Skepticism Is Necessary For Good Decisions!

Skepticism is critical to solid decision-making!

skepticismSkep – ti – cism …. A skeptical attitude; doubt as to the truth of something; doubt regarding claims that are taken for granted

The fact is that skepticism is a positive force that successful managers apply regularly in making decisions. All managers as well as those that are asked to follow a particular path need to be able to test the conclusion if the impact of a bad direction or decision could make a difference or have a negative impact on organizational mission or people.

As individuals, those with real-world smarts accept few things at face value, while organizations tend to accept without questions the decisions made by “the system”, especially if they are based on reams computer printouts.

There are six common sense rules that guide decision-makers in the skillful application of skepticism.

  1. Don’t be a knee-jerk skeptic. Establish a basis in fact before voicing skepticism, rather than acting on gut reactions.
  1. Double check all facts and assumptions, especially those introduced with “As everybody knows…”. Look for the underlying facts and trends.
  1. Use skepticism  particularly when he outcome of an issue is really important.
  1. Be tactful and constructive when expressing doubt. Use terms such as, “I wonder if you have thought      about…?” “Have you considered…?” What would happen if…?” “Are you sure you want to do that/proceed in that direction….?”
  1. Turn on the skeptic’s radar when a presentation is loaded with sweeping generalities. Remember, there are no sure bets; no gains without risks.
  1. Be skeptical about your skepticism. A healthy level of suspicion is needed to survive and thrive, while at the same time, you must suspect this attitude if it crops up constantly about all things.

Ask yourself if a claim, statement  or pitch which you are being asked to weigh in or implement makes sense? Is it based on a re-play of history? Are the facts being used to support it logical and sound? There is no substitute for organizational history. Does it pass the smell test?;  I refer to it as my “crap-detector”!

Skepticism Can Be An Uncomfortable Role

The role of the skeptic is not easy. It is often uncomfortable as well as hazardous. “Group Think” is hard to resist. Too often the call for team play means the suspension of healthy doubts.

No one is comfortable and happy taking the heat of doubting the steamrollers that come running through a meeting when all of the “facts” and “conclusions” are projected on the screen in dazzling slides and printouts, enclosed in handsome three-ring binders, are passed around for further study. Especially if a senior executive – or your boss – is doing the presenting!

To paraphrase a popular adage, “To question the presentation when the majority is applauding is to be the proverbial bastard at the family reunion.”

Skepticism Wins Over Blind Faith

Nevertheless, common sense says you’ll get farther along the career path with a healthy dose of skepticism than you will with blind faith in what the organization says and does.

Bertrand Russell, the renowned British mathematician and philosopher, had this to say about the place of skepticism in career success:

“For my part, I should wish to preach the will to doubt…what is wanted is not the will to believe, but the wish to find out, which is the exact opposite. In all affairs, it is a healthy thing, now and then, to hang a question mark on all things you take for granted.”

If you are skittish about using skepticism as a tool to accelerate your trip on your career path, run a test. For the next 60 days observe those whom you respect for their prowess in mastering the dynamics of life in organizations. See how many times they act as skeptics and how they do it.

If you find skepticism working for successful managers, what makes you think it won’t help you reach your career goals?

Use skepticism as one more tool in your quest for success and building your career. Good luck!!

This essay is an adaptation of an article written by John Barney and that appeared in an issue of Business Time Zone Magazine ( http://businesstimezone.com )

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Job Success… and Career Success…is Dependent on Great People Skills!

Job Success… and Career Success…is Dependent on Great People Skills!

Periodically I offer you an executive summary of a book that offers real value regarding achieving success in a job and building a career.  Books that enlighten as to how to view and approach workplace issues and situations successfully. Books that I encourage you to read, underline and mark-up and use as a roadmap to achieve greater job and career success.

Life's a CampaignChris Matthews is a familiar face to many Americans for his fast-paced TV talk show “Hardball” and other media appearances.

