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I worked with some clients over the past few weeks that shared a similar problem. They were facing decision delays, meeting postponements and stalling from their clients. In each case, the sale/deal/meeting gets very close to fruition and then…..nothing. No returned phone calls, no definite dates, mushy next steps.  My client felt helpless up against a wall of silence. They decided to ‘wait it out’ because they thought they had done all they could do.   There are many possible ways to keep things moving.  Twice this month however, The Hypothetical Question was the key that unlocked progress for my clients.read more

I met a client a couple of weeks ago who mentioned to me how ‘worn-out’ she feels because of the bullying from her direct boss who is a high profile CEO of a New York Advertising Agency. She often feels oppressed and humiliated at the end of the day. After an hour of listening to her troubles it sounded like her job is like one long prolonged personal insult.  She is clever, smart and has had a successful career.  Based on what I learned, I think her boss is a nasty person.read more

This year I have noticed that the scarcity of new business available in some industries, and the cost pressure on existing client relationships, have led to panicked responses in some clients.   Many are also going through fundamental shifts in the way they do business.  They are coping with changes to their regulatory and competitive landscape and even how they define clients and customers – often at a scale and speed to which they are not accustomed.  Under this kind of pressure I see bad decisions made regarding which new business/clients to pursue and which existing relationships to keep. read more

We know the hazards of multi-tasking to our health and safety generally but for some reason there is a perverse pride in our ability to do it.  Some believe that they would never be able to ‘cope’ or ‘get through the day’ without doing lots of things at once.  In most cases there is a false sense of achievement from performing many tasks simultaneously in a mediocre way, but not doing anything well. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think having many tasks on the go at the same time is a bad thing as such; it can be both productive and necessary.read more

I went to a storytelling festival last weekend.  The tellers and the crowd were as one might expect – devoted, colorful, passionate and from many different walks of life. There were over 300 people in the audience on the first night of a three-day event.

I left the evening feeling both delighted and sad. Delighted because we humans can demonstrate a wonderful capacity for creativity and connection in our communication.  Sad because I was reminded of how difficult it is for most of us to make the time and manage the attention span required for a good old fashioned storytelling experience.  Storytelling is like the marriage of an intimate conversation and theater. In the classical sense, storytelling predates written history and  involves conveying events in words, images, gestures and sounds – primarily as a way to entertain, educate and preserve cultural and moral values.  Not really different from TV and movies today? I would argue that we gain a certain richness of experience, understanding and texture from live storytelling. There is a particular kind of engagement and attention you can get from another human being that another medium can’t deliver.  It is the same with live music or theater.

In business, storytelling is coming back into favor as an alternative to power-point. I don’t see too much storytelling in the leadership ranks of my clients. Most of the time there is a preference for directness and brevity.  I would like to suggest a structure for storytelling in business that may help close the gap between the need for a point and the desire to tell a story.  It is called Event, Point, Relevance.

Event: This is where you tell your story, briefly.

Point:  Now you come quickly to the point, the reason why you have chosen this story.

Relevance: At this stage you tell the listener why this story is relevant to them or the presentation or message you are giving.

I recently had a client who wanted to ad a little ‘spice’ to his usual themed sales presentations.  He decided to tell the story of a 56 year old woman who recently took the longest ever time to swim the English Channel – more than 28 hours. It was a remarkable tale of grit and determination as the tides swept her away from her goal.  She declared, “Time and tide wait for no man…but I wasn’t going to give up” A good story for motivating and encouraging others.

Here’s an example:

(event) A 56 year old mother of three took the longest ever time to swim the English Channel. Some would say her finishing was against the odds.  Particularly as the sun came up she realized the tide had taken her further away from the finish.

(point) Most people thought she wouldn’t finish

(relevance) Big goals are never achieved without strong resolve and vision.  Despite doubts and fears, press ahead and gain rewards.

Perhaps every day in some way each of us can keep the storytelling magic alive by communicating a compelling, creative and passionate message – in the flesh. Try a story to get your message across.

In a discussion with a client last week I was asked, “How can I tell if someone isn’t telling me the truth?”   There is quite a bit written about the body language associated with deviating from the truth. Apart from skilled sociopaths who are good fooling lie detector tests, I believe that most people want to do the right thing, and so there is a natural physical tension that occurs in people who are lying – there is a subtle mismatch between the words we speak and the message our body conveys.  In my experience, here are some things to look out for:read more

Practicing wise behaviors: Part Three

By this I don’t mean how to avoid bad romantic relationships.  Can’t help you there.  Instead, I’d like to help you recognize when someone is not worth getting involved with and a few tips to set boundaries – just in case.

When it comes to making decisions about getting into relationships – business or personal – we are all human: we make mistakes when ‘reading’ others and  feel we ‘we should have seen it coming’.  Life is a constant effort to align versions of the truth – your version and someone else’s. The closer these versions get, the more likely we are to have a good or peaceful relationship. Conversely, when we get it wrong, people enter our lives who don’t add anything – or worse – drain us. The key is to avoid repeating the same mistakes, or to notice when you have made one and get out of it quickly.read more

Practicing Wise Behaviors -Part Two

As promised, a little bit more on wisdom.  Last week I mentioned that there are some common situations where we can practice wise behaviors.  One of those situations is when you can practice not saying something you might regret.  (Check also my blog of January 2nd, 2010)

In my experience conflicts occur in otherwise loving or friendly relationships, not because there is genuine friction between two people, but because it wasn’t the right time to discuss something.  A good way to practice wise behaviors is a technique called HALT. Essentially, it means being prepared to not say or do anything if you are:read more

Think for a moment about situations where you were glad or relieved you had chosen not to act.  You chose not to say something you would have regretted during a tense or emotional discussion, or not to give an opinion during a meeting at work, or not to tell that joke at a party or poke fun at something or someone, or not take action on a discussion or proposal, or not to take that job or pursue that opportunity. And in retrospect you were grateful.

What is it that compels us to know when not to? Is it fate or a universal force that chooses to protect us from harm? Is it just experience and wisdom that we have gained over the years of learning and making mistakes?read more

My tale of the incomprehensible smart guy

I was at a dinner in Washington DC last week and had the opportunity to observe an interesting situation. There was a man sitting a few seats across from me and I watched those around him one by one either get up and move somewhere else on the table or turn away physically and make it impossible for him to enter a 3-way conversation. This looks like the guy that no one wants to sit next to. What was going on? Was he really boring or speak a foreign language no one knew?  I couldn’t resist the opportunity to find out so I went over and sat next to him when the seat was empty.read more

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