Posts filed under ‘Interpersonal’

The Sponge: Soft-Skill Savvy

By Conor Lynch

Sometimes, you need more than results. As human beings, we are creatures who enjoy and thrive off of social interactions. In today’s modern business world, we need “soft skills.” Whereas hard skills show a more typical measure of job performance, sales figures for example, soft skills exemplify your ability to connect with the humans around you.

Having tangible soft skills means understanding four communication skills. Four key communication skills are listening, thinking, nonverbal responding, and flexible speaking. Understanding the interaction of the four skills when creating meaningful conversation turns you into a sponge. In this metaphor, a sponge takes in limitless information, squeezes out everything unnecessary, leaves “bubbles” behind, and shows flexibility.

Active Listening

smiley_face_sponge_shapeListening is not the same as hearing: a common misconception. Listening is understanding what you’re being told and communicating to the person talking that you’re hearing. When in a meeting, typically one person leads the discussion. We’ve all been in that position, taking a moment to look around when speaking and realizing that most people in the room fail to pay attention to a word you are saying. Understanding proper active listening will lead to better conversations within a business environment. To improve my ability in listening, I’ve made it my goal to immediately write down as many details from a conversation as I can; the more I write the better I listen. Following my writings is an easy way to track progress towards a goal. Step one in becoming a sponge is absorbing as much information as possible.

Critical Thinking

Now that you have begun listening to provided information, next think critically about what the information means to you. Generally, information is passed for a reason. Figure out what value that information has to you. Does it impact your company? Do you need to change the way you do your job? While these questions may seem big, you may find the answers in minor adjustments to your normal business routine. Sometimes a small change leads to monumental improvement. To improve this skill, I’ve built upon my note taking in the listening section; I try to identify the key points of that conversation that I’ve written about and see what conclusions I can draw from the information. For example, I’ve found after listening to a class lecture, the best way to improve retention is to think about everything discussed to get to the key points. Step two in becoming a sponge is to squeeze out all the unnecessary information.

Nonverbal Responses

How many times have we been looking around the room giving a speech and gotten the impression that everyone else would rather be anywhere else but here? We’ve all been there. For everyone involved, we must ensure that our body language is engaging to those who are speaking. Some options for body language include sitting up straight, providing visual feedback, showing interest, and maintaining an open body posture. These are common ways that businesspeople try to communicate that they are engaged and receptive to what is being discussed. To improve this skill, I’m working on actively thinking about my posture. By keeping that thought active in my mind, I hope that eventually it will become a habit and automatic, rather than forced and considered. When I gave a presentation last month, I noticed a person in the back of the room who would smile at me whenever I looked that person’s way, indicating interest and listening skills. From my perspective, as the presenter, that listening provides encouragement that leads to a better job presenting. The third step in becoming a sponge is to leave “bubbles”–the memory of your nonverbal interaction.

Flexible Speaking

Many factors go into being a good communicator, including what most people think of: understanding how and when to speak. Nothing is more important in conversation than understanding the context. In addition, understanding the effects of breathing, vocal volume, and tone can greatly enhance the value of your conversations for both you and those that you are conversing with. Mastering these concepts makes it easier to create emphasis and clarity within a conversation. To work on my speaking ability, I’m focusing on my inflection and practicing in my spare time to give myself a better ability to portray multiple messages. Perhaps the leading example of a great speaker in recent years is President Obama. He has shown diversity in his speaking tone over the past few years: confident and bold when triumphant, stern and rigid when necessary, and tender and delicate when dealing with tragedy. Just watching a few of his famous speeches of over the years, I see why he’s one of the best orators of our time. To complete the process of becoming a soft-skill sponge, be flexible. Just like a sponge can squeeze its way into any nook or cranny, your speaking ability should be able to respond effectively to any situation and use the tone necessary to convey your message.

