Maybe You’re The Roadblock


That isn’t what you want to hear, but it might be what you need to hear.

Unfortunately, some of those that need to hear they may be the problem are no longer reading after that first line and some others didn’t even open the article because quite frankly, they figure they don’t need anybody telling them anything. They know it all.

Ah but here’s you! You chose to read! Congratulations! I appreciate your willingness to read and let some of what you read sink in perhaps and consider. The good news for you is that you might be open to changing a few things after reading; getting on track to have a better future than both your past and present.

Roadblocks to our goals fall into two categories; they can come from within or come from our environment. The ones that come from within are entirely ours to impose on ourselves or change. That’s the good news. The bad news, (well at least for some) is that this means the responsibility is 100% ours and ours alone to do something about this internal roadblocks. If you remove them, you deserve all the praise for doing so! If you not only refuse to move these internal roadblocks, you go about your life building more roadblocks to success, you’ve got no one to blame but yourself. What I have always found to be sad and unfortunate is that there are a lot of people who set up roadblocks for themselves – barriers to their own success – and yet they say it’s Life being unfair to them; there’s other people out to get them, and society in general is holding them back.

Look, when you’re not having success finding the right jobs, getting interviews, getting hired or keeping jobs once you get them, it is a fool who refuses to consider that they themselves might be the problem. When your trying and trying and your success rate is 3%, you HAVE to at least consider that doing things your way isn’t working. If your way is the only way you know, then doesn’t it sound reasonable to do more listening than talking, heed some advice from someone who knows more than you do and benefit from their knowledge?

Acknowledging that others know more than you do in something doesn’t mean you’re inferior as a person and that you know less than they do in everything. In fact, seeking out people who are wiser than you are, especially in something you really want to become better at is a sign of intelligence! Smart people are always open to learning from others. And smart people do more listening than talking.

Listening is good but it isn’t enough however. To remove a roadblock, here’s what’s needed:

  1. Show a receptive attitude to learning which invites people to share with you
  2. Listen and give them 100% of your attention
  3. Think about or reflect on what you’ve heard (mouth closed)
  4. Be willing to consider and implement some or all suggested ideas
  5. Demonstrate your ability to actually implement the new ideas in the manner they were shared with you
  6. Check back and ask for feedback

Many who are their own biggest problem refuse to even do the first step. They fail to appreciate opportunities when they arise; they discourage those who have knowledge from sharing it with them.

Here’s a quick example. Yesterday I met a woman job searching on a popular job search website. She showed me how she’d cleverly set the distance field to only display jobs close to where she lived – and that’s good. I asked her what job she was after and she said, “anything but it has to pay well.” I asked her what skills she wanted to use in her next job and she said, “baking, customer service and stamina”. So I suggested a company I know where they are in need of Bakers but she shut that down by telling me they weren’t really Bakers there. She told me to tell her of any jobs that would get her money though, and in our conversation, her face never left the monitor as she scrolled quickly down a list of jobs which included Landscapers, Office Administrator’s, Medical Transcriptionists, Telemarketers etc. – all over the map.

Our conversation went on for about 10 minutes. Of the 6 steps above, she did zero. She didn’t show a receptive attitude despite the words she used, didn’t listen, never paused for thought on anything I said, shut down the ideas given to her, failed to implement anything and therefore couldn’t ask for feedback after having tried some. The impression she gave off was that although she said she was open to getting help finding a job, her actions, attitude and behaviour screamed, “I know what I’m doing, it’s not me. Had you been there, you’d have thought as I did, “Actually it’s you.”

There’s a saying that goes, “When the student is ready the Teacher will appear.” What this means is that sooner or later when someone finally is ready to listen and learn, they’ll find help is right in front of them. Yesterday wasn’t her day. Although the Teacher stood before her, she failed to recognize the opportunity for learning. You can’t learn and master any skill you believe you already have.

So my advice on this? Print and cut out those 6 steps above. Stick them in your wallet. Live by them.

 

Motivational Interviewing: Establishing A Tone Of Trust


One thing I’m extremely thankful for is that I’ve never lost the respect for everyone I meet and that each person who comes to me for help is unique. Every person has their own unique back story, and even if I were to think it sounds remarkably like others I’ve heard, I know I’ve never heard this back story from the person telling it to me now. Remembering to listen with full attention to the person before me is critical if I’m going to create a trusting climate where they feel safe enough to open up and tell me the important things that lay deeper than the surface stuff.

A poor Employment Counsellor – and yes poor examples exist in my field just as there are in any group of people – will neglect to fully listen. One of the most attractive traps one can fall into is to hear only enough from the person you’re helping to figuratively lump them in with others with similar stories. When doing this, your active listening stops, and your mind starts perusing your ready-made solutions that worked in the past, and you pull out solution number 4 and present it as the panacea to solve all this person’s troubles. “I have the perfect answer for you! Just follow the steps of my plan here and you’ll reach the end goal. I’m so happy to have helped!”

