Tag Archives: Practice Makes Perfect

Precise, Positive, and Professional

What we say matters. How we say it matters even more. Especially in an email, when people cannot read our tone of voice or see the emotions on our face, we need to be sure that we communicate a precise message with a positive tone. Otherwise we open the door for confusion and a negative reaction.

Here is an example for us to study. It is a mass email recently sent from the marketing department of an online retailer.

Dear Customer:

I want to thank you for being a loyal customer. I truly value your business and noticed that you are not receiving emails about promotions and specials that are available to you in addition to the special pricing you receive from us.

After looking into this, I believe this was an error. You can update your preferences by clicking below.

Please see below for an example of a promotion and offer you are missing out on. Regardless of your response, please accept this offer as a token of our appreciation for letting us serve you. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me at the number below.

Again, thank you for your business and I am available to help you anytime you need me.

Best regards,
Your Sales Rep

(The special offer below was a coupon for $20 off the next order.)

The obvious goal is to have customers opt in for email specials and notifications in order to increase savings (and spending). That is a great goal, but let’s examine this from a marketing perspective and see if the message intended was the message received. What were the customer’s perceptions? (Keep in mind that this is not just an academic exercise but is based on actual responses from customers who received this email).

1. There is something wrong with our account.

The customer was told that they were not getting promotions and specials and that “this was an error.” When a customer hears the word “error” the natural assumption is, “You are the experts when it comes to my account with you. If there was a mistake, you messed up my account and as a result I am paying too much for what I buy from you.”

Suddenly they feel cheated and overcharged. That is not what was said, but what they heard. This reaction happens is response to a negative statement. Even if something is wrong and needs to be corrected, there is a positive way to communicate that message. This email could just have easily have stated:

“As a valued customer, we want to assure you that we are working diligently on your behalf to save you time and money. One of the best ways we can help save you even more is by making sure that you are receiving email offers and promotions above and beyond the special pricing you already receive as our customer.”

This is a positive message about an added value. It builds on the relationship. It cements the fact that this business relationship is a collaboration and works for their benefit. This kind of positive message will generate a response, not a reaction. A reaction is most often negative and emotionally charged. And when someone complains about others making a mistake that is not good advertising.

2. We are not getting the best deal possible.

Customers were notified that they were not receiving promotional emails. This aroused suspicion which was compounded when they read, “see below for an example of a promotion and offer you are missing out on.” Again, this is a negative message that made them wonder what else they are missing.

When a seed of doubt is planted in a customer’s mind they are motivated to investigate other, better options, i.e. the competition. Maybe they can get better pricing from that salesman that called them and told them they were being over charged by their current vendor. This gives legs to lingering doubts.

3. We get a consolation prize for your mistake.

Finally, a “token” is offered even though it is something that they should already be receiving. A token is an apology or a consolation prize. It is like saying, “We are glad you are buying from us but sorry things are messed up and you aren’t getting the best deal. We will fix it, and to show you how serious we are, here’s $20.”

Again, focusing on a precise and positive way to communicate, this could just as easily have been stated, “Here is a current offer we wanted to pass along to help save you more on your next purchase.”

Conclusion

These points do not even take into consideration the poor grammar in the note. The messages we send others need to be precise, positive and professional. Grammatically incorrect messages not only serve to make us look unprofessional, they are unprofessional.

Working hard to build a strong relationship with customers can be wasted effort if the relationship is undermined by fear, confusion, or doubt raised by a badly communicated message. Some people say we need to work smarter not harder, but we need to work smarter and harder. Hopefully a little critical thinking and concentrated effort can help us continue to improve our communication skills and see greater success as a result.

We have to remember that we all communicate differently. That means we cannot assume that anyone else knows exactly what we are saying. Next time we have a failure to communicate, let’s keep two questions in mind, “Can you hear me now?”, and “Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?” When we get the answers, we have bridged the failure to communicate and are actually participating in a two-way conversation.

Now go talk among yourselves.

