Monday, October 20, 2014

5 Ways to Get Others to Listen to You

Do you sometimes feel like you're wearing Harry Potter's "cloak of invisibility" at work?

No one really pays attention to you. You're often interrupted when speaking in a meeting, and your boss scarcely seems to know who you are.

Perhaps the problem is not what you’re saying, but how and when you’re saying it.

Let’s say that you’re on the agenda of the next office meeting to give a brief rundown of a project you’ve been working on for several months. You’ve been scheduled as the next to the last item, right after a request from the office manager to stop leaving spoiled food in the refrigerator.

Chances are good that people will not be alert and listening by this point. In fact, they’ve probably started checking emails and posting their favorite Halloween costumes for dogs on Pinterest.

How can you compete with a bulldog dressed as a pirate?

That's why it's important to think about the timing of what you say. In this case, get your item moved to earlier in the agenda.Remember: No matter how interesting your project is, people are probably not going to be in the mood to be receptive and excited about it, simply because they’re tired and fed up and bored. Instead, by getting an earlier time slot, you have a better chance of getting others to listen to you.

Another way to get others to pay more attention to what you’re saying is by joining forces with an already popular person or group. For example, if someone in your office has just gotten major funding for a project, is there a way you can tie your work into that? By piggybacking your efforts onto something that is already well-positioned, you increase your chances of being heard.

Some other ways to get yourself on the radar with others:

· Schedule face time. The boss may be busy, but tell his or her executive assistant you need some one-on-one time with the boss and ask to be put on the boss’s schedule. It helps enormously if you’re polite, friendly and professional with the assistant so that you can get a time slot when the boss won’t be rushed or stressed. Always try to avoid Monday mornings or Friday afternoons, when the boss may be the most distracted.

· Be at the right place at the right time. If an important client or potential customer attends a certain gym, arrange to “run into” them. “Oh, I’m glad I ran into you. I’ve been meaning to give you an update of my project. I’m starting to wind it up, so can I call you this week?” This make it sounds like you’re doing a nice thing, and doesn’t sound needy or pushy.

· Avoid interruptions. While some people like to schedule breakfast, lunch or dinner meetings, the atmosphere makes it difficult for someone to concentrate on what you’re saying. The serving of the meal, the chatter of nearby customers and other interruptions make it tough to keep the focus on your message. It’s better to try and have a meeting set for a private location where you won’t have distractions.

· Be prepared. Whether you’re speaking to two people or 200, if you want people to listen to you, you must do your homework. Be armed with interesting facts and work on using inflection in your voice as well as some hand gestures. Maintain eye contact. Watch how key players seem to gain the attention of others, and learn from it.

· Listen. The key to communicating well with others is learning to listen so that you can respond appropriately to questions and react to changes in the conversation. People will listen to you when they know you are listening to them.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Best Way to Deliver Bad News to Your Manager

No one likes unpleasant surprises, and that includes your boss.
But when you have bad news about sales performance or a new product development, for example, your vice president wants to hear about it right away.
So how do you deliver bad news without it becoming a shoot-the-messenger scenario?
Jodi Glilckman, author of “Great on the Job,” says “it’s unrealistic to think that mishaps, miscommunications and outright screw-ups won’t happen. They will. The goal, therefore, is damage control.”
The key whenever there is bad news to deliver to the boss is not panicking (OK, you can panic for 5 minutes, but no more). But then you’ve got to figure out some solutions to present to the boss because most bosses don’t want to hear about problems, they want to hear about solutions.
And don’t even think of trying to sweep the whole thing under the rug, Glickman cautions.
“It’s not that hard to convince yourself that problems will disappear on their own if you just let them be,” she says. “But that strategy is akin to playing Russian roulette with your career – you have absolutely no way of knowing, much less controlling, the outcome.”
If you’ve got bad news to deliver to the boss, here are some ways to minimize the damage to your career and perhaps even garner some kudos for being good in a crisis:
  1. Pick the right time and place. While you don’t want to intentionally delay giving the boss bad news, you also don’t want to blurt it out as she’s running for an elevator or showing some clients around the office. Schedule some time one-on-one when you won’t be interrupted and stress that it’s not something that can be put off. This also will help to let your boss know the topic is serious and you’re taking it seriously.
  2. Do your homework. If the problem is that a big mistake was made in a report to investors, then the boss is going to want to know why. Glickman suggests collecting information on where things went wrong as quickly as you can, or letting the boss know when all the information on the problem will be available.
  3. Be specific and concise. The boss is going to want to know the exact problem and the impact. If a competitor beating your product to market is going to hurt overseas sales by 25%, say so. Avoid blaming a specific person, which (read more here)

Friday, October 10, 2014

5 Ways to Shine at a Job Fair

During the height of the Great Recession, job fairs were a mob scene. People with 30 years of experience were standing next to recent college graduates, all clamoring for work.

