I think that one of the most undervalued tools in communication is empathy. Empathy is the ability to identify and understand someone else’s feelings – what it’s like to walk a mile in their shoes. While one can complete many of the day to day tasks of their job without empathy, I argue that regularly exercising empathy provides you with the ability to communicate better, close negotiations (sales) faster, and manage consensus among teams easier. The ability to empathize is directly related to your ability and effectiveness at influencing outcomes.
While it’s helpful if you’ve been born with a natural inclination for empathy, it can be learned. It is a muscle that can be strengthened through practice.
Here are a few ideas for practicing your empathy skills:
— Look upon every human – the barista at the coffee shop, the cashier at the checkout, a favorite author, an employee, your child, etc. – as a teacher that you can learn something from.
— If you choose, your daily routine can be a graduate school where you can continue to learn through the wealth of interesting people available to you.
Approach the world with an inquisitive mind – without judgment or manipulation of position. Show sincere interest in what people have to say. Be present in thought and mind.
— At the end of each day, write down one thing that you’ve learned from your “teachers”.
— And, most importantly, apply what you’ve learned. What’s the point of understanding others better if you don’t actually use what you’ve learned.
Setting Expectations: the power of a word
When I was 8 year’s old, my family moved from Montgomery, AL to a suburb of Seattle, WA. It was a particularly exciting move as my parents told my sisters and I that we would be living on an island – Mercer Island to be exact. At this point in my life, the only island that I was familiar with was Gilligan’s Island which was tropical and lush and everyone (the Professor, Marianne and all the rest) lived in thatched huts. How COOL is that?!
Cutting to the chase, Mercer Island is an island in the middle of Lake Washington in the Greater Seattle area. It is FAR from a tropical paradise – more of a rainy gray Northwest suburbia. It’s a fine place. But, not at all what I expected. In hind sight, I feel for my parents and the blue faced tantrum that they had to endure.
I use this story as an example of the power of a word or phrase to set expectations with your audience. If you are trying to move your team forward, you need to start from their base level of understanding and craft your message to help them appropriately visualize where you are headed. With shared understanding and expectations, you can move faster and more efficiently.
Incorporating value proposition in both name and action
I have had a long standing love affair with a company – Best Made Company. The inspiration of the company started when the founder, Peter Buchanan-Smith was in camp as a young man and his mentor was a larger than life outdoorsman. This heroic character proclaimed that all you needed to get you through life was your wits and a good axe. Thirty years later, Peter, an established graphic designer with clients the likes of Isaac Mizrahi and Philip Glass and a winner of a Grammy for album design, surveyed his life and realized that what he really needed in his life was his wits and a good axe. Thus, the Best Made Axe Company was born (the name has since changed to The Best Made Company).
I love that the name of the company is in itself an aspiration – a stake in the ground of the quality of product and presentation. Peter has grown the company by masterfully merging quality product with artistic sensibilities. The limited edition axes are hanging in major art galleries around the world including Saatchi Gallery in London and featured in major design publications such as I.D., Wired, and Wallpaper. It is the quality of the product, the quality of presentation, and the attachment of “boy-scout” ideals that have captured the imagination of a diverse range of people: from outdoor lovers to appreciators of contemporary design.
The latest in a series of smart marketing ideas is a polished video series demonstrating the best made axes in action. The videos are beautifully lit and artfully directed as they show the clean blow of an axe splitting a log in two. They are really quite amazing in their simplicity and their support of the core value proposition of “best made”.
Peter and Best Made Company is a great source of inspiration on what is possible to achieve when you have a clear value proposition, creativity, and a good marketing strategy. You may be interested in subscribing to their regular newsletter – it’s a great way to keep up to date on all the fun things that they are doing.
Cultivating the best possible imperfection
I am gardener. Not a great gardener, but good enough where I can have steady blooms throughout the yard from spring to late fall. As a highly driven (dare I say) perfectionist, it may seem surprising to learn that one of the things I love most about gardening is its imperfection.
