3 awards earned by athletes and employees

Two years ago I attended my daughter’s spring award ceremony, which was held in a small auditorium with seats smaller and harder than the ones at Fenway Park.

The stench of body odor was growing stronger as the night wore on. High school award ceremonies are like amateur parades; you can’t wait for them to end.

There were at least 12 teams in all, starting with boys and girls track, followed by two-gender-ed sports like tennis, volleyball, lacrosse…until finally my daughters crew team walked onto the stage.

Sitting through two hellish hours was worth it because my daughter was given the “Coach’s Award” and named Captain of her crew team for next year.

The reason given for her receiving the award and being named captain was because she stepped up and took on responsibilities that no one would.

What came of that night was not only the fact that my daughter, who is a coxswain, earned her first major awards as a high school student; it also got me thinking about who stands out at work.

Who deserves to earn “Coach’s Award,” “Most Improved,” and “MVP” at work? Here’s my take on award winners at work.

Coach’s Award. This award is given to an employee who does everything possible to make her manager’s job easier. She volunteers to take on the mundane tasks of data entry when no one steps forward and won’t hesitate, nor complain, to man the front desk when the receptionist is out.

She demonstrates team spirit, always has a positive attitude that shows from her smile and in her eyes.

Most Improved. The Most Improved employee is the envy of many in the office because he has overcome his weaknesses and surpassed the performance of those who were at one point in time stronger.

He began as an entry level sales person and improved to the point where he’s now challenging the senior sales people.

It is through diligence and quick learning that enabled him to make the leaps necessary to supplant some of the other sales people.

MVP. The MVP performs her work beyond expectation, is a silent leader with a large presence. She is the thought leader in the organization. The MVP is humble and doesn’t take credit for accomplishments others have achieved.

She is affable and a comfort to other employers who may need her guidance, a true mentor. If anyone is indispensably, she is that person.

A successful organization, like a successful sports team, requires all three employees among its staff.

The employee who earns the Coaches Award is the glue that holds the organization together; the Most Improved gives others hope and something to strive for; and the MVP is simply the most valuable person, yet she doesn’t necessarily know it.

Do you deserve one of these awards or can think of someone who does? Why do you or others deserve one of these awards?

Small talk and 4 other traits introverts must improve upon

extravertsWhen my colleagues are chatting away during lunch, I like to join their conversation which is usually about current affairs, television shows, or other topics extraverts seem to enjoy and master with ease.

I do my best to break into their banter, picking the right opportunity to voice my views. But at times choosing my words seems like work. I’m not unusual in this way–finding making small talk difficult–other introverts have expressed the same frustration.

Being comfortable making small talk is one trait I admire in extraverts. Other extravert traits I admire are:

Ability to promote themselves. Extraverts have the gift of gab, and we all know that verbal communications is more direct and timely than written communications. While I feel comfortable sending an e-mail to my manager about my accomplishments, extraverts would go directly to her office and talk about their accomplishments. This confidence they display I erroneously misconstrue for conceit.

Solution. Before approaching the manager to speak of their accomplishments, introverts should formulate what they’re going to say. It may be helpful to write down some talking points on their accomplishments before approaching the manager. They should also remember to smile.

Ease of networking. Most extraverts will tell you they have no problem entering a room full of people and striking up a conversation. Most introverts will tell you this takes effort and is often uncomfortable, and some introverts will tell you they fear networking, both for professional and job-search purposes. Therefore they don’t network.

Solution. Introverts should not network like extraverts. I tell my jobseekers that introverts can network; they just do it differently. Instead of working the room, they feel more comfortable in smaller groups and engaging in deeper conversation.

Boundless energy. Presenting in front of a group doesn’t scare me. By most accounts I’m quite good at it. However, after conducting three workshops a day, my brain feels like mash potatoes. Extraverts, on the other hand, can talk till the sun goes down. Where extraverts may run into problems is not taking time to ask questions and listen to their attendees. Introverts are said to be better listeners. Still, it’s nice to have the endurance to talk with people for eternity.