But as things have improved, many people don't think that job fairs are worth their time.

They're wrong.

Job fairs are a great chance to practice your networking skills and develop your personal brand pitch. They're the perfect opportunity for you to hone your professional persona and to learn to handle meeting new people with ease.

But before you put on the business suit, here are a few things to remember before attending a job fair:

· Do your homework. Once you decide on the job fair, research the employers who will be attending. What does the company do? How many employees do they have? What is the mission statement? How could your skills fit into that environment? Use the Internet or call the company for an information packet before the event so that you’re prepared to ask questions of the recruiter. The candidate who can move beyond, “What does your company do?” will be noticed.

· Be organized. Once you’ve researched the employers, keep your information in files to be reviewed before each conversation. Don’t be worried if the recruiter sees your notes – it will show that you cared enough to do the research and are approaching the fair professionally. Don’t juggle a coat, papers, umbrella, coffee cup, etc. Carry your things in a professional tote or briefcase, and keep your coat hung up or neatly folded over your arm. Eat or drink away from the recruiter tables – keep at least one hand free to shake hands and accept business cards. If there is free merchandise, don’t try to keep track of that as well. If you don’t have a bag to store it, leave it. It’s much more important that you look professional, not like a kid at the carnival.

· Hone your message. You won’t have much time to meet with recruiters, and they will want to hear your qualifications clearly and concisely so they can move on to other candidates. Practice your promotional message that outlines your strengths and how you could be of value to the company. Look for specific strengths. Saying you’re a “people person” doesn’t say much, but saying that you are detail-oriented and thrive on helping solve problems tells the recruiter more, especially if you can concisely cite an example.

· Look and sound the part. Dress professionally and neatly and make sure your breath is fresh and hair neatly combed. (Don’t chew gum.) Make eye contact and always offer a firm handshake. When you speak, make sure you keep your head up and pointed toward the interviewer. Job fairs can get noisy – don’t shout, but project your voice clearly.

· Take notes and get names. Have a pad and pen ready so that you can take notes from your interview. Keep the recruiter’s business card with your notes, and make sure you get an address so that you can send a thank-you note after the job fair. Your notes should keep track of particular interests of the employer, the qualifications being sought and where and when you can do further interviewing.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Apps to Consider When Job Searching

When considering a job or career, you may turn to a personality assessment to determine what type of job you should have or what kind of employer would be a good fit.
Such assessments are becoming more popular because they’re being developed into apps that can help you quickly discover that you sound like a whining ninny at work or that you can quit your job without burning bridges.
Kerry Schofield, a psychologist, says that such self-help apps appeal to many people because they’re so easy to use. Instead of having to make an appointment with a career coach or psychologist, a few taps on your smartphone and you’re able to discover information about yourself that might have been much more costly or time-consuming in another setting. Perhaps more important, apps allow you to privately find out about yourself without having someone in human resources or your boss also know your results.
“I think these apps are often a Godsend to many people, especially those who might be shy,” she says. “It gives them a way to communicate about themselves.”
Schofield, a psychometrician who helped design the quizzes used in an introversion measurement app by Good.Co, says that apps can also help educate people more about their personalities, to see that there are many different shades to individual behaviors.
For example, the Good.Co self-assessment app not only looks at whether you’re an introvert or not, but offers deeper assessments to see what type of introvert you are. Schofield says that the quizzes are built around 20 years of psychological research into individual differences.
“Like most personality traits, many of us fall somewhere in the middle,” says Schofield of introverts and extroverts. “People in the extremes (of being introverted or extroverted) are quite rare.”
Another interesting aspect of using apps to look at your strengths and weaknesses is that research indicates you are more honest with your answers when only you see the results. In other words, you may give answers to surveys at work that you feel your boss or colleagues may want to hear, but you’re more inclined to be brutally honest when it’s just you and an app.
“I think when people are more honest with themselves, then they can begin to learn what they can do to make the most of their true strengths,” Schofield says. “For example, maybe as an introvert you’re capable of contributing a great deal because it’s your quiet confidence that impresses people. Everyone has something special.”
There are many apps on the market that can offer you self-help and career improvement advice, such as:
  • Unstuck. A free app that helps you resolve your problems while providing motivation. For example, it offers digital coaching, asking if you are a “tunnel visionary,” a “waffler” or a “lone leader.”
  • Sociidot. Do you have trouble accomplishing the goals most important to you? This free app aims to help you “take a stand now and create the life you really want to be living.” You start with one dot, then connect it to the next “to make your roadmap come to life.”
  • WorkOnIT. “A better you is only a tap away,” is the promotion for this app that is aimed at helping you with SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, trackable) goals. The app offers coaching advice to help you “understand how to go about achieving your goals.”
  • Lift.  Users choose one or more habits they want to develop and then “check in” when the action is performed (you have to perform the habit at least three times a week to gain “momentum”).  Support and encouragement is provided with community users who give you “props” for accomplishing your tasks.
Schofield says that she believes apps will eventually lead more people to get professional help via mobile devices. She predicts more psychologists and other career counselors will use apps to connect with those interested in improving their lives – but aren’t comfortable having formal visits in an office or simply don’t have the time.
(This post originally ran on Intuit's Fast Track blog)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Why You're Off Base About How Others View You at Work

