6 Ways to Take Charge of Your Life

A couple weeks ago I smelled something funky in my car. I live in the woods, so I thought maybe a mouse had crawled up in there and died. I put up with it figuring it couldn’t last too long. But four days later when I took the car out again, the smell was horrendous! This time I went in search of the cause, looking under the seats, in the glove compartment and finally in the trunk. And what to my wondering eyes did appear? Nope, it wasn’t eight tiny reindeer. It was five bags of garbage and some used kitty litter. Whoops. I had planned to take that to the dumpster.

5 Ways to Take Charge of Your Life

So I ask you, what are you carrying around that’s making your life unpleasant? Do you want things to get better? Want to take charge?

  1. Stop wishing that X would be different. Instead, decide what you can do today to wring the most good you can out of it. I don’t know of one person who isn’t grappling with circumstances that weren’t of their choosing. “This isn’t how I imagined my life would be” might have crossed your mind once or twice. Believe me, no one is exempt. Yes, you’re stuck for the time being, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find joy somewhere in there. Ask yourself, “If not for X what would I have missed out on?”
  2. Set a “horror floor” of how low you’ll go until you decide “enough is enough.” Too often we allow scope creep to transform our life into something we’d never have chosen. Boundaries get stretched. You agree to overlook it just this once. (But NEXT time, whoa baby, watch out!) So put some standards in place. And if you relax them in a moment of weakness, know that tomorrow you can give it another go. Just because you slipped off the horse once doesn’t mean it has to become a permanent state.
  3. Ask for what you want. It’s not being selfish to go after something that’s important to you. Too often, we feel we have to be satisfied with the leftovers. Of course, that means we have to take the time to figure out what we DO want. We have to be able to articulate it. And we have to think enough of ourselves to believe we deserve it. That’s what assertiveness looks like.
  4. Learn something new. It’ll engage your mind, increase confidence and maybe make you more marketable. It’ll open your world up to new opportunities. This year I learned how to shoot and edit video for client projects. At first I felt like a dummy. I couldn’t even figure out how to get the video file out of the camcorder and onto my Mac. (Oh, a card reader? Huh. How ‘bout that.) Here’s the key: it’s something you can do without permission from anyone else. It puts you in charge. You get to choose.
  5. Re-arrange the furniture. Do it at home or in your office. You will feel IN CONTROL! It’s a great way to start handling things. Feel what it’s like to make a positive change in your environment. Of course you’ll want to leave the light on at night for a while so you don’t stumble into anything in the dark. But then again, you might bump into something you haven’t noticed in a while. 
  6. Define what success looks like. But remember, you don’t have to go from zero to 100 in 60 seconds to be an achiever. There are a lot of points along the scale that would qualify. Is someone listening to you who never did before? Can you wake up at least one morning each week without fear or dread? Have you earned even 10% more than you did last year? Are you now able to call a spade a spade? Forward movement counts. And again, you get to decide where the bar is set.

Have you already tackled something on that list? How did it work out for you?

44 Reasons Why You Got Our Business (instead of that other guy)

You’ve used all the sales tips, marketing techniques and service strategies to land that contract or customer. Competition was stiff but you came out on top. Ever wonder why YOU got the business instead of that other guy? Here’s why. It’s because you…

Sales tips, marketing tips, customer service tips

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People Who Shine From Within Don’t Need the Spotlight

I recently heard a successful performer on a popular TV show preface the advice she planned to give by saying: “I’m just a girl, but…” I almost came out of my chair. Did I hear her correctly? Was this beautiful, accomplished woman trying to diminish herself in front of her peers? OR… 

People who shine from within don't seek the spotlight

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Benefits and Sacrifices of Being a Veteran

Military service is a mission and lifestyle embraced by less than one percent of U.S. citizens. On this Veterans Day, I’d like share a few of the benefits and sacrifices:

Thank You Veterans

  • The honor of folding the Flag for family members of deceased service members
  • Teaming up with strangers from all over the U.S. and from all walks of life
  • Camaraderie that forms when you know you’re all in it together
  • The quiet, humble demeanor of those who have sacrificed most
  • The sense of responsibility one feels when putting on the uniform
  • The courage of family members who say goodbye all too often
  • Learning that even a file clerk’s job contributes to the mission
  • Standing side-by-side with those who truly have your back
  • The importance of attention to detail
  • Creating home in a dorm room, a tent, an airplane hangar or a ship
  • Appreciating the faces and personal impact of national defense
  • Knowing that training seminars are held to keep you alive
  • That maturity grows through responsibility
  • That “earning your clothes” ties character to outward appearance
  • Watching the way military families look out for each other
  • Gaining the respect of fellow Veterans
  • Knowing that everyone is willing to clean a toilet
  • If one person needs to wear a sweater, we all wear a sweater
  • That sandbags don’t fill themselves
  • That the Star Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful never fail to raise a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye

Many thanks to our Veterans. We respect you and honor you!

