Monday, March 31, 2008

IBD's 10 Secrets to Success

Lat week my mother sent me some 1998 newspaper clippings from the venerable Investor's Business Daily. Seeing how these ideas were expressed 10 years ago is certainly interesting; the content is as valid as ever. That the readers of this publication are the movers and shakers of the investing world provides an unusual source of credibility.

"Investor's Business Daily has spend years analyzing leaders and successful people in all walks of life. Most have 10 traits that, when combined, can turn dreams into reality" (9/29/98 A-6):

1. How you think is everything. Always be positive. Think success, not failure. Beware of a negative environment.

2. Decide upon your true dreams and goals. Write down your specific goals and develop a plan to reach them.

3. Take action. Goals are nothing without action. Don't be afraid to get started now. Just do it.

4. Never stop learning. Go back to school or read books. Get training and acquire skills.

5. Be persistent and work hard. Success is a marathon, not a sprint. Never give up.

6. Learn to analyze details. Get all the facts, all the input. Learn from your mistakes.

7. Focus your time and money. Don't let other people or things distract you.

8. Don't be afraid to innovate; be different. Following the herd is a sure way to mediocrity.

9. Deal and communicate with people effectively. No person is an island. Learn to understand and motivate others.

10. Be honest and dependable; take responsibility. Otherwise, numbers 1-9 won't matter.

Let this remind you to focus on your own agenda and not get bogged down by complaining about what isn't working. Have a successful Monday and fabulous week!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

One Person, Multiple Personae, in Action

Several readers found the concept of multiple characters within ourselves illuminating. Today's Raleigh newspaper, the News and Observer, gives an example of this paradigm in action: lawyers by day, actors by night. Upon reflection, it's hard to imagine someone better prepared to play the role of Iago (in Othello), than a trial lawyer. That's just what Raleigh attorney Seth Blum does, "It's an extremely lawyerly role as Iago is constantly given new information that on its face is bad, but he has to turn it into something good" (1-D).

It turns out that Harvard, Duke, Stanford, and other law schools have their own drama societies. Furthermore, actors Fred Thompson, Ben Stein, Ruben Blades, John Cleese (among others) all earned law degrees, but never practiced. The article's author, Orla Swift, interviewed several area attorneys who perform drama in courtrooms by day, in theatres by night.

The theatre provides a creative outlet that allows these lawyers to express themselves in different ways to different audiences. Mr. Blum further explains that both jobs involve capturing a universal truth and expressing it so that it resonates inside the heart of the audience. "If you're arguing to a jury, then the job of the lawyer is to make it resonate in the heart. If you're arguing to a judge, usually it's to make it resonate intellectually. But you've got to know your audience" (4-D).

What interests Mixonian, of course, is how the theatre provides form for vital creative expression. Most jobs and careers today, the ones that pay salaries, are far too narrow in scope to provide total personal fulfillment. That's why Sally works in HR by day, quilts by night. Carrie explains software by day, paints (canvasses and faces) on the week-ends. Dawn teaches science at her "real" job; paints furniture on the week-ends.

While the synergistic connection between professional work and creative expression may not be obvious, the two ways of work interact to make a more completely prepared and happy person.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Give Thanks for Unexpected Teachers

Every now and then we get a reminder to give thanks for the teachers in our lives. For example, I appreciate Mrs. Murray for making American history come alive in high school. But, apart from our official school teachers, whom of course you want to thank profusely, there are other teachers to consider.

Right before we got our toy poodle puppy, a dear friend told me he would be a great teacher for our family. Hmmmmm.....puppies as teachers....something to think about. My friend was right, though. Prince, our power poodle, has taught us a thing or two, particularly about expectations in life.

For the most part, Prince gets what he expects in life. When he scratches at his water bowl, he gets water. When he stands outside the door, poised to enter, someone eventually opens the door for him. And when he is left alone, he knows that his family will come back home at some point, which presents the opportunity to celebrate by jumping high and barking profusely. And when there is a delay in his getting fed, or getting water, he may whine a bit, but he doesn't seem to get bitter about it. He doesn't deal in resentment.

Another vital source of unexpected teachers is the people who annoy us. Yep, them. While we enjoy the company of whose with whom we agree; we encourage them, and are encouraged by them; it's the super annoying folks who teach us more. They remind us that we have some interior work to do and they show us in what areas we need to focus our attention.

