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An Attitude of Gratitude

Stormy or sunny days, glorious or lonely nights, I maintain an attitude of gratitude. — Maya Angelou
Celebrating Thanksgiving in the U.S. this week has me thinking about the power of expressing sincere gratitude to others in business, and in life.

Signs are all around us of the need for personal, genuine thanks to others:

  • In a digital world, where attention is a nanosecond,  “thank you’s” seem to come as afterthoughts in brief texts (thx!) and hurried voice mails.
  • Employee engagement is at all time low. A recent Gallup Poll found that only 13 percent of people worldwide are actively engaged at work. (Here in the U.S., the number was 32 percent, nothing to brag about.)
  • Our national dialogue, from hate-spewing politics to bleep-coated TV, has become a coarse joke.

People have become so busy paying attention to the constant noise that appreciation of personal relationships seems to have taken second place.

Harvard research
The need is so clear that Ivy League schools are doing serious research to understand the power of “thank you.”

A Harvard professor’s book explores the science of gratitude. Her research highlights how leaders’ expressions of gratitude motivate people.

The professor mentions that her husband is working at a startup. One day, after her husband had been up all night working on a project, the professor received a card and flowers from the company's founder, thanking her for her patience. It was pleasant for her—and a motivator for him.

I worked with a CEO who was the best I’d ever seen at saying “thank you” to people. There were times I would ask myself if it was too much, but I had to say no. The thanks were always delivered sincerely and with the appropriate tonality for the situation.

Sincere appreciation
What can we do to bring sincere appreciation back to life? Think about these expressions as a starting point:

  • Sending a handwritten “thank you” card to a person’s home with a small, relevant gift related to one of their passions.

  • Making a public statement, whether at a team meeting or family event, with clear, sincere thanks to one or more people. It lifts the morale of everyone.
  • A face-to-face show-up with no agenda other than to say “thank you.”

Of course, there’s also that opportunity around the dinner table this Thursday, or those moments this holiday season when you are one on one with someone you rarely see.

What better time to say, “I appreciate you”?

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Photo by Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash

How to Use Your Hands In Presentations

One of the most frequent questions I get on presentations and other talks is “what should I do with my hands?”

The simple answer is: Do what comes naturally. Use your hands as you would in conversation, though adapted to your environment.
This question, like many others, comes from people thinking about what they will do when it’s time to get into “presentation mode.”  This makes them self-conscious and distracted.
Some presentation coaches promote this artificial behavior by calling a presentation a “performance.” They direct people to gesticulate a certain way or to hold their hands in some odd position. For most people, it feels awkward to them and their audience.
You can immediately spot public people who have been coached, or, more to the point, overcoached.
The first President Bush was a great example. Known for lacking animation in his body language, Bush had obviously been coached during his re-election campaign to use a forceful chopping with his hands to show his passion.

Unfortunately, it was not natural for him, so it looked as if the video of his rally talks had gotten out of synch with the audio as he chopped at the air just offbeat, emphasizing the wrong moments.
This is why I say we should stop giving presentations and start having conversations. In a conversation, you never think about your hands. You should free your hands to move as naturally as you would in a conversation appropriate to the environment.
Here are some strategies for showing and using your hands in communicating:

Show your hands as often as possible
Why do we want to see people’s hands? Trust. Every person we meet, we first evaluate for trustworthiness. Some researchers speculate that humans are hardwired for suspicion, courtesy of our cave-dwelling days.