LISTEN TO CARRIE UNDERWOOD SINGING THE NATIONAL ANTHEM (video)

30 Tips I Wish I Had Known Before Starting a Small Business

When you come from a family of entrepreneurs, at some point the self-employment bug bites you too. Dad’s been a realtor and appraiser since I was born and four of my siblings run small businesses. It’s been a wild ride for every one of them! So, in 1997 I took the plunge! 

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How to Cope with Critical Co-workers

Got a critical co-worker in your life? Ever wonder what planet they came from? It’s possible they have been that way all their lives and you are just the latest casualty. I’m sure it’s not because you are overly sensitive. (Truly!)

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27 Things I’d Like to Tell My Manager

You know those annual surveys consultants and HR folks send out every year or so? They’re designed to chart the state of morale, levels of engagement and satisfaction with leadership. After the surveys are completed, I’ve been asked to confidentially interview employees to get more specifics about their concerns. You won’t believe what they’ve said!

Employee feedback

(Image by my brother the artist and photographer: EricSchickler.com)

WHAT PEOPLE SAY

  1. We watch you when you arrive in the morning to see what kind of mood you’re in.
  2. A smile, a hello and a few minutes to see how I’m doing would mean a lot.
  3. I’d like regular feedback about my performance, delivered somewhere other than the parking lot, the hallway, the bathroom or on your way to a meeting.
  4. When you go out on leave (maternity, disability, etc.) check in with us once in a while so we know you haven’t forgotten us.
  5. We listen to the way you talk about your peers.
  6. Your meetings are too long and little gets done. Give us an agenda, stick to it, address people who monopolize the discussion and end with actionable items of who’s going to do what by when.
  7. Please deal with the person who is disruptive, disrespectful and a slacker. The longer it takes you to handle that situation, the less confidence we have in you.
  8. Ask for my opinion once in a while. You’d be surprised what I know.
  9. Flexibility with my schedule, especially for family activities, is one of the best things you can do for me.
  10. Training will make us better at our jobs. Please give us some.
  11. We love it when you stick up for us.
  12. We’d ask more of our friends to apply for work here if they were treated better during the application process.
  13. It would be nice if someone got to know me as a person.
  14. You make us crazy when you change the rules without telling us.
  15. Posting a policy on the bulletin board is not enough communication.
  16. Yes, you ARE asking too much when you hold meetings at 5pm on Friday.
  17. Since you now hold meetings at lunchtime, even the 15 minutes I used to have with a sandwich at my desk is gone. And you wonder why “engagement” is only at 30%.
  18. Internal transfer requests should count as turnover and retention bonuses should reflect it.
  19. Don’t ask me to come to you with solutions. I’m not a whiner. I should be able to tell you about something that’s going on without the pressure of having to solve every problem.
  20. It’s okay to say you don’t know. I’d rather you be straight with me.
  21. You don’t have to try and be our friend, but it would be great if you could be friendly.
  22. We watch how you treat our vendors. Aren’t they customers too?
  23. I’d like to tell you I’m too busy to take on one more thing, but I’m afraid how you’ll react.
  24. I’m tired of them telling me I have to be more “strategic” and never explaining exactly what that means and how to do it.
  25. Want to make our day a little better? Surprise us now and then with something small: a shorter meeting, a thank you, smoothies in the foyer, a clean refrigerator, etc.
  26. It’s time to tell the lady with the low cut blouse and the guy with the racy calendar to clean up their act.
  27. We could cut out 50% of our emails and get a lot more done. We don’t need a class to teach us how to manage the email volume we have. We need standards and practices to eliminate the unnecessary and CYA messaging.

HOW TO GET TO THE HEART OF THE MATTER

Nobody wants to burn a bridge when they leave an organization, so exit interviews don’t get to the heart of the matter. People who speak up are labeled “not a team player” so they learn it’s not worth it to voice their concerns. And leadership books that tout 7 Steps to XYZ ignore the granular issues people struggle with on a daily basis.