When someone gets on your nerves, ask yourself why. If it's because we're not getting his approval, there's an area ripe for attention. If it's because that person is trying to persuade us of something, why does that bother? It's basically a free world and you can choose your beliefs. In the case of a sour cashier, we can learn compassion. If it's a demanding student, one who expects payment (i.e. certain grades) for doing nothing, we learn....let's see, we learn serenity in the face of irritation. We learn to stay calm and not get sucked up in other people's expectations.

Teachers are wonder-filled people. The good news is that we all get to be a teacher at one point or another.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Creative Force in Normal People

My children would insist that I have no credibility in addressing normal people. Nevertheless, I insist that creativity is a potent force that cannot be relegated to the so-called artsy-fartsy set. Actually there is significant research supporting the claim that it is creativity (not oil deposits) that drives economic growth. Let it drive growth in your own personal economy!

Richard Florida, author of Rise of the Creative Class, documents the role of creativity in economic growth, beginning with the transition from hunting and gathering for survival, to agriculture. He traces the role of creativity from early on, through the Industrial Revolution, the technological age, and to the current conceptual age. Few, if any, of these many breakthroughs, large and small, came about because of government grants. Actually a creative breakthrough is much more likely to take place at home than even in a corporate lab.

In Birth of the Moderns, historian Paul Johnson carefully examines the developments whose cumulative effect is known as the Industrial Revolution. These creative experiments took place predominantly in the homes of British and American tinkerers between 1815 and 1830. His work supports Florida's argument that being around, or in contact with creative people fosters one's own creativity.

Today cities like Austin and Raleigh-Durham are considered places that creative people find attractive. One possibility is to pack up and move to Austin, Raleigh-Durham, or even New York City or San Francisco. Rubbing shoulder with weird (i.e. creative) people will have a positive effect on you. Or you could envision a mini-community of creative people in your own city or town. Florida identifies three necessary qualities a location needs to attract creative people: talent, technology, and tolerance. If you can manage a mobile phone and a computer, and are conscious of your mind being receptive, he's talking about you.

To summarize, creativity is for everyone, and it is a key of opportunity to generating more income, and a more interesting life. For example, accountants are considered conforming bean counters, yet the ones who can use their creativity to lower your tax bill (legally of course) are the ones most in demand. Consider the archetypal nerdy engineer, without his creativity, there would be no rides at any amusement park. If scientist George Washington Carver had not decided to put his creative force to work, there would be no peanut butter. A situation too sad to even contemplate.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

My Inspiring Grandmother

I'm developing a workshop for some of my students entitled (tentatively), Smart Divas' Guide to Life. It's dedicated to my grandmother, who celebrated her 90th birthday this past Christmas.

One Friday afternoon on a dreary February day of this year, I called her just to check in. I could tell she wasn't as chatty as usual, so I asked if anything was wrong. She told me she was just busy- she was having 30 people over for a sit-down dinner that evening. When I expressed surprise at her having so many people over, she assured me that it wasn't that big of a deal because the guests were bringing the food. She only had to set up place settings, centerpieces, get the house clean, prepare drinks, coffee, and clean up. It was a wonderful opportunity for her to use her fine china and crystal. Not a big deal.

About a month later, some 10 days ago, I called her again and asked how her dinner for 30 guests had gone. She replied, "You mean the dinner party for 35?" It was lovely, the table decorations were fine - she used sunflowers. When was the last time you had 35 people in your home for dinner?!? She inspires me.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

You and Your Story

James Carey is one of my favorite communication scholars. He is now the head of the esteemed Columbia School of Journalism, but he does not fear going against the grain of the Academy. He insists, and I agree, that communication is not just a mechanical transmission of message from sender to receiver, but also it is generative. Words have power, and can be used to build up, put down, unite, or leave out.

He uses the metaphor of the story in various contexts, for example, he sees journalism as storytelling. Our stories are also ourselves. We tell a story of our life in a given way until a crisis occurs (sickness, graduation, marriage, divorce, children, inheritance...), and that event renders the story useless. The old story no longer makes as much sense, and we have to figure out how to make adjustments so that it resonates properly once more. This process happens at the level of a nation, an interest group, and of course an individual.

