Entries from Gail Cooperman | Merit Career Development Blog

Crossfit Training: Your Body and Your Mind

The start of a new year brings with it many changes, professionally as well as personally. Many of us choose to start the New Year by making goals and resolutions, whether resolving to stick to a budget, or picking up a new hobby. Mine? I’m in the majority of the population: lose weight. To help me achieve my resolution I’ve started an exercise program called CrossFit training.

What is CrossFit training? The CrossFit training program, as explained by its founder Greg Glassman, is a system of performing functional movements that are constantly varied at high intensity. CrossFit is a strength and conditioning program that optimizes physical competence in each of ten recognized fitness domains: Cardiovascular and Respiratory Endurance, Stamina, Strength, Flexibility, Power, Speed, Coordination, Agility, Balance, and Accuracy.

Glowing ManThe CrossFit program was developed to enhance an individual’s competency at all physical tasks. Athletes are trained to perform at multiple, diverse, and randomized physical challenges. This type of fitness is demanded of military and police personnel, firefighters, and many sports requiring overall physical prowess.

CrossFit training benefits the body by training your individual muscles over time to work together to provide an overall greater level of personal fitness than can be achieved by only conditioning one set of muscles at a time. This got me thinking: are there other areas in my life where I can use this approach? How can I “crossfit” my skills to become better at my job? How can I crossfit new learning opportunities to become a more valuable employee?

How can CrossFit training the body carry over to crossfit training your mind? If we consider our skills, hobbies, and responsibilities in our careers as muscles, we can make the analogy that those skills are muscles needing exercise. Some muscles are used more than others; some are barely used at all. All too often in our jobs, there is a set way of doing things that is like performing a repetitive workout. However, the brain is a muscle that like all muscles must be exercised to be kept in peak condition.

Modern cognitive psychology has demonstrated that the brain is not a static entity. Rather, the brain is continually and constantly developing and pruning pathways across skillsets, linking new knowledge to existing knowledge, or destroying old pathways which aren’t utilized to make room for new synaptic links. You can take advantage of this process by crossfit training your brain with a new skill or area of knowledge, which is seemingly unrelated to your existing career or job responsibilities.

People Teaching Each OtherHow can crossfit training your mind benefit you in your workplace? Cross-functional training has many benefits for organizations as well as employees. At an organizational level, cross training skillsets help safeguard the organization against widening skills gaps. Organizations that cross-train employees across a range of functions put themselves in a good position to prevent sudden shortfalls and manage surges in specific areas when there is a spike in demand. On an individual level, cross training enables employees to explore and assess alternative interests and abilities. It also enables managers to identify and nurture employees who show exceptional talent in a particular function. Cross-training yourself to learn new skills, can increase your employability and enable you to stay relevant.

A few examples …learning the components of Strategic Leadership as a Project Manager (PM) can help reduce the probability of failure by sharpening leadership skills that enable the PM to better understand, motivate and build consensus with other members of a project team. Or, learning to identify the role emotions and subconscious biases play in the decision making process can enable an individual to make more effective decisions. Learning Risk Management skills can enable a Human Resources manager to better anticipate potential problems and know how to create effective solutions before a problem arises.

In 2016, give consideration to learning things outside the scope of your role or responsibilities. Even if learning new skills may not seem directly related to your current work position, you will be increasing your value. Soon, you’ll wonder how you ever got along without these new skills.

If you are seeking to reduce your organization’s gaps in skills, improve cooperation and productivity through better communications and decision-making knowledge, or provide some morale-improving, team-building workshops, let’s talk. With a wide variety of courses, delivery techniques and a highly skilled training team, we will help you achieve your training goals for 2016 and beyond.

Contact Jim Wynne at 610-225-0449 or at jwynne@meritcd.com.

Do You Know WHY?

Most people know what they do. Some understand how they do it. Few people take the time to understand why they do what they do. (And no, the answer is not to make money!) As an organization committed to inspiring others to enrich their career, the team at Merit Career Development conducted a “Why” exercise at our annual planning session.

In order to better understand “why” we, the Merit team, we began by reviewing the TedTalk of Simon Sinek, on “Start With Why.” We then tasked each member of our team to consider three important questions:
Starting with Why

  1. Why do we do what we do?
  2. How do we do what we do?
  3. What do we do

The results were simultaneously surprising and unsurprising because we were all quite precise and remarkably similar in our expressed thoughts. We agreed...

WhyWhy do we work at Merit:
  • Education changes the world
  • Education empowers people to take control of their lives
  • We are improving people's lives through education
  • We can and do make a difference in people's lives through education

How we do our work

…by designing and delivering engaging and interactive courses that center around techniques that increase retention. Using proven research grounded in adult education theory, our courses are designed for people to experience the learning in a hands-on, practical, and engaging medium so they can immediately put the knowledge they learn into practice.

