Entries by Gail Cooperman | Merit Career Development Blog

Why Active Listening Makes You Better at Your Job

Why Active Listening Makes You Better at Your JobWhether you’ve considered this or not, effective listening is a skill, and an extremely important one at that.

Did you know that…
  • Listening has been cited as a critical employment skill more frequently than any other skill?
  • Co-workers and customers evaluate our communication abilities based, in part, on how well they think we listen?
  • Listening skills are considered a good predictor of who receives promotions and other similar awards?

When it comes to managing projects, poor communications can result in increased project scope, the loss of multimillion dollar sales, and costly lawsuits. Since effective communication is grounded in the ability to listen effectively, perfecting this skill is well worth the effort.

When people interact in business and in their personal life, they interpret and infer meaning from a combination of verbal and non-verbal cues, as well as life experiences. Often the objective in communications is to enlarge the listener’s knowledge, perspective, and sensitivity that impact their beliefs. The listening skills of both parties are critical for this to be successful.

Academic research has identified two types of opposite styles of communications styles: Transmission-Centered Communications and Meaning-Centered Communications. Although people lean towards one style over the other, most people use both techniques depending upon the situation.

Transmission-Centered ListeningThose who rely mostly on transmission-centered communications, send a message to receivers without assuring that the meaning is understood. Whereas those who are typically meaning-centered communicators spend the extra time and take the extra effort to determine the receiver’s level of understanding of the intended message.

Meaning-Centered CommunicationA meaning-centered view acknowledges that both parties during an interaction are simultaneously senders and receivers of the messages. They likely use multiple channels including nonverbal, paralinguistic (i.e., specific gestures, sounds, and intonations that occur alongside language), and contextual cues that contribute to the meaning associated with communication. Everything in a communication event is open to interpretation by those involved in the creation of meaning.

Meaning-Centered Communication

Transmission and meaning-centered communication are not opposing perspectives at the ends of a single continuum, but reflect different assumptions about the purpose and goals of communication. A transmission-orientation focuses on sending messages in order to influence a receiver; a meaning-centered orientation focuses on the shared meaning that paves the way for relationships.

A meaning-centered communication orientation describes an individual’s propensity to approach communication from the transactional, constructivist perspective — meaning is created during the exchange.

A transmission-centered communication orientation describes a person’s preference to approach communication from a more literal perspective focused on sending messages.

In particular, some people frequently communicate from a constructivist understanding, whereas other people more often communicate as if they can transmit knowledge to others. A meaning-centric communicator realizes that 100% understanding between people is improbable, and approaches each interaction accordingly. People engage in communication in a way that reflects their perspective on the communication process.

What is your communication orientation? To find out, take Merit Career Development's FREE Listening Skills Assessment. This assessment takes less than an hour. Upon completing, you will receive an explanatory report along with tips and techniques that you can use to become a more meaning-centered communicator. Greater success in the workplace awaits you.

PMPs: This assessment qualifies for one PDU and you will receive a certificate.

Overcome Training Obstacles in the Virtual Workplace

Communicating with your virtual team In today's age of electronic interaction, new technologies can be mechanisms for better leadership and training - or they can create serious obstacles.

The Digital Age has given rise to numerous information technologies that have had both positive and negative effects on leadership. Because of this, there has been a fundamental change in the relationship between business leaders and their followers - both employees and clients.

The original dynamic of the leader-follower connection has been forever altered by the advent of communication technologies, according to John Juzbasich, CEO of Merit Career Development. As a result, leaders face different challenges when conducting training in the virtual workplace...mainly fluid communication.

The Challenge of Communication

In today's age of electronic interaction, new technologies are mechanisms for leadership and management. Social platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn can reduce the remoteness of followers and allow for more instantaneous communication, but they can lead to breakdowns in communications as well. Although oratory interaction can convey a clearer, message, between 60 and 80 percent of communications are non-verbal, Juzbasich explained.

