Archive: December, 2018

Post from Transformation Tom- Control Self-imposed Pressures: Chapter from “The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas”

Posted by tomdowd - December 20, 2018 - News
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I remember too many times when someone asked me to get something done immediately for them. When that happened, I knocked down walls to get it done. I sometimes felt like a dog that had just picked up the morning paper and was waiting for my reward, only to often get passed by without an acknowledgement. I didn’t understand that the word “immediate” had multiple interpretations. The requester might have given credit to someone else or didn’t even remember who did it in the first place. I would put undue pressure on myself and then try to figure out what went wrong. Unfortunately, when receiving these types of requests, I often did not effectively ask for clarification or understand the expectations.Self Imposed Pressure

I found myself wondering why I always put this type of unnecessary pressure on myself, or find myself getting riled up when the end result did not come out the way I wanted it to. I tried to understand why I dropped everything else I was doing or poured my heart and soul into something only to realize later that it was a request in passing, or that it could have been done just as easily at a different time. I had to better assess the urgency and importance of these requests. I had to gain a better understanding of what needed to be done now versus later. I also should have compared what needed to be done for the business versus myself. Finally, I needed to understand whether I was putting the pressure on myself or if it was truly pressure about a pressing task that genuinely needed to be addressed quickly.

When I didn’t get the attention I felt I deserved for accomplishing something, I would typically invest far too much time worrying about it. I might have been upset for thinking that a mistake was made and the requester didn’t want to say anything. I searched for the proper credit when I felt it was due. I had to come to grips with myself. I needed to make the move to be more accepting of who I was and what I was doing—everything else would eventually take care of itself. I began to make an attempt to take the pressure off myself by concentrating on the quality of my work and just try to learn from the experience—good and bad.

Many people have a tendency to be harder on themselves than anyone else. The pressure to get the task done, the pressure we put on ourselves in the hope that it was done right and then waiting to see the reaction of others, all adds up. The question is, “Adds up to what?”

I have found myself in situations when I felt like I should kick myself because I said something stupid or forgot to ask a pertinent question in an important meeting. I found that I would drive myself crazy with these thoughts running through my mind, putting more and more pressure on myself to be perfect. I wanted to get everything done for everyone at the exact right times. I include myself when I say everyone because I was typically my own worst enemy.

I started to realize that many people have memories like a dog—they last a couple of minutes and move on. I worked with executives who were responsible for millions of dollars for the company and some who were responsible for hundreds and thousands of people. I began to realize that some people have more important things to do than remember a minor mistake I may have made. Even if the mistake was remembered, I found it important to ensure that everyone saw that I had learned from it. I was the one putting the pressure on myself—pressure that no one else was feeling.

I had to do a better job of ensuring I was clear with expectations relating to time frames and deliverables. There may be situations in which you do have to drop everything, or there is a flavor of the day that needs to be addressed. Sometimes, there really is a pressure to get something done. However, more often than not, I was doing my job well, exceeding my boss’s expectations, and was just putting too much stress on myself. I needed to free my mind of this clutter and just concentrate on the job at hand. I also needed to do a better job ensuring I wasn’t asking too much of myself.

I couldn’t sleep last night. I yelled at my children because I could not concentrate on writing this book, and I felt guilty. Naturally, my reasoning for yelling at them was justified in my mind because it must have made sense that the paragraph I was working on was the most important thing in the world to me at the time. I know this is a ridiculous thought, because nothing is as important to me as my family, but at the time when my emotional pressure was high, I had to find some other silly reason as to why my children were at fault.

I began to assess the situation as I was tossing and turning in the night. I had set very aggressive and specific internal goals relating to this book. I was meeting my own time frames and pacing it out appropriately according to my own expectations. There was no publisher on my back to get it done and there was no one forcing the issue except me. However, my internal goals were stressing me out and building up tension to the point that I was taking it out on the people I love.

