Monday, March 25, 2013

Latest Research Updates...

You know that I read and research constantly, much of which I share with you whether through training, coaching or my various blogs and articles.  The following interesting little tidbits aren't 'big' enough findings for a full posting but I found them interesting so I'm sharing...

  • In a recent study (2013, Iris K. Schneider et al), determined that when we are undecided about two choices, we will tend to shift our weight from side to side.  Once we have reached a decision we hold our weight more firmly, reducing our side to side movements.  Subtle cues to watch for when two or more ideas are being presented to someone for consideration.  When they are still weighing the pros and cons you are likely to see physical tells (swaying/shifting) that indicate that they are still working through the options.  If and when those movements stop, you know they have reached a decision, regardless of whether they try to tell you that they are 'still deciding'.
  • Professor Jackie Andrade, University of Plymouth, found that doodling improved memory by almost 30% over non-doodlers.  In a boring meeting?  Concerned that you won't remember important points?  Start doodling!
  • Money is always an interesting subject.  Studies have shown that we are much more likely to spend when we have larger denominational notes than small.  Meaning...  we will spend a $20 bill faster than four $5 bills.  And... a different study shows that we are much more likely to spend 'dirty' worn money faster than crisp new bills.  Not sure of any specific relevance for leadership, just interesting!
  • We all feel like there is not enough time in our day to get everything done.  Research was therefore conducted to determine how we could feel less stressed about this, how we could feel that we have enough or more time.  The surprising finding was that when people gave up some of their free-time to help out others, they were left feeling like they had more time available for themselves. Weird!   Here's how the  study's authors explain it...  "...spending time on others makes people feel like they have done a lot with their time – and the more they feel they have done with their time, the more time they will feel they have."  
  • If you want to improve your memory, psychologists have found that taking breaks aids with consolidating the information into your memory systems.  In studies where participants take a little rest break after learning something, their recall and memory of that information is enhanced.  
  • Simply telling people how luxurious or expensive the food you're serving is tends to enhance their experience and enjoyment.  (good to know when the meatloaf is a little overdone!)
  • The Hawthorne Effect is well documented - people's behaviours change when they feel they are being observed.  Have an 'honour' payment system at work for coffee?  Hang a poster or picture somewhere in the room that has a person's face with their eyes clearly visible...  more people pay for their coffee because they 'feel' watched.  We tend to be more 'honest' under these circumstances.
  • We know that self-control is not limitless.  We all have days that tax our willpower and deplete our resources.  Additionally, we know that self-control is a strong skill in highly successful people.  How to replenish our self-control when it's in short supply?  A recent study shows that just the mere thought of money will help.  Not clear on the reasons as to why this might be but in this case, it's enough to know it works!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Common Courtesy: Apparently not so common

When did Courtesy go out of style?  Did I miss the memo?

How difficult is it for someone to hold the door open long enough for you, who are only three steps behind, to grab it before it begins to close?  Why do people edge closer to the car in front, virtually riding on their bumper, just to avoid letting someone in from an on-ramp?

In fact, when did people start believing that they were entitled to inflict their bad attitude and behaviour upon everyone else?  This isn't happening just in the 'public' sphere, it's not just a reflection of 'road rage', I am seeing more and more discourteous and downright rude behaviour occurring in the workplace.  Senior level people who seem to think that their position gives them the right to mistreat or be short with others.

Is it due to the seemingly constant state of 'busyness' that everyone surrounds themselves with?  Is everyone in such a state of 'overwhelm' that they no longer have the time, let alone the inclination, to engage in the niceties of interacting with others?

To make matters worse, it is usually those that believe it is acceptable to say whatever they want - about and to others - that cry foul, unfair, unjust when they are held accountable for their actions.  Why should it be such a surprise that there are consequences for the actions we take?  It's Newton's 3rd Law of Action after all... for every Action there will be an equal and opposite Reaction.  If you don't like the result - Change the Behaviour!

Disrespecting others is a choice.  If you don't like the consequence or the outcome - choose differently.

Rant over.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Public Speaking: A True Super Power

All right, so being able to speak in public may not seem to be as 'cool' as being able to leap over tall buildings in a single bound, lifting a train or having x-ray vision but, really, how often do you need any of those skills in your current job?  The ability to speak in public though... that comes up all the time!

It doesn't matter what your role, the responsibilities, the level, the market, or the organization, being able to speak effectively in public settings will serve you well every time.  In the world of work, of both today and tomorrow, learning the skills to communicate with others clearly, concisely and effectively are non-negotiable.  In order to get ahead in your chosen profession, you will be unable to take your career as far if you are not able to share your thoughts and ideas in front of a group.

According to research conducted by the Harvard Business Review, the number one skill that can rocket you to the top of your profession is the ability to speak professionally and persuasively, especially to groups. Public speaking was number one!  Further research has shown that because so many of us actually fear speaking in front of others, we tend to admire those that do it well. Additionally, we tend to ascribe other positive traits to them as well, simply because they can speak well in public.  We will assume that they are more intelligent, credible and we often begin to feel they are better looking than we might have otherwise.  Phew!

Public Speaking truly is a Super Power!  There is significant positive fall-out, just through the demonstration of this one skill.  The good news is, of course, that we can all become more effective at speaking in public.  The bad news, for many, is that we all need to.  No exceptions, no excuses!