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Old Dogs – New Tricks

“Example isn’t another way to teach, it is the only way to teach.” – Chares Dickinson

It’s September already. Fall is on the way. Here in Texas high temps have fallen into the mid 90s! Football season has started, and school is back in session. Fall is a season of distinct sounds, or a lack thereof. Quiet in the neighborhood where kids had been playing all summer, gunshots from hunters in the distance, high school football teams and bands practicing.

The end of summer and the beginning of a new school year brings with it a flood of memories and emotions. At times we long for simpler days and wish we were young and back in school. Some of us are old and have gone back to school! What we have learned in the world of the workplace is that whether or not school is in session we are always learning.

With school starting it is hard to miss the fact that technology is evolving. The tools that kids need for school these days are substantially different that the Number 2 pencils and Big Chief Pads we started with (or the chisels and stone tablets for some among us). Today we have phones that have more computing power than was in the Lunar Module. Computers come in all shapes and sizes. And where we passed notes, now kids send text messages in a language most adults cannot comprehend.

Technology in the workplace changes even more rapidly it seems, with new gadgets, programs, and upgrades every week. So not only are we always learning about the business, our products, and our customers. We are also learning to adapt and use new technology to do our jobs.

When it comes to learning we all know the saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Those of us who have worked for any length of time in the real world know that this statement is false. It may take a little more time and effort, but old dogs can indeed be taught new tricks. Just think about the way business was done when we started in our job and look at how things have changed. Most of us manage to at least keep up.

Along with technology we see the job markets, economy, and even our customer base changing. How do we learn to adapt in changing times? How do we learn new tricks amidst difficulty and stress? To teach old dogs new tricks we have to use the right TOOLS. What are these TOOLS?

T stands for Tone – whether teaching or being taught it is important to have a positive tone. This really is a key to learning because we know that effective communication is more than saying the right words in the right order. Tone of voice indicates attitude and emotion, and a positive outlook goes a long way to helping people hear what we are saying.

OO stands for Over and Over – a positive outlook is followed closely in importance by repetition. In order to catch on quickly and learn new things we need to do it over and over. Notice, it is important not just to hear what to do, but to actually do it. Doing something is the fastest way to learn. Hands-on experience has been proven to re-wire how our brain works when it comes to learning new tasks. Old dogs tend to shy away from new tricks, or assign them to younger pups. Instead we need to take on new tasks with enthusiasm.

L stands for Listen – often it is difficult for older dogs to listen to those who are younger. At times this is based on a lack of respect. It may also be the difference in experience. While experience does help us in our outlook and expectations, we need to give those younger than us an opportunity to teach us what they know. Face it, they have grown up on new technology. We may have finally figured out how to set the clock on the VCR, but that is just to make it stop blinking, we have not used it since we started using DVDs. Kids entering the workforce today are several generations ahead technologically. They do lack experience, and wisdom, but that gives us an opportunity to teach each other.

S stands for Success – we need to celebrate success, no matter how small! As we set a positive tone in the workplace, do things over and over for consistency, listen and learn from others, we also need to take note of our successes. Even when it is a small achievement, it is still an achievement. Often times we put such an emphasis on getting it right and learning new things quickly that we disregard the small victories and are not satisfied until we have a major breakthrough. We need to remember that a large breakthrough is nothing more than a series of small successes added together.

With the right tools, proper motivation, positive reinforcement, on the job experience, and respect for others, we as old dogs can be taught many amazing new tricks of the trade. In fact, if we don’t we will not find success. Success in business requires the ability to learn. To learn is to grow. We need to be growing, or getting out of the way.

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Never Too Old to Learn

“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” – Mark Twain

We are living in the Information Age. Technologies abound giving us more information than we can process. Flipping through cable news stations we see talking heads in high definition, a news scroll at the bottom of the page, interactive stories with flashing graphics in the side bar on each side, links for websites and other features, along with immediate breaking news alerts every few minutes about world shattering events like a certain “celebrity” getting pulled over by the police on her way to a club a few minutes after leaving a rehab facility after she was released from prison for her probation violation with drugs and alcohol. We might not have made it through the day without that story! (And you probably know who I am talking about.)