When the voice is taken out of the equation, all that is left are words on a screen. At this point, messages can become misinterpreted, which is one of the biggest challenges in leading in the Digital Age. Because of this, leaders have to be more cognizant of how they speak and present themselves.

In order to avoid being misunderstood, Juzbasich suggests utilizing video technology to both communicate on a daily basis, and to create effective training. Video not only leverages digital technology in a popular way that people relate to, but it regains the visual and audio components of conversation.

Leading in the Digital Age

Juzbasich recently represented Merit at Penn State Great Valley on a panel that discussed e-leadership with other leading industry experts called "Leading in the Digital Age: Are You Connected For Success?" The event featured insight into cutting-edge research and best practices for leveraging rising technologies to be an effective leader in today’s business environment. Topics ranged from using avatars and emotion-reading technologies to advanced uses of social media. "We have come a long way over the past decade in understanding what works and what does not in a virtual teaching/learning environment. It is critical to redesign training to take advantage of today’s technologies and educational research on Best Practices," Juzbasich added.

Merit Career Development offers a wide array of learning methodologies that enhance professional education in today’s virtual workplace, including Virtual Instructor-Led Training, online self-paced courses, webinars and web-based assessment tools. To learn more about what Merit can do to enhance your leadership and employee training, please contact us.

Improve Your Decision-Making, Improve Your Leadership

Decision-Making Did you know that we make about 35,000 decisions a day? Learn about the many factors, conscious and sub-conscious, that affect our choices, and how we can control the ones that will help us make the best decisions.

The brain is a powerful machine constantly working behind the scenes, absorbing and dissecting information at an unimaginable rate. Without even realizing it, most people make thousands of decisions every day, from choosing a snack to making swift decisions while driving. Of course, there are the tougher decisions that we really contemplate, too.

Making the best decision is critical to success in most fields and disciplines. Our lack of understanding of how our minds work has profound consequences. Modern psychologists are studying the processes in our complex and sophisticated brain and have identified common errors in thinking, shortcuts used in the decision-making process, and cognitive biases that influence our decisions without our knowledge.

We know that good decision-making is critical to business success and will impact the bottom line. Daniel Kahneman, PhD, a Nobel-prize winning psychologist and author, explains how the brain functions in making decisions. In his book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” he breaks down the decision-making process into two systems: System 1 and System 2.

System 1 works quickly and deals with automatic, unconscious thinking, such as finishing thoughts and sentences. It’s deeply rooted in our intuition and emotional mechanism. System 2 works more slowly, focusing on logic and problem solving. It is associated with deliberative thinking and complex computations, while System 1 is more reactive and creates impressions and feelings. Leveraging these two aspects of decision-making can be enormously beneficial.

One of the most significant of the biases that affect our decisions Kahneman calls “pervasive optimistic bias” which gives us the feeling of having control. That is also referred to as "illusion of control," the tendency for people to overestimate their ability to control events in their lives. Other biases that need to be understood and considered include: "framing", where familiar numbers form the context for our decisions, although there may not be any reason for them to be relevant or accurate, and "loss aversion," a tendency to fear losses more than value gains.

Professional Assistance and Career Development

At Merit Career Development, we stay on top of the latest proven research and integrate these findings into our unique and engaging programs. As a result, participants can learn about many different features that are integral to the decision-making process. We help our clients understand how the two primary systems generate actions for quick thinking and more thought-requiring decisions.

Participants in our "Better Decision Making" program will learn about traps like biases and blind spots that can unconsciously and negatively affect best decision-making practices. Merit teaches the tools to develop effective listening techniques and how to adapt and apply this knowledge to different types of situations.

Like most Merit programs, this highly engaging and interactive workshop is ideal for optimizing learning retention of valuable information. Numerous rational tools and practical techniques ensure that the lessons taught will be carried over into real-life workplace scenarios.

Interested leaders can review the course outline for Merit's "Strategic Thinking and Decision-Making" to discover why it is the one-stop for dynamic workforce training.

Optimize Your Training by Engaging Your Employees More Effectively

Senior Executives can commit vast resources and money to manage their employees, but if the staff does not feel valued or engaged in the business, it's likely that the desired results may not be achieved.