In the workplace, it can be tough to find that middle ground between being pushy and being a pushover.
But you figure you do a pretty good job, right? Just the right amount of assertiveness so that you’re not a jerk or a wimp?
You may want to reconsider your belief as a new study shows that the majority of us are off base when it comes to judging how others view us. In the study, Daniel Ames, professor of management at Columbia Business School and doctoral student Abbie Wazlawek, found that:
  •  57% of those seen as not assertive enough believe they show just the right amount of feistiness – or maybe even too much.
  • 56% of those believed to be too bold by others thought they had just the right amount of can-do attitude or might even lack some.
“Most people can think of someone who is a jerk or a pushover and largely clueless about how they’re seen,” said Ames. “Sadly, our results suggest that, often enough, that clueless jerk or pushover is us.”
If you want to ensure that you’re not coming across as too abrasive or a cream puff, then that means you’ve got to be more aware of how others see you. In a recent interview with Anita Bruzzese, Ames discusses the findings and provides some insight into how to make attitude adjustments to save your career.
AB: Did the findings about how people are clueless about how others perceive them come as a surprise to you?
DA: We were surprised to find that people who were seen as getting it right often thought they were getting it wrong. A good share of negotiators seen by counterparts as appropriately assertive mistakenly thought they had crossed the line in their counterpart’s eyes, an effect we called the “line crossing illusion.” In our studies, some 30 to 40% of negotiators seen as appropriately assertive showed this illusion, double or triple the rate of people making the opposite error (coming across as appropriately assertive but mistakenly thinking they were seen as under-assertive).
AB:  Can you explain more about the “line crossing illusion?”
DA: Our research tried to trace back the “line crossing illusion” to some of its causes. Why would so many people make this self-derogating error? There are probably several factors behind this, but one that we examined was something we called “strategic umbrage.”
This is when a negotiation counterpart puts on a little drama in reaction to a proposal we might make. They might let out an exaggerated gasp of horror, stagger backwards with their hand over their heart, or just respond with a look of anguish as if we had violated all norms of decency.
Sometimes that means our offer really is outrageous. But other times, that’s just a gambit, a game played because the other person wants us to pay them more or charge them less. We found that the more a negotiator shows strategic umbrage, the more likely their counterpart is to fall prey to the line-crossing illusion. It may be just a negotiation ploy to get a slightly better deal, but people on the receiving end of these displays sometimes take them as a referendum on their character.
AB: How would you suggest people gauge accurately how they’re seen by others? (read more here)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

3 Things to Consider When You've Been Demoted

Few events in your career are as difficult as being demoted.

It may be that you saw it coming – verbal and written warnings from the boss indicated you were not meeting expectations – or it may totally blindside you. Whatever the reason, being demoted is something no one wants to experience, and the pain is often so great some people will just quit rather than accept it.

Still, that’s not always the best move. For one, quitting means the paychecks stop, and that’s pretty devastating for someone who has car payments, school loans, a mortgage and kids to support. And two, quitting doesn’t accomplish anything other than putting you in the unemployment line and possibly facing the same consequences in the future. Because if you haven’t probed deeply the reasons behind your demotion, you may just be doomed to repeat it.

Specifically, once you get past the shock and hurt, it’s time to think about:

  • Sitting down with the boss and try to find out exactly why this happened. Let the boss know that you’re interested in focusing on the problems and fixing them. It could be the boss will tell you that it’s merely industry restructuring, and it’s happening throughout the company. In that case, you need to consider your future job security not only with your current employer, but within the industry.

  •  Considering your overall value. Do you need to think about training and additional schooling in another area? Maybe jobs in your industry are being sent overseas or phased out because of technology. In that case, you need to seriously look at how you can get training in areas that are expected to grow and prosper.

  • Setting new goals. With the boss's input, you should immediately establish some new goals to get you back on track. Get a professional mentor to help keep you focused and committed, and make sure you meet with the boss more frequently to ensure you're headed in the right direction.