I was forcing myself to wake up early to put my ideas and thoughts on paper as quickly as they came to me. I wanted certain sections written by certain times. I was forcing my own direction. It’s good to be aggressive with goals, but there also needs to be a balance with everything around you. I was upset at myself for getting unnecessarily upset at my children. I had no intention of writing a passage about internal pressures, but I know how much each of us drives ourselves to succeed personally and professionally. We will succeed. However, we need to skim some of the pressure off the top that we ourselves have created. When I woke up the next morning, I did not log in to write my book, but I did apologize to my children and thanked them again for being my teachers.

I invested time to reevaluate my goals and decided to extend my own timeline a little longer to ensure that I was putting out a product I would be proud of. The reassessing of a timeline, or giving ourselves a break, does not mean being lax with deadlines, internal or external, and does not mean being less aggressive with respect to personal or professional goals. It means incorporating time to provide breaks and down time to stay fresh, and make sure we truly know what’s important and urgent. Make sure we understand whether the pressure we are feeling is self-imposed. If it is, reassess whether or not those pressures are too intense and thus impacting the quality of the work we are producing.

We should also ask if we are on the same page as the individual requesting our time, even if we are the requester. You might be surprised at the number of instances when you are not in sync. Stop yourself in mid-action and ask what needs to be done and what you want to get done. Need and want will have a different urgency and importance attached to each. As you continue to regularly reassess the pressures, you will begin to assimilate to what is ‘real’ pressure and how much is self-imposed.

 

 

Thomas B. Dowd III’s books available in softcover, eBook, and audiobook (From Fear to Success only):

  • Now What? The Ultimate Graduation Gift for Professional Success
  • Time Management Manifesto: Expert Strategies to Create an Effective Work/Life Balance
  • Displacement Day: When My Job was Looking for a Job…A Reference Guide to Finding Work
  • The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas: Growing from a Cynic to a Professional in the Corporate World
  • From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide received the Gold Medal at the 2013 Axiom Business Book Awards in Business Reference
  • The Unofficial Guide to Fatherhood

See “Products” for details on www.transformationtom.com.  Book and eBook purchase options are also available on Amazon- Please click the link to be re-directed: Amazon.com

MP3 Downloads of “From Fear to Success:  A Practical Public-speaking Guide” are available at Apple iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody, Emusic, Nokia, Xbox Music, Spotify, Omnifone, Google Music Store, Rdio, Muve Music, Bloom.fm, Slacker Radio, MediaNet, 7digital, 24-7, Rumblefish, and Shazam “From Fear to Success” MP3 on CD Baby

Post from Transformation Tom- Understand Communication Preferences: Chapter from “The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas”

Posted by tomdowd - December 16, 2018 - News
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There are so many forms of communication in today’s professional environment. Professional communication has evolved from a face-to-face, memo, or phone-driven form to so much more in today’s business. The emergence of voice mail, email, instant messaging, video conference, and texting has changed how, when, and with whom we interact. The list will only continue to grow as new technologies emerge.

The dynamics of our interpersonal and small group discussions are impacted based on the communication preferences and choices people make. For example, our ability to more actively listen and be sensitive to voice cues is heightened when we are on the phone, versus being in person. Attention spans are also impacted by other factors. You can be on a conference call with twenty people, and a few participants have side conversations via instant messenger or email. Their attention and engagement are impacted and may influence others around them. Other people may be conducting non-related business on the side that they see as a higher priority. Face-to-face meetings, and video conferencing to some extent have their own communication influences brought about by non-verbal messaging by allowing the participants to see facial expressions and reactions.

Communication Preferences

The ability to type messages instantly also has its own pros and cons. The messages are typically short and concise. However, there is often a lack of context in the message which may force the need to have significant clarification back and forth. I have found outside of the many symbols being used to express our emotions during an instant text message interaction (emoticons), overreaction is brought into the text message interchange due to the immediacy of the channel. People have a tendency to quickly type a response and hit send as it is going through their mind. Emotion has always been there in the past; however, emotion emitted through channels such as text and email may have responses come more quickly and therefore less thoughtfully.