He is also an accomplished author as a reading of his “Life’s A Campaign” book will reveal. Subtitled “What Politics Has Taught Me About Friendship, Rivalry, Reputation, and Success”; the book is broken into four segments – one for each of the four factors in the subtitle.

Chris starts off with “To get ahead in life you can learn a lot from those who get along for a living.”

At 190 pages it is an easy and fast read… but by no means is it a light-weight of a book. Each chapter has a very catchy title, along with a quote or two, and then drives home the lesson being made with real-world examples from Chris’ experiences.

For example Chapter 5 (in the Friendship section) is entitled “The Best Gift You Can Give a Stranger Is an Audience”, followed by two poignant quotes:

Many a man would rather you heard his story than granted his request.                         Lord Chesterfield

Listening, not imitation, may be the sincerest form of flattery…If you want to influence someone, listen to what he says.        Dr. Joyce Brothers

Matthews then details one of Bill Clinton’s most endearing attributes: his ability to make the person he is listening to feel like the only person in the room. “To have someone listening to you is flattering – but if you let them do the talking, they’ll be far more interested in you.” says Clinton. Examples such as this abound in this book.

Most people strive to be successful….and successful people wish to be even more successful. This book has message after message that will assist in both objectives.

Other chapter titles include:

Friendship – “People don’t Mind Being Used; They Mind Being Discarded”

Rivalry – “Attack from a Defensive Position” – Matthews tells the story of Massachusetts congressman Ed Markey. As a young member of the Massachusetts legislature, Markey got in hot water with its Democratic leaders by pushing a bill they didn’t want. To teach him a lesson, they removed him from his place on the Judiciary Committee and  took away his office, forcing him to re-locate his desk into the hallway. Markey struck back. Running for Congress he shot a TV ad showing him in front of his desk in the hallway – arms crossed – staring straight at the camera. He then uttered the comment, “The bosses may tell me where to sit. No one tells me where to stand”. He won the election!

Reputation – “Don’t Pick on Someone Your Own Size” & “Keep Good Company” –  Matthews summarizes – “Pick your friends carefully. They are the neon lights that illuminate the way to you, that fairly or unfairly declare your character. Lie with dogs and you’ll pick up fleas. Sing in the choir and they’ll think you’re holy.”

Success – “Aim High” & “ Speak Up”. My blog post of last September 11th  “Not Too Keen on Making a Speech?” was taken from Chapter 23 “Speak Up!” of this book. Chris gave a perfect outline and approach for anyone having to make a speech or do some public speaking for the first time.

This is a book well worth reading…. and keeping at hand for reference as you pursue success!!

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Great Communication Skills – the Mark of Successful People!

Management is the process of getting things done through the efforts of other people utilizing available resources.

Leadership is the process whereby a person can obtain the support and actions of others to achieve a common goal; people follow leaders based in part on the belief that leaders can and will pave the way regardless of obstacles.

In both cases, successful managers AND leaders posses strong and effective communication skills.

What are some of the common characteristics of great communicators?

1. They are really good listeners. Not only to hear and understand but to also demonstrate sincere interest in what they are hearing and who they are hearing from. Being a good listener is not always easy – distractions abound both externally and within your mind. When you are listening, be careful you are not formulating your response  in your mind rather than listening. Strive for full understanding, and demonstrate that by asking questions. Don’t show signs of impatience; there is a polite friendly eye contactway to get someone who is stuck on a tangent back on target: “I think we have wandered off the reservation – let’s get back on track and focus on what you were saying.”

2. They maintain strong and frequent eye contact. This goes hand in hand with focusing on the person or persons you are listening to. To not do so is to tell the speaker “what you are saying isn’t really important to me”! Not exactly a trust-building characteristic! Your eye contact needs to be “friendly” vs “threatening”; no glaring and certainly not continual….the operational phrase is frequent friendly eye contact. The two photos show the difference between “friendly” and angry eye contact“threatening” eye contact! Make sure yours is of the friendly variety!

