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)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The 8 People You Will Find in a Meeting

When I think of all the meetings I have sat through in my lifetime, it makes me want to chuck everything and join a crew looking for sunken pirate booty. But then I think about how the crew would probably want to hold a meeting about whose job is was to look for the loot and whose job is was to write the report…and I decide to stay where I am.

I always tell people not to ditch meetings – even if they believe them to be a complete waste of time -- because it’s important to understand the group’s dynamics and the role each person plays in the organization.

With that in mind, I’ve put together a sort of cheat sheet on meeting participants, which most of you will recognize to some degree. If I’ve left anything out, please feel free to add your own thoughts:

1. The alpha dog. This person sits in the most commanding position, either at the head of the table or in the middle. The alpha dog often spreads out his or her stuff in order to say “I’m in charge.” Watch out for the tendency to pee on the conference table leg before beginning.
2. The smirker. Contributing little to the discussion, this person tries to affect the “I’m too cool for this” persona, but instead sort of resembles a teen showing off for friends in English Lit class. Lots of raised eyebrows, smirks and a tendency to mutter things like “Oh, my Gawd,” while sniggering.
3. The thumb-sucker. Terribly insecure, this person feels the need to continually pump up personal contributions, i.e. “Landing on the moon? Oh, yeah, I know a guy who once did that…he called me from outer space once. The charges were ridiculous, dude!”
4. The navel-gazer. Every issue brings up a personal story that may or may not have anything to do with the issue being discussed. This person believes that his or her experience is one that should not be missed. Works nights and weekends on a personal biography that will make Bill Clinton’s look like a comic book.
5. The devil’s advocate. While contrary opinions can generate some valuable payoffs, this person likes to throw a wrench in the works just to watch the process break down. One of the biggest causes of meetings lasting for five hours. The devil’s advocate sets the alpha dog to yapping and peeing furiously, the smirker to eye-rolling and the thumb-sucker to creating wild tales of personal importance. The navel-gazer begins telling a story about last Christmas’s stocking stuffers.
6. The time traveler. Regardless of what is being discussed, this person seems surprised to be a part of it – as if Scotty just beamed them to the wrong planet. A perpetually confused and bewildered demeanor. Always wants to know: “Should I be taking notes?”
7. The real deal. This person sits quietly, doodling on a notepad. During a lull in the conversation, the real deal will come up with something that is profound and sensible and makes everyone else look like nitwits and numbskulls. Often mistaken for a celebrity while on vacation. Destined to one day be wealthy and directing others while hunting for pirate booty.
8. The pacifier. In the midst of all the yapping and smirking and boasting, the pacifier finds the solution for all the chaos and lack of progress: send the issue to committee for discussion.

Meeting adjourned.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Has Zappos Taken Customer Service Too Far?

The last time you had a really horrible experience at a restaurant or received stellar service at a hotel, you may have jumped online to write a review.
Or, when you needed your air conditioning fixed, you may have consulted what others were saying about the business before giving the repair company a call.
Welcome to the age of age of customer feedback, where businesses can be made – or torpedoed—based on what Irene in Iowa says about her customer service experience.
Such feedback has become highly valued by companies hoping to grow quickly. What better way to succeed than having customers rave about their experience?
Of course, that means employees have to roll out the red carpet for every customer, no matter if they spend $5 or $5,000. Zappos often is held up as one of the gold standards for customer service, and every business is rushing to emulate them.
But is that really such a good idea?
Wharton University marketing professor Peter Fader thinks it’s not. While that may be a controversial idea, he believes more companies will begin to consider it.
“I have a tremendous respect for Zappos, and their culture is really unique,” Fader says. “But even they could stand to be a bit more choosy” about who gets top-drawer customer service.
Fader explains that 20 years ago, providing stellar customer service was a way for a company to distinguish itself and could reap the benefits of loyal customers. But now, customers expect such treatment and therefore aren’t as impressed – or as loyal – to companies that provide that service, he says.
“Today, the bar has been raised so high for companies that it’s harder and harder to distinguish themselves and the ROI gets less,” he says.
If an employee spends too much time trying to please a customer that may never return to the business no matter what – even when offered numerous freebies – then that employee’s time and the company’s resources may be better spent elsewhere, he explains.
“There are some customers that will be loyal no matter what. Then there are the customers that no matter how well you treat them they are not going to change how they feel about you because they don’t want a relationship,” Fader says. “What you have to do is find (read more here)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Etiquette Lessons for the Company Picnic