That’s just not going to work. What’s more, the person before you is intelligent enough to know you’ve tuned them out and you’re not really engaged with their unique situation. In short, they feel you don’t really understand because you didn’t hear them out; and they’re right.

A situation like this was shared with me just yesterday when a colleague consulted with me about someone she was working with. The fellow has a degree in Economics and some Employment Counsellor in another agency advised him to go after one of the job postings she had for a Restaurant Server. He felt shut down, unheard, misread and told her as much; she branded him a problem client.

Listening sounds like one of the easiest things to do; our ears pick up sounds without us having to turn hearing on and off, so we assume what we hear is 100% of what the person is saying when in fact we don’t. There are techniques like paraphrasing and saying things like, “Tell me more about that” which are designed to both acknowledge for the person that they were heard, and communicate a genuine want to hear more about something. Eye contact is critical too. I mean, how do you feel yourself when someone you’re speaking to breaks that eye contact and looks to your right or left as if something more interesting just happened behind you. You feel that connection is broken.

Have you ever considered your eye contact is one of the strongest ways to forge a bond? All those poets and authors who talked about seeing someone’s soul through their eyes; they were on to something there and they understood. If you want to make a subtle change that requires little effort but at the same time make a huge impact on those you counsel, work on maintaining eye contact. Don’t go for the beady-eyed, burn-through-your-skull kind of freakish look; that only scares others into thinking you’re getting kind of scary.

Direct eye contact that communicates enthusiasm for what this person has to share is what you’re after. From time to time in the conversation you’ll want to speak in a quiet voice that communicates concern and strong interest, such as when they relate something unpleasant. When they share something lighter or amusing, it’s okay to reflect warmth, smile, laugh along with them and that’s the moment to take that look away. Humour is essential to break tension, offer a break between heavy topics, and release some tension.

Of course what all this is really doing is continuing to build a trusting climate between you and this person before you. It is a huge mistake I think to start your meeting off with a statement that says, “We’ve only got 60 minutes to do your résumé so let’s dive right in – where did you work last and why aren’t you there now?” This kind of opening does set the tone that this is a business meeting with a clear goal, but it also communicates your time is more valuable than they are. All you’re going to get now is dates, past jobs and education. All the nuances of why they moved, what they found pleasing, what they want to avoid, where they feel most comfortable or most vulnerable; you’ve shut that down with your opening salvo.

The unfortunate message they receive is that whatever you’re doing in 60 minutes trumps your time with them now. Whether it’s your lunch or morning break, another client squeezed in to your schedule etc. they don’t really care, but they only have time now to do a token resume. The ironic thing? 60 minutes might be the same time you’d need to do a superior job that meets their needs and gets the document finished had you started by thanking them for the opportunity of meeting them and inviting them to share openly and honestly throughout your meeting. Some open-ended questions might set the tone of trust.

Challenge yourself; perhaps today – listen like you’ve never heard the story you’re hearing now; because you haven’t.

Networking: Get The Conversations Started


Network they say; meet some people, reach out and start a conversation.

What would I talk about? How would I begin? Why would they want to talk with me? Who would I start with? How do I network? Where do I go to meet the people I should be talking to? When is the best time to get networking?

Whoa hold on a second! Good questions! In fact these are the typical questions many people ask when the subject of networking comes up. The word networking has been around for some time but even longer is the activity itself. People have done it for thousands of years – maybe you yourself – without even knowing you were. So it’s peculiar in a way that when someone says, “You should network more”, a lot of people roll their eyes, sigh the big sigh and then say they don’t really know how to network. It’s like upon hearing the word, ‘network’, they focus on the last syllable only; ‘work’.  And don’t we all just love that!

If networking is all about having conversations with people you share some common interests with, then you’d think this should be relatively easy. If for example you’re a model train enthusiast and there’s a model show coming to your community, you could plan on attending and strike up some conversations with others in attendance with your common love of trains as the subject. That doesn’t sound too difficult. They might share information you don’t know, introduce you to some new product line or better yet, introduce you to another person with whom you could start a conversation with, and voilà, your network has grown by one.

It’s important to understand that networking isn’t only about what you could get out of a conversation. True networking is also what you can add to the other person’s knowledge. In other words, while it may be obvious what you could get from the person, what have you got to offer in return? What’s in it for them to have a chat with you?

This is where many people fail to network effectively and for two reasons: 1) they don’t know what they have to offer and 2) they may not be good at what we refer to as schmoozing. Schmoozing? You know, chit-chat, hobnobbing, chatting, conversing, making small talk. Just the thought of it can give some folks anxiety and force a retreat.