I do my best to provide the right conditions for the plants to grow and thrive, but there are so many things beyond my control: rain, sun, disease, and even the neighbor’s cat. Despite these conditions, I enjoy that the plants are doing their best to flourish in the environment that I provide for them. They aren’t perfect…but they are achieving their maximum beauty given their current conditions.
Even with all my efforts and good intentions, sometimes a plant doesn’t perform well. In these cases I try transplanting to another location or even giving the plant to another gardener who has different growing conditions. I feel a responsibility to the plant to give it every opportunity to grow.
So it is when working with people.
People are imperfect, but given the right conditions, they can flourish.
Pitch Training from Morgan Spurlock
Morgan Spurlock strikes again with a brilliant commentary on advertising in film by actually documenting the process of “selling out” in Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. I absolutely loved the film and have actually assigned a trip to the movies as homework for several of my clients.
One of the things I asked clients to watch for in the film was how Morgan customized his presentation for each audience. He developed a pitch for each company based upon his research of their brand, his understanding of their business objectives, and their target audience. In each presentation, he was able to demonstrate the value proposition of his movie in a way that presented their interests first. And, he never lost his personality in a memorized (by rote) pitch…he had fun with it, and companies responded.
So while this is a fun documentary showing the power of advertising in film, I think it is also a powerful training film on how to effectively pitch your business.
Watch, learn, and laugh.
The Value of Comfort
I have an amazing pair of cashmere socks that are ridiculously expensive as far as socks go…but I love them. I was recently walking in downtown Seattle in ice-cold rainy weather with a big smile on my face as my feet were swathed in warm fuzzy goodness. If socks can make me this comfortable in miserable weather, then the price is absolutely worth it to me.
This is a basic rule of economics – is the price worth the value? Lets take it out of the realm of socks and into your business place. When you take a look at your services, products, and your ultimate value proposition, you must also take a look at the experience that you give to your clients. What are the key elements that you are providing your clients that are giving them comfort and confidence? What are you providing that removes price as the primary decision factor?
There is a wonderful book by Harry Beckwith titled, What Client’s Love: A Field Guide to Growing Your Business. This is a book that grew on me at the second reading; my copy is now dog eared and notated throughout. However, my very favorite section is related to what Beckwith states client’s love best: comfort. If you are someone that enjoys a good business book, I highly recommend it.
I suggest you take some time to review your business and evaluate the overall experience you are providing your customers. Through every interaction you have the opportunity to deepen your relationship, demonstrate your value proposition and overall create a feeling of comfort much like the experience I get from wearing my highly valuable socks.
The biggest business mistake is to never risk making one
As a professional coach, I find myself spending quite a bit of time encouraging people to make mistakes. Its not that I want my clients to fall on their faces…what I want is to break the paralysis that comes from fear of failure. In many cases, these fears are deeply rooted in childhood. People can get caught between the desire to get to the one “right” answer which has potential rewards (praise, good grades, recognition from the boss) and the need to avoid any negative backlash from presenting a “wrong” answer.
With the exception of mathematical calculations, there are few absolute right and wrongs in business. There are hundreds of ways to solve a problem or handle a situation. And, a solution that works today won’t necessarily be the one that applies to your future. Or a solution that works for another company doesn’t necessarily solve the issue in your own. Experimentation, trial and error are steps that will get you into action and allow you to LEARN. If you remain paralyzed with fear, you won’t learn, you won’t grow, and you will most likely miss out on a world of opportunity.
I talked with one employer who praised one of his most valued employees with the following, “He can make more mistakes and correct them in the time it takes the average person to make just one decision.” He went on to clarify that the mistakes were more “experiments” or “tests” on theories that the employee was able to quickly learn from and adjust the plans leaving the company with the assurance that they had the best solution given the current business environment. This company is successfully operating business from the powerful position of experimentation and current data and not (as much of their competition) solely on history.
So…I encourage you to take risks, make mistakes and LEARN.
“Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” ~ James Joyce (1882 – 1941)
“I have learned throughout my life as a composer chiefly through my mistakes and pursuits of false assumptions, not by my exposure to founts of wisdom and knowledge.” ~Igor Stravinsky (1882 – 1971)
“ A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.” ~George Bernard Shaw (1856 – 1950)
Attitude Lessons from Mary Poppins
There is nothing about the movie Mary Poppins that I don’t love. There are so many unforgettable scenes. But my favorite song from the movie starts with Mary talking to the children to inspire them about the process of cleaning up the nursery. “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. Find the fun, and SNAP! The job’s a game.” Then, she begins singing with the lines “and every task you undertake becomes a piece of cake. A lark! A spree! It’s very clear to see that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”
It’s a wonderful song.
Unfortunately, life doesn’t always mirror art. We all have found times where it is quite difficult to find the fun at work. And there is no amount of sugar binging (or chocolate in my case) that will make the work assignment less of an arduous task.
There is no magical solution to getting through these moments. Sometimes you simply must get through it one step at a time.
That said, even when life is difficult, you still have the choice about the attitude you embrace. Perhaps thats the real message. One’s attitude is the “spoonful of sugar” that helps us to get through our difficult times. Choosing your outlook allows you to be powerful and generative – not a victim of circumstance.
Do you want to be a powerful person who can get things done? Do you want to be known for your ability to deal with adversity? Do you want to be a role model to others? Do you want to be a part of a strategic solution?
The choice is yours.
Shift Perspectives to See Possibilities
“Head of the Bull” by Pablo Picasso is considered one of the most revolutionary pieces of its time. It is one of the first “found” object sculptures to be presented in a major art exhibition and it started a movement of found object art. What I find most interesting is that he took familiar objects (a bicycle seat and handlebars) and combined them in a new and interesting way to create a new entity (a bull’s head). Picasso didn’t build the seat. He didn’t build the handlebars. His role was to shift perspectives so that we could see something more. His re-assembly of the existing elements was his innovation.
Everyday in our worklife we have an opportunity to innovate. To impact your business, you don’t have to hold 50 patents and be a master in organizational development – or be the inventor of the next social networking sensation – or be an internationally famous artist. The truth is that the slightest adjustment or change in existing elements can have monumental benefits in your organization.
How are you innovative? Are you taking the time to step back from existing tools, systems or processes to look at them in a different way? How are you creating artistry in your business practices?
Use Your Influence
“Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.” ~ Napoleon Hill
Professionally and personally we need to use our influence in order to move an agenda forward. Rarely do we have ultimate power that we can mandate others to action and supporting our cause. And – even if we did, we wouldn’t necessarily be getting their best work or support. When you influence others and allow them to share in the ownership of the idea – and more importantly share in the successful outcome, you will find that change happens faster and more permanently.
There is an interesting counter to NOT using your influence. When you don’t use influence to inspire and motivate others, you can easily find yourself in the position of “victim” – a person who cannot move anything forward. Often times you will see this person as the one who generates a lot of activity, but no action or results.
Mastering the ability to influence others takes time. It may not feel comfortable the first time out. To help you on your way of using your influence, I’ve included the base “how to” principles below:
1. Assert Yourself.
o State objectives clearly and directly.
2. Align Your Goals.
o Find the common ground
o Demonstrate empathy
3. Suggest (not proclaim or announce).
o Present solutions that demonstrate a clear value.
o Do NOT put others on the defensive
4. Create Vision.
o Paint a picture of positive result.
o Let all parties “own” the result.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Influence is about motivating and inspiring others through integrity and honesty and is driven by positive intent. Manipulation often comes from a negative intent and can include dishonest practices. Make sure you are focused on INFLUENCE.
How you show up directly impacts outcome
I’ve recently returned from two week vacation at a remote area on Playa Guiones in Costa Rica. It was an amazing trip and I highly recommend it to any adventurous soul who doesn’t mind jungle heat, jungle rain, and howler monkeys as your morning wake-up call.
It was on my trip that I had an opportunity to practice a little of my own business advice. I am regularly telling clients to “think about how you show up”. Your body language, your words, your attitude…all this will impact your ability to generate your desired outcome. After a long day and a half of travel, I arrived in Costa Rica happy and healthy but without my bag full of cute but rugged jungle wear. Happily, my husband, two young step sons and my sister all had their bags…it was just mine that stubbornly refused to leave the United States.
