FOCUS: Of Course You’re Reliable! RIGHT??

Are you Reliable?

Are you Reliable?

The far end of reliability is taking things for granted, right?

You hop in your car, perform some kind of ignition action, and you just EXPECT the car to start up so you can go do what you need to do. You head into the barbershop or salon you’ve been frequenting for awhile, sit down for some kind of hair-related operation (maybe with the same barber or stylist you’ve been seeing the whole time…) and EXPECT to look a certain way when you leave. You flip a light switch in your living room and you EXPECT a light of some sort to go on.

It’s when you perform these actions and what you expected DOESN’T happen that you become intensely aware of reliability.

Each of these examples involves an inanimate object, but the same expectations and certainty are what define reliability in relationships as you build trust. In his book on trust, Charles Feltman defines reliability as “the assessment that you meet the commitments you make, that you keep your promises.” You make commitments in two ways: in response to someone else’s request (or, if they’re higher up the food chain than you are, it might be a direction or command…) OR by making an offer to someone. When the other persons accepts your offer they usually consider it a commitment on your part.

Requests can be the problem. Crystal clear communication is crucial here, because if you don’t have all the information you need AND you walk away with the request, the requester will assume you’ve committed to do exactly what they asked…..only you won’t be clear on the specifics, so you chances of success are, shall we say, variable. Sadly, many requests are the only-slightly-less-generic version “go do stuff with that thing and get back to me whenever…”

YIKES!
Feltman writes that you can increase real reliability through what he calls The Cycle of Commitment – basic elements that make for clear, complete, and direct requests:

  • CUSTOMER – Who’s doing the asking here? Who’s the request actually FOR? Never assume anything that looks obvious, here. When someone says something like, “We need to do some research on this” you desperately need to know who the research is for, so you can get to specific expectations about the research and also know to whom you go for further clarification or if you have concerns.
  • PERFORMER – Who’s going to do the work? Is it you? Are you qualified? Do you have the resources (time, talent, funds…) to fulfill the request? Is that clear to you AND to the requester?
  • ACTION – Just what EXACTLY does the customer want you to do? Can you actually do it? What measurements for the action or deliverables will be the outcomes of this action?
  • TIMEFRAME – When does the customer want it to be completed….Oh, and ASAP is not at all helpful.  Get a solid date, since ASAP may mean by the end of the week to you and by the end of the day to the customer.
Make sure you have complete clarity on each of these elements and your chance at success AND demonstrated reliability are significantly enhanced.

So, that’s what it looks like when others are making requests of you, but how can you help others by making your requests more effective?

Be Direct. Direct requests have a much better chance of clarity than indirect requests. Many people often “soften” their requests (making them indirect in a way…) because they feel that direct requests are impolite in some way. Granted, different cultures have different standards and mores surrounding the acceptable kinds of language used in making direct requests, so you need to be aware of that factor, however, what appears to work best in what I will call “typical” European and North American cultures, what seems to work best include the phrases:
  • I ask that you…
  • I request
  • Will you (please)…
  • (Please) do this….
 Less direct request, which are less clear and therefore less direct, include the phrases:
  • I want or I need…
  • Why don’t you…
  • …needs to be done.
 None of these is a real request, but most understand the intention.

Ridiculously indirect requests, which are usually not even perceived as requests, can include phrases like:
  • My coffee cup is empty. (Secret request: Get me more coffee.)
  • The conference room is a disaster. (Secret request: Clean up the conference room.)
  • It’s almost eleven o’clock. (Secret request: Get me the printed slides for the 11:00 team meeting.)
See how helpful being very indirect ISN’T?!

Of course, how you respond to a request is just as important as getting the request right if you’re demonstrating reliability. Once the Customer makes the request, the Performer (you, in this case…) need to respond. Here are the possible responses:

  • COMMIT – “Yes, I’ll do it.” To them this means, “I will do exactly what you’ve asked me to do. Here is where real clarity about the request is critical. If the request is vague or missing information, it is up to you to ask for it.
  • DECLINE – “No, I can’t (or won’t) do it.” This let’s the customer that you aren’t available to do whatever she’s requesting…..she needs to find a different resource. Sadly, in the workplace, many times “No” isn’t an option….however, saying “Yes” is truly setting yourself up for failure, so consider how “No” could be framed.
  • COUNTEROFFER – “I can’t do that, but instead I can do…” This is one way “No” in the workplace could be framed. Create something that MIGHT work. A counteroffer opens a negotiation scenario between you and the customer. This should end in either a commitment or a declination. Leaving things hanging in midair is the same as failure.
  • COMMIT-TO-COMMIT – “I need to check on something (resources, time, etc.) before I can get you an answer. I’ll get back to you by…” You might need more information. Regardless of the reason, be sure to designate a time at which they WILL get a firm answer.
Lastly, there’s the old favorite, the Drive-By Request. Seen mostly in offices, this type of request is the most easily tossed-off and the most likely to fail.