3. They develop a “delivery style” that is energetic, lively and above all articulate. If you are not all three of these – get started on achieving them. Read out loud in front of a mirror. Ask others if you are a mumbler or otherwise not as clear as the network newscaster on the evening news. If you constantly insert “um” and/or “ah” into conversation – you really need to work on that. Have someone you trust listen to you and snap their fingers when you make those sounds to alert you to how often you do so – you may not be aware of the extent of this impediment. When you feel one coming on…just pause for a moment and then continue. Most people that say “um” and “ah” are buying time to think of the next word… so just pause for a fraction of a second while that next word comes into mental focus. Eliminating these from your speech is critical to being a great communicator.

As for the energetic and lively aspects, great communicators exhibit body language that portrays confidence, enthuasism and a high energy level. They show a sense of humor, they smile, and they vary their timing for emphasis where emphasis is called for.

We all can be better commincators… but like most things …it requires focus and work. Good luck!

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The Art of Persuasion

Persuasion is the process of convincing others of the merits of your position, idea or issue thru presenting facts, the use of logic…and avoiding any inter-personal issues that could become distractions and thereby blocking your audience from seeing and persuasionthen accepting your argument. Persuasion therefore is a two-fold process.

1. Presenting your case:

a. Broadly state the outcome and success story that you believe will result if your course of action or plan is adopted and put into place. Be as specific as you can, but don’t make any “heads in the cloud” statements or promises. Be sure everyone understands your objective and the features and benefits of achieving it.

b. Outline briefly what the challenges and barriers to success are and what resources will be needed to implement or to proceed.

c. Proceed to present in suitable detail what it is that you propose…your idea, solution or course of action. In advance you need to have thought through how much detail is appropriate for your audience. Some audiences – bosses and others – want a great deal of detail… graphs – charts, etc. They are “numbers people” and need numbers to understand. Other audiences are “concept people” and just want to understand your concept and how things will generally work. Part of this depends on how much faith your audience has in you, your past history of being on target with ideas, decisions and actions.

d. You need to build your case step-by-step. Take the temperature regularly to ensure that you haven’t lost anyone along the way, saying something like “Everyone with me? Any questions? OK… let’s proceed.” Pay attention to your audience… and look for any signs of confusion and if questions reveal that an earlier point was missed…go back and cover that ground again. When you have fully made your presentation…do a quick review…ask if there are any more questions…and then ask the decision-maker(s) when you might expect a decision.

e. You also need to think through ahead of time what your presentation format will be; will you use visual aids such as a PowerPoint presentation, or some other graphics? And hand in hand with that is what kind of “leave behind” or handouts you will utilize. If you use a PowerPoint presentation, you can print all of the PowerPoint slides – six to a page – in color or in black and white. You also need to decide whether to distribute your handouts in advance… so that your audience can make notes on them.

2. Remember we said there are two aspects to persuasion? The second one is avoiding any inter-personal issues that could become distractions and thereby blocking your audience from seeing and then accepting your argument. An overview of these issues include:

a. Know who your audience is and what is at stake for each of them. For example, a plan to expand the use of technology and automaton may be great… but if it results in cutting staff, be aware that may be indeed a blow to someone’s turf…their power and influence in the organization. When a “stakeholder” has something to lose as a result of your plan, you may well benefit from talking with them in advance…saying something like “..when I make my pitch to the team tomorrow, it might have an adverse impact on part of your operation… but hear it out and we can then discuss its impact on your department.” Do an inventory of who is going to be involved with your presentation and the resulting decision to be made. What do they have at stake? What might their fears be? Be sure to address them in your presentation.

b. Be aware of whose handiwork you are going to modify or eliminate if that will be the impact of your proposal. Here too you may want to meet with them before the presentation and say something like “…I know that the data center was your baby and that you set it up…and wanted you to know that my proposal to the team tomorrow will have an impact on that…and I ask that you hear me out tomorrow.”

c. Finally… be sure to mentally be alert for any mannerism that annoy or frustrate people. Jingling the change in your pocket for the men… pulling at strands of hair for the ladies. Examine your speaking style for repetitive and annoying words and phrases such as saying “OK” after every sentence, and slang and lingo that might annoy others. Never, never use profanity or discriminatory words or phrases. Be 110% “politically correct”!!