In today’s business world, results are not just about the numbers and goals; success is about how effectively you communicate and understand those around you. Improving your soft skills can majorly impact your future in the business world. Think about becoming a sponge: absorb information, squeeze everything unnecessary out, leave behind positive interactions, and be flexible enough to perform any communication effectively. If all four of those skills come to a sponge without any trouble, with practice, anyone else can acquire them too.

December 7, 2016 at 5:29 pm Leave a comment

Optimizing Communication in the Workplace: A Guide for Young Professionals

By Aaron Arvizu-Arguelles

Don’t text and drive. Keep your cellphone screen off at the movie theater. Apply silent mode to your cellphone when listening to a presentation. Don’t speak too loudly at church. Throughout your life, you have learned proper communication etiquette that allows you to have functioning social and personal relationships. Now, as you leave the comfort of your university’s zip code and enter the workforce, you must have a firm grasp of effective communication in the workplace. This guide presents a theory, its practice, and importance.

Strategizing early and often will lead to improvement

If you do play or have ever played sports, you probably had a coach who taught you the fundamentals in order for you to get acquainted with the activity. This coach or mentor, however, was not ubiquitous during all practices and games. His or her aim
was to get you to understand a particular process so that you could perform it on your own and self-improve based on your execution. This idea of learning, iterating, and improving is what drives the habit of continually refining communication skills ppvin the workplace. Allow me to tell you a story – In ninth grade, after an altercation with a student, I had the opportunity of speaking with the school’s intimidating vice principal. The interaction taught me how to properly introduce myself to those in positions of authority and when to speak. As the tall, lanky middle-aged vice principal listened to my side of the story, he nodded his head while firmly holding a clipboard to his chest. He interrupted me before I could finish, yet I attempted to continue. The interruption had apparently meant my turn to speak was over and his began. As I walked away from the conversation, I thought about student-faculty communication. Through experience, I learned to add these skills – ceding word to superiors and exhibiting patience – to my communication arsenal and use them in the future. For example, when I encountered similar authority figures, such as vice principals, I knew how to handle myself. The Preparation, Importance, and Versatility (PPV) strategy to effective communication in the workplace requires you to use the same intuition because you must perpetually develop communication skills as your career develops.

How does PPV work?

Preparation, Poise, and Versatility (PPV) intends to establish a habit in your routine. This habit starts with the art of preparation. As a young professional, opportunities to communicate with colleagues, management, and customers, are incredibly diverse. As such, you must always be ready for what your day presents. Let’s assume you’re taking part in a department-wide meeting which features a regional director.

  • Preparation: This meeting could present various communication opportunities, such as a quick introduction and handshake or a cold call in the middle of the presentation, requiring you to present a well-formed response. As you prepare for this meeting, emphasize all conceivable avenues of communication with the regional director and other attendees. Specifically, researching the director’s educational and professional backgrounds, as well as his contributions to the current company project, may be helpful in establishing rapport with him. Other examples of preparation for this meeting could include: 1) researching cultural background of regional director, 2) preparing a response to documents sent to attendees before the meeting, and 3) composing a plan that solves the problem at hand.
  • Poise: I have heard the following from multiple men and women: confidence is the most attractive feature in a partner. You don’t want to seem nervous or out-of-control during a first date, right? Likewise, you must hold your physical and mental composure when communicating in the workplace. As a young professional, a disposition with heavy doses of evident self-assurance enables you to demonstrate strong communication skills. Using the above example, when attending the meeting, remain mentally prepared for the potential encounter with the director so that you’re not caught off guard. During the encounter, follow proper professional etiquette and have the belief that you are the most important person in the room as you speak. This does not mean to display arrogance–rather demonstrate comfort with the situation and willingness to participate in challenging professional scenarios.
  • Versatility: Every opportunity to communicate in the workplace as a young professional is different. As such, you must be willing to adapt to each scenario and apply different communication strategies. The above mentioned meeting is ambiguous in that you’re not aware of the director’s expectations. If he or she wishes to see the quick-thinking of his recent hires, he or she may instruct you to lead the meeting. In this case, you must be flexible and adapt to the situation, understanding how you must use what you have prepared or how you may need to adjust prepared material. Flexibility when dealing with a communication opportunity allows you to successfully accomplish job objects while validating your credentials as a worthy employee.