We didn’t know then if someone approaching us would do us harm or steal our limited resources. To ensure our safety and survival, we learned to watch hands and read body language.
True or not, it certainly became a practice as hand weapons evolved. The modern gesture of shaking hands is said to stem from an ancient tradition of showing that our hands did not contain knives or other weapons.
Turn your palms to the audience
A simple application of this in your talks is to show your audience your open hands; basically, show them your palms. This simple gesture has incredible power. It indicates our openness to people and connects us.
I’ve used this often in my training workshops. When an executive is using closed body language, I’ll have him or her try again with this simple change – hands open to the audience. Co-workers, who weren’t aware of the change, reported feeling more positively but didn’t know why until we revealed the open hands.
Shake hands often
When we shake hands we build trust and make a connection, and not only because we are relieved that a person isn’t holding a weapon.
There is science behind this. When we have skin-to-skin contact, our bodies produce a chemical called oxytocin, known as the connection hormone.  Through experiments, researcher Paul Zak found that by giving a dose of this hormone to participants they became more trusting. That’s another reason a positive handshake helps to build trust.
Talk with your hands
As humans, we become more engaged watching people with open gestures and body language. A team led by researcher Vanessa Van Edwards studied why some TED Talks go viral, while others don’t gain traction.
The team reviewed hundreds of hours of TED Talks searching for differences in the most and least watched talks. They analyzed hand gestures, vocal variety, smiling and body movement.
Edwards’ team concluded that speakers who used the most hand gestures had the most views. “The most popular talks used an average of 465 hand gesture (yes, our coders counted every single one). The least popular TED Talkers used an average of 272 hand gestures. And TED superstars Temple Grandin, Simon Sinek and Jane McGonicgal topped the charts with more than 600 hand gestures in just 18 minutes.”
And it’s not only good for presentations. Edwards also notes that 30 years ago researchers found that job candidates who used more hand gestures were more likely to win the job.
Use gestures to describe concepts
In the same vein, I suggest you use your hands as tools for explanation. People often derive more information from our body language than from our words. Use your hand gestures to explain ideas and facts.
For instance, you might hold your left hand parallel to the ground showing the level of your projected sales; your right hand could be raised beyond the left to show the increase in sales year over year. The visual of your hand gestures will reinforce the concept much more strongly than your words.
Clearly, our hands make a difference in how we communicate with others. Take action this week by using your hands naturally to fully engage people who matter in your business and life.

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Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash

What is Leadership?

The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things. 

– Ronald Reagan

Summary Definition of Leadership:

Leaders are people who, regardless of their title or position, take the initiative to influence the thinking, actions and behavior of others."
If you Google “What is leadership?” as I did just now, you’ll find 619 million results. I didn’t have time to read them all, but what comes through is a multitude of meanings, such as “the action of leading a group of people or an organization” or “the state or position of being a leader.”
You’ll also find articles about “10 ways to define leadership” and “100 answers to the question, what is leadership?” This contributes to the feeling of a lot of people that leadership is the sole responsibility of the top dogs. It’s something ill-defined that other people do.
My definition is different and I think more practical. In my coaching and training, I say that leadership is “Influencing peoples’ thinking, actions and behavior.” 

This is true in business and in life. People who lead are those who influence others.

Are you a leader?

Speaking on “Storytelling for Leaders” at a business lunch event recently, I started with a reasonable question, “By a show of hands, how many leaders do we have here today?”
Now, I asked this question knowing that the majority of the 300 people in the audience, which happened to about 80% women, were trade association executives or salespeople who had some significant role in their organizations.
I was surprised when only a handful of people raised their hands to identify themselves as leaders. Another 30 or 40 people were tentatively raising their hands to table level as they looked around the room seemingly to determine if they were “leaders.”

So, I said, “Let me reword the question, how many of you have to influence people to make things happen in your workplace?” From the stage, it looked like all the hands went up. Then I asked, “how many of you have to influence people in the rest of your life – at home or in the community?” Again, the hands went up.
This points to the problem with how most of us view “leadership” in business and other organizations. We tend to think of leadership as being something conducted by the 5% at the top of our organizations – you know, the CEO and the leadership team.
But the truth is we are all leaders in multiple parts of our professional and personal lives. The sooner you recognize this, the sooner you confidently assert your leadership when it is most needed.

