Personal Influence: Can you disagree with your boss’s ideas and still be successful at work?

June 28, 2010

Be influential or quit!

We like to think we can disagree with the people in charge and have things go our way with great consistency. After all, in the movies it’s the struggling person with no influence who has the great idea that everyone opposes and who, through sheer grit and determination (and often involving Jeff Bridges or Kevin Costner), rises to the top to make the higher-ups look like idiots. In life, though, it’s more typical that people who openly disagree with the boss end up first in line on the chopping block – especially if they are right and have the support of other people managed by that same boss. I have also seen people promoted to a position that gets them away from other humans. I personally was exiled to Omaha years ago for increasing sales by doing the exact opposite of what my boss said I should. Not that the people in Omaha were not humans … it’s just that I went from a big-city office where things were moving and shaking to a location where people wore Christmas sweaters. I have noticed over the years that when the people who are driving change wear a lot of holiday clothing, your chances of global impact are minimal.

In 10 years of research on leadership and change management, I have observed that VP teams commonly get rid of talented employees who openly disagree and have the positioning and charisma to influence others. It actually makes sense for that to happen. Dragging people screaming and kicking in a direction they don’t want to go has a history of being expensive and diluting the company’s vision. Though teamwork can be overrated, without it you can’t make things happen or develop agreed-upon, repeatable processes. Organizations and individuals don’t choose the best ideas; they choose the ones they are most comfortable with.

It is possible, however, to use personal influence tactics that can get you traction for your ideas. For example, it’s important understand that people are much more likely to agree with those who have agreed with them first. Agreement is the foundation of accountability. If you look for areas where you agree with the boss and you state your agreement (“I agree with that; let me tell you how I can help you”) before making a recommendation, you are much more likely to have your input heard and used. It’s a kind of formula that I call Ask, Listen, Agree, Recommend. This works well because people rarely object to their own ideas! They think, “My idea sounds fantastic coming from you! We should definitely do that.” Unfortunately, only a small percentage of people use this tactic. It’s just too simple, and people who feel oppressed by their boss really need to be right and make the boss wrong. So they grumble and do nothing, or they accidentally blurt out something that seals the fate of their work life – something like “I know you’re intelligent; I just can’t tell that by talking to you.”

I was dragged into an opportunity that I was not thrilled with, and it turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me. It was the last corporate job I had before starting my own company in 1996. They were so screwed up that I was exposed to almost every problem an organization could have, including a bizarre concept of “next-day air” shipping. They said next-day air meant we would receive the order Monday, pull the product from inventory Tuesday, and ship it Wednesday so the customer gets it Thursday. I explained that today (Monday) is today and tomorrow (Tuesday) is the next day, hence the term “next-day” air! They said I was wrong and needed to tell my employees and customers that next-day air took three days. I told them I was quitting, not today but the next day, which, if you look on your calendar, is tomorrow! I’m sure they are better off without me and my crazy logical disruptions. That psychotic BS inspired me to help other organizations as a motivational speaker with leadership, communication, and influence. But in reality I started my own company for the same reasons most entrepreneurs do but will rarely verbalize: I got tired of making other people rich!

Everybody Knows Something you don’t: Lost and the Lesson of Flassie

June 4, 2010

I once had to evacuate Houston for a hurricane and then had to “reevacuate”—that’s what I call it when everyone rushes back into the place they left in such a hurry. I’m lost on the outskirts of town, so I pull into a gas station where I see this crusty old guy sitting outside. I’m judging him immediately, right? I’m thinking this guy’s so old that he looks like he’s not going to live through the conversation.

My gas station friend has fishing hooks in his hat, and he’s got that faraway look in his eye, like I’m not going to get very good information from the man. I try anyway.

“Excuse me, sir. I’m trying to get back into Houston. Can you help me?”

He says, “What road did you come in on?”

C’mon. You just watched me pull in, didn’t you?

I say, “Well, the road you’re on. There’s one road, and you’re on it. I came here on the road your gas station’s on.” This guy is not winning any Nobel Prize, I conclude.

He says, “Well, what you want to do is go down the road a piece.”

A piece? “A piece of what? What does that mean?” I ask.

“You know, some miles.”

“One mile? A million miles?” Work with me, gas station man!

“What you do is go down the road a piece. There’s going to be like a highway, and there’s going to be a hump on this highway; get to the top of that hump, look outcher window and you’ll see like a dirt road, a pond, and a trailer park.” He pauses. “Don’t go in there. Stay on that main road, and take a left where the old schoolhouse used to be.”

