June 2010 Archives


How to Change Minds at Work

If you want to make an impact you need to be influential. The ability to influence others is not an innate characteristic or personality trait. However, the art of influence is difficult to master and consequently the persuasively influential among us are the most successful and highly prized individuals in society today. Influencers are valued by employers, fellow employees and spouses alike. Here are a number of strategies that can help you hone your powers of influence.

Avoid confrontations. You will fare far better in your interactions with others if you do not contradict, argue, or otherwise try to prove your case. This seems quite contradictory to experience. We live in a world of winner takes all sporting competitions, political elections and adversarial court rooms. However, as soon as you contradict or attack someone you will have a very hard time convincing him to change his mind in any way. Instinctively, for better or worse, everyone is born with a fundamental sense of their own correctness and you do not want to fight against this natural characteristic. Replace 'You are wrong' with 'I can see your point of view' or 'Yes, that is a very valid perspective'. By avoiding confrontation you will increase your chance of changing another person's perspective. Business people are malleable, but when threatened, they will stubbornly stick to almost any position, because they are under threat. This principle extends in many directions. For example, if what you are proposing threatens job security, it will be inherently opposed, until the threatened group understands how this change could positively impact their position.

Ask questions. The more that you learn about a given situation and avoid trying to push your own perspective or view of the world the better off you will be. The reasoning here is that you are looking for common ground, synergy, points of agreement, areas where you will be able to establish tangible mutual benefit.

Replay what you have heard. This is a difficult skill for many people to master. When you hear a perspective, get in the habit of summarizing it back to the individual or group who present it. This does not mean repeating verbatim, which would be very difficult, a rephrasing with many of the original terms in your own words is what is required. This has the effect of helping you to understand the perspectives presented to you and most importantly helping the people around you understand that they are appreciated and understood.

Expand on areas of agreement. Now you begin to add your own perspective. For example, if you are discussing the optimal fee for services, you might say 'your feelings of concern over pricing are something that I completely appreciate. We are living in increasingly 'efficient' times and we all must take care of our budgets. When we examine our overhead, we find that we are extremely far from profligate with our own budgets and with our low overhead we pass an extremely fair price on to our customers. The pricing breaks down as follows...'. If you are doing your listening and questioning well, you will be able to finish with '...and consequently the costs to you will be lower than you could either achieve either with internal or alternative external resources.'

Make use of references as much as possible. Despite your focus on being non-confrontational and listening carefully, until you have earned a substantial degree of trust, you will find that references and third parties will carry weight with those that you influence. Quote people and companies that support your point of view.

Provide an alternative to initial positions. After you have carefully avoided confrontation and provided support from third parties for perspectives similar to your own you will need to provide a new alternative for the person that you are working with. If you are locked into a tense negotiation, this might seem like wishing for a miracle, but keep your mind alert to outcomes that can be presented as new, which allow you to achieve your objectives. If you are in a sales negotiation perhaps you can sell consulting services and training rather than the product out right, if you are negotiating with a prospective spouse, perhaps now is the time to consider where you will set up home as an alternative to the ring purchase, if you are dealing with your boss, perhaps now is the time for a posting to Hawaii as an alternative to promotion. If you are careful with your listening, this new departure can be presented very much as an idea which comes from thin air or ideally not from you but from your colleague. Do not say that an idea is someone else's when this is obviously not the case, you will make people feel manipulated and that is hardly conducive to being influential. However, if you are skillful with your questions and listening an idea can form in your colleagues' mind that will be beneficial to you and you will not have to be directly forceful.

Do not forget the initial steps! It is tempting to leap in with 'I appreciate how you feel, many people have felt that way too, subsequently they have found (etc.)'. However, if you have not established a detailed understanding of the other person's perspective you will rarely be successful with a superficial approach. Most of the time superficial comments will simply annoy the other person and serve to cement his or her attitude. What is most convincing is the sound of their words, the anticipation and sharing of their vision, the fueling of their hopes, made tangible through your joint arrangement.

