Wednesday, August 29, 2012
I'm a parent, so I know that even when you vow not to hover over your children, you always do it to some degree. We tell ourselves that if we don't hover, our kids won't get into the right preschool and that will lead to the kid living at age 27 in a box somewhere with no dental health benefits.
Some of that is just the endless worry that every parent must deal with, but some of it goes too far. That's a topic I explored in my latest story for Gannett/USAToday....
Helicopter parents— those folks who hover over their offspring continually — have prompted much debate, and nowhere may their influence become more evident than in the next generation of workers.
While some managers have complained for years about the need for the youngest generation of workers to be rewarded and mentored constantly, the truth is they may not have seen anything yet.
The generation in elementary school when 9/11 happened that has grown up with "stranger danger" now has experienced the Great Recession. Many are graduating from college and attempting to get their first jobs with expensive educations that have cost their parents dearly.
So those hovering parents? They're in full helicopter mode, especially in a challenging job market. That's why employers had better get prepared, says Kathleen Elliott Vinson, a professor at Suffolk University Law School in Boston.
"This (helicopter parenting) all started in utero with Baby Einstein tapes when the mother is pregnant, and continues to the arms race for extracurricular activities for the child and the parents taking on teachers over grades," she says. "But what happens is that we've got a generation of kids that have a great anxiety of failing."
Professors often refer to the children of helicopter parents as "teacups" because "they're ready to break at the slightest stress" or "crispies" who "come to college already burned out from the treadmill of success their parents have placed on them," she says.
That translates into a generation of workers inexperienced at hearing criticism and lacking in independence and self-advocacy. If Mom or Dad isn't there to run interference, these kids may not have a clue about how to succeed on their own or understand how to bounce back from failure, she says.
"It's doesn't mean they can't succeed," she says. "It just means that they may not have any experience with taking the initiative and following through."
But wait, isn't that what college is for? To teach independence and how to get past the bumps in the road?
That may have been true once and still may be for some students, she says. But the constant barrage of parental interference during the college years have exacted a toll.
Vinson, who wrote this year about the ramifications of helicopter parenting in higher education, says many college professors need to make sure they're not falling into "helicopter teaching" by "constantly reminding students of deadlines, continuously checking up on students, being available or reachable at all times, continuously giving them extensions, or inflating grades, rather than see their student falter."
By accommodating helicopter parents, who may call and complain to university officials about their children's grades, "higher education could be enforcing" helicopter parenting, she says.
Vinson says professors and university officials aren't the only ones who have been targets of helicopter parents. College career centers are becoming a lightning rod for anxious parents concerned about their child getting a job, and some employers are even appointing workers to deal with the parents who may accompany junior to a job interview or feel no qualms about hounding human resources because they believe the salary offered isn't enough.
Vinson, herself a parent, says it's natural that parents hover over their children to a certain extent. But those who carry it too far are in real danger of turning unprepared and anxious kids into the world who have no idea how to succeed without extensive support.
She says parents can help their youngsters be better prepared by:
• Letting the child think. Not every minute of the day has to be scheduled with an activity. Simply allowing a child to have down time can help develop critical thinking skills.
• Making the child ask. Instead of calling a teacher or employer, parents should have the child talk to the person if a problem or question arises.
• Allowing them to make choices. If a parent continually directs the child, then the child doesn't have experience in making decisions. That can lead to making poor choices when confronted with serious issues such as alcohol or conflict resolution.
"There is nothing more controversial than when you're talking about people's kids," she says. "But we're talking about our future leaders and innovators."
Friday, August 24, 2012
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
I'm one of those people that loves to sit and people watch. Give me a nice, cold Diet Dr. Pepper and put me in a shopping mall or airport terminal, and I'm perfectly happy to find a nice seat and do nothing but watch people go by.
I like to wonder where the people are going, what they do for a living and why they're wearing Uggs in the middle of summer. It's entertaining. Sort of like my own unscripted reality show.
That's why I always find it fun to interview people who love people watching, as well. Of course, they've taken it to a whole new level and have come up with great insights, such as this FBI agent I interviewed for my latest Gannett/USAToday column about building rapport....
In many fictional stories, the good guy always manages to establish some kind of rapport with the bad guy.
This causes the villain to spill his guts, revealing all the necessary details needed for the good guy to avert worldwide disaster and save mankind.