The lack of proofreading and editing during these quick exchanges has caused many communication issues when a message is sent to an unintended recipient (e.g., you are thinking of them when sending), unnecessary multiple recipients (e.g., reply all), and credibility of the sender if there are significant spelling or grammatical errors. In the latter example, the entire meaning of the message can be altered with the omission of a word. For example, “Your request is approved” is a lot different than “Your request is not approved.”

You should also understand how your peers and managers would like you to communicate with them, and you should make your expectations known as to how you prefer to communicate. I have had many people who never respond when I send them emails. However, these same individuals are always willing to communicate via instant text message. Some people prefer constant written communication using email and instant text message, and can go back and forth all day. I personally prefer picking up the phone if I see multiple emails and instant messages going back and forth. For example, I have set the example that I prefer not to have an email or instant text message go back and forth more than twice before picking up the phone. However, this is simply my preference. One time, I found I was inadvertently annoying a colleague whenever I sent them an instant message. I would ask if she was available. If she responded “yes” I would provide my phone number to call me. She finally sent me a note asking why I always assumed she was available for a phone call. She was available for the instant text message session, and just didn’t know that I preferred the phone.

When possible, we need to understand what works best for everyone and do what we can to accommodate that in the best interest of enhancing the communication experience. The key is to know what works best for the people we communicate with most often. When that isn’t clear, ask the obvious but often missed question, “What is the best way to communicate with you?”

Thomas B. Dowd III’s books available in softcover, eBook, and audiobook (From Fear to Success only):

  • Now What? The Ultimate Graduation Gift for Professional Success
  • Time Management Manifesto: Expert Strategies to Create an Effective Work/Life Balance
  • Displacement Day: When My Job was Looking for a Job…A Reference Guide to Finding Work
  • The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas: Growing from a Cynic to a Professional in the Corporate World
  • From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide received the Gold Medal at the 2013 Axiom Business Book Awards in Business Reference
  • The Unofficial Guide to Fatherhood

See “Products” for details on www.transformationtom.com.  Book and eBook purchase options are also available on Amazon- Please click the link to be re-directed: Amazon.com

MP3 Downloads of “From Fear to Success:  A Practical Public-speaking Guide” are available at Apple iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody, Emusic, Nokia, Xbox Music, Spotify, Omnifone, Google Music Store, Rdio, Muve Music, Bloom.fm, Slacker Radio, MediaNet, 7digital, 24-7, Rumblefish, and Shazam “From Fear to Success” MP3 on CD Baby

Post from Transformation Tom- Build Credibility and Success through Effective Communication: Chapter from “The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas”

Posted by tomdowd - December 9, 2018 - News
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Communication is one of the most critical skills to have in any professional setting. I was in a planning session one day when the key speaker mentioned that “Ninety-eight percent of all problems in the world come from miscommunication.” I’ve never been able to validate this statistic, but I also would never argue it, because there is truth to it. We could probably reassess many of our past issues and identify some root factor that came down to ineffective communication, whether it was due to poor listening skills, communication channel ineffectiveness, or over complication of directions. I got the point.

CredibilityI thought I would share a true story as to why communication is important, as expressed by one of my daughters who was eight years old at the time. Please note that the names have been changed to protect the identity of those involved.

My daughter was given a note from a little boy named Adam asking her to “go out with him.” The teacher saw the note and asked my daughter about it. She said she thought it came from Adam and that it had just been sitting on her desk. The teacher went to Adam and said, “Did you write this note?” He replied, “No.” She asked Chris, a little boy who sat across from Adam, “Is this note from you?” Chris replied, “No.” Now the teacher was confused. She said to Chris, “You don’t know anything about this note?” Chris said, “I know about it.” Now the teacher was a little annoyed and she said, “But I just asked if you wrote it and you said no.” Chris said, “No, you asked if it was from me and it’s not—it’s from Adam.” So the teacher said, “Adam, I asked if the note was from you and you said no.” Adam said, “No, you asked if I wrote it. My handwriting isn’t very good, so I had Chris write it for me.”

