Archive for September, 2012

Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Eliminating Sexual Barriers and Harassment in Business

By William Farmer

As technology and communication within the business world continue to grow, businesses still struggle with a simple, yet essential, concept: equality. Even multibillion dollar corporations are working to break gender stereotypes and allow women the same opportunities afforded to men. Gender discrimination and sexual harassment are still tragically common within the business world. These problems could be easily fixed; however, transitioning to universal equality is an undesirably slow process.

Sexual Harassment in Business

The Issue

Last year alone, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission documented over 11,000 sexual harassment cases. Men filed only 16.3% of last year’s cases. While the number of cases has slowly dwindled over the years, sexual harassment in the workplace is still extremely prevalent and still just as demeaning for the majority of women who bear the brunt of such antagonism. Sexual harassment has many negative side effects ranging from depression to gastrointestinal disorders (http://www.workharassment.net). Needless to say, such a debilitating problem is responsible for decreased productivity among workers, heightened senses of distrust, and the alienation of coworkers.  But why is such a primitive and unprofessional behavior still seen among business professionals throughout the United States and what moves some individuals to mix sexually inappropriate words and body language with business?

The Psychology

The Western Cape Government blames sexual harassment on a few, defined elements that point to some of the testosterone-driven sources behind degradation in the workplace.

  • Socialization—Both women and men raised in atmospheres that promote gender stereotypes are more likely to believe that men are sexually dominant and women should be silently compliant. These ideologies are what allow sexual advances and inappropriate comments to go unnoticed.
  • Power games—Many men find the general growth of women in the workplace not only disconcerting but also threatening. Sexual harassment can be a way for men to reassert their dominance and feel falsely secure.
  • Moral/marital status—Because our society is so divorce-prone, men and women in business are likely to experience divorce or infidelity. Such practices often skew moral compasses, and a person who might not normally receive sexual harassment could become a target.
  • Aggressiveness— While a man individually may be innocuous and friendly, group mentalities (often prompted by a high concentration of males) increase a man’s likelihood to act aggressively toward female coworkers.

The Solution

No set solution for dealing with sexually-charged language in the business environment exists, but both men and women can follow a few important guidelines in order to avoid these situations.

  • Exude Confidence—Expressions of confidence in the workplace are highly important. Standing up for your own rights or alerting management about a problem are both effective ways of eluding potential harassers. Predatory individuals in the office (just as in nature) are much more likely to find weak prey that won’t put up a fight.
  • Attend and honor company harassment training—Most modern-day corporations provide valuable sexual harassment training to dissuade professionals from embarrassing themselves or their fellow employees.
  • Adopt a clear sexual harassment policy—In many cases, HR representatives simply ignore reported incidents because they don’t know how to handle them. An established, well-understood protocol for harassment offenders is a good step towards thwarting workplace harassment.

Sexual harassment is extremely important with relation to the glass ceiling because it limits women, specifically, in the business world. Sexual harassment can be a product of a man’s self-consciousness or need for attention; sexual harassment is highly detrimental to others and should be avoided.

September 30, 2012 at 2:36 pm 1 comment

The Shame of College Sports: The Paradox of the “Student-Athlete”

By Robert Boland

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has long coveted the term “student-athlete.” And why wouldn’t they?  The term “student-athlete” epitomizes the desired amateur status of the athletes, while eloquently imposing its designed dedication to academics. Its intentions are valiant, and, without looking into much greater detail, the byproduct appears the knight in shining armor that the NCAA intended.

Transparency and its Relevance to Communication

With clarity comes trust. The art of communication would be lost without the truth, similarly the truth is muddied without transparency.   These standards hold true throughout social interactions, business endeavors, and even the world of college athletics. Yet when the truth begins to become uncovered about the origins of the “student-athlete,” the waters of communication become cloudy.

The Origins of the Student-Athlete

The term, at its roots, was crafted to exonerate the NCAA from legal liability and obligation. A Colorado Supreme Court ruled in favor of the NCAA, in response to a workmen’s compensation suit filed against the NCAA in the 1950’s, citing the NCAA’s recent distinction of its athletes as “student-athletes” rather than employees. Reacting to their most recent victory, NCAA chairman, Walter Byers, said, “We crafted the term student-athlete, and soon it will be embedded in all NCAA rules and interpretations.”