Information is everywhere. If someone has a question, we can “Google it.” Fifteen years ago no one even knew what a google was, now it is a company that runs a search engine, and it is a verb. Dumb people with smart phones can be an instant expert on any subject. I’m surprised that we have not found a cure for cancer on the internet yet. Everything else is posted there. But regurgitating information does not mean that we know anything. It just means we can repeat what we hear. Just like a parrot.

We need to be reminded that information is not the same as education. Neither is schooling for that matter. We can get an education at home, at school, at work, or anywhere we are willing to invest the time and energy into learning. Information is just facts. Just because we go to school doesn’t mean we learn anything.

Face it, reading something on the internet doesn’t mean it is true. Otherwise I would already be a millionaire from the widow with cancer in Nigeria whose government official husband died and told her to send 30 million dollars to someone they found an email address for through a random internet search before she dies too. Come to think of it, that widow never emailed me back after I sent her my bank information.

Perhaps we need to rename this age. It is not so much the Information Age as it is the Information Overload Age. We are stressing ourselves out by trying to keep up with all the news. We are becoming more afraid as every day we hear on the news about some new disease (bird flu, pig flu, Obama flu) that is going to wipe up off the face of the earth. And we are becoming more angry as we seem to be losing our ability to change our circumstances. We are beginning to believe that we are victims of our circumstances instead of the old American conviction that used to instill in us as a people that we can succeed no matter the odds. We will find a way.

We fall into error when we believe that because we know a fact we possess the truth. Knowing facts is not the same thing as being educated. A true education reveals itself in our ability to take facts and apply them to make a difference in who we are and what we do.

I don’t mean to knock school or the ability to recall facts. These things are useful when we are diligent to apply ourselves. But a real education can be had anywhere we are, no matter how long ago we were in school. And real education involves common sense – learning not just what, but why, and how, and when. Common sense is uncommon today. As the adage goes, a person may be smart but people are stupid. Without common sense we may all know the answer to a question but at the same time all fail to be able to apply it in a meaningful way.

Some would say that common sense is second nature and we have it or we don’t. But if that is true, then we really have no hope and should just pack up and wait for the flu pandemic, asteroid, or government to kill us all.

Common sense can be learned. It starts with imitation, not information. Sometimes we forget how simple it can be to learn new things. And the quickest way to learn is to imitate our teachers.

Often we expect others to learn by reading, or watching a training video, or attending a webinar. But the fastest way to learn anything is to do it. That is why so many trades have apprentices. When I say “the apprentice” today most people think of a TV show, but master craftsmen used to take on younger apprentices in order to teach them a trade. The apprentice was the gopher (go for this, get me that), the helper, the janitor, and whatever else he needed to be in order to help (and learn from) the master.

Imitation is not just a form of flattery. It is a good way to learn new things. Today, let’s look around us and see who has common sense, is calm in the midst of the storm, and deals well with stress. Then do what they do. We will learn quickly that if we do something over and over it becomes a habit. It changes the way we think and the way we approach problems. In fact, imitating good examples is perhaps the best education. Now that is some useful information.

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Are We There Yet?

Successfully Navigating around Sources of Conflict

Everyday we face the possibility of conflict (even if we don’t get out of bed). Some people just wake up on the wrong side of the bed and are in a bad mood. Others search for conflict and do all that they can to keep the people around them stirred up. Sometimes the cause is impatience, a misunderstanding, a mistake, or perhaps a genuine disagreement that gets handled poorly. Whatever the cause, whenever we interact with other people there is always the potential for conflict.

Many of us dread conflict and seek to avoid it at all costs. Some go so far as being willing to take the blame for something they did not do if they think it means that there will be an end to the confrontation. There are also those around us in the work place that fight dirty. When it comes to conflict, even about business matters, they make it personal and they attack with their words and actions. Some conflict is resolved, some averted, and some just seems to never end.