Hold on though. Remember in that model train show scenario? There’s your common interest. You’ve got a ready-made topic of conversation and it’s a safe bet that striking up a talk with someone about trains will get the conversation going. You don’t need – nor should you – plan the entire conversation out ahead of time. The other person will add their own thoughts to the talk and it may go in a direction other than what you had planned ahead of time based on their interests too.

What’s good to have ahead of time is a goal for your talk. Are you wondering how you might get involved as an Exhibitor the next time the show chugs into town, are you after a hard to find caboose, looking for a job as an Event Organizer etc. Sometimes you can just come right out and be direct, get your answer and move on. Other times, you’d be better to start the dialogue, set up a relationship first, and then proceed to see if there is anything you can give to the other enthusiast. Maybe you know someone with a large collection of trains who came about theirs through an inheritance, and they want to unload them.

Once you’ve established a conversation, you will likely feel much more comfortable getting around to what you’re really after. By delaying your real motive until you’ve talked a bit, you may be surprised to find that the other person is more receptive to helping you out than they would have had you just walked up and said, “I’m looking for a job as an Event Organizer. Hiring?” Far too direct, too much all about you and your needs and there’s no real reason for the other person to feel in any way connected to you to help you out.

When it comes to moving ahead with your job search, career advancement, employment exploration and your career journey the advice is the same. It might not seem initially very productive, but having conversations with a variety of people is an excellent way to go about this process. When introducing yourself, look for the common point of interest. Check out their online profile if you don’t know them, look for causes they care about, positions they’ve held, companies they’ve worked for. Your looking for an opening; one thing you could use to get the conversation going.

When a conversation starts it may not always move the way you anticipated. There may be times you get nowhere or you could hit the jackpot and start a long-term relationship built on your opening remarks that makes a good impression on the other person. More often than not, you won’t be best friends, but you could very well help each other out, give and take information and find your relationship becomes mutually beneficial.

Don’t start your conversation with, “Hiring?” This is only about you; you’re direct but offer no reason for them to help you out. Maybe, “I see we both have a passion for trains.”

 

Not A ‘People’ Person?


The gift of gab,  a born charmer, a real people person; some people are described this way. Whether they are surrounded by friends, co-workers or being introduced to others for the first time, they just have a natural ease with engaging themselves in conversations. They make it look so easy and for them, well…it is.

However for many, it’s a struggle to mix and mingle with others. When preparing to go anywhere where a gathering of people is expected their anxiety rises. For some reason, very competent individuals who have particular talents and expertise may have poorly developed interpersonal skills. The lack of these skills, or their under-development could adversely affect an individual’s ability to meet the right people or impress them enough when they do meet them to be considered for promotions or special projects as they arise.

If you are the kind of person as described above, you may desperately wish you had better people skills but have a greater fear of what it will take to improve in this area. Like it is with anything you wish to improve or learn, it does take some effort; and you may have some setbacks along the way where things don’t go smoothly. Don’t give up trying though; the payoff is increased self-confidence and a comfort level you don’t currently have in both social and professional situations.

Let’s look at a few things you could do. For starters, when you’re about to meet people for the first time, remind yourself that they don’t know you until you are introduced. Therefore, they don’t know the lack of comfort you are experiencing either. For all they know, you may be quite comfortable and at ease with holding your own in a conversation. Use this to your advantage.

Planning on keeping conversations short with any one person is another way to go about gaining some assertiveness by building on small successes. If you envision meeting someone and having a 10 minute one-to-one chat, the anxiety you could work up fretting about how to fill a 10 minute conversation may stop you before you even say hello. So reframe that conversation into a polite but short introduction.

One thing it is very important not to overlook is that a conversation is a two-way exchange. You are only 50% responsible for the dialogue and don’t have to talk the entire time. Some people make this mistake; do all the talking and exhaust both themselves and the person listening as they move from topic to topic until they are out of things to talk about. While it may appear to you as an onlooker that this kind of person has great people skills, in fact they don’t. They are talking for the sake of hearing themselves and not really engaging in true conversation.

This brings us to listening skills. Whomever it is you are going to chat with provides you with both words to listen to and thoughts to respond to. Listening attentively to whatever someone else is saying gives you things to consider and then respond to. You can’t anticipate and plan what to say until the other person gives you the information to respond to. Overly anxious and nervous people are often so busy thinking of what to say next they fail to pay attention to what the other person is talking about.

Take a deep breath or two and slow down the pace of the words coming out of your mouth. When we get anxious or nervous, or even excitable, there can be a tendency to speak quicker, making our voice tremble and the words harder to understand. Slow things down, speak clearly and you may find you engage more with the conversation as it ebbs and flows back and forth.

Asking open-ended questions of those you meet rather than yes/no questions is also helpful in shifting what to say to the other people you are chatting with. Just one or two of these questions is enough to get things started and then as mentioned above, you can demonstrate your listening skills by responding to what you hear.