Yet it remained unclear how the NCAA could declare limited liability on the “student-athletes” it oversaw, until the same Colorado court room upheld its ruling in an appeals court. The court room, ruled that the NCAA was not responsible for the well-being of its “student-athletes,” in this particular case its football players, because, quite simply, the NCAA was deemed to “not [be] in the football business.”

Food for thought: “According to an NCAA budget released Feb. 15, 2011, the Indianapolis-based group expected to rake in $757 million through TV and marketing rights fees, championship revenue, and other services.”

A new era was born, an era of limited liability and heightened ambiguity. Let us usher in the era of the “student-athlete.”

What is a “student-athlete?”

The NCAA defines its student-athletes as members of an academic institution who also participate in an extracurricular activity. However, no matter the activity, education must be priority number one. As the NCAA puts it, “Student-athletes must, therefore, be students first.”

How do student-athletes classify themselves?

The NCAA through a 2011 survey provided a study on the “student athlete experience.” One of the main purposes of the study was to determine how much emphasis each student-athlete placed on academics vs. athletics. The resounding answer was that the typical student-athlete spent nearly 50% more time engaged in athletics than academics. Even more alarming was the growing number of student-athletes who self-identified as an athlete first and a student second.

What does this mean?

From the research we can infer that the term student-athlete is nothing more than safety net for the NCAA, and while it has good intentions, it fails in its attempts to promote athletics as secondary focus to academics.

How can we fix this growing issue?

We can consider a number of routes to fix this issue, all of which include rebranding the student-athlete:

1. Rebrand the student-athletes as “associate students”

  • This method would allow the athlete to take fewer courses, thus allowing them to focus more on athletics. Associate students would then graduate with an Associate’s Degree, which they could then use to apply to any school across the country to complete their Bachelor’s Degree.
  • Not all student-athletes would need to pursue this route. A student who met the academic standards of their chosen institution could pursue a full bachelor’s degree within their time of enrollment at the university.

2. Separate athletics and academics

  • Much like the separation of church and state, the separation of athletics and academics would take a significant amount of pressure off of both entities, allowing each to act in its own best interest.
  • Following the European amateur athletics model, athletes could continue their athletic development in a series of progressing clubs. Academic institutions in turn could revert to pursuing academic innovation without pursuing athletic revenue.

3. Incorporate a pay-for-play model

  • Much like any other entertainment industry, the NCAA could compensate the student-athletes for their work and their branding rights.

        NOTE: This topic is highly debated, and warrants its own blog post in the future.

How does this tie back to professional communication?

The NCAA, in its 102-year-long reign, has always lacked one thing: transparency. Between the myriad of sanctions, fines, and investigations the NCAA has failed to truly define its role.

September 30, 2012 at 2:08 pm 6 comments

Communicator-in-Chief

Presidents of the United States of America have all had one trait in common­­­–the uncanny ability to persuade, motivate, and inspire millions of people. President Barack Obama is no different, and his communication style makes him one of the most impressive articulators of our era. Obama has a level of emotional intelligence and communication style that is beyond his years, which helped propel him at the young age of 47 to become the 5th youngest president in America’s history. By carefully analyzing President Obama’s speaking style, we can learn a lot from the way our president communicates.    

Style

First of all, President Obama speaks in a deliberate and thoughtful manner by effectively incorporating pauses after his sentences. These pauses not only cause the audience to focus on what he said but also display authority and confidence. By effectively varying his tone, pace, and volume, President Obama increases the dramatic effect of his words. People gravitate toward leaders who are able to show poise and confidence in the midst of uncertainty, and President Obama has a unique ability to remove any type of negative emotion from his speeches. Many leaders often times crack under the immense pressure, but President Obama removes his personal frustrations and delivers a speech that focuses on what the audience wants to hear. 

Method

President Obama excels in removing any type of arrogance from both his verbal and body language. By articulating his speeches in a casual and conversational manner, Obama connects on a personal level with each audience member. This type of personal communication fosters a sense of relatability that keeps listeners engaged and interested. President Obama understands that facts, data, and consistently knowing the right answer will not motivate or inspire the masses, so instead he addresses the concerns of the middle/lower class in a personal and genuine manner. President Obama is able to remove his ivy-league status and connect with the average American, which has led to a large percentage of this segments’ support. Connecting with the middle/lower class has proven to be a difficult task for past presidential candidates as their speeches have often come across as distant. In the last election, President Obama connected with individuals so effectively that he was able to persuade, motivate, inspire, and convince a nation that his leadership would be best for America.