We are all leaders
This means that we are all leaders, or should be. You don’t need a title or position to lead, you just need to recognize your opportunities to lead others.
Even leaders with titles and responsibility for people often have a hazy view of what it means to exert their leadership. With this in mind, here are some tips exercising your personal leadership:
Adopt the Mindset: Confidence as a leader starts with your mindset. Change your awareness and focus on having an impact in your organization and your life.
Lead without the title: You don’t need a position or a title to be a leader. You have a sphere of influence, which is that circle of people around you in your personal and business lives.
People need your leadership. Recognize opportunities to use your power within your own sphere. Identify those times when you have a clear idea of where things should go but you normally sit back and let it happen. Instead, speak up, take action or give direction. You don’t need a title. You need permission. Be a leader.
Ask for action: Influence should have results – a call to action. What do you want them to do? Too many times meetings become pointless sessions with information and opinions but no clear next steps, or action. Make decisions, move the process forward, give people clear direction. In other words, be a leader.
Learn the rules of influence: The best leaders I work with are also students of leadership. They continuous improve their leadership and communication skills to stay at the top of their game. You can, too.
As I’ve written before, there are specific rules of influence, scientifically proven by Dr. Robert Cialdini, a professor at Arizona State University. He is the author of the seminal book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. My friend Brian Ahearn, who is one of only 20 people in the world certified by Dr. Cialdini to teach his method of persuasion, has a great weekly blog on influence.
Many people get frustrated by situations they see and believe are powerless to do anything. You have more control than you might realize. The choice is up to you. I hope you choose to recognize yourself as a leader and as take action to change your world.

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Speaking and Writing to Be Understood

It has often been said
there’s so much to be read,
you never can cram
all those words in your head.

So the writer who breeds
more words than he needs
is making a chore
for the reader who reads.

That’s why my belief is
the briefer the brief is,
the greater the sigh
of the reader’s relief is.

And that’s why your books
have such power and strength.
You publish with shorth!
(Shorth is better than length.)

Dr. Seuss


Some of my clients, super-intelligent financial experts, scientists and business leaders believe that they must talk in the highly sophisticated language of their field to be respected as experts.

Many also feel that they must give longer, more complicated answers so that people have a deeper understanding of their ideas and, again, recognize that they are indeed experts. They say they don’t want to “dumb it down” by talking more simply.

None of these ideas is true. Today people are so overwhelmed with information and activity that being clear and simple in your talking and writing will give you greater influence and respect.

Whether your communication goal is influencing, informing, educating or entertaining people, you’ll be more successful if you seek to be understood.

And this doesn’t just apply to experts in their field. It applies to all of us. People are not paying attention anymore. We get an estimated 5,000 marketing messages a day, not including your email, texts, news, Facebook and other social media.

That’s why all of us need to:

Use clear, direct language

Speaking and writing in clear language is more understandable, authentic and approachable. People are put off by jargon they don’t understand. It stops us cold.

When their attention diverts, people don’t hear what you say or write anymore. If they are present at all, they are just hearing you say, “blah, blah, blah.”

Use fewer words, not more

I have clients who complain that no one reads anymore. Emails, reports, white papers that took a ton of time to create often go unread.

That’s because, with our short attention spans, people are intimidated by long reports and even emails. Give them a summary, so at least you’ll have them engaged with your basic ideas.

If you hook them in the beginning, you might find that they go deeper or ask you questions. You have to engage them. As I wrote in July, today less is more.

Use short, simple sentences

The average newspaper in the U.S. is written for a sixth-grade reading level comprehension; blockbuster novels are written for seventh-grade reading level; while the Wall Street Journal is closer to the ninth-grade level.

I learned to write more crisply and directly in high school and in college journalism. The reason you find short, crisp sentences and paragraphs in news writing is to capture and keep people’s attention.

Studies show that our attention and comprehension decline after 30 words in a paragraph. That’s about the length of the previous paragraph. ;-)

Be conversational

Some of the feedback I get from readers is that they feel as if I’m talking directly to them. I think this is a great compliment because my mission is to help people communicate more effectively. That won’t happen if you don’t understand what I’m writing.

My goal is to have a conversation with you about topics that matter and give advice you can take action on right away. Part of the reason this might sound conversational is that I dictate much of my writing into Microsoft Word, as I am doing right now.

Test your communication

You can ask people if you’re communicating clearly, or you can run experiments. Start sending short emails on just one topic. Stay higher level when you talk about a complicated topic. See if people are more engaged, as a result.

You can test the readability of your writing here. Just click the “Try it Now” button, which gives you free access to the tool anytime. You simply paste in your text, and it will be thoroughly analyzed for being readable and conversational.

For instance, the article you are reading gets an “A” for readability; it reads at a 7.1-grade level; 68.4 reading ease (100 is best); 13.6 words per sentence. The tool gives a complete statistic breakdown on every aspect of your writing. This is my first time using this tool, and I’m very impressed. Check it out!