Why should this matter to you?

The transition from academic to professional life poses various challenges with differing solutions. Figuring out how to communicate effectively enables a young professional to effectively launch a successful career. That is, as you start to move up the corporate ladder, differentiating your skills and results will propel you to new heights. If you’re able to display a robust competence in communicating with others through any medium and under any circumstance, your peers will have a more positive perspective of your abilities and reputation.

PPV relies on self-awareness and self-motivation. Assuming you don’t have Barack Obama’s orating skills or Kevin Spacey’s quick-thinking, you can always improve your communication effectiveness. PPV implores young professionals to exhaust preparation for potential communication opportunities to: 1) better display knowledge of the subject to others and 2) feel more comfortable and be poised. Preparation facilitates the idea of poise and versatility. After a particular communication opportunity, such as meeting with your regional director or giving an elevator speech to your manager, you must use the results and feedback from the encounter and use them when preparing for another opportunity. The repetition of this process catalyzes positive habits in your routine when communicating in the workplace.

December 7, 2016 at 1:55 pm Leave a comment

The Power of Empathy

By Brian Kim

The typical traits that attract recruiters during a student’s job search process are the drive for success, competitiveness, and individualism. However, these characteristics sometimes tend to stray us away from an essential human value– the importance of caring for others. In this highly automated business world reliant upon numbers and results, we can easily forget that business is about human interaction. All of us live and experience our own, individualized world, but we forget that others also have their own world of experiences. Respecting this idea is an essential task for all of us. Therefore, what can we do to keep our humanity alive while staying competitive?

Communication is a two-way street– actively listening and understanding someone is just as important as sending a good message. Showing that you are truly interested in another’s message is astounding. It shows that you care, and you’ll strengthen the bond between you and others.

Failure to connect. As a young high school student trying to start a computer class for the Korean elderly, I had a fear that our age and cultural gap would prevent effective communication. Unfortunately, my intuition was proven right during our organization’s first few months of operation. Frustration constantly built up between the student volunteers and adults as we struggled to teach intricate subjects that were nothing but gibberish for those in their 70s and 80s. To understand the issue, I dedicated a few hours to discuss the problems with the adults.

It turned out most of the adults came to our classes for fun. I was surprised to hear that they just “wanted to feel young again” in a classroom environment and “liked the idea of having a community to join every weekend.” We were simply missing the point of these weekly classes; we only cared about what we wanted to teach and had little interest in what our students came for.

kimPost-realization. We quickly switched gears after the feedback—we scrapped the boring materials that no one cared about and started one-on-one style lessons. The volunteers walked around to make casual conversation with the adults while answering any specific computer questions catered to each person. Business boomed, local newspapers loved us, and volunteers and elders started flocking in. Our organization stayed strong for the last six years because we listened to and cared for our customers.

Lessons. When you become the leader or manager of an organization, you most likely achieved that position with a clear goal in mind. This tenacity can make opening up to new ideas much more difficult. Like I mentioned earlier, business isn’t about sending a message—it’s an interaction between people. Leaders, employees, and clients should communicate to understand each other’s thoughts and priorities. Once ideas click together, everyone will be on the same page and succeed more easily.news

As college students, many of us have spent much of our lives comparing, competing, and judging others. We aren’t at fault here; the world is increasingly cutthroat and thinking about the future is a scary thought. However, we can still learn to be both successful and mindful of others as these two traits work in conjunction with each other.

We always rely on each other and prosper as a community. We should, of course, distinguish personal and business lives, but that doesn’t mean that we should lose empathy for others depending on the occasion. If you truly put in your work for others, success can follow soon enough. Let’s learn to thrive by listening, caring, and loving ourselves and everyone else around us.