Yesterday's post deals with some of the characters in our story, the characters within the main character. Caroline and I exchanged some thoughts on whether the characters actually change in response to life's events, and then become new and different characters. While all characters change at some level, certainly the physical aspect changes, there has to be an unchanging essence to the person as well. Some people say that a person's essence is most clearly evident at age nine.

While we can't control all the events in our life story, we probably have more control than is often thought. We can change the way certain characters respond to events; we can make them look for the lessons to be learned, and become stronger. Think of yourself as the writer of your own story, a contributing writer of the epic, My Life, the Great Adventure.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Characters Within You

This post is adapted from an exercise in The Vein of Gold: A Journey to Your Creative Heart, by Julia Cameron, and was recommended on Christine Kane's blog. It's worth hundreds of dollars in psychotherapy, so read carefully. It explains a lot about yourself.

She calls these personae "Secret Selves". I don't really think of them as secret, but in a way they hide from your conscious thinking. These are characters within yourself, "Each of these historical selves forms the root system for your adult Secret Selves". To illustrate, she points out her inner Mother Abbess, the product of many years of Catholic schooling. Mother Abbess has many firm opinions about what is proper and appropriate, and what is not. She dresses in traditional nun garb, and encourages all to live a life of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

Competing for Ms. Cameron's attention is Bon Bon, another Secret Self. Bon Bon is blonde, drives a vintage convertible and wears red lacy underthings. When Bon Bon is in charge, life is fun and frivolous, under Mother Abbess, Ms. Cameron writes, teaches, and does service work. Between the two of them, she manages a life that is both festive and productive. In this exercise name and describe 5 of your own Secret Selves.

Here are mine:

1. Bossy Lucy: The is the extroverted ueber-organizer who works with flair and wears red dresses. She gets things done on time and under budget.

2. Southern Belle: She is full of charm and makes people laugh. She wears summery dresses and high-heeled sandals. She delights in entertaining folks in her home.

3. The Intellectual: An introvert who loves to read and write. She wants to contribute to her own never-ending learning, and that of others. Looks preppy and blossoms in the classroom.

4. Mother Earth: She would like to have 10 children. She relishes the maternal role, tries to nourish the unlimited potential in her children. She wears jeans, t-shirts, and flip flops.

5. Boho Artiste: Looks as hip as possible. She thinks about color, listens to music. Fascinated by visual symbols. Her life style is down to earth, organic, and perhaps unconventional. She plans to move to of these days.

See how this explains our complex and wonder-filled personalities. You can understand better why we really don't know how to accurately answer all those surveys that are supposed to put us in a marketing cubby hole. Each of the Secret Selves contributes to your rich, productive, and creative life. All need a voice at times, plus tender loving care.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter. Celebrate Miracles.

Good morning, family,
This is God.
I will be handling
All of your
Problems today.
I will not need
Your help, so have
A miraculous day!

I found this wonderful prayer in The Power of Intention (2004) by Wayne Dyer. I took this picture in Venezuela. The area has a wonderful name: Chichirivichi. I think that's how you spell it!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

How We Impact never know

"Help heal society's brokenness by using your artistry. Living on the creative edge means daring every day to dream of a world beyond the socially constructed barriers that imprison and divide us." -- Danny Glover

A few years ago I wrote a paper on the the movie, 13 Conversations About One Thing (2001). This movie was written by two sisters, Karen and Jill Sprecher, whose last name appropriately means "speaker" in German. Hmmmm..... It's a wonderful movie about how decisions, attitudes, and actions, affect others in ways we never know. The movie focuses on minor and major events in the lives of four different people. These events, in turn, affect other characters, in some cases profoundly, without each other knowing why or how.

That's also Mr. Glover's message in the above quote. By working creatively, we can actually make the world a better place, even if we don't always perceive the effects of what we do.

We can't go around worrying about the potential consequences of our daily minor decisions. It doesn't seem a consequential matter whether we eat Twinkies or home-made granola for breakfast. But actually even that apparently trivial decision will affect others, like when your blood sugar plummets after eating less-than-ideal breakfast foods, and you get grumpy. Believe me, other people notice.

Just one more reason to create, to imagine, to explore, to write. You may help someone besides yourself.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Care for Your Imagination

"I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world." -- Albert Einstein

Don't take it from me, Einstein valued imagination more than knowledge. This purpose of this post is to encourage you to take tender loving care of your own imagination. What you appreciate, will appreciate (as in its value!)