I’ve heard more supervisors say, “If I ask them to tell me what’s bugging them, I’ll get a laundry list of things I can’t change or they’ll ask for perks we don’t have money for.”

So our managers don’t ask or cut short the discussion when it starts to feel like a gripe session. They think it’ll open up Pandora’s Box. They think there will be a price they can’t afford to pay to even listen.

But those conversations will still take place – just out of earshot. The feelings and frustrations will still be there. And you’ll wonder why productivity is suffering.

It’s a heart problem, not a systems or process issue.

So if you really want to have an impact, make it a better place to work and get honest feedback, here are four steps you can take:

1. Hold a regular weekly meeting. Allow time (and permission) for people to speak up, ask questions and raise issues about things that are bugging them. If you can’t give them an answer right then, go find out and get it to them before or at the next gathering. Just the fact that you encourage open discussion will let a little steam out of the pressure cooker.  Listening is half the battle. If people won’t talk, don’t lose heart. Try it again the following week. Be sure to thank those who do speak up and for goodness sakes, don’t dismiss their concerns or laugh at them.

2. Instead of a Suggestion Box, create a Question Box. People can anonymously pose their questions and you can answer them at your meeting, in your newsletter, via email, or all of the above. Asking them to provide solutions can squelch feedback. It’s much easier for people to ask a question.

3. Use a Pain Scale to rate key aspects of your workplace. Take the pulse of your organization by asking, on a scale from 1-10, where they’d rank communication, trust, confidence in their supervisor, freedom to express themselves, time-wasting practices, how difficult or easy it is to get their work done, their stress level, etc. It’s often easier for people to put a number to something than explain themselves using words.

4. Have the Strengths Interview conversation as recommended in First, Break All the Rules by Curt Coffman and Marcus Buckingham. If you start the work relationship by showing your employee you take an interest in them, they will be more likely to trust you and give you honest feedback. You can also create an anonymous survey based on the 12 Critical Questions that define a good workplace.

I VALUE YOUR FEEDBACK TOO    

In the weeks ahead, I’ll write more articles about issues people struggle with, whether you’re a supervisor, manager, business owner or frontline employee. Don’t be shy. Anything you email me will be held in confidence. Is there something you’d like to get off your chest? I’ll compile and feature key concerns and comments, anonymously of course. Don’t rely on me to make this stuff up. Give me something to work with! 

Articles in the weeks ahead:

  • 27 Things I’d Like to Tell My Employees
  • 27 Things I’d Like to Tell My Customers
  • 27 Things I’d Like to Tell My Co-workers

Let’s see if we can’t shake things up a little and make the world a better place in the process!

P.S. Share this post, please.

How to Save a Relationship and Get Engagement at Work or at Home

Got a person you’re struggling with? Want a simple method for better communication? Snickers, my cat, taught me the key to salvage a relationship, whether at work or at home. This one thing she does will help you build engagement with colleagues, co-workers, customers, constituents and loved ones.

Relationships tips and communication skills

Here’s what she does: As soon as she sees my son head for the stairs to our basement, Snickers runs over and sticks her paw through the railing. When her paw appears, Brett reaches through to scratch her head and pet her back. Then she flops on her side and rolls around to get her belly rubbed. (You may want to skip the belly-rubbing with some people.)

It’s now a game. She initiates it, Brett responds and she wiggles around in delight. The more they engage in this ritual, the more my son expects it and actually gets quite a kick out of it. She makes a “bid” for his attention and he falls for it every time. I don’t know how she’d cope if one day he didn’t respond.

THE KEY: RESPOND TO “BIDS”

“Bids” for attention can strengthen relationships when they result in a positive response. When we say something to another person, place a phone call, send a text, email or letter, we usually want a reply. It sets up a give-and-take exchange that meets our social needs for human connection and validation.

Just like Snickers, we all want our bellies rubbed (figuratively speaking of course). It fires up those endorphins, builds trust and leads to relationship retention. Some people want more of it than others. Some are downright needy and tire people out. But most of us have a set point based on reasonable expectations.

interpersonal communication

Basically, people want recognition. That doesn’t mean they are fishing for compliments or a plaque on the wall. They want to know that somebody “sees” them – that they matter. And the more we respond to those bids, the better results we get in terms of acceptance, cooperation and engagement. Socially astute people learn how to fulfill this human need and as a result, win friends and become a welcome addition to the neighborhood BBQ.