All of this will be difficult, of course. It’s natural that you will be angry and upset, and going back to work after a demotion will be tough. Still, keep in mind that even if you want to quit, you’re still going to need a good recommendation and you’re still going to have to explain to another employer about why you left the job. So hanging onto that job is better in the short term until you figure out what you really want to do.

Of course, your decision may be that you need to look for another job. Maybe the job was never a good fit in the first place (you disliked your duties, hated the hours, etc.), and the demotion was something that resulted from your lack of full commitment to the job.

The point is that whether you decide to tough it out and earn back your old job (or an even better one), or leave the employer, take the time to make the demotion a learning experience. Was there anything you wish you had done differently?

Use what happened to do some soul-searching and find out how you can avoid tripping again in the future.

Monday, September 22, 2014

How a Virtual Assistant Can Save Your Sanity

Technology has helped us be so self-sufficient that it can feel old-fashioned or sort of elitist to think we need someone to help us keep our calendar, book a flight or research a new customer.
But as the number of hours American workers spend on work-related tasks increases, it’s becoming clear that no amount of technology is going to fix the problem.
We need help.  Human help.
Enter the virtual assistant.
A virtual assistant is someone you may or may not meet personally, but is trained to handle dozens of tasks that can bog down your day like scheduling meetings, posting on social media, getting bids or even scheduling your next vacation.
Even for control freaks
If you’re wondering if a virtual assistant is worth it, try keeping a log of what you do for a week. Think about how much you earn an hour, and whether making a restaurant reservation with a new client, for example, is worth that amount per hour. Would your time be better spent thinking of innovative processes, revenue-producing ideas or interacting with key customers?
Entrepreneur Cheryl Yeoh writes that she tried a virtual assistant for a week. She used Zirtual, which connected her with a virtual assistant for $197 a month. Under the plan she was allowed to delegate an unlimited number of tasks to her virtual assistant, up to 10 hours per month.
For example, her virtual assistant Alice helped her do preliminary research on a freelance project, and also chased down “a previous landlord who has owed me my apartment security deposit for the past five months,” she writes. “That’s a few thousand dollars in the bank!”
Jenny Blake, who also has written about using a virtual assistant, says it is “easily one of the best things I did for my life and business last year” even though she admits to being a “control freak.”
“For YEARS I had read all the books (4-hour Work Week chief among them), and knew the importance of delegating and not being a bottleneck. But each time I tried to move forward with hiring someone, I got overwhelmed, discouraged and gave up. Who to hire? US or overseas? What should I delegate? How do I do it efficiently? Can I trust them?” she writes.
How to make it pay off
Kellennne DeSimone is a virtual assistant to Veilsun Inc. executives. Before that, she was an on-site executive assistant for other employers.
She says that whether on site or virtual, she still does many of the same tasks that help keep busy people on target. The difference is that there is sometimes more of a learning curve for her virtual clients, who must learn “what they can let go of.”
“It happens a lot in the beginning that someone won’t let loose of something. But you begin to build trust over time so that I can then say to them, ‘Why are you doing that? Let me do it.’
If you’re considering using a virtual assistant, here are some suggestions on how to ensure it runs smoothly:
  • Get recommendations.  DeSimone was hired as a virtual assistant after former customers saw she was looking for work. Check with your network about stay-at-home moms, students and retirees who may have set up shop as virtual assistants. Or, check out the International Virtual Assistants Association. Sites such as oDesk warn that “you get what you pay for” so remember that a very low bid may not be the best hire for what you need.
  • Get your ducks in a row. A virtual assistant is not a mind reader. That means you need to be clear on what you need him or her to do and agree how best to communicate and how often. Remember that just like any other new employee, the virtual assistant needs time to learn what you need and how best to help you. Once virtual assistants have your workload in mind, they can help you set priorities and make course corrections.
  • Let them provide balance. DeSimone says not only can she help you research a new client, but she can schedule your haircuts, help you find day care for your children or schedule a moving van for your relocation. Yeoh says her virtual assistant Alice took up a dispute with the DMV and won, saving Yeoh from overcharges from her insurance company.
  • Don’t micromanage. It may be difficult to gauge when a virtual assistant is working, but that does not meet you need to harass him or her to check on the progress being made. If you’re worried about things getting done, simply ask for a daily progress report. This also can help keep your virtual assistant in the loop. DeSimone says she once worked for more than a week on a project, only to find out later the project had been canceled but she was never told.
The bottom line is that hiring a virtual assistant may be worth it as you strive to be more productive and innovative. If you’re feeling overwhelmed trying to keep up with your personal life and career, it may be time to consider a virtual assistant who can enable you to focus on the things that add meaning to your life – not hassles. (This post originally ran in the Fast Track blog.)