The primary basis of this tool is called the Flesch-Kincaid grading system, originally commissioned by the U.S. Military to write more clear and useful manuals. Dr. Rudolf Flesch’s most famous book, published in 1955, is called Why Johnny Can’t Read: And What You Can Do About It. That book inspired Dr. Seuss to write The Cat in the Hat in 1957.

Although it may seem easier to write in simple sentences and paragraphs, it’s not. You have to put in more effort and be willing to revise until it’s ready to go. As Mark Twain famously said, “I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

If you want to engage people, your best bet is to use clear, simple, direct and authentic communication.

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Photo by Bench Accounting on Unsplash

Leadership Secrets from the Dog Whisperer

If you can positively project the intention you desire through real strength and honesty, your dog will instantly react to that calm-assertive energy.

— Cesar Millan

One of the slides I often show in my training with leaders and teams says simply: “Calm, Assertive Energy.” I ask people if they recognize the phrase, and many do. Someone will smile and shout, “The Dog Whisperer!”
If you’re not familiar, Cesar Millan is a canine-training expert whose TV show is called The Dog Whisperer. He would visit the homes of people whose dogs were exhibiting “uncontrollable” behavior.
The interesting aspect was that Cesar says he doesn’t train the dogs; he trains the owners. The owners fail to lead their dogs, often treating them as babies, friends or soul mates, when the dogs actually crave clear leadership.
I discovered Cesar years ago when we rescued a Jack Russell terrier from the pound. I learned how to channel Buddy’s high-energy approach to life constructively.
As I read Cesar’s books and understood his approach, I saw very clearly that his methods give great insights into leadership and communications for humans. 
Be the pack leader
One of his books, in particular, said it all: “Be the Pack Leader,” where he teaches owners to be true leaders of their dogs.
Here is what dogs want:
Your dog wants consistent energy. Cesar says that dogs sense the energy level of their owners and respond to what he calls “calm-assertive energy.” Instead, most people give their dogs the opposite. “They are emotional, easily upset and frustrated, panicky, weak or angry,” which is disconcerting to the dogs.

Your dog wants clear messages. Cesar writes that “[d]og leaders are also inconsistent with the messages they send, so their dogs don’t know what to expect from one minute to the next. Is my owner the pack leader? Am I the pack leader? A confused dog is an unhappy dog.”
Your dog sees your intent through body language and tone of voice.  One of my favorite Far Side cartoons features a man scolding his dog, saying “Okay, Ginger. I’ve had it. You stay out of the garbage…” In the next panel, we see what Ginger hears, which of course, is “Blah, blah, blah, Ginger.” Dogs don’t understand our words, but they know what we mean. They read our body language.

This is certainly good advice for dog owners, and you might try applying these insights, but don’t focus on dogs. Focus on people.
Think about these three areas and how they relate to what you bring to your colleagues and family as communication and leadership.
You’ll recognize that we are much more aligned with our animal friends than we sometimes believe. 

Body language and intention
Scientific research – particularly neuroscience – is delving deeply into the incredible number of signals we humans send to one another through our energy, our intentions and our body language and tone.
So much of what we convey comes not from the specific words, but the context. In coaching leaders whose behavior doesn’t align with their words, I often say, “they can’t hear a word you’re saying because your body language is so loud.”
There are, of course, great differences between dogs and us in leadership – and not necessarily in our favor.
Cesar said that dogs would refuse to follow dogs with negative or unbalanced energy, whereas humans will. “Animals don’t follow unstable pack leaders; only humans promote, follow and praise instability…That’s because all animals can evaluate and discern what balanced energy feels like…We humans continue to follow the unstable energy of our leaders – which is why we don’t live in a peaceful, balanced world.”
Calm-assertive energy
To achieve the calm-assertive energy, Cesar says that you have to get your emotions and your intentions to line up in harmony. “If you are ‘acting’ tough, but inside still feeling terrified, your dog will know it instantly. Your boss might not, but your dog definitely will. When your insides and your outsides conflict, you are powerless in the animal world,” he writes.
Cesar explains how to improve your approach: “…our human minds are incredibly powerful tools, and with the power of intention, we can actually change our feelings – not just on the surface, but from the inside out.