Those who ignore someone’s “bid” may discourage the other person from making an effort in the future. They could interpret the lack of response as apathy or flat out rejection. The more often this occurs, the less likely the relationship will survive.

RESEARCH AND BENEFITS

People are people and human behavior is pretty predictable, whether you’re dealing with someone at work or at home. Studies of successful marriages have found that couples who divorced six years later had responded to bids only 33% of the time, while those who stayed married had positively responded to bids 86% of the time.

The more often we engage, the stronger our relationships. And the stronger those social connections become, the longer we live, as described in The Longevity Project by Howard S. Friedman, Ph.D and Leslie R. Martin, Ph.D. This eight-decade study tracked the loves and lives of 1500 Americans from childhood to death.

The way in which we respond is also important. Delivering lukewarm, unenthusiastic comments can kill a relationship about as quickly as no response at all. Read about the four styles of responding to others in this article.

Reciprocity rules! Positive responses build good feelings and encourage people to open up and offer more of themselves. And reciprocity is one of the seven laws Dr. Robert Cialdini explores in his book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. Positive responses show you are enthusiastic, interested, supportive and encouraging. It sets up a chain reaction that moves us to higher ground together.

HOW TO AVOID MORALE PROBLEMS

So often I hear people say they have communication problems within their organization, which usually leads to morale problems. Chances are, it’s because some folks don’t realize how important it is to let others in on the backstory. Maybe they don’t believe there’s a strong enough “need to know.” But as Simon Sinek explains in his TED talk on the Golden Circle, understanding the “why” is crucial to better leadership and also better branding.

To improve your organizational or personal brand in the eyes of others, explain yourself now and then. Don’t let people guess. Don’t force them to make up their own story about your motivations, otherwise you may not come out on the better side of that story. Once people understand the “why” behind your motivation, they tend to be more tolerant and cooperative. But keeping it to yourself can be perceived as arrogant and unfeeling. No wonder morale problems occur!

4 WAYS TO AVOID TROUBLE

Relationship Cure by Dr. John Gottman

Dr. John Gottman, author of The Relationship Cure: A 5 Step Guide to Strengthening Your Marriage, Family and Friendships, is an expert in predicting which couples are prone to divorce. After studying thousands of couples, he identified four things that doom relationships. I’m willing to bet these four behaviors may also have a bearing on how successful we are with people at work as well as those we live with. They are:

Criticism: when someone says their partner’s personality or character as the problem. (Based on Gottman’s research, this is something women tend to do more than men.) Before we open our mouth, consider whether the thing we’re about to say is based on a minor irritation or is it something more serious. Is it worth the cost of damaging the relationship to voice this concern? Will the world stop or somebody die if the behavior continues? I’ve written about a way to raise an issue using a non-critical approach here.

Defensiveness: counterattacking, whining or responding like a victim. When we’re attacked or criticized, instincts kick in and we try to protect and defend ourselves. But the more we protest, the more likely we are to: 1. not hear what the other person is saying, 2. not learn how to do things better in the future and 3. reject the other person’s opinion which can undermine the relationship. It’s hard to stay objective under these circumstances and it takes practice. Sometimes a simple, “Thank you for the information. Can I get back to you on this?” is all that’s needed.

Contempt: acting like you’re a better person than they are. (This is the #1 predictor of breakups.) This can also occur as we talk about the other person to a third party. Acting morally superior is usually a telltale sign.

Stonewalling: shutting down or tuning out. It implies “I don’t care.” (85% of the time it’s the men who do this.) There’s very little belly-rubbing going on here. Closing the door to interaction can make things worse. While sometimes tuning out is a way to avoid saying or doing something you’ll regret, neglect is a dangerous place to go. Stonewalling can also be a passive-aggressive way to get back at the other person.

IN SUMMARY

Respond in positive ways to the bids for attention you get from colleagues, co-workers, customers, spouse or family members to strengthen relationships. Research studies also prove that if you avoid the four deadly behaviors of contempt, defensiveness, criticism and stonewalling, your marriage (and likely other connections) will last longer. Don’t default to a position of neglect or apathy. Put in a little consistent effort if you want the people in your life to stick around. Err on the side of communicating too much.

Next Steps: Know of someone who’s at risk of ruining a relationship at home or at work? Help them out and forward this article.