Meetings: The First 15 Minutes Matter

Beginnings make a huge difference. 

Meetings offer a perfect example.

I was working with a VP who started off her 3-day, first quarter meeting with a 20 minute introduction. In that 20 minutes she crisply and energetically laid out:

  • The purpose and expected outcome of the three days
  • Three highlights and three lowlights from the previous year
  • Why people were seated, by name card, at their six-person tables. (There were actually two reasons):

Meetings   1. To include representatives of different functions at each table

    2.  To have a new manager at each table who had never been with the 60-person group before. 

It really beats spending an hour having new people introduce themselves, tell their histories, and then know nothing about the rest of the group. As a result of meals, breaks, and small group sessions, everyone knew everyone else pretty darned well by 6 p.m.

The overall impact of the opening? High energy, enthusiasm, and clarity.

The learning: Give people lots of information in advance so they can participate quickly and effectively.

Each day included small group sessions focused on product lines, operations, and continuous improvement. By 8:45 all participants knew which small groups they would be a part of on each day (they changed); why they were in that group; and what the task would be for each. By the time the first breakout sessions started at 1 p.m., everyone was mentally prepared to participate.

This isn't revolutionary stuff. It's the kind of intentional, thoughtful planning often forgotten in the haste of organizing agendas and travel plans. Yet these process details are the ones that make or break a successful meeting.

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Nobody Follows A Tentative Person

I was standing at the meat counter at the local market and watched a leadership principle unfold before me: Nobody Follows a Tentative Person.

Normally, they have little slips of paper with numbers that make the process run smoothly: take your number and wait for it to be called. But they ran out of numbers. Which meant we had to figure out for ourselves who was next.

The nice part: people were concerned about not "butting" ahead.Meatcounter

The bad part: as a result, when the butcher yelled, "Next", there was a lot of shuffling, faux self-deprecation, and confusion. No meat was moving out of the display case.

Finally, someone said strongly, "I believe I am next" and, at the same time. stepped forward right in front of the butcher. Following her move, there was a similar response at the ensuing, "Next!"

The "Aw, Shucks Shuffle"

This struck me as being similar to what we often see in meetings and presentations. In an effort to not want to stand out or seem "pushy", meeting leaders or speakers do the "Aw, Shucks Shuffle".  The result: people in the room wait forever--uncomfortably--to get to the topical meat counter.

It's popular to want to seem like "one of the guys" and do the "we're all equal" thing.

We're not. When you are in front of a room you've been given the responsibility to lead the rest of the group.

So remember: no one follows a tentative person.

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Happiness At Work

I was checking the statistics here to discover the search engine queries that bring people to All Things Workplace. I figured that the keywords were going to be mostly about leadership or management.

I was wrong.















"Job Satisfaction"..."Happiness at Work"..."Where Can I Find the Best Job?"..."Strengths and Weaknesses"..."How Can I Find A Job Where the Boss Listens to Me?"...those were the themes. Career issues--sometimes disguised as communications--turned out to be the number one driver.

Make no mistake. People are searching for how to feel good at work. We want to do well...and we want to feel good in the process.

Think about two variables

There's a relationship between how much you love your job and how well you perform. That's not a mystery. But there is a dynamic you need to know about in order to manage yourself and others:

1. Some people have to feel good about their job and their workplace before they can get busy and perform at their max.

2. Others have to have to first achieve super results in order to feel good about their jobs.

It's a "Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?" phenomenon. I picked up on this some years ago during a stretch where I was diagnosing "performance issues" for a client.

My conclusion: Managers hadn't caught onto the validity of the two approaches to performance. Naturally, the "feel good first" people were perceived as weenie-like non-performers. However, they actually had a huge commitment to doing well. They just needed something else to help them be able to get there.

What was it? They wanted the managers to understand who they were and what made them tick. That went along way to having the "right feeling" about the job.

The second category of people wanted a scorecard. They weren't about to "feel" good until they checked off their tasks and accomplishments.

Target yourself and your people

1. Which approach most naturally fits you? Figure out what that means to the way you work and the way your work is managed. Then talk with your manager about your desire to excel and how you might use this natural preference to make that happen.

2. Managers: The next time you're in a meeting (or one-on-one), have an informal conversation about the two approaches. Let people talk about what comes first for them. You'll learn a lot about how to manage each person; and they'll get more of what they need in order to hit the top of the job satisfaction/high performance curve.

Do you come onto the work scene each day with one of these in the front of your mind? How does that play out for your job satisfaction and performance?


This post first ran in June, 2008. Workplace Happiness is still thriving as an issue across the entire range of social media and professional publications, so I thought a little "re-visit" might be worthwhile.

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Halt: Meeting Traps Ahead


I just returned from a good meeting.

Everyone was engaged, no one dominated (unless it made sense because of specific expertise), and everyone who spoke did something to check for understanding. It was more like a comfortable discussion around a warm fireplace in winter than a stereotypical business meeting. So it made me think about the planning that went into it and how it was led.

A long while ago I had a discussion that sparked my thinking about "meeting blockers." Here are 5 of those traps. See if any sound familiar to you:

1) People think they are experts.

2) People think they are inspiring.

3) People think others agree with them.

4) People think others are clairvoyant.

5) People think meetings are necessary.

Number 5 is my personal favorite since I often bear down on clients and associates whose first step in addressing an issue is to call a meeting.

What do you do to avoid these traps or quickly get out of them when you see them closing in?!

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Decide How To Decide: Good Meetings

You're in a meeting. It looks as if all the information is on the table: yet the discussion goes on and on and you table the item for the next meeting. A combination of disgust, frustration, and conflict follow at the water cooler.

Good Meetings Start Before the Meeting

How do you make sure this doesn't happen? 

Simple. Agree on how you'll arrive at decisions before the meeting begins.

I'm going to offer up a "Let's have consensus" procedure for the purpose of giving an example. That's not the only way to make sound decisions. Some decisions may belong to the manager; if so, say so as well as the reasons for it. What's important is to agree on what kinds of decisions will have what kind of process

DecideConsensus Example

Most of us have to generate support--as well as the best possible input--for important decisions. I think Consensus provides a good framework for that as long as you are clear on the definition of what it really means. I use this one:

Consensus:  “I can live with this decision and openly support it.” (I added the word "openly" some years back because some folks would support it in the room and then bad-mouth it later. Once you have agreement to openly support it, any other behavior is reason for a performance counseling session).

It's equally important to define and agree on what consensus does not mean. Consensus does notmean we all necessarily think this is the best or only solution; just one we will “live with and support”.

With this definition as a template, you will be able bring the group to agreement on how they will make decisons as the meeting progresses. And Consensus is much easier to achieve than a unanimous approval. Some groups I've worked with put both of these on the wall in every meeting and use them as a visual reminder along the way.

Ask these two questions when you reach a decision point:

  • How many of you can live with with and openly support this decision?
  • Who cannot--and why not? (If you don't force the "why not?" question, you're not going to get the discussion that could be all that you need to turn it around). Another way to word the "why?" questions is: "What would it take for you to live with and openly support this decision?"

What has worked well for you and your organization?

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Good Meetings, Good Decisions

You're in a meeting. It looks as if all the information is on the table: yet the discussion goes on and on and you table the item for the next meeting. A combination of disgust, frustration, and conflict follow at the water cooler.

Good Meetings Start Before the Meeting

How do you make sure this doesn't happen? 

Simple. Agree on how you'll arrive at decisions before the meeting begins.


I'm going to offer up a "Let's have consensus" procedure for the purpose of giving an example. That's not the only way to make sound decisions. Some decisions may belong to the manager; if so, say so as well as the reasons for it. What's important is to agree on what kinds of decisions will have what kind of process

Consensus Example

Most of us have to generate support--as well as the best possible input--for important decisions. I think Consensus provides a good framework for that as long as you are clear on the definition of what it really means. I use this one:

Consensus:  “I can live with this decision and openly support it.” (I added the word "openly" some years back because some folks would support it in the room and then bad-mouth it later. Once you have agreement to openly support it, any other behavior is reason for a performance counseling session).

It's equally important to define and agree on what consensus does not mean. Consensus does not mean we all necessarily think this is the best or only solution; just one we will “live with and support”.

With this definition as a template, you will be able bring the group to agreement on how they will make decisons as the meeting progresses. And Consensus is much easier to achieve than a unanimous approval. Some groups I've worked with put both of these on the wall in every meeting and use them as a visual reminder along the way.

Ask these two questions when you reach a decision point:

  • How many of you can live with with and openly support this decision?
  • Who cannot--and why not? (If you don't force the "why not?" question, you're not going to get the discussion that could be all that you need to turn it around). Another way to word the "why?" questions is: "What would it take for you to live with and openly support this decision?"

What's working well for you and your organization?


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5 Meeting Traps and How To Fix Them

I just returned from a good meeting.

Everyone was engaged, no one dominated (unless it made sense because of specific expertise), and every speaker followed up to check for understanding. It was more like sitting around a warm fireplace in winter than a typical business meeting.  So, it made me think about the planning that went into it and how it was led.

If you've struggled through more than a few bad meetings, I'm guessing you've experienced the following traps. Here they are and how to fix them.

1) People think they are experts.

Many people tell me that they know how to run an effective meeting. Actually, all they do is host a party. They invite guests, provide treats, and preside over a conversation. People talk. People eat. And nothing happens. Or, if they somehow manage to reach an agreement, there's no concrete follow-up to implement it.

What to do: Learn how to design and lead successful meetings. Attend a workshop, buy a book, or hire a facilitator who also teaches you what and why (s)he is doing so you can do it yourself the next time. If you are a leader at any level, being a meeting pro is linked closely to your long-term success. Recognize that there are systematic ways that can help people make practical, methodical progress toward results. Of course, you have to know what they are in order to use them. 
If you want professional help, contact me (609.654.7376) and we can look at the most sensible way for you to learn how to become a meeting pro.

2) People think they are inspiring.

(Inhaling deeply for extra breath): Too many meeting leaders labor under the delusion that long-winded announcements and dissertations impress others. The opposite is true. A long lecture quickly becomes a boring (and sometimes offensive) harangue. Why? Most employees want an active role in contributing to the business; listening to a lecturette feels like a waste of time.

What to do: Design meetings that give attendees opportunities to contribute. 
Plan questions that focus thinking on the situation at hand. Use activities 
that help people make decisions. Communicate your own thoughts  in e-
mails and casual converstations. If you must use a meeting, keep announcements brief and crisp (less than a few minutes).


3) People think others agree with them.

Many of us rely on nods, smiles, and eye contact to measure acceptance. Most employees will do anything to appease a boss. And if the boss seems to be 
upset, the employees will become even more agreeable. Then, once the meeting 
ends, the employees will do one of three things: 1) forget the lecture, 2) ignore the message, 3) sabotage the idea.

What to do: Conduct meetings using an agreed process that everyone considers to be fair and effective. The single best element to remember: people will accept decisions that they helped make.

4) People think others are clairvoyant.

How many times have you received a meeting invitation without an agenda? At the same time, you were expected to arrive with a vision for what needs to be done. Whenever we go to a meeting, we do bring our private hopes, fears, and solutions to the situation supposedly being addressed. But without a clear agenda and a solid process to work the agenda, the result is something between chitchat and chaos, depending upon the complexity of the issue.

Note: A vague agenda, such as a list of topics, is about as useful as no agenda.

