Conversation

The Law of Sharp Edges – Maximize Synergy by Framing a Conversation

There are many times when communicating via text or email is insufficient. The dynamics of human creativity are not one-dimensional. Thoughts and ideas must be echoed and bounced off one another so that we may experience and interpret the patterns that reverberate around us. Think, for example, how much more productive it is to “talk it out” with someone, rather than merely texting back and forth. Think also about how damaging it can be to keep feelings bottled up inside, or the complications that can arise from someone misinterpreting the tone of a text message. Creative thought thrives on the positive interference patterns that happen when two creative forces intersect. It falls away when given only a unidirectional track upon which to work.

Live conversation is essential for situations where there is something that needs to be created, agreed upon, resolved, or worked through. There is no real substitute.

When people contemplate getting together, whether face-to-face or over the phone, the thing that often puts them off is the fear of getting trapped in a conversation filled with small talk and irrelevancies. But it need not be that way. I use what I like to call The Law of Sharp Edges, which states that if you give someone a clear delineation – a guideline as to where things start and end rather than just a vague idea, they will be more likely to accommodate your request or behave as you would like them to.

Here’s a bad example: “Can I call you tomorrow?”

Here’s an excellent example: “Can I call you tomorrow at 2:00 for a 10-minute chat about the ABC project?”

The bad example puts people “on the hook for the entire day.” It’s like being on call. You know the event might

happen, but you don’t know when or for how long. This has a profound impact on your entire internal self-preservation system. Your instinct fears the unknown, and it’s not an overstatement to point out that something as simple as a vague phone call commitment is indeed an unknown. As such your body reflexively tenses itself for the interaction to come.

The excellent example removes the unknown and delivers three essential knowns – when it will be, how long it will last and what it will be about. It makes it a far more appealing thing to commit to since there are sharp edges surrounding the event. It is constrained and finite.

Such simple techniques will make a huge difference in productivity and process, by merely allowing the dynamic creativity of live conversation to flourish without fear. The many tools we have to facilitate live discussions, from meeting rooms to phones, video-conferences, online collaborative chat apps, even virtual presence devices like the Double (pictured) or Beam, still need to win someone’s attention through the most basic of concerns: “how will this hurt me and how will I benefit?” Once you can get such instinctive self-preservation needs out of the way, your conversation is free to do what it does best: make progress.

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Bonsai and the Law of Sharp Edges

2nd-Edition-Cover-FrontBonsai is an ancient Japanese and Chinese art form in which trees are grown and nurtured inside low-sided pots. Their branches are shaped by way of wires that guide their growth and shape, and they are kept small through careful pruning of roots and branches, along with the most influential factor of all, the pot itself, which essentially tells the tree there is no more room for the roots to spread out.

Since the spreading roots of a tree have profound impact on its ultimate size and life, the bonsai pot stands as a real-world example of the Law of Sharp Edges, which states that delineation of an event allows for positive control of organic relationships.

In terms of time management strategy, a conversation works much better if both parties know how it is intended to last and what it will be about. Meetings and seminars work better when participants know when the breaks and wrap-up will be. Delays in subways and on planes are better managed when frustrated travelers are given some idea of when things will be fixed. Why? Because at the root of all of these situations is an unknown. People fear the unknown. It’s natural. So, as a tool of proactive time management and influence, if you give people a sharp-edged delineation of an event’s duration and content, they will be far more likely to play ball with you.

This is an excerpt from my book, Cool Time: A Hands-On Plan for Managing Work and Balancing Time. If you would like a copy, hop on over to my Books page. If you would like me to come and speak to your group, contact details are available on my Speaker page. Either way, you will win back time and money. It’s just practical common sense.

The Future of Meetings

This blog post was originally written for HP’s Business Value Exchange and was posted at CloudTweaks.com.

Meetings have been a scourge on business productivity for many decades. British comedy genius John Cleese released a corporate training film back in 1976, entitled Meetings, Bloody Meetings, which not only became an instant classic, but spawned a sequel in 2012. The problems inherent in meetings are timeless and universal. And sadly, they take up way too much time. But things are changing.