Think about this. Everything around us was first an idea. Take the shirt you have on, well, let's take the shirt I have on. More than 10 years ago, someone who works for Izod envisioned a line of long-sleeved cotton t-shirts. And this person particularly pictured one in black. And I'm wearing it and enjoying it today.

Even the food you eat was grown and processed a certain way because of some farmers imagined a non-existent harvest first. Everything used to be grown organically and no one ever gave it a second thought. I don't think the Pilgrims said to each other, "Hey, let's move to that colony -- so we can grow everything organically!" Today we value this mode of production so much that we pay a premium for "organic" produce. Imagination precedes creation, and re-creation.

A certain confidence is required to imagine that things could be different, or imagine things that don't yet exist. To flourish, your imagination needs intentional support from you, protection from danger, nourishment, and rest. Maybe your imagination needs a break from electronic media. Feed it some poetry and gardening. Imagine the possibilities.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

5 Ways to Learn New Words

Managing more words reveals new layers of meaning in your life. Not only do you understand more of what's going on around you, it's easier to express yourself clearly and in the right number of words. (Don't get pleonastic!)

Given time and energy constraints, how does one get a handle on new words? The first step is to commit to doing so. Merely having this intention clear in your mind will make you see learning opportunities that were previously invisible to you.

1. My sister recommends They have a veritable surplus of treasures on their site, including new words each day, interesting quotations, hangman, spelling bees, matching games. Visiting this site and subscribing is one way to go. Try to use the new word right away. Write it in an email, or call a friend and make some comment. Say something pithy.

I learned the meaning of the word "phronesis" just before taking my doctoral qualifying exam last October. I used that word in each of the 8 essays I wrote for that test. I was intrigued that none of my professors commented on that flash of "brilliance". Maybe they really didn't read those essays...

2. Another possibility is subscribing to's Word of the Day. They don't email it to you, it shows up on your home page. Use that word as soon as you can. Write it down in your journal. Use it.

3. Yet another option is to buy a page-a-day calendar with new words each day. Print media still works.

4. Read, and look up words you're not sure about. Read, and figure out the meanings of words from the context of the sentence. Reading expands your vocabulary without you're realizing it.

5. Get a doctorate. It's expensive, but you will learn many new words, guaranteed.

Learn new words. Try for at least one a day. Be a maverick!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

4 Reasons to Learn New Words

This post is inspired by my sister, dedicated to my mother, who always told me to look it up in the dictionary, and to Miss Carola, who does the same.

Learning new words has never been easier. Actually learning anything is more accessible than ever before. The critical question then becomes, all other things being equal, what should one learn? If all knowledge can be accessed through Wikipedia, then there is no apparent reason to learn because the answers are just a few clicks away. It may surprise you to know that learning new words can actually enable you achieve your goals faster and more completely, and help you get closer to the good life.

1. A wider vocabulary means faster career advancement. Johnson O'Connor (1891-1975) dedicated his life to understanding human behavior by measuring certain specific aptitudes. he did this through extensive testing and research throughout the United States over a span of more than 50 years. He determined that vocabulary level is the single best indicator of a person's career advancement.

2. Managing more words means people think you are smarter. Dr. O'Connor also found that regardless of a person's pattern of aptitudes and abilities, if the person fails to articulate, that person is likely to be considered less competent than a person who actually knows less (is truly less competent), but expresses himself more clearly and convincingly. Anyone who's worked in Corporate America sees this all the time. For additional examples, see Dilbert.

3. Impress people effortlessly. My sister recently made waves in a big way with one of her clients by telling him how to "eradicate", certain files, rather than using the usual humdrum verb "delete". She also could have used "obliterate, demolish, annihilate", but not "decimate". These more colorful words conjure more exciting images, and make you look better in the process.

4. It's fun to have more words in one's treasure box. It's also amusing, enjoyable, entertaining, pleasurable,cool, exciting, agreeable, gratifying, and pleasing.

Understanding a wider array of words advances your career because you understand more meanings and motives with greater precision. Expressing yourself clearly transmits an image of intelligence that often impresses in a good way. Enjoy the process.

Next post: Learn New Words: The Easy Way

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Communicate to Connect

Actually the title to this article is redundant. The word "communicate" originally meant "to have union with people"; it has the same Latin root as our word "communion". One of my favorite definitions of the word "communicate" (of the almost 400 definitions) is "to share meaning, or to attempt to share meaning", which is essentially connecting with another person.