What to do: Write out your goal for the meeting. Then prepare an agenda that is so 
complete someone else could use it to run the meeting without you. Specify each 
step and provide blocks of time scheduled time. Send the agenda at least a few days before the meeting so that the attendees can use it to prepare. Call key participants before the meeting to see if they have questions or want to talk about the agenda.

5) People think meetings are necessary.

Have an emergency, surprise, or a twitch? Call a meeting. 

Uh, no.

A meeting is a special and often expensive process. It should be used only to 
obtain results that require the efforts of the right group of people working together in the right way on the right issue. Meetings are not universal cures for whatever ails the work group. Held for the wrong reasons, meetings waste everyone's time and can undermine the leader's actual intentions.

What to do: Challenge every meeting for its ability to add verifiable value to your business objectives. If successful, do the results outweigh the cost of holding a 
meeting. Is there another activity that could accomplish the same result? 


Use it.

Number 5 is the one that really gets to me; I often come down fairly hard on clients and associates whose first step in addressing an issue is to call a meeting. Given my business and the importance of using time wisely, unnecessary meetings are unnecessarily costly. I hate when that happens.

Reader Expertise Wanted!

Meetings are one thing we all have in common. Weigh in with your own experiences, traps, and techniques--you'll provide help to a lot of people who are looking for it.

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Teams: Guiding A Discussion

When you're in a group discussion--or leading it--and you see the energy begin to drop, ask a question.

A good question can breathe life into a team in a way that advice never can. First, recap the key points you've heard , then ask an open-ended question that leads the discussion on in a positive way.

Open-ended  questions are something we all know about. When things get "stuck" or heated, the human condition stops problem-solving and starts digging in. Open-ended questions put everyone back into creative mode and move things away from turf issues or boredom. Remember: Questions activate the mind; statements promote mental passivity. 


What You Say, How You Say It

A helpful way to guide a team discussion is to phrase things in a manner that assumes something will happen. (We love the possibility action and results!). By subtly highlighting the words that indicate what you want to happen, you can lead your team toward an agreement. Try these for starters:

  • "What ideas do you have on how we can handle this issue?"

  • "After we discuss this completely, we can contact the VP of Marketing to let her know what we intend to do."

  • "Before we decide on the solution, let's compare what we've heard today and see if we have a common theme."

  • "How easy will it be for us to finish this by next month?"

Build consensus by valuing everyone's comments. Your actions will create the model for how team members will operate together, with or without the leader present.

What do you do to lead and promote effective discussion? It's a challenge we're all faced with regularly.


Note: I've been away for the past ten days and out of digital contact much of the time. We arrived home to the obligatory "you've been away" burst water pipe. Now that we've cleared the Mallards and Striped Bass out of the basement, I'll begin taking time today to respond to the many comments  on the blog as well as emails from our newsletter. Thanks for your patience.--Steve


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The Meeting From Hell?

I frequently get calls and emails from frustrated business friends, colleagues, and clients. They are usually the result of some decision that was made in a meeting. This one was about the meeting itself. I have permission to print it in its entirety and thought that meeting veterans everywhere might enjoy it. 

Meeting From Hell

" I was much more distraught over my meeting yesterday than my somewhat humorous message might have suggested. I actually went home and polished off an entire bottle of wine by myself, something that I’ve never done before (not the quantity part, but the with-no-one-else-present part…isn’t that what alcoholics do?).

I do not exaggerate when I say that only 10 minutes of the 3-hour meeting applied to me, and the rest could have easily been condensed into 30 minutes for the others. I don’t know if people just take that much pleasure in hearing themselves speak or what. I can’t count how many times I sighed out loud (by the second hour, I really didn’t care anymore). I went to the bathroom after 1½ hours because otherwise I was going to pee my pants. Then I thought, ‘Surely the meeting will end soon.’

No no. That was just the halfway point. I really don’t know what was even discussed, as my whole body was in pain after a certain stage. I didn’t know that one person could talk so much. At one point, I almost laughed out loud, because the speaker was talking about how we should communicate in a more succinct way. I think that explanation lasted about 45 minutes.

I got a pang of fear every time I heard the word ‘because’ as that, I would learn after the first hour, signaled another 20 minute tangent. And then people kept asking questions. About what? Oh, I don’t know…the meaning of life? I was literally waiting for someone to ask ‘Why is the sky blue’? They started talking at one point about the general economic condition in Europe, Asia, etc. etc. – all of this, like 90% of the rest of the discussion, had absolutely nothing to do with the original purpose of the meeting, which was to review very specific workflow issues (those were discussed for maybe all of 5 minutes).

I’m thinking, as much as I’d love to sit here and shoot the breeze with you all, I have things to get done, like brush my hair. Since others kept engaging in conversation, I must have been the only one there who wanted to blow my brains out. I was seriously ready to go all lemming off the 30th floor. Oh, and I also missed a 4pm meeting as a result of this, because, silly me, I thought that the meeting wouldn’t last more than one hour, as it was scheduled to be. Three hours. It takes less time to run a marathon. I seriously think that meetings were created by Satan.

 Feel free to include this in your blog."

Clever graphic from

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Know When To Sit and When To Stand

You can dramatically impact participation in any meeting or presentation. 

Do You Want A Lot of "Give and Take?"

Offer up your idea while your seated and stay seated. 

MeetingTableDiscussion_iStock  Sure, your big idea contains a lot of forethought and preparation. But if you genuinely want spontaneous discussion, kick back and let things flow. Sitting down puts you on equal footing with the rest of the group. As a result, you're a lot more likely to hear the pros and cons, agreement and disagreement, refinements, and spin-off ideas.

Do You Want to Emphasize Importance?

Not you...your idea.

Think about this: when someone "rises to the occasion," the rest of the room settles back and concedes the floor. The dynamics shift from an informal discussion to something more critical that says:

"I have an opinion on this." 

"I'm prepared to support it."

"The issue is bigger than the normal agenda items."

You can have it both ways

 If you want to put your stake in the ground with a stand-up mini-presentation, go ahead; then, take a seat and ask for discussion. 

Shifting your physical presence can go a long way to learning how to be influential in the right ways at the right time.


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Prognosis Without Diagnosis Is Malpractice

You and I would run from any physician who prescribed a cure without first doing a thorough examination.

Yet we get caught up in the "do, action, execution" themes that permeate our businesses. I'm all for getting things done. It would be a good idea if they were the right things.

Toddler-future-doctor In business, "prognosis" is the mandatory forecasting that is required to project future needs, revenues, and stock analyst phone conversations. My experience has been that many companies do the best they can. At the same time, people in those organizations want to please their bosses and, as a result, deliver a "healthy" prognosis. What the company needs is an accurate diagnosis in order to behave in the right way. Schmoozing the numbers leads to inaccurate expectations, wrong use of capital and people, and diminished trust in the marketplace and on Wall Street (if you are publicly traded).

Real-Life Example

Prognosis: We can beat our competitors in the European market if we build a state-of-the-art processing facility.

Result: Facility shut down after five years of financial losses and little wear and tear on the machinery.

What was the diagnosis to begin with? There wasn't. Instead, there was a passionate presentation stating that, "If we build it, our competitors' customers will come." They never did. The competitors had the market locked up and anyone at the local coffee shop could have told that to diagnosticians from the incoming company as well as the reasons why.

Managers are the arbiters of organizational health. Their decisions lead to the success or failure of the organization itself. So, the next time a decision or projection of any consequence needs to be made, stop. Take out the managerial stethoscope and ask:

1. What do you want to do?

2. Why do you want to do it?

3. What facts can you show to support it? OK, now show me the data.

4. What are the other options?

5. Would you bet your career on the likelihood of success? (Stated seriously, that can prompt some unbelievably telling non-verbals).

What to think about today: If you are a manager or leader of any group, take time to sharpen and use your diagnostic skills. The prognosis for your organization's health will depend on them.


Looking forward to speaking to the Delaware Valley HDI association today on How To Be The Manager Your People Want To Work For. Hopefully my high school English teacher won't notice the preposition at the end of the title.

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Presenting? Master The Art of the Segue

Help People Follow You: Create Transitions

"We'll be back after this message from..."  There's a reason why TV and radio announcers use that line. It's designed to help you understand what's about to happen and how it's connected to the programming. In broadcasting it's called a "segue." How often have you watched a speaker end a sentence, click the next slide, speak, click the next slide, speak, click the next slide... and you're wondering "How is this related to what I just saw?" That's what happens when presenters see their role as giving out information instead of telling a meaningful story.

Bridge1 Connect the Dots

This is what it sounds like when you're taking the audience with you:

  • "We just saw the results of last month's marketing activity. Now let's look at what that means for this month's forecast."  Click.
  • "If we decide on Alternative D, how will that impact staffing levels? Here's what we found..." Click.
  • "You asked how we're going to start up the Asian operation. Let's look at the first 3 steps." Click.

So the next time you have a presentation to design, think segue. Build a bridge from one thought or fact to the next and take your listeners with you. They'll appreciate it. 


Photo source attribution:

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5 Ways To Pay Attention: White Space for Your Life

Distraction is the new enemy of success. Everyone is consistently interrupted by emails, text messages, phone calls, and meetings--some called to discuss future meetings. That's not breaking news.

But the result of this may be something you hadn't realized: mental exhaustion followed by frustration. Why frustration? Because you never properly finish what you started.

How you focus your attention determines what you think about and ultimately do. Jumping from task to task isn't a sign of workplace excellence and productivity; it's an indicator that you may not being doing much of anything very well. 

Each of us has 100 percent of a time allotment. OK, so we'll divide our time between two projects, 50-50. But hey, we like Project X a little more than Project Y, so now it's a 65%-35% arrangement. Then, the boss comes in to discuss a new idea, someone from the family sends a text message, and the printer needs a new cartridge. Do the numbers.

Whitespaceheader White Space is a design concept most of us are familiar with. Good page layout allows for breathing room, or "white space", so the reader can attend to what's important. Doesn't it make sense to do the same for ourselves?

 Since All Things Workplace is about practical solutions, here are:

Five Ways To Create Personal White Space

1. Know your own priorities. Then, hold fast to them.

Yeah, you were expecting that one because you already know it's true. Why it's important is the key. When you have clear priorities and are in the habit of acting on them, other people notice. Then, when you take time to explain why you can't do something else at the moment, they're more likely to understand. 

2. Schedule Thinking Time. Put it on your calendar the same way you would anything else of importance. Why would you spend a day, week, or lifetime working at anything that's not a result of some purposeful reflection?

3. Start creating the habit of "Singletasking" vs "Multitasking. Tackle things in sequence and  complete each one--or reach some sensible break point-- before moving on to the next.

4. Manage distractions. Be clear with people: "I'm not always available." Turn off the mobile, Skype, Twitter, and email for set periods of time. Figure out how often you really have to check them in order to remain informed. 

5. Make "paying attention" a conscious part of your life and worklife. Observe how much of your time is being orchestrated by you and how much is being pilfered by others. The very act of doing this will anger you just enough to do something about it. 

White Space is a design concept most of us are familiar with. Good page layout allows for breathing room, or "white space", so the reader can attend to what's important.

Thought for Today: Create some White Space for your work life.

If you're thinking along the same lines, you might also enjoy:

Leadership: When "No" Is More Important Than "Yes"

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Five Good Tips For Busy People

"Unless you are an hourly worker in America, boundaries between work and leisure are dead. Work bleeds into life, and life bleeds into work. People have the smart phone, aka the “digital leash”. Work will never be the same. It’s already gone."

