Monday, April 25, 2011

Turning Small Talk into a Conversation

Let's face it, few of us can truly say that we enjoy making small talk. It may be a necessary part of the meet-and-greet process, but most of us are simply biding our time until we can get to the 'real' content, the business dialogue. However, much of the success of that business dialogue rests with how well you manage to connect with the other party...while making small talk!

Although there are a number of tips and techniques to help make those magical first moments work for you, one overlooked element revolves around the small talk itself. Most people make the mistake of allowing the conversation to remain light and superficial... how was the drive, how is the weather, how are you feeling... You get it! However, you both want and need to have the opportunity to show interest in the other party as a person, to get to know more about them and what matters to them. In order to do this you must shift the small talk from a dialogue like any other they have had when first meeting someone, to a conversation more reminiscent of one they would have with a friend. This then, in turn, leads their brain to believe that you too much be a friend. And...don't we all prefer working with people we like?

To get this edge, employ a technique that I refer to as 'clicking'. When reading articles on the Internet, we have the ability to 'click' on different words embedded within the content of the article that allow us to go deeper into that subject. In doing so, we gain deeper and richer information about that word or concept.

Consider doing the same while in conversation with someone. When listening to them, mentally 'click' on a word or phrase they used and formulate a follow-up question around it. Asking these questions provides you with a number of benefits...

  • It allows you to go a level below the original superficial statement.
  • The other party now has to begin thinking, which means they have now become engaged in the process of speaking with you. It forces them to become present to the conversation.
  • You demonstrate to them that you were listening to what they had to say. This shows respect.
  • By 'clicking' on a comment of theirs you are showing your interest in their thoughts and what they have to say. Showing interest in them makes you appear more interesting in turn.
  • When you shift to the 'business' portion of your conversation you will already be conversing at a deeper level, and will be more likely to experience a greater degree of openness and rapport in that dialogue immediately.
Give it a try.  You may find that 'clicking' on an element of their content allows you both to 'click' more fully.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Life Well Lived

I read an article recently where they described the life of a well known author as a live 'well-lived'. That descriptive phrase stuck with me and I have to admit that I have been mulling it over for a number of weeks. In the end, I am still left with the question... What does a life well-lived look like?

Granted, we likely are all going to have our own highly individualized interpretations of what a life well-lived will mean to us. This is as it should be because, in the end, it is our life! However, I would hazard a guess that there are few of us that would look at a 60+ hour work week, spent pushing through someone else's projects and initiatives, with our off hours attached to the office through all of the devices that were supposed to save us time.. as indicative of the good life!

Instead, many find themselves living lives of quiet and consuming frustration, working consistently long hours, at a job they hate, to buy things they don't need, in order to impress people they don't like.  A life well-lived?  I think not!

Instead... we need to take back control and design our own lives.  Leaving it up to someone else simply means we spend our time fulfilling their needs and wants, never our own.  As for leaving our lives and careers in the hands of a corporation... well... let's face it.  Even the best intentioned companies want the most out of you that they possibly can. 

The Work...

To start...  write your definition.  What does a life well-lived look like to you?  Imagine it, then describe it.

Now... weigh your existing 'life' against it.  There are likely gaps, things you aren't doing and things you're doing too much of.  Did you have words like I couldn't, I shouldn't coming to mind?  Those are key trigger words for Fear.  Fear of trying something new, fear of failing, fear of embarassment, fear of ... something.  In order to live that life you imagined, it will be necessary to fight through that fear, to push beyond it.  The good news though... you don't need to push through in one giant leap.

Consider what small changes and steps you could make now that would move you closer toward truly living within the life you have, the life you've been given.  Begin taking control and consciously crafting a life of your choosing.  With list in hand... pick one action step that you can do now and... do it!

As for my definition of a life well-lived?  I've always been partial to the vision in my mind stimulated by the following description I once read somewhere (sorry, I don't know who to credit for this and I am paraphrasing...)

Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, martini in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming "WOO- HOO what a ride!"
That's my vision.  What's yours?

Monday, April 11, 2011

When Ideas Have Sex...

Catchy title, which is perhaps why I watched the TED Talk by author Matt Ridley.  Most of you know by
now that I love TED.  I love the concept of sharing ideas and concepts through a medium that spans the globe.  I find myself watching talks on subjects that I might not have otherwise have known.  I often find that a talk with no obvious link back to me or my work, seems to flick a switch somewhere in my brain that has me thinking in a totally new direction, developing a perspective for a client that resonates for them, but that I wouldn't have been able to explain to them previously.

It's this exchange of ideas that Matt Ridley discusses in his TED talk.  We all know the phenomenon of brainstorming in a group...everyone spring boarding off of each other's ideas until the final generation of ideas and solutions exceed what any one member would likely have developed on their own.  Certainly, the ideas are born faster.  Ridley shares... "the engine of human progress and prosperity has been, and is, ideas having sex with each other".