Miscommunication is the root of too many problems. I cringed every six months when I read the communication sections of my performance appraisals. I lost confidence over time with my own communication ability, whether it was written, verbal, interpersonal, small group, or business communications. I struggled managing up, managing down, and simply having effective conversations with peers. I knew I had the skills, but always seemed to struggle. I had difficulty in finding my communication style, and with determining who I wanted to be as a communicator and how I most effectively wanted to communicate. When I lost my confidence in communication, I had difficulty in believing I could ever succeed at my company. I couldn’t identify a true communication style because I lacked the confidence to truly know myself or my capabilities. Let me share a performance appraisal quote relating to my own communication.

“Tom needs to be more concise with his communication style. He needs to ensure that he understands his audience and his ability to adapt based on who he is interacting with.”

I did not adapt my communication style regardless of whether I was talking to a peer in the hall or whether I was communicating with senior management. I had significant opportunities to also be more clear and concise. I could have provided executive higher level overview, as opposed to stuffing every little detail into a presentation, including speaking notes directly in the main bullets on the slides. I now ask the following questions of myself ahead of time, “Who is the audience?,” “What is the intended outcome of the meeting?,” and “How much information do I think they will need?” These questions allow me to understand how much information to have on hand and what kind of preparation will be needed. For example, will I need to be surrounded by numbers and statistics, or will the audience trust the numbers on the page and want a directional recommendation? When asked questions, will the audience want a high level overview or a detailed storyline? I found that the feedback wasn’t specific to making my responses shorter, the feedback was directed to having me be clear and succinct based on what a particular audience wanted. My ability to adapt to the audience needs won over many critics as I improved.

In another evaluation, it was recommended that I, “Ask questions to ensure a full understanding.”

I wanted to be the person with all of the details and all of the answers. I was the first to answer questions, or the first to speak up. Often, if I was leading a conversation I would exhaust everything I knew prior to opening up the meeting for questions. I typically didn’t even pause long enough to ensure that everyone understood what I was talking about. I often lost my audiences and they became frustrated. They frequently did not have a chance to speak, or lost interest because they could not follow the path I was taking them down. I also lost credibility because I could not generate buy-in to the ideas and concepts because they came across as my ideas alone. I now use silence as a tool. I generate conversation up front by asking open-ended questions to ensure that the audience understands and is engaged. I use pauses to create enough time for people to ask questions. If I am leading the conversation, I often stop to ensure clarity and elicit opinions along the way. I try to ensure that participation and buy-in is an ongoing part of the process versus a question at the end of, “Do you agree?” I found this style suits me better and has enabled me to be more effective. This way, I have found that I have to explain less and do not force myself into a position that inundates the audience with unnecessary details, because they are now an active part of the conversation.

“Position ideas with your audience in mind…need to be more confident in presentations to senior management; don’t second guess self.”

That feedback was a mouthful. Apparently, I didn’t grasp the audience feedback when previously given and I needed it reinforced. As stated in the original piece of feedback, “Understand his audience,” I needed to ask the right questions of myself ahead of time in order to formulate my ideas and learn how to most effectively get them across to the audience. These questions allowed me to better position my ideas based on who I was speaking to and allowed me to get creative in how to do that. As I became better accustomed to understanding audience needs, I gained confidence in my own abilities.

I had a key learning moment when I worked for a manager who emphasized taking the emotion out of discussions and stressed sticking to the facts. I tried to become more level headed as I answered questions and presented ideas. I was open to expanding on my ideas, but sold the merits of those ideas based on solid facts I’d gleaned from information I gathered from customers or people I worked with. I made my positions more holistic based on a collaboration of facts that allowed me to confidently present them to all types of audiences, based on the needs. My confidence went through the roof. I had the backing and support of actual results and verbatim information that solidified my overall position. I figured it out based on the obvious clues my audience was presenting to me, such as, “I would not have thought of that until you presented the customers’ point of view,” or subtle clues like, “I think this is interesting information I would not have thought about until you mentioned it.” I learned to not only present with facts, I learned how to read the audience to determine the appropriate amount of facts.