          Kris Dunn, VP of People, DAXKO, The Blurring Line Between Work and Life


Kris and the group speak the truth. We all know it although we may not like it.

So, what do you do to "mesh" the elements of your life without it becoming blurry. I'm not a fan of blurry; clarity yields a more peaceful lifestyle.

So, as I head off to sunny (hopefully) Florida to moderate a Learning panel at IQPC Corporate University week, I'm thinking about personal blurriness and how to clear it up.

Here are 5 Tips that work for me and I believe will do the same for you:

1. Scrutinize Meetings: Look at every invitation skeptically. If there's no clear agenda, stated ending time, or no purpose that involves your own purpose, "no" would be the right response. BTW: A lot of people would rather avoid the "no" and believe they can sit in the back and work unassumingly on something else. Nah, doesn't fly--and, it's not very courteous.

2. Learn when to stop: There's a fascinating dynamic at work here: the more pressure we feel the more we tend to hunker down and work even harder and longer. Harder and longer usually lead to working past the point where we're 100% attentive. The result: Reduced, or little, effectiveness.  And, it often requires going back and doing the work all over again.

Busy-people 3. Do take time:  to accurately convey your thoughts to others. How easy it is to rattle off instructions by phone or email when we're hassled. The result? Discovering (too late) that someone responsible for a key part of your project misunderstood what you said you wanted.

Accurate communication is always a time-saver over the long run.

4. How many ways can you learn to say "No!"? Develop at least a half dozen polite variations until you can say them on cue.. Then use them. A lot.

The best way to prevent personal overload is to stop saying "Yes" to requests.

Oh, the person requesting your time is your boss? Here's what to do: seriously and politely ask for clear priorities and explain that you need to know what to drop to make room for the new assignment. I think you'll be surprised at how often this will prompt your boss to reconsider the work assignment; and, (s)he will realize that your request has been helpful in clearing up departmental priorities.

5. Consider Consequences. Think ahead, and not just about what you want to see happen. 

Business folks are, by nature, results driven. "Driven" can lure us into focusing only on the goal and forgetting about the fact that bad things can happen. Tight deadlines can really be an enemy to ignoring risks. Rushing into action without counting the cost can prove to be the most costly way of operating.

What could go wrong and what will you do if it does? An ounce of prevention. . .

Off to Orlando in the (too) early a.m. Will try not to do the next post from the back of the room!

Related reading for busy people:

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Real Leaders Can Tell You About It

"Most people who want to get ahead do it backward. They think, 'I'll get a bigger job, then I'll learn how to be a leader.' But showing leadership skill is how you get the bigger job in the first place. Leadership isn't a position, it's a process."
    - John C. Maxwell

Last week I was blogging--actually, tweeting non-stop--from the World Business Forum 2009 organized by HSM Global. The roster and quality of speakers ranged from former Medtronic CEO Bill George to Kraft's Irene Rosenfeld, from movie magnate George Lucas to Nobel Economist Paul Krugman, billionaire entrepreneur T. Boone Pickens and former U.S. President Bill Clinton. Sprinkled in the mix to add a touch of leadership education were Patrick Lencioni on teamwork, Gary Hamel's strategic innovation, and Saatchi & Saatchi's Kevin Roberts talking about marketing and "lovemarks" (Google that one). Hats off to HSM Global and the speakers--everything was on time, ran just the right amount of time, and was in tune with the times.

Follow_the_leader I was aware of some consistent personal feelings throughout:

a. If a speaker had accomplished something by leading, I gave more credibility to what was said. Makes sense, no?

b. No matter how good a speaker/presenter guru you are, if you talk about leadership but have no hands-on credentials, I may agree with what you say but you really don't add much except intellectual entertainment (if you are good). I also learned that, sandwiched between some heavy duty achievers, that's not a bad thing. But I didn't learn anything "about" leading that I didn't already know.

c. Speakers who use the term "transparency" and "authenticity" in every third sentence don't convey either of those characteristics. Because:

d. Transparency and authenticity are conveyed by relating specific, personal stories that form the foundation for what the speaker has learned through success and failure. The most credible speakers (for me) were the ones who never used the buzzwords. They didn't need to.

Do you have any genuine leadership stories to tell based on failures, successes, and what you learned? If so, there are people who can learn from you.


Big "thank you" to HSM's Kelsey Woods for a first-class job organizing the Bloggers' Hub and making sure everyone was informed all along the way.

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Better Meetings: Decide How To Decide

You're in a meeting. It looks as if all the information is on the table: yet the discussion goes on and on and you table the item for the next meeting. A combination of disgust, frustration, and conflict follow at the water cooler.

Good Meetings Start Before the Meeting

How do you make sure this doesn't happen? 

Simple. Agree on how you'll arrive at decisions before the meeting begins.

Decisionmaking I'm going to offer up a "Let's have consensus" procedure for the purpose of giving an example. That's not the only way to make sound decisions. Some decisions may belong to the manager; if so, say so as well as the reasons for it. What's important is to agree on what kinds of decisions will have what kind of process

Consensus Example

Most of us have to generate support--as well as the best possible input--for important decisions. I think Consensus provides a good framework for that as long as you are clear on the definition of what it really means. I use this one:

Consensus:  “I can live with this decision and openly support it.” (I added the word "openly" some years back because some folks would support it in the room and then bad-mouth it later. Once you have agreement to openly support it, any other behavior is reason for a performance counseling session).

It's equally important to define and agree on what consensus does not mean. Consensus does not mean we all necessarily think this is the best or only solution; just one we will “live with and support”.

With this definition as a template, you will be able bring the group to agreement on how they will make decisons as the meeting progresses. And Consensus is much easier to achieve than a unanimous approval. Some groups I've worked with put both of these on the wall in every meeting and use them as a visual reminder along the way.

Ask these two questions when you reach a decision point:

  • How many of you can live with with and openly support this decision?
  • Who cannot--and why not? (If you don't force the "why not?" question, you're not going to get the discussion that could be all that you need to turn it around). Another way to word the "why?" questions is: "What would it take for you to live with and openly support this decision?"

What has worked well for you and your organization?

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Four Ways to Help People Learn

More and more, job candidates ask the question "What will I learn here?"

If they don't like the answer, chances are they'll keep looking.

For leaders, managers, and heads of projects, helping people learn is a critical contribution to both individual and organizational success.

We often know what we should be doing and what works. So, here are four quick reminders about learning that can make a difference.

Mega Four To Remember

1. Arouse Curiosity. For every action there's a reaction. When we say or do something, people want time to react to it, talk about it, and understand what it means to them.

Practical Application: Allow  time for questions and answers. The give-and-take after you speak is where people actually learn and where they begin to develop an affinity for, and commitment to, the topic. Even if you're an expert, the learning takes place as a result of people wrestling with the information or idea rather than being the recipients of a data dump--no matter how eloquent you may be.

2. Build self-confidence. How you deliver and discuss the information impacts how people feel about learning it. People with position power--managers, supervisors, team leaders--all have the ability to build confidence in the learners or create a defensive atmosphere.

Practical Application: Tell the group at the outset that you value their questions and that you hope they'll jump in when they experience an "Aha!" or a "Help me, I don't get it." When someone asks a question, throw it back out to the group to give someone else a chance to form an answer that may be framed in a way different than your own. Thank people whenever they ask a question or offer an answer.

3. Involve! Even as youngsters, we knew who the teachers were who made learning exciting, interesting, and engaging. Why not be the "managerial version" of your best teacher. And remember this: Managers Are The Mediators of Motivation.

Practical Application: Take some time to develop questions and put people into groups to address them; if you're talking about a new marketing approach, give people a block of time to do a concept and present it to the group. The time you spend designing their activities will pay off in engaged learners and, ultimately, real learning.

4. Make Room For the 'New'. Unless you're involved in safety procedures, accounting rules, or a regulatory issue, people want to be able to offer their own "variation on a theme." One of the reasons to bring people together is to capitalize on the collective creativity and varying viewpoints in the room.

Practical Application: Give people latitude to take the discussion in directions that you never thought of. Remember, you're in charge--but to try to be in control will shut down the kind of learning that the group--and you--have an opportunity to experience.

When the noise level goes up and people start debating, discussing, and delving into the topic, you've been successful. Let it go until the energy begins to die down. Then, capture the points that they were making with their co-workers and discuss next steps. When learners sit passively, you may feel more relaxed because you feel in control not having to respond to questions or manage the group. What it may really mean is that they aren't engaged, aren't learning, and are waiting "until the bell rings" so they can go back to their workspace.

How about offering up some of your own experiences and some tips for the community?

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Why "Why?" Matters

You ask your four year-old to go put away her toys. The response: "Why?"

Your eyeballs bulge.

Then, your teenager asks you for $20. You ask, "Why?" His response: "I just need it."

You go into your "money doesn't grow on trees" routine that you swore you would never do (because your parents did it).

You tell your boss you think you need about $200,000 to beef up your marketing efforts and $100,000 to outsource the graphics and production. She leans her head at a 45 degree angle, looks at you, and utters the magical, "Uh, why?"

You think to yourself, "Isn't it obvious given our targets for market-share?"

Why "Why" Does This Matter?

Purpose and Context. That's why.

The human condition requires context for what's being asked or done.

Idea people fall in love with their ideas.

Action people fall in love with do-ing.

But everyone around them needs to know why the ideas and actions are important. We talk about "engagement," then fail to provide the purpose and context that people need to become engaged.

I've watched managers bark absolutely appropriate directions at employees. The response was appropriate as well: "Why do you want us to do it this way?"

That's not insubordination, it's an intelligent question. Knowing the purpose allows people to make good decisions when problems arise. If an action is going to cost 20% of budget and part of the purpose is to stay within 10%, employees know how to respond effectively.

"Why" Brings You Clarity and Confidence

If you and I are at all alike, one immediate reaction to "Why?" is often defensiveness. ("How dare you question my thinking?")

Yet this is the question that will keep you out of trouble--but only if you are willing to take it as a gift and spend time re-visiting your answer. If you do, you'll gain the clarity that gives you confident strength to move ahead boldly.

And engagement--yours and theirs--won't be a buzzword.

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Boost Creativity: Make Rules To Be Broken

Counterdependence: The act of overcompensating as a result of feeling very dependent and subconsciously moving in the opposing direction.

Think "teenagers".

Once teenagers figure out the rules, they begin to look for creative ways to break them as a way to assert their independence. Adults do the same thing. You can choose to funnel that dynamic into productive counterdependence.

Here are some proven (that means I did it at least once) ways:

1. Implementing Changes.

The warm-and-fuzzy school of thought says to get people involved at the outset of a change to help create it. Well, that might work if they known what to do and how to do it.

a. If they don't know either, then they require direction. When people know the over-arching purpose of the change, they'll be able to help refine it.

b. If they know what but not how, they need educational direction.

c. If they know how but don't want to do the what, they need a darned good reason. Perhaps even an offer they can't refuse. Then, listen for the responses to get an accurate readiness diagnostic that you won't have to pay for.

Bird_breakingrules 2. Brainstorming Past Glazed-Over Eyeballs.

People who are highly expressive and verbal often enjoy brainstorming. That's who the "storming" part was meant to accommodate.

But what about the deep thinkers who want to reflect thoughtfully  before participating?

They need something upon which to reflect, then react. They need content. Give them some. Instead of expecting your engineers and accountants to view your blank flip chart page as a Monet canvas, put some of your ideas up there first. Don't worry about how lame they are. (Your ideas, not the engineers). Just get something up there for people to "bounce off of."