Barack Obama

Barack Obama (Photo credit: jamesomalley)

Content 

Lastly, President Obama uses vocabulary  that  engages  the audience in a personal manner. He incorporates the words “you” and “we” throughout his speeches and encourages individuals that he is on their team. By utilizing phrases such as “together we can” and “yes we can,” Obama’s tone communicates a heavy dose of optimism. Audience members naturally gravitate towards a team-focused leader who speaks positively about the future, and our current president capitalizes on this fact. Everyone likes to think that the best days are ahead, and President Obama effectively communicates this message by inspiring a sense of hope in all of his listeners. President Obama’s hope-filled speeches establish personal connections with individuals from a variety of different backgrounds and cultures. Effectively incorporating positive emotion in a speech including inspiration, hope, and optimism, greatly enhances the President’s engagement with the audience and in turn makes his speeches more memorable.

You may think that communication in politics and business is very different, but  any business student can improve his or her communication by incorporating some of President Obama’s techniques. Putting political opinions aside, we can learn much from President Obama’s communication style and ability to persuasively articulate inspiration in his listeners.

By BUSI 401 Blogger

September 30, 2012 at 1:56 pm Leave a comment

Acing the Interview: How to Prepare

By Kyra Harakal

What do you think when you hear the word “interview?”   You might think of sitting in a tiny, closed-off room or conversing with an intimidating corporate representative.  When I hear “interview,” I think about the preparation necessary to win over a possible, future employer.

Interviews are tricky.  A person can spend days editing and perfecting a cover letter and résumé, but even the most experienced writers can fall short in an actual interview because of its impromptu nature.  Therefore, you must take every possible step to prepare for the interview process.

The Preparation

  1. Research the company: Nothing proves that you are a good candidate for a job more than when you are knowledgeable about the perspective company.  Interviewers will often incorporate company statistics into an interview question, and in turn, expect you to answer in a way that is pertinent.  Also, through research you can better understand a company’s culture and what is desired in its employees.  You can then incorporate the desired skills and traits that you own into the interview conversation, further proving your qualifications for the position.
  2. Practice: Even though you will never know exactly what an interviewer will ask, you can work off of a few baseline questions.  Interviewers will typically focus on a resume walk, situations in which you showed leadership, analytical ability, persuasiveness, teamwork, communication skills, and ways that you managed past failure or conflict.  To best prepare, you should think of times when you exemplified each skill or faced difficulties and prepare a go-to story to tell your interviewer.  This story should follow the SAR format: situation, action, response.  In other words, tell what happened, how you responded to it, and what the result was, and in between emphasize the skills you used in each situation.  By having these stories ready, you will be prepared for most of the situational questions that interviewers will ask.  However, in the event that a question catches you off guard, take a deep breath and respond, “Wow, that is a really great question; let me think about it for minute.”  Interviewers will not mind if you take a moment to compose yourself and think of the best possible response.

The Interview

  1. Show up early: Do not show up at the last minute.  To avoid this unneeded stress, plan to arrive at your interview location 20 minutes ahead of time.  In addition, by arriving early you will allow yourself one more chance to review answers to potential questions and prove to your interviewer that you are responsible and timely.
  2. Dress appropriately: Although interview attire can change from company to company, the standard dress code is a conservative suit and, for women, limited jewelry and makeup.  By dressing in this business/professional manner, you will feel more confident  (This will reflect in your interview!) and prove to your interviewer that you are professional.
  3. Be yourself: Do not pretend to be someone else in your interview—you could end up at the wrong company.  An employer will only hire someone whom he believes fits into his company culture.  By presenting yourself to be someone you are not, you could end up in a job that is not a good fit.  Moreover, employers want to see the human side of you and not just see that you are a business machine.
  4. Be confident: While you should always be yourself when interviewing, you need to have an air of confidence as well.  Employers are more likely to hire someone whom they can trust and whom they believe can get the job done. A person with confidence portrays these attributes much better than someone who is unsure of himself/herself.  However, keep in mind that you do not want to come across as overconfident.
  5. Relax: The last thing to do before walking into the interview room is to relax.  You should take a deep breath, think a happy thought, and most of all remember that in the end we are all human; we are bound to make mistakes, and an interview is just a conversation with another normal person.

September 30, 2012 at 2:30 am 4 comments

The Secret Formula for Raising Stock Prices

English: Mark Zuckerberg, Founder & CEO of Fac...