Improve Employee Engagement with Training and Professional Education According to a study from Gallup Inc, titled "The State of the American Workplace: Employee Engagement Insights for U.S. Business Leaders", effectively engaging and retaining employees is one of the biggest challenges that leaders can face. Over a three-year period, from 2010 to 2012, the research firm surveyed more than 350,000 respondents, Forbes magazine reports.

The findings indicated that 70 percent of American workers are "not engaged" and are disconnected from the workplace, which in turn can make them less productive. This lack of engagement can be significantly detrimental to business profits. Gallup estimated that disengaged employees can cost companies between $450 and $550 billion per year in lost productivity. These employees can also negatively influence their fellow employees, drive clients away and miss workdays completely.

With only 30 percent of employees working at their optimal potential, leaders need to begin improving their engagement strategies to retain staff and bolster their productivity as a business.

Trickle-down Engagement
Rather than focus strictly on lower levels of the organization, Gallup suggest that management leaders center their efforts at the top and have it disseminated throughout the company. As mid-level managers and employees feel empowered, they can begin to identify barriers to effective engagement and help develop methods for organizational improvement. Staff members can be the most knowledgeable when it comes to the company's processes and clients, which might result in better performance when given the right tools for the job.

The training process can be an area where leaders engage their employees directly for the betterment of the company, according to Training magazine. Merit Career Development offers a range of teaching techniques that engage employees and increase learning retention. To learn more contact us by phone, 610-225-0193 or send us an email.

Customer Conversations

A two-step learning experience to boost listening skills.


Customer Conversations What do you do when your own field technicians cant' seem to communicate effectively with your customers? That was the challenge faced by a large global technology company who came to Merit Career Development with a solution.

The answer was a two-step process: measure employees' listening skills and follow-up with a two-hour webinar reinforcing the key aspects of listening and interacting with customers.

The goal: empower field technical personnel to manage client conversations to ensure accurate communications and to create satisfied customers.

Measuring
We first asked employees to complete a simple assessment to gauge their listening skills. The Listening Skills Assessment (LiSA™) measures three related aspects of listening: understanding the overall situation, attention to detail, and inferring personal interpretation.

Students watch realistic technology-related video scenarios and answer questions about the big picture, details about the situation and what they think was really going on in the example. It's interactive and fun.

Before the webinar, students receive the results of their listening assessment. This establishes the baseline for the training session, the focus of which reinforces the key aspects of listening measured by the assessment.

Learning
The goal of the two-hour interactive webinar is to increase students' self-awareness of their verbal and written communication styles as they work with customers. But it's more than that. How can employees show they are really attending to the customer and want to leave both sides of the interaction satisfied?

Students learn how to observe non-verbal communication cues and follow-up on them, strengthening the customer relationship by showing good, attention skills. Important listening skills like asking open-ended questions, reflecting back to the speaker, paraphrasing and summarizing help the individual obtain accurate information from the customer and make sure the employee is getting the real message.

And the webinar covers more than just verbal communication skills. It also highlights effective electronic communications. Students learn how to create effective and appropriate electronic messages, write messages that are clear, concise, coherent, and project a positive voice image. These are all crucial communication skills in today's business environment.

In the end, participants leave the course being more self-aware and carrying some new tools to use in effective customer communication.

To learn more about how Merit Career Development can solve your business challenges, please contact us.

From Fear to Fantastic... Insights and Experience to Manage the Impression You Make on Camera!

