Dec 31, 2007

Making (partial) good on a promise

In a recent blog I took Canaca to task because they did not want to reimburse me for a purchase, even though it stated on their front page that I could get a full refund, for any reason, within 30 days of signing up.

Well, after a bit of back and forth, they made good, partially, on that promise. They will refund part of my initial fee and they will also refund an excess charge for currency conversion. It's not what I wanted, but it's better than nothing. I could keep on fighting them but at this point, I feel I have better things to do with my time.

Dec 21, 2007

Christmas, good cheer, and the in-laws

Here is an interesting post on relationship dynamics around Christmas time:

Holiday gaffes

The comments from the readers are interesting also.

It had me thinking: how do you deal with in-laws when you don't get along with them? Should you even try to get along? Should you constantly keep your guard up and defend yourself and your convictions at every turn?

My philosophy, when it comes to personal relationships, is "Live and let live." I figure, unless lives are at stake, most arguments and ensuing resentment are not worth it. I wholeheartedly adhere to Steven Covey's Fifth Habit: "Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood." I also believe that nobody will be interested in you, until you show you are interested in them.

I've seen it in the workplace, I've seen it in families, I've seen it with my wife and my children. Until you start to take the focus away from yourself and turn it to others, the relationship dynamics cannot and will not change. Most of the time, the reason we keep the focus on ourselves boils down to one word: ego.

As Walt Kelly, the creator of the Pogo strip said: we have met the enemy and he is us.

Dec 13, 2007

You're only as good as your word

NBC, the American television network, has decided to refund advertisers because it had promised them a certain level of performance and didn't live up to it.

Now, I don't know the specifics of the deal and I don't know if they were obliged to do so by contract, or not. My understanding is that when these situations occur, networks usually give advertisers credit for future ad sales. NBC has taken it further and decided to refund. Good on them.

I can't help but think of my own situation with my service providers. During the month of October, I had to switch my Web hosting to a different company. I had to go through 3 companies before I found the one that worked.

The first company I tried was Canaca, a Canadian company. I went with them because on their front page it says:
If you become dissatisfied with your web hosting service for any reason, you will receive a
full refund (minus domain name registration fee)
After two weeks of usage, I began getting complaints from people telling me that when they sent me email, it bounced backk to them. I also noticed that some of my mail was not reaching its destination. So I located another service provider, signed up with them and cancelled my account with Canaca. Or so I thought.

In followup emails after asking for cancellation, I received this message:
Also note that the 30 day money back guarantee is not a trial. It's a guarantee of service that we had promised you. If you have become unsatisfied with our services with the first 30 days due to "service that we promised you but did not provide", will refund your hosting fee. If the issue is related to something that we did not promise you to provide then this 30 day money back guarantee will not apply. Also you are not in 30 days money back guarantee any more.
All of a sudden, now that I am not satisfied, the 30-day guarantee applies to "service that we promised you but did not provide", not "if you become dissatisfied with your web hosting service for any reason."

As if that was not enough, I noticed this little ditty on the bill from the company:
1. We have lowered our US --> CND exchange rate from 1.3 to 1.2
So, because I am a Canadian customer, paying a Canadian company, I am being charged a 20% premium on my bill. This, mind you, occurred when the Canadian dollar was at par, if not higher than the American dollar.

Unfortunately, I made the mistake of paying the bill when I received my credit card statement. I really should not have done that. Now it's going to take a while to get that money back. If I ever do, that is.

A personal and a corporate reputation can only be built on whether you are true to your word, or not. It is also built on integrity and ethical conduct. In this case, Canaca does not make the grade.

Dec 12, 2007

Getting great ideas

Here is an interesting post on generating ideas. An extension of the "Think Outside The Box" approach:

Innovation Wednesday: Where Do Ideas Come From?

Which all ties in to an interesting quote I read in this morning's paper: the best way to have a good idea is to have many ideas.

Generating ideas, writing, playing a musical instrument all have a commonality: consistency and repetitiveness.