A combination of factors now places the traditional meeting on the endangered species list. People no longer have the time or patience that they used to, and for the new generations of employees and managers who have grown up with sophisticated video gaming and unconstrained access to online resources, a tedious one-hour or longer meeting often fails to prove its worth. When that happens at the outset, engagement is sure to evaporate.

We have moved well past the era in which the only way to share ideas with a group of people was to corral them in the same room. Numerous options now exist from the good-old teleconference, to multi-screen video chat, through to virtual meetings using VR tools; but this leads to a conundrum: how important is physical presence to the efficacy of a meeting?

Many of us have participated in tele-meetings where Internet-based video conferencing– was available, but in which the participants still chose not to use the video component, opting solely for voice. For small meetings, this might be due to shyness or vanity – we don’t always look the way we want to, especially when working from home. There is also something decidedly disturbing about the “downwards glare,” where inexperienced video conference attendees look at the onscreen images of the other participants, rather than looking into their own camera. This creates an immediate sense of disconnection between people and points to the importance of eye-to-eye contact during discussion.

In multiple participant teleconferences, additional frustration comes about through the lack of body language cues, especially in regard to the rhythm of an actual conversation. We use facial or body gestures to signify comprehension of a point, as well as to signal our desire to speak. Such subtleties are lost when the visual component is missing or inadequate.

This does not mean that virtual meetings should not happen – they should. In fact, they should happen more often, since they save enormous amounts of time and money, and can actually be more productive than their analog counterparts, in most cases. What is critical is that the chairperson of a virtual meeting delivers and enforces an updated set of rules that ensure optimum behavior and synergy.

Firstly, if a company has access to a high-end video telepresence setup – using good video cameras and a bank of screens showing the other participants, then book this well ahead of time. These types of premium virtual meeting rooms are generally available in large organizations with numerous offices locations. They are not available to everyone, but they are worth it, since they offer the chance to see other people as if they were sitting across the table from you, and the 3D sound and video quality is generally superb. When these are not available, a phone or VOIP teleconference can do just as well, but the rules must be adjusted accordingly.

  • Go for “visual” whenever possible. Humans place greater trust in people when they can see who they are dealing with. They can also read body language cues, and frame the dynamic of the conversation accordingly. Instruct participants to spend a few minutes preparing, prior to the call. This doesn’t mean calling the stylists and makeup artists in, is simply means just allowing adequate light and establishing a desired visual look.
  • If video is not possible or not desired, then ensure photos are available. This could be as easy as inserting participant’s pictures on the meeting agenda (sent by email or posted in a meeting space.) A photo is a more controlled version of a person’s image, and although it does not allow for visual cues, it still flavors the dynamic of the conversation in a more human way.
  • Set up a system for side chats. It is very disturbing when people need to make a side comment while another person is speaking. Whispering is impossible on a conference call, but texting is easy. Whether this is done through an onscreen conference hub, or just texting to each other’s phones, this is an essential component of meeting dynamics that reduces interruptions while boosting synergy. It can also be used as a way of “raising your hand to speak,” by texting the chairperson from miles away.

There will always be some occasions which necessitate pulling people physically into a room for a meeting, but these are becoming fewer and fewer. The technology exists to bridge the obstacles put up by distance, time and money, but what is needed now is a revised mindset, that focuses pro-actively on the dynamics of human communication, and curates the available technologies to achieve the meeting’s intended goal. This way, Mr. Cleese will not have to make another sequel in 2018.

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The Value of Interruptions

This post originally appeared in the September 2014 issue of Time Management magazine.

What’s an interruption worth? Many people state that at-work interruptions are time-wasters, and they may be right. But then again, it might depend. Does every interruption cost, or can some be beneficial? It is really up to each individual to decide, and then to control the situation accordingly.

For example, for people who really need time to focus on work, an interruption always seems costly. Colleagues poke their heads in and ask “got a moment?” and emails arrive seemingly at random. In these situations the average working human is put on the defensive, trying to protect what little time is available from attack. Although such terminology may sound harsh, this is actually what is happening: a person’s time is placed under siege.

If self-directed, focus time is indeed needed, then it must be protected in advance. This can best be done by managing the expectations of interrupters themselves.

A proven technique for deflecting interruption is to announce both the start-time and the end-time of a focus period. This can be communicated online in a group email, posted as an online calendar entry, announced at team meetings, included in voicemail greetings and “out-of-office” email autoreplies and printed out as a sign posted on the outside of the office door or cubicle wall: “I am in focus time, back at 11:00.”