OK, gas station funnyman. We’re going to go over this one more time.

“You’re telling me to take a left at a landmark I’ve never heard of that no longer exists. Is that correct?” Then I snap and use the D word. “Are you just dumb?”

He says, “You know something, son, I ain’t the smartest man around these parts. But then again, boy, I ain’t lost neither.”

I learned a valuable lesson in that exchange: Everybody knows something you don’t. The minute you think you know it all, your wisdom vanishes. In that moment when you think you no longer need input from anyone, wisdom leaves you. Your aptitude, your experience, your talent, your skill, and your time on the job—that all stays. Just the wisdom vanishes.

This lesson was as applicable during my encounter with gas station man as it has been in my work as a speaker and consultant. When I’m in front of the CEO, the CEO has to know more about his organization than I do. The minute I think I know it all, I greatly reduce my power to be effective or influential. I’m pretty sure nothing good comes from telling a CEO that I know more than he does.

Interestingly, the lesson is well known among some of the top performers we interviewed, especially those in leadership positions. We noticed that they were not afraid to admit they didn’t know it all. As a result, they knew the value of collecting information from people around them. These leaders might or might not incorporate people’s ideas into their decisions, but the information they’ve gathered allows them to understand where everybody’s coming from. They can deliver their decisions in a way that signals a true understanding of what the people around them value. You can deliver decisions in many ways, but you can’t be influential unless you know what someone values. So realizing that everybody knows something you don’t and then being willing to gather (and maybe even use!) information can position you to succeed in a big way.

Do you remember the TV show Lassie? Remember little Timmy? On the show, little Timmy would always be in his house when Lassie would rush in and bark. Timmy would put his hand to his ear and say, “What? What, Lassie? There’s a horse with his foot caught in the railroad tracks?” Apparently, Timmy spoke fluent dog.

Remember the TV show Flipper? Flipper was pretty much just a liquid Lassie. Flipper the dolphin could sound off to his human friend who would say, “What? What, Flipper? There’s a horse in trouble at the lagoon?” You could put those two shows together and call it Flassie.

The point here isn’t that I wish I could translate animal talk. (In reality, Dr. Doolittle seemed pretty miserable.) But Lassie and Flipper didn’t have to speak a human language or understand the details of their situation to deliver the most important information, which was “Go now!” The message of these shows was “trouble’s a-brewin’, and this animal knows something we don’t.”

I think most people understand at a basic level that everyone knows something we don’t. We just forget that sometimes when it’s time to position ourselves to be successful. But people who never forget it, like the insurance salesman I interviewed, have a great chance to stand out above their peers, giving them a distinct advantage.

Delivering Bad News Effectively With Three Simple Points

April 21, 2010

Delivering bad news effectively and clearly

When your job requires you to deliver bad news, there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about it. The wrong way can make you and your company come off as uncaring, as if you enjoy routinely crushing hopes with a shrug of the shoulders. I call that the torture method, and it goes something like this:

“Hey, how are you? I wanted to let you know that things did not go exactly like we hoped… You know, in this topsy-turvy world we live in, it’s just sometimes a roll of the dice!”

That’s the torture method.

We need to get past the fear of delivering bad news and go with what works! And here it is, in three steps.

Step 1: Connect to how the person may feel. What have you lost that was of great value to you? Get in touch with your compassion. (Everyone has it — even you!)

Step 2: Realize that you have a job to do and, before you make the call, make sure your tone of voice is caring and matches your compassion.

Step 3: Be straightforward and compassionate with the facts. Your delivery might sound something like this: “Unfortunately, your loan was not approved. There were a couple of factors involved…”  (Then state the facts with kindness.)

The job of delivering bad news is very important and can be done with dignity if you keep this crucial formula in mind:

Preparation + compassion = dignity.

Fear of Public Speaking: Panic, Perception, Passion and Practice

April 16, 2010

If you can speak you can improve your public speaking. What is your passion?  When you are doing a presentation think about how it will lead you to what makes you happy.  Maybe use a story about your favorite thing to do to describe what you are trying to say. Relate what you are trying to say with something you are passionate about – or perhaps something your audience is passionate about!

Let’s talk about fear!
The fear cycle: How we create it – How we use it – How we lose it?