The only way to get better at any of them is to find a consistent way to put them into action and to repeat the action over and over again.

If you want to write, one of the best ways to improve is to set aside a portion of your day dedicated to writing. One or two hours a day. Over time, your writing improves and you produce faster.

Brian Tracy has a technique for idea-generation that he calls the "Twenty Questions" approach. Ask yourself a question and then find 20 answers to the question. The first few come quickly but around the 12th answer, you start to run out of ideas and you need to think a little deeper in order to get new ideas. He says that most of the best ideas occur around the tail end of the 20 answers.

Dec 10, 2007

Get Ready for the holiday office parties

This couldn't come at a better time and I couldn't have said i better myself:

Avoid Ending your Career at the Holiday Party

I'll add another one: have someone be your chaperone, especially if you are prone to drinking. There is, of course, the usual DUI implications but you also may want that person to monitor your behaviour and make sure you don't go overboard.

Before doing so, make sure you have a clear understanding that if your chaperon says it's time to go, you will go. The last thing you want is to make a scene in front of everyone else.

While I'm at it, don't bring your spouse/significant other if you don't get along. Unless you both can fake it remarkably well. Nothing puts a damper on a good party like a quarrelling couple. If you can't hold it in until you get home, don't go together.

Dec 5, 2007

Things you don't want to hear at the doctor's office

I had an eye examination with an ophthalmologist today, to figure out why my vision was becoming cloudy. She took a first look and said, "It's a small uveitis. Nevertheless, go with the nurse so she can dilate your pupil and I will look at your cornea in a few minutes."

So I did, and the nurse put a couple of drops in my eyes to make me look like a cat.

When I was called back to her office, the doctor sat me in my chair and started to look at my right eye, where I hadn't really noticed any blurred vision. She said, "Yep, it's inflamed alright."

Then she looked at my left eye and exclaimed, "Woah!"

You never want to hear a doctor say, "Woah!" when looking at your eyes.

She immediately added: "OK, let's lie you down to take a closer look." Here's a tip: a normal eye exam has you sitting, not lying.

She brought out some instruments I'd never seen before and started to poke my eyes left and right. I'll spare you the details, but I sort of felt like Arnold Schwarzennegger in Total Recall when he fell out of the pressurized cabins on Mars. If you've never seen the movie, go rent it!

After poking around, she sat me back up and started writing in my medical file. Then she said, "Do you have that prescription sheet I gave you? Please give it back to me."

Another tip: when doctors ask you to give back a prescription sheet to add more stuff to it, it's never a good sign.

After handing me back the sheet, she took me by the hand and said, "Come on, if we're lucky we'll be able to get a specialist to see you right now."

When a doctor leaves his/her office to accompany you to an unscheduled appointment with a specialist, it's time to panic!

We were unlucky. My next exam is on the 11th.

Dec 1, 2007

Late night drive-thru

As we were coming back late from an event, a colleague and I decided to stop and get a bite to eat a the drive-thru of a fast food chain. We came to the mike and placed our order.

I asked for a sandwich. The reply came briskly: "We don't have any bread." The voice did not sound enthusiastic at all.

So I tried again: "Do you have the wraps instead?"

Answer: "Not at this time."

Not only was I not able to get what I wanted, but on top of that, the person at the other end sounded like he wanted to be anywhere but where he was at that particular time.

My colleague asked what was available. By the tone of his voice, I felt that the person coming from the speaker was thinking: "Who are you and why are you bugging me for food at this time of night?"

We finally placed our order and proceeded to the pick-up window. When we got there, the only thing we could see was the skull on his black T-shirt.


Nov 23, 2007

Why you should never end on a Q & A session

I have been advocating to my clients and workshop attendees never to end a speech with the traditional Q&A (Question and Answer) session. Rather, do the Q&A first, and then conclude. Here's why:

Imagine that this was the last question of Mr. McCain's Q&A session. What impression would it leave in the minds of the audience?

The fact that only this segment, without the conclusion, appears on YouTube makes me wonder...