Conflict and confrontations are part of life because none of us is perfect. None of us, contrary to what some may believe, have all the answers and no one is really always right. When we disagree, when there are differences, or when there are problems it is part of our nature to react defensively. That means that our first initial “gut reaction” is fight or flight. We either prepare mentally and emotionally to fight, or we look for an escape route, some way to get out of the confrontation as quickly as possible.

There have been volumes of books written about conflict resolution. In fact, we can even go to school and get a degree in the subject. But with all that the experts have to say about it, why do we still face the potential for conflict on a daily basis? Because while it is easy to write about dealing with conflict, it is an entirely different matter once the conflict has begun and we are knee deep into it. We can think about conflict logically, but most conflict finds us entangled in emotions. It is how we feel that usually determines how we react.

Beside that, in the midst of conflict no one takes the time to read the books on conflict resolution. If we are not prepared beforehand then we will not be able to think rationally once the battle begins. So what can we do beforehand to help prepare ourselves mentally and emotionally to deal with conflicts that may arise. I understand that the very thought of dealing with conflict may make us want to run and hide, or call in sick, but if we are not thinking about it before things get rolling, then it will certainly just roll over us.

When conflicts arise we do not need a Tom-Tom or Garmin to tell us where we took a wrong turn. Every conflict, no matter how small or how large, can be traced back to one of three root problems: Greed, Pride, or Selfishness. That is the GPS we need to check to get things back on track or to prevent getting “lost” in the first place.

Think about it. Every conflict can be boiled down to these lowest common denominators. It is either greed – wanting something that is not ours or wanting more than what we have; pride – thinking we are right, we are better than we are, better than others, or that we deserve something that we did not get; or selfishness – putting our wants and needs above those of others. If we think about things that have caused recent conflicts in our lives we can follow it back and arrive at one of these three root problems every time.

In order to deal with conflict, or better yet, in order to be prepared to handle conflict and resolve problems with others, we need to take our eyes off of ourselves. It is a usually a self centered emotionally irrational reaction that escalates conflict. To help us figure this out, we need to think in terms of the lessons we can learn from the martial art of judo. Not that we give someone a judo chop when they start to pick a fight. NO! Seriously, judo is the art of using an opponent’s weight and momentum against them, it is using redirection and superior leverage to allow others to defeat themselves.

Think about it this way. When someone is determined to start a conflict or have a confrontation we will probably not be able to stop them. But we can be in complete control of how we respond. We can deflect their attack, diffuse their emotions, and even distract them from their objective, if we are ready before the battle begins. It is not about out-fighting them, it is about out-thinking them.

The single most freeing fact when it comes to dealing with conflict is the realization that we are not responsible for how others act. We are responsible for ourselves and how we act. When we take on responsibility that is not ours we will end up in a fight before it is all over. But when we take the responsibility for our own actions (and even thoughts), then we can think rationally about how to respond to conflict before it ever begins.

We may still be involved in conflicts, but if we focus on ourselves and our responsibility instead of on others, we have already won. A mature and thoughtful person who is committed to doing what they know is right no matter what anyone else around them does will not need to decide whether to resort to fight or flight. They will be prepared to stand their ground, to stand alone if necessary, and to stand above the fray. A wise man once wrote, “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” It may not always be possible, but if we are prepared, we will overcome, no matter what conflict comes our way.

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Attitudinarianism

Attitude: A state of mind or feeling; Originally a technical term in art for the posture of a figure in a statue or painting; later generalized to “a posture of the body supposed to imply some mental state.” – Online Etymology Dictionary

The word attitude originally referred to ones physical posture and evolved to describe the state of mind that is indicated by our stance, or our body language. Today the term usually refers to either our state of mind (how we think and feel) or our being uncooperative (coping an attitude). What is now descriptive of that which is mental once was describing the physical. Interestingly we miss the fact that what we think and feel is most often communicated through body language rather than through words.