“Avoid shutting down when others don’t agree with you.”

I had another manager who told me it was all right to be challenged and to have a debate during these discussions. I was not the biggest fan of confrontation. I had not realized that “shutting down” was a form of communication until I realized it was my way of dealing with more difficult situations. I was providing my audience with details relating to non-verbal cues I was giving off in times when I did not agree. The silence was deafening when I did not agree with a point of view. I typically got defensive in my short and terse responses until I had exhausted all avenues, and then sat in silence fuming while others offered their dissenting opinions. I took their critical positions personally. I had to learn that they were not personal vendettas; it was just an attempt to hear all sides and make the subject palatable to as many people as possible, and more importantly, come up with the best solutions—even if they weren’t mine. In some cases, I was simply being asked to clarify, but had stopped truly listening enough to be an active part of the conversation. I had to be a more engaged listener and ensure that I truly understood the other point of view. My root issue was not shutting down; my root issue was the listening. As soon as I became a better listener, I could formulate and articulate my thoughts and opinions more effectively.

I had several obstacles in accepting the communication feedback that I needed to get into my thick head before I would readily accept it. First, I didn’t truly believe it early in my career. I was convinced that my communication diploma made me an effective communicator and that it did not have to be nurtured. Apparently, I missed the day of class that said learning communication is progressive and constantly evolving. Second, I was detail oriented. I convinced myself that my messaging was clear because of all the information and details I was providing. I felt the need to constantly repeat my points and inundate the audience with information until I felt they got it.

As stated previously, I talked myself into believing that many of my managers just read my past reviews and they were not accurately assessing me regarding my communication ability. I was not cocky or overconfident in my communication. I was losing whatever confidence I had every time I had to read my performance appraisals. I did something that was more difficult than waiting every six months to read it: I started to pull them out every two weeks. I knew I had a weakness, whether it was real or perceived, and I knew I had to address it head on. If someone thought it, I eventually convinced myself that I had to do something to improve it, and communication was the constant string that was being pulled through.

My turnaround came when I slowly started to be more active in the review process. I had managers who invested their time in building a relationship with me, who gave me the confidence to ask questions. I started to finally believe I could improve, if I just decided to take action. I started asking the question of anyone providing me communication feedback, “How?” I actively sought specifics and almost treated the feedback as a research project. I sought role models who exhibited skills and styles that worked, and I grew to enjoy the challenge of making myself a better communicator.

“How” to fix your communication woes will vary based on the individual. However, anytime feedback is given, the recipient has the right, and I would say obligation, to ask for an explanation and further detail of “how” to fix it if the individual providing the feedback fails to address it. What tangible actions can an individual take if they read feedback that simply starts with “You need to adapt…,” or, “avoid…,” or “position…”? The employee needs to make it a two-way conversation and get examples and explanations that give the context necessary to take action based on that feedback.

I had realized that the simplicity of asking the question, “How?” during a feedback session would make a significant difference in my ability to grasp hold of something to work with. For example, I wish someone could have told me twenty years ago that I could improve my communication confidence by joining Toastmasters International. My first year-end performance appraisal after I joined Toastmasters read, “Tom’s organizational and communication skills are his key strengths.” It was the first time I was not asked to improve something regarding my communication. I was learning the value of proactively taking a role in the feedback process and was beginning to understand that communication is a learned trait that needs to be nurtured. I was gaining confidence in my own communication ability. I started to realize the clear connection between confidence and communication. The combination equaled communication effectiveness. The communication effectiveness turned into greater credibility and success.