Can you really ever become comfortable; really comfortable engaging in conversation with others if you’re not a people person? Like any skill, interpersonal skills can be improved upon. If you are expecting however to change your entire personality; going from say an introvert to an extrovert, not only is this probably not going to happen, you shouldn’t feel compelled to have to. Many people who are naturally shy or introverted can and do have sufficient people skills to engage with those around them.

It is not necessary that you transform into a naturally gifted public speaker or the life of the party. Turn down the pressure you perceive to be that kind of person. You are best to be true to yourself; be authentic and just work to develop in this area as someone else might work on areas they too wish to improve in.

Consider starting with people you meet in brief moments throughout your day. Be it the Bus Driver, a Server, a Cashier at the grocery store; a short conversation and a smile in these situations can give you the confidence you need to engage with others. Remind yourself too of what’s the worse that could happen with that store Cashier? You leave.

Interpersonal skills; people skills; worth paying attention to and developing.

 

 

 

 

Juggling Too Much? Overwhelmed?


How are you handling all the things that are going on in your life? Imagine yourself as a Juggler and each of the things you’re dealing with at the moment are represented by one of the items you’ve got in the air. Oh and each item you’re juggling is the same size as the source of the stress it represents.

For some that image is inconceivable. There is no way anyone could possibly have that many items in the air without some or all of them falling beyond what you could juggle. There’s a word for that and it’s, ‘overwhelmed’.

Now you know what you’re carrying around with you more than anyone. If you’ve ever actually watched a Juggler, it’s important to think now about how he or she gets to the point in their act where all those items are in the air at once. And come to think of it, it’s equally or more important to keep watching until the end where you can see how they finish the act.

Most of the time, The Juggler always has to start with one item, perhaps a ball, being tossed in the air. One item only; now doesn’t that make you envious! As the ball is in the air and second and then a third are added to the mix. At this point, a really good Juggler can still smile at the crowd of people assembled, even take their eyes off the objects ever so briefly and maybe do a little talking too. In other words, they can multi-task and the balls are still being successfully juggled; things are well under control.

For many people, this is what real life is like. There’s a few things that have us concerned at any one time and we’re successfully juggling them. To others, we are smiling and talking and we look in control of things.  In fact, as we juggle these few things, we might grow in confidence and think we can handle some additional items.

The best Jugglers didn’t become the Jugglers they are without dropping a few things though did they? Actually truth be told the very best Jugglers have dropped more balls over time than others with less skills to handle heavy loads. Those who are really good practice and practice; they are at it daily and for hours and in that time they drop countless items in an effort to both get better and to stay well-practiced with those more complicated loads.

The real problem with using a Juggler as an analogy for whatever you’ve personally got in the air yourself is that the Juggler’s act only lasts for a limited time and then she or he gets to stop juggling. They face the crowd assembled with their hands spread out from their sides, smile and bow as the crowds applaud their skill at handling all the things they’ve just witnessed.

You and I though; does it ever feel like you can’t put some things down; like you’re juggling 24 hours a day. You go to sleep to escape your worries and find that you can’t turn off your brain; then when you do wake from your restless on and off sleep, you’re assaulted with all those thoughts of what you’ve got in the air? And where’s the crowd of people who would be so impressed with the phenomenal number of items you’ve got going anyway? There should at least be a crowd!

Complicating things and increasing the degree of difficulty is that what you’ve got in the air aren’t all nice little balls of the same size. Ever watched a Juggler who starts with small balls then near the climax has a knife or two, a flaming torch and a bowling ball up there too? I’ve witnessed that. Impressive for sure; and better them than me!

Okay so here’s what’s really impressive; you! You may not think so but you’ve got so many things going on in your life and unlike that Juggler, you didn’t consciously decide to go out of your way to learn to juggle for a living. You certainly didn’t train for it, wish these things upon yourself and you’d love to drop a few things never to pick them up again.

Every so often when you watch some Juggler though, a second Juggler comes on stage. This second person or Assistant Juggler starts accepting some of the items the original Juggler starts tossing their way. The new Juggler takes what’s thrown his or her way, shifts it to their other hand and then passes it back to the first, and so the overall number of things in the air remain the same but the load is lightened.

Hmmm… could be something in this illustration that you could benefit from. What if you had someone who could listen to some of your issues, accept them and perhaps shift them around, reframe them for you and then give them back to you with ideas that might make those things a little easier to handle? Could be they not only get easier to handle when you receive them back but eventually you might be able to stop juggling a few of those things entirely. That would make the other things you’ve got in the air manageable.

Sharing is a good and healthy my friends. Consider adding an expert; a professional Counsellor or even a best friend or two to lighten your load.