The secret here is to give co-workers and customers a comfortable understanding of when they will actually be able to get the attention they seek. When there is no other frame of reference, other than the phrase “I’m kind of busy right now,” a visitor tends to take matters into his/her own hands and push through. However, if potential interrupters are given an awareness of when the door will re-open, they are more likely to shape their actions around this fact. Successful interruption deflectors, then, basically set up “times of availability.”

But it is also important to allow a mild breaking of the rule, as in “if a question can be asked and answered in under a minute, then I will take your interruption.” This is done to help avoid forcing others to spin their wheels, waiting for the focus period to end. In short, if a query can be answered in under a minute, come on in. Otherwise comeback at 11:00.

When defined start- and end-times are scheduled and explained, in a positive tone of voice, they stand a better chance of being accepted and respected by a team. The benefits of establishing such a fortress of time include being able to work both interruption-free and guilt-free, certainly, but also there is the benefit of eliminating non-emergencies from filling the plate. Very often an individual will interrupt simply to pursue the path of least resistance; however, being asked to come back later might actually result in the interrupter either a.) Doing the task themselves; b.) Asking a different person to do the task; or c.) Becoming involved in something else, and forgetting to come back at all. Thirdly, a defined visiting time teaches/encourages colleagues to get all their ducks in a row before coming back to speak. It helps reinforce the idea that socializing is welcome in common office space, but that a private office/cubicle is for work. Time, after all, is money.

However, there may also be strategic benefits to allowing interruptions. To take advantage of the opportunity to chat with a colleague might result in a greater, more lucrative or more satisfying work assignment; or it might serve to strengthen bonds between people – relationships that may have great payoff in the future, or it might simply offset the need for a scheduled meeting at a later time. Interruptions from direct reports also allow for better ground-level understanding of employees’ concerns or ideas – an excellent leadership move, and a fulfillment of the open-door policy.

When an interruption stands to deliver greater value than isolation, then the interruption should be factored in as part of the work window. That’s the key point: factoring them in. Traditionally people forget to do this. If, for example, a person assigns 60 minutes to get a report finished, and an interruption steals away 20 of those minutes, then focus time is lost and must be caught up somehow. This results in a measure of mental stress, which in turn trims back on mental capacity due to the way in which the human body and brain always shut down portions of higher-level thinking when urgency and worry appear. This means that the completion of the report will take far longer.

However, if a person were to schedule 90 minutes to complete a 60-minute task, budgeting for acceptable interruptions, then the sense of control is retained. A person in this situation can allow an interruption, and with practice, can not only benefit from a strengthened interpersonal relationship, but can use that sense of control to draw the conversation to a timely close, and then return to work with the same level of focus as they enjoyed prior to the interruption. This is because throughout this exercise, control is retained. The interruption is not stealing productive time, since it has been budgeted for.

This is the pragmatic reality of work. The optimist inside each person says, “a 60-minute task should take 60 minutes”; but the pragmatist says, “it is better to expect to get it done in 90 minutes, and roll with the punches.

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Surviving the Corporate Wilderness

logo-lawyers-weeklyThis article was first published in the January 16, 2015 issue of Lawyers Weekly magazine. To read it there, click here.

Like navigating a jungle with few tools, finding your way through the corporate structure can be a challenge if you are not prepared. One of the main reasons for this is that too much focus is placed on the trail and not enough on the sounds of the jungle itself.

The art of managing and furthering a career has always been about people, and not tasks. It is easy to think that a lawyer’s job is about getting work done, about submitting files on time and taking care of to-do’s and e-mails, but the truth is, at the end of each of these tasks, there is a person waiting and that is where the attention should go.

An ambitious professional should think very hard about applying the 80/20 rule to the work week; specifically, giving 20 per cent of every given week over to planning and communication. Planning is important because it allows you to schedule your most important and lucrative work to the times of the day when you are at your best (for most of us, this points to the morning hours).

However, communication is where the future actually happens, because this is where relationships are built, along with the credibility and reputation that will put you in good stead for the next stage of your career.