Think of yourself and your content as  "trampolines for engagement." (Did I just say that?)

3. Overcoming Senior-itis.

Frequently heard from managers:

"I don't want to tell anybody what I think of Project X until after they've discussed it in the meeting. Then I'll give my opinion. Otherwise, they may be intimidated and try to please me." The thinking is this: The most senior person in the room should wait until last to speak.

That may be true if:

a. You have an abundance of shrinking violets working with you, in which case it won't make any difference.

b. These people used to offer up a stream of ideas until they figured out that you always wait until the last minute to unveil your brilliance and tell them how wrong they all are. Gotcha!

c. You somehow believe that the accurate definition of "leadership" is "I'll go last."

I actually do understand how strong managers arrive at the "I'll go last" methodology and most of those with whom I've worked believe they are doing a good thing. They aren't.

At the beginning of the meeting the manager needs to say something like:

"Here's my thinking on this right now, and why. I don't have all the answers or the nuance. Let's talk about how to look at Project X in it's totality and see what we come up with." Then sit down, listen, and stick to clarifying questions.

Why go first? Because everyone in the room will hold back to some extent until the senior person puts a stake in the ground. Pound the stake, tell them you are more than willing to move it, and get out of the way.

Note: If you aren't willing to budge, say so and have a "best way to implement" discussion. Don't do a "faux" participative activity. You can get away with it once or twice but it will ultimately wreck your credibility and the group's participation.

That's what I'm thinking about this today. How about you?


( "All Things Workplace" has been selected as one of the 10 finalists for the 2009 Best of Leadership Blogs competition hosted by the Kevin Eikenberry Group. It's an honor to be selected. If you are interested in voting for your favorite, please vote at Best Leadership Blog 2009 by July 31st.)

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5 Powerful Ways for Managers to Open Discussions

Just imagine how disappointed you’d be after setting up a meeting or performance discussion, only to lose your listener(s) with an opening that didn't create momentum. Anticipation of a good meeting--followed by a weak opening-- is like inviting someone for a hot air balloon ride only to find the helium tank is empty.

Starting Gate Here are  5 openers  that will capture your listeners' imaginations and pull them deeper into the heart of your issue.

1. Ask a Question

Opening with a question is a rhetorical device. It creates curiosity and starts the listener thinking. Thinking means active engagement with your topic, and that’s just what both of you want.

2. Share a Quote or Maybe an Anecdote

Anecdotes are brief stories that can make people laugh or quickly establish the main point at hand. A  related quote from a professional authority or well-known person can magnetically hold attention in those opening seconds.

3. Involve the Mind’s Eye

A mental image in the listener's mind is one of the most powerful things you can create, so engaging the imagination is a powerful opening technique. Use words like “imagine,” “picture this,” “do you remember when,” etc.

4. Note a Shocking Statistic

I love starting off with a fascinating fact. Why?  People enjoy fascinating data if it is unique, startling, shocking, or counter-intuitive. Be sure it is directly relevant to your point as well.

5. Use a Metaphor, Analogy, or Simile

These are some of the most powerful devices available when it comes to telling a story in a single sentence. It's a great way to capture attention and also sparks the mental imagery that allows people to tell a story to themselves.

Whether you are sitting down one-on-one or kicking off a meeting, one or more of these will create the kind of engagement that will make you "listenable" and draw others into the discussion.

Wouldn't it be great to become known as the person people want to be with, regardless of the topic?

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Want Better Meetings? Introduce Each Speaker

Business meetings are supposed to produce good information, understanding and decisions.

Way too often (maybe most of the time?) they turn into marathons that are a series of individual "stand up/sit down" presentations where one speaker simply melts into the next. The result is low energy and some unnecessary confusion on the part of participants. Why should I listen to Sarah talk about this? Sometimes it's even, "Who the heck is Sarah?"

You and I need a change in energy and pace to capture our attention and hold our interest. So I'm going to offer managers and meeting leaders an easy way to improve meetings everywhere:

Introduce Each Presenter

Why is this important?

Sure, you may know Ralph from Accounting or Rita the Sales Manager. But do you always know exactly why they are speaking today, what they've done recently, or something captivatingly unique about them? To simply toss a speaker into the mix and push the button for the next slide makes every "speaker" the same. This forces them (if they are aware) to work harder at re-capturing the group.

Speaker Set Them Up for Success

Introductions set the mood for the presenter. The group has a chance to absorb some information that will set up the segment. Most importantly: It establishes  the credibility of the speaker. There is a psychological boost that comes from someone else--especially the boss--endorsing the presenter. What better way to show recognition for specific activity than in a meeting with "the team" or others from the company?

Here's what to include. Any one or all may be useful, depending upon the familiarity of the group with the next presenter.

1. Establish their expertise on the topic.

Tell what they've been working on, how that relates to their work and educational history, and one thing that you value about their efforts.

2. Capture  attention.

I once had to introduce a guy totally well-known to the group. His specialty? IT. But I also knew that his hobby was wine-making and he had literally cultivated a first-class vineyard on his property. So the intro slide was a photo of him (supplied by his wife) tending to the vines on the weekend. It completely shifted the dynamics. Then it was possible to quickly move into #3.

3. Make it relevant to the topic at hand

"Bill has spent the past 3 months at our site in Finland studying the pilot program for added manufacturing efficiency. He has those results for us today and I think you'll be intrigued by them."

Managers and meeting leaders: Think "Expertise, Attention, and Relevancy." Then do the intro for each. The presenters and the audience will appreciate it and you'll shift the energy in a way that will improve the quality of your sessions.

What tips do you have from your own meeting experiences? Inquiring minds want to know!


Meeting Bonus: In case your meeting leads to problem-solving, Art Petty offers 8 Suggestions To Improve Your Team's Problem-Solving Skills.

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Leadership: The Art of Being Brief

I've never heard anyone complain about a meeting or presentation that was too short, have you?

My friend, Marty, and I were just discussing a surgical procedure. He may have to have the same one that I experienced a few years ago. Marty is a very intelligent, thoughtful guy who asks the right kinds of questions. But his most animated question was: "How long does it take?!"

I laughed, given that the Doc could probably make it last for about a week and a half depending upon the anesthesiologist's mood and sense of humor. 

But the real answer was '45 minutes'.

Trimming He looked relieved. And it occurred to me: I had actually asked my doctor the same question. Even though we know we'll be sound asleep we seem to have a sense of, and concern for, time.

 So…have you filtered your meeting-thinking or presentation prep the same way? Could you say and accomplish more with less?

The Leader's Guide to Slide Surgery

1. Do I need so many slides? (You don't).

2. Do I need every slide in this section? (Probably not).

3. Do I need this slide? ( I don't know, but you should be sure).

4. What can I say with fewer words? (You'll feel the love).

Your group will appreciate the brevity. This reflects preparation on your part that translates into respect for them. You'll also create the kind of "meeting white space" that generates the real discussion needed to make something happen.

What will you eliminate?

Bonus Leadership Reading: Check out how you view leaders and the notion of "institutionalizing them" at Managing Leadership. Jim Stroup will give you something to ponder.

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Four Tips Four Presenting at the Meeting Table

When we think of presentations, more often than not the image is one of a person standing up and speaking to a group.

My experience: The most common type of  speaking and presenting occurs across a meeting room table. In fact, this offers a chance at more intimacy, give-and-take, and takes a lot of pressure off of the "presenter" being on "center stage." (I personally like it because it immediately creates the "we're-in-this-together" dynamic instead of "So, convince us that..."

There are some unspoken and unwritten rules that will serve you well in these situations. Here are a few that I've gleaned from speaking over the years. Many were learned because they were initially violated--by me. 

 How To Manage The Room

1. Seating arrangements.  This can be a big deal. Different organizations have different protocols but trust me: there is always a power protocol.

Wait for your host to give you direction or (preferably) ask ahead of time. Some organizations have a very clearly defined hierarchy. I work with one Executive Board whose secretary--the legal counsel--always sits in the samConfroome place, as does the Chairman. In the first case, the arrangement helps him see and hear everyone. In the Chairman's case, it's about being at the head of the table.  Even if the issue isn't about power you may do the equivalent of sitting in The Church Lady's pew on Sunday. (Often more painful than violating corporate protocol).

2. Set-up. Let's say you are using visuals: Power Point, Keynote...

I don't know your experience but I'm still baffled by the fact that meeting rooms continue to be designed as long, skinny areas with a table surrounded by chairs surrounded by little other space--even after we've been using A/V support for 40+ years, spanning Opaque Projectors to laptop-driven slides. 

Arrive a half-hour early to get a feel for the room and:

a. Position the screen and projector (if possible) in a way that everyone can see the slides and aren't blocked by the projector if it's a table top.

b. If you can't move a darned thing, then sit in a seat and get a feel for how best to conduct your talk. Spend time getting used to the reality and how to use it vs. lamenting the fact that the place wasn't designed like a Vegas showroom. You probably don't look great in a feather boa anyway.

3. Know your audience. Yeah, you've heard that a million times before. Can I tell you something?

Thank you for the permission. . .

I will not walk into a speaking situation without having spoken directly to a cross-section of participants before I get there. I mean that. If there are 12 people attending, I'll call at least four first. I introduce myself, the fact that I've been invited, and then ask them what they want to know and how the topic impacts them. The result?

  • I have a good sense of interest, disinterest, hot-buttons, how to tweak the discussion,  and who really has ownership.
  • Four people have heard my voice, I've heard their voices, and I walk into the room having a relationship with a third of the group. In the case of "über-important" meetings I would call all twelve. Even if we only connect by voicemail, they know I tried and they've heard me.

# 3 is my million-dollar suggestion. You will be amazed at what you learn, how much more comfortable and prepared you feel, and how much it will be appreciated. How many people have ever called you before a presentation to ask your insights on the topic?

4. Have a brief discussion after each main point.

Look, if you are there you are selling something--even if it's agreement on how to proceed with an initiative. After each key point, stop and ask, "Before I move on, what questions do you have about the _____?" Then shut up and count silently to ten. If nothing is uttered, ask for verbal agreement from everyone. Silence does not mean agreement. It means you don't know what's going on but they do. Not good.

Why do this after each point? Because if you chug along until the very end--and half the group is still silently mulling over Point #1--you have been talking to yourself.

Help yourself by having them help you.

Now, go make a few phone calls before you set up the room.

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Better Meetings, Better Leadership

You and I are looking for ways to be more efficient at what we do. People are looking for leadership that helps them be the best at what they do.

Meetings offer one of the best opportunities to display--and evaluate--leadership.

Getting together makes a lot of sense in a world that values teamwork more and more. When groups operate well, we leave those meetings with energy and a desire to move forward.  Inefficient meetings? we dribble out as if drained  of our life-blood and dreading the next meeting.

Both are indicators of leadership.

Since solid leadership is a big deal, this post is a bit longer than usual.

Change your Meetings, Boost your Leadership

Meeting 1. This sounds simple but the best question you can spend time answering is: Does this really require a meeting? Often the answer is "no" and that decision will make a lot of people very, very happy.

2. The second question is: Who really has to be there? I can't tell you the number of meetings I've helped set up and then had to ask the client, "Why is Ralph invited?" The answers range from, "I think he'd be offended if I didn't include him" to "Ralph is on our distribution list". If I went and talked with one of the Ralphs of the world, they would more often than not scream, "I wish (s)he'd stop wasting my time with those stinking meetings!"

