Start now to start the New Year off right

The Festive Season looms and the closer it gets, three things happen:

  1. You get busier with holiday preparations and the ‘We must catch up before Christmas’ social whirl.
  2. You have less time to clear your desk of all those jobs you’ve been putting off.
  3. You have less time to make good on all your good intentions.

I was listening to a podcast from the British Psychological Society on how to stop procrastinating. It made a good point, along the lines of Procrastination is delay but not all delay is procrastination. Sometimes we put things off for a good reason.

As the year is coming to a close, my advice to you is to clear your desk of all those tasks you’ve put off without a good reason and to fulfil all your good intentions before the summer whirl sets in. That way, you can come back to work in the New Year refreshed and ready to roll, unencumbered by last year’s leftovers.

What is on your ‘I know I should do this, but …’ list? Think about why you haven’t done it. The podcast suggested a two-stage reason we don’t do what we know we should do:

  1. Negative feelings about the task: it’s unpleasant, I’m concerned I won’t do it well, etc.
  2. Delaying the task provides temporary relief.

That suggests procrastination is emotion-driven. The answer is twofold:

  1. Forgive yourself for the last time you procrastinated over the task.
  2. Find a positive feeling about starting or completing the task.

That will probably work, especially now that your goal is to knock off what you’ve been putting off in order to start off the New Year right.

Here’s a little ditty for you:

Procrastination is my sin,
It brings me endless sorrow.
I really must stop putting off.
In fact, I’ll start tomorrow.

Don’t. Start today, lest you end up like the Murray River settler, whose tombstone reads:

He revelled ‘neath the moon,
He slept beneath the sun,
He lived a life of going-to-do,
And died with nothing done.

Procrastination blocks your brain and reduces your creativity and work capacity. It causes guilt and anxiety and undermines your self-respect. As William James, considered the founder of modern psychology pointed out:

Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.

So that your ‘I really should do this, but …’ list doesn’t grow like Pinocchio’s nose, develop a routine. Here’s a great one: At the end of the day, clear your desk. Use your fresh start the next morning to work on something you’ve been putting off. As Mark Twain said:

If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.

With tasks you just plain hate, those that equate to eating a frog, you have two choices: gut them out or farm them out. Decide so that they get done, somehow.

Time is running out! Get those lingering tasks done and come back to a clear New Year!

 

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How to spot a lie

The other day, a leader-manager mentioned that she thought one of her direct reports was either mendacious or a dissembler. That’s a polite way of saying she thought her report often evaded the truth. Lied, in fact, if you want to call a digging implement a spade. So we had a chat about how to tell whether someone is being truthful. Or not.

One of the best clues, and one that crosses many cultures, is raising your hand to your nose or scratching your nose. Nose tissues engorge, or swell up, when you tell a lie. When this happens, your nose releases histamine, which in turn causes it to itch. This is such a common indicator of lying that it has a name: the ‘Pinocchio Sign’.

Licking your lips, swallowing a lot, not blinking very much, and turning your head or body away when uttering an untruth are other physical cues signalling mendacity. Covering or blocking your mouth and covering or rubbing your eyes can also signal a falsehood. An insincere smile, the kind when your eyes don’t crinkle up, or that you hold for too long or don’t hold long enough are give-aways, too, as is a lopsided smile.

But beware: there are behaviours we often associate with lying that we shouldn’t, particularly crossing your arms, sweating and sweaty palms, increased heart rate or blood pressure, umming and ahhing, rapid blinking and laughing. That’s because these can just as easily result from habit or from feeling intimidated or under pressure as from not telling the truth.

Looking away or looking down are other poor indicators of lying, because while some people might do this because they feel guilty about the lie, other liars make a point of looking you in the eye as they lie in order to look more honest. Fidgeting isn’t a reliable indicator, either. Poor liars often fidget, rub their hands together and so on, or they may control their movements to the point of stiffness. Practiced liars, on the other hand, can control their eye movements and gestures so they don’t give them away.

Lower body movements, now they’re a different story. They’re under the radar of most people, so watch these when you suspect a porky. Look for jiggling legs or shifting feet.

That’s the body language of mendaciousness. The verbal cues are often even more telling. For instance, using a lot of verbal qualifiers or modifiers, beating around the bush, not providing much detail – just the broad brush and digressing a lot are all markers of porkies. So are giving an unnecessarily long explanation and its opposite, giving a short answer to a direct question.