  • Nobody lives without fear. Trying to rid yourself of all fear is not only taxing and frustrating but ultimately deprives you of an important source of motivation and energy. I have been a professional keynote speaker for over 10 years and I still feel that adrenaline surge each time just before I go on stage, but I use that energy to improve my performance. Fear causes most of our stress. If you have no fear you are playing it too safe or you are out of touch with your feelings..or maybe dead.  Something to think about: Heroes and cowards feel the same fear. The only difference is the action they take.   

You succeed by facing your fear. Don’t be afraid of fear: Look the monster in the eye! If you deny it or run from it, it will track you down and torture you in one of its many disguises.

Let’s take a look at the fear cycle

1. Fear exaggerates everything

  • Imagined consequences:  People will walk out or I’ll put them to sleep.
  • They will not like me: They will think I’m an idiot or amateur.
  • They will feel pressure that I’m trying to sell them something and not like me.
  • Fear run amok destroys confidence.  

2. Fear distorts perception

  • You SEE what you BELIEVE. Your perceptions are based on  your belief system. You look in the front row and everybody looks like the jury that just found you guilty. You see one person look at their watch and you think that NO ONE is interested. Somebody made the mistake of not giving anyone a bathroom break for two hours and you see people getting up to leave right when YOU begin talking.
  • You see imagined obstacles.

3. The physical response

  • Heart pounds, mouth dry, palms sweat.
  • Your larynx tightens, you drop stuff and your voice voice gets high.

4. The fear response: Freeze or frenzy 

  • You stop and procrastinate or you make fast bad actions.
  • You slow down or speed up and your mind starts racing. Most likely you will say say “weird stuff” and will wonder later why that came out of your mouth.

5. Thumps down: Your worst expectations fulfilled

  • In the mist of fear your performance matches your bad expectations.
  • Your performance is below your actual ability.

Then the next time you perform you remember your last time and worry even more! It’s not a lack of skill. Fear took control.

How to use the fear of public speaking to your advantage

  • Use the fear for excitement and energy and channel it into positive action.
  • Fear is a survival tool not a handicap.
  • Remember that fear tells lies and lies cause failure!

Stage presence: Commanding attention

  • Know what your are going to say.
  • Practice makes polish and polish makes money.
  • If you have stage presence they will forgive you must anything else.
  • Do you desire to have attention? Is it important that people pay attention to you when you speak?
  • What do you think you can do to have people notice you more when you speak?
  • What do you think people see when they look at you, what do you think you sound like?
  • Practice talking about your favorite thing.

Practice letting your passion out

  • Don’t be Mr. Meek, Mr. Fake or Mr. Boring. Be yourself – only LARGER
  • Finding your voice: Where does it go? Try talking as loud as you can and then back down to a natural leve.
  • Practice theatre style warm ups like saying over and over as fast as you can: red-leather-yellow-leather or you know you need unique New York
  • Everybody is charming: somebody somewhere thinks your charming (your mother at least).
  • Let’s talk about ourselves: “Enough about me, what do you think of me?”: Remember that no matter how interesting YOU are, the audience is always going to be more interested in themselves!
  • Get feedback from practicing: Ask friends, family, co-workers and especially a coach if you have the opportunity to work with one.

Do you have to be funny?

  • No! you have to be sincere If you really want people to respond when you speak, speak from the heart, speak with passion. When you speak with passion you are a lot more likely to be funny charming and touch an emotional chord. Talk about real stuff.
  • What’s Funny?: Words that have K sounds, short stories, making fun of yourself .
  • Praise people’s ability and honor them, listen and look for the similarities
  • Be yourself! People are attracted to people who are themselves, plain and simple.

Let’s go over the specific techniques: Make it happen

  • Never talk with your back to a window.
  • Never talk when people are eating.
  • Get all the information you can about your audience.
  • Lower your voice to make an important point and look people in the eye.
  • Tell stories that describe your information (True stories are best).
  • Give wisdom from your point of view.
  • Do your best not to say anything anyone has ever said.
  • Repeat important points: Use call backs.
  • Make good use of natural hand gestures: Don’t point at the audience.
  • Remember to channel fear into energy .
  • Enjoy the attention!
  • Each point you make should have three parts: Say what you are going to say, say it and then tell  them what you said. Don’t worry about the audience being impressed with you, let them be impressed by what they can do with your information.
  • Memorize your introduction: It should include: Your topic, why your topic is important to the audience and speaker qualifications.
  • Be real, be yourself, tell the truth.