Q&A sessions are an important part of your speech. However, they wrest control from your hands and puts it squarely into the hands of your audience. You don't want that.

Always make sure that you leave a bit of time to conclude after you have answered questions. By doing so, you maintain control of your speech and you can end it on your terms, not on your audience's terms.

Happy Holidays?

What's happened to us? Our society has slowly become one filled with fear, paranoia, and angst. To wit, this article from USA today which requires volunteer Santas to sign a clause protecting the US Postal Service from lawsuits and complaints:

Volunteer Santas have to sign a clause -

All in the name of prevention, since no complaints have been filed about this service.

Lest you think, "It's because they're Americans!" here is something else on the Australian front:

Santas warned 'ho ho ho' offensive to women - Yahoo! News

For Pete's sake! "Ha! Ha! Ha?"

It gets better:

Santa told to slim down for Christmas to 'set a good example' | the Daily Mail


My understanding is that Christmas, and the Holiday Season in general, is supposed to be about joy, fun, and happiness. Why legislate to make the fun disappear?

Volunteers who reply to little kids' letters to Santa are giving the most precious gift we have: time. It makes the kids feel good, it makes the volunteers feel good. Why instill fear now?

"Ho! Ho! Ho!" is a rounder, fuller, warmer sound than "Ha! Ha! Ha!" It's already cold outside in the winter (well, in Canada it is), why remove the warmth?

And if your kids are taking nutrition advice from Santa, there's a larger problem to address.

I remember in my youth, the promises of the mythical "Leisure Society" where we would have more fun and play than ever before. I wonder when and why we decided to take a direction that is the completely opposite.

Nov 22, 2007

Ethics, politics, and storytelling

Christmas is coming; my kids need new clothes; I'm flat broke but my friends and family expect me to display a certain lifestyle. I think I'll go rob a bank. The judge will understand.

Sounds preposterous, doesn't it? Yet, that's what it sounds like when a former politician says: "I accepted money because I was broke and I had a lifestyle to preserve." The act is then brushed off as a "colossal mistake." Never mind that he, Brian Mulroney, denied for years that he ever took the money. (For more background information on this, please see this Globe and mail article.) Although it is yet to be proven that Mr. Mulroney acted illegally, it does toe the lign of proper ethical conduct very closely.

Ethical conduct is closely tied to one's values. Being ethical means that you are being honest and you act with integrity. As I once heard, integrity is acting the same way whether people see you or not. So in the case of Mr. Mulroney, a simple way to know if it was ethical or not is to ask: "Would you have done it in front of a camera with people watching?"

Ethical conduct is something we constantly face in the world of professional speaking. In one of my study groups, a few weeks ago there was a heated debate about storytelling. Storytelling is a central part of public speaking. You can get your points across much faster and more easily when you tell stories to illustrate them.

Some stories have become so popular that most professional speakers cringe at the thought of hearing it one more time. Examples include The Starfish Story and The US Aircraft Story. The act of using those stories in and of itself is not unethical; it just shows that as a speaker, you lack originality.

However, many speakers will tell stories that they heard somewhere else and act as if it is their own stories. And sometimes, they even believe it is their own stories. Telling someone else's story and taking credit for it is considered highly unethical in the speaking business. Once people realize you've been lying, your credibility takes a big hit and your reputation is severely tarnished. It can take a long time to recover from something like that.

If you decide to use public speaking as part of, or as all of your professional endeavours, you can prevent such a situation from happening to you.
  • Make a decision to use very little of someone else's material. If all of your stories are original, it will be very unlikely that someone else tells the same story. It can happen, though. I know one speaker who told a story that was eerily similar to another speaker's story, which I had read in a book. When I confronted him with it, he maintained that the story was his, even after I cited the author, the book, and the page where I originally read the story. Is it possible that he had a similar experience, but in a different context and location. It should be noted, though, that I've never heard him tell the story again.
  • If you need to use someone else's material, get permission or at least give proper attribution. I've been bitten by this one, myself. I reported someone else's story, from my perspective. I gave proper attribution, saying it was not my story but my impressions about something that happened to someone else. I told the story's protagonist about it after the fact, and he was not too pleased about it. I made some factual mistakes and I did not get his permission beforehand, which was damaging to him. I made corrections afterwards and he was okay with it, but that's still a black mark on me.
  • Don't toe the line. If it feels awkward to do something or say something to an audience, don't. Now, that doesn't mean you cannot push the envelope. It means that you have to push it ethically, so if you are challenged on what you say or do, you have solid facts to explain your decisions and your actions.
Too often, ethics become situational. We will act ethically when others are present or looking, but act unethically when nobody is around to supervise.