Talk and listen

Talking to colleagues and clients, and listening to what they say gives you the opportunity to understand their interests, their personality type, and their style. This does three powerful things.

First, you learn what motivates them. It allows you to hear what their problems and fears are, which in turn empowers you to help resolve those fears. Are they procrastinators? Poor delegators? A-type personalities with no patience? Unable to trust? The issues that burn within a colleagues’ emotional space are the issues you can help solve.

Second, conversations demonstrate acknowledgement. You are acknowledging the hard work, fears and issues that this person deals with. To acknowledge someone is to give them dignity, which is the essence of leadership. They will warm up to you, since you have demonstrated care. They will want more of that good treatment and will act differently in order to get it.

This leads to the third benefit: influence. People will do what you want them to do when there is something in it for them. They will also be open to negotiation regarding timelines, delegation, payment or other task- or career-related matters. They will leave you alone when you want to be left alone and they will arrive ready when you want them to be available.

The reason communication is important from a career management standpoint is that all the people that surround you — your clients, your managers, your colleagues and your direct reports — have influence on your career. What you learn from them might alert you to an actual opportunity.

More importantly, you might be better able to create your own opportunity — your own advancement on your career path — by talking, listening, learning and teaching, and then offering solutions. Even something as simple as negotiating shorter meetings means more time for you to do more valuable work.

To extend the jungle analogy further, it is important to become a hunter, rather than a grazer. Instead of waiting for a job posting to appear, it is up to you to hunt down the type of work you want and that can only happen when people know about you and when they value you. A person who works 100 per cent of the time on billable work might appear valuable as a revenue generator, but they allow themselves no time to identify better methods of using their talents and no time to communicate their potential to others. They are simply a cash cow and will move no further up the line.

Stay valuable

What do you know about the world outside that you can share with others? Do you have a Twitter account that feeds you information about trends and developments in business that you could use to solve peoples’ problems, or have you dismissed Twitter as a meaningless toy?

Twitter is power. By choosing to follow relevant, proactive thinkers and commentators — other lawyers and journalists, for example — you stand to know more than the people around you. You will become a centre of influence. It will be you who proposes better, cost-saving alternatives to current work practices, or who learns how to deliver more up-to-date proactive solutions and guidance to clients, which is what every professional firm strives to do.

Twitter is the drumbeat of the business jungle. It is there to tell you what you need to know. You are free to ignore the 99.9 per cent of users whose content is meaningless, but to ignore the remaining 0.1 per cent means cutting off your career lifeline. There is good, valuable information out there: valuable to you, but more importantly, valuable to others and deliverable through you.

Plan and keep alert

Life is too short to wait for things to happen. You must make them happen. Allow time in your schedule, per the 80/20 rule, to give yourself time to think and strategize.

First, strategize forward: What are you looking for? A management position? A more balanced life? A fixed number of hours? A larger departmental budget? Do you want to lead a team or work alone?

Your goals should be clear, measurable, specific and linked to the firm’s focus. Once your goals are set, set a timeline: when do you want this by? For example: “One year from now I will oversee a team of four, I will work no later than 5:30 p.m., and I will have moved up one pay grade.” Do this by writing your ideas down across an axis of time. This makes it far easier to motivate yourself to identify the people you need to network with and to justify the time required to be with them.

The execution of any plan demands review. Mistakes will be made, but gains will also be made. Connect with mentors. Share your plan with them, and share both your successes and failures to date. No plan is — or should ever be — rock-solid and inflexible.

When roadblocks appear, the solution will come from communicating with those who created the roadblocks, perhaps, but also with those who have the power to remove those barriers. Mentors, too, play a great role in providing an alternate perspective or simply a voice of experience.

If you were in an actual jungle, the best thing you could do to find your way to safety would be to get to higher ground. A hilltop gives the lay of the land, reveals pathways and traps, and transforms the voyage from an unknown to one that is at least partially knowable.

The corporate jungle is much the same. Lift your gaze up from the trail immediately in front of you and pay greater attention to what is around you.

