Tuesday, August 19, 2014

How to Use Mindfulness in Leadership

Meditation – or mindfulness – is seen by some as the latest new-age fad where people sit around on the floor humming with incense burning nearby. It’s not often considered a top business practice at highly competitive companies.
But some of the nation’s largest employers are embracing mindfulness as a way to ease the stress of a workday for employees, improve leadership and hopefully lead to happier and more productive workplaces.
One of those employers is General Mills, one of the world’s largest food companies, which supports employees as they pursue mindfulness.
Sandy Behnken, corporate continuous improvement leader at General Mills, recently shared her experience with Anita Bruzzese in this closer look at mindfulness and leadership.
AB: How did you come to use mindfulness at work?
 SB:  I learned about mindfulness in September 2009 when considering development opportunities for the Women in IT networking group I was involved in at General Mills. At that time, several leaders at General Mills had received mindful leadership training. One leader in particular inspired me to learn more because I noticed how he always seemed to deeply listen when others spoke and then responded versus reacted to what was said. I wanted to be less reactive and to be a better listener.
With the support and sponsorship of leadership, I coordinated a group of 25 IT leaders to participate in a seven-week mindful leadership course. Within a couple of weeks of the course starting I could see how my mindfulness practice impacted my interactions at work. I became more aware of the many stimuli impacting me and was better able to decide how I was going to respond versus react to them.
AB: How long have you been using it?
 SB: I’ve been practicing mindfulness for the past 4 ½ years. To help strengthen my practice and support other practitioners at work, I lead a weekly drop-in practice session for General Mills employees. 
AB: Can you describe a work situation you felt like using mindfulness made a difference?
 SB: During a time in which I managed a large project for the company, having a strong mindfulness practice helped me when stress levels were high and we had more questions than answers. It helped me create the mental space I needed to bring clarity and focused attention to the work my team and I needed to accomplish. This mental space also allowed room for creativity to find answers to all those questions.
AB: How to you think mindfulness has made a difference in your leadership?
 SB: I believe the biggest difference it has made is in my ability to deeply listen to what is being said. Whether it’s working through business plans or addressing personnel challenges the act of really listening and being open to what is being said has been invaluable.
It’s so easy to come into a conversation with preconceived notions about how to proceed forward that we can miss important insights. It’s equally easy to want to solve all the challenges that are presented when the best thing may be to listen without thinking about how (read the rest here)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

How to Establish Trust in a Virtual Workplace

Research shows that our conscious brains can handle about 40 bits of information a second. While that may sound like quite a bit, consider the fact that our unconscious minds can handle 11 million bits of information per second – and 10 million bits of that can be visual data.
In a new book, “Power Cues,” author Nick Morgan explains this means, for example, that if you suddenly get a “powerful gut feeling that the person sitting across from you is concealing an important feeling or piece of news, that’s your unconscious mind at work.”
He points out that studies show that we make most of our decisions unconsciously and only become aware of them consciously after the fact, once we are already acting on that decision. The bottom line: Your unconscious mind is really in charge, he says.
That’s why he says it’s important to understand how you communicate with others – especially if you’re in a leadership position and want to influence and persuade others.
For example, many leaders don’t realize that it may be difficult to establish trust with a team in a virtual environment.
“People become in sync with one another when they are together, and that chore is mostly done through body language and your unconscious mind. But that is taken away when video is used,” he explains.
For example, let’s say a boss makes a comment to a worker that is meant to be lighthearted and ironic. To convey this thought, he or she may put a hand on the employee’s shoulder, offering a smile. But, if this comment is made through email, then the employee may interpret that comment as much harsher.
“After that, all it takes is a few more comments made virtually, and then it all breaks down. You have a raging case of distrust and motivation,” Morgan says. “As a manager, how do you begin to untangle it all and figure out what went wrong and when?”
The problem with virtual relationships is that is can often only take one (read more here)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Is "You're Overqualified" an Excuse?

There is good news and bad news about the job market.
First, the good news: Employers are hiring more people, and for better-paying positions.
Now for the bad news: Some employers are still too short-sighted when it comes to hiring decisions.
The Washington Post recently profiled a J. Jennifer Johnson, a 36-year veteran worker with tons of skills but no job offers.
The reason? Employers have a “psychological bias” when it comes to employment gaps on a resume. For some illogical reason they believe that the worker must be incompetent if he or she has gone for more than six months without work.
There are currently 3.2 million Americans who have been looking for a job for more than six months. They sometimes are able to find temporary jobs, or sometimes they simply stop looking because they’re so disheartened by the constant rejections. But the reality is that employers have put on blinders to these thousands of workers who are capable of being valuable assets to their companies.
One of the most common ways employers will reject someone with a lot of experience who has been out of work for a while is to say, “You’re overqualified.”
They simply don’t want to take a chance on someone that no one else (read more here)

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

4 Annoying Habits of CEOs

I think I may scream if I see one more CEO on television touting his or her company and:

  • Using upspeak. "I think our sales will exceed expectations? Our customers seem to be loyal?" This sounds like the CEO isn't sure, or channeling a 13-year-old at the mall with friends.
  •  Being boring. I've seen company leaders talk about their products with the the enthusiasm of reading the dictionary.
  •  Not telling stories. No one wants to hear a CEO blab on and on in business jargon that would put an accountant to sleep. Let's hear some great stories about how employees came up with great solutions or why a new product is going to change my life.
  •  Talking in sound bites. I read the Internet. I watch television. A CEO who says the same thing, over and over, sounds rehearsed -- and a little lazy. It takes more work, but I want to hear a company leader coming up with new ways to inform and engage an audience.