In Mr. Mulroney's case, there will be an inquiry to determine whether he acted illegally or not. If he is at fault, he will probably be asked to repay the money in some form, or the matter may be taken to court. If not, he will be cleared but his reputation will still have been tarnished.

For the rest of us, life goes one. Yet every day, situations will come up which beg an answer to the following question: would I do this if there was a camera filming me?

Nov 9, 2007

The first words are the most important

Seth Godin's blog is an excellent illustration of why it is so important to have a good introduction to your speech:

Seth's Blog: Sorry to talk so long...

I especially like the way he likens a speech to a gift. You wouldn't apologize for offering a gift to someone. Why apologize for speaking, unless you really have nothing to say? And if you have nothing to say... why are you there?

About brevity: he mentions that he saw this behaviour at a gala. In galas, people usually have a drink or two. Once that happens, it is much tougher to hold the crowd's attention.

If you speak for more than a couple of minutes, gala attendees will tend to lean over to their neighbours and whisper: "This is kinda long, don't you think." A response will follow: "Yeah, really. I was at this gala honouring Such N. Such the other day and..."

"You were there? So was I, how come we never met? How did you find it?"

"Well, let me tell you..."

"Shhh..... I'm trying to listen!"

This tends to be repeated over and over again until eventually, speakers are drowned in the... hush of the crowd.

The best remedy? Get to the point immediately, conclude quickly, go back and have some fun!

Nov 4, 2007

The bliss of raking leaves

We have a big yard with many venerable trees.. At times it is a blessing and at times it is a curse. When fall season comes around, it is a curse! I don't like raking leaves and I dread the chore every year.

When we first moved to our house, I used to invite a whole bunch of friends to come over and help my wife and I pick up the leaves. We'd take about a day, six or eight of us. Well... some of us would work, others would socialize. So for the cost of a few pizzas, and lots of fun, we filled up 60 to 75 bags of leaves every year.

But then, things began to change. Everyone got married, bought houses, and had children. All of a sudden, my yard was no longer as important. So I stopped asking them to come over to take care of the yard. Yes, if you can read between the lines, it was also to make sure I didn't have to go to their place to rake their leaves...

So these past few years, I've been doing it by myself. The routine goes like this: I wait until all the leaves fall, then I pick a weekend and in two days, I pick up all those 60-75 bags. It takeas about 14 to 16 hours.

This year, I only had one day to do the work and it had to be completed this weekend. So instead of raking the leaves, I pulled out my lawn mower and used it instead. It took me between 6 and 7 hours to do the entire yard and I filled only 33 bags.

So by now, you're probably thinking: "Ok, that's nice but what does cleaning your yard have to do with anything?" Bear with me, there is a point!

I did the same work in 50% of the time, using about 50% of the resources. And I did this simply by taking the tools I already had, but using them differently.

So how can this be applied in life and at work? What tools do you have at your disposal which could help increase your productivity? Which tools do you have at your disposal that you are not using to their full potential? I've taught Excel to many people in the past couple of years and many of the shortcuts I teach come as a big surprise to the audience members. Many have mentioned that those simple shortcuts would considerably increase their productivity.

When you increase your productivity, there are a number of benefits: you have more time at your disposal, you can get paid more, and if you do it right, it can also reduce stress.

