annually, this according Market Data Enterprise. You could then toss in another $354 million for audio books in the category. But are we getting our monies worth? Do we really change? I mean really, really change—not just in the days and weeks following the weekend seminar, the Wayne Dyer PBS Special or a book we read. Is the change lasting? And if it isn’t, if we jump from the self help du jour to tomorrow’s you-can-be-better blue plate special, could that have a negative effect on us?

I had a conversation recently with a few guys about what has really worked that led to permanent change. One of my friends is a credit card short of a self help junkie. He goes from Sedona Method to Marianne Williamson to One Year to Change Your Life and on and on. The truth is he doesn’t seem to be any different. He has the same income he endlessly complains about, still has the ongoing contentious relationship with his adult child and his girlfriend, but most importantly, he doesn’t seem to be any happier. He does not claim that his life is radically different as a result of all of the self improvement but he says he always learns something. Self knowledge is good, but change is supposed to be the outcome of all this investment.

Another one of the guys subscribes to the pain theory of change. That is we only modify our behavior when what we are doing becomes too painful. But does that mean we would only stop smoking when the doctor tells us we have a brown spot on our lung? Isn’t that a little too late?

I think there’s a lot to the pain principle of change but I believe you can imagine or envision the consequences of your behavior in or order to act differently. Presumably you’re smart enough to know that smoking can kill. The problem is, too many of us live in the land of deny and justify.

You may need to hit rock bottom, but sometimes the more mature of us can see where this is heading and put the brakes on bad behavior.

What about the continued failure of self help programs to deliver what they promise? Does that not confirm the worst suspicions that many of us have of ourselves, that our problems are incurable and that we are doomed to spend the rest of our lives unhappy or unfulfilled?

I’ve spent more than a few dollars on self-help myself. Did it help? Hard to say. I’ve also wrote a book called “What Men Won’t Tell You, but Women Need to Know.” I’m telling you this so I don’t come off as too sanctimonious. I guess I’m looking for (and perhaps giving) answers like many others.

What about you? What’s been your experience with self help? Or have you found some way-- your own or someone else’s-- to make tangible, lasting change?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Be Clear, Be Very Clear

If you can't explain what you stand for, how can you expect anyone else to listen to you, buy your product or idea or be persuaded by anything you say.

Here's an example. Politics aside, You know where the Tea Party is coming from. They think the government has become too big and wants too much of your money. Clear, understandable. You can agree or disagree, but there it is.

On the other hand, the Coffee Party vision is mushy and vague. They say they want more representative government. Fine, but what does that mean. Do they think that we have too many lawyers and not enough factory workers. in Washington? Not clear and not precise.

What about you? Can people easily understand what your business is about or what you stand for?

See if you can come up with three points that clearly explains your work or your life or what ever you're trying to communicate.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Power of Empathy

Empathy--"The ability to share in another's emotions, thoughts or feelings." -- Webster's New World DictionaryIf you want to persuade and influence people to buy into your idea, product, or service, you must first understand them. You must learn everything you can about them. Who are they? What are their dreams, aspirations and fears?
Nelson Mandela valued the power of understanding others, including his enemies. Richard Shell and Mario Moussa, in The Art of the Woo, tell how Mandela wanted to persuade his jailers to improve treatment for all of the inmates in Robbins Island prison, where they were held captive.
A major part of his strategy was to get inside the minds of his captors. To that end, he taught himself to speak and comprehend Afrikaans, and learned the history, culture and values of the Afrikaaners. In order to best communicate what he wanted, he needed to truly know where his adversaries were coming from. Or as Mandela put it: "You must understand the mind of the opposing can't understand him unless you understand his literature and his language." This empathetic comprehension of those who were guarding him and his fellow inmates led to better conditions in an otherwise oppressive jail.
In dealing with clients, you probably won't have to learn a foreign language, but you do need to understand what words, phrases and vocabulary will resonate. When I worked for Roger Ailes at CNBC, he told me that if the person on the receiving end of your communication doesn't get what you're talking about, it's your responsibility to figure out how to say it so she does.
Many years ago, I took acting lessons just for the fun of it. I learned a very valuable lesson from the teacher. When you play a part you must view the world from the perspective of your character. Your interpretation of the role depends upon it. It's no different in business. Adapting your message means knowing your audience, not just the facts about them, but their feelings and attitudes as well.
Barbara Walters tells this story about Roone Arledge, who was my boss when I was a correspondent at ABC News. If she invited him to a dinner party, he would ask for the bio of everyone who was going to be there. Maybe Arledge was socially anxious and looking for some way to make small talk, but I don't believe that was the case. I think he wanted to have a little background information of where they were coming from to communicate with them better and make it a more fruitful evening.
This empathetic connection to others goes well beyond business. Michael Eisner, the former chairman of Disney, thinks people have it all wrong when they insist that the ability to say "I'm sorry" is the most important communication skill in a marriage. He states that understanding your spouse's point of view is really the gold in a valued connection, and I concur.
Simply put, the power of empathy is putting yourself in the other person's place, and then choosing the right words to connect to what he wants and needs.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Be a Powerful Speaker

Giving a speech is an opportunity for you to get an audience to see their world differently. It's your chance to influence the way they think and get them to take action. These points are designed to help you be a more powerful and confident speaker.

1. Take a stand.
Make a provocative statement or ask challenging questions. Get their attention by presenting a strong point of view, thoughtful analysis, perspective and judgment. If it's the same old, same old they've heard before you'll lose them and never get them back. Don't waste their time by telling them how happy you are to be in Cleveland or saying something nice about the person who introduced you. Nobody cares.

2. Make it clear why this is in their interest to listen.
You must understand what they care about. What are their needs, fears, dreams and desires? How do you want your audience to think, feel or react? What action would you like them to take as a result of what you are telling them?

3. Be interesting.
A friend of ours is a minister and she came to me for advice on how she could improve her sermons. She thought about peppering her homilies with jokes. I reminded her that she's not a comedian and her flock does not come to church to be entertained. They are looking for meaning. Jokes are great if you're really funny. More than likely, you're not. Stick to what you know and what's important to them.

4. Tell meaningful stories and evoke real feelings.
Stories connect to our imagination. The audience can envision what you are talking about. The image the story lasts far longer than the words that they heard. Even better is emotionally moving your audience, getting them to feel in their hearts what your message is about. Do you remember how you felt the night Barack Obama was elected president? I don't recall a word he said to the crowd in Chicago, but I'll never forget the feeling I had.

5. Keep it short.
The Gettysburg Address is only 256 words. I'm not saying that your speech should be that brief but much longer than 20 minutes and you might start losing your crowd.

6. Don't read your speech word for word.
And don't try to memorize it either. Instead, be conversational with your audience. If you need three-by-five cards to remind you of the salient points, fine, but talk to them and don't lecture. Don't wing it. Practice it. A lot. Good preparation will go a long way in reducing your anxiety.

7. To PowerPoint or not to PowerPoint.
If your presentation is informational, PowerPoint might be helpful. But if your speech is visionary, if you're trying to walk your audience through your idea of the future, then don't use PowerPoint. It will just be a distraction. If you are using PowerPoint, keep it tight.