English: Mark Zuckerberg, Founder & CEO of Facebook, at the press conference about the e-G8 forum during the 37th G8 summit in Deauville, France. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Abdul Eljabaly

CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, took to the spotlight for the first time since Facebook’s IPO became public on September 11, 2012, at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco. Many of us had high hopes on the stock performance of this largest Internet networking platform, which has about 900 million users on its website. These high hopes soon came crashing down on us with the stock prices dropping to $28 a share just a week after becoming public and falling from its initial release price of $40 a share. As the stock prices were tumbling down, investors saw a ray of light with Zuckerberg’s speech at TechCrunch. During hard times, a CEO can use the following formula to give a successful speech.

Be Honest

First and foremost, a CEO must be honest with his employees and his investors. When Mark Zuckerberg was asked about the performance of his stock, he replied, “The performance of the stock has obviously been disappointing.” Instead of beating around the bush, he answered the question bluntly. Zuckerberg discussed some of the stumbles where Facebook didn’t perform well in such as the mobile-device arena. Investors like to see a CEO who can be honest with them about the company’s mistakes.

Have a Plan

Investors and employees want to hear a CEO’s future plans for digging a company out of a hole. Zuckerberg didn’t just present the struggles with the mobile-device ad platform but also stated that Facebook is finding a way to integrate ads inside of the newsfeed on mobile devices, which could generate revenue greater than the desktop-user side ads. Having a plan allows investors and employees to know that the company is paving the way to better times and creates a sense of hope.

Be Confident

Though Mark Zuckerberg is not known for his public-speaking ability, he showed confidence in the ability of Facebook to come back from the falling stock prices. A CEO showing confidence can create an energetic atmosphere among workers who previously trudged through the hard times of the company. A CEO without confidence can ultimately lose any faith employees and investors have left.

All three ingredients of this formula are essential to increasing stock prices after a CEO speech. If a CEO is honest about the company’s situation but doesn’t have a plan to get the company out of the situation, the speech could worsen the situation for the company. Overall, Zuckerberg was successful in being honest and confident with his employees and investors while giving them future hope with a plan.

Click here to see Zuckerberg’s speech.

September 29, 2012 at 3:04 pm 2 comments

Building on the Teachings of the Challenger Sale

By Bryce Holcomb

When it comes to job searching, the word “sales” seems to strike fear in young professionals. Employers have even coined the term Business Development Associate to ease the apprehension often associated with the profession. I’m here to tell you though that the sales profession isn’t all that daunting. I survived a summer-long crusade in glorified cold calling, and I walked away with some actionable insights.

At some point in our lives, we all have sold something. In interviews with potential employers, we promote our talents; in presentations, we sell our ideas. Each situation calls for a different tactic to persuade the intended audience. One tactic in particular revolutionized the sales conversation between businesses. My internship at the Corporate Executive Board schooled me in this tactic, and I want to share a young professional spin on its teachings.

The Birth of the Challenger Sale

The aftermath of the 2008 Financial Crisis left many businesses tightly clenching their purse strings. Naturally, salespeople found it increasingly difficult to communicate their message and promote their products through the sales channel. The company that I worked for, Corporate Executive Board (NYSE: EXBD), heard these frustrations and answered with a study on the most effective sales methods. The result of this research led to the creation of the widely acclaimed book, The Challenger Sale. The book identified five types of sales representatives and ranked their success when selling business to business.

  • Relationship Builders
  • Hard Workers
  • Lone Wolves
  • Reactive Problem Solvers
  • Challengers  

If you haven’t guessed it already, the challenger sales representatives ranked highest among these characteristics in their rate of success. The study revealed that Challengers utilize their knowledge of the customer’s situation to take control of the conversation and exude confidence in conveying their ideas tailored to the customer. I attempted to intertwine my own characteristics with those of the Challenger throughout the summer. In doing so, I landed on two pieces of advice for those new to sales.

It’s not about what you are selling; it’s about how you sell it. This caveat is the most important aspect of sales that I can pass along to business development hopefuls. Oftentimes, employers will ask interviewees to sell them a paper clip, pencil or whatever office supply is nearby. The Challenger spends 75 percent of the sales approach learning about the customer.  This notion is at the heart of selling well. The information gathered allows for a creative approach in passing along insights to the customer. Don’t focus on the bells and whistles of your products, but rather with ideas to help them achieve their goals to make or save money.

