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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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.

How to Handle Obnoxious People in Power

A reader recently asked if I would write an article about how to handle obnoxious people in power. So, to start, I wanted to find out what we mean when we call someone obnoxious. Is it a person who throws their weight around? Do they try to “one up” others? Are they arrogant or inconsiderate? (All the way from Colorado Springs, I can see your heads nodding now – yes, yes and yes.)

How to Deal with Obnoxious People in Power by Laura Benjamin

(Photo credit: Eric Schickler Photography)

Webster’s definition is this: behavior that is annoying or objectionable due to being a showoff or attracting undue attention to oneself.

I figured there may be more to it than that, so I asked the stylists in my hairdresser’s shop today. They see tons of people and have a common sense perspective on human behavior. (Of course, I’m a little ray of sunshine and a breath of fresh air when I walk in there, but others, maybe not so much.)

They said, “People who talk too loud. It seems like they want everyone to hear what they’re saying and it makes it hard for us to have conversations with our clients.”

That got me started. So I came up with my own list of obnoxious behaviors, but it’s not exhaustive, so feel free to add your “favorites” in the comments at the bottom of this page.

19 OF MY “FAVORITE” OBNOXIOUS BEHAVIORS

People who…

    1. engage in the “cell yell” where they talk so loud on their phone that everyone around them gets to hear all the gory details of their conversation
    2. tell you they’re open for a meeting anytime in the coming week and then every date/time you offer won’t work for them
    3. don’t say thank you when you hold a door open for them
    4. take forever to order at a fast food place because they’re calculating how many pennies they’ll save from ordering a la carte versus getting the meal deal
    5. consistently say “maybe” when you ask if they’d like to do something or go somewhere and don’t offer any alternative to your suggestion
    6. squeeze into the revolving door space you’re in with their luggage rather than wait for the next opening
    7. splash water all over the restroom counter and don’t wipe it up so your shirt gets wet when you stand at the sink and have no place to put your purse down
    8. won’t move forward in line (either standing or in their car) and let a large gap exist when there are many people standing behind them – there’s something about seeing forward momentum that makes people happy
    9. throw trash out their car window
    10. pull out a million coupons at the grocery store (It’s always when you have ice cream in your cart)
    11. blast the bass through their car speakers so you can feel your heart vibrate
    12. wander onto the shoulder of the road and spit gravel into your windshield so it cracks
    13. drive slower than traffic in the passing lane when they should (and could) move over
    14. ignore the sign to merge two lanes into one, pass everyone who did merge and then expect someone to let them in at the last minute
    15. pull into the campground at 1am and make tons of noise setting up
    16. wait to complain about a meal until the last bite, then expect their dinner to be free
    17. ride bicycles side by side on a two lane road with no shoulder and heavy traffic
    18. consistently keep people waiting because their time is much more important than yours
    19. take your parking spot when you have your blinker on – here’s a classic scene of revenge in a video clip from the movie, Fried Green Tomatoes

Bet you’re wondering how I could come up with so many reasons to get bent out of shape. Okay, I’ll simmer down, but I think we should call ‘em as we see ‘em and get clear on what disrespectful behaviors cause us the most frustration. We should also try to understand the reasons why obnoxious people do the things they do.

Our ultimate freedom is the right and power to decide how anybody or anything outside ourselves will affect us. ~Stephen Covey

6 REASONS WHY SOME PEOPLE ARE OBNOXIOUS

People who are obnoxious often want to have power or influence over others. It can come from a deep-seated sense of insecurity. Maybe they grew up with few choices, were bullied or abused. So these behaviors are their way to get control over their life. They could also be people who…

  1. never learned how to show confidence and mistakenly feel that over-the-top assertiveness illustrates competence and self-worth
  2. are impulsive about most things and don’t realize their impulsivity may be interpreted as selfishness
  3. have been rejected, disappointed, overlooked or underestimated in the past and vow not to let it happen again
  4. find that bravado, a big show, flash, glitz and aggressiveness are often admired by others. They’ve seen people get rewarded for it and use that approach as their default.
  5. may have a physiological issue that impacts social skills. While most of us are not qualified to diagnose anyone’s medial condition, we should be aware that some behaviors are a result of genes or trauma. Through no fault of their own, they wage a daily battle to regain control over themselves. You may happen to be collateral damage.
  6. want to cause you harm – no bones about it, they ARE out to get you. You could have done or said something to provoke them or you look like a coach or teacher who wasn’t kind.

“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.”  ~Mahatma Gandhi

3 WAYS TO DEAL WITH OBNOXIOUS PEOPLE IN POWER

It’s hard enough to deal with these behaviors, but when the person has power over us, it makes it doubly difficult to cope. They may control your paycheck or the quality of a product or project where your reputation is on the line. They may be a relative. No matter who they are, you need survival skills before you do or say something destructive. So take one or more of these action steps to cope and hopefully turn things around:

1. Ask for their advice. It can take them by surprise because most people will push them away, ignore them or retaliate. This approach may require all the self-control you can muster, but it can pay off big time when they realize you’re not a threat and they’ve not gotten under your skin. Instead of an adversary, they may start to see you as an ally. Here’s a great book by Bob Burg on how to turn adversaries into allies. 

