Archive for the ‘People Skills’ Category

Are You Listening?

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

Listening is critical to creating dialogue

By Neil Kuvin

What’s so important about gaining more perceptive listening skills? When you listen attentively for real content of the discussion and then focus your specific follow-up questions to concentrate on the things that really, really matter, you find yourself in a respectful, intelligent and especially responsive conversation.

Unfortunately, each side in the discussion often is so anxious to get their perspective heard, they both

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don’t wait before they interrupt or their point is muddy because they may have gone down a side, dirt road. No matter what, if you really want a conversation (which usually means everyone is heard and allowed to speak) begin your comments by crediting the others with “sensitive, thoughtful, critical points. However, I have a slightly different perspective.” It’s critical at this point to assure him/her that you understand their opinion. Assure the other person that they were understood. Probe. Ask for further confirmation of facts.

Remember, rarely does any one of us have the best, right answer. Be prepared to be convinced that other positions have benefits and rewards too. That’s where your patience, listening skills, and understanding come in. I think that’s called an “open mind.” The advantages are in “them” knowing that you heard it correctly — that you are listening to them. First, you will please the others in this conversation that you appear to truly sense and get the picture they maybe couldn’t get others to understand, or at the very least, acknowledge; Second, there is a motivation for them to listen a little more closely to your ideas and perhaps accept some of them on the way to finding a solution to the “problem” that satisfies many in the discussion.

Wow. Imagine that. Actually crossing the aisle and without “politics,” finding satisfactory solutions.

Ivan Seidenberg was the former and original chair and CEO of Verizon Communications Inc. He also headed several communications’ companies during his career. At one of those companies, he knew expenses needed to be slashed to survive. Well

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surprise! He ran into stubborn opposition from defiant division heads relentless in their objections to his ideas. Seidenberg, while listening to and acknowledging the differing perspectives, knew that the cuts couldn’t be accomplished without cooperation and some measure of acceptance. Bottom line is he succeeded in getting the opposing sides to accept some compromising on certain issues like hours, overtime, vacations and sick leave, while still reducing work force by a substantial number that got him a lot closer to proposed budget cuts. Genius? Not really. Just patient, intelligent, respectful dialogue, with everybody having their listening ears on.

It appears to me that there are four basic elements required for true, honest conversation to take place. Courage, respect and most importantly, recognition (not necessarily acceptance) of another point of view. And lastly, patience to steer the conversation to a destination that satisfies (almost) everyone in the conversation.

Personal Credibility

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

“I” and “credibility” can’t be separated

by Joseph John

I can’t tell you how many times I have looked at the word credibility and written about it. But sometimes, the expression, “You can’t see the forest for the trees,” really does apply to me.

OK. Are you intrigued? What in the world am I talking about? Well, if you look at the word “credibility” you will note that the letter “I” is used three times. Almost 30% of the word “credibility” is comprised of the letter “I”.

The significance? Because “credibility” IS all about the “I”. Credibility

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begins with the “I,” with the me — no one

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else — not him, her or them. “I” am responsible for personal credibility. I can gain it. I can expand my credibility. Unfortunately, I can lose it as well. And if I lose it, I have an extremely difficult time in regaining it.

Credibility means I can’t ignore my responsibility to be truthful, transparent and genuine. IF, I want to establish credibility, then the basis of that credibility is having people believe in me.

AND,

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if people are going to believe in me, then “I” am the one responsible for ensuring that believability by being genuine and up front.

Graham Jones writes about what he terms as “the credibility pyramid” — a very interesting concept. In his work, Jones states that of the four components that comprise the pyramid, only a “… a small percentage of [a person’s] credibility is knowledge…and then if you add to the knowledge base, focus and enthusiasm, you only have half of what makes up [a person’s] credibility. The other half is all about caring and concern for the other person’s well-being.”

Caring and Concern. That can’t be faked. If “I” am not caring and show concern for people, then “I” have no credibility.

In the company I worked for prior to my retirement, we were challenged to live everyday by uttering ten small, but very powerful words: “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.” Well, that’s what credibility is all about: If “I” am to be credible, it is up to me.

Brainstorming can be a successful activity — Can’t it?

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

by Neil Kuvin

The most time-consuming meetings seem to be so-called brainstorming sessions where many in the selected group unfortunately are naysayers and there doesn’t appear to be an atmosphere of “let’s get it done.” And furthermore, the concept of actually coming up with a direction and plan is not in many folks’ mind or agenda. You find yourself rehashing the same ideas over and over again?