Another give-away is expanding your contractions, as in ‘I did not’ rather than ‘I didn’t’. Stuttering when you don’t normally trip over your words and clearing your throat are also linked with lying. Pausing before a lie and speaking it more slowly are often give-aways, too, because lying takes more thought than telling the truth, and slows you down.

Calling on God can indicate deceit, too: ‘I swear on my mother’s grave …’; ‘May God strike me dead …’; ‘As God is my witness …’; ‘God, no! I never!’ Similarly, calling on the truth often indicates a lie: ‘To be perfectly honest, …’; ‘Truly, .l..’; ‘Trust me, …’; Frankly’, …’, especially when repeated unnecessarily.

Along the same lines is claiming the negative, not the positive: ‘I am not a crook’ rather than ‘I’m honest’. Disclaimers can indicate dishonesty, too: ‘You won’t believe this, but …’; ‘This is going to sound odd but …’.

Accomplished liars are good at masking any nervousness about being sprung or any guilt about telling a whopper. Turning your head away to hide those emotions is a bit obvious, but pasting on a straight face, a positive emotion or a smile can hide nerves or guilt. A straight face is the easiest – just relax your face. A smile is potentially the most effective because, done right, it makes you look happy and relaxed, not nervous. But it’s got to be a good smile, not an obviously-faked smile, discussed above.

 

 

 

 

The six worst things a boss can do

I think most leader-managers know what they’re supposed to do, at least in theory, but sometimes reality gets in the way. It’s easy to succumb and take the occasional shortcut and before you know it, the ‘easy option’ has become the default. Soon, you don’t even realise that what you’re doing is actually harming your team’s morale or it’s productivity.

So here is my list of the six worst things you can do when you’re a boss — usually unintentionally.

  1. Break your promises. What quicker way is there to lose peoples’ trust and confidence? When you agree to do something or say something will happen (‘Thanks for spending the weekend doing that; I’ll see you get some time off in lieu’) honour your commitment. Write it down if you have to so you don’t forget.
  2. Settle for second best. Close enough can be good enough when a task is of minor importance or adds minuscule value, but most of the time, ‘She’ll be right’ just means ‘I can’t be bothered to do it properly’. Don accept mediocre when you know you or someone who works for you is capable of better.
  3. Treat all your team members like the same cardboard cutout, regardless of their age, background, culture, home responsibilities, interests and working styles. That can never bring out peoples’ best work. Everyone has their own set of expectations and needs from work and different ways of saying ‘Thank you’ delight different people. Tailor your assignments, coaching, perks and thank you’s to individuals to ‘light that fire within’. That means not treating people as you want to be treated but treating people as they want to be treated. Easy to forget but best remembered.
  4. Just give someone a job to do and let them get on with it without explaining why it’s important and how it fits into the ‘bigger picture’ of the team’s work or organisation’s goals. Nope. Most people want to be part of something bigger and make a worthwhile contribution to it. Explain the bigger picture to light the fire within.
  5. Hide your mistakes; when that doesn’t work, blame someone else; when that doesn’t work, blame events beyond your control. Step up. Fix it up.
  6. Sit back, relax, breathe a sigh of relief and put your feet up, especially when things seem to be going well. Big mistake. Chill out, yes, but when you’ve finished that cuppa, get back to work! Now is the time to get on with important but not urgent duties, like planning and looking for ways to improve ways of working, removing bottlenecks, improving your storage space — whatever. What in your job, your team members’s jobs, your team’s processes, your learning and development and that of your team, for instance, can you improve, however incrementally? What can you do easier, better, faster, more economically, more reliably, more safely or more sustainably? When your team has hit a milestone or met their goals, spend some time recognising their hard work and take a bit of time to celebrate with them.

So there you have it. Easy-to-make leadership blunders but fortunately, also fairly easy to avoid.

What! You don’t agree with me?

When you see a discussion as an argument, that’s likely what you’ll have. Seeing it as a competition doesn’t get you very far, either – you’ll hold fast to your opinion and end up ignoring what the other person believes or wants.

The next time you sense a conflict or disagreement approaching, shift your thinking from ‘argument’ to ‘agreement’. How can we best reach agreement on this? How can we come to a shared understanding? What can I learn from this different perspective? What can I do so that we can work this out? That mindset opens the way to a productive conversation.