Who are your Ralphs? Nuke 'em. Everyone will be happy and more productive.

3. What's the real purpose of the meeting? Will there be a decision required at the end, is it educational, or do you want to discuss and refine the elements of a project? If you know your purpose--and tell everyone in advance so they can prepare accordingly--your leadership aura will glow a lot brighter.

A Solid Model to Follow

When I started out back in the early 1970s, Tannenbaum and Schmidt  developed a leadership decision-making model I found helpful in organizing meeting agendas. They cited seven modes of leadership; I've narrowed it to five for simplicity.

They noted that all meetings include two components:  participation by the members and authority of the leaders.  Before each meeting the leader has to decide how much participation and authority he or she desires.  In other words, the leader decides what to communicate and how to best communicate in a meeting environment. 

1.  The Tell Mode:  Let’s say you have a new policy to communicate and no one can change the policy.  You simply want all members to hear about the policy at once in order to create the most understanding.  According to the T&S Model you desire the most authority and no participation from the group.  In some cases when the Tell Mode is in play, you’d opt to send an email or other written communication in lieu of a meeting.

2.  The Sell Mode.  Let’s continue the example above with the same policy you wish to communicate.  This time, however, you want the group members to buy into the new policy.  Even though you cannot change the policy, you want to ”sell” the members on aspects of the policy.  Instead of just telling them, as in the Tell Mode, you are selling them.

3.  The Test Mode.  In this case, unlike the previous two examples, there is an ever so slight chance the policy can change.  You toss the policy out for input as a test.  If the group totally rebels, you can change the policy.  This is the first instance along the continuum where there exists a possibility for a change in the decision.  As a meeting manager you must ask ahead of time, can this decision be changed?  If the answer is maybe, you are at least in the Test Mode.  If the answer is no, you must either be in the Tell or Sell mode.

4.  The Consult Mode.  We have now moved down the continuum of participation in which there exists more participation from the members than authority from the leaders.  In other words in the Consult Mode, the leader gives up a lot of authority to encourage group participation.  Why?  This time the leader desires to hear from the group members as consultants to the decision.  This is the first instance in the model where the leader has not yet made a decision.  The members share ideas and suggestions, but the end decision lies with the leader.  The leader keeps the final authority and the group knows that.  If you, as the leader, go into the meeting with a decision firmly made, you are not in the Consult Mode.  You must either be in the Tell, Sell or Test Mode.  A Consult Mode leader spends a lot of time in the meeting listening.

5.  The Join Mode.  The final stage along the continuum is the polar opposite of the Tell Mode.  In the Tell Mode participation was zero and authority was highest.  In the Join Mode participation is highest and authority is zero.  The leader gives up all authority and joins the group to make the decision together.   These are the most unruly meetings.  When members know they are in the Join Mode, however, these meetings can also turn into the most rewarding experiences.

For meetings to operate effectively, leaders must decide before the meeting which mode suits their communication needs.  Tell, Sell and Test Mode meetings take less time than Consult and Join meetings.  It's easy to see where leaders often make mistakes.  They  enter meetings in the Tell or Sell Mode but sort of pretend they are in the Consult or Join mode. As a result, the group wastes a lot of time talking about things that go nowhere.

You can bump up your leadership presence by simply changing the value and impact of your meetings.

Wouldn't your next meeting be the perfect time to start?

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Honesty, Boldness, and Sins of Omission

Do you ever think back on a situation and ask yourself, "Why didn't I say_______?"

We humans have a tendency to want to make things "nice". So we rationalize by committing a sin of omission: not telling the whole truth.

How does this happen?I

There are certain people in our lives who make us feel like being completely honest would harm the relationship with them.  So we smile and hold back the tougher parts of the truth. Then we walk away having to live with a sense of nagging  disappointment.

But it can have even greater consequences.

Truthconsequences Why?

Because people are looking for boldness. (Aren't you?). We look for people who put a stake in the ground  and say, "This is the way it is." People want the truth because they actually can deal with it.  Heck, it's easier than dealing with a lie, isn't it?

I know what you are thinking: "If I tell (fill in the blank) what I really think, she won't like me anymore."

1. How do you know for sure?

2. Do you want to spend your time with colleagues, a boss, or others who want you to be someone else so that they can be comfortable? (It will drain you and make you unbelievably ineffective).

3. How long will it be before the entire truthfulness of the issues emerges and you look like the one who was untruthful?!

When you have a less than "real" relationship with someone who has a lot of power over you, the idea of putting that relationship at risk is scary. So it's important to deliver the truth with respect for the other person involved.

What You Can Do

Here are three sentences that model some ways to do this:

"I have some real concerns about our working relationship..."

"I sensed your frustration in that meeting, and here's how it impacted me. It may have impacted others in the same way"

"Let me tell you something that you may not have heard before..."

Honest relationships are energizing; hedging your bets will drain you.

The next time an opportunity comes up to be bold with the truth, remember that you have a choice.

That choice will live with you for a long time.  

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One More Way to Engage

The biggest learning challenge is not to get people to speak. Often it's getting them to be silent. And, to do it at the right moment.

Organizations can breed a  "you must know everything or else you know nothing" mentality and culture. The result? People show up with reams of data, slides, and the business story equivalent of War and Peace.

Yet engagement, by definition, is a joint activity. Trying to dazzle your audience with everything you know disengages them, makes you the center of attention, and makes you responsible for everything that happens (or doesn't).

ToBeContinued Use the Zeigarnik Effect

The Zeigarnik effect states that people remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed ones.

This rather simple principle can help anyone who wants to communicate and engage more effectively. The next time you plan your presentation or speech, lay out the facts and then ask (sometimes rhetorically),

"What would you do next?


"We're going to take a 5 minute break and I'll show you how we plan to deal with _______."

TV shows do it all the time, which is why "Continued Next Week" drives us to schedule our time differently or double-check the TIVO. They know about the Zeigarnik Effect. And they know it keeps us engaged.

The online equivalent: top sites like Lifehacker, ReadWriteWeb, and The Business Insider. They all start with a provocative sentence or two. Then, you have to click to read the rest of the article.

Bump up engagement and find a way to "Zeigarnik" your training, presentations, or meeting breaks.


Speaking of Engagement: Join me tomorrow, May 12, at 1 pm Eastern Time and learn more about the link between Employee Engagement and Performance Management. The free webinar sign-up is at HR.COM. Kudos to sponsor Halogen Software.

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Four Tips for Global Presenters

According to the International Labor Organization, 70% of multinational business ventures fail due to cultural differences.

Audience_applauding Even if you aren't traveling and speaking to international groups, you're probably presenting to audiences in your home country that are more multicultural than you may realize. Let's face it: you want your talk to increase  connection and understanding, not add more barriers.

I was thinking about what I've learned from speaking to global groups over the years. Here are four tips that popped into mind:
  1. Speak clearly and enunciate. If English is not the listener's first language, it is easier for them to understand you when your enunciation is close to what they learned during their English instruction.

  2. Adjust your pace. This usually means slow down. A slower pace is also critical if someone is doing simultaneous translation for you.

    I once did a two-day seminar for Pfizer where the audience was entirely Brazilian and Chinese. Each group had a translator. I'm still wondering if the smiles on the audience's faces meant "this is really good" or "I think we'll humor you because we really don't get a word you're saying."

  3. Use examples from the audience’s culture, examples your listeners can relate to. I substitute examples  from the local country or region. This means doing research before the speech. But that's part of good presentations, period, and time well spent. We all know and appreciate when someone has taken the time to find ways to relate to us. Even if you can’t find a local example,  set up your story so people understand the significance and universality of the illustration.

  4. Get extreme about filtering words, expressions or references the audience might not recognize. This may be the most difficult because we use pop-culture expressions and cliches 'til the cows come home. (Uh, see what I mean. I wonder what that really means in Urdu?).
    Suggestion: Sift through your notes and slides and check for product references, people, and places that might have no local meaning. Better yet, have someone local review your notes or do a run-through with you.
These were the first four that came to mind. What else have you found helpful?

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Use Competence, Not Dominance

Communication Alert: A harsh, one-way leadership style just doesn't do what's valued now: building a good rapport with workers.

Little_girl_body_language Everyone needs to brush up on actions that imply ability and competence (called "task cues" in the psych trade) and play down their dominance cues (actions that imply control and threat), reports a team of psychologists headed by James E. Driskell, Ph.D.

 In one study, 159 college students, male and female, listened to the pitches of task-oriented speakers and the same arguments from dominance-oriented speakers, male and female. Almost everyone thought men and women who exhibited task cues were more competent, group-oriented, and likable. Those showing dominance cues were thought of as self-oriented and disliked.

For a corporate decision-making group sitting around a table in a board meeting, poise, attitude, and approach matter more than most people realize.

Here's the rundown on which behaviors they say will earn you respect and which won't:

Task Cues

  • Rapid speech rate
  • Eye contact
  • Verbal fluency
  • Choosing the head of the table
  • Fluid gestures
  • Well-moderated voice tone

Dominance Cues

  • Loud voice
  • Angry tone
  • Finger pointing
  • Lowering eyebrows
  • Stiff posture
  • Forceful gestures

What do you think?

Bonus: Check this related article at Slow Leadership.

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Meetings: The Best Thing Managers Can Do

Manager As Mediator of Meaning

Star_people Every week there are work teams meeting in multiple sessions over multiple days. Presentations, discussions, and break-out groups generate an overwhelming amount of information; problems, solutions, and ideas abound.

But is everything important?

No. And that's why the best thing a manager can do is listen intently, ask questions, and take notes. Then, commit to this valuable act of leadership:

Each morning, synthesize and summarize what you saw the day before. Point out what is genuinely important and what is a "nice idea" to tuck away for future use. This single intervention provides focus for the day's discussion as well as focus for the immediate future. People know what they need to pay attention to today and for the weeks ahead. Equally important: they know what to let go of.

Synthesize, summarize, prioritize. That kind of direction keeps people in the "performance zone."

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Don't Sell Ideas--Let People Try Them Out

"People are usually more convinced by reasons they discovered themselves than by those found out by others."
--Blaise Pascal

Perfume Walk through the cosmetics section of any big department store. You'll come out the other end with free samples and the need to explain to your spouse exactly why you smell like a fragrance not found anywhere at home. 

Do the fragrance folks make you plop down $60 for their new perfume or cologne before you can experience it? 

Heck, no. And you want to do the same with the ideas you present in business meetings. Create ways for people to give your idea a low-risk trial before making a commitment of time, money, and corporate reputation. The lower the risk, the more likely people are to take a baby step in your direction.

When people ask,  "What have I got to lose if I give it a go?", you know you've got it right.

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When Silence Can Be Golden At Work


Mary Jo Asmus joins us as guest author today. She is Founder and President of Aspire Collaborative Services where she partners with Senior Leaders, "High Potentials", and their teams to support them in achieving their goals in leadership excellence. Mary Jo has been a frequent part of the discussions here at ATW and generously agreed to add a different take on Silence Is Not Golden Unless. . .


Trusting relationships that are formed through good communication are the foundation for leadership. 

When we think of what good communication means to us, we usually think of the words that are spoken.  Good communication entails so much more than words……including silence. “Not talking” can be a vital part of effective communication and great leadership.