We’ve all likely been there.  When brainstorming sessions don’t work, you come away with a sense of pure frustration, you feel like you’ve wasted precious time, you’re no closer to achieving your objectives, and you hate the smartass across the table who keeps pointing out – with seemingly great relish – why your ideas will never work.

To achieve successful outcomes from a brainstorming session, you’ll need to apply a few rules – before, during and after the session. I’ve come to think of these as the Golden Rules That Must Be Respected, because I’ve noticed that anytime any of these rules are broken, the result is almost always going to be frustration and fatigue. So, with apologies to the Godfather, the following are my personal Golden Rules for successful, interactive brainstorming.

Brainstorming Rule 1 – “Leave the judge. Bring the kid.”

First, keep the team small, probably no larger than six people, so that everyone can contribute. Having too many silent team members can kill the creative spirit in the room.  “Judging” types can be real downers in a brainstorming party. Purely because of their tendency to apply overly-structured thinking, and rushing to judge ideas before they’ve had a chance to really flourish and spark off other ideas. Make sure that EVERYONE involved comes into the brainstorm session wearing the right kind of hat: it should be a propeller beanie, instead of a police cap. Have fun, and remember to say this to yourself: “There are no bad ideas – merely unfinished ones.”

Brainstorming Rule 2 – “It’s not business, Sonny. It’s strictly creative.”

So now that you’ve brought the kid (and the propeller beanie), putting him in a sterile conference room isn’t going to help him really cut loose. Creativity is messy and fun: your environment has to be the same.  Stick up flip chart paper all over the room, scatter Post-it notes everywhere, and give the team members lots of pencils and pens. Get everything written down or sketched out, so that everyone can “see” the idea, and you get a fantastic visual record of everything that came out of the session. And never throw away the charts: they’ll serve as great memory joggers later on, and may even help to spark off ideas for different projects.

Brainstorming Rule 3 – “When it comes to ideas, go for broke.”

A brainstorming session is meant to produce ideas. Lots of ideas. It’s not meant to produce the perfect idea. There will be time later to cluster the ideas in big groups, and to start applying your inner ruthless judge. But that time isn’t now.  If you’re the facilitator, keep the energy high, encourage everyone to come up with more ideas: crazy or otherwise. Get the team to hit a target of 20 or 30 ideas. The reason why I advocate a larger number of ideas is down to the 9-10 rule: 10 ideas will probably result in one workable idea at the end of the day. If you need to present three ideas to the client, you’re looking at a base case of 30 from the session.

Brainstorming Rule 4 – “If anything in this life is certain, it’s that anyone can be creative.”

Brainstorming doesn’t stop the moment the ‘official’ session stops. The best ideas may not necessarily come from the session itself; it may suddenly leap into your consciousness while you’re about to go to bed, or when you’re talking to your colleagues about last night’s movie. That doesn’t mean your session has failed; it only means that brainstorming – like being a good person – is not something you should do only during prescribed hours. Great brainstorming sessions can act as a catalyst for breaking up the crud that’s blocking up your creative ability. I guarantee that the more you do it, the better you’ll get.

 

As We Forgive

Monday, May 14th, 2012

by Neil Kuvin

forgiveProbably the most compelling and challenging of any three words in the entire Bible are, “As we forgive.”  How do you respond?  And how do you forgive?  Isn’t that the hardest part?  Maybe not as three simple words in the “Lord’s Prayer,” but in the real world. How often are you angry with someone?  The disagreement and voice volume didn’t at all match the relatively uncomplicated subject. Maybe you came in this morning with an “I’m gonna get you” attitude?  Do you draft language for a competitor to your client that evens the score, or puts a competitive person or product in a negative light?

We’re not being infantile or fatuous about this.  We recognize all too well that pointing out the negatives in a product or person can turn some heads.  That when you tell people something long enough and spend enough money to drive home the point, many will change their opinion.  This condition is most prevalent during a political campaign or when a new product goes on the offensive to get consumers to switch allegiances and try the new competitor out.

Now, let’s get back to being personal.  Think about a particular person you dislike and want to disparage.  Think about what you do with your anger.  Days, months, years go by and you never really forgive that person.  Not to their face.  And when you think about it, the memory of the incident has faded; you’re still in touch with this person, occasionally, and even daily.  But you don’t give up or give in on taking them aside and simply saying “I’m sorry.” 