Just keep swimming. The art of sales is an iterative process. Pardon the spoiler alert, but you will be turned down on a multitude of occasions. The Challenger didn’t build confidence overnight. Such confidence comes with experience and knowing how to read the customer and handle objections. Once you overcome your first objection, it all begins to click. Take notes on what works well and what doesn’t because these situations will return. When they do, you will be prepared and ready to take charge of the conversation in true Challenger fashion.

Getting inside the mind of a Challenger helped me to tailor my sales pitch during my summer internship. For those of you looking into a business development role, remember the conversation should always be about the customer, and selling gets easier with time. These insights apply outside the world of sales as well, and this style of communication never hurts in life when you need to take the lead in a conversation.

September 29, 2012 at 1:42 pm Leave a comment

Rallying the 2%: Motivating the Underdogs

By Carl Becker

Even the most dedicated Greens would never have expected this day to come, but a September 11 poll revealed that 2% of Americans plan to cast their ballot for the Green Party. Though she is in third place in this year’s presidential election, most Americans have never even heard of Jill Stein. Stein actively embraces this underdog status, and even manages to use it to her advantage. In business as with politics, the communication of goals is as important as the communication of successes. By successfully communicating their successes in the election thus far, Stein and other leaders are able to keep their team focused on successfully completing each goal regardless of how difficult it may seem.

The Uphill Battle

With only 52,000 Facebook fans and 11,000 Twitter followers (Barack Obama has 28 million fans and 20 million followers) most would say Stein is more of a pretender than a contender—just don’t tell her supporters that. Hundreds of Green Party members, known as “Greens,” work tirelessly for the Stein 2012 campaign even though most of them fully expect her to be defeated in November. Why do so many Greens continue to fight a seemingly unwinnable battle? How does Stein present herself as a contender, rather than a pretender, on par with Obama and Romney? The answers to these questions depend on who you’re asking. One thing that is certain, however, is that Stein is a prime example of how a leader can use her underdog status to her advantage.

The “Lovable Losers”

Why do the Yankees and Red Sox have more fans than teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates? All hometown and brand loyalties aside, a large reason is that it’s easy to support a winner. The United States has virtually always been politically dominated by only two parties. As a result, American voters see third-party candidates largely as lovable losers, cockeyed optimists who don’t know how the world “really works.” Many would go as far as to think that a vote for a third-party is essentially a vote wasted, which undoubtedly limits these parties’ growth and support. In an interview, Stein quotes American poet Alice Walker as saying:  “The biggest way people give up power is by not knowing they have it to start with.” Stein uses rhetoric to tell her supporters that regardless of how bleak the chance of victory maybe their vote is still valuable. She knows that if fewer voters believe that a vote for a third-party is essentially a wasted vote the Green Party would grow tremendously. Given how many people vote for one candidate just to spite the other, all American voters should ask themselves: what would America look like if we all vote for the candidate we support most rather than the most successful opponent of the one we support least?

It Isn’t Easy Being Green

A major challenge in going Green is that the Green Party won’t even be on the ballot in many states. In 2005 the Green Party had nearly 305,000 registered members in the 20 States (and Washington DC) that gave voters the option as identifying as a Green. Currently, the Green Party will be on the ballot in 33 states. This means that in the other 17 states, including North Carolina, one can only vote for Stein through a “write-in.”

Each state in which the Green Party appears on the ballot is the result of a successful grass-roots petition, thus each state is counted as a victory by Stein and the Greens. By breaking large and seemingly unrealistic goals–such as winning the election–into smaller attainable goals, Stein is able to invigorate her supporters. The Greens, by continually focusing on what they’ve accomplished thus far as opposed to what lies ahead, are able to gradually move towards their goal without becoming overwhelmed by the task at hand. Through these successful initiatives, Stein and the Greens prove that they are not simply optimistically wishing for victory and must be taken seriously in this election.

Who Cares?

Startup businesses, much like startup political parties, likely won’t be successful for their first few years of operation. Some businesses will never become profitable. New entrepreneurs will likely face many failures before reaching their first success. The most effective leaders are those who are able to keep motivation and morale high even when the outcome is in serious doubt by inspiring loyalty and a connection to the cause on an individual level. Everyone wants to get in “on the ground floor” of a successful operation. The leader is responsible to communicate to team members that their current underdog status is a blessing, not a curse. For Stein and the Green Party, it doesn’t matter that they may be defeated by an Obama or a Romney. What matters that each day brings them closer to their goal, and though that goal may be far in the horizon, it is never considered unreachable.

September 25, 2012 at 11:31 pm Leave a comment

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