I think the reason I care what a CEO sounds like it because there are hundreds -- if not thousands -- of employees who are depending on him or her to tell their story. If the CEO can't generate enthusiasm for what the company does, how can an employee be expected to do the same?

Monday, July 28, 2014

How to Negotiate In Difficult Situations

It can be frustrating to have a conversation with someone who is difficult. You may come away from the experience without the answers you wanted, and believe the person is a selfish, immature jerk.
But instead of blaming the other person for the bad interaction, consider that it may be a matter of you not clearly defining an issue or problem and letting the conversation get off track.
In a new book, “I Hear You: Repair Communication Breakdowns, Negotiate Successfully, and Build Consensus… In Three Simple Steps,” Donny Ebenstein offers advice on learning to behave and think differently when interacting with difficult people. In this interview with me, he explains a strategy that involves role-playing to improve your communication skills.
AB: What exactly do you mean by role-playing? Is it like pretending or acting?
DE: Role playing is a technique in which two people take on roles, and then have a conversation while in those roles. For example, if I were to role play a conversation in which I want to ask my boss for a raise, I would take on the role of myself at work, and my partner would take on the role of my boss. I would begin the role by asking for the raise, while my partner would respond as my boss, and we would continue the conversation from there.
The key to role playing is that there is no script; my partner, as my boss, is free to react in whatever way feels natural to her in that role. The conversation progresses with each party reacting to the other, unscripted.
AB: Why is role-playing so important when it comes to improving your communication skills?
DE: When done correctly, role playing provides a realistic and authentic sense of how a conversation may go, which is enormously valuable.
If I am considering adopting a forceful approach to asking my boss for a raise, for example, I can first role play it with a friend or colleague as my boss and gauge their reaction, (read more here)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

How to Present Complicated Information That Anyone Can Understand

We’ve become a world that communicates in two-minute sound bites and 140 characters, but how can anyone expect you to explain complex information so quickly and concisely?
Well, they do – and you can.
Many of those who work with complex information believe it can’t be done, and hence we have the mind-numbing, jargon-riddled, overloaded PowerPoint presentations that do little to engage or inform. That can be frustrating for everyone involved, and even disastrous for your career or company if a boss or customer ignores what you’re trying to tell them.
So how do you present complicated information that anyone can understand?
Just as you would any other information. It needs to be clear, concise and told in a compelling way. Just because the information is complex doesn’t cancel out the need to be a good storyteller and convey your information in a way that educates and moves your listeners to action, experts say.
If you’re looking for some ways to become better at communicating complex information, consider:
  • Being concise. As Albert Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Try to keep your opening sentence to less than 50 words. After that, use the “Twitter test” and try to reduce each important point down to 140 characters. You may not hit that number exactly, but it will force you to think of boiling the information down to the bare bones.
  • Taking an improvisation class. At Vanderbilt University, for example, students are put through improvisational theatre to help them be more relatable when conveying complex ideas. Improvisation classes have been shown to teach people to react and adapt to situations and to think more creatively. Learning to think on your feet can be critical when you’re conveying complicated information, because you need to be able to change tactics if your audience isn’t grasping the information.
  • Learning to tell stories. Scientists and other technical experts often begin a report with data and statistics, but that bores listeners. By thinking (read more here)

Monday, July 21, 2014

How to Know If You're a Toxic Sponge

Are you the one that colleagues or your boss turn to when there is a crisis or they just need to unload their negative baggage? Do you then feel pressure to fix whatever is going wrong – as they walk away feeling better from having unloaded their troubles on you?
If so, you may be a toxic sponge.
While others find your calm demeanor and attentive presence reassuring and comforting, the reality is that you can only absorb so much negativity. After a while, you will begin to pay a price for a willingness to take on the troubles of others, and it may start to impact your own work or personal life.
The key is that you have to set limits. Maybe you like being a trusted employee or colleague and want to feel that you can be counted on in times of trouble. But there are ways to do that while still maintaining an emotional equilibrium that lets you be of service without absorbing all that negativity.
  • Knowing when to step aside. You don’t become a mental health professional just by watching Dr. Phil. If a colleague or boss has serious problems such as an addiction, an abusive relationship or comes to you again and again with the same complaints, then it’s time to suggest they seek professional help. Don’t try to be an armchair psychiatrist. Learn to back off from this person so he or she will be forced to admit professional assistance is needed. As long as you continue to absorb the problem, things won’t get better.
  • Setting limits. When you’re a toxic sponge, others may not recognize that you’re overloaded because you seem to so calmly accept whatever they say and want to help. But you’ve got to learn to set your own parameters of how (read more here)