With practice and application you will become an accomplished influencer. The benefits are extensive!

Posted by ZFS | Permanent link


How to Say No

The ability to say 'no' is underdeveloped in many people, resulting in overwork, unhappiness, and missed opportunities. An appropriate 'no' will keep you focused on your goals, stop you buying more clutter for your cluttered home on credit, and will build your resolve to achieve. Furthermore your 'no' will also help those around you to develop and grow. How do you imagine that you learned how to eat, talk, or to control your basic bodily functions? Hard as it may be to accept, it was not a constant stream of 'yes' and positive reinforcement that got you to where you are now. You had to learn when you were off course, what wasn't working or what wasn't wanted. That is where 'no' came in. As we will see, there is real power in 'no'.

Perversely 'no' is a positive word. However, people are rarely aware just how positive and important 'no' is. The few articles and books on the subject are superficial and do little to educate you on how to say 'no' effectively. The reason for this is that people are biased in favor of the 'yes' that we naively assume others want to hear. However, people actually want you to be honest and direct, as much they want you to be accommodating and half-heartedly helpful. Do not fall into the trap of becoming a 'yes' person and invest a little thought in how to say 'no', who to say 'no' to, and when to say 'no'.

The mechanisms of a 'no' are quite straightforward. There are the following types of 'no': Direct, Explanatory, Excusatory, and Indirect.

The direct 'no' simply turns down a request. This is a powerful statement. 'Boss, can we go home early?'; 'No'. People in positions of authority have the ability to use the direct 'no' and thereby help their charges (hopefully) do the right things and provide a reinforcement of their power. The direct 'no' is also useful in your casual exchanges, and it gives some power to its user. In general it will raise the hackles of those you contradict with a 'no', so be sure of your ground, but when you can, simply say 'no' and watch your power and status rise a micro-notch or two.

Short and sweet though the direct 'no' might be, sales people, small children, and spouses have learned that it is profitable to explore such a response in detail. Determined exploration can change the 'no' into a 'yes'. On such occasions, it is best to employ an explanatory 'no' immediately. Hence, the timeless classic 'no, because I say so'. When used as a first response to a request, the young requestor immediately knows that further inquiry will result in a fruitless exploration of a reason which has already been stated. Other examples might be 'no, I am vegetarian', 'no, for personal reasons', 'no, because I am late'. The requester will generally back off faced with a topic area that most people will not want to explore. If a question comes back, a good strategy is to stubbornly repeat the explanation. This will see off the most ardent requestor exhibiting a little too much self interested curiosity.

You can also phrase your 'no' with an excuse. 'I would have been delighted to attend, were it not for the fact that I have to see my child's open house'. An excusatory 'no' is generally weak but appealing as someone else is to blame. 'I can't do that it is against company policy'. We have all heard these excuses and instinctively know when the facts do not stack up; when the coworker pulls the wool over the supervisor's eyes, with yet another excuse to stay home. So excusatory 'no's have several downsides: you will lose power, self respect, and can lose the respect of those around you at the same time. The trick is to know when an excuse based 'no' can be tolerated by the world, but most of the time it is best to stay away from excuses. The bands of primates in which we live are used to monitoring for shirkers in their midst, because shirking will be bad for the band, and when detected they will make the primate perpetrator's life miserable in order to discourage this characteristic. So, to avoid being the friend ejected from the group, exclude excuses from your vocabulary.

Indirect 'no's direct the questioner from the original question with subtlety. 'In principle, yes, however... (lengthy, boring discussion deleted)..., so in practice the answer is no'. Once you get to know the questioner, you can respond with 'in principle yes, but in practice no'. This type of no is treasured by academics, who like to weakly begin with agreeing only to contradict after they hope that the recipient has nodded off. Politicians are similarly effective at indirect 'no's. The question will be gently talked around with statements such as 'the real question is whether my opponent can be trusted in any way ...(length, boring discussion deleted)..., and so returning to the essence of your original question, I am in favor of motherhood and apple pie'.