Increasing productivity doesn't mean you have to shoot for 50% at a time. Alan Weiss, consultant extraordinaire, says that simply increasing by 1% every day is sufficient. If you do this continually, after 70 days you will have doubled your productivity. It just requires focus, persistence and determination. In other words, discipline.

Although it is a simple concept, I find it can be tough to decide which task or which aspect of my life will yield the best 1% yield. I guess it's al part of the learning process.

Oct 6, 2007

Dealing with the media

One of my clients had an unfortunate experience with the media. This client has a great story to tell, and hopefully someday you can hear him. Since I don't have his permission to give out his name, let's call him Mike.

He was offered an interview with a local TV station to talk about his battle to survive after a terrible accident.

During the interview, the reporter kept probing to get more details about Mike's life, but Mike kept pushing back. Eventually, Mike asked the reporter to turn off the camera and then he proceeded to tell him that he did not want certain parts of his life revealed on camera. Mike explained to the reporter that some of the details of his life were unknown to people that were close to him, and he didn't want them to hear about it on TV before hearing it from him.

The reporter listened to him and told him, "I understand. Trust me." Mike did, and the interview went on.

The reporter kept telling Mike how inspirational he was and what a great story this made and how priviledged he felt about meeting someone like him.

That same evening, on the news, there was Mike's story. Mike was ecstatic and all excited. The story lasted about 2 minutes, 30 seconds. The first minute was fine. But the last 90 seconds focused on the parts of his life that Mike had specifically requested be kept off TV.

Mike was furious and he called the TV station, but the damage had been done. Furthermore, the reporter made sure that Mike understood that he was doing his job, and that he had done a mighty fine job at that.

A few lessons to learn from this situation:

  • Don't trust a reporter: Sorry to say, but reporters will report what sells. What sells, in today's market, are sensationalist stories. Bad news sells. If a reporter says, "Trust me, it's only between you and me'' that's not enough. Always request that what you say is off the record. Most reporters are honest enough to respect an order to be off the record but you need to verify all the time. Do so by answering every question with, "This is off the record, right?"

  • Don't say what you don't want to see or hear on the air: when you are interviewed, make sure you have a clear idea of what you want to hear on the radio or the TV. If you do, you can always refuse to answer questions on the basis that it isn't something you wish to discuss. It will make the reporter angry, but it prevents any unwelcomed surprises.

  • Get expectations clear from the start: before you agree to an interview, make sure you are clear on the objectives of the interview. Make sure you know what angle is pursued and make sure the reporter sticks to it. You never have to agree to an interview if you don't agree with the premise. And even if you agree to the interview, you don't have to answer any question if you aren't interested in doing so.

  • Stay on message: if you are being interviewed, it is probably because the reporters want an opinion from you or want you to comment on something specific. Decide ahead of time what you want to say, and stay on message. Repeat your message as often as needed and make sure every answer you give supports that message.

Mike's situation is unfortunate but he isn't the first nor the last person to be "taken to the cleaners" by unscrupulous reporters. Remember what happened to Newt Gingrich's mother when she was interviewed by Connie Chung.

Chung asked her what Gingrich (President Bill Clinton's biggest critic at the time) thought of Hillary Clinton. Gingrich's mother refused to answer so Chung asked her to "just whisper it to me, just between you and me." Gingrich's mother, thinking it was not going to air, replied: "He thinks she's a bitch." Of course, the comment aired.

The next time you are asked to be interviewed, make sure you do your homework beforehand and don't agree to anything that will shed a negative light on you.

Oct 3, 2007

Ask specific questions

Yesterday, I started an exercise that I hadn't done in long time: making a list of my knowledge and my skills. After about two pages for each, I drew a blank. So I turned to my wife, who was sitting beside me, and asked her: "Honey, what am I really good at?"

After she told me, it made me realise how important it is to be very specific in your questions, if you want to get the answer you need. In my case, I should have asked: "Honey, what am I really good at that I can use to improve the life of people outside of the family?"

Information is what you say. Communication is what the other person understands.

Information is a one way street. Communication is a multi-lane highway.