It's somewhat of an irony that for all our advanced communication technology, what we crave is authentic connection with people. This past Sunday's Parade magazine featured an interview with mega-star Jodie Foster. Her most salient comment was how she deeply desired to connect with people. As do we all.

My grandmother, who is amazingly connected with all sorts of people, instilled in me an important key to getting along with people, to help connect with others. She always told me, and still does, that we should imagine that each person we come in contact with is wearing a sign that says, "Please make me feel important". It is not so much that we want to strut around as VIPs, but we all want to matter to others.

In an extension of this line of thinking, in her book, Happy for No Reason, author Marci Shimoff notes that happy people see the whole world as their family. If you see another as a loved brother, aunt, or godfather, it's easier to look for the good in that person. Having that mindset creates a positive energy that you give off without being conscious of that process. It's also another way of loving our neighbor.

To connect to people, imagine them as members of your big happy family. Remember that they want connection as well. Your communication will adjust accordingly.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Prepare for Your Big Break

In interviews celebrities often refer to some incident, a "big break", that resulted in their getting on the fast track to achievement in their field of choice. Many times the story is told as some form of rescue drama -- the scout, the agent, the producer, the editor -- who spotted their insufficiently polished talent and got their professional lives in motion.

It's a good idea to prepare for that big break of your own. Just remember, you may be 65 years old when it arrives. You need to keep productively busy in the meantime. The valued experience called life is not what happens to you during your sojourn on this planet; the real grit is what you do, the way you react to what happens to you.

I started my first post-MBA job as an assistant to an account executive in the international area of a very large bank (this was after sending out 50 resumes!) However, I disliked intensely, much to my surprise, the rhyme and rhythm of corporate banking. In my process of learning more about the local economy, I ran across an ad for a writing job, one that paid double what I was earning at the bank. Even though I had no professional writing experience or writing courses in college, I got the job; it changed my life. Many years later something similar happened that got me teaching at ECU. I interviewed a professor in the process of writing an article I hoped to sell. At the end of the interview, I got a job offer; it changed my life.

Many, if not most of you, are not exactly sure of what you want to do with your work lives. That's normal. Probably, you do want work that is interesting, somehow fulfilling and allows you financial stability.

Prepare for what you THINK you want to do. On your own. College courses prepare you only imperfectly and inadequately. If you want to write for a living, read and write. Reading trains your subconscious mind for good writing. If you want to pursue writing Southern stories, read Flannery O'Connor. Just pick one of her short stories and read it until you have absorbed it. Reread it from time to time. If you prefer a different writing field, find a top author and read one of his works.

Prepare for your big break by taking action. Whatever you think you want to do, start doing it. Write. Read. Make movies. Take photographs. Paint. Start interviewing. Collect personal stories. Get together with like-minded people. You won't know if you really like something until you do it. In the process, opportunities surface -- otherwise known as "big breaks".

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Be Happy, Eat Dates

This post is inspired by my friend, Ruben. He is the first person I ever knew who ate dates, just like that. He is definitely on to something wonderful.

The relationship between good communication and eating dates (the fruit, not the person), may not be readily apparent to all; it does exist. As my mother would say, "It's delicious, nutritious, and it makes you feel ambitious." In the case of dates, she is correct; it was not true for the protein shakes she used to prepare for us.

According to the California Date Growers' website, aptly named, a date has 23 calories and is rich in potassium, calcium, and anti-oxidants. If you live in the great state of North Carolina, Harris Teeter has organic dates that are almost better than dark chocolate, almost. This is no exaggeration.

Eating dates in their natural state, when you have to spit out the pit, allows you to share an experience with great people like Augustine, Dante, Cicero, Aristotle, and Plato, among others. You are in fabulous company.

Eating dates is healthy. Dates are delicious. Eating delicious, healthy food makes you feel good. Feeling good makes your communication soar with positive energy. Eat dates, be happy.

Here's a recipe for divine date nut bars. They make an exceptionally delicious and decadent breakfast.

Mixonian Date Nut Bars

2 cups, or 1 pound dates (chop with greased knife, burn calories)
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda dissolved in 1/4 cup heated orange juice
1.5 cups sugar, can mix brown and white
1 cup finely chopped nuts: walnuts or pecans
2 sticks unsalted butter
2 large eggs
zest of one orange
1 cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 13 x 9 inch baking pan. Line it with foil, leaving a 2-inch overhang on 2 opposite sides. Butter the foil.