Successfully persuading others involves influencing them. The late (and great) Cavett Robert, a world-renowned motivational speaker said “Influence is the ability to cause others to think, feel and act as we desire”. Use your powers of persuasion to influence your audience to adopt your proposal … or at the very least …as a springboard to modifying it for the benefit of the organization. Good Luck!!

If you want to know more of the art of persuasion – see the Wikipedia link:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persuasion

And a great Forbes article on line:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/jasonnazar/2013/03/26/the-21-principles-of-persuasion/

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Not Too Keen on Making a Speech?

Making a speech is one of the more intimidating and frightening aspects of many jobs and careers. Popular thought is that people fear it more than snakes, spiders, heights, etc.

public-speakingThe library shelves are loaded with books to guide you through the process, and the experts stress that the only way to overcome the fear is to “jump in the water”…make as many presentations as you can in order to get used to the rhythm of doing so and to reach a certain comfort level.

We recently came across a wonderful book by Chris Matthews – “Life’s A Campaign – What Politics Has Taught Me About Friendship, Rivalry, Reputation, and Success” – published by Random House, that has a great chapter on speech-making (Chapter 23 – Speak Up!).

 

Chris provides six points to follow for a successful speech:

#1 – The Icebreaker –  a brief comment or observation to start things off. Something like “Good afternoon… and welcome to Washington, DC – your nation’s capital – where parades and protests can snarl traffic just as well as a good snow storm!” …or…“Good afternoon….I traveled here from Washington, DC – 68.3 square miles surrounded by reality!” This opening comment is also to get any cobwebs out of your voice… to be sure your voice is projecting and that the PA system (if you are using one) works properly.

#2 – The Tease – tell ‘em what you are gonna tell them. Something like “After my remarks, you WILL be able to <understand why global warming is not good>”,  or whatever. You want the audience to know where you are coming from and where your remarks are headed. You don’t want anyone in your audience wondering what your point is or what’s the goal of your presentation.

#3 – Anecdote time – these are not jokes, but rather short stories about people, circumstances or perhaps yourself and why you are standing in front of your audience. Of course, they must fit into the context of your remarks as illustrative examples of the points you wish to make.

#4 – Download this is where you “tell ‘em” why you are talking to them…what are the points you want to make, the action you want the audience to take… etc. It is usually helpful to number the points you are making and start off by so stating…”I am going to give you four good reasons to vote for me”…or whatever. Above all, avoid wandering around the verbal landscape!

#5 – Relief – communicate that the heavy lifting is over…summarize the points you made and the logic you used to glue it all together.

#6 – Send-off – you made this speech or presentation for a reason. Re-state it here with whatever call to action is appropriate. Often speakers end with a simple, “Thank you.” Wrong!! No need to thank them for listening. Rather, thank them for the opportunity you had to teach them something, help them better understand an issue, ask them to take a course of action, etc.

Chris notes that most speeches should be between ten and twenty minutes long…notwithstanding the annual State of the Union addresses that seems to go on forever!

Success in almost every line of work requires strong and clear verbal communications, and making presentations and giving speeches is a critical part of that for many a position. Rather than shirk away from them – be determined to become good at them!

For further preparation, read some of the great speeches available online: Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a Dream”, etc. and analyze what makes them great speeches. A simple Google search will bring them up for your review.