The business world rewards us for our knowledge and for having the answers.  For most people, especially those in leadership positions, having a point of view and letting others know about it is a behavior that is encouraged.  Yet, holding back on our opinions and allowing silence to unfold in a conversation is an important way of engaging others, and assuring that all opinions that are important to making decisions are heard. 

Birds Two Types of Energy

Carl Jung described a framework for the way we orient to the world that has great implications for effective communication and the power of silence.  This framework includes a “preference pair” that describes distinct and very different ways of communicating: extraversion and introversion. 

Extraverts seem to dominate leadership in our organizations and communities. They tend to be fast paced, sociable and energized by moving forward and taking action.  Extraverted leaders prefer to talk (rather than listen) – it’s how they think. Simply by talking, their brains engage, producing a sensation of forward momentum and progress.  In the extravert’s mind, this is how decisions are made, if only by them. 

Introverts are a calmer lot, more energized by thoughts and ideas in their inner world than by interacting in the external world. They require time and reflection to do their best thinking.  When given the chance, introverts will respond carefully and thoughtfully, generally waiting for a pause in conversation before speaking. 

How To Improve Communication

The good news for extraverts is that introverts are usually very good listeners. The bad news is, if they aren’t careful, extraverted leaders may never get to hear the wonderfully thought-out ideas that an introvert can convey. As long as an extravert wants to talk, the introvert is usually happy to listen. So how do you encourage an introvert to speak up? As luck would have it, introverts are usually quite comfortable with silence.

If an extraverted leader isn’t aware and intentional in their communication style, they can verbally run over introverts, never giving them the opportunity to express their best thinking. When this happens, some great ideas can lost to the introvert’s inner world.  “Not talking” can be a powerful tool for encouraging introverts to speak up.

Allowing silence in a conversation can require great discipline. Our world is noisy, and the temptation to jump into the silent spaces by wagging our tongues can be overwhelming. With practice and intention, leaders can learn to hold back. Conversation isn’t a competition (he who speaks first doesn’t win) and you’ll notice that if you hold off in a conversation with an introvert, they will (eventually) speak – and more often than not, with great wisdom.

Take notice of those who aren’t speaking up. Allow silence into the conversation by “not talking”. As long as you have good, trusting relationships with the people around you, you should expect to receive input that will help you to engage others and get their best thinking on that project, problem or opportunity. The wisdom you receive in return can be worth its weight in gold.

Copyright 2009 Aspire Collaborative Services LLC

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Don't Let Your Knowledge Confuse People

I may not know you but I do know this: you know a lot about something.

The Paradox of Know-A-Lot

Sometimes the more we understand something the worse job we do of explaining it. Why? Our familiarity makes us a bit careless in describing it. It's really tough to remember when we didn't know something that has become second nature.

Bike Be honest: When you put your kid on that two-wheel bike for the first time, wasn't it a little harder to explain than you thought it might be? Nothing like trying to make the concept of "balance" a concrete reality to your four year-old who is, by now, actually lying on the concrete.

When we least expect it--in our area of specialty--ambiguity creeps in. Yet "meaning" depends upon personal experience, context, timing, and points of reference for all concerned.

In the 1980's I was working in the Middle East in an office with a group of guys from nine different countries. For a few, this assignment was their very first job and involved doing administrative work. For those who can hearken back that far, the process of photocopying was referred to as "burning" copies.

We handed one of the young guys a document and said, casually, "Go burn this."

He did.

Think carefully about the combination of your expertise, it's related language, and it's various contexts.

Might it be a good idea to put a PCR: Personal Clarity Reminder--on your checklist before your next meeting?

Bonus: To increase both clarity and impact, here are related lessons from the world of copywriting from Brian Clark at Copyblogger.

(Baltimore Sun photo by Lloyd Fox / December 26, 2008) Harry Hochheiser braves the chilly weather to teach his daughter, Elena, 7, how to ride a bike at Lake Montebello.

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6 Questions That Will Help You and Your Group

There are lots of lengthy, "sophisticated", and expensive methods out there to diagnose how a group is doing. Sometimes you may be forced to use them because a boss equates "lengthy" with "important". I've had to use questionnaires with a "numerical read-out" because an engineering group insisted it had nothing to talk about until there were some "real numbers" involved. Fine. Meet people where they are.

How To Take Your Group's Pulse

Pulse Here are the six most important questions to get your group all the diagnostic data it needs to find out what it needs to do to bump up it's game:

  • What are the strengths of our group?
  • What are our biggest weaknesses?
  • What should our highest priorities be?
  • What do we do well?
  • What do we do poorly?
  • What barriers do we need to remove to boost our performance when we leave this room?

I've never seen a group not get involved with these six questions. They aren't designed to point fingers at individuals but are really focused on group performance. An honest conversation may lead to some soul-searching and performance discussions afterward, but that's a separate managerial issue.

If you haven't tried this simple activity with your group, give it a shot. You don't even have to call a "special meeting"; it can be done over coffee or lunch.

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Unspoken Rules: Peer Pressure Isn't Just About Teenagers

Many years ago my friend and associate Dr. Bud Bilanich and I worked together at Pfizer headquarters in NYC. One day, we decided that the elevator ride up to the 19th floor was just too quiet. No one spoke to each other even though we all worked for the same company. (Clearly, Bud and I had grown  up in the suburbs). Our foray into the Land of Unspoken Rules is described here.

Rewind even further to a popular TV show: Candid Camera. This was a genuine reality show because those being filmed didn't know it. Without citing lengthy psychological research papers, Candid Camera captured the human condition for all to see and ponder.

Compliance vs. Agreement

How often have you experienced one or more of these:

1. A workshop leader asks the "How Many of You Have. . .?, raises her hand, and the participants arms shoot skyward. The impact: Lots of agreement--the workshop leader must know what she's talking about. Credibility begins to build.

What you don't know is: Even though all these people "have done" the thing, what was their experience with it? Would they do it again? How many didn't want to be seen as not being part of the "in crowd" once the hands started to go up?

2. A senior manager announces a new initiative. He then rattles off a list of executives and department heads who are 100% with him on this. One of those names is your boss. He then asks, "How many of you can I count on?" You watch the hands go up, one by one.

3. You are at an off-site meeting that started at 7 a.m. It is now 7 p.m. and the announcement has been made that a group dinner will be held at Maison Conformité. You really want to go back to your room and crash. People start mulling around, unenthusiastically. Yet at 7:30 pm all of you are now at the restaurant, tired and superficially cordial.

It's easy to use known techniques that play on the human condition in ways to gain desired behavior. The question becomes, "Are you getting (or giving) compliance or agreement?"

The distinction will be crystal clear when the time comes for commitment and action.

Enjoy the video and join me for a thought at the end: 

In none of the examples I cited above--nor in the video--did anyone ask a question that could change the dynamic.

Are there instances of group pressure where asking a perfectly sensible question is viewed as more dangerous than "going along?" If so, what groups do you belong to whose unspoken norms create obstacles to sensible questions? How's that working for you?

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Why It Is Important To Be Specific

Managers and Influencers everywhere:

Which one of these works best as a call to action?

  • We need 37 new accounts to reach our revenue goal for 2009
  • We need more than 30 new accounts to reach our revenue goal for 2009
  • We need a bunch of new accounts to reach our revenue goal for 2009

Specificity Most of would probably choose #1. But why?

Because of the power of specificity.

The first example is so concrete we know it can be broken down into a measurable, do-able plan. That creates some immediate energy and confidence.

Need credibility to create commitment and action? Of course you do. And precise details show the listeners that you are probably telling the truth. A “guesstimate” doesn't have the same impact because it leaves a little "doubt cloud' hanging out there. Without concrete facts people may think that you are just making the whole thing up--or exaggerating a bit.

Statistics and precise details not only help with authenticity but create curiosity and mental involvement. The human mind latches on to that which is precise but has to wrestle with fuzziness. When people around us have to work extra hard at what we are saying, they begin to tune out.

What can you be more specific about today?

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Conversational Presentation: It's All About Transitions

I was listening to a knowledgeable speaker talk with a business group about a topic she knew exceedingly well. And, she was comfortable with it. So I began to wonder why I was beginning to feel uncomfortable.

The reason?

Every sentence ended with a "click", a new slide, information, "click", new side, information...


Listeners need to be guided from one thought into the next. The connection may seem obvious to you but unless you build a bridge between slides and their meaning, it feels awkward to the audience. While you are explaining your next point the people around you are missing it because they are busy putting the pieces together.

Do it for them.

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Perfect or Perfectly Boring: There's a Better Way

Perfection causes stress. Stress is toxic. For that reason alone, trying to attain perfection in your presentation is self-defeating from the outset. Let go of it now. 

The human ability to sense another's nervous discomfort is not only exceedingly keen--it is contagious and stretches an audience's tension level like a taut rubber band.

If no perfection, what do people look for  during a "presentation?"

Perfectionist Connection and  engagement that allows them to experience the meaning useful information. The first two require humanity, which includes a degree of imperfection and vulnerability that prompts listeners to think, "Hey, (s)he's kind of like me!"

We want real people because we've come to understand that emotionless, perfection-emitting talking heads aren't connected  with our reality. When we sit through a flawless data dump of any sort--financial, research, engineering--we wonder why the speaker didn't simply send us a White Paper and call it a day.

Where Does The Perfection Thing Come From?

Let's be fair. If you are educated in the sciences, finance, or engineering, your college grades and professional performance appraisals relate directly to your ability to be precise. In fact, you are valued and rewarded  for precision. Discovery research, accounting and financial projections, aerospace engineering and quality control of all sorts contribute to the growth, safety, and stability of every aspect of life. 

So, it's only natural for many to extend that kind of well-rewarded precision and analysis to the  speaking platform. The problem? Lengthy, detailed, here's-everything-I-know-about-this-topic presentations that bore instead of score. 

But perfection isn't limited to the precise. It extends to an entire range of psyches seeking to avoid embarrassment, be seen as "the best", or believing that anything less than perfect will be punished. The causes for that kind of thinking are numerous and varied but the results are the same: unhealthy stress that touches everyone involved. 

OK, Steve, What's the Solution?

Find out what the person or audience wants to know about your topic.  Make a few phone calls, drop into a cubicle or two, and say: "I've been charged with talking about The Widget Launch. What do you need to know?"

1. Your audience will give you the content.

2. You'll feel confident about being on target because you'll know you are fulfilling an already-expressed need.

3. The "presentation" will feel like the continuation of a conversation instead of a stand-up routine.

4. Those in the room will start off on your side because you've already developed a relationship with them. 

5. "Perfect" loses its power when "meeting needs" replaces "knowing it all."

Let me know how it goes. . .

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Why Even Think About "Global" Presentations?

If you've ever made one, you know the answer.

We are all, naturally, "creatures of our cultures. " When it comes to communicating in global business we often find:

1. Different expectations about how information is delivered and discussed (or not).

2. Different expectations about and reactions to energy level, formality, and informality.

3. The issue of literal vs. figurative interpretation of phrases as people attempt difficult translations into their native languages.

4. A certain sensitivity on the part of the speaker:  "Am I really making myself understood?"

When I started out many years ago, the bulk of my coaching and training work was with U.S.-based companies who were doing  work internationally. I had lived and worked in Europe, Africa and the Middle East for a number of years so the engagements were a good match and rewarding. That kind of expertise has continued to keep me outside of the U.S. for 30% or so of each year.