Learning to deal with our own personal anger, jealousy, envy, takes a lot of effort.  What it does is creates a great environment for how we, as professional ad or PR people approach copy concepts for our angry, jealous, envious clients.  It does even more.  It positions the ultimate sense of direction we pursue when taking an offensive or especially a defensive position in the media.

Take off your gloves and take a deep breath.  Take a walk in the country.  There’s way more to life than getting even.

 

Did you hear me? You’re just not listening!

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

We spend more time listening than talking — but often do it badly!

by Neil Kuvin

ListeningWith certainty I believe many of you reading this are in a career in marketing, public relations, communications, or a related field. I’m certain you’ve read a few articles, and books on this subject. I’ve written several Bizceos articles on the topic.

Listening is the most important constant element in communication. Listening doesn’t cost anything. However, It affects you and I every minute of every day! Thanks to technology that changes by the day, the world we live in at present gives us everything we need to know in less than a split second and perhaps makes people pay less attention to this all-important skill.

Active listening affects outcomes, whether you’re a college student taking in a lecture; an athlete going over game planning with your coaches; or a PR rep attending a client meeting. Heck, listening affects us all of the time at home. One of you complains, “You’re not listening to me.” With your wife husband, it’s not easy to hide behind a “my hearing is not what it used to be” excuse. Especially when you’re both in the same room, like the den, and you’re watching a ball game. Mute the sound, at least. And get in a position where you’re looking right at her/him.

Why did I choose to comment on listening, out of the blue? As a PR/Communications practitioner, I live it, and preach it to every client, every way I can. It is clear from recent invective that listening, without at least some attempt at understanding missing. The political racket (as in noise), will be an ongoing component in our lives. And who’s going to unwind the unbelievable clatter surrounding the Trayvon Martin tragedy. Where are your ears and brain cells, people?

I’m a huge Clint Eastwood fan. Everything he directs or stars in are always of a top-notch, impeccably professional nature. And they always have a message. I was at a friend’s home and happened to read a past edition of GQ Magazine that featured Mr. Eastwood on the cover. The journalist writing the article asked Eastwood about his life as a child and a special moment in his Academy Award nominated (2008) movie Changeling where the GQ writer was struck by a particular scene Eastwood directed in which a boy sits up in front of a radio to just listen.

Eastwood commented, “Life was pretty simple then (in the 50’s). Because TV was only available in major cities and there was slim pickins of programming. There was the radio. Everything was listening. So you imagined everything.” Regarding the movie scene involving the boy and the radio, he added: “There’s an art to listening. There’s not much of it going on in the world. As an actor, it’s the most important single function.”

When you listen to someone, particularly in a personal, private session, look into their eyes and try to focus on the pitch of their voice. That’ll keep you focused and involved. Don’t look away, even if there’s an event occurring in the background. You’ll find out right up front if the person who

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sought you out is hurting; wants to share a happy moment with you; is seeking out your advice; wants to convey and share with you a moment that brought them concern or created fear. You need to hear every word and sense every emotion.

Listening requires two things. No….not ears. It requires rapt attention and meaningful responses. An “I don’t know what to say” doesn’t work. ‘Active” listening means you understand; you’re involved and you care.

The Age Discrimination Issue

Monday, March 5th, 2012

 Age Discrimination and looking for work

By Neil Kuvin

Kaitlin Madden, writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com writes some very quality, concise stuff. I’ve taken the liberty of taking one of her recent articles on combating age discrimination in the job search printed in the Louisville Courier-Journal, re-writing it and adding my own comments.  So let me thank Kaitlin right from the start for giving me the inspiration for this article.

I can’t count the number of time I’ve been asked, “You’re retired, aren’t you?”  I smile pleasantly and respond, “No.  I’m self-employed and work with several clients on matters of public relations, publicity and generating awareness for their product and brand.”  That usually gets a second response of “When are you going to retire?”  Which I blow off with a shoulder shrug or some casual comment like, “When they carry me out feet first.”  That usually concludes that conversation.

If you’re over 55 and looking for a new job, or you’re self-employed, when presenting your resume to a potential client, the key is usually stressing your accomplishments and previous work history.  You are going to have to be prepared to overcome age discrimination. Potential employers can be impressed by your past experiences, but you also may find yourself subject to stereotypes. Things like, you’re likely asking for a high salary or contract rate, you have a medieval technical knowledge, or you’re set in your ways and won’t adapt to a new company’s way of doing business, or you’ll want to drive the company in an unacceptable direction just because they’ve signed a consulting contract with you. All classic age discrimination arguments.