Explanatory 'no's are most effective. Here is an example. 'No, I am sorry, you cannot have sugary cereal X, because it will cause your teeth to decay and will make you fat and prematurely diabetic; and I do not believe that the stale box next to it marked organic will be any better for you, despite its higher price'.

So the basics of saying 'no' are straightforward. Exercise your skills at saying 'no', and say 'yes' to a better life.

Posted by ZFS | Permanent link



How are your finances? Sadly this is an uncommon, almost taboo, question. We ask after our friends' physical health, and happily discuss our own ailments. But inquiries about finances are generally left for third party gossip as there is something not quite polite in directly asking after and talking about finances. The consequence of this sad convention is that few people are aware of their current financial status. Are you heading confidently in the direction of financial security or towards an economic meltdown? If you know, you are in the minority. If you don't know, at least you are in the majority, but you are exactly where the marketers and predatory lenders of our modern world want you to be: an easy and malleable target ready to be squeezed through the financial wringer.

But you can take steps to improve the situation. A simple financial get well plan followed by its implementation will correct years of neglect in a surprisingly short period of time. You start by creating your plan and this article will tell you how to do that. If you have no plan you are planning to fail, as the wise writer once said. Don't plan to fail financially. Take a moment to read through what it will take to get you on the straight and narrow. Take a copy of your plan and tape it to your refrigerator. Soon you will have rejuvenated your finances and your future will be free of fiscal worries.

Step 1. Take stock. Where are you now? What are your assets and liabilities? Compute your net worth (your assets minus your liabilities). Know your income and outgoings on a monthly basis. Are you generating money every month or simply making a bad situation worse?

Step 2. Make changes. Based on your findings from Step 1 change what you are doing. You may need to reduce outgoings. If so, reduce your outgoings! You can find items to drop from your groceries, car payments, and insurance payments and so on. Don't stop eating or insuring - but do not pay more than you generate each month. This is simply common sense. Adjust your rate of burn to be somewhat less than your income. If you can't cut any more expense - then you had better generate more income. A second job or renting a portion of your home - you can do it if you put your mind to it.

Step 3. Pay yourself. Insure that you are saving at the very least 10 percent of your income. Don't quibble, just do it. It is your blood sweat and tears that generated the income, put it to work for you in a sensible retirement account and do not touch it. As soon as you can, make the amount that you save twenty percent of your income. You will reduce your taxes and you will insure that your work will not be dissipated before it has had the chance to fund your retirement.

Step 4. Grow your assets. Steps 1 to 3 will put you on a financially healthier course. Now is the time to go back and build your assets. Review what you learned in Step 1. Are there liabilities which could be disposed of and turned into assets? Do you have a warehouse or garage full of junk which is just a burden? Do you have an interest in a property which is not being properly utilized? Do you have a time share property that you cannot use? Do you own a boat that you need to maintain? Do you have credit card debt? If so pay it off as quickly as possible. Don't make other investments unless you have paid off all your credit cards and cut up the cards. If after all the publicity about predatory lending practices and consumer debt you have shown yourself to be unable to avoid the temptation of credit cards - you need to be strict with yourself. Take the time to consider every liability and either decide that it offers you real value - its drain on your finances is worth it - or that it should be disposed of as soon as possible. Do not worry too much about the selling price of something that is costing you money to maintain! While you are working through and removing your liabilities also consider your assets. Which are most successful and why? How can you enlarge your asset column?