 

Taking Stock At Year End


Just in case you think this read is all about retail and having some inventory blow out just so the company has fewer items to count at year-end, it’s not. What it is about has to do with taking stock of yourself; what you accomplished, what new skills you acquired in 2016 and how you’ve grown. Ah so now you can read on and scroll down or click on the close button because maybe you were really looking for an article on counting inventory? Yeah, sorry about that.

Not many people I know really sit down and pause to think and reflect about how they themselves have changed over the passing of the year. Yes I agree many will think about the passing year in some respect; the well-known people who passed away, the top 10 lists, the material possessions they’ve come into and maybe the big events like a marriage, the birth of a child or hitting some big number on their birthday.

Let me give you some things to ponder and reflect on with the passing of the year to shift your thinking to what I’m referencing:

  • What new skills did you develop at work?
  • Name two things you learned
  • What did you do to address an area you’re weak in and did you improve?
  • Name 3 moments of triumph and success this past year
  • Small or big, name a risk you took no matter the outcome
  • Name someone you welcomed into your network
  • Recall 2 or more ways you shared your skills with at work with someone new

I find that although I am constantly meeting with and working with some very talented people, those very same individuals don’t often give themselves the credit they deserve. Beneath a very thin layer of outward confidence, they have a fragility that is rooted in self-doubt and uncertainty. This is manifested in comments or questions they’ve voiced out loud to me but in relative privacy like, “I’m not as good at that as you are and I should be shouldn’t I?” or “I goofed up big time so I won’t try that again.”

The benefit of the year-end inventory on a personal level is to recall moments of development over the year and in so doing, give yourself credit for growing, maturing or developing. Afraid you might recall some moment of failure and actually feel worse off? To fail my friend means you attempted something; risked something and that in and of itself is not a bad thing. If you failed, focus on two things; your willingness to make the attempt and what you may have learned from the outcome so in the future you can make further attempts but with your new-found knowledge work to a different outcome. When you do this, you’ve not failed but succeeded in acquiring new knowledge.

One of the easiest things to do when we are thinking about professional development is to recall the training events we attended. So you add a certificate course to your resume or the big conference you attended. However, I know a lot of people who go to many conferences and leave having hardly uttered a word to anyone; having only a passing interest in the topic and never bothered to take notes. Sure they were there physically, but I’d contest that attendance as a moment of development.

So think deeper than just courses you took. Recall moments where you had a breakthrough with someone you were imparting a new skill to. When you think about that moment when they gained that new skill or demonstrated that they did indeed get the point you were making, think of how you accomplished that. What words did you use? How did you get through in that moment when you had been less than successful only moments before? What will you do in the future when in similar situations to repeat that success and pass on more ideas in the future to others?

There are many ways to give yourself credit which builds on your self-confidence and proves you are continually developing. Maybe you discovered the value in listening more attentively to people when in the past you would have finished their sentences, been uncomfortable with silence as they struggled to think of a word to express how they are feeling. When you bit your tongue and allowed the pause to linger, it was them not you who discovered words to express themselves and they were the better for it as were you for allowing that moment of self-discovery.

To do this exercise come back to it 4 or 5 times in a quiet space where you can think in peace and for goodness sake don’t make this a mental exercise only; write things down. The benefit in writing things down is you can access these positives anytime you want. Accessing these statements of growth, development and accomplishments reminds us of skills we have, the good we are doing and has the overall effect of boosting our assertiveness because we have the necessary evidence.

This is not an exercise in boasting, bragging or self-indulgence. You’ve no doubt much to be proud of in 2016 and this is the process of taking stock of these moments so they don’t get lost and forgotten. When you can recall these things you know your value and that’s a healthy thing to carry with you always.

Try it out.

 

Who Will You Be? Ever Considered This?


One of the things I enjoy about my job as an Employment Counsellor is the many people it brings me into contact with and hearing their life stories. Ask somebody to tell you their story – and give them the time to tell it – and you’ll learn some amazing things.

There are a lot of people for example who chose at some point to drop out of school. Some of them saw getting a job the fast track to moving on with life at the time. Others dropped out to support their family, and in others, their families placed a low value on education. The ones going back realize that getting their grade 12 is important, and it’s their current struggles and success they relate that draw you in.

Oh and the job seekers? Ah, they have fantastic stories to tell. Their tales involve hopes and dreams, rejection and heartbreak. Their stories extol resilience, tests of self-confidence, self-esteem, documents composed, communications both sent and received. Here are the peaks and valleys, the aspirations, the musings of how a single job offer could be life-changing and how much they’ve got riding on a single application. They relate investments of energy, time, precious funds, negotiating debts, losses and new hopes rising.