When he reward for your hard work turns into a terrifying "opportunity" to be video recorded, you could get derailed worrying about the impression you're going to make and your credibility.
How to be Your Best on CameraWith the boom in YouTube's popularity and marketing importance, and the continued growth in consumers preferring to keep up by watching over reading, your skill on camera is more critical than ever. Research has proven that learner retention from video is significantly higher than from text. Here are some stats on video that you should know:

  • Learner retention1: 65% video vs. 10%-20% text
  • People are 75% more likely
    to watch2 a video than read an email
  • Visual are processed 60,000 times faster3 in the brain than text.
If you are asked to speak to a reporter, tv news crew, or anyone with a video camera, you can make or break the impact of your message without event knowing it. Your appearance, behavior, and subconscious actions can conflict or undermine your spoken word. Whether you're representing your industry, company, department, or your own experience, we're sure you want the message to be accurate and meaningful.
Barbara T. Radler, Presenter - BTK Communications Group
Barbara T. Radler, Presenter - BTK Communications Group

At Merit Career Development, we recognized the need to offer these insights to our clients and teamed up with BTK Communications, a recognized leader in video production to create this workshop for you. Barbara T. Radler, the founder and CEO of BTK Communications, has been helping professionals be their best on camera for almost 3 decades. She and her team worked with us to create this experiential program that will be held in a studio-like setting with a professional director, camera crew and teleprompter operator. Participation in this program will change your professional trajectory forever!

During the workshop, participants will learn, in detail, insider tricks and tips from preparing to be on-camera, day-of on-camera production, and post-production impact. Specifically, you will learn through experience:

  1. The impact of sleep and alcohol on being your best on camera
  2. How to impact the impression you make with your clothing and color choices, hair style, make-up, and more
  3. Engaging the viewer with body language, eye focus, and specific mannerisms
  4. How to vary your voice's tone, pace, and volume to control the points of emphasis
  5. How your posture and gestures impact the spoken message (what to do and what NOT to do)
  6. When and how to use Silence
  7. Production and post-production tips
Where else are you going to learn these important insights and have the opportunity to apply them immediately with a camera crew and teleprompter operator?
As you may have learned in your youth, you can never get a second chance to make a first impression, so you want to give this your best effort. To bring this important training experience to your leaders and influencers, contact Jim Wynne at (610) 225-0193 or at jwynne@meritcd.com.

Sources:
  1. https://www.ragan.com/infographic-why-visual-content-is-better-than-text/
  2. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesagencycouncil/2017/02/03/video-marketing-the-future-of-content-marketing/?sh=5d2d66e96b53
  3. Forrester Research https://www.panopto.com/blog/answer-transparency-isnt-town-halls-technology/

What is and Why Do You Want Adaptive e-Learning?

What if you could reduce your training costs by up to 40% while increasing employee engagement and retention by up to 60%? Would you be interested in learning more?

While you're probably familiar with "e-learning", you may not know as much about Adaptive eLearning. What's so important about Adaptive eLearning? This is personalized instruction that adapts to and builds upon the employee's existing knowledge. It by-passes redundant (and boring) review periods found in most e-learning courses that are designed for the masses.

The goal of any great training program is to engage the learner and to teach them things they don't know by linking it to things they do know.

Adaptive eLearning is based on discoveries in the last 10 plus years of cognitive neuro-science. It recognizes that every person is unique, has had different experiences, and therefore different levels of knowledge on various topics. Instead of trying to teach everyone the same content, Adaptive eLearning takes advantage of this disparity in two distinct ways:

  • It tests a person's level of knowledge, and, more importantly, their confidence in that knowledge. By doing so, it recognizes each person's knowledge and how comfortable they are with it.

  • IF a person knows the knowledge and is confident in that knowledge: no further training in this area is required.

The second point highlights the question, why spend time training and boring people on stuff they know? They should be trained on stuff they don't know! The graph below is illuminating. Many people are confident in their knowledge but may not be competent or proficient in that subject. The green lines indicate a person's knowledge level, whereas the red lines indicate missing knowledge areas. The yellow lines indicate their confidence in that knowledge area. As you can see: many people may be confident in their knowledge, but may not actually be competent.

Confidence vs Competence Tornado Chart

Adaptive eLearning recognizes this disparity and responds appropriately to each person by training the individual learner exactly what they need to know!

The Benefits of Adaptive eLearning:

For Your Business
  • Improved employee productivity
  • Higher employee engagement
  • Measurable capability and capacity (Lower unconscious incompetence), see chart above.

