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Pay Attention!

§ September 1st, 2010 § Filed under communication, marketing, small business, training § Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , § No Comments

Give whatever you are doing and whoever you are with the gift of your attention. – Jim Rohn

I visited my son, daughter-in-law, and grandson during August. The trip to Carterville, Illinois, where they live, takes me approximately 16 hours each way, so I spend a good portion of four days on the road. I like road trips.  The time away from the computer eases the neck and shoulder pain, and I am able to clear my head. The drive also provides some interesting revelations about communication, especially between strangers.

When I am on the road alone for eight solid hours, I tend to require some sort of human interaction. I cannot tell you how many times I stop to get gas, a beverage, or a meal, and can hardly tell that I exist. Customer service, as we all recognize, has decreased substantially over the last few years. Even in small towns that used to be famous for friendly people, the folks behind the counters seem now to be angry or depressed, barely making eye contact unless I ask how they are doing or do something else to bring them out of their shells.

When I am approached by someone who does not fit the mold of an automaton, I am delighted, probably more than the situation would indicate. The occasion is so rare, though, that I have no choice but to be encouraged and energized by the interaction. And trust me, after being on highways in Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, and Texas, I need to be energized.

One such situation happened to me in Missouri. I had been on the road about two hours and pulled over for breakfast at a McDonald’s. The place was busy and crowded, and a woman behind the counter was apologizing for the delay to a customer. She turned to me and said, “I’ll be right with you.” She finished serving the waiting customer, putting an extra small order of fries into his bag. “That’s to thank you for your patience.”

She took my order and while I was waiting near the counter, an elderly woman came up and put her arm around my shoulder.  She pointed to the server and said, “That woman right there is the best server in the area. She always has a smile and always cares about her customers.”

“I can see that,” I responded, smiling at the server. I explained that I had just left my grandson and so appreciated friendly faces. The server beamed.

When my food came out, she added a Spiderman figure (from one of the Happy Meals) to my bag, saying, “That’s for your grandson.”

That very short interaction kept me smiling and alert for a long time as I made my way down IH 55.

Sometimes we can make such a difference in people’s lives with a tiny amount of effort. This woman went above and beyond, but even a smile and a friendly greeting that sounds genuine can make a person’s day brighter. Paying attention is the springboard to all effective communication, and is indeed a gift we can offer to everyone we meet.

Are you paying attention to the people you meet?

Find the Commonalities

§ August 2nd, 2010 § Filed under communication, training § Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , § No Comments

“We can’t overcome anger and hatred by simply suppressing them. We need to actively cultivate their antidotes – patience and tolerance.” – His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama

Last month, I provided some ideas for dealing with demanding people. This month, I want to talk about how to get along with people you simply do not like.

We all have them – family members who irritate you, old friends who rub you the wrong way, coworkers who get on your last nerve, even people you have just met who you instinctively distrust. Avoiding the person works only when you can go your separate ways, but in many cases, you will find yourself confronting these people over and over again.

What can you do? Here’s my prescription. Think about that person. What do you know about him or her? Find something that the two of you have in common. It may be allegiance to a particular sports team. Maybe both of you are grandparents or parents of teenagers. There is camaraderie in the joy of grandchildren and the pain of having teenagers.  We all have commonalities, no matter how small.

I once worked with a man for whom I had very little respect. His world view was very different from mine. He distrusted the employees he supervised and had a particularly autocratic style. However, after working with him for a number of years and during a time when my son was gravely ill, I discovered that he was dedicated to his family and supportive of any employee who had a family member in the hospital. I would not have guessed that he was capable of that level of empathy, but found that I could focus on that quality any time I had to work with him.

When you come in contact with the person, think about that common interest. Say a prayer or meditate on the connection that the two of you have. As I suggested last month with the demanding types, visualize the two of you being able to work or coexist peacefully without rancor or irritation. Imagine what that lack of animosity would look and feel like. Hold onto that image of harmony between the two of you as you interact with the person.