To improve your communication skills, make sure your messages are properly understood by the people who listen to you. Besides asking specific questions, there are some simple ways to do that. Let's assume you are speaking to one person:
  • Ask the person to repeat what she understood. When she does, listen for any discrepancies and clarify if need be.
  • Look her in the eye. Always make sure she is looking at you when you are speaking. Especially if she is busy doing something else (like answering email, speaking on the phone, or using her PDA). If she is not looking and seems to have her attention elsewhere, stop talking and wait.
  • Listen for more than words. Listen for tone of voice, body language, intentions, and so on.
The key word, here, is "listen". As many have said, in order to better communicate, listen twice as much as you speak.

Aug 12, 2007

Forgive and move on

A recent story in the local paper covered one of Quebec's most talented artists, Patrick Huard.

Huard gained fame first as a comedian. He then made a successful transition to the screen and has acted in more than 10 movies. One of his movies, Bon Cop Bad Cop, is the most successful Canadian box office hit of all time. This year, he is directing his first movie, Three Little Pigs.

During his interview, Huard says that some directors have complained that he is taking work away from them. They are saying that he should not direct a film because he hasn't studied the craft like they have.

Huard also says that he got the same type of flak when he made a transition from comedian to acting.

This is isn't the first time, and it won't be the last, that people get upset because someone tries to shake up the status quo. The first reaction is jealousy and often an attempt to stop the mavericks.

Think of the first women or the first Blacks who wanted to vote. Many were not too keen about the idea.

Think of the first civilians who want to attempt space flight. NASA was not too keen about the idea. All of a sudden, the grueling training that astronauts receive doesn't seem that important anymore. It takes away some of the panache of space flight.

I remember a few years ago, there was a dispute in Quebec about the profession of computer programmer. Engineers wanted to change some statutes to ensure that unless you had an engineering diploma, you could not call yourself "a programmer".

The problem with this is that when you let jealousy get the best of you, it prevents you from moving forward. Why? Because you are constantly fighting a battle to prevent things from progressing.

Jealousy, or holding a grudge, is like a poison flowing through your veins. And if you leave it unchecked, it slowly takes over you, clouds your judgement, and destroys your life.

In his program, "The Psychology of Achievement", Brian Tracy spends some time discussing forgiveness. He says, and I believe, that until you have forgiven and let go of the past, you cannot achieve ultimate success. Something will always be holding you back.

So, if you find yourself seething because someone else has something you don't, if you find yourself angry at people in your life, if your feelings towards other people are keeping you from getting to where you want to be in life, it may be time to forgive.

Forgiving will change much of your perspective on life. Once you have made a conscious decision to forgive, it's as if a weight is suddenly lifted from your shoulders.

I did this a very long time ago, without realizing how important it was to my further development as a human being, as a son, as a brother, as a friend, as a husband, and as a father.

I realize, now, that forgiveness is essential in business also. Many times, I have seen people go into a business deal with an aggressive attitude, with an attitude that says "You are not going to take advantage of me!" This makes it difficult to discuss, understand, and negotiate with a prospect or partner.

Someone who goes into a business endeavor with that attitude may have been wounded in the past. And because that wound still hurts, he may not accept that the person at the other end of this deal is not "out to get him". He will negotiate with a little voice constantly nagging in the back of his head. The little voice will be saying, "He wants to take you to the cleaners. He just wants to make money at your expense. He's going to take advantage of you." (Let me assure you that the same thing happens to women also!)

If you want to silence that little voice, use the power of forgiveness. Here it is in three steps:
  1. Forgive your parents: most parents do the best they can with their children. And still, we (the parents) manage to mess up. Forgive your parents, completely. You don't need to tell them if your relationship with them is not conducive to such a discussion. Forgiveness is for you, not for them.
  2. Forgive other people: forgive anyone who has ever hurt you, no matter what they did. Once again, you do not have to tell them that you forgive them. Just do it.
  3. Forgive yourself: this may be the toughest one of all. Forgive yourself for all of the stoopid things you did in your life, whether you did it to others, or you did it to yourself.
Although this is easy to write, I realise that it is not necessarily easy to do. It took me years to go through the process. And periodically, I still need to forgive myself for the "bad things" I do.