Once you’ve adjusted your mindset, set your sights on something you both want. That way, you’re not arguing but figuring out how to reach a shared goal. You’re not focusing on what’s coming between you — you’re on the same side. Sit next to, not opposite, the other person so you’re literally on the same side, too. And use the word ‘we’ a lot to show you’re in this together.

Effective communication begins inside, with your mindsets.

Are you an above the line person or a below the line person?

Above and below the line behaviour is a shorthand way of describing how you relate to the world and respond to problems, mistakes and disappointments.

Below the line people react to problems by denying them completely, blaming others for them, or making excuses. Here’s an example. You’re sitting at home after a hard day’s work, feet up, relaxing. From the kitchen, you hear a crash. You call out ‘What happened’ and the response is: ‘Nothing!’ That’s denial.

You persist. ‘I heard a crash; what was it?’ If two people are in the kitchen, you might hear ‘Mary did it!’ That’s blame. Or you might hear ‘Awwww, it wasn’t my fault; the milk carton was wet and it slipped.’ That’s an excuse. All below the line responses.

Wouldn’t it be nice to hear ‘I dropped the milk carton; I’m just getting the mop to clean up the mess.’ That’s an above the line response. That’s taking responsibility.

A lot of children never learn to let go of below the line behaviour and carry it with them right into adulthood. They don’t stump up to their mistakes. They don’t face stumbling blocks and set-backs and fix them. They refuse to accept problems. Instead of taking responsibility, they deny, lay blame or make excuses. They never learn and they never grow.

Much better to give up the ‘victim’ mentality, stop blaming others, and take responsibility. Taking responsibility for your own choices and their consequences is more likely to move you forward, towards your goals and towards learning life’s lessons.

Are you an above the line person or a below the line person? What about your team members? How can you help any below the line team members start accepting responsibility for their actions and their consequences?

Three cornerstones of successful communication

Who are the leader-managers you admire most? Chances are, they excel at communication. Chances are, they have a knack of getting on with people and winning their cooperation. Chances are they shine at three cornerstones of successful communication.

The first cornerstone is really an attitude, or an approach to life and to people; the second two are the skill sets of gathering good information and of giving good information.

  1. Respect: respecting yourself and respecting others
  2. Gathering good information: this takes empathy, the ability to see situations from other points of view, not just your own. This makes you willing to listen and helps you understand the whats, whys and wherefores of other people’s thinking.
  3. Giving good information: what good is it to have an opinion, an idea, or some information if you can’t share it clearly with others?

Here’s your challenge: For the rest of the week, pay attention to three aspects of your communication:

  1. how respectfully you treat others and how respectfully you encourage others to treat you
  2. how carefully you listen to others and put yourself in their shoes so you can figure out where they’re coming from
  3. how clearly and succinctly you give information to others.

That will show you your strengths and where your opportunities to improve are.

Listening and silence

Have you ever noticed that the words ‘listen’ and ‘silent’ are made up of the same letters? They might look the same in a lot of other ways, too, but they’re really very different.

How do you listen when you’re fascinated with what someone is saying? I bet it’s quite different to the way you listen with ‘half an ear’ when you’re not interested, but just being polite and keeping silent.

When you simply keep silent, you end up listening like a stunned mullet and that’s guaranteed to bring a conversation to a pretty rapid halt. Genuine listening involves your heart, your eyes and your mind, as well as your ears.

That’s hard work and it doesn’t come easily to most people. But it’s worth making the effort because real listening, as opposed to silence, does three precious things for you:

  1. It helps you build better relationships.
  2. It helps you find out what’s really going on and what people really think, which makes you more influential and persuasive.
  3. Listening carefully to someone obliges them to listen carefully to you: the better you listen, the more others listen to you.

So how can you listen, as opposed to just keeping silent? Here are three essentials:

  1. Put your own thoughts on hold, even when you think you have something more important to say and even when you disagree with what the other person is saying. Try to crawl inside their mind and see matters from their point of view. Listen for their thinking and the logic and feelings behind it.
  2. Get your body language right. As they say, when your eyes wander, your mind wanders, too. Without facing the other person directly, which can be interpreted as confrontational, orient your body to them at roughly right angles and don’t fidget.
  3. Show you’re listening with a few nods and grunts – ‘Ahhh’, ‘Uhum’ , ‘Mmmm’ …

With a bit of practice, anyone can be a not-so-silent listener.