Whisk together flour and salt. Beat together butter and sugar in a bowl until pale and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Add baking soda with o.j. and orange zest. Add the flour mixture, nuts, and dates; mix until just combined.

Spread this thick batter in baking pan and bake until a tester comes out clearn, about 50 minutes to one hour. Cool in pan on a rack 15 minutes. Carefully lift date mixture out of pan using foil overhand and transfer to a cutting board. Cut into squares and toss in confectioners sugar. Place on a rack to cool completely. Enjoy!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Reduce Fear in Communication

Think about these two philosophies of communication. Ancient wise man, Publilius Syrus (catchy name, I know!), wrote: Speech is the mirror of the soul, as a man speaks, so he is. Writing roughly 2,000 years later, James Carey, dean of Columbia University's School of Journalism writes that we create ourselves in conversation. Our communication, writing and speaking, reflect and shape our very selves. It's not something to take lightly.

Everyone experiences fear at some point, more often than we would like. This post can help you become less fearful inside, and therefore communicate more effectively on the outside. Like with all efforts to improve ourselves, or to grow, the first step is to see some aspect of the real problem, in this case, fear.

One main fear is that of rejection. We can get so focused on how we will be perceived that we sometimes choke, or get so nervous that we forget half of what we want to say. Moving that focus to the other person, your audience, can help you not to worry so much. Contrary to what you may assume, most other people are not out to get you; they're far too wrapped up in their own dramas. If you truly feel negative vibes from the other, your audience, it is most likely 1) something totally not related to you or your message, or 2) they may have misunderstood something you said in the past. This is a time for clarification, without defensiveness. (See earlier post on accepting criticism.)If you can remember that the other person has problems and worries that have nothing to do with you, that this person is struggling, you can relax a bit, and gain effectiveness in the process.

You are not going to convince everyone to accept your perspective on things. You may only convince a few people, but that's fine. Some accept, some don't, there are always other people who may have an acute need for your message. Don't let yourself get discouraged by the non job offer, the non sale, the non contribution. Keep it friendly and move on. The outcome is for the best.

Seeing your audience as a person, or group of people who are stressed out, needy, struggling, or otherwise human-in-every-way should help diminish the fear factor in your message. Remember, it's not about you, it's about them. Direct your focus to the other and realize that you're playing a minor role in their masterpiece theater.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Details to Polish Your Communication

The Swiss modernist architect Van der Mies is credited with saying "God is in the details". And Sherlock Holmes remarked, "It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important." Both of these men must be assuming that one has got the basics down, obviously an architect cannot design a sound building without mastering basic construction principles. The details are what transform a decent message into an outstanding one. Here are some tips for polishing that paper or presentation:

1. Have someone else read what you've written. It doesn't have to be a grammar expert, just someone willing to read it rather carefully. Ask for their help to make it better. If there is simply no one to ask, read it yourself one more time, when you think you can't bear to read it again. Try to give yourself some time between readings. However, you really need to find a friend who can help you edit your important messages. If it's not written, ask someone to listen to your presentation. That's what friends are for.

2. When you think you're finished, consider add 10% more effort to the project. Ask yourself what can make it better, in any aspect. Can you add another example? Can you look up one more source, add a quote, insert a visual element?

3. Ask yourself what can make your message more visually compelling - whether it's on paper or it's an oral presentation. See if you can find nice paper on which to type your paper. Maybe inserting tasteful clip art can help. Don't go crazy with the fonts- stick to a basic one and add visual interest in a different way. If you are the medium for your message, check out what you'll be wearing. Scrutinize your visual aid to see if you can make it more compelling, more concrete.

The fundamental idea is to put in a little more effort in the end. That's easier to do when you don't wait until the last minute to start. Give it a rest and ask yourself what is the one more thing you can do to make it even better!

Monday, March 10, 2008

2 Ways to Know if Criticism Is Legitimate

Well, I think we can all agree that it's not fun to be criticized. Yet we need it, at times. Without it, there's no growth. Sometimes we get so surprised by a negative reaction; we question whether the critical comments are actually valid. I found this germane advice from Cathie Black, president of Hearst Magazines, in her book, Basic Black: The Essential Guide for Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life). She suggests asking yourself the following two questions when you have doubts about negative comments you hear:

1. Could I trust that he was acting in good faith and not on some ulterior motive just to bring me down a notch? In other words, why is this person making this comment? Is there a benefit for this person in this message?