The structure of your speech

  • The first and last 30 seconds of your speech will have the most impact.
  • Answer the questions that keep CEO’s up at night:  It’s not their job to remember you. What have you done today to make them remember you?
  • An intro is meant to get their attention. Memorize you intro.
  • Back Ground : What are you going to talk about
  • Body: Cover 3 points or one central point that everything relates back to.
  • Using a point-story-point format is very effective.
  • Conclusion: Summarize so that they understand where they have been and what they got from it.

Practice: What the pro’s do

  • Hone your skills in front of a mirror, if you have to memorize information, do it one sentence at a time, get in front of a real audience as much as possible  practice in the car.
  • Fear tells lies but YOU don’t need to. Remember to tell yourself: I am an interesting person and I have good information
  • Practice makes polish and polish makes money.

Communication Skills Training
Communication Speaker

Don’t Let Your Behavior Betray Your Skill

November 16, 2009

Recently I was asked to become a panelist for a new column in the Washington Post “On Success“.  The first question I had the opportunity to answer is:

Q: Are successful people blunt by nature? In recent weeks, retired NFL star John Riggins has been scathingly critical of his former team, the Washington Redskins. Is his take-no-prisoners rhetoric typical for achievers? Do the tactful accomplish more?

The most successful people we uncovered in our research were mostly negative/critical thinkers, which stands to reason: If you see a glass as half empty, you are much more likely to fill it up than if you see it half full. These top performers can be blunt by nature but know they must be tactful under certain conditions. A professional football player does not need the influence capabilities of a CEO to succeed. He needs innate ability, desire and a 20-inch neck! Also, many former pro football players are on pain medication that, when used long term, makes them cranky and liable to say things to the press they wish they could take back.  Motivational Speaker – Garrison Wynn

Influence: Getting People to Think

June 24, 2009

Influence. We all want it to some degree. Whether its influence with your boss, your employees or even your spouse, influence allows our ideas to be heard and used. But you need to know what people value before you can influence them.  By getting the other person to focus on what they value, your influence becomes more accepted, even expected.

The way to keep people focused is to get them to think, not just teach them. Teaching people is important but it only allows them to do what they’ve learned. When you get them to think they become innovative. They can improve, expand upon and create. They are not just drones who do what they are programmed to do. And you teach people to think by asking good questions.  Remember, the person asking the questions is in control of the conversation.
Examples of two good questions:

  1. Is there a question I didn’t ask you today that you think I should have?  This is a good thing to ask at the end of a conversation. It proves to person that you care and it gets them to think more deeply about what you’ve told them. It may even get them to ask the question they were afraid to ask.
  2.  Is there a difference between what you think is important about your job and what others think is important about your job?  This type of question can help create more awareness of priorities. It allows them to see more than just their side of an issue, putting a proper perspective on the issue at hand.

Of course, asking questions just to ask questions can backfire. It’s not only annoying, but can sometimes open you up to potentially awkward situations, eroding any credibility you had up until you unload the mother of all bad questions.

Some potentially bad questions could be:

  • Are you sure you have the smarts to do this job?
  • Are you male or female?
  • How are you still working here?
  • When’s the baby due? Oh…you’re not pregnant.
  • Is that your real hair?
  • Do you make your own clothes?

It’s easy to avoid asking bad questions, just keep your mouth shut! But asking good questions takes effort. Sometimes we like to shoot from the hip. Unfortunately that only works if you are a good shot. And even good shots miss on occasion. One of the things you can do is every time you ask a good question write it down. Start stockpiling them, store them somewhere you can review them often. Over time, you will have these great questions committed to memory.  You’ll have questions for every scenario. It takes time to build a group of good questions, but once you have them, you’ll see your influence grow.
Did we answer all your questions?   

Listening article: Listening Like a Leader – The Truth about Trust

Your a “Big Mouth” – And I Like It!

June 24, 2009

To have influence make sure the influential people with the biggest mouths are on your side up front.

You have people in every organization who have the ear of the masses and can’t shut up (and they never will). Somehow, through sheer personality and guile, these people have some sway over the rest of the group.

Find these people!

Get them behind your idea by showing them how good they will look to others if they support your agenda. Let them become your “PA System” and work for you to spread the word. Having a lot of people believe in what you do before you actually do it, gives you a huge edge. It’s like discussing the details of a great buffet to a hungry audience 10 minutes before lunchtime. You pretty much had their attention before you started talking. Otherwise, the only change you will make will be changing your mind about the change.


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