We have learned to manipulate our speech. We can smile and say nice things while at the same time mentally rolling our eyes and thinking horrid thoughts. However, little things from the tone of our voice to the stance we take when talking to someone tell much more about how we really feel than we would care to admit.

When we think about ways in which we communicate our attitude we think in terms of the words we use or the emotions we feel. The things going on in our own minds while the everyday world goes on around us are not as hidden as we might hope. That is because experts tell us that communication is much more than the words we choose to speak. They say communication is only 7 % verbal. Another 30% is carried in our tone of voice. The majority, over 60% of what we communicate, is non-verbal.

Non-verbal communication includes things like body language, facial expressions, emotions, enthusiasm (or the lack thereof), and eye contact. In this regard, most all of us are bi-lingual. Our mouths and our bodies are speaking different languages. To the observant listener, our words may convey the message we intend to share, but if our body is speaking a different language then that will influence how people hear us.

Here we see why attitude is so important. Our mental outlook, our opinion, or the way we feel about things will influence the tone of our voice and our body language. Non-verbal cues will reveal what we really think. When we communicate with others, people usually do not have a problem hearing us, but they may have a hard time listening to us. Our voice hits their eardrum and they hear the sound we are making, but other cues we send may make it difficult for them to listen objectively to what we are saying.

What makes the difference? Some people just need to learn how to listen, but usually the problem is found in our double speak. We say one thing with our mouth and another with the rest of our body. We realize then that what we say is not nearly as important as how we say it. And we find that our attitude is really foundational to the way we communicate. What we think and how we feel will influence how we say things.

That presents a challenge, doesn’t it? If our attitude is affecting the way we communicate in a negative manner then we have to do something about it. Unfortunately, most of us have learned how to try and hide our attitude behind a façade. We put on a mask, hoping that people will not see the truth that is hiding behind the fake smile or look of interest. This play acting lies at the root of a word we do not use very often. The word “hypocrite” refers originally to a stage actor wearing a disguise to hide his true identity. He poses as something he is not. As the word came into familiar usage it began to describe those who attempt to hide who they really are or who play a part instead of being real.

Everyone claims that they hate hypocrites, but before we denounce them too harshly let us pause and think. When it comes to our attitudes most of us have played the part of a hypocrite at one time or another. Let us not protest too loudly the thing that we sometimes are.

When we have a bad attitude we do have another choice. It is a bit more radical. It is the choice to change our attitude! We need to learn to quit trying to hide who we are and what we think. If what we think is neither appropriate nor conducive to keeping the lines of communication open then we need to change the way we think.

Is it that easy? Well, no. In order to change what we think and feel we need to learn that practice makes perfect. We need to practice having a good attitude. When we make a conscious decision to change the way we think, our minds and emotions follow our will. Sometimes we are not as strong willed as we need to be, but if we work at it, we can learn to change the way we think.

Remember that the term attitude initially referred to physical stance? If we modify our body language and work on our non-verbal cues we discover that our minds will follow our bodies. How we act influences the way we feel and think. If we act like we have a good attitude we will begin to feel like we have a good attitude. Try it. It’s absolutely true. Act like you are happy. Go ahead. Smile! Feel it? Smile long enough and before we know it we will start to feel happy. Fascinating, isn’t it?

Now then, what is the difference between practicing our attitude and faking it? One is positive and the other negative. When we are being hypocritical we know what we are doing. We know that we are trying to mask our negative attitude. When we practice, we are thinking that we need to make a positive change in our attitude. We recognize the need we have to modify the way we think. And there is a world of difference between a fake attempt to deceive others and a decision to better who we are and how we think.

At first, we need to understand that our minds, mouths, and bodies may still be speaking different languages, but with practice we find that our attitude does change. Our thoughts and feelings will fall into line with our objective of having a better attitude. Think about it this way. If we tell ourselves that we have a good attitude, eventually we will.

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