You want more stories? I hear people I interact with daily tell me their stories of dysfunctional families, being cast out themselves; relationships they had high hopes for dashed. There’s suffering, abuse, death, birth, joy and pain, sorrow and ecstasy. Their stories sometimes involve police chases, crime, scandal, rehabilitation, drugs, sex, fresh beginnings, re-settlement and fears. There are greedy landlords, kind bus drivers, relentless bill collectors, volunteers in soup kitchens, shelters and bargain stores in their lives.

It’s interesting because if you think about the movies and books you love most, don’t you find that many of the tales involve some heroic figure overcoming their disadvantages; working through their challenges? They are constantly faced with setbacks, they sometimes fall into despair or if they don’t, they have every reason to. At times, they undertake a quest, some journey to an end; helped along the way by people that come and go, sometimes misled by others. When the book ends; the journey complete, they feel a sense of accomplishment, and they almost always are better people for what they’ve undertaken.

There are such real life stories all around us where the hero or the heroine is walking past you on the street, making your sandwich at noon, reading a book at the next table in the library. They don’t look remarkable in any way, blending in as they do with all the other people moving about. They don’t have bulging muscles, don’t carry swords, daggers and axes; don’t have rings, gems, treasure maps or traveling cloaks. They are however real and they exist not in the pages of some book but right here before you.

The really cool part is when you suddenly realize that if someone were chronicling their journey and writing the novel of their life, this is the chapter where they came into contact with…you! Now what will they write about your influence on this person? How does your own life interweaving with theirs influence their path? Will you be the person who could have provided help and assistance but was too busy to lend a hand, or will you go down as the kindly character that gave aid in a dark time when aid was unexpected and sped the hero or heroine upon their way?

Another thing that’s pretty awesome to think about is this. Think of someone in a series of movies or books that you admire. Frodo, Anne of Green Gables, James Bond, Sherlock Holmes, Wonder Woman or Luke Skywalker. These characters are in a finite number of books or movies. You and I however, touch a significant number of lives each day and are thus interwoven as characters in many stories. In a single day, you and I are characters – major, minor or incidental – in more people’s stories than all the books that exist for any one of those I mentioned above. Sherlock Holmes helped clear up many problems and assisted many people, but when the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stopped writing his stories, you could count them and they were over.

Every time someone says, “Can you help me?”, “I’ve decided to go back to school” or you overhear, “I’m so frustrated!”, you’ve got an opening. This is the moment you get a choice on how you’ll be thought of and written up in their story. This interaction could change the course of their day, brighten their day and lighten their load…Who knows? It may be a small and incidental thing yes or maybe something bigger.

So how does it feel to see yourself as a character in literally thousands upon thousands of books chronicling the stories of the people you come into contact with? In any given day, you and I might be a helpful soul, a listener, a supplier of money, a purveyor of goods and services, someone who could have helped but didn’t, a jester or wise man with wisdom to impart. Why we might even be someone who learns from the main character.

You and I; we get all kinds of chances with each interaction throughout a single day to be supportive, helpful or a roadblock. How will you be portrayed in their journey?

“Um, Ah, If I Wrote Like I Talk, Then Like, Ah…”


Can you imagine how painful it would if we had to communicate in writing the words we actually speak? Come to think of it, this might be precisely how educators go about transforming the horrendous language skills some people have.

I was conducting a mock interview not long ago with a person who was pretty sure their interview skills were top-notch. While they had great content to share from their present and past to prove they had the experience to compete for employment, what they also had was a constant use of the words, ‘like’, ‘um’ and ‘ah’. At one point, I actually realized I had shifted from evaluating the strength of their answer to counting the number of times they used these three words.

So why do people consciously or unconsciously overuse these words? I believe the words, ‘um’ and ‘ah’ are used most often to hold the speakers place in the conversation, while their brain accesses memory files and arranges their thoughts in a meaningful way so that when the spoken words are uttered, it sounds coherent. It’s as if the person is saying, “I’ve got something else I want to add, just give me a moment to organize things in the way I want to share them; here it comes…right, I’m ready.”

Every now and then this kind of behaviour creates for the speaker a real unexpected problem. The overuse of, ‘um’ and ‘ah’ can cause a person to finish a thought and then the mouth almost instinctively throws in one last, ‘um’. The listener’s interest is piqued as the speaker has something further to add, so they themselves go silent and wait with anticipation to whatever is about to be said. The problem? The speaker who uttered the dreaded ‘um’ has nothing further to add whatsoever, and so lamely says something like, “Ah, it’s okay.”

What I find most interesting myself as someone who is often on the receiving end, is that the speakers either know they have this habit as others have mentioned it to them, or they are completely oblivious to this habit. They may say therefore, “I know, I know it’s a bad habit; everybody tells me!” Or they say, “Really? Wow! I had no idea!”