Step 5. Set goals and monitor performance. Steps 1-4 will put you into a healthier frame of financial mind. Now you need to think longer term. What are you goals and how much money do you need to carry out your goals? Where do you want to live in the future? What experiences do you want from life? Do want the sights and sounds of foreign climes? Or do you want to contribute to the advancing technological future of the world? Do you want to start a business? Armed with an idea of what you want you then need to plan for that end point. Put a dollar figure to the target be it 5k, 50k or 500k. Decide on a time frame and a set of intermediate goals that will get you to the target. You may need to change your saving rate, again. You may need to get a second job. You may need to monitor your investment allocations. Base your plan on your goals and devise a system for easy monitoring. If you have assets which you can monitor in the financial markets this is particularly easy as an online brokerage will give you an instantaneous read out of your allocations and financial status.

Of the Five Steps, Step 5 Set goals and monitor performance is the most powerful yet most difficult to put in place. When you reach this step you are well on your way to a powerful and fulfilling financial future.

Posted by ZFS | Permanent link


Faster iPhone Data Input

Mobile phones are taking on the capabilities of PDAs - but providing input to a telephone is challenging. This article explores the opportunities for improvements in future generations of iPhone.

In the mid 1990s, personal digital assistants or PDAs were everywhere. Everybody had a Palm Pilot, a Psion, a Sharp, or a Handspring Visor. Remember those days?

Now, the telephone is the ubiquitous tool. It provides access to email and vital information. Telephones can also take photographs, videos and store music. Not surprisingly, the PDA has fallen by the wayside.

The rise of powerful telephones has killed off, or at least significantly curtailed, the PDA market. Additionally, laptop computers are smaller, more powerful, and more convenient than ever before and in many cases have taken the place of desktop machines. So many people who needed the additional power of a PDA as an information management tool now simply fire up their PCs or MacBooks when necessary, to retrieve their vital information.

However, the legacy of the PDA can be seen in the elegance of the iPhone. The software on the iPhone is beautifully integrated with the capabilities of the hardware. As the iPhone provides internet connectivity, you can access any information that you have posted online using your iPhone. The weak link for the iPhone is text input. Currently inputting large volumes of text requires a keyboard, not the miniature, hunt and peck system which the iPhone or Blackberry devices offer.

As the telephone, notebook, and PDA markets continues to converge and compress themselves into one entity; there will be pressure on this question of providing input to your telephone. One possibility is that voice recognition software will become accurate and reliable enough that it can take over the duties of the hunt and peck widgets. Another possibility is that a foldout keyboard, as last seen on the Psion 5 series PDAs, could be coaxed into the physical format of a telephone. Some telephone manufacturers have created devices with keyboards, but none are large enough to allow reasonable speed typing.

Voice recognition software should be viable in terms of computing power. The problem with voice recognition is that the diversity of human language defeats the programmers every time. However, a breakthrough here would be fantastic for users. Software developers should be encouraged by the fact that we users are willing to learn how to use keyboards, strange styli, and tiny keyboard widgets. If the payoff is sufficient, the user will make the necessary effort. Imagine dictating and editing your next email on your iPhone, you would probably be prepared to learn some special diction for that capability.

Alternatively, the Psion PDAs showed what can be achieved using an integrated keyboard. Although the Psion PDAs achieved great popularity in Europe they had hardware problems. Surprisingly though, the problems were typically not in the keyboards themselves, but instead in hinges and battery recharging mechanisms. Given better engineering and quality control, the foldout keyboard is likely the easiest route to an improved level of input for the next generation of super phones.

Perhaps there will be a resurgence in the special writing techniques which made the Palm Pilot and Handspring Visor machines popular. This means of generating input for an electronic device might not have seemed viable given the experience that Apple had with the Newton. However, the success of the Pilot and Visor showed that when the software is well executed, users will deal with the necessary learning curve.

The current iPhone software, which essentially responds to simple gestures and finger movements, shows how iPhone's touch sensitive screen could be coaxed into receiving user input. Perhaps the Apple developers are already in the process of creating an abbreviated set of letter gestures which will allow iPhone users to input information to the iPhones as fast as they can now input that information into their MacBooks with their keyboards. I certainly hope so!

Posted by ZFS | Permanent link