What has helped me to forgive? Speaking to happy people. Reading about people who are happy with their lives. Having a good support group does wonders also.

I have learned, over time, to give every one the benefit of the doubt. To err is human, to forgive is divine. And it's much easier to let it go than it is to hang on to a grudge for a lifetime.

Jul 31, 2007

Are Your Friends Givers Or Takers

I had a very short night yesterday, and a very long day today. By the time 6:00PM rolled around, I was like a walking zombie. However, I had committed, weeks ago, to participating in an activity with some good friends.

I called them in the early evening, to let them know that I would probably not show up. Heck, I wanted to cancel because I felt so tired. In the end though, I decided to go anyway.

By the time I left them at 10::00 PM, I had much more energy than I did going in. That's what good friends do. Instead of dragging you down, they push you up.

Do you have people around you who suck all of your energy whenever you see them? You know the kind: their health is deteriorating, their marriage is crumbling, their children are driving them to an early grave. Heck, they're a walking country album!

If you have just one person like that in your life, it can be a constant drain on your life.

Here are some tips to help you deal with these energy-drainers in your life:
  • Tell them how you honestly feel. Tell them that they are sucking the life juice out of you and you want it to stop. As long as you say nothing, they will assume you're all right with it.
  • Laugh about it. Now, I don't mean to laugh at the person, I mean laugh at the situations. Exaggerate them! When you do, the other person may (yes, may) realize that he or she is constantly complaining. Sometimes, people just aren't aware of how often they complain.
  • Ditch them. That's right, if you can't get them to stop complaining and it is really bugging you, stop all contact with that person. If you do so for a long enough period of time, something magical will happen. The next time you see that person and he or she starts complaining, it won't bother you in the least. All you will be thinking is, "Tsk, tsk, tsk. Poor child, still stuck in the quagmire and unable to get out."
Life is too short to let other people make you miserable. Don't give anyone permission to do so. And if those people are your "friends", go make better friends!

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Jun 12, 2007

Death By Powerpoint

Like most people, I am not a fan of PowerPoint, neither as a trainer/speaker nor as an attendee. Check out comedian Don McMillan's take on the issue.

May 25, 2007

Can you remove negativity at work?

Negativity in the workplace can have dramatic effects on productivity of your teams. This can run the gamut from harassment to outright violence.

Violence in the workplace usually stems from negative behaviours displayed by employees or clients: gossipping, yelling, threats, and so on. Sometimes, not all the time, you can pretty much tell from the get-go that an employee is going to cause problems.

Many companies have a written policy to help deal with this issue, which can help. Especially if there are regular reminders and reviews of the policy, as well as open and honest discussion on the issue.

Is it enough?

What brought on these thoughts?

This morning, I read an article on the new Ocean's Thirteen movie, where director Steven Soderbergh said that he had one rule for filmmakers: “We wouldn't have anyone with a reputation for being unpleasant. That solves everything. No jerks.”

That got me thinking: wouldn't it be great if you could actually hire and fire people based on their attitude? Without the threat of being sued?

What about an employment contract that has an attitude clause? One which explains in plain language, not legalese, what it means to have a “positive attitude” at work. When people choose to join a company, they must adhere to that clause by signing it. They are also made aware that should they break this clause, they are liable to get fired, without compensation.

What about giving employees many options to help them deal with issues that affect their attitude? I know that many companies already have people on the HR staff, as well as psychologists whose job is to deal with these types of situations. What I wonder is, how often are people sent to these professionals to prevent violent situations? My experience has been that this occurs after the fact.

As a manager or team leader, how effective are you in picking up the subtle clues that signal an attitude shift? Do you address it directly when you see it? Do you monitor that person more closely?