Thomas B. Dowd III’s books available in softcover, eBook, and audiobook (From Fear to Success only):

  • Now What? The Ultimate Graduation Gift for Professional Success
  • Time Management Manifesto: Expert Strategies to Create an Effective Work/Life Balance
  • Displacement Day: When My Job was Looking for a Job…A Reference Guide to Finding Work
  • The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas: Growing from a Cynic to a Professional in the Corporate World
  • From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide received the Gold Medal at the 2013 Axiom Business Book Awards in Business Reference
  • The Unofficial Guide to Fatherhood

See “Products” for details on www.transformationtom.com.  Book and eBook purchase options are also available on Amazon- Please click the link to be re-directed: Amazon.com

MP3 Downloads of “From Fear to Success:  A Practical Public-speaking Guide” are available at Apple iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody, Emusic, Nokia, Xbox Music, Spotify, Omnifone, Google Music Store, Rdio, Muve Music, Bloom.fm, Slacker Radio, MediaNet, 7digital, 24-7, Rumblefish, and Shazam “From Fear to Success” MP3 on CD Baby

Post from Transformation Tom- Do You Know Your Value Proposition?: Chapter from “The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas”

Posted by tomdowd - December 1, 2018 - News
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I had a manager who constantly asked me, “What’s the value proposition?” What she was really asking me was, “Why should I, or anyone else, listen to your proposal or opinion?” My responses to these questions were often, “Because it’s the right thing to do,” or, “Because it’s my opinion,” or many other generic reasons that missed the mark. I grew frustrated over time as I continued to develop the answers she sought. I would expand as time went on to include, “Because it saves us money.” She would respond in a manner similar to, “So what?” or, “Why would the customer care?” I would expand to include customer impacts, and she would tack on questions relating to how I thought the people who needed to execute the plan would respond, or what would those funding it get out of it.

I was getting a lesson in ensuring that I was formulating a plan that took into consideration what was needed from people who had a stake in the game. I was also learning lessons in formulating a well-prepared plan that would get people’s attention and create easier buy-in for implementation. I needed this manager’s approach to teach me how to think things through so that I could present a compelling case that was easy to comprehend. I wanted to add this approach to my go-getter style. I charged forward full steam ahead to learn more.

Value Prop

I also needed to learn to consider unintended consequences. What might be good for a certain population may not always be good for the whole. How many times, as a customer, have you heard a service representative state, “Because that’s our policy.” To a customer, they are saying, “So what.” The customer is not always right; I had to consider the question of the customer’s impact on my own ideas because I didn’t want them saying, “So what.”

I remember far too many times when we created a new rule or process and simply wrote a memo, an email or posted it to the company website for the people who needed to execute it. We expected the employees to simply embrace and implement the changes. The worst part, many times, was that we did it with very little input from the people who would be charged with doing the job each day. I can remember the times we did this and then had to retract it because we hadn’t anticipated the downstream effects of our decisions.

My manager was not being cryptic when she asked me, “What’s the value proposition?” She was just covering all bases. She needed to ensure that I had gained multiple perspectives and opinions, thought of various scenarios, and formulated the value attached to what I wanted to say. I began to think more holistically and was able to better articulate my points because she had a solid foundation. The value proposition methodology became an ironic lesson in itself. My own value was growing in the eyes of other leaders as she saw me implementing the feedback.

 

 

Thomas B. Dowd III’s books available in softcover, eBook, and audiobook (From Fear to Success only):

  • Now What? The Ultimate Graduation Gift for Professional Success
  • Time Management Manifesto: Expert Strategies to Create an Effective Work/Life Balance
  • Displacement Day: When My Job was Looking for a Job…A Reference Guide to Finding Work
  • The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas: Growing from a Cynic to a Professional in the Corporate World
  • From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide received the Gold Medal at the 2013 Axiom Business Book Awards in Business Reference
  • The Unofficial Guide to Fatherhood

See “Products” for details on www.transformationtom.com.  Book and eBook purchase options are also available on Amazon- Please click the link to be re-directed: Amazon.com

MP3 Downloads of “From Fear to Success:  A Practical Public-speaking Guide” are available at Apple iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody, Emusic, Nokia, Xbox Music, Spotify, Omnifone, Google Music Store, Rdio, Muve Music, Bloom.fm, Slacker Radio, MediaNet, 7digital, 24-7, Rumblefish, and Shazam “From Fear to Success” MP3 on CD Baby