November 11, 2016 at 10:51 am Leave a comment

5 Powerful Ways to Turn Introverts into Top Performers

By Joe Pantuso

Throughout my life, I’ve heard others talk about introverts in a negative manner, speaking as though something is wrong with them: Why does he need so much alone time? Why is she so quiet? What are you always thinking about when you stare off into the distance rather than talking to me? What’s wrong with you?

There’s a one in three chance you’re an introvert. I am an introvert.

Introverts play an important role in our world; however, because we live in an extrovert’s world—loud, confidence-led—you might not even know what it means to be an introvert. You might think you’re alone in an introverted existence. You might even think of introversion as a hindrance, which is just not true.

Introverts like to keep a low profile. We’re often quiet, but not all of us are shy. We may avoid anything that remotely approaches conflict. However, introverts possess positive qualities that make us valuable employees. We like to think through things before we take action. We’re analytical by nature, and we listen to understand. We actually do enjoy social interaction and attention, but in a way that is different from extroverts. Extroverts draw energy from large social gatherings, while introverts prefer smaller settings.

Being an introvert has advantages. For example, in classroom discussions, I am engaged but slow to contribute. I hesitate because I want people to think that I have thought through my responses before speaking. As a result, when I do participate, my contributions are typically both accurate and valuable.

According to Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, up to 50 percent of all employees are introverts. Susan has started a movement called The Quiet Revolution, which celebrates and empowers introverts to embrace their quiet power. As a business leader, you ought to enable the full potential of all your employees. Leaders must ensure introverts that they have opportunities to become top performers and that they won’t be ignored in favor of their louder, more extroverted counterparts.

quietSusan Cain’s Quiet Leadership Institute helps companies and organizations empower their introverted employees by training both introverts and extroverts to communicate in a way that enhances everyone’s ability to work together. This research inspired me to create the Q.U.I.E.T. guidelines to address the needs of introverted employees.

Qualify interruptions. Reducing unnecessary interruptions will help introverted employees consistently perform at higher levels. Distractions overwhelm introverts, who are sensitive to interruptions. In the workplace, interruptions are frequent. Workers may take up to 25 minutes to get back on track when interrupted. Try to avoid interrupting your employees’ workflows unless absolutely necessary and encourage your people to avoid interrupting one another.

As an introvert, I understand the correlation between distractions and performance. I lose focus and patience when interrupted. Disruptions cause me to become irritated and aggravated, and, as a result, I become less efficient.

Utilize quiet space. According to research, 90 percent of workers say they need quiet, private places to do their work; however, more than 40 percent of workers report that they don’t have them in their workplaces. Employees, especially introverted ones, struggle to focus when the environment is noisy or coworkers are loud and rowdy. Help improve performance by providing quiet work areas where introverts can easily focus without distractions.

Today, open-plan offices are common in business. The open-office model promotes large open spaces, shared work areas, and few private offices. Despite their popularity, open-plan offices create huge problems by making work difficult for introverts. The environment damages workers’ attention spans, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction. This trend is negatively impacting the workplace.

Implement environment controls. Introverted employees are sensitive to their surroundings, and, therefore, must be able to control their environment. Noise, light, and the temperature are external factors that may affect introverts. When possible, allow introverts to change or modify their environment. Examples include light dimmers or desk lamps and thermostats or windows that open.

Establish a safe place. Establish a psychologically safe place to work for introverts. Open-office environments are not ideal for introverts because these environments tend to make them feel like the center of attention. Introverts may think that their coworkers are scrutinizing them. This scrutiny makes them anxious and uncomfortable and reduces their ability to focus and be productive. One must provide work places where others cannot constantly observe and scrutinize introverts.

I understand the value of a safe and private place to work. When I perceive others judging me, I feel self-conscious. This perception is a distraction that creates anxiety, reducing my performance and limiting my productivity.

Tolerate independence. Introverted employees work differently than extroverted ones and often need solitude during the workday. Give them permission to be alone. Solitude helps them to think more thoroughly and focus more intently on their work while mentally preparing for social interactions with customers, vendors, and coworkers. Allow introverts alone time without fear of penalty so they can function effectively.