Now, the dynamic has shifted somewhat. Organizations outside of the U.S. are finding that communicating with U.S. teams carries its own set of challenges:

    ▪    While U.S. companies genuinely promote teams and teamwork, there is still an underlyingYouthnet_meeting_ethnic_standing element of individuality that is not present in many other cultures. This can become confusing during the decision and discussion phases of a presentation or meeting.

    ▪    There is a much higher tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity amongst Americans. While planning and procedures are valued, "options and alternatives" are seen as good things.  Other cultures can experience such uncertainty differently and  choose to avoid it. Rules, structure, and hierarchy are seen as valuable ways to reduce the discomfort that comes from ambiguity.

    ▪    Acceptance of power and hierarchy. Presenting one's ideas and arguing one's  point regardless of organizational title  is usually a valued sign of assertiveness in American companies.  However, earlier this year  I received a mobile call from a client who was cooling her heels outside of the office of a CEO in Portugal. It seems that she was two levels below him in her organization and he was unwilling to see her alone even though the meeting had been arranged. The solution? We got a friendly local CEO known to us to physically intervene, make the proper introduction, hang around the proper amount of time, and then ride off into the sunset when he sensed all was well.

The world is, indeed, getting smaller. And from my experience, most people want to reach out and help their global colleagues. Often they don't know how because they don't know why a certain dynamic is in play.

Learning about these kinds of connections--and becoming comfortable with them--is, and will be, a highly-valued attribute within successful global companies.

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Why You Need to Remember the McGurk Effect

You've known for years that involving multiple senses is important to learning and communication. Here is a graphic example of just how important it really is:

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"Hey, Boss, I'm Not Sleeping I'm Learning"

"I wasn't really asleep I was just meditating on unconsciousness."
--Author unknown (but I'm so jealous it wasn't me)


My experience with many companies is that, under stress, they actually increase the number and length of meetings. There appears to be a sense that if people meet more, analyze more, and crunch the numbers more, the situation will change.  One can only imagine the meeting schedule at the Big 3 automakers right now.

Consistent with this is a somewhat Western work ethic that has as part of its foundation: More Work is Always Better. I think the Pilgrims brought it with them.

My mother's ancestors came to America shortly after the Pilgrims and as a child I recall, during a close-knit family Thanksgiving filled with pumpkin pie, cranberries, and whiskey sours turkey, mom waxed poetic about how Priscilla Alden had stitched a sampler for the Pilgrim eCommerce site that said, "Thy Lifestyle Shall Be Governed By Mo' Better Hard Work." Or maybe she said 'Spike' Alden.

Hard Work, Sleep, and More Proof of What You Already Know

Either way, I'm a proponent of hard work because, with the right focus, it's how successful people become successful. (It also simply keeps a lot of people out of trouble).

Nap_time And: Everyone knows how important it is to sleep. Sleep refreshes, allows the body to prepare itself for the hours ahead, blah, blah, blah. We've only known this since the beginning of recorded history. It's common sense.  That, however, doesn't stop the human condition from trying to defy what it knows to be true.

Thus, I give you what the new, socially-engineered human condition demands: Research!

From Neuroscience 2008, the words of Dr. William Fishbein,

“We remember to sleep so we can sleep to remember!”

Here 's what the research shows:

An afternoon nap could boost your associative memory skills. Dr. Fishbein and Hiuyan Lau (City University of New York) tested participants' ability to remember the English meanings of familiar Chinese characters they'd learned earlier and to determine the meaning of unfamiliar characters that shared graphical elements called 'radicals' with the learned characters. Participants who took a nap between the learning and testing phase of the study were better able to identify the meaning of the unfamiliar characters. The findings suggest that a nap helps people connect separate and discrete pieces of information and to extract general concepts. "The role of sleep in memory formation is not passive; rather, it is a period that actively fosters deeper processing of what we learned during wakefulness," said Fishbein.

How To Use This In Business

1. Giving out information at the end of a long day and then asking participants to immediately make decisions won't get you the best decision. "Sleep on it" is a heck of a good idea.

2. Design meetings so that there are opportunities for relaxation and synthesis in between sessions.

I'd like to hear from folks on this one. My recent corporate interactions around meetings have been less than fruitful. The reason? The "cost-effective" mantra is being acted out by stuffing people into rooms for longer periods of time with fewer (or in some case, no) breaks. This is designed to allegedly show efficient management. My observation is that it shows a great deal of expertise in how to stuff people into rooms.

3. Presentation development.

Putting together important presentations is becoming a last-minute affair. I just watched a client give a stack of financial data to a secretary who plugged it into a PowerPoint template so the executive could retrieve it on the way to his presentation the next morning. However, the executive will not have seen the product until he's standing in front of a crowd. He knows what he gave her. He has not had a chance to review, ponder, relax, and synthesize how the flow will play out visually.

Readers here are very much attuned to learning and learning organizations. So, I have three questions that I hope will help the community. Feel free to respond to one or more:

  • Is this hunker-down, sleep deprivation approach getting played out in your organization?
  • If so, what is the visible impact?
  • What practical suggestions do you have that can make use of Dr. Fishbein's research?

Bonus: My friend Dr. Ellen Weber has a terrific new brain-related site at Brain Leaders and Learners.

photo attribution:

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Good Presentations: Do The Diagnostic

Think about the number of presentations you experience in the course of a business week.

How many are genuinely useful? How many are good? How many could have accomplished the goal in some way other than a "presentation."

1876_bell_speaking_into_telephone I recall Seth Godin making some provocative statements in his Listen to This post some time ago. Here's one excerpt:

"In our scan and skip world, in a world where technology makes it obvious that we can treat different people differently, how can we possibly justify teaching via a speech?

Speech is both linear and unpaceable. You can’t skip around and you can’t speed it up. When the speaker covers something you know, you are bored. When he quickly covers something you don’t understand, you are lost."

I get what he's saying. And I think that one of the real issues lies in the fact that speakers need to do their homework. When they begin to believe that what they have to say is actually what their audience needs to hear, they get into trouble.

Most of the success of a presentation happens before the speaker ever stands up.

Do the diagnostic

  • Is a presentation really the best way to communicate?
  • If so, what does my "audience" want and need to hear? (call some of them on the phone and ask them. They'll give you your content).
  • How can I connect the dots instead of provide facts alone?
  • Do I still need a presentation?
  • If I do, is it better to sit around a table and connect rather than stand up and create a classroom/teacher atmosphere?
  • If it's a stand-up, what media can I use to keep people engaged? (Bullet points probably aren't the right answer).
  • If it's a stand-up, why use media at all? If my message is crafted with word images and created to incite action, then I should be able to do that in 20 minutes or less. That's about the attention span before people start squirming in their seats.

Remember this: You are the presentation. It's your passion, credibility, and language that will engage the group. And how 'real' you are will determine the depth of your connection.

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More Annoying Language in the Workplace

It all started with my mini-rant When Words Lose Their Impact. Business lingo mavens responded to help create Words That Can Drive Your Listeners Nuts.  Which led to even more venting about annoying use of language in meeting rooms around the world.

The -ize Have It

If you want to learn what's going on in the real world, make it a point to check in with Mark Harrison in London. Mark is a master negotiator, so language holds real meaning for him. Here's how to bug Mark:

200pxbeegeeswords 1: utilise (utilize in the USA?)

It means "use" dammit, which is clearer, easier to say, easier to understand, and represents a 62% saving in the number of letters needed.

2: viral (to talk about FUTURE marketing)

Nope. It's something that basically means "we don't know what we're doing, and we hope that the cool kids will copy us." Seriously, have you ever seen a PLANNED viral marketing campaign that actually got people BUYING the product (as opposed to got marketeers talking about the campaign?) Phil Collins dressed as a Gorilla may have hit YouTube, but I _THINK_ it was an advert for a chocolate brand, but I really don't know.

3: Disinterested (to mean uninterested)

The words are different. Disinterested means that you are impartial. Uninterested means that you're bored. I DON'T want an uninterested judge, thank you, neither in court, nor on the review panel for my funding proposal... but I really hope that they don't have a vested interest in my competitor getting the gig.

Kent Blumberg, long-time executive and coach adds:

Jumping off from Mark's starting point, I have trouble with many of the words ending in "ize." "Strategize," for example. Much better to talk about formulating strategy. Often it seems to me we use "ize" to cover lazy thinking. And as Mark notes, "ize" often confuses the message.

More Pithy Pet Peeves

From Dean Fuhrman:

"The phrase and variations thereof ... 'I'm sorry to bother you and I know you are busy, but could you do such and such?' Why the preface when it basically a command to do such and such anyway. Just ask.'

And Dean adds this one from social media star Chris Brogan

When anyone uses "but" in a sentence, throw away everything to the left of the "but." 'I know you're busy, but..."


My current least favorite is "ping" in "I'll ping John and see what he says". I refuse to use it.

Our thanks to Kim for that one.


Utilize is my #1 peeve, so I'm glad it has been discussed. A phrase that makes me cringe is "as per" as in "As per your email, lets meet this afternoon."

I also dislike when someone with a large vocabulary uses words that they know are not commonly known or used. It is ineffective to use language that you know your audience won't understand.

My note: Contributor Kris Robinson has huge cred with me; she once played catch with baseball great Willie McCovey. What other credentials does one need?:-)


Frequent participant JetJaguar adds: "Everything is "amazing" these days. It will never change, but nor will it cease annoying me that people have to blindly follow such trends."

Beware of overstatement and hype. You aren't fooling anyone nor are you gaining any points.

Brain Expert Dr. Ellen Weber particularly dislikes meta-messages that mean the opposite of what one says:

"Sorry, but..." when one is not sorry at all. "That's OK..." when it's not. "It's only because I care that I tell you ..." when you don't really care or would not tell it. "No hurt feelings, but ..." when you feel like a Mack truck just rammed into your brain. "I don't mean to be negative but ..."


Stephanie West Allen got so torqued up, she blogged about  the use of the word "around" instead of "related to" or "associated with."


Finally: The UK's Jo at Flowing Motion wins the 1974 Morris Albert Vinyl LP Feelings with this one:Feelings

"I feel . . " when what is needed is information, thought, a structured approach. What "we" feel is often not relevant , , as when a lawyer is making an argument in the Supreme Court, or a Professor speaking to the his or her assessment of a student dissertation.

What does all of this mean?

It means that people are looking for straight talk using straight language. Give it to them. It will increase understanding and credibility. Isn't that what words are for?

Thanks to all for keeping this going.

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Words That Can Drive Your Listeners Nuts

Don't Say Any of These to Them

It didn't take long for concerned business citizens to register their displeasure at commonly-used language that makes them crazy:

  • If I'm honest.... (?? aren't you always?)
  • If you would ask me... (you know I'm going to tell you either the bl**dy obvious anyway, be very negative or think I know it all)  Karin at Keeping It SimpleFrustratedwoman_2




  • the use of words like "awesome" used to describe something quite normal. And horrific - come on, most of us thankfully will never experience "horrific" in our lives Jackie Cameron: Awareness, Choice, Change


  • I notice the political candidates saying "Listen..." as the intro to whatever they are going to say. Seems a bit odd to me b/c wasn't I already listening? Also I believe that whenever I ask a question and get an answer "that's a good question" it means that the person does not know the answer and is stalling for time. Meg Bear at Talented Apps


  • My personal pet peeve is "leverage". As in, "Is there any pre-existing research we can leverage?". If you mean "use", just say it. From Emily.


  • Off the top of my head, I hate "task" as a verb: "I've been tasked with figuring out the rentable square footage...." "Paradigm" also makes me ill.  Tossed in by our favorite architect, Mile High Pixie.