I remember vividly chasing my manager down the hall pleading for more information and clarification as she receded into a conference room and shut the door. As many of these requests are, it was a “short-fuse” request and I could either wait for her to return to her office AND lose precious time, or get hot on the request and HOPE that I hit at least SOME of the actual target. I usually did the latter and paid for it painfully. So, You can live with the stress of unclear deliverables or the stress of waiting for clarification so that success will be more likely. If possible, get together with this customer and go over the Cycle of Commitment with her…..for example, ask her not to assume “Yes” to a Drive-By request. Instead, she should give you a chance to respond to the request and get all the particulars. Everyone involved is much more likely to be happy with the result.

So here are some ways build your reputation of reliability:

  • Make sure you can actually do what is asked of you BEFORE you respond to a request.
  • If the request is unclear, ask for clarification and any missing bits of information.
  • If you are offering to do something, be sure they understand what you CAN and CANNOT do.
  • Listen to people to determine if they are making EXTREMELY indirect requests of you. Are they just talking, or are they creating a framework of expectations that are clear to them and vague to you? Decide which it is, and respond.
Reliability is more than just consistency. I know people who consistently make questionable choices…..that’s not the kind of reliable I’m looking for!

Still Waiting For That Expert “Top Ten” List?

Top Ten

Top 10!

It’s not all that hard to be different, because you are.

I made an observation recently in a meeting about the tension we have in each of us to both fit in and be utterly unique. This applies to individuals (this is America, after all…individuals are a huge, almost obsessive focus of our attention…) and to our businesses and relationships. As a professional, I explain this to colleagues and clients this way: When, for instance, there is someone out there looking for a real estate agent, you don’t want them to think, “I’m going to call XYZ Mondo Real Estate!” You want them to think, “I’m going to call Janine at XYZ Mondo Real Estate!” You really want to have that kind of relationship with your VACC (Visitors/Audience/Customers/Community). Even though you may be part of a much larger organization or collective, YOU want to stand out.

I have an identical challenge. I have inhabited the digital and social media environment for some time. I know from observation and experience that certain kinds of articles and posts get more “juice” than others, and humans like to categorize and organize information quickly. In his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow”, Daniel Kahneman describes the two systems with which our mind works. First, sensory inputs are fed into System 1. System 1 takes the inputs and makes initial sense out of them. System 1′ s analysis is then fed to System 2. System 2 is the primary component of what we consider consciousness. The processing by System 2 completes the analysis of information within your mind. System 1 works on the economy of effort, and System 2 is the sense-making system. System 1 is much more likely to be intuitive, make quick, easy judgment and classification, and use short-cuts. System 2 digs in, uses much more “fuel” and gets tired as a result (hence the brain’s desire to use System 1 as much as possible.). The book is a TERRIFIC read, by the way, and my explanation here is paltry when compared to the richness to be found there when considering how our minds work….

Getting back to my thread of purpose here, the untold numbers of articles, “listicles” and posts that may be found across the Internet may or may not help you in your profession, but our minds crave that kind of quick-and-easy, how-to, tips-and-tricks writing. I have published a few articles in that vein when I felt that it was the best way to present the information and that it would be most helpful in that way. The bulk of my writing, as you have probably noticed, does not follow that format. I prefer to cover topics referring to the cognitive work in which we, as entrepreneurs, professionals, business owners and intelligent citizens, need to engage in order to be intentional and successful in our endeavors. Once a month I do a post featuring a collection of the five best articles I read that month, but I try to ensure that works within my particular context and message….a large part of which is “Think, Consider and be Authentic” (there’s a reason I call my blog “Authentic Voice“….).

This is not necessarily the most popular way to approach a Business Blog. My focus is more about our humanity, our strengths and limitations, what is important in our lives and business, and taking to account that our work is to support our lives, and not the other way around.  Being human, and treating others as human, not only exposes you as authentic but allows the building of the kinds of relationships with those around you, and your VACC, that will result in the kind of success worth gaining.

I know that this kind of writing may not be to the taste of many people….like I said, our minds are wired to consider information in the most economical way possible, so using our System 2 is harder, and almost no one likes “harder.” My hope is that you find great value in what I write and that you derive good from it. If you find a single item from any of my articles that lifts your business, improves your relationships with your VACC, and allows you to work through a business or individual challenge, then I have succeeded.

There are likely other topics you would like to see more about. If so, leave a comment here or visit my Social Sapiens web site and tell me via the contact form…or even give me a call. We are truly reaching for the same kinds of things together.

FOCUS: Is It Destiny or Just a Feeling…or WHAT?

Decisions and Discernment

Decisions and Discernment

How do you arrive at the thing or things to focus on every day?
There are innumerable items that float through my brain every day, usually just at the time the alarm goes off (if I’m lucky and don’t wake up early…). Living in a particularly woodsy area of the Pacific Northwest, I liken them to looking out my window and seeing all of the trees and such swaying in the wind. I can’t count them all, but they all attract some bit of attention and, at the same time, join in a constantly moving vista that can leave me a bit awestruck and frozen first thing in the morning. They are pretty as trees, but when translated into the metaphor of all the items and actions vying for my attention and prioritization, it’s overwhelming.

