09 Jul

What’s up with your on-line meeting skills?

by Michael Hoffman

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meetingsHow often do your on-line meetings start on time? Not often enough, I’ll bet.

Funny, there’s no traffic to fight, no coffee to get, no coats to hang, and still, very few people are able to manage getting to on on-line meeting prepared and on time.

Let’s be clear: this is not an IT problem; it’s a blind spot problem.

Here’s the basic stuff that most people are aware of, but often ignore:

  1. On-line meetings don’t always just appear on your screen at the right time (though with good tools like Citrix GoToMeeting great improvements have been made)
  2. You will occasionally need make an audio/video adjustment
  3. They require more preparation than we currently muster
  4. Since there is not travel involved, there is an added expectation of punctuality placed on on-line meetings

Now here is the stuff that you may or may not be aware of – but need to fix immediately because otherwise people will lose confidence in you and your level of excellence:

  1. No one wants to hear about your IT problems. If you want to blame IT or your laptop for being late, don’t waste time in a meeting doing it. We don’t care why you’re late.
  2. The darn video conferencing software needed an update? Yes, that occasionally happens, so why is that a big mystery to you each time? It just means that you need to be ready a few minutes before the meeting begins. You can get situated and once you’re in the meeting you can review notes, check email, do whatever you like.
  3. Your computer blew up? You lost power? These are novice excuses. You should always have at least one back-up device. That’s why we have PC’s, phones and tablets. If you have regular on-line meetings, it is simply irresponsible of you not to have at least one back-up device handy. (I usually have at least two – and have had occasions when I’ve needed three.)
  4. Don’t know how to navigate Dropbox or other social tools? Fix the problem by learning how to use the most common social tools: Dropbox, Trello, Skype, Whatsapp, etc.; whatever it takes to get your on-line skills to a professional level. These are not esoteric tools anymore, they are becoming industry standard.
  5. Do you feel like learning all this technology is actually getting in the way of your work? Re-think that mindset because the world is not slowing down for you.

If my advice rubs you the wrong way, talk to some of your more IT savvy colleagues. They will be glad to have the opportunity to reinforce what I’m saying – since you asked…finally.

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19 May

What Makes A Decision Irrational?

by Sharon Drew Morgen

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Sharon-Drew MorgenAfter spending 30 years deconstructing the inner processes of how people decide, and training a decision facilitation model used in sales, coaching, and leadership, I’m always amused when I hear anyone deem a decision ‘irrational’.

Only outsiders wishing for a different outcome designate a decision as ‘irrational’. I doubt if the decision maker says to herself, “Gee! I think I’ll make an irrational decision!” I could understand her thinking it irrational after reaping surprising consequences. But not at the moment it’s being made.

We all make the best decisions we can at the moment we make them. It’s only when someone else compares the decision against their own subjective filters and standard, or using some academic/’accepted’ standard as ‘right’, or judging the decision against a conclusion they would have preferred. But outsiders don’t have the same criteria, beliefs, or life experiences the decision maker uses to evaluate.

Indeed, there is no such thing as a decision maker making an irrational decision. The decision maker carefully – partially unconsciously – weighs an unknowable set of highly subjective factors including 1. Personal beliefs, values, historic criteria, experience, future goals; 2. Possible future outcomes in relation to how they experience their current situation. There is no way an outsider can understand what’s going on within the idiosyncratic world of the decision maker, regardless of academic or ‘rational’ standards, the needs of people judging, the outcome as viewed by others.


I recently made an agreement with a colleague to send me a draft of his article about me before he published it. Next thing I knew, the article was published. How did he decide to go against our agreement? Here was our ensuing dialogue:

BP: I didn’t think it was a big deal. It was only a brief article.

SDM: It was a big enough deal for me to ask to read it first. How did you decide to go against our agreement?

BP: You’re a writer! I didn’t have the time you were going to take to go through your editing process!

SDM: How do you know that’s why I wanted to read it first?

BP: Because you most likely would not like my writing style and want to change it. I just didn’t have time for that.

SDM: So you didn’t know why I wanted to read it and assumed I wanted to edit it?

BP: Oh. Right. So why did you want to read it?

SDM: My material is sometimes difficult to put into words, and it has taken me decades to learn to say it in ways readers will understand. I would have just sent you some new wording choices where I thought clarity was needed, and discussed it with you.

BP: Oh. I could have done that.

While a simple example, it’s the same in any type of personal decision (vs. those decisions that get weighted against specific academic or group criteria – such as coordinates to drill a well): each decision maker uses her own subjective reasoning regardless of baseline, academic, or conventional Truths. In our situation, my partner wove an internal tale of subjective assumptions that led him to a decision that might have jeopardized our relationship. I thought it was irrational, but ‘irrational’ only against my subjective criteria as an outsider with my own specific assumptions and needs.

And, although I’m calling this a personal decision process, anyone involved in group decision making does the same: enter with personal, unique criteria that supersede the available academic or scientific information the group uses. This is why we end up with resistance or sabotage during implementations.