What we do:

With a very talented, highly educated team, we design and deliver relevant professional education and training using engaging and memorable techniques.

Merit Career Development hopes to have the opportunity to work with your organization in 2016. We believe that we can make a difference in your life and in your organization.

Enjoy the Simon Sinek TedTalk by clicking here: http://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action

Learn How To Close the Framing Gap...

...And Better Decision-Making Will Follow

FramingFrom emotions to the time of day, it is often the little things that impact our ability to make a swift and accurate decision. A range of factors can compound the challenges in making good choices, both directly and indirectly.

The framing effect is what happens when an individual applies a specific perception to a given scenario, which can have both positive and negative impacts on decision-making. For example, while an accountant will view an issue through his or her fiscally oriented frame, a lawyer would examine the same issue through a legal frame of reference.

While these frames can be effective when used in the appropriate scenario, the wrong frame in the wrong situation can negatively affect an individual’s perception and lead to poor decisions.

Studying the Brain's Frame

The ways that options are presented to us has an effect on the choices we make. Benedetto de Martino, M.D., a cognitive neuroscientist at University College London, sought to measure brain activity during the decision-making process and published his results in Science magazine. With 20 volunteers, Martino and his colleagues told participants – while positioned under the imaging equipment – that they had received a considerable amount of money, and assigned them one of two hypothetical scenarios: Keep a chunk of money or gamble, or lose a chunk of money or gamble.

The participants who were told that they could keep a portion of the funds or gamble were hesitant of the risk involved. On the other side, those who were informed that they would lose a bit of their money were less averse to risk. The individuals who were affected by framing had greater activity in the amygdala, a region of the brain associated with learning and emotions. Those immune to framing had increased activity in their orbital and medial prefrontal cortex, which, when impaired, can lead to behavior driven by impulse and feelings.

Martino’s study showed that emotions could play a significant role in decision-making when the information is incomplete or complex. When working on projects, employees need to examine issues outside of their context to eliminate the effects of framing.

Closing the Framing Gap

As demonstrated by Martino’s research, frames are a part of the brain’s structure and can be shaped by various influences, such as education, upbringing, socioeconomic status, friendships and family. Failure to recognize active and subconscious framing can negatively impact important decisions and ultimately, a company’s future.

Consider this classic example: About 250 years ago, Encyclopedia Britannica founded and became one of the top resources for information on practically any subject possible. However, as the rest of the world began transitioning to the Internet and digital media, the organization staunchly insisted on selling print versions of its materials. Encyclopedia Britannica’s frame was of print publications – it refused to broaden or look outside that frame, and it hurt the company. Once CDs and the Web became the go-to sources for educational tools, Encyclopedia Britannica disappeared from bookshelves and went into bankruptcy before finally re-emerging as an online resource. They published their first online encyclopedia in 1994 and in 2012 completely stopped producing print versions.

Playing Devil's Advocate

Subsequently, managers learned from Britannica’s mistakes. To improve the decision-making process in project management, they learned to analyze the frames of stakeholders and see how they apply to given scenarios.

Managers need to create a decision frame that benefits both the company and the overall objectives of the project. They could have stakeholders with disparate frames play devil’s advocate in order to identify their own frames and discover and analyze others. From there, project managers can choose the best frame and proceed with decision-making.

For more information on framing, biases and other factors that can impact the quality of decision-making, please contact Jim Wynne at jwynne@meritcd.com or by phone at 610-225-0449. Take a look at Merit’s course catalogue for related courses and other leadership and project management workshops, all accredited for PDUs, CEUs and CPEs.

6 Steps to Resolving Personality Conflicts

Personality Conflicts on the TeamMore often than we’d like, managers have to manage conflict. Teams are human, after all, and arguments can arise for many reasons, from disagreements over workflow and competing priorities to perceived preferential treatment, or lack thereof.

When conflicts arise, it’s the manager’s job to keep everyone moving forward, putting them together to work out technical differences or reach a compromise on resources. Even in the case of a heated debate, an effective manager can lead the team toward a decision that’s workable for everyone.

Sometimes, however, team members seem to talk past each other, arguing about peripheral issues or focusing more on each other’s personalities than anything else. These are likely indicators that the people involved simply don’t work well together. If their disagreement is surrounded by a discontent that permeates all of their interactions, cooperation stops.

It’s a thorny problem to confront, and resolving it involves more than listening to both sides and steering them toward a solution based on merit. How, then, do you forge a truce?

  1. Actively Listen. It’s critical that managers pay close attention to their team’s dynamics at all times. Personality clashes aren’t the kind of thing most people like to talk about, so you can’t depend on others to clue you in when issues start to smolder. Even as you’re putting your team together, pay attention to personalities and consider how well individuals will mesh. While it’s reasonable to expect everyone to act professionally, sometimes people take such opposite approaches that avoiding conflict may be very difficult.