Learning from Centuries of Stress, Power and Control

This post originally appeared in the April 2014 issue of Time Management for iPad Magazine.

book-the-48-laws-of-power1In his excellent book, The 48 Laws of Power, author Robert Greene presents an awe-inspiring collection of stories, taken from all corners of the globe and from all centuries – from history, scripture and folklore, that focus on power relationships between people. As he illustrates, power exists everywhere that two people interact. It fills the space between them, in terms of their respective abilities and influence on a situation. Consequently the awareness of one’s power in any given situation, either having power or lacking it, and the interaction that such an awareness has when it rubs up against the desire to effect change that is beneficial to oneself, becomes a source of stress.

Stress, after all, in both the physical and emotional worlds, is basically the tension exerted on an object by a force. Most people think of stress in the negative sense, since it occurs when “what is happening” does not equal “what should be happening,” in other words, a desire is exerted upon a situation but the results are not satisfactory. This negative stress is more properly called distress. Positive stress exists as well, of course. Its proper name is eustress. Positive eustress is sometimes just accepted as happiness, contentment or excitement. Great examples of this might be the exhilaration of downhill skiing, or watching a thrilling movie. Laughter, too, is a great, and very healthy positive stress.

But most people are aware only of negative stress, although they might not be aware of just how much damage it does to the human body and mind. Numerous clinical studies have suggested that stress is at the root of most major illnesses, due the impact on the immune and chemical systems of the body that instinctive defensiveness causes. Stress releases hormones that put people on guard, or make them fearful or resentful. Sleep is affected. Clear thought is affected too, as age-old reflexes revert to the fight-or-flight state that rejects intellectual thought, halts digestion and increases blood pressure, all in the name of facilitating a hasty escape.

In short, stress kills. It kills creativity, it kills opportunity, and eventually it kills people.

This is why Robert Greene’s book is so effective as a stress-management manual. Most self-help books provide recipes and regimens to follow: prescriptions for good health. But not all adults are good at following orders or techniques for more than a day or so. If they do not fit into an individual’s personality type, many good ideas stay forever locked on the outside of a person’s being.

But The 48 Laws of Power tells stories, and most people are very good at listening to stories. We learned it as children, and it remains a welcome medium for learning, as all major religions will attest. The stories in Greene’s book reveal the magic that happens when people allow stress to pass them by, replacing it with calm and clear thinking. The book does this not by telling the reader what to do, but instead telling the reader what others did.

For example, the story of a Chinese military general who was suspected of disloyalty to his emperor. He was given the ultimatum of creating ten thousand arrows by sunrise or being executed. Instead of hurriedly carving one arrow at a time, he sent a contingent of his soldiers downstream on a raft covered in hay and tethered by a long rope. The raft floated close to an enemy encampment in the dead of night, at which point the soldiers on the raft made a great deal of noise, prompting the camp’s guards to fire arrows towards the source of the disturbance. These arrows embedded themselves harmlessly in the raft’s hay bales. After some time, the raft was pulled back upstream and the arrows, ten thousand of them, were extracted, and presented to the emperor.

These types of stories demonstrate the significant gains that can be made by taking time to step back and think things through before either acting or merely reacting. Grace under pressure, leadership, confidence, charisma, clear decision-making – all of these admirable traits come from not allowing the heat and stress of the moment to overcome one’s higher thinking powers.

This is why the 80/20 rule is so important in managing time, tasks, and most importantly, stress. This rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, has many uses, an illustration of something small impacting something much larger. In the context of time management, this refers to taking the time to plan; to anticipate the future and its possible permutations, and to influence them in your favour.

The antidote to the sense of negative stress is the sense of control. Knowing and feeling that you are in control of a situation changes you physically and chemically. Stress hormones such as cortisol are called off. Blood and oxygen are redirected to the thinking areas of the brain. Blood vessels dilate and circulation improves. Vocal tone deepens (for men and women alike), and most importantly, thoughts, ideas and concerns can be prioritized.

It is well-known that panic is contagious, but so is calm. A person who takes the time to de-stress a situation does everyone a favour. People will flock to, and follow, the calm, confident leader who knows the way. They will do the tasks required, with confidence and faith.

This principle need not apply only to large-scale emergencies; a text message will do. Many tasks and relationships are damaged because people feel compelled to answer their text messages, emails or phone-calls the moment they arrive. This is stress dominating the moment. There is a fear that by not answering, the sender/caller will be offended. This “answering stress” is the medium of the immediate. It was designed originally to help keep humans alive in environments where large creatures dwelled, but now asserts itself in the false urgency of a caller’s expectations.