“If you can positively project the intention you desire through real strength and honesty, your dog will instantly react to that calm-assertive energy.”
My guess is that the people around you will react the same way to your calm-assertive energy.
Please give it a try, but don’t even think about faking it. Your dog is watching.
Are you sending mixed messages through your body language, tone and attitude?
Is your outside appearance consistent with your interior mental landscape?
Do you project calm, assertive energy?

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Photo by Taylor Bryant on Unsplash

How to Stay Calm Under Stress

Getting angry doesn’t solve anything. – Grace Kelly

All of us have issues, concerns or people who push our buttons. Especially people.

They create an emotional response that can send us over the edge. We might respond with anger, defensiveness, disgust or hurt.

These are normal human reactions, but when you're giving a presentation or doing a media interview – something where your reactions are on display – it's important to control your response.

That's why with my clients I'll spend time with this simple concept: Don't react when people try to push your buttons.

It's much easier said than done, of course.

Here's an example: You and your team are presenting a project plan internally, and one of your rivals brings up a negative that’s related to the project. The remark might be trivial or major, but just the guy’s attitude and tone can set you off.

Naturally, this could make you angry and defensive. Your emotional instinct would be to attack that person and his credibility. Or to try to defend yourself with a long explanation. Don't do it. If you do that, you lose.

Here are some tips on taking control of your emotional responses to situations:

Cover your buttons
When I’m coaching or training on this subject, I touch the middle of my chest and say "these are your buttons, let's cover them up." I would have you imagine before your presentation that you are putting on a flak jacket that has a shield over your chest, covering your emotional triggers – your buttons. This way they are covered, and no one can touch them.
Choose to respond calmly
We often say, “he makes me so mad!” as if a person has the power to control our emotional responses. The truth is, we can’t control what people do and say. But we can control our responses. You can choose to calm yourself and respond in a way that will produce positive results for you and others.
Pause and reflect
Take a mental break. Press “pause” in your mind and deliberately breathe. Your mother told you to count to 10 as a child; she was right on target. Even a brief break and several deep breaths can clear your mind and restore your equilibrium under pressure.
Don’t burn bridges
When we feel threatened, we’ll often react in a big way, with threats or attacks that undermine our relationships. You need to realize that burning bridges – killing our relationships – cuts off all possibility of future success. I’ve learned over years that people you think of as enemies sometimes turn into your greatest allies. Keep the bridge intact.
Think of gratitude
When you turn your focus to gratitude, you will find that your anger, jealousy or other negative emotion, slips away. That’s because if you are truly focused on gratitude, it’s impossible to be grateful and angry at the same time. Thankfully, we cannot hold these two feelings at the same time.
Assume the best
We make many assumptions in life, and lots of them turn out to be wrong. Based on our emotions we’ll take the smallest slight and jump to the wrong conclusion. Until you have blatant solid evidence that someone has wronged you, try assuming the best.
Understand your triggers
It’s worth taking the time to identify and understand your buttons. What are those triggers, those slights, that set you off?
I have more than one client who had a difficult childhood, too often feeling humiliated as kids. They understand that they tend to overreact when they think someone is disrespecting them. With awareness and practice, they’re learning to control their emotional responses.
Think of something funny
Depending on the situation, this is one of my favorite mental tricks to stay calm: I’ll deliberately think of something funny. If I become angry at a person for a hostile remark, I might picture the attacker as a squeaky little dog with a high-pitched bark. It just keeps yapping, “Yap! Yap! Yap!” Then I smile inside, take a deep breath and follow some of the other advice I’ve been sharing.
Take the high road
Take the high road and briefly respond in a way that minimizes the issue. Then move on. Dismiss it from your mind.

Button-pushing happens all the time in media interviews, where it is a reporter's job to make you uncomfortable enough that you give a response that will be different and interesting for readers or viewers.

So, it's critical that you don't over-respond to a comment. You can't control what people will say, but you can control your response.

Whether it’s a reporter, a presentation heckler or the office flame-thrower, use these techniques to help control your response.

Just stay calm. Be in the moment. Breathe. Then move on in your communication.  By the way, this works well in your communications at home, as well. Give it a try!

What are your emotional triggers?

What sets you off?

How do you respond to perceived attacks or ridicule in public settings? 

Photo by Marcos Luiz on Unsplash