2. Did he have some knowledge of this particular situation that I didn't? Is is possible that this person knows something that I don't?

If you can trust the person in good faith, and it's highly possible that s/he has access to information that you don't, then embrace the criticism and move on. You may doubt the validity of the comments if you question the motives involved, but be aware that there still may be a kernel of help in those comments.

Fear not the criticism. If the shoe doesn't fit at all, don't wear it. There may be tremendous opportunity for learning in the situation.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

4 Ways to Communicate Better with Difficult People

It's not that communicating with difficult people drains energy, but we can allow even thinking that we will have to deal with a certain dreaded person to make us lose steam. Dealing with the dread of interacting with people we believe to be difficult is a proactive way we can retain our energy to invest in more interesting projects. Fear is the underlying issue; address it.

1) We are all difficult people at one time or another. The first step in dealing with, or communicating with difficult people is to realize that there is at least one person, and maybe more than one, who considers you a difficult person. Yes, little, lovable, wouldn't-hurt-a-fly you. As my sister put it, everybody is picky about something. It may be that your boyfriend's sister eats only vegan, it's impossible to cook for her. But people who smell like cigarettes drive you nuts....smokers (and yes, they are people, too) may consider you difficult to deal with.

2) Be a good finder. Keeping in mind that someone may actually consider you as a difficult person can free you to see the situation from a broader perspective. Remember how terribly awful you thought your brother, or sister to be in certain situations when you were young. It's kind of the same situation, all over again. Look for the good in that difficult person. Every single person has positive qualities; some people are better at hiding those good aspects below a gruff surface. Make it your mission to unearth the good side.

3) Everyone knows something you need to know. This step should motivate you to work harder at #2. Everyone has the capability of helping you in some way or another; that help may not be evident to either one. Think of a time when in talking to someone, a fresh idea or perspective emerged from the conversation. Or how you found out the name of someone you needed to contact. That's how detectives solve their mysteries. No one ever told Sherlock Holmes the right clue intentionally -- he deducted the value in information that was available, or he asked the right questions. Even the fact that you consider a specific person difficult can help you discern your own personality quirks. Why do you consider this person difficult in the first place?

4) Take responsibility for your own role in the conflictive situation. You didn't do it on purpose. If you had known better, you would have handled the person in a more careful manner. Most likely this other person is not being difficult to you on purpose (although it is possible that s/he is). Mayben you were not clear yourself at some point in the conflict. The point is not to beat up yourself for not being perfect, the point is to realize that everyone has his own drama on stage. The mere owning up to a minor role of responsibility will change the tenor of the relationship context, and communication with this person will improve.

From time to time, everyone plays the role of the witch, the dysfunctional, the hysterical, the overly sensitive, the angry person. Look for the good in your "adversary" and actively investigate this person for information that can help you. Assume more responsibility for turning this relationship around, and communication can only get better!

Friday, March 7, 2008

6 Ways to Communicate Better - no matter what!

We all have more formats, media, opportunities for communication than ever. We also have more ways to mess up relationships than ever before. And we're managing more relationships that are not all as strong as you think. Your parents will love you no matter what; your boss will not, your significant other may not. In any case, principles for effective communication in our ueber-cluttered environment are the same.

1. The most important perspective on ALL communication: it's not about you. It's about the other person, your audience, be it teacher, boss, friend, parent, other. This post is for current and former communication/English students, whether students in the official sense, or those in the life-long learning mode. Put yourself in the person's flipflops. What is this other person, your audience, looking for, or afraid of? Fear is often a hidden element in our relationships, and therefore in our communication.

2. Focus on your core message. If you want you audience to remember only one thing, for example, that you need more money, that's your core message. Everything centers around a core message. Incidentally, if your core message is about money, and your audience is your boss, then the operating verb is "deserve", not "need". When dealing with parents and money, better not to insist on what you deserve. See tip #1.

3. Think of three reasons why your audience should accept your core message. Maybe you have only one reason, or five. People can generally listen, or take in up to 3 reasons. Keep these simple and to the point. Better communication helps you experience richer relationships, smoother transactions, and more satisfaction with yourself.