Solution. Introverts should take advantage of downtime to recharge their battery. I retreat to my cubicle where I can rest my mind and reflect on the next workshop to come. When colleagues approach me during my down time, I tell them I’m busy with important work…even if I’m not.

Conflict management. Well-known psychologist and author, Marti Olsen LaneyPsy.D, The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World, asserts that introverts are not as strong at conflict resolution as extraverts are. She writes that introverts avoid conflict as much as possible, and I see her point.

Solution. In order to be good at conflict management, introverts must choose their battles and formulate their thoughts before jumping into the foray. When an answer to an accusation is called for, introverts should ask for time to think about their response. I feel this way when I’m asked to defend my actions.

My admiration for extraverts makes me think about how I can improve on the aforementioned strengths they possess. I’ve witnessed them in my extraverted colleagues and friends; as I’ve also witnessed introverts weaknesses. With some practice, introverts can improve upon their weaknesses, and extraverts can tone it down.

7 awesome traits of the introvert

When I ask my Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator (MBTI) workshop attendees if they think I’m an introvert or extravert, they usually guess wrong. “But you’re so lively and loud,” they say.

What do they expect from me, Dawn of the Living Dead?

Those of my attendees who guess wrong believe that to be sociable and animated one must be an extravert. I don’t blame them for guessing wrong, because society has been under the impression that showmanship belongs exclusively to the extraverts.

The ability to speak in public is only one of seven traits the introverts demonstrate. Following are the remaining six:

We think before we speak. Dominating a meeting is not our style; we favor something akin to Parliamentary Procedure. That doesn’t mean we don’t have intelligent things to say; we just don’t like to compete with the extraverts who learn by talking. The problem with our method of communicating is we might not get the opportunity to get our brilliant thoughts out in the open.

We rule when it comes to research. We learn best by researching topics on our own and, as such, prefer the computer over dialog. Extraverts learn best by throwing around ideas among their colleagues and friends. We find staff meetings unproductive unless there’s an agenda and some sense of order. Brainstorming is usually a waste of time to us.

We hear you the first time. We’re considered great listeners. But we don’t appreciate being talked at. We’re perceptive so you don’t need to stress your point with 10 minutes of nonstop talking. You don’t like caviar, you say. And you had a bad experience eating it when you were a child. Got it.

We love to write. Writing is our preferred mode of communication, but this doesn’t mean we’re incapable of talking. We just don’t have the capacity to talk from sunrise to sunset. Writing allows us to formulate our thoughts and express them eloquently. There’s no denying, however, that our workplace favors those who talk; so there are times when we put down the pen and let our voice be heard.

We’re just as creative as the next person. Our creative juices flow from solitude, not open spaces where people throw Nerf footballs, eat cookies, and attend wrap sessions until 10:00 pm. If you see us working intently in our offices or cubicles, we’re usually enjoying “moments,” so don’t break our concentration. Nothing personal; we’ll join you at the pool table when our work is completed.

We can stand being alone. We don’t need constant attention from others; rather we enjoy the time to think and reflect on life in general. Some might consider this as standoffish, but those are people who require a great deal of stimuli and don’t understand the beauty of Quiet (watch Susan Cain’s YouTube video). We develop long-lasting friendships with fewer people, as deeper is better than broader. Don’t pity us if you have 20 friends and we have only five. We’re good with that.

My MBTI workshop attendees are not far off the mark when they guess I’m an extravert; I do have the ability to put on the Robin Williams act, or revert to a serious Bill Belichick persona. I put 100% into teaching the finer points of the job search, and as a result my exit from the room is quick and toward the stairway where no one can track me down with questions.