It’s summer and we’re finally enjoying those carefree days of warmth and sun we dreamed of while enduring one of the most brutal winters on record.
And with the increasing temps comes the surest sign of summer: An invitation to the office picnic.
Such events are often seen as a way to let your hair down and enjoy time away from the office, but they’re also a minefield of potential etiquette disasters that can derail your career.
If you’re going to be attending a summer office event, here are a few rules from etiquette experts:
  • Don’t ditch the event. Attending a get-together is as important to your career as attending a project meeting with your boss’s boss. You don’t have to stay all day, but show up early enough to help if necessary, bring a dish if requested and stay long enough to enjoy the meal and offer some chit-chat.
  • Limit drinking. It can often get hot at picnics or a sports event, but don’t fall into the trap of just having one more beer or margarita to cool off. It’s fine to a have a drink to be social, but then stick to soda or water so that you stay hydrated – and aren’t so drunk you end up doing the hula on the table.
  • Follow the rules. If the event if being held at the boss’s country club, for example, check beforehand to see if there are any regulations on what you can wear, and if you must turn off your cellphone when inside a clubhouse. Getting the boss fined by his or her club for a guest breaking the rules isn’t a great career move.
  • Prepare your significant other. Give your partner a heads up on proper attire. Let him or her know about the bosses or colleagues who will be attending so that small talk will go smoothly. Always make sure it’s OK to bring your kids beforehand. Only bring your dog if you’ve gotten a clear sign that others will be doing the same and Fido is well trained enough that he won’t piddle in the pool or bite anyone’s ankle.
  • Dress appropriately. If there’s going to be swimming and you plan to get in the pool, make sure you wear a suit that isn’t revealing. For women and men, that means no bikinis and a cover-up when lounging poolside. If you don’t plan to go swimming, still stay from revealing clothes – men can wear nice shorts with a casual shirt and women should stick to capris or sundresses and avoid short shorts. Also, if your company culture isn’t supportive of tattoos, wear clothing that will keep them covered.
  • Participate. Even if you’re not a great golfer or softball player, you should participate in activities and be a good sport about it. Supporting your team, having a good time and being enthusiastic can help you create some lasting bonds with colleagues and bosses. Sitting around looking bored or grumpy could hurt your work relationships and potentially hurt your ability to get ahead at work.
  • Remember to say “thank you.” Your spouse, your kids and you should all thank the boss or the organizers for the event. Don’t leave without offering your appreciation and offer to help clean up if you can.
(This post originally appeared on Intuit's Fast Track blog. See more career-related stories at:

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

How to Know It's Time to Quit Your Job

As the economy improves, many people are considering leaving jobs they've stuck with for fear of not being able to land another position.

But before you quit, think of this:

1. Are you thinking clearly? Don't quit when you're feeling panicked or stressed by too much work and just want a way out. Don't make decision in the heat of the moment. Quitting should be something you have considered when everything is going along smoothly. Quitting when you're emotional could mean it's a decision that you regret later and could be costly both financially and professionally.

2. Will things improve? If you've got a boss who is the poster child for an ogre and makes your life miserable no matter what you do, then it might be time to move on. If you've got only one boss and he or she controls your life, then it can be difficult to change his or her mind so why bother staying in such a job?

3. Are you making progress?  If you're stuck in a dead-end job, then it doesn't make sense to stick around. If, on the other hand, the job is helping in some way to move you toward your goal, then it can be worth holding onto.

What other considerations are there to quitting a job?