Here are some quick tips to help you develop your Speaking Super Powers!

  • Practice.  Take as many opportunities as you can to practice speaking in front of people.  When in training sessions volunteer to share the group's discussion results, emcee a friend's wedding, teach a lesson to your church group, join Toastmasters, stand up and deliver short messages to your video camera.  Anything that gets you up and on your feet delivering.  Develop your comfort by strengthening your habits.  Letting your body and mind know they have been there before is one of the easiest ways to develop comfort.  If we've done it before our mind believes we can do it again.  Play off on this by getting in lots of delivery time before it really 'counts'!
  • Breathe.  When we get nervous we tend to breathe more shallowly, preventing us from taking in as much oxygen as we do in a more relaxed state.  This causes our body to go into stress, creating leakage through our body and voice that signals to our audience that we're uncomfortable.  (shaking hands, sweats, squeaking or quavering voice...)  Breathe deeply and through the diaphragm to maintain the body's oxygen level.  If the body doesn't feel stressed it's likely the mind will calm down too.
  • Know Your Stuff.  There is no replacement for not having the content to back you up.  It doesn't matter how good you look up there if you ultimately have nothing to say.  Know your content and what you want to share.  This seems like a no-brainer but you'd be surprised at how many people don't think this through and believe that just 'winging' a presentation will work for them.  Don't memorize your content and don't read it, KNOW it.  Know the key points and simply walk through them, one by one.  
  • How do you want your audience to feel?  Don't just focus on the content of your message.  I know that everyone says content is king, but they are really referring to fact that you have to 'have' content.  To sell it you have to move your audience.  They will remember how you made them feel, long after they have forgotten what it was that you said.  Moving them is memorable.  
  • Practice.  Yep, I said this before but... I'm saying it again because you need to do it again. Walking through your content once won't cut it.  Stand up and say it again and then again.  You have to practice it until it feels comfortable to you.  Your speech should fit you like your favourite pair of jeans.  That's the point where you can now begin to stretch beyond it to really reach not just the minds of your audience but their hearts.  If the fit is stiff, the delivery will be stiff. 
Oh, and, one final thought... practice it again!

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Attraction of Distractions

Let's face it, even before technology came along and made it easier, we had little difficulty in allowing ourselves to become distracted from seemingly 'important' tasks.  Now the advent of the internet and the advancement of technology have allowed our distractions to become just one click away!  Enough so that I have heard productivity consultants refer to our electronic devices as 'Weapons of Mass Distraction'!

We have, in fact, become so obsessed with these devices that recent reports have found that 67% of cell phone owners checked their phone for missed calls/messages/alerts - even when they had received no notice of any being received.  Additionally, more than half reported sleeping with their phone by their bed so that they wouldn't miss any calls or messages while they were sleeping.  In becoming more 'connected' through technology we are becoming more disconnected with our work and what drives our success.

If we think of a Distraction as being anything that pulls us away from our Purpose, as opposed to simply our Task, the need to minimize and/or control our distractions becomes more important.  How then can we control our distractions to increase our productivity? The following five tips are key for controlling the siren call of your favourite distractions.

1.  Stop Multi-Tasking.  I have written before about the dangers of multi-tasking (see Multitasking - Friend or Foe).  Recent research has now found that your IQ points will drop for any day that you change tasks more than 10 times over the course of it.  5 full points for Women and 15 points for Men.  Yes, sorry guys, but research does show that you have more challenges with multitasking than women.  In essence, multitasking itself is proving to be a distraction, often negatively impacting both quality and quantity of work produced.

2.  Plan Backward.  Many of us schedule our time wrong and create To-Do lists with too many big-ticket items on it.  Merely looking at it is overwhelming.  Instead, we should start with our final objective in mind and work it backward.  Start with the goal, break it down into milestones and then individual tasks.  Put the tasks on your To-Do lists.  Looking at smaller items on your daily lists seems less-daunting and increases the likelihood of getting it done.  Additionally, the more we can break our objectives down into smaller bites the less prone we are to interrupt them with distractions.

3.  Establish Routines.  Having established routines and times set for handling mundane items (such as emails, returning calls, checking on your Facebook status) prevents you from doing so constantly.  You know you'll get to it, you know it will be waiting for you, but you will now be checking it on your time, not on someone else's posting schedule.

4.  Own your Agenda.  I love the quote... "An emergency on your part does not constitute and emergency on mine", and it is fully applicable to this point.  You need to set boundaries and guard your schedule and timelines.  Other people have their own Agendas and will be working toward fulfilling them.  Your agenda can quickly become 'busy' with simply getting things done for everyone else.  They get to check off items from their To-Do list but yours remains intact.  Ensure that you recognise that their Agenda is no more important than your own.  I'm not saying to not be responsive to others, but don't feel that you need to drop what you are doing every time that someone else has an 'emergency'.  Assess then respond.  Often 'later' still works.

5.  Work in Chunks.  Research indicates that our productivity remains highest when we work in 60 to 90 minute intervals, scheduled with short recuperative breaks in between.  This is how our body was built...  learning to work within its normal and natural rhythms helps us to maintain our productivity, focus and, most importantly, energy.  (more information on this can be found in the article...  Turning Energy into Time, or by taking a look at our ebook on the subject)