I won’t tell you that this process is easy. It takes a concerted effort to redirect your inclination to dislike someone, but over time, you may find more to like about him or her. More importantly, changing the way you react to these challenging people will benefit you and reduce your stress. Try it and let me know what happens.

Dealing with the Demanders

§ July 5th, 2010 § Filed under communication, training § Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , § No Comments

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” – Maya Angelou

At the beginning of the year, I asked you for the communication problems you face. One of my readers explained her biggest issue:

What drives me crazy? — Overly demanding and loud people (the ME, ME. ME group) who “muscle” and steam-roll over others with verbal, and sometimes even physical, intimidation.

I can certainly relate to this concern. I think all of us have coworkers, clients, friends, or family members who act this way.

Ask yourself if this demanding person is always like this. Or is this a one-time occurrence that may have been caused by a particular situation that caused the person to act out of character? I know I have had my own moments of being verbally intimidating, and have regretted it afterward (see my September 2007 issue.) If the outburst is out of character, give the person the benefit of the doubt. Know that all of us have our moments that usually have nothing to do with the people we are with, but more to do with our own feelings of vulnerability or fear.

You can’t change them.

If this aggressive attitude is a consistent behavior, I have some advice. The only person you can change is yourself.  There is no way to change the “overly demanding and loud people.”  But you can change the way you react to the intimidation.

If you find that you are unable to adjust to these people, find ways to avoid them. I have a quick solution if the person is a client or a friend. Drop them. I have eliminated people from my life and from my business if they have a tendency to yell or verbally abuse me. I don’t need mean friends or difficult clients.

I had a recent situation with a woman who works for one of my clients. She needed to check with me to make some changes to a project that the client and I had worked on. Instead of creating some sort of rapport first, she went into a demanding attitude – on my voice mail. I called back and asked questions, ignoring the rudeness. She had misinterpreted something my client had told her, and assumed that I had not done what was asked.  I was firm in correcting the misunderstanding, but had to hold back my immediate reaction to be defensive and antagonistic myself. I calmly suggested that we get the client on the phone as well. She is still snippy with me, but I refuse to react to it. If her attitude continues, I will discuss the problem directly with the client, and if there is no change, I will suggest that the client go elsewhere for service.

Family and coworkers are more difficult.

If the person is a coworker or a family member, the solution is a bit more difficult. Continue to remind yourself that the person’s behavior is probably not directed at you personally.  As with the passive-aggressive types we discussed in April, the people who find it necessary to be pushy usually have issues they are dealing with. You don’t need to be a psychologist to know that you are not responsible for other people’s personal issues.

Confront the behavior.

My favorite way of opening up the conversation is to call the person on his or her attitude, gently. “I can sense that you are upset. What can I do to alleviate your concern?” or “I may be able to resolve this problem if you can provide me with the details of what you think is wrong.”

You may also be able to accomplish some success by confronting the person when he or she is not being intimidating. Many counselors suggest that you describe the issue in terms of your own feelings, “When you talk to me the way you did yesterday at the meeting, I feel defensive.” I have not found that approach particularly helpful. I find ignoring the behavior or looking at the person as if he or she is acting like a fool much more effective. I also have been known to make eye contact with the person and say simply and very calmly, “I will not discuss this matter until you stop yelling.” Then I walk away. I do not allow additional discussion until the person has calmed down.

Visualize a positive outcome.

The other technique I have used successfully is to visualize an encounter with the person in detail. Then I control the visualization so that I see myself talking calmly to the person, and the person calming down and becoming more reasonable. I’m not sure why this works so well, but I imagine that it rehearses me enough, so that I do not react badly and exacerbate the situation.

The aggressive and abusive types anticipate that you will either fight back or roll over. Do neither. Calmly state your response and react to the comments, not the personal attack. Let the person know that the abusive behavior is not productive.

Remember that you always have control over your own reactions. And often, when you step away from the conflict, it immediately subsides.

If you have communication issues you would like me to address, post a comment here, use the contact page, or email me directly.

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