Monday, December 31, 2012

And so it Begins...

... another New Year.  Fresh and untarnished like that first snowfall.  The snow so deep that it drapes all of the objects beneath it, rounding their surfaces and softening the landscape.  The snow as yet walked on, with its unblemished surface.  This is your year.  You get to lay down your own tracks, determine your best path. As you don your winter gear and head out into your year, what thoughts and plans do you have for what awaits you?

... another New Year.  Yours to do what you you want with it.  What are your expectations for the year?  A new job, house or relationship?  Perhaps it's time to focus on strengthening the relationships you have, or your skills in your current role.  Maybe it's time to focus on your personal and spiritual growth, perhaps your health.  If so, what new experiences and learnings do you have in store?  What path do you plan to take to get you there?

... another New Year.  To do more of what makes you smile, more of what stretches and challenges you, more of what creates memories worth holding on to.

... another New Year.  To close the door on the past year and open the door to the new and all it represents.  All of the new opportunities that await you, all of the new places to explore, all of the new people to meet, all of the new things to do and learn from.

... another New Year.  To step boldly forward into what can be, leaving what was behind.  Another year to be what you want, not what you were, to be 'more', however you define that for yourself.

... another New Year.  What are you going to do with yours?

Monday, December 24, 2012

Monday, December 17, 2012

What's your Advantage?

Your Competitive Advantage that is...

In the Industrial Age, having access to certain tools, whether knowledge, training or physical tools of some kind, provided you with a very distinct competitive advantage over others.    In today's marketplace though everyone has easy and ready access to information.  Experts are more accessible than ever, as is even education through the internet.  The accessibility of and to 'tools' therefore is no longer a defining feature or benefit in the marketplace.  Likely most people that you are competing against will have a similar educational background, a similar set of physical skills and abilities and comparable experiences.

How then do you differentiate yourself in the marketplace of today?

More than ever before, people are having to learn to position and sell themselves.  The 'personal' them, not just simply their skills and abilities.  In today's business place the job market is extremely competitive.  There are a lot of highly skilled and technically competent candidates competing for the 'good' available roles.  Employers then are able to be selective when hiring.  The key differentiator between those that receive offers, and those that don't, tends to be based more on the personal qualities and characteristics of the candidates than on their technical merits.

  • how likeable is the candidate?
  • do they appear to be someone that will fit in well with our existing team?
  • how self-focused versus others-directed do they appear?
  • what is their work attitude?
  • how trustworthy did they seem to be?
  • are they competitive, cooperative, innovative, conventional, group oriented, self directed...?
These are all questions that your interviewer is asking themselves - whether consciously or unconsciously - and likely basing their decision upon.  We know from research that the likeability of political candidates is one of the top three reasons for us voting the way we vote.  We know that apparent trustworthiness is one of the top two components to creating a strong first impression.   If you are not concerning yourself with 'how' you deliver your answers to your interview questions, with 'how' you come across to others in your first impression, you are likely not as competitive in the marketplace as you should be - certainly not as much as you would want.

Still the best, and easiest, way to assess this is to film yourself in a mock interview.  Pay attention not to the content of your responses, but to the delivery of them.  How did you look, sound, move?  What feelings did your responses stir and generate?  When you said you were delighted to be there did you look and sound delighted?  If you were meeting you for the first time through your videotape - what would you think of you?  Would you like you?  

All of the above is a great starting point for beginning to understand how others see you, allowing you to begin the work of strengthening the delivery of your secondary messages.  Having the 'right' answer is one thing.  Delivering it in a way that makes it - and you - memorable is an entirely different component but one that is proving to be the deciding element.  You spend time and effort in crafting and learning your interview stories.  Now... practice the delivery of them. 

Each should have underlying messages to the audience, telling them how they should think, feel, or respond to what you are saying - all communicated through how you deliver it.  These secondary messages may be indirect but they are powerful.  They can be the difference between your message being believed, or not, and are what is needed today to give you the true competitive advantage over your competition.  

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Science of First Impressions

We all have heard how important it is to make a 'good' first impression but just what constitutes a 'good' impression?  When I ask my clients how they would like to be seen by others the two most popular responses are that they want to appear confident or they want to be liked.  In wanting one or the other they then, both consciously and unconsciously, engage in behaviours that project either confidence or likability, in an effort to drive the desired response from the other party.