Are you really listening? 3 ways to improve your listening skills

listening tipsDo you ever get the sense that you’re talking with someone and that person isn’t really listening? You’re probably correct about that. According to Daniel Pink, To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, most people aren’t really listening to you completely; they’re waiting for their turn to talk. He writes:

“Little wonder, then, that so few of us, in fact, do listen well. For many of us, the opposite of talking isn’t listening. It’s waiting. When others speak, we typically divide our attention between what they’re saying now and what we’re going to say next—and end up doing a mediocre job at both.”

Doesn’t that make you feel loved?

What Pink describes is your average listener. Even good listeners will momentarily lose their focus and have to regain it to follow the conversation. This comes down, in part, to how interested and/or focused you are in what your fellow converser is saying. You could be extremely interested, as when your boss is giving you a performance review; or slightly focused, as when someone is telling you how her toddler is assimilating to his daycare.

Regardless, everyone deserves to be listened to.

People who are poor listeners generally don’t care what people have to say, and this can have a negative effect on those who are talking. These are people who are hopeless. We know people like this who’d rather hear themselves talk than perhaps learn something new from others.

An article that appeared on Business Insider, 3 Ways Being A Bad Listener Hurts Your Career, says that bad listening can be bad for business, giving three reasons:

  1. Bad listening is dismissive and ultimately disengaging
  2. Bad listening leads to inferior information and decisions
  3. Bad listening is a waste of time

I’ll be the first to admit that I zone out on occasion, and people in my family will attest to my inability to maintain 100% listening capability. In fact, I am not the great listener people, with whom I interact, believe I am. At times, my listening span is about that of a fruit fly’s life expectancy.

Growing concerned about my inability to listen well prompted me to Google “Average Attention Span.” I was relieved to read that, according to www.StatisticBrain.com, the average human attention span in 2013 is eight (8) seconds—four (4) seconds less than in 2000, and four (4) seconds less than that of a goldfish. I think this duration is more like a burp that erupts from nowhere and then it’s back to normal.

A more accurate estimate of one’s ability to concentrate and maintain the proper duration of listening is enforced by the length of TED lectures which last no more than 18 minutes. That’s because people’s sustained attention span is approximately that long. After that, heads begin to nod and bodies begin to shift; maybe they become claustrophobic.

Even when I listened to Susan Cain talk about her stay at summer camp, where she looked forward to reading books, I felt myself drifting from the computer screen to tidy up my desk. This was Susan Cain! my introverted hero. Even she couldn’t hold my attention for 100% of her seminar.

My workshops are scheduled to last two hours. So now I’m thinking if I can’t listen with total concentration, those poor people must be itching to leave the room. I typically ask a lot of questions or suddenly raise my voice (shout) to keep their attention, which seems to do the trick. But now I’m thinking I need to ask even more questions and shout.

To become a better listener, I’ll now quote the methods suggested by the article and ways I’ll work on listening:

  1. Admit that you can be a better listener. I think I’ve fully admitted that, though I’m probably taking this listening thing too literally.
  2. Practice focusing on what others say. When colleagues come to my cubical I will now turn my chair and face them directly, rather than continue working on a project. I will even offer them a seat after I’ve cleared the paper from said chair.
  3. Acknowledge and respect what others have to say, rather than dismiss them with a short answer or a command. Yes, my daughter, I will listen attentively to your story about prom preparations.

When you come to terms about how poorly you’re listening to others, communication will be enriched. Pink has a point there; often times we impede progress by not hearing what others say. I want to be a better listener and give those their due respect, and I’d like others to hear what I have to say, as well.

4 tips for promoting yourself in the job search

When I was a kid and made our town’s Little League baseball team, I ran to my neighbor’s house where my father was helping our friend fix a lawnmower. I burst into the garage and told my father with pride that I’d made the team. His response was to tell me not to brag.

I’ve thought for a long time that my father taught me that day an important lesson about humility. Now I’m not so sure it was a good lesson. It seems that we, as a society, don’t promote ourselves enough.

This is particularly true about my valued customers who need to promote themselves.