By contrast, the person who applies a small amount of their time to influence the future, by informing callers and clients as to when, where and how they will return calls, such as “always within two hours,” manages the expectations of the callers and as such controls the stress levels of all involved, including themselves.

Negative stress kills. But control, derived from planning according to the 80/20 rule, turns every situation into something that can be anticipated, handled, and transformed into a win.

The Future of Your Company, Hashtags and All

Fallon and Timberlake's Hashtag Sketch. Click to watch.

Fallon and Timberlake’s Hashtag Sketch. Click to watch.

In addition to my own posts, I also write for CloudTweaks, an authority on cloud computing. My most recent post covers a recent sketch performed by Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake, which looked at the way hashtags are used and how silly they would sound in spoken language. The skit, in my view reveals a whole lot more about the fores of change in business and the need for decision makers to get on board. Here is an excerpt:

“Recently the unofficial comedy team of Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake performed a short skit that illustrated how silly hashtags sound when inserted into normal conversation.  http://youtu.be/57dzaMaouXA  The idea of punctuating a sentence with keywords intended as flags-to-be-found is of course, ludicrous in spoken parlance, but as Shakespeare and Chaucer both wrote, many a truth is spoken in jest. The humor of the Fallon/Timberlake skit underlies a very real truth that language, just like culture and life itself, is morphing to accommodate a new way of being, and written language is now expected to be seen online, where interaction is expected and where calls-to-action through hashtags and twitter mentions are essential.”

“These cultural references demonstrate that the age of the cloud is here. Everything exists “out there,” in an instantaneous and globally ubiquitous fashion. Such an observation is not limited to technologies of course. The same customer mindset that expects free wi-fi at every street corner and free apps for its numerous connected devices, is not going to easily file in to a boardroom for a staid two-hour meeting whose format has not changed since the 1960’s. Nor will it sit on a website that takes more than a second to process or update. Nor will it stay loyal to anything, when it knows there is something better, cheaper and easier just a hand-swipe away.”

To read more, please visit CloudTweaks here.

CloudTweaks logo

Work Like a Wolf – the book – is published.

Work Like a Wolf: Own Your Future, a book on career survival.

Work Like a Wolf: Own Your Future, a book on career survival.

Work Like a Wolf: Own Your Future, my third book, is a handbook for survival in the high-speed age. I created it for three reasons:

  1. I have observed too many working people existing without a sense of control; overloaded by email and ToDo lists, compelled to respond to their BlackBerrys 24/7, and being held in position through fear.
  2. I have met too many people who have suddenly found themselves out of work, and equally suddenly have found themselves lacking a network or career safety-net.
  3. I have observed “reaction” as a dominant force in all that we do, and I want to reinstill “pro-action” instead.

The wolf imagery primarily emerged from the phrase “working like a dog,” which people use often to connote an on-going workload that we take on without question or expectation of relief – doggedness, as it were. I chose to extend the metaphor by looking at the way in which dogs are kept: they are collared and controlled, but in return, they are fed once or twice a day. The price for a full stomach is strong restrictions on liberty, but at least you don’t go to bed hungry.

The problem with this occurs when immediacies such as email and meetings start to dull the senses. When a dog is worked all day and then fed, its ability to hunt, and its general survival skills get dulled. It becomes domesticated and therefore dependent. An overly busy person at work is like that: in exchange for a bi-weekly paycheck, he/she is kept in a state of constant overload and busy-ness, one that forbids the opportunity to network, to explore, to develop the career and financial safety nets we all need.

I’m all in favor of hard work, but when people have no time to protect both their present and their future, they are in trouble.

A wolf, by contrast, eats only what it kills. It must always stay vigilant, because it is owned by no-one. It must keep its hunting and survival instincts sharp, always on the lookout for danger and opportunity. My goal is simply to re-inject an amount of self-sufficiency into the lives of time-starved working people by reminding them of the skills and techniques that will get them further ahead, rather than just running all day just to keep up.

It’s about survival, career management self-determination.