Society expects everyone to speak up, compare experiences, and to socialize. These interactions can be difficult for introverts, who would rather spend their time alone. There is no shame in preferring solitude to socializing. We can only truly be ourselves when we’re behaving our natural way.

October 30, 2016 at 8:14 am Leave a comment

Women in Business: Be Assertive and Get What You Want

By Alsey Davidson

According to Business Insider, only 21 of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women. Why is that? Some people say it’s because of natural trait differences, varying educational opportunities, or general societal standards. However, one of my theories is that women are either too afraid to be assertive, or they are seen as “bossy” or “bitchy” if they are assertive.

Many articles show how women are treated unfairly in the workplace (gender inequality, workplace bias). This post is not another one of those articles. Instead, this post is about my personal experience in the business world and what I have learned about being assertive. My goal is to draw on my own experiences and help show other women that being assertive can lead to being successful.

This past summer, I worked with a team of 20 men and one other woman.alsey During this experience, I noticed that my actions were sometimes viewed differently because I am a woman. For example, oftentimes I felt that the men were caught off guard when I spoke up during meetings because I was a younger female. Another time, I requested a meeting with a senior executive, and my male coworkers told me I was being too forward. It bothered me a bit at first, but I learned to brush it off by the end of the summer.

assertive

One of the most important things that I learned is that you can get what you want by asserting yourself, but you certainly won’t get it if you don’t say anything. Please note that I am saying assertive, not aggressive — i.e. defending your own rights without hurting those of others.  There is a difference, and you should be sure to not cross over into aggressiveness.

Now, I will discuss one time when asserting myself led to a very positive outcome. An important takeaway from this experience is that I wasn’t afraid to be assertive because I truly felt I deserved what I was asking for. I hope that women can learn from my experience if they are in a similar situation.

When I first received my job offer, I was not happy with the initial salary. When considering whether or not I should negotiate, I was told by my (male) coworkers that it might make me “look bad” or “seem unprofessional and ungrateful.” At first, I worried they may be right. Will I seem rude and ungrateful if I ask for more money? Then, I spoke with my career advisor and, fortunately, my opinion changed.

My advisor told me, “You should 100% negotiate. Why wouldn’t you?” When I ended up negotiating, I was very straightforward and assertive with HR; I told them that believed I deserved a higher salary due to national averages and that I needed more money to account for the high cost of living. It was as simple as that: my negotiation efforts led to a $10,000 increase in salary. HR understood my argument and met my request.

From this experience, I learned that you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for something. If you present your case professionally and rationally, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t get what you want. So the next time you think you deserve something, go for it. Don’t worry about seeming bitchy, bossy, or aggressive. If your company respects the rights of women, and if you truly deserve what you’re asking for, you should receive it.

November 18, 2015 at 9:02 am Leave a comment

3 Reasons You Lost Your Job (Besides “Budget Cuts”)

By Casey Brecher

Many of us either already have or someday will suffer through being laid off. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that so far in 2015, more than 15 million Americans have involuntarily lost their jobs. One of the most painful aspects of this experience is not knowing why we were valued less than our peers (especially Steve, whose microwaved tuna salad wafts a pungent aroma throughout the office each day at lunchtime). We don’t realize, however, that our every word and action communicates a message to coworkers, clients, and bosses. This article will identify three behaviors that you may not have realized were rubbing your boss the wrong way.

Stop Slouching

I don’t want to sit at a desk all day, either.Mehrabian Nonetheless, we should remember that posture sends signals about attitude.
Sitting upright, or leaning forward slightly, communicates a higher level of alertness, interest, productivity, and focus on the task at hand. Contrarily, slouching communicates laziness, apathy, and general disinterest in our work. This seemingly minor difference is so important because, according to Dr. Albert Mehrabian (Figure 1), body language is the most powerful means of communication. Slouching Blog PhotoThus, when your boss glances out of her office window to find you sliding down your chair while Steve sits up straight (even though he’s just editing a picture of his cat’s birthday party), she is inclined to believe that you’re a less enthusiastic worker.