It's the interchange of ideas, the meeting and mating of ideas that often gives birth to fresh, innovative thinking.  In turn, it's this kind of thinking that raises the bar, that allows us to progress, develop and to prosper.  Certainly we have seen evidence of this over the course of the development of civilization. 

How might this be relevant to you and your personal growth?  Ahhh, and here we come to...

The Work:

It really comes down to your investment in yourself, time that you invest in exposing yourself to new ideas, thoughts, and ways of thinking.  Thanks to today's technological advances, exposing yourself to new concepts, theories and research is easier than ever.
  1. Consider the people that you surround yourself with.  Are they interested in learning new things?  Do they have diverse interests?  If so, catching up with them and what interesting new things they have been reading or discovering may be all it takes.
  2. Create a 'learning' group.  A client recently started their own lunchtime group of 'Intellectual Explorers'.  They meet for lunch once every two weeks.  Each has five minutes to share information on their latest discovery, the idea/concept that has peaked their interest the most, that has spurred their thinking in new ways.  He says that the idea of the group has taken off such that they have had to turn away new members, because they don't want to grow too large.  Instead, they have helped a second group form.
  3. Read.  This needn't be dusty old encyclopedias, but consider subscribing to various blogs.  Find out who some of the 'best' people are in a number of fields of interest and keep up with what they have to say.  Check out some of the web magazines.  I personally have a number of them delivered to my inbox weekly, allowing me to scroll through quickly.  Usually I find some interesting tidbit that seems to fit perfectly into a puzzle I'm currently working on!
  4. Video.  You know already that I love TED for being exposed to new ideas.  I don't know when I'll ever need to know that they train rats to sniff out bombs but... it was a REALLY fascinating talk.  I swear!
  5. Google alerts.  If you're looking to keep up with the latest news and developments on a specific subject, consider setting up a google alert and have google regularly search out the latest postings on the web for you, delivering that summary to you daily, weekly or monthly.  No need to search for information, you can have google do it for you and deliver it right to your in-basket!
It's not necessary to spend hours a day engaged in 'learning' research!  Instead, it's about exposure.  Set up systems, that work for you, that introduce you to new thoughts, theories, the latest thinking on a variety of subjects.  It's the exposure to these concepts that serves to fertilize existing thoughts, enabling new ideas to be born.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Increase your Success... By Embracing your Discomfort

We all have our favourite pair of jeans. They are likely a little worn in spots, have that stain on the knee from that amazing catch you made in a pick up game with friends...but you love them in spite of, if not because of, it all. In short, they're your favourites because they are comfortable, they fit just right.

 When those jeans no longer are as comfortable for us to wear though, we are spurred to take action. Perhaps those worn areas have finally given way, in less than strategically placed locations! If so, we are pushed toward buying a new pair and beginning the process of breaking them in to rediscover our comfort zone. Perhaps those jeans are beginning to feel a little too snug and we are motivated to cut down a little on the lattes and late night snacking to refind our comfort point again.

 In either event, it is our discomfort that spurs us to take action. As long as we are comfortable with where we are, who we are, what we have...we tend to drift along, becoming complacent with our achievements to date. However, if we want more or other for ourselves, we need to become uncomfortable. It is our dissatisfaction that drives change and creates growth.

 The thought for this blog came to me when I was reading a line from one of Kevin Hogan's ( articles, in which he said...

 Where things go wrong is at the intersection of you and your discomfort
The point he was making is that at every point of discomfort, we have a choice to make. We can either choose to ignore the discomfort and slip back into the cocoon of our comfort zone, or we can choose to push through our discomfort, to use it to grow beyond where we once were. Our discomfort therefore represents a pivotal moment of choice for us and it's important that we recognise it as such.

 If we leave such choices to our unconscious, we are likely to choose the known over the unknown, the comfortable over the uncomfortable, the old over the new...every time! If we give in to the lure of the comfortable though, we will fail to experience all of the success we are capable of.  We are unlikely to ever fulfill our potential.

The Work:

 Consider an area of your life that you are uncomfortable with, something that is 'less than' what you want for yourself. Take a few moments to really explore (and record) how you feel about this lack. The stronger your discomfort, the more you will be able to use this discomfort and dissatisfaction to push you forward, so really get in touch with how you feel about this area.

 Now jot down exactly what you want instead. Fill in as much detail as you can about it. The clearer you are about what your 'different' will look like, the easier it will be for you to define action steps to take you there.

 And...that becomes step three. Create a list of action steps that you could take to move you away from your current state and move toward your desired state. Large, doesn't matter, list any and all actions that would help make what you want a reality.

 Do one. Now. This is your pivotal moment. All of the thinking and planning mean nothing without action. Even one small, seemingly inconsequential step helps to shift your mindset away from 'comfort' and establishes the change mindset. You are more likely to continue down the path of change once you have put even one foot in that direction.

 Do another one! Repeat this step over and over until you are done! There is no Magic formula in achieving what you want in life. It take three simple little things.

  •  You must be able to articulate what you want.
  •  You must take steps toward achieving it.
  •  You must keep going until you have it.

That's it. Now...get to it!