For further information about making an effective and non-anxiety producing speech go to:

http://pegasus.cc.ucf.edu/~rbrokaw/speech_anxiety.html

Good luck and may great speeches be in your future!

“How Are You?”

A throw-away question… or one you are asking with sincerity?

In my capacity as an executive with a former employer, I used to work with an insurance broker by the name of John Spinner. Whenever I talked with him or saw him in person, he’d ask the standard question “How are you…” but with two additions.

how are youHis question was “How are YOU today?”…with heavy emphasis on the YOU. And the addition of the word “today” totally took the question out of the “throw-away” category to a question where the answer was important to him.

If in person, it was accompanied by a firm handshake and direct eye contact. If my answer was non-committal, John would follow up “no – really how are YOU?”

Agreed – I was a customer. But as time went on and John knew he had my business, he still asked the question same way. And if I responded in anything less that “A-OK John”, he’d ask “Is there anything I can do for you?”

Please note these exchanges took place over 30 years ago yet I still remember them.

The point is that this single aspect of John’s communication skills helped make him a very likeable fellow which in turn earned him referrals galore… and from referrals come new business and more referrals.

And remembering John’s approach to the routine “How are YOU today?” serves as a reminder to us all just how impactful the most simple of communications can be.

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Enough is Enough!! Stop Talking and Let’s Get on With It !!

stop_talking_tshirtA major annoyance for most of us is a conversation with someone that never stops talking!

You almost have to wait until they take a breath to get a comment or question in!

Learning how and when to “shut up” is both a behavioral habit as well as a leadership trait.

According to  Mike Staver of The Staver Group – www.thestavergroup.com – many people don’t know when to talk and when to put a brake on it.

Here are a few questions to determine whether you know how to keep your mouth shut or not:

  •  After you make your point, do you just have to add a few other (unnecessary) comments?
  •  Do you say “in closing” several times before you really close?
  •  Do you have to have the last word in an argument or disagreement?

Here are some communications tips from Staver:

  •  Be clear about what you are attempting to communicate.
  •  Share with the person you are communicating with what you want to accomplish.
  •  Avoid getting distracted by other issues, ideas, points, stories, etc. (I refer to this as “wandering around the verbal landscape”! With folks that do this, you just want to scream “Stick to the point”!!)
  •  Use “talk-ending” techniques such as “So what are the next steps?” or use an example to wrap things up.
  •  Learn to tolerate silence. It is effective…and it won’t kill you, Staver says!

“Leadership – never stop learning”

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Interview Questions You Need to be Prepared to Answer to Get the Job You Want!

In Chapter 8: Interviewing – the Bridge Between You and Your Next Job, I talk extensively about the preparation process. Getting a job offer requires significant preparation to interview.

Interviewing cHere are some additional questions you need to be prepared to answer.  Remember – success lies in the preparation. Just like the questions I detailed in the book, draft and then rehearse answers to these questions:

  1. “Describe the “culture” that existed at your last job.” Follow-up question: “If you were the boss, what would you have changed?”
  2. “How have your increased the efficiency of your group or department?”
  3. “What happened because you were there in your last job?”
  4. “What is the last book you read?” Follow-up question: “What did you get out of it?”…or  “Tell me about it”
  5. “What was the most difficult aspect of your last job?”
  6. “What five words best describe you?”
  7. “When you wanted to make a suggestion or presentation to your boss about an idea you had, how did you prepare to do so?”
  8. “Assume a co-worker is doing something that negatively impacts how you do your work. How would you resolve this issue?”
  9. “How did you plan your workweek? What tools or processes did you use?”
  10. “Tell me how you solved a serious problem or issue.”

Finally – don’t be surprised if your interviewer gives you an assignment such as: “I would like you to do something for me. By tomorrow afternoon, please have sent me an email summarizing a story you read in today’s paper or heard on the evening news. One typewritten page max.”

These guidelines – and others – about how to get the job you want can be found in “The Ultimate Job-Seeker’s Guide”.

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