For the Learner:
  • Faster time to proficiency
  • Eliminate frustration of unnecessary training
  • High self-awareness of strengths and development areas
  • Enhanced and personalized learning experience

For the Training and/or Human Resources Department:
  • Measurable outcomes
  • Real-time quality feedback
  • Real-time content updates
  • Improved teaching effectiveness
  • Elimination of the "one-size-fits-none"

Merit Career Development has partnered with the leader in adaptive eLearning, Area 9, to deliver world-class training in the most efficient manner possible and provide our clients with more delivery options than ever. For more information, contact Merit Career Development today. We'll help you achieve the best training program you've ever had, with a lower expense and higher learning retention rate. Contact Merit Career Development today to learn more.

Introducing Harassment Avoidance & Retaliation Prevention

Harassment Avoidance and Retaliation PreventionThe onslaught of allegations related to Harvey Weinstein may have helped the topic of Harassment gain global attention, but it’s not showing any signs of slowing down. Every day, more and more people are sued over allegations of harassment and retaliation. It has become very important for everyone to recognize the workplace factors that enable harassment to take place, the difference between annoying and harassing behavior, and what our legal responsibilities are to both the alleged perpetrator and victim.

What exactly is harassment? Often harassment takes place when the offender has more, real or perceived “power”, than his or her target, and physically, verbally, or visually uses this power against the will of his or her target, often without intent.

If an employee is made uncomfortable by the actions of an internal or affiliated member of the organization, it is essential that management take it seriously and investigate the complaint. Both the alleged perpetrator and victim need to be included in this investigation to accurately assess the situation and identify next steps. The bottom line is that ignorance of a manager’s responsibility does not excuse it. And it could result in costly and embarrassing law suites. Yes, a manager who observes, or is aware of a harassment complaint who does not explore the details and take any necessary action, may become personally liable.

Harassment is conducted verbally, physically and emotionally. Even if no one complains and you know this abuse is taking place, you have responsibilities. Does your company have a harassment policy with examples of objectionable conduct and management requirements?

The adult course design experts at Merit Career Development have partnered with the legal specialists at Ufberg & Associates, Northeastern Pennsylvania’s premier management-side labor and employment law firm, to produce a 90 minute Webinar that details:

  • The state of sexual harassment, retaliation, and bullying
  • What defines harassment
  • When does harassment occur
  • Management responsibilities when harassment, retaliation and bullying are reported
  • Preventing harassment, discrimination, bullying and retaliation

This short, information-packed course, is a must for every business. To schedule a webinar at your convenience, contact Merit Career Development today.

2018 Merit Course Catalog is Here!

After 20 years in the training business, you know you can count on Merit Career Development for fresh and relevant content, engaging program activities, and proven-effective delivery methods that best help training “stick.” We assure you that our programs will have immediate application to your workplace, producing an immediate ROI. It’s a modest investment for a smashing return!

New courses in response to marketplace demand include:
  • Project Leadership
  • Communicating using DISC
  • Project Change Management
  • Negotiating and Influencing
  • Problem Solving with Root Cause Analysis
  • Identifying and Managing Risks
  • Preventing Harassment in the Workplace
  • Agile Project Management


  • New and aspiring leaders will benefit from our Handling Employee Performance Problems and Termination, Business Communications and Team Performance (which is also offered for experienced managers.) Visit a complete list of courses or download the catalog here. Our annual training needs survey (again) demonstrated the highest interest in courses that increase proficiency in leadership, strategy and management – even among Project Managers. We have a robust selection of these courses from Fundamentals of Leadership to advanced topics, such as 360-Degree Leadership.

    Our AccreditationsOur project management courses have been updated to align with the 6th edition of the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®) guide. Every course description in the catalog includes a listing of the number of credits by organization. See inset for example of accreditations per course.

    Need help bringing training to your organization?