This is when I thought, “I’ve got to decide how I want to show up for the family.” My goal was to have a relaxing vacation with my family. I wanted to share adventures, laugh, and enjoy all that Costa Rica had to offer. And – I wanted my family to walk away with special memories of how we shared the time together. My response to this situation could significantly impact my desired outcome. (On another day, perhaps, I could write a blog entry about airline customer service and follow through – but I believe you’ve heard that story enough times).
So, I laughed. I joked about the loss of my coordinated outfits that, quite frankly, seemed so unimportant once you were in the practical existence of the jungle. Matching clothes and fancy toiletries were not something that was necessary to get me to my desired outcome. I happily wore ill fitting ensembles gathered together from my husband and sister. And I am delighted to say that I believe that we were all successful in our goal of creating lasting memories. Twenty years from now, when we’re reminiscing with the kids over a nice family dinner, no one will look on this trip and remember anything other than a magical experience in paradise – and I doubt that any of us will remember the very unimportant detail of my lost bag.
Think about how you show up – to your family, to your employees, and to your clients.
Be Powerful in Your Communication
If you study the label on many of the food products in your cupboard, you will find listings like sodium acid pyrophosphate, mono glyceride, or sodium bisulfate. These are additives designed to make your food look or feel more palatable – not necessarily to make it taste better. In communications, there are complicated words, jargon, and acronyms that do much the same thing. Just last week, I was talking with a woman who could only speak in terms designed to impress. What she didn’t realize is that it quickly became noise. I believe that she is intelligent, but that wasn’t showing up in her communication.
Take the time to think before you speak. Are you using clear language? Do people show immediate understanding? Are you generating action with your words? If your answer is no to any of those questions, I suggest a refresh in your approach.
Don’t waste your voice. Say what you mean. Mean what you say.
Beautiful set up, but never realized its marketing potential
T-WORLD, issue #6: www.t-world.com.au
I was recently drawn in by the cover story on a very limited distribution magazine called T-World. It’s a beautiful ¾ size magazine published out of Australia and it is 100% devoted to the cult of t-shirt design. This particular issue – the reason that it I HAD to buy it – featured a collaborative design project between T-World, Sesame Street, and 8 of the top internationally known t-shirt/graphic designers.
The concept was that T-World selected the best and the brightest artists and matched them up to a character on Sesame Street that would complement their style. Then, these artists visited the set of Sesame Street and interviewed their character to get inspiration for a new limited edition shirt. Some of these interviews were amazing. Artists who were genuinely excited to interview their characters, like Tri Vo of SYKE design chatting with Big Bird where he asked about his favorite things, touched on the tragic loss of his friend Mr. Hooper, and having fun with his best friend Snuffleupugus. My favorite design by Luca Ionescu was inspired by The Count, titled “Count On Me” and featured strong gothic font treatment accented with the forlorn faces on pipe organ. Truly brilliant!
Now here is where the idea falls off for me. I am immediately inspired and want to get one of these limited edition shirts. Yet…you can’t get them. I went to T-World’s web site in July and the page reads “T-World’s online presence rolls out in May 2010”. But its July. I want a shirt. And the site is simply a flat page with a tease of the online store and information that is to come.
Beautiful set up…lovely publication and teaser campaign…but, I can’t help but think about the loss of sales and high customer dissatisfaction that they generated by not delivering the pay off.
Biz Dev is like High School Dating
I think that the image of high school dating with all its flirting, hunting down class schedules and benign stalking is the perfect analogy for the research needed for good business development. Knowing your client and what’s important to them is critical in creating resonate pitch content.
We live in an age where most corporate information is easily accessible on the Internet. You simply need to know where to look for it and know how to use it when you have it. Following is a just a few of the resources that you can use to research both individuals and major corporations.
Don’t forget to feed your brain!