4. Make sure your core message is abundantly clear and simple. If you're writing it, try to delete as many unnecessary words as you can. In many cases fear of rejection (of our core message) makes us beat around the bush and obfuscate. Be bold. Be clear. Remember #1. Better communication gets you closer to the good life.

5. Consider what is the benefit for your audience/boss/parent/significant other for accepting your core message. WIIFT. What's in it for them? This is another way of putting into operation #1. This can help you develop #3. Better communication gets you closer to the good life.

6. If you want a specific action to take place, spell it out. Make no assumptions. If you do not have a specific response in mind, then what is your core message about? In your messages that go beyond, "pass the salt", "the meeting was moved up to Thursday", focus on your core message and what's in it for you key audience.

Think about it. Your core message helps your audience in what way. Connect the dots for them. Elucidate!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Checklist for High Impact at a Meeting

I ran across a student today who told me about an upcoming performance review meeting she was about to have at the business where she was an intern. I thought this checklist would be helpful to those who have upcoming job interviews, performance reviews, important client meetings, or any encounter where you really want to make a great impression. Once you get your foot in the door, this can take you to "open sesame".

Checklist for High Impact at Meetings

1. ___ Dressed for the occasion.

2. ___ Paper/notebook and pen for taking notes. (Some executives look for this!)

3. ___ Three things I do quite well. (You can write it down, see #2.)

4. ___ A concrete example of one of the above, or two or three.

5. ___ Three questions about the company/client/situation/whatever, (can write, see #2.)

6. ___ A book I recommend, even if I haven't read it, I just heard great things about it.

7. ___ A professional handout on my ideas and suggestions for the situation.

8. ___ Something funny or particularly pertinent to share with the others at the meeting.

9. ___ My homework. That means prior research, perhaps an assignment.

10. ___ A big smile.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Succeed through Focus

I did something with my speech students last semester that I know many found helpful. I thought it was an original idea, but I've seen it recommended in two other places this week. One was Christine Kane's blog and I don't remember the other. The fundamental concept is to get what you want, you need to focus.

Now, before I continue, it must be clear that before you can focus, you need to know what your goals are, what is it you want to accomplish today, this week, this year, this decade. You don't need to know every single thing you want to do in this life - and your objectives can and will change, but you can't focus if you have no clue what you want, or what you don't want. So, I am assuming that you have written down somewhere, some things you want to do. Some examples could be getting a new job, finding a new friend/client, making more money, starting a new charity, giving a party, writing a paper, getting a certain grade, meeting a certain person, and so forth.

Many of you can relate to this situation - I know what I want to do, I get busy with one of my numerous projects, and then the distractions appear. I decide to check email, just one more time. I go check to see if there's milk for breakfast tomorrow, someone calls, I remember something else I was supposed to do, and then it's time to be somewhere. This is a perfectly normal life, but it is certainly possible to get more productive through a renewed focus.

Think about this. I learned at a presentation for parents of young violin students that a violinist has to manage about 57 different aspects of playing at the same time: posture, bow hold, intonation, bowing, reading the music, pressure of the bow, placement of the fingers, pressure of the fingers, and so on. So, how does a teacher help the young student improve, without totally demolishing his motivation by pointing out the dozens of defects. The answer is by focusing on one thing at a time.

After hearing my students' first speeches, I saw and hear many mistakes of different kinds: organization, lack of enthusiasm, poor visual aids, unclear pronunciation, boring details, lack of credible sources, insufficient clarity, unprofessional dress, and so forth. While I had to point out several of these in order to give them grades, afterwards I wrote on an index card one single word. But it was a different word for each student: organize, visualize, enthusiasm, structure, credibility. And by the second speech, the students not only improved on the quality I had written on their cards, there were substantial improvements in many other areas. But focusing on one single aspect gives us something concrete we can work on, without feeling overwhelmed.

Multitasking is a trap. While one can do laundry while cooking dinner, the mind can only concentrate on one thing at a time. What is the single thing that can help you get more done in the day? Is it to organize your papers? Be more brief on the telephone? Bring your lunch to work?Exercise? Invest?

This involves some thinking; that's good for you. What is the one thing you can focus on that will have a multiplier effect on several areas of your life? Write it down on an index card - make it attractive. You may want to make several of these and post them in different places. In a month, you can evaluate whether to keep working with this word, or change to another.