Some things are easy. Morning routine (everything to the point where I’m ready to “go to work”, whatever that looks like today…), followed by checking my calendar AGAIN (I’ve already looked at it a couple of times to triple check when my first meeting is, if there is one…). Like you, some days have more than others. The days that have one or no meetings are more difficult, really. Relatively “open” days require me to inspect the pile of things to do and, minding my own best times for productivity and creative work, prioritize and dig in accordingly. Not always easy.

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What is the Truth about Now for You?

“Well, that happened.”

That’s still one of my favorite movies quotes. It’s uttered (actually more “admitted”) by Bob Berrenger (Alec Baldwin) upon crawling out of an upside down car accident in the movie State and Main. He seems a bit dazed, but not very concerned, despite suffering from a bad cut on his head and, subsequently, walking away from the scene of the accident.  He’s not worried about his past actions and mistakes…..he just moves on. That comes back to get him, but I will let you check out the movie….it’s excellent.
Taking the context of that quote a different way, I’ve spent some time thinking about how this kind of detached view of my past and future can affect me and my business.

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Do You Know The Lie of “Comfortable with Ambiguity”?

Caterpillar using a hookah. An illustration fr...

Caterpillar using a hookah. An illustration from Alice in Wonderland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How many jobs have you had where the expectation was that you would be “comfortable with ambiguity“?  Be honest….is anyone really Comfortable with Ambiguity?! Or is this just the company’s way of stating the obvious: everything changes, so hang on?

I wrote a post last year about being in the moment and how each moment was nearly certain to be different from the moment expected. Certainly my life is in a very different place now, and yours may be too.  I’ll bet it is, since this world is anything but static.
It’s interesting that I haven’t seen that particular phrase used quite as frequently as before (say 5 to 7 years ago…). Has anything changed? Has the workplace become more aware, more mindful of the realities and discomforts of change, thanks to greater awareness? There continues to be a lot of discussion of mindfulness in the workplace…perhaps this has created the environment where change and ambiguity don’t need to be called out. They are accepted as the norm and natural.

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Do Your Passions Make You More Human?

Signature of Richard P. Feynman

Signature of Richard P. Feynman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is much too easy to burrow into your business and go deeper into the knowledge, building more depth and expertise in that area so you can be an even better resource for your customers. But doesn’t this turn you into a “one-trick pony”? For example, in my social media consulting business, does it truly broaden my mind and stretch my intellect to become more facile in the inner workings of Facebook and Content Marketing…or is it kind of “more of the same”?

I have other interests. You do, too. How do I indulge them, push the boundaries of my interests, and maybe even develop new ones? I need to consciously expose myself to knowledge I probably wouldn’t otherwise, and I have to set aside the time to do it. This is a challenge as an entrepreneur, but to not do it means that I’m less likely to keep growing intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. There is also a much higher probability that, in exploring some of these new landscapes, I might come across a couple of new ideas that inform and impact my business in ways I have no way of anticipating now.

So, where do I start?

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Laser-focused Business Goals!

There are a lot of ways for business owners to formulate, define and drive to their business goals. A mentor I had while I worked at Microsoft had three goals he printed on a 3 x 5 note card and taped that to his monitor. He told me that if what he was doing didn’t directly impact any of those three things, he would not do it (where he was in the pecking order allowed him that kind of choice…). He was relentless and laser-focused on those goals every day. They were something of a mantra for him.

Seriously interested in being as successful in my career as he was in his, I gave this a try. While my place in the pecking order didn’t allow me the kind of flexibility to say “No.” to some activities that didn’t map to my goals, I gave it my best shot. What I began to find was that, while my goals may have been well-written and clear, the day-to-day required to get there became more difficult and a lot less fun. Needless to say, this was frustrating….

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Work-Life Blend: The Holiday Edition

It doesn’t matter really. If you’re a solopreneur, a director of a corporate business unit, a team member at an international enterprise or any other kind of role designation, you run into this.

Work and business don’t stop. In a lot of cases, they speed up at this time of year. Yet, you KNOW that you have holiday-related events and such involving family, friends, co-workers and neighbors that are unique and important. As if pressures weren’t high enough, they just got higher. How do you prioritize it all?

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The Change of the Moment

mindfulness 1.0

mindfulness 1.0 (Photo credit: Mrs Janet R)

Like it or not, most of the passing moments bring something a bit different than what I am expecting.  That’s really just a fact, an observation. Whatever I plan, even in the midst of doing something that I feel like I have complete control over (like writing this post…), moments seem to move in a slightly different way than I thought they might.  Most of the time the changes are so small, so quantum-sized that they are virtually unnoticeable. That doesn’t change the fact of their existence.  What does change is my perception and acceptance of them.