What if we stopped assuming that our business partners, our spouses, our prospects were acting irrationally. What if we assume each decision is rational, and got curious: what has to be true for that decision to have been made?  If we assume that the person was doing the best they could given their subjective criteria and not being irrational, we could:

  1. ask what criteria the person was using and discuss it against our own;
  2. communicate in a way that enabled win-win results;
  3. ensure all collaborators work with the same set of baseline assumptions and remove as much subjectivity as possible before a decision gets made.

Of course, we would have to switch our listening skills for this. We’d need to become aware of an incongruence we notice and be willing to communicate with the ‘irrational’ decision maker. I have written a book called What? (free download www.didihearyou.com) that explains why we hear with biased ears, and how to hear others to understand their intent. Because if we merely judge others according to our unique listening filters, many rational decisions might sound irrational.


Sharon Drew Morgen is the author of 9 books, including one NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and one Amazon #2 bestseller Dirty Little Secrets – why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell. Her latest book What? is about how we can hear each other without bias. She is available for training, speaking, coaching, and consulting on helping buyers buy, Buying Facilitation®, and listening collaboratively. sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com


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08 May

Is this you?

by Michael Hoffman

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FullSizeRenderI’ve seen Hector (not his real name) wheeling his cart around Barcelona a few times. It’s massive. It must be extremely difficult to maneuver. One day I went up to him asked him if he really needed all of those things. He actually articulated an impressive defense.

Does that remind you of anyone you know?

It reminds me of all the people I have encountered who justify their overstuffed inboxes, piles of papers on their desks and drawers filled with goodness knows what. Just like this homeless person, they carry all their crap around (mostly digitally) and defend their ways as not being problematic at all for them. I can find everything; It doesn’t bother me; I’m a creative type; or the biggest lie: I don’t have the time (What they mean is: I don’t want to prioritize being orderly).

If someone took Hector’s cart, he would find a new one. In a few weeks it would be as big as he could bear because he is a pathological hoarder. What about you? Isn’t it true that those times you have cleared your desktop, physically or digitally, you have gotten some satisfaction – and maybe even some pride from the achievement? Yes, it eventually fell apart again because you didn’t have the correct habits in place, but that’s another story. The point is that it felt good. You felt organized and on top of things. If you have had moments like that, then you’re not a pathological hoarder. But if those moments are few and far-between you’re also not at your best. Imagine having that feeling of being at your best, not just when you finally get so tired of the mess that you painstakingly clean it up, but EVERY DAY. Just because it hasn’t worked for you in the past doesn’t mean you can’t be more consistent NOW. It just means that you need some help in finding out what the trick is – for you – from someone who has enabled many others in the past.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and it takes time to build new habits, but what if you could change this part of your life in a few short weeks? From then on, you’d be at your best EVERY DAY. Or you can continue with your cart; the one that everyone notices but you.


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06 Feb

8 Good Habits For 2015

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Change habits

Change = changing habits

If you want to change anything about yourself, it will require changing one or more habits, and since developing or stopping or changing a habit is so darn difficult, it’s best to focus on one particular habit at a time. Since it is so hard to do this, you will need the proper tool in place. Luckily, that’s just half a sheet of paper.


Pick the easiest habit that you want to improve upon and apply to as many things you can for 30 days.
Print out the label below, cut off the piece you don’t need, then fold and place on a flat service in front of you. Make a new one for each good habit.
Schedule this exercise for the first work-day of each month in your calendar.
Repeat with the next.

Most readers will see familiar faces here. The idea of this exercise is not to nod in agreement that these would be good habits to form; it is to help you choose one habit to work on for an extneded period of time so that you master it and can move on. If you don’t like the idea of taking one month to complete the formation of a habit, you can try two months before going to the next one instead. Even if you focus on just one for three or four months you can’t go wrong. On the other hand, going too quickly increases the risk of not locking in the habit. It’s about retention, not velocity.

1. Avoid “white” or seemingly harmless lies.
You don’t have to tell your wife the truth when she asks you if she looks fat in that dress because our opinions should not always be trusted since they sometimes change over time; but late to an appointment? Don’t blame it on “traffic”. Instead, just apologize. You don’t have to give details. I planned poorly is a hundred times better than risking your integrity by inanely blaming traffic, which will be interpreted by the offended person as poor planning anyway. It’s not about being caught; it’s about the small lies overburdening you over time. Conversely, eliminating white lies incrementally builds up your self-confidence. This is first on the list because it has amazing impact on everything else.

2. Clean up after yourself.
In every way and every situation. Leave the room better than when you found it – always. Keep your desk clean, car, your closet. Perform a Kaizen (change for the better) in your stock room, your kitchen or in one room of the house every month.

3. Finish what you start.
Or at least fully complete parts of it that are usable, and keep track of the rest. That also means not starting things that you can’t finish.

4. Swallow the frog early in the day.
Do the most difficult things of your day in the beginning when you have the most will-power. Research shows that will power is like a muscle. It tires from use, but can also be strengthened.