I read an article, Why You Should be a Shameless Self Promoter, in which the author, Kevin Daum, speaks of three reasons why entrepreneurs should promote themselves. It resonated with me because he broaches a topic that many people feel uncomfortable about, self-promotion.

While we need to self-promote, the author claims, we also can’t cross that line that is unclear to many. He writes: “So we need to shamelessly self-promote, loud, strong and often. And yet somehow we have to keep from crossing that line of being annoying and offensive.”

I understand there are reasons why my jobseekers don’t feel comfortable promoting themselves. One obvious reason is that their confidence is shattered; and when you’ve been kicked in the gut, it’s hard to muster up the ability to talk about yourself in a positive, objective way—which is to say, not brag.

But there are three tips the author provides entrepreneurs for “shameless self-promotion.” I agree with them but have adapted his tips for jobseekers. I have also added a tip of my own.

  1. Be interesting. Know what interests potential employers. If you have the same goals in common, this makes self-promotion all that much easier. This gives you free reign to highlight your accomplishments and related experience, as long as they apply to the job; which is an indication that you can repeat your accomplishments in the future.
  2. Be authentic. As a jobseeker, your accomplishments will seem more authentic if you have evidence to back them up, perhaps in the form of recommendations, awards, or outstanding references. What others say about you, I tell my customers, carries more weight then what you say about yourself. And always be truthful; never lie about your achievements. Lies will come back to bite you in the ass.
  3. Provide value. Any self-promotion has to have relevance. If the employer is looking for someone who has demonstrated superb written communications, you should not talk about the numerous presentations you gave before packed houses; you will come across as a round peg for the employer’s square whole. Think back to the times when you wrote the company newsletter and got published in trade magazines.
  4. Don’t over-due it. This is my own reason for self-promotion. Avoid using words like “great,” “outstanding,” “the best,” etc. It is far better to provide facts than conjecture. For example, “I was the best counselor on the staff“comes across as bragging without any substance. Better put would be, “Among my colleagues, I was given the highest-level customers on a regular basis. I was trusted by management to give them the service they needed.” Yes, you were the best.

The simple fact is that you as a jobseeker must promote yourself, because you can’t rely on others to be there by your side in your job search. The author talks about how we were taught not to brag, like the time I rushed to my father proud of making the town’s Little League team. Don’t brag, but don’t refrain from self-promotion when the time is right, like while networking or at an interview or in your written communications. The time is now.

5 reasons why what you know about your introversion can limit you

IntrovertToday I think about how being mindful of  my preference for introversion may affect my actions. Like a self-fulfilling prophesy, this knowledge occupies my thoughts and sometimes prevents me from doing what I’d like to, what I should do. So the question is would it be better to be ignorant of who I am?

How I direct my energy. Because I’m an introvert, I should prefer not going to an evening business networking event after a hard day at work. Introverts should take time to recharge their battery, not exert themselves by socializing after a day of being around people.

Instead: I have the energy to attend social or networking events despite knowing that my energy should be saved for reading a good book on my Kindle, while munching on Gummy Bears. I must fight the generalization.

How I communicate. Extraverts rule the world when it comes to small talk. Because I’m an introvert, my ability to make small talk consists of 140 characters of carefully spoken words. Entering a room full of strangers, expected to make small talk, should make me anxious and want to run from the room screaming like a lunatic.

Instead: I can make small talk with the best of them, as long as I’m not battling a motor mouth for airtime. I’ve often dominated the conversation in the lunchroom much to the surprise of my colleagues. I must fight the belief.

How I listen. As an introvert, I’m supposed to listen to people…and like it? Accordingly I should actively listen and wait until the person has said his/her 5,000 words. Extraverts, according to common belief, are off the hook when it comes to listening intently–they’re free to talk nonstop because…that’s the way it is.

Instead: I find it hard to listen to people who believe they’re all that. If there were an off button on some of the loquacious Neanderthals I meet, my right index finger would ache.  I am totally cool listening to people who believe in equal rights in conversation. I must politely end a one-sided conversation, as well as be cognizant of my over talking.