Here’s the thing about your language skills: you communicate much more than words alone. When you listen to someone, words combine with tone, body language, voice intensity, vocabulary, facial expression, eye contact etc.; all of which strengthen or detract from the content of the message you are delivering. If for example someone says, “Help me please, I’m desperate” and has a strained expression, their words are barely audible but intense and their eyes a wide and fixed on ours, – we do not doubt their plea. However, were they to say, “Help me please, I’m desperate” while shrugging their shoulders, grinning ear to ear and the words uttered in a mocked tone, then we might be left with an impression they aren’t really serious.

It’s the same when we overuse the word, ‘like’. “Could you like, help me, ’cause like, I’m – you know – like, desperate.” Is the visualization in your head right now of the person uttering this sentence a young, poorly educated female? If I told you it was really a university educated senior management person in the commodities sector would that image seem genuine? No probably not. So how we communicate does conjure up things we associate with people who talk a certain way.

Therefore others who hear us make assumptions about our education level, our professionalism, our income level, our intelligence; all from our vocabulary. Lest you think that it is wrong of people to make all these assumptions and judge you based on these alone, don’t exclude yourself from judging others based on the same criteria. As we listen to others speak, our minds take in all this data and access past memories and experiences we have had dealing with others who have appeared to us to be similar. In a matter of seconds, we think, slang = casual, overuse of ‘like’ = valley girl, overuse of ‘um’ and ‘ah’ = slow thinker. Of course these associations might not match your own experience, but they might match other people; people who are interviewing you for a job, or deciding whether or not they can help you in some way.

One way to change how you are perceived if you wish to do so in the first place of course, is to simply pause and be silent instead of using the dreaded, ‘um’ or ‘ah’. Silence is actually very effective when used in speech as it shows you are reflective.

If something is similar to something else, by all means say that this thing is like that thing in a comparative sense. However saying, “This apple is like amazing!” isn’t any more effective than just saying, “This apple is amazing!” The word, ‘like’ in this sense is unnecessary and inappropriate. Do yourself a favour and stop overusing it and using it in the wrong context.

The wonderful thing about your language skills is that unlike so many barriers to employment or promotions is language is entirely within your control to use and improve. Not only should you choose your words wisely, you can improve your skills in this area as you can with any other skill.

Then, you’d be like, totally amazing.

Be The One


Have you had the benefit of someone in your past who really made a positive impression on you? Someone perhaps who you admired because of how they went about their life, the actions they took, the things they believed in? And furthermore is it possible that one of the things they believed in was you?

Some people you know never get that experience. They don’t have the benefit of nurturing parents who create a caring and loving home and pass along the early lessons which are the building blocks for positive growth. No instead of placing value on inclusion, giving back, leading by example, sharing and education, they teach looking out for number one, taking what you can get and the school of hard knocks.

To be fair, most parents do believe they love their kids. Some are overwhelmed with the responsibility, lack the skills required to really be positive role models because they never had the benefit of positive ones in their own upbringing. They pass on what they know because it’s all they know, and they lack the resources to learn anything different.

By the time many young people are conscious of themselves, society at large and where they fit in, they’ve already been largely identified as having potential or not, from good homes or not, and the labels for good or not are being affixed. The future for such a young person is largely influenced by which social class they are born into, their location of birth, the opportunities they are afforded and their genetics.

One key factor as well in affecting someone’s potential is the appearance in their lives of someone who truly cares enough to provide some ethical or moral guidance; often unlooked-for and unexpected. Now it could be a teacher, a big brother or sister, a neighbour, shopkeeper, social services agency worker or, well…maybe even you or I.

In the case of a formal arrangement, there are groups who pair up young children and teens who could use some positive role models with older adults. These groups hold events, encourage interaction on a regular basis and hope that just time together will influence for good the young developing child who could use the benefit of a nurturing guide.

Formal arrangements are fine for some. Often; more often actually, we are influenced by those around us who we interact with on a more random basis. The teacher whose class we find ourselves in might be such a person. Seeing something of interest and value in a child who can’t see it themselves yet, and providing that same child with the opportunity to explore and experiment with whatever talents they might have in small doses without trampling and squashing out that gift.

What though of you and I? After all, maybe in the work we do and the lives we interact with because of it, there are opportunities each day to connect with people and possibly lay some foundation for a relationship. Maybe it starts off with a few positive interactions, casual offers of help or even just being available. Some people who have had the benefit of a mentor or guide can think back very clearly to their very first encounter with the person, while the mentor has no recollection of that initial contact whatsoever.

This difference is largely attributed to the fact that many people are so use to being passed over, talked down to – if talked to at all or being ignored, that it is a memorable event when someone engages with them who doesn’t necessarily want something in return. How significant it is then to constantly be aware of the potential you and I have each day to influence for good or not, and to look for the opportunities of engagement.