Topics include:

  • The power of networking
  • Sculpting your own future
  • Personal presentation and image
  • Dealing with job loss
  • Looking for work (for people of all ages)
  • Locating the hidden job market
  • Staying literate in the social media age

For more information visit www.worklikeawolf.com

Steve Prentice is a speaker, author and Partner at The Bristall Group. He works at the crossroads where busy working people intersect with technology. Follow him on Twitter @stevenprentice or visit steveprentice.com (speeches) or bristall.com (training + coaching).

The Polaroid Effect: More to people than meets the eye

Wait a while and let the true colours appear.

Wait a while and let the true colours appear.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression. This is a truth about human nature. We assess and judge within milliseconds, and those first assessments never truly disappear.

However, there are not likely to be fully accurate either, since people are deeper than their surface suggests.

Back a few years ago, before the age of the digital camera, there was the Polaroid camera, the first instant picture taker. After the shutter clicked, the photograph rolled itself out of the body of the camera and developed itself right before your eyes. People enjoyed flapping the photograph back and forth, thinking it would help speed up the developing process (which it never did), but the experience was fun: to look at a blank rectangle of vinyl and see the image appear, first in the faintest of shades and then within minutes to a full colour picture. The colours emerged before your eyes.

This same phenomenon occurs with people, too. Every person you meet has a story, has colour and depth. But do you have the time to discover it? Every person is a potential life-saver to you: someone who can refer business or opportunity your way, can provide help, advice, a future.

Is haste and the speed of life preventing you from getting to know people on this level? For example, would you rather work through lunch than have lunch with someone? Would you rather read your BlackBerry messages than engage in conversation? Do your assumptions about a person’s potential live up to their true potential?

People have passions. they have histories and they have advice. They love to be listened to, and what they reveal can be amazing and life fulfilling. All it takes is a little time invested to reap the dividends of true human connection.

(Excerpted and abridged from my book “Work Like a Wolf.” To purchase the book visit www.worklikeawolf.com)

Business is about returning phonecalls.

No matter what type of device you use, return those calls!

No matter what type of device you use, return those calls!

Business is about returning phonecalls. Of course, in the Web 2.0 age, the term “phonecall” also encompasses email and text messages, but the key point here is that business is about “returning” them.

Human beings are guided primarily by emotion. We make decisions based on emotional reaction, and rationalize them later. A purchase decision, whether it is a small item such as a pair of shoes, or a larger item, such as a car, are dominated by emotional impact, carried through the brand, the color, the packaging, the environment, the buyer’s perception of what they see and feel, and their memories of prior experiences. The same principle applies to professional services. A client will choose to work with you – to purchase you – based more on their emotional assessment of you and your company than merely of your booksmarts.

When someone sends you a message, what’s more important, the message, or the person’s emotional assessment of your treatment of that message? It is the latter, which represents, by extension, your treatment of that person? It is easy to mistake a message as just a message, just one more task in a long line of tasks to be completed. But that message is a connection; a connection between people. A timely, high-touch response to that message becomes a stronger emotional bond, a clear pathway to better business relationships.

What is high-touch? High-touch is a demonstration of caring. Not caring in the sense of saying “I love you,” but caring in the sense of saying “I recognize you – I see you as a valued person who stands out from the sea of other people in my life. I see you as someone to whom I am happy to give my time.” A high-touch response is essential if you wish to distinguish yourself in the minds and hearts of your clients.

The ideal high-touch response is always human: getting up from your desk and visiting the sender face-to-face if physically possible. Alternately, picking up the phone and making a call, either to conduct a live conversation, or to leave a powerful, upbeat voice-mail message. These live, organic interactions offer so much more potential for increasing and enhancing the relationship.

But what if you don’t have time to respond right now? There will always be times within a day or a week when too much is happening to be able to respond to a message from a caller. But this is where the danger lies. A caller – the person who sent you a message – does not necessarily know that you are busy. All they hear is silence – a non-response to their outreach, a sense of being ignored. And it is that most recent memory, the feeling of being ignored, that will last, and which will color the perception of you, and will alter their ranking of you in their emotional playbook.

Survival comes from remaining aware of opportunity and not jeopardizing your future through distraction or inverted prioritization. To respond to people promptly is to manage their needs – to reinforce the emotional bond between two humans, and therefore to reinforce prosperity both in the present and the future. An act that is definitely worth a few seconds of your “right now” time.