Downplaying your age is not necessarily the way to mitigate any apparent concerns you may perceive to potential employer/contractor may have about your age.  Highlighting your positives is a much better way to get the focus off your age.

Here are some tips when approaching a potential new employer or customer/contractor:

  1. Don’t hide your age.  It’s tempting.  But you’ll get found out.  Have a positive reason for working beyond a certain age; like, “I feel great and love my work.  Why stop?”
  2. Keep only relevant experience on you resume.  I’ve seen resumes with 12 jobs listed.  Not only do they take time to read, 6 or 7 of them were long ago and had no relevance to the skills needed for the job for which the applicant was applying.
  3. Don’t ever mention or directly respond to, “overqualified.”  Be proud of your experience and make sure the interviewer senses your pride.  You are the product of your entire career and the most qualified of any applicant being interviewed.  Period.
  4. Pre-empt employers’ concerns.  Prepare for the interview by anticipating “age” questions.  Legally you shouldn’t be asked questions relating to age, and you can refuse to answer if asked.  But that creates an awkward moment and if you really want the job, come up with a “My long, successful career can and will be a tremendous asset to your company since I’ve got ___ years of working with that ____.”

Your cover letter adds strength, eloquence, passion and excitement to your application.  Remember to emphasize who and what you are at the beginning of the one page letter; briefly give the reader a taste of your best qualities in a middle paragraph.  And then close the letter strongly by directly referring to their service or product and that your career and experience can be a major bonus for them.  What can you do for me? Why should I hire you?  Have answers for those questions rehearsed and ready.

Age discrimination is alive and well in the job marketplace — be prepared to address it head on.

 

Non Profit Management by Walking Around

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Member Observation By Walking Around

If you use the techniques in MBWA, you will have a better understanding of your organization

Management By Walking (or Wandering) Around is a tried-and-true method of finding out what REALLY is going on in your organization. Tom Peters and Robert Waterman popularized this method of management back in the 80’s because they saw a very worrisome trend arising — managers distancing themselves from their subordinates.

Are you a non profit board member who attends the monthly meetings, by making a beeline for the boardroom, voting on issues, and then making a hasty retreat to the parking lot? Do you even stop to say “hello” to the folks in that building day-in-and-day out? Have you ever brought a box of donuts for those folks and put it in their breakroom with a note that simply says “THANKS”?

When is the last time you, as a non profit board member, walked around and observed what’s going on outside the boardroom?

Well, most of the basics of MBWA can be applied to non profit board members — however, we won’t call it “management,” we’ll call it “observation.” Thus it becomes Board Member Observation by Walking Around (BMOBWA).

Most non profit organizations are “people organizations,” aren’t they? Well, if that premise is true, then one of your responsibilities as a board member is to LISTEN and TALK to people. LISTEN, OBSERVE, and TALK to those folks who work for the organization as well as those who benefit directly from your organization. That means there’s only one way of effectively doing this and that’s by getting OUT of the boardroom and walking around — observing.

I can’t think of a better way of walking your talk than by exercising BMOBWA! What a fantastic opportunity for you to better understand the vision, mission and values of the non profit organization than

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by walking around and observing — observing those who are involved in your organization on a daily basis. The observation can also help you reflect on your Belief and Lift statements — perhaps even to re-shape them after your observations.

Here are some things to consider as you embark on your “walk-around” — walking around YOUR organization.

  1. Make it a regular habit, not just once a year
  2. Learn peoples’ names
  3. Drop all formalities and stuffiness.
  4. Listen and Observe
  5. Relax, watch, listen, and talk about the organization
  6. Relax, watch, listen, and talk about family, sports, hobbies, and everything that makes all of us tick
  7. Share great news
  8. Listen and Observe
  9. Welcome new ideas
  10. Be honest when you don’t know
  11. Check out the REAL geography: Lunchroom. Break room. Restrooms. Bulletin boards. Supply rooms. And OH, so much more.
  12. Listen and Observe
  13. If you’re asked to do something, follow through and don’t forget!
  14. Under promise and Over Deliver!
  15. Make “tell back” to the entire board an ongoing agenda item
  16. And…Listen and Observe Even More!

BMOBWA is an effective methodology for non profit board members to become advocates, while sharpening board member people skills for being friendly and people-oriented, empathetic, flexible, focused, and knowledgeable.

By Joseph John