5. Avoid speaking negatively and avoid others who have the same bad habit.
Complaining is the complete opposite of solving. Stay away from people who nag. After a while it becomes contageous.

6. Do what you promise.
Especially arriving on time. Integrity is the bond you have with all of those within your sphere of influence. Break it and people lose trust and faith in you, which, over time, is very hard to mend. Respect your promises to others and, most importantly, to yourself. If you have too much on your plate, you are breaking promises to yourself. Intervene in advance of failure.

7. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
Think about how they will perceive what you are communicating or doing. Without understanding context and perspective we run the risk of losing objectivity; creating problems rather than solving them; and appearing blunt and unsympathetic.

8. Create lots of systems that help you navigate on auto-pilot and give you overview.
There more autopilot best practices you have, the fewer mistakes and stress you will have. These can include calendaring, tasks, projects, shopping, etc. Anything to help you forecast what is around the corner. Don’t worry that it can seem nerdy. No one will ever know unless you have a few too many and gush about all your systems. I didn’t add “Stop drinking too much” to this list, but if the latter occurs…

Three tips to facilitate change:
1. Be consistent: Consistency is the mother of habit. The brain needs consistency in order to carve out those neuro-pathways that build in your ability to go on auto-pilot. The more consistent you are, the less you have to think and try.

2. Small is always better than big when starting a new habit: Get good at filtering out all your dreams and desires and go for things that are easily achievable until you build a consistent track record.

3. Simplify, simplify, simplify. ‘nuff said.

Remember that the objective here is to go slow. Pick just one to start with and keep the reminder on your desk, refrigerator or your bathroom mirror – or make several copies and post them for everyone to see them. Who won’t benefit from that?
I honestly don’t expect everyone to print out the reminders; only the ones who are ready for the challenge. But I can nearly guarantee that if you don’t actually print out the reminders, this will have been a slightly interesting and thoroughly forgotten exercise in just moments. A lost opportunity.
Print it now!

Download your sheet


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17 Dec

The benefits of a culture that puts problem solving ahead of the blame game

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I had an excellent session with a client today in which he told me about how he had to bring one of his employees into his office to remind him that, ”we simply can’t make these mistakes around here”.  My client told me that he had berated the employee with calm but stern voice, meaning that his intention was to wag a finger not kick him in the pants.

I thought about how many times I had done the same thing with my employees. And what do we get out of it? Will your employee improve? Will you score points with your employee? Is the employee grateful to be working at Acme Inc. now that you have laid out the law of the land? Have you solved anything? Have you ensured that the problem won’t repeat itself?

Situations where employees don’t perform well are indicators. The mistakes are the messengers, and we all know that we shouldn’t kill the messenger – which is why we shouldn’t labor about the individual errors that we find out about because without them we wouldn’t know where our challenges lie, and in turn, we would be unaware of our flaws. Let’s face it, no one likes to go to their boss when they have screwed up, but imagine if that culture were turned around and you actually won from doing just that.

It is our responsibility as leaders to transcend the anger and frustration (emotional baggage that follows us from difficult situation to difficult situation) that often comes with the disappointment of having found out that an employee has not lived up to our expectations. We can either focus on their mistakes or ensure that they won’t happen again, but just as we can’t go east when we go west, we can’t do both simultaneously.

There is the famous Stephen Covey quote that reminds us of how critical it is to ponder this idea:

Between stimulus and response, there is a space
In that space is our power to choose our response
In that response lies our growth and our freedom.

If we really want to lead in a positive direction then the choice to berate or support is obvious. The next common mistake in this situation is to then fix the problem instead of helping the employee understand that everyone makes mistakes, but they are accountable for theirs. This means that they should find a solution for preventing this problem from happening again. That might entail them asking your for help if they get stuck. (But they should get stuck first)

Imagine if your employees came to you with solutions for problems that they didn’t foresee earlier:

Rick, I missed the shipment to our number two customer yesterday because I failed to see the ticket. I’m sorry about that and I have done A, B and C in order to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

That would be a lot better than you finding this out from your number two customer, and since the employee came with a solution you will naturally be much calmer and perhaps even praise your employee for their insight and sense of accountability.

Not all employees do this naturally (actually rarely), so it’s up to you as a leader to invoke this methodology into your culture. The first few times are not easy, and you may be gritting your teeth, but after a while you, your employees and most importantly your customers will reap the benefits of a culture that puts problem solving ahead of blame game.

The best way to initiate this change is to be very transparent. Let them know that you want to move in this direction and that like every habit it will take time. Admit to them that you haven’t been good at it in the past but that you are obviously committed – especially now that they will be looking to see that you keep your word. This will actually help you to stay true to your promise – an excellent one to keep.

The truth is, that unless you lead this, and humbly so (admitting your mistakes along the way), it will not happen and you will miss out on an opportunity much more valuable than an order from your number two customer. As a matter of fact, if you do embrace this idea there is a good chance that your number two customer might become your number eight or nine or even better.

My client took this as a learning lesson.  Will you?


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