By all means, keep adding to the list. Tell us why your crazy-making word or phrase makes you crazy. If I get enough real-life examples I'll create a downloadable eBook with, of course, attribution. Wouldn't you like the world to know what not to say to you?!

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Please Look: Why Your Vocabulary Lessons Really Were Important

This just forwarded to me by a member of the related organization and a recipient of the email. This is real; I didn't have the heart to publish the full ID.

Subject: Meeting Cancelled for today October 2nd
Importance: High

Today's meeting has been cancelled, sorry for any incontinence. We will let you know when the next meeting will be.

Thank You

Vickie, I too would feel sorry for any of that. I am wondering, however, where you were seated when you sent the email.

Let's hope things clear up for the November meeting. You can always kick it off with a group Huggie.

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More "Language That Diminishes" And Why We Do It

How To Reduce Your Influence In A Few Easy Words rang the chimes of readers globally.

The post highlighted how people diminish their presence by using self-deprecating language at the very moment they need to act with boldness. Not haughtiness, but boldness.

Prem Rao wrote from Bangalore: "One that puts me off is having someone say 'I am not the best person to talk on this' at the start of his/her presentation."

"One of my biggest pet peeves on this topic is when ANYONE says: 'Well, I'll be real honest with you' ....
(So...any other time, they're not?)" from Skip Reardon.

"During a meeting, someone prefaces their question with 'Can I ask a question?' "   Dan McCarthy.

And Jackie Cameron weighs in from Scotland with: "' am very nervous...' and guess what ? The audience then focuses on you being nervous and not what you have to say. "

Why Do People Diminish Themselves?

Dr. Peter Vajda offers up this psychological framework:

Among the many defenses we use to feel good about ourselves is to play "small", and one way we do this is by (often unconsciously) "apologizing" in some way, shape or form for who we are or by being self-deprecating in some manner...somehow thinking that by "apologizing" we'll get people to "like" us, i.e., approve us, be "OK" with us and so then, too, we can also like our selves.

Those who are truly secure in their own skins feel no need to play small or be invisible. They are who they are, warts and all and feel little need to "be liked". They appear before a group, authentically, do what they do, be who they are, personally and professionally, without apologizing, without shoring themselves up, or needing to diminish who they are in any way. Their security and sense of value and self-worth comes from within not from they have no need to play any "role" whatsoever, or be anyone else than who they are.

Does your language convey a healthy sense of comfort with who you are?

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Language Loses a Six-Figure Sale

I spent time with a client this week screening two software vendors.

The demos were all done online with different platforms. I only saw the software screen shots and heard the voices of those involved, never a face to go with the information. The result?

We cut one vendor immediately. The software seemed to work just fine and, as far as we could tell, would probably do the job. My client needs the ability to enter data and configure reports as needs change. So one of the criteria is WYSIWYG functionality. When we asked each vendor to explain their capability in that area, here were the responses:

Buzzwords716540_2 Vendor We Recommended: "Tell me more about what you want to do with it so I can give you an accurate answer." We did. Then we heard (and saw), "Here's how you would do that. (Demo). What are some other potential reports you might generate?" We described them, he demonstrated how to do it, we watched, and the conversation continued.

Vendor We Nuked: (In a very deep, officious, voice): "Our platform offers configurable functionality. The back-end capability is state-of-the-art and clients have access to data entry. Of course, it is also designed for maximum security so you never have to be concerned that those without the proper passwords can ever access the information."

By the time he was finished I expected to hear, "For English, press 2."

I'm sure that Nuke-boy thought he was impressing us. Actually, he depressed us to the point of boredom. His software could probably do the job. The client didn't want to have a long-term relationship trying to communicate with someone who responded in buzzwords and platitudes. He wanted someone who would work with him to build a system that could be operated and tweaked by anyone.

Thought for Today: Language can communicate or obfuscate. Speak WYSIWYG.


Photo attribution:

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How To Reduce Your Influence In A Few Easy Words

"I'll only take a few minutes of your time."

That opening line made me wonder why I had scheduled more than a few minutes of my time to listen to the speaker.

What is it with the apologetic nature of so many skilled people once they stand up in front of a group to speak?  When you invite someone to your home do they arrive saying, "I''ll only take a few minutes of your time."?

I've worked with literally hundreds of managers on their meetings and presentations over the years. Nothing makes me wince more than seeing someone who is confident in his material stand up and use words that undercut the power of the message.

Nesting Three Common Lines That Make You Small

"I just want to . .  ."    "Just"?  (Oh, it isn't really all that important).

"I know how busy everyone is. . ."  (Right. But we put you on the agenda. Start talking).

"Thank you for taking your time. . ."  (You're welcome. You just took up even more of my time with that wimpy intro).

Whether you are standing up or seated at a conference table, people want you to lead with confidence. Not arrogance, but confidence. When you do something to apologize for your presence you diminish your presence.

Language is one of your most powerful leadership tools. People all around you are looking for leadership.

Check out your leadership language today.

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Decision-Making: Remember "Z"

Everyday we make more decisions than we realize. Some are as simple as whether to super-size that burger and where to sit down to eat it; others involve choices that impact family, health, and finances.

Decision making can be tough enough when you do it solo. It becomes even more challenging sitting around the conference table with colleagues. When it comes to information, we each prefer to approach it from different starting points using our favorite questions. So the trick becomes to bring everyone together at the same starting point, then systematically move together until you've explored all of the important elements of sound decision-making.

Decision by Zorro

Zorro Some of you may recall the TV/movie character Zorro. His trademark was carving a "Z" with his sword as a reminder to his foes that he was alive and well, and ready for action.

Last week I drew this model on a flip chart during a decision-making meeting with a group of managers. If you follow the quadrants in sequence--just remember "Z"--you'll focus participants on the same elements of the decision process at the same time.

1. First, walk through the factual details about what you know, what you don't know, and any other verifiable bits of information.

2, Then, take a big picture approach to think long term, see opportunities, possibilities, and connections between cause and effect.

3. When you've handled the information, use objective thinking to logically deal with risk/benefit. What are the pros and cons? Are there other options that haven't been discussed? Does each option carry a consequence of some sort? How likely is it that it would happen? If it did, what would the seriousness be?

4. Finally, take the "people factor" into consideration.  How will this affect others in the work group? Where else in the organization would people be impacted?  How will you feel about the result? Will it gain support or meet stiff opposition?



I've received a number of emails and comments from young managers who are looking for tips and hints to help boost their effectiveness. This is the kind of model that can help create focus and reduce conflict.

Note: For those of you who are intimately familiar with the MBTI®, this may prove useful:


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Working With Groups: When Someone Enters or Leaves

When only one person leaves or enters a group, the dynamics--and group effectiveness--change.


Balance_2 Groups--no matter how large or small--are about equilibrium. That equilibrium comes from a balance of power. Over time, we all learn where we "fit" in a group given the topic, our role, and how things operate. When someone comes or goes, our sense of influence changes. That's because new relationships and alliances begin to form in order to establish a new balance of power.

Did You Say Power?

That's exactly what I said. If you think groups aren't about power, try taking power away from someone.

Regardless of what you would like to think, everyone in every group has a need when it comes to power and influence. Some people want a lot, some a little, and some want to just blend in with the wallpaper and disappear. That's why every time a new person enters a group or a regular member leaves, the balance of power needs to be re-established.

The important point: Armed with this knowledge you can do it intentionally. This accomplishes two things:

  • The unspoken (but known to each) is brought into the open and legitimized.

What's the best way to neutralize a potentially tense issue? Call it for what it is, make it perfectly acceptable, and have a process to move through it.

  • Everyone will breath a sigh of relief--even if it's a silent one. Once the unspoken tension is reduced, people are more relaxed and able to help create the new group.

Here's How To Do It

1. Stop action.

2. Read the paragraphs above to the group.

3. Re-visit why the group exists, make any necessary modifications, and ask for agreement from each person.

4. Clarify each person's role. Whether someone leaves or someone new arrives, there has to be a change in responsibilities and how things will get done. If you talk about it now, you won't have to resolve the inevitable conflict about it later.

Groups and organizations are systems. Systems work the same way as our bodies (human systems). If you pinch one place, you'll get a referent "ouch" someplace else.

The next time membership is about to change in your group, go through the four steps above. You'll minimize the ouches and get back to equilibrium and productivity because you've taken good care of the system.

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Why Marathon Meetings Don't Work And How To Change Them

"If we've got them in town we'll work 'til the sun goes down."

That's not a verse from Old Man River. It's a real quote from the manager of a global organization. He figures that if he's paying for travel, hotel, and meals to bring people from four continents together then, darn it, it ought to be "cost effective."

Cost effective in this case means meeting from Monday through Thursday or Friday from 7 am until 7 pm with lunch delivered. Then, dinner at an (albeit) nice restaurant where the business discussion can continue.

The purpose of these meetings: To make decisions impacting the success of the business.

Sleepeyes_2 Draining the  Function at Your Neuro Junction

Allow me to turn this over to the research mavens at Scientific American for a moment. Any emphases are mine:

"The human mind is a remarkable device. Nevertheless, it is not without limits. Recently, a growing body of research has focused on a particular mental limitation, which has to do with our ability to use a mental trait known as executive function. When you focus on a specific task for an extended period of time or choose to eat a salad instead of a piece of cake, you are flexing your executive function muscles. Both thought processes require conscious effort-you have to resist the temptation to let your mind wander or to indulge in the sweet dessert. It turns out, however, that use of executive function—a talent we all rely on throughout the day—draws upon a single resource of limited capacity in the brain. When this resource is exhausted by one activity, our mental capacity may be severely hindered in another, seemingly unrelated activity. (See here and here.)"

We're Not Leaving Until Everything Is Resolved!

This battle cry is probably well-known to business types worldwide. You've heard it, I've heard it and yes, I even remember saying it more than once.

There's nothing wrong with resolution; it's the pathway to reducing tension and moving on in a healthier way, regardless of the type of issue. Here's the catch:

The research (and common sense) shows that decisions are adversely affected by fatigue. And, the act of trying to stay focused is an energy-burner with self-defeating results. Let's keep this simple:

Tired people make bad decisions.

Forcing tired people to keep making decisions in order to feel good about your Return on Travel Investment (ROTI) is the business equivalent of taking a gun and intentionally shooting yourself in the foot. You may enjoy the momentary sense of power but the results wont' feel very good.

5 Things That Can Make a Difference

1. Give people all of the information to be discussed prior to the meeting, with enough time to digest it.

2. Tell them what decisions will be made using that data.

3. Keep your meeting to the length of a normal work day with frequent breaks and time to go outside for a little fresh air.

4. If it's a week-long meeting, schedule an afternoon of leisure time. Most of the meaningful decisions I've seen made in companies actually take place while people are engaged in casual conversation and building relationships.

5. Leave enough time at the end of the meeting to evaluate the meeting. Not 5 minutes; more like 20 minutes of "How did we do and what do we want to tweak for our next meeting?"

Finally--and this is a biggie: If you have finished what you set out to do and it's Thursday morning of a meeting that was supposed to end on Friday, declare victory and stop. How many times have you seen meetings go to their appointed end time because someone allowed the end time to govern the activity?

Flights don't leave for another 24 hours?

If you have a room full of mature people, ask, "What's the best way to use our remaining time?"

It will be the week that people people rave about for years to come.

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Steve Roesler, Principal & Founder
The Steve Roesler Group
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