I have said for years though that what is truly needed, in creating a strong, positive first impression in business is... both.  You need to be seen as confident and capable, they need to know that you can get the job done but they also need to like you, to see you as a solid member of the team.  The better you do both, the more likely you are to get an invitation to join.

As it turns out, recent research findings reported by Amy Cuddy of Harvard Business School, have shown that 80 to 90 percent of the overall first impression we form of someone is based on the combination of two specific traits: Trustworthiness (gauging their intentions toward you) and Competence (gauging their level of capability and confidence).  What is particularly interesting though, is that her group was primarily studying discrimination and prejudice; how people categorize each other, in an effort to predict discrimination.
It seems that we universally sort groups on the matrix pictured above.  Most people are higher on one trait and lower on the other.  They found that when the status quo is threatened, the high-status minority groups are those that get targeted for genocide.  These are highly competent individuals.  High competence, but low trust. Therefore, typically it is groups that are hated, but respected that get targeted the most.  People in the bottom left?  Those that are both hated and not respected get pitied.

This is important to consider when it comes to generating your own first impression.  So many of us err on the side of wanting to appear confident... if nothing else... and tend to therefore swing too far to this side when nervous.  We attempt to mask our nervousness and discomfort by appearing 'more' confident, 'more' competent, 'more' capable, often at the cost of our warmth and engagement.

This newest research from Cuddy suggests that this will tend to clearly put us into the bottom right quadrant.  We may be seen as extremely competent, but we will not tend to be liked.  As a result, we may lose the desired opportunity to someone who is a little less competent, but liked more.  The ideal quadrant is obviously the top right.  We are both warm, engaging and trustworthy while also being perceived as someone who is capable of getting the job done.

The key to creating this balance is to ensure that people feel your warmth first, then move into demonstrating your competence.  In order to appear engaging and trustworthy, use some of the following tips:

  • Smile when first meeting someone.  This is a universal gesture that will not only communicate warmth, but demonstrates clear interest in spending time with the other person. 
  • Show interest in the other person.  Ask them questions about themselves and allow them to answer.  Make them feel listened to and understood.  This is a very powerful step in creating a strong connection and bond.  
  • Make small talk.  Although many strong 'business' oriented people hate the thought of engaging in small talk, research proves that it is an important step in the business process, increasing the value of the dialogue and negotiations to follow.
As in most things in life, it appears that balance is truly the goal.  Striking the right balance between appearing Competent and Trustworthy will serve to create the most positive first impression for you.  Warmth with strength.  It may not be the most common combination but it is the one we respond to the most favourably and the one we most want to follow.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Beware the Critics!

Have you ever received 'constructive' feedback that truly wasn't that constructive? Feedback that was more of a critical diatribe than anything practical or useful?

All too often people today are quick to criticize but slow to offer any truly constructive suggestions for improvement. Doing so would mean having spent time thinking about solutions for you and most people just aren't willing to invest the time. Talking about what's wrong, what doesn't work for them, what they don't like is easy. Being clear about what they want instead... well... that takes some thought. Unfortunately, many of your biggest critics don't happen to be the biggest thinkers.

The truth is...if you do something poorly... people will criticize you.
The truth also is... if you do something well... people will criticize you.

Your challenge, of course, is recognizing which critics to pay attention to. True feedback will always come with a clear understanding of not just what was 'wrong', but what is 'better'. Criticism without direction is simply an attack and more likely to stop you dead in your tracks and prevent forward movement then it is to create a course change and spur your momentum.

Additionally, those offering their critical insights often do so from a completely different world view than your own. Any behaviours that deviate from their view of what's 'right' must therefore be 'wrong' and corrected.  Listening to this feedback and making adjustments to your direction as a result of it only serves to take you from your chosen path and shifts you onto theirs. You must be diligent in ensuring that any critics you listen to are those that will serve you in moving further in your desired direction... not theirs.

Criticism that serves you is helpful. Criticism that serves the other party is useless.  It's critical for you to know the difference. Pay close attention to the critic. If they are neither someone you like or respect, that's a good starting point for knowing you should probably ignore their input. Listening to, let alone acting on, anything they have to say will likely prove a waste of your time and talent.