It's not always that way in the real world, however. While the good guys in movies or television make it seem easy to establish a connection with a stranger, it can be intimidating just thinking of trying to strike up a conversation with someone you don't know, such as a hiring manager or a potential customer.That's why advice from Robin Dreeke can be valuable. A 15-year FBI veteran who got some unsavory characters to reveal important information to him during his career, Dreeke now offers career and business advice on building rapport. While he stresses that his techniques aren't endorsed by the FBI, he learned much during his time as program manager of the FBI's elite Behavioral Analysis Program that he's willing to share.
For example, one of the important techniques in connecting with someone is known as "establishing artificial time constraints," he says.
In this scenario, you let someone know either by your actions (packing your briefcase) or by your words ("I've got a train to catch"), that you're not going to take up much of the person's time when you ask a question. This makes people "feel less threatened," he says.
For example, you may say to someone with whom you'd like to discuss job possibilities that you'd like to get together for two or three cups of coffee and "agree to part ways if the meeting is not beneficial," Dreeke says. "That's a lot less threatening than approaching someone and saying, 'I want a job.'"
Dreeke, author of the self-published It's Not All About 'Me,' available through Amazon, says other quick rapport techniques that can be helpful include:
Slowing down. Dreeke says he learned that when he became impassioned about a subject he often would talk faster. The problem is that fast talking makes the listener "feel oversold," he says. Studies have shown that females have a preference for males with deep voices, and those with deeper voices are often seen as more powerful.
Once you slow down, try to deepen your voice a bit and the listener will be more open to you in the conversation. "You don't want the person to feel you're trying to convince him or her about something," he says. "When you do that, you make it seem all about you and not them."
Remembering it's not about you. Dreeke emphasizes that successful interactions mean you have to suspend your own wants and ego, and spend more time listening and asking questions. "People are happiest when they talk about themselves," he says. "When you're enjoying a conversation, you don't want it to end."
Eliciting sympathy or assistance. Dreeke says the key to this technique is asking for something within reason. "You don't walk up and ask a stranger for a kidney," he explains. One of the most successful ways to establish rapport with a stranger and not make him or her think you're "hitting on them" is to mention a spouse, and that you'd like to do something nice for the spouse.
For example, you may say you want to buy something special for a spouse's birthday, and could the stranger share where she bought her boots? Dreeke says you begin with something like, "I'm sorry to bother you but I am on my way out. I was hoping you could help me." This technique usually leads the stranger to offering more to the conversation, he says.
Managing expectations. Dreeke says that as a young FBI agent he was given the task of talking to a known spy of the U.S., and asking the person to instead work for America. He admits he was nervous, but accomplished his task by reframing the situation in his mind so that he wasn't asking for something from a stranger, but instead used all the techniques he knew and used them to just establish a friendly conversation. Anytime you approach a conversation that will benefit the other person, it increases your chances of success, he says.
"In the end, people just want to feel better," he says. "Anything you can do to make that happen" — whether it's using self-deprecating comments or listening — "helps them open up."
What are some ways you connect with people you don't know well?
Tuesday, August 7, 2012
I cannot believe the latest column I did for Gannett/USAToday seems to be sparking an online squabble over dog training techniques.
Let me make one thing clear: This column is not about dog training techniques. Now, read on if you want to know how to establish your credibility through body language.....
When Cesar Millan, known on TV as the Dog Whisperer, walks into a room full of canines, the four-legged followers know immediately that he's in charge.
His voice, his posture and his gestures all convey his top-dog status.
But Cara Hale Alter says the two-legged beasts of the world also could learn a thing or two from Millan.
Alter, founder and president of SpeechSkills, says that one of the clear things that puts Millan in charge is his lack of head movement.
This level-headed position is one of the best ways that Millan conveys his "executive presence" to a pack of dogs — exactly what we should be doing in our careers if we want to convey the same thing to the workplace pack, she says.
"You can't raise or lower your chin, which can appear aggressive or submissive," she says.
Alter, whose SpeechSkills is a San Francisco-based communications training company, says many people are unaware of such subtle clues. But she has done research on how we all can do a better job of establishing our authority and capability and put it in a new book, "The Credibility Code" (MeritusBooks, $19.95).
One way to keep your head still is to fold a thick pair of socks and balance it on your head. Then try to talk for several minutes without the socks slipping off, she says.
"Many people are unaware of the negative things they're doing," she says. "They don't understand how their image is being formed by the way they move or speak."
Alter offers this advice for those seeking to look more credible:
• Stop filling in. A stray "um," "uh" or "you know" can make you sound unsure.