Watch “You’re” Grammar

We’ve all confused “there” with “they’re,” “your” with “you’re,” or “to” with “too.” Many grammatical mistakes can be subtle and difficult to notice – unless you check your work. To your boss, an error in grammar can signify a lack of education, intelligence, attention to detail, work ethic, or concern for the quality of your writing. This concept applies to verbal interactions as well, which can prove more difficult if you’re less familiar with standard grammatical rules. Take the time to review some of these basics, such as the difference between subjective and objective case (“who” and “whom”); otherwise, Steve’s consistently accurate apostrophe placements may determine the difference between your job and his.

Put Your Phone Down

We all have valid reasons to be near our phones at work: managers need help, clients call, and kids have to be picked up from day care for eating too many crayons. (Just me?) Nonetheless, our intentions often don’t come across in meetings. According to research from the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, “older professionals and those with higher incomes are far more likely to think it is inappropriate to be checking text messages or emails during meetings of any kind.” Instead of trying to impress your boss with constant availability, do so with attentiveness and respect. Next time you see Steve check the time on his plastic Star Trek watch, remember not to pull out your phone.

At the very least, consciously monitoring your demeanor in the office may be enough to set you ahead of Steve the next time your boss considers job cuts.

November 17, 2015 at 1:04 pm 4 comments

Bearish to Bullish: A How-To Guide for Delivering Bad News

By Trey Bright

That hesitancy to step on someone’s toes or risk hurting someone’s feelings is natural. If you’re anything like me, you probably feel some intrinsic need to be liked by your peers and grimace at even just the thought of breaking bad news to them. But whereas popularity above all else seemed like a great strategy in high school, in the workplace, sometimes we have to have tough conversations.

Whether you’re providing an employee with negative feedback, rejecting a pitch, explaining to the board that you came up short on earnings, or laying people off, delivering bad news is never easy – but it can get a lot easier if you do it the right way. You may have heard of the four P’s of the marketing mix; well, I have four more P’s for you to have in your back pocket for the next time that you have to deliver bad news in the business world.

Perspective

TreyA simple change of perspective can go a long way in overcoming the natural hesitancy to have that tough conversation you’ve been putting off. I get it; you don’t want to hurt your co-worker’s feelings – but let’s take a second to look at this from a different perspective. If you skip out on this tough conversation now, you may be hurting both your co-worker and the company even more in the long term! How can people improve if they’re oblivious to their weaknesses? Constructive feedback, both positive and negative, is critical in one’s personal and professional development – hurt feelings in the short term might just lead to a huge thank you down the road.

Preparation

Gather all of the information you need before delivering bad news. You need to be well versed in all of the factors that led to reaching the final outcome. This preparation will enable you to engage in a productive dialogue back and forth and/or to provide necessary closure. After you understand the factors behind the situation, practice what you’ll say. Anticipate questions that may arise and prepare thoughtful answers that are both clear and direct.  Proper delivery is key to whether or not someone will be responsive to your message – through adequate preparation and rehearsal you can refine your delivery to ensure that your message is loud and clear.

Privacy

When possible, respect the privacy of the individual or team you are dealing with. Hearing bad news is uncomfortable, so the more comfortable you can make an individual the more likely you will be able to engage in a productive dialogue. Consider meeting outside of your personal office; a more neutral site can ease some unnecessary intimidation and increase one’s responsiveness.

Proposal

Take a forward-thinking approach. After you’ve delivered the news and allowed for the respondent to provide a reaction, be sure to propose suggestions on how best to move forward based upon the dialogue that you’ve just had and potential solutions that you’ve prepared. When appropriate, consider helping the individual(s) to create an action plan to effectively carry out the necessary development. Positive change is just around the corner, so provide any support the person needs to get there.

No one likes being the office bad guy–and with these four tips, you don’t have to be! The next time you need to deliver bad news, think back to these four P’s – you’ll be glad you did.

November 13, 2015 at 3:45 pm 3 comments

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