How often have you spoken to someone you know well, and realized that he or she was in a funk? When you asked, the person replied, “Nothing. I'm just tired is all.” But you knew better. You pressed on, and asked questions until that person finally let the cat out of the bag. After discussing long enough, the person finally thanked you because you were the first person to take an interest in him or her.

We often do this to the people we love and care for. How often do we do it for our employees and our coworkers? How beneficial could it be if we started doing this more regularly?

Now, I don't mean to turn the workplace into a “love fest” where all we are doing all day is discussing our problems. Not at all! However, I do think that it is imperative to create a more positive attitude in a workplace where stress is more present than ever, and people are overworked and tired.

How fast can you jump in and call someone on their behaviour and attitude? Both go hand in hand. I believe we often wait too long before telling someone to “shape up or ship out”.

The longer you wait, the harder it becomes to address the issue. Especially if the person you need to speak to is already agitated. It takes more time to calm them down and get them to listen. And if that person's issue has been lingering and festering long enough, it becomes more difficult to resolve it.

Attitude is one of the best indicators of success. The better your attitude, the better your odds of succeeding in your chosen field. Conversely, the worse your attitude, the worse your chances of success.

One thing that many people forget, at times, is that our attitude affects those around us. Or as I heard it said, “You either affect people or you infect them.”

I'm curious: what are some of the processes and procedures in place where you work, which help to prevent incidences of violence and negativity?

How confident do you feel about dealing with a coworker or an employee's bad attitude?

Making decisions

Someone recently asked me: "What makes you make a decision when you are riding a mountain bike?" He asked me to imagine that I was on a mountain bike and I came to an intersection of many paths. Which path would I take? Why would I choose the path? What would be my decision-making process?

It took me a while to come up with an answer. In the end, it pretty much boils down to where I want to go on my bike.

I have done this many times in my car. When I travel in a new city, I often do not have a map of the city. In the evening, when I need to find some place to eat, I usually just hop in the car and start driving. Most of the time I don't have a clue where I'm going. I just want to eat.

I don't usually have a specific restaurant in mind. Sometimes I do, most of the time I don't. I will look around at the restaurants that are available to me and, depending on my level of hunger, I will stop at the first decent one or I will drive around until I find one that makes my mouth water. The more indecisive I am about where I want to eat, the more time I will be driving around.

In my car I make decisions based on many clues:

  • My surroundings: I take a look around and go in the direction that seems most promising. "Most promising" usually means "where there seems to be the most commercial buildings," or "where most of the cars are going." If commercial buildings seem to thin out, I will keep driving in the same direction for a given time. Once that time is up, if things haven't improved (i.e. I don't see more commercial buildings), I find a way to turn around.
  • My geographical position: this is the clue I use when trying to get back to where I was. I usually have a pretty good idea where I want to go. While I'm driving, I turn at intersections that seem to bring me closer to that location. Sometimes, though, I realize that my decision takes me in the wrong direction. When I realize this, I try to turn around as soon as possible or if I can't, I keep taking turns until I eventually end up in an area that I recognize.
  • Ask directions: when I'm really lost, I stop and ask someone for directions. When I do so, the first question I usually ask, "Are you from this area?" or "Do you know this area well?"

These approaches mimic a lot of the decision-making I do in real life. Before making a decision, I (sometimes) try to figure out where I am, but I especially want to know where I'm going. If I don't know where I'm going, as it sometimes happens, it takes me a long time to make a decision.

Once I've made a decision, I check to see if it brings me in the direction that I really need to go. If it does I keep pushing along. If it doesn't, I stop and try to figure out what corrective actions I need to take in order to go in the right direction, as I perceive it.

When I'm lost, and I don't know where to go, I ask for directions. I have learned to ask directions of people who are either where I want to be, or who have been where I want to go. To me, there is nothing worse than asking advice from people who have no idea what they are talking about, but feel they should tell you what to do anyway.

Whether navigating in a car with no map, or whether navigating through life, the key part of decision-making is knowing where you want to end your journey. Well, that's what it's been like for me. This doesn't mean that it needs to be like this for everyone.