2. Say, “I’m sure you didn’t mean to be X (hurtful, disrespectful, dismissive, etc.) when you said/did X.” Danger: don’t follow up that phrase with the word “but” because it’ll put them on the defensive. Your goal is to let them know the impact of what they’ve said or done while giving them the benefit of the doubt regarding their intent. By saying you understand they couldn’t have possibly meant their words or actions to have that affect, you’re letting them save face.

3. Say, “It would help me out a lot if you’d do/say X next time. That way I’ll be able to do Y.” By stating the preferable actions, words and behaviors you’d like to see and saying why it’s important, you give them a constructive approach to get better outcomes. Too often we know we don’t like what someone is saying or doing, but we we fail to be specific about better behaviors. And that leaves people knowing they did something wrong but without an example of what to do differently.

IN SUMMARY

We’ve looked at examples of obnoxious behavior, reasons why people may do the things they do, and respectful strategies you can use with anyone, especially people in power. You can be assertive in a non-threatening way. And more importantly, you don’t have to ignore something that’s keeping you up at night. When we feel some control over circumstances, it can reduce our stress levels and improve our personal performance.

ADDITIONAL READING:

Stop Saying That’s Just the Way I Am

How to Recover When You Say Something Stupid

Does Your Difficult Boss Need a Jerk-o-Meter?

10 Things Top Communicators Do Differently – and you can too

Great communicators aren’t defined by whether they’re extroverts. They don’t have to have the gift of gab and be able to keep a non-stop patter going. But they do have one thing in common – they put effort into improving their interpersonal skills. It is important to them to build and maintain positive, constructive relationships and they do that through a focus on communication.

top 10 things good communicators do differently

The top 10 skills good communicators develop also include:

1. They are aspirational. They understand that what people need most is to be heard, appreciated and encouraged. Everything that comes out of their mouth or shows up in print is designed to make things better rather than tear events or people down. Since readers and listeners respond well to upbeat, optimistic news, they strive to focus on the good things as much as possible.

2. They ask questions. Too often, we believe people are stronger and more competent when they are directive, assertive and commanding in tone. But that can get old. The best communicators know how to strike a balance and ask more than they tell. Questions draw people out. They generate more and better information. And some studies show that leaders only get a small fraction of the information they need to effectively do their jobs.

3. They are sincerely interested in others. How do you take a sincere interest in others? (For some people this does not come naturally.) Back to #2 – you ask questions. You also make a point to remember key components of the person’s life, like what they do for a living, how many kids they have, whether they found a new place to live, etc. And you take the time to have a personal conversation with them now and then. We are usually “oh-so-busy” worrying about getting our own needs met that we often overlook the fact that we’re dealing with another human being. They deserve our attention too.

4. They avoid million dollar words. Nobody likes to feel dumb. So when we say “utilize” versus “use” or “compensate” versus “pay” we may think we’re flexing our language muscle. But we can come across like we’re putting on a show: Pretentious Language-itis. Let’s make communication easier for others. The fewer barriers we build, the smoother the process will go for everyone. 

5. They have a purpose. Good communicators have a goal for each interaction. It may be subtle, but it’s still there. The goal could be to make the other person feel more comfortable, understood or supported. The purpose might be to reach an agreement, make a decision, apologize. The more challenging the interaction, the more important it is to have that objective clearly defined, even if it’s just in your own mind. It’ll keep you on track and help you feel more confident.

6. They are consistent. People never have to wonder about who they are, what they stand for and how they’re going to behave. They don’t flip-flop. Change is not something they are afraid of, but they also realize that people like to know what they can count on. It’s important to them to give others a sense of security, knowing that uncertainty makes it hard to trust and can make communication difficult.

7. They are credible. They do what they say they’re going to do. They don’t lie through omission. People see them as an authority or resource. Credible communicators don’t inflate or overstate. If anything, they will under-promise and then over-deliver.

8. They see the big picture. They try to keep things in perspective. Good communicators don’t get wrapped around the axle over experiences that aren’t relevant to the bigger goal. They ask themselves, “What’s at risk?” and keep their eye on the ball. Roadblocks or speed bumps in life don’t slow them down from achieving what’s most important. 

9. They have a positive attitude. They are the epitome of Dr. Seligman’s learned optimism. They see bad things as temporary. They don’t apply negative events or experiences that impact one segment of their life to every segment. And they work to avoid taking things too personally by letting criticism roll off their back.

10. They listen with an appropriate style. Listening is the most important communication component. Good listeners are aware of the right style or approach that’s called for depending on the situation. The five listening styles are:

  • Appreciative: when someone is telling you a joke or a story.
  • Empathic: when people need understanding as they discuss a problem or concern.
  • Discerning: to gather complete information, like when you return from vacation and are debriefed on events that occurred in your absence.
  • Comprehensive: a big-picture approach where you’re trying to spot a trend or pattern, understand meaning or organize information.
  • Evaluative: to critique information, make a decision, decide if someone is right or wrong. (Source: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Personal Listening Assessment)

These are learned skills. Many of us must work on one or more of the above to improve our interpersonal communication. Don’t feel like there’s something wrong with you if they all don’t come naturally. It comes down to what you decide is most important at home, at work and in our community. Since organizations find that good communication skills lead to better relationships with customers, co-workers and constituents, isn’t it worth putting some effort into developing one or more of these traits? A little bit of focus is all it takes to move the needle and get noticeable results!

Read more about communication at:

How to Tell the Boss You Are Overwhelmed

How to Stop Them from Saying That’s Just the Way I Am

Non-verbal Communication and How Our Truck Almost Fell in the River