Marie Watt, blanket installation
I think everyone can support the statement “you are what you eat”. I believe it is universally accepted that the quality of the food you put in your body is directly related to the energy and health of your daily functions. What I think people forget is that you need to also feed your brain – provide yourself an opportunity to witness innovation and creativity and your brain will pay you back with inspiration and creativity of your own.
I jotted this concept down in my notebook (which I keep handy at all times) while on a recent art immersion trip to Portland, OR. It was a trip that kicked my creative brain into overdrive.
Over the course of a weekend, I saw a broad stroke of the key happenings in the Portland contemporary art scene: Elizabeth Leach Gallery, Augen Gallery, Pulliam/Deffenbaugh Gallery, PDX, Gallery Fourteen 30, Museum of Contemporary Craft, and the Portland Art Museum. But the highlight of the trip was a tour through multidisciplinary artist, Marie Watt’s studio. Born to the son of Wyoming ranchers and a daughter of the Turtle Clan of the Seneca Nation (Iroquois/Hadensaunee), Watt identifies herself as “half Cowboy and half Indian”. Marie has mastered the art of multi-media storytelling better than any artist I’ve seen in recent years. She touches the viewer deep in the recesses of their memory and unlocks relationship to family, history, and emotion that spans across cultures.
One of the things that I found particularly fascinating was the shelves of experiments, samples, and raw materials that she utilizes to inform her works. She reminded me that an artist doesn’t try something once and if it isn’t perfect, throw it out. Rather, an artist tries things many times and sees each piece as an evolution that builds and informs the development of the body of work. This is a lesson that I believe a lot of business professionals can use. I see more people paralyzed in their job because they fear making a mistake. Be like an artist, dive in…learn from it…and move one.
I recommend that everyone take time to feed their brain. It doesn’t have to be through art – it can be spending time with your kids, enjoying a good book, spending time with friends,…anything. The key is keeping your mind open and allowing your brain to be receptive to the “brain food” that you’re providing.
Where are you a regular?
Chace's Pancake Corral, Bellevue, WA
My parents have gone to breakfast every Saturday for over 20 years at Chace’s Pancake Corral – a place that hasn’t changed its décor, menu, or hospitality in at least 30 years. They first stopped in to the restaurant because they could get good food at a good price and it wasn’t too far from home. Value, pricing, and proximity are all great reasons to select a restaurant…but it doesn’t necessarily drive loyalty. Then, one day early in the relationship, my father asked if they would blend the sourdough batter with the buckwheat batter…and they happily customized his order. Personalized service does wonders for building long term relationship – Chace’s knows how to market to their audience. Now, after decades of patronage, the relationship with the cook, the wait staff, and fellow Saturday morning devotees have made Chace’s a key social outlet for my parents. The environment and experience are just as important if not more so than the food. It is to the point now that my parents must call the restaurant to let them know if they are going on vacation – because if they don’t, they will get calls and emails to check up on them. The relationship between my parents and this very friendly restaurant has grown over the years, much as we desire our relationship to grow with our key clients.
I encourage anyone working on their business development efforts to think about where you are a regular? What are the “value propositions” that are making you loyal? Then, think about how you can translate these experiences into relationship building opportunities for you and your clients.
Creating original thought outside the hairball
I am always on the quest for a good business book. I’m pleased to report that I found not a good book – but an eye opening refreshing book in Gordon MacKenzie’s, “Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace”. As I was reading, I had regular flashbacks to my days driving creative production for Microsoft Events. And, while I feel blessed for that valuable experience – I must say that it was one rife with entanglements through procedure, politic, and acronyms. MacKenzie provides ideas for creating original thought in a corporate environment. He is typically using stories and examples from his own experience, but its easy to see yourself in his place. What I enjoy the most, is that by using the term “orbiting” he acknowledges the much needed gravitational pull between creativity and corporate standards. He is respectful in a totally disruptive and irreverent way.
I’ve recommended this book to several of my clients. I think it is appropriate for people who are looking for inspiration while working at a large institutions. And – I have also encouraged CEOs and management teams at growing companies who are considering additions to their “hairball”. I think its appropriate for all.