How I learn best. Introverts are said to learn best through writing and research, rather than by talking to others. This implies that we’d rather receive e-mails than talk with our colleagues’ in their cubicles.

Instead: It is true that I enjoy writing, but I don’t get my kicks by spending a whole day at my computer researching topics like the Sabin Oxley Act and writing a 30-page whitepaper on it. I like talking with my colleagues as long as it’s productive and doesn’t drain my time, so I must extend my self more often.

How about those meetings. Apparently I can’t participate at meetings because I think too much before talking and, thus, lose my chance to express my brilliant thoughts. The same goes for brainstorming. When others are coming up with hundreds of ideas and throwing spaghetti against the wall, I’m supposed to remain quiet until I have an idea that will stick.

Instead: While it’s true that some extraverts suck the air out of a meeting room, I can throw my weight around as good as the next guy. True, I’m not a fan of brainstorming, but sometimes it works if facilitated by the right person. Instead of over thinking, I must speak up more often and express my great thoughts.

I’ll be the first to admit that knowing the characteristics of an introvert sometimes shapes my actions at work, as well as in my daily life. I wonder how I’d act if I was ignorant of who I am. Would I act more like an extravert? Nah.

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You landed a job. You still need to network on LinkedIn for 6 reasons

linkedinCongratulations, you landed a job. You used LinkedIn to get introduced to the hiring manager at one of your targeted companies. Although no job had been advertised, she agreed to a preliminary discussion after perusing your LinkedIn profile. She was impressed.

At the meeting she indicated that they needed to fill a marketing position that would require your degree of social media experience. She said she’d be in touch. When the company decided to fill the position, you were called for a “formal” interview.

You answered every question they asked to their satisfaction and even demonstrated your understanding of key issues the company had, and how you would solve them. The VP and hiring manager offered you the position on the spot.

LinkedIn played a large role in getting the job. Now you can take a breather from networking on LinkedIn, right? Wrong. Now you need to maintain and even ramp up your activity for six very good reasons.

  1. Don’t abandon your connections. Some of them were instrumental to your job-search success (especially the woman who alerted you to the unadvertised position). Keep your ears to the pavements for those who were also looking while you were. Reciprocate by introducing them to the people who can help them get to the decision makers.
  2. Build on your expertise and strengthen your brand. Continue to  contribute to your groups and join other groups to share your knowledge with industry leaders. You’ve become well-known in LinkedIn circles; you’re respected for your knowledge and are in prime position to further brand yourself as a social media expert.
  3. LinkedIn was part of your routine. You were on LinkedIn on a daily basis, connecting with new people, using the Companies feature to locate and get introduced to decision makers (remember the one who granted you the conversation?) Of course you attended personal networking events, but LinkedIn added to your overall networking in a big way.
  4. LinkedIn became a community. You met some great people who welcomed you to their network, exchanged messages with you, and encouraged you during your job search. Why would you give this up? LinkedIn is a community consisting of professionals with the same goal in mind, sharing information and social capital. You built some outstanding relationships.
  5. Your new company understands the importance of LinkedIn. The VP of marketing wants everyone in your group to be on LinkedIn to connect with potential business partners and customers. He also wants to enhance the image of the company. A company with employees who have great profiles is a company that means business. He’s looking to you to share what you know about using LinkedIn–you’re his expert.
  6. Continue to build your network for a rainy day. You were looking on LinkedIn for a job almost every day for the last three months, attending networking events, and connecting with people on a daily basis. Your online and personal networks are strong and served you well. Now, more than ever, you want to continue to build your networks for future job search activity. How does that saying go? The best time to network is when you’re working.

When you began your profile, struggled with making it strong, increased your activity, and really began to see its benefits; you never thought it would get you this far. You never thought you’d buy into it and be an evangelist of LinkedIn, spreading the word of its great attributes. Even thought you landed, you still need to network on LinkedIn.

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