Now I myself know the faces of those whom I’ve had the benefit of positive engagement with in the past. Often I wasn’t aware enough in the time I had with them to appreciate or thank them. As we grow and age, people come in and out of our lives, sometimes reappear and sometimes leave for good. It’s not essential or required that we hunt them down years later and thank them when we realize their impact on us. In fact, many of them know instinctively at the time they are influencers of good and that’s enough for them. That’s part of their make up.

You and I though? We don’t need a formal education or a fancy job title. We don’t have to have a big pay cheque or a shiny new car. To be an influence of good, to be thought of later as ‘the one’ who believed in me when nobody else did; who saw something in me I couldn’t see myself – to be that person, could you do that?

I believe we have these chance encounters on a daily basis. Maybe it’s sitting down distraction-free and really just listening to someone with your full attention. In a digital age with technology at our fingertips, that may be shocking to some people just to have someone give them 100% of their attention.

Maybe too it’s just saying, “Sure”, when someone says, “Have you got a few minutes?” or just going about your own work with a moral compass as your guide. Who knows? Listen to others this week and look for the opportunities. See if you don’t find yourself in a situation where yes, you in fact, might just be the one.

 

 

 

Our Responsibility When Meeting Clients


Yesterday I wrote a piece encouraging anyone who is a client to make the very most of the meetings they have with others who are in a position to help. In short, the message was one pleading for clients to make the very most of those opportunities.

So it now makes sense to turn to the role you and I play if you are one of those who host those meetings. As professionals meeting with clients, there is an inherent risk we run in sliding into poor habits due to the many we serve. So let’s look at the part we play and how we might go about those face-to-face encounters.

First of all, it’s usually we who drive the meeting isn’t it? I mean we might have requirements to meet with clients within designated timeframes. Whether it’s to update a file, satisfy some legislative or company requirement, we send out letters or make phone calls so we can ‘update the file’. What we should never forget or take for granted however is that, ‘the file’ exists because there is a person or people the file represents.

When we drive the agenda we might have the same pre-set questions ready at our disposal in order to garner the information required so we can update the electronic field in the computer software. We may have a template which designed to ensure we don’t forget or miss something, and this data collection allows the organization to then fulfill its requirements. On that front, it makes sense and all is good.

However, that person sitting in front of us is a unique individual. We may be tempted to evaluate them as similar or exactly the same as any number of other clients we have, but that one person has a unique background that has brought them to sit before us today. So whether it’s employment counselling, marital or grief counselling, financial advice, real estate transactions or any other kind of 1:1 meeting, that person is unique and worthy of being treated with respect and dignity.

So how to best show respect and dignity then is the question. It starts I believe in seeing this meeting as a two-way exchange; a conversation. Aside from our own agenda, shouldn’t we ask what’s on their mind? Is there anything they’d like to ask, share or clarify? Recognizing the other person has their own issues and needs and then paying attention and actively listening to them makes investing in the meeting and its outcome worthwhile.

Now I personally know of some people who are exceptionally good and unfortunately others who are exceptionally poor at hosting productive, meaningful meetings. The worst is the person who has all the forms pre-filled for the client to sign before even getting the clients input, sees the client as an intrusion in their day, and ushers them in and back out as quick as possible in order to join their teammates on an extended break.

Now ironically, some clients would love this kind of meeting. In and out quickly, not needing to be hauled back in (as they see it) for months, and by signing the forms they continue to benefit in some way without any real inconvenience to their daily life. I’ve met with such clients whose files I’d assumed in the past, and the first thing they found odd but good was that I actually sat there and talked with them instead of to them. They were initially suspicious, thinking I was pretending to care in order to find something to seize on. How relieved they were to find I used what they shared to suggest action plans that would help them. But isn’t that our job?

I’ve seen some really fabulous examples of conducting productive meetings too. Even now in my present job, I’ve got co-workers, (some I can overhear as they meet) who really invest themselves in the well-being of the client. The meetings are not rushed, the client is given 100% of the person’s attention, and the dialogue flows back and forth instead of one-way only. When the client leaves, they more often than not follow through with the plans agreed on, as there is more ownership and buy-in to a shared plan versus a plan they didn’t help develop being thrust on them.

So I believe that you – and I – need every now and then to remind ourselves that the people we see and assist are not only entitled to our full attention and our respect, but if it must be said, they are the very reason we even have the jobs we love in the first place.

For me personally, I imagine myself in their position, (as best I can) and try to give the service to them I’d want and hope for were I in their chair. That client might not even know what they should ask, or what funds or programs they might be eligible for. That’s my job – your job – to empower them with information and support which they can use to propel themselves forward.

Sometimes just listening to a person talk who senses they can trust you reveals all kinds of information which is then extremely helpful in addressing barriers and challenges.

It’s a great privilege to serve others, especially when we have the knowledge and the ability to do so. I applaud you if you are in such a position and thank you for doing so!