Don't be afraid to pause while you search for the next word. At the same time, avoid using "like" as in "it's like, so wonderful, to like, be here."
• Don't sound like a teenager. Ending a statement with an upward rise of the voice used to be common among teenagers but has filtered into adult conversation, Alter says.
This "up talk" is easy to pick up, so make sure you haven't adopted the bad habit. Try reading an article out loud, making sure you end statement with a downward inflection of your voice.
• Control your space. Just as Millan conveys authority with little head movement, you can convey more personal power by controlling a tendency to shift your weight from leg to leg or bob your head.
Such movements comfort you, but Alter says you appear more calm and confident if you're still.
At the same time, stop trying to reduce your presence by tucking your arms to your sides, placing your feet close together or dipping your chin. Those kinds of behaviors say that you feel threatened in your space.
• Open your posture. If you feel nervous, you may start to play with your clothing or jewelry, clasp your hands or wipe any expression off your face.
The more gestures and facial expressions you have, the more comfortable and relaxed you appear. Alter suggests going to places such as a farmers' market or a shopping mall and interacting with others to practice your skills.
Once you become more comfortable, you'll be able to use those skills in business settings.
• Maintain eye contact. Don't drop your eyes in a business setting because you appear to step away from the conversation.
Give speakers and listeners your full attention. To practice keeping your eyes at horizon level while speaking, put blank Post-It notes on your office wall. Ask yourself questions and then hold your eyes on the notes while you give an answer.
Your eyes can move from note to note, depending on the sentence structure.
Finally, Alter suggests videotaping yourself to spot conversational glitches or habits that may be undermining your credibility.
"I've had a lot of people tell me they don't think they have any issues, and then I film them," she says. "Once they see themselves on camera, then they're very eager for coaching."
Thursday, August 2, 2012
I don't think I've ever worked anywhere that people didn't talk about politics. Of course, my jobs have always involved the news business, so that's pretty natural.
But I know that for some people, discussing politics at work can be uncomfortable. Still, is there any way to avoid it?
Check out this column I recently did for Gannett/USAToday...
Most of us know that it's best to stay away from discussions about politics and religion at work.
That doesn't mean everyone follows such dictates, even the people who say it's best to keep quiet.
As the presidential election approaches this year, political rhetoric is heating up along with the summer temperatures. It's natural that the issues being debated nationally will begin to filter down to the cubicle
That's why Kevin Sheridan thinks it's a waste of time to try to forbid workers to talk about politics at work. As senior vice president-HR optimization of Avatar HR Solutions, he says he's well aware of the rules in workplaces regarding political discussions.
Yet some employees will discuss the presidential elections or political issues even if they've been asked to refrain from doing it, he says.
"I think managers have to use common sense," he says. "This is an issue that employees are going to discuss. So it's better to address it and get it out in the open."
Workers need to be told that expressing their political views may not only be against company rules but also can cause friction among colleagues, Sheridan says. Co-workers who feel differently from their colleagues may start to pull away emotionally, becoming more isolated at work.
"I think managers can talk about that if you're going to have these conversations, you need to be aware of how others may not agree with you," he says. "Managers can make a ground rule that workers must treat one another with respect when having these discussions."
Instead of political discussions being seen as divisive, Sheridan also believes that they can present opportunities for colleagues to get to know one another better.
"Managers can encourage co-workers to ask questions and learn why the other person believes a certain way about an issue," he says. "It can helpful to just listen."
At the same time, workers should be reminded to keep their political discussions in perspective, not get too serious and even use humor to desensitize situations that become uncomfortable.
Such advice makes more sense than trying to keep employees from talking about politics, he says. The topics are sure to crop up more and more as the November elections approach.
Specifically, a recent CareerBuilder survey of 7,000 workers nationwide found that 36 percent say they discuss politics with colleagues; 43 percent expect to discuss the presidential election.
Managers also can coach workers who would prefer not to discuss politics about some diplomatic ways to handle it without angering or alienating colleagues, Sheridan says.
"You can encourage them to say, 'You know, I'm just not comfortable discussing politics and would prefer not to get into it,' " he says.
Still, negative political comments that a worker finds offensive should be reported first to a manager and then to human resources if the manager doesn't take action to curtail such commentary, Sheridan says.
What if a manager urges employees to vote a particular way or pushes a particular point of view or candidate?
"Go to human resources confidentially and report you're very uncomfortable," he says. "That is extremely inappropriate for a manager, and HR should take care of it."
Do you talk about politics at work?