    Thousands of studies have been conducted that validate the connection between investing in employee training and development and the increase in loyalty, morale, and retention. Lower turnover reduces costs and prevents unanticipated gaps in performance. Most important, high morale and a loyal staff translates into more satisfied customers and a better bottom line. And after all, aren’t satisfied customers what keeps your organization in the black?!

    Our facilitators are expert at tailoring course(s) to the needs and experience levels of your staff. Find out how, by contacting Jim Wynne, for a no obligation discussion at jwynne@meritcd.com or 610-225-0449.

    FREE Tips

    Check out our LinkedIn Friday Facts. These nuggets are excerpts from our courses that people enjoy sharing with their friends and colleagues. It will be worth your time.

    Survey Says...the People Want Greater Leadership Skills

    This past December, we invited our entire database to participate in our annual, 3-question Training Planning Survey. A majority of the people on our list work in, or support, project management. A trend we’ve observed is that each year a growing number of PMs are interested in developing their leadership and management skills; greater than the number interested in project management training. Out of 30 course topics listed, the top choices were:

    2017 Survey Course Topics
    Out of the top 17 courses considered for 2018 training, 11, or 2/3 are “professional development”, only five are project management courses, and one, Microsoft 365, is a general administrative skill.

    CourseResponse
    Percentage
    The Nine Principles of Self-Leadership28.89%
    Leadership Skills for Non-Supervisors28.89%
    Managing Organizational Change26.67%
    Performance Management24.44%
    Persuasive Presentations22.22%
    PM with Microsoft Project22.22%
    Microsoft Office 36522.22%
    PM Training with Simulation20.00%
    PM Fundamentals20.00%
    Creating a Culture of Innovation20.00%
    Effective Customer Communications20.00%

    Click here to see the complete list in order of planned interest.

    LEARNING POINT: People working in or with project management, recognize the need for leadership and management training to improve their performance. Fortunately, Merit’s professional courses are not only very enjoyable and informative, and like our PM courses, they qualify for PDUs, CEUs, CPEs, and CLPs.

    Training Formats

    We saw a rather dramatic shift this year from our previous surveys in terms of training/learning format preferences. In the December 2017 survey, the web-based learning format was most preferred at 52.27%; significantly more than the full day, on-site format at 31.82%. These top choices flipped for the number one position from 2015.

    In 2015, “Full day” was the top choice selected by 54% of respondents and web-based, self-paced learning was second choice at 41.7%. Below, you can see the other variations that occurred over the past two years.

    Training Format2017 Response Percent2015 Response Percent
    Full day, live31.82%54.2%
    Web-based, self-paced learning52.27%41.7%
    Series of one-hour webinars36.36%37.5%
    2 or 3 sequential days13.64%12.5%
    2 or more sequential 1/2 days15.91%12.5%
    A single series of 1/2 day webinars13.64%12.5%
    Several whole or half day trainings offered weekly9.09%8.3%

    LEARNING POINT: Web-based, self-paced learning options were preferred over in-person instruction. Our respondents were also more interested in learning from a series of one-hour webinars, which are also self-paced, independent training formats, than full day, live sessions.

    "Influencers" in Selecting Training Sessions

    When respondents were asked to rate the importance of the following traits in their decision to select a course, on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 meaning Not at all Important and 5 meaning Very Important, the educational Topic was clearly the most important trait — and we did expect this.

    The surprises were related to how important the location of the course is and how relatively unimportant the credentials are. Please see the chart below:
    "Influencers" in Selecting Training Sessions
    Considering there are about 600,000 certified Project Management Professionals (PMPs) worldwide that need 60 PDU credits every three years, and similar figures apply to SHRM and CPA credit requirements, we expected that earning credits would have ranked higher in importance.

    So, we would love to hear your thoughts on why these trends are moving in this direction.

    • Why do you think people are seeking independent learning opportunities more than in-person learning events? Is the freedom to choose their best time more enjoyable than in-person learning where people share their experiences?

    • What are the two most important criteria in your course selection … and why?

    Please leave your comments below, we’d love to hear your feedback. Thank you very much for reading and for giving us your thoughts!