  2. Deal With It Promptly. If you spot trouble, respond in a timely manner. As uncomfortable as they are to deal with, personnel issues rarely take care of themselves. Indeed, leaving people to work out conflicts on their own may only intensify the problem. When you see arguments becoming personal, take the position of mediator, quickly.

  3. Listen to Both Sides. Be sure to listen to all parties and look for more than venting sessions. You need to understand the specifics of the conflict and make them support their complaints with specifics. Most important; seek possible solutions from each person.

  4. Remain Impartial. Your role here is to be a mediator, not a judge. That means you should understand the issues from both perspectives, with an eye toward finding some middle ground. When talking to one person, try to educate them about the other’s point of view, without taking sides.

  5. Seek a Compromise. Seek recommendations from both parties on what approach might ease the tension. Maybe it’s more frequent communication, or a change in scheduling, responsibilities or processes. Maybe it’s an agreement to exchange notes before documentation is widely distributed. Regardless, encourage the parties to find pragmatic, manageable ways to work together.

  6. Document It. Follow up your conversations with emails to make sure everybody’s clear on what was discussed and agreed to. Focus on the details of the agreed-upon plans to move forward rather than on the complaints.

Of course, situations vary. While you’ll have to tailor your strategy to the personalities and issues involved, your intent should always be to focus everyone on the work they’re responsible for, and the goals they have to meet. You probably won’t turn your clashing team members into close colleagues, but you can provide them with an avenue to manage their conflict and focus on getting their work done efficiently.

For more information about how Merit Career Development can hone your leadership and management skills – including managing conflict on your team – please contact Jim Wynne at jwynne@meritcd.com.

Serve Up the Training Your Staff Needs - and Wants

Group of Business People in a Modern OfficeAre you giving your staff the training they need to best serve your clients? Sure, you’ll pay for the tax courses, but are you giving them the people skills—like problem solving, customer service and supervisory skills—that they need to make your firm the best it can be?

You may be surprised to learn that your accounting staff hungers for more training. Consider some findings from a recent CPA Trendlines Career Outlook survey:

  • Less than a quarter of respondents agree that their firm always pays for the courses they want, not just what they need.
  • Fewer than 20 percent of respondents say their firms pay for soft skills learning. Offering your staff an expanded menu of training that includes soft skills and other education can improve client relationships and staff retention, as well as develop future leaders.

“Solid communication and interpersonal abilities are becoming just as important to accounting professionals in addressing client needs” as traditional training, writes Paul McDonald, senior executive director with Robert Half in a recent CPA Practice Advisor article. “Your team members also need business acumen that extends beyond accounting to understanding clients’ bigger-picture business goals and concerns.” McDonald identifies desirable soft skills: diplomacy, customer service, problem solving, adaptability, and communication.

These important skills are also the ones that staff wants to learn. For instance, problem solving gives accounting and finance professionals the most career satisfaction, according to recent a Robert Half survey. In fact, problem solving outranked number crunching in the results, which is pretty amazing given the importance of numbers for accountants!

Soft skills learning can help accountants at any stage of their careers, says Kathy Ryan, CEO, CFO and co-founder of RoseRyan, a CPA firm serving the San Francisco Bay area, in an Accounting Today article. “I challenge anyone who feels they are being held back in their career but is not sure why, to get a reality check on their soft-skill set and do some fine tuning. I also encourage those in leadership positions to consider ways they can cultivate the ‘softer’ side of their teams’ abilities (and their own).” It isn’t a surprise to learn that Ryan’s firm regularly teaches soft skills.

Asking staff about the courses they would like is now a trend at accounting firms, the AICPA says in its white paper, The Evolution of CPA Firm Learning:

  • Staff can learn better when they have a say in their learning plans. - The white paper cites an American Society for Training & Development article, “The Amazing Era of Self-Service Learning,” that suggests your firm may see as much as a 500 percent increase in learning benefits when staff manage their own training.
  • Real knowledge rather than “getting training hours in” is becoming the focus. - More experience-related, simulation, and “mock” programs build real-life skills.
  • Succession needs require staff to learn more than technical topics. - Firms are including more leadership, management and other personal development courses, and they’re introducing them earlier in their staff members’ careers.

Staff who are hungry to learn about running the firm, interacting more efficiently with clients, managing support staff, and the other ingredients of a successful CPA firm should be consuming the appropriate soft-skills training. Serve staff what they want, and your firm will have a banquet of talented professionals to build your firm.

Soft skills training is critical for both your staff accountants and your firm. Merit Career Development offers leadership and communication courses specifically designed for accountants plus the opportunity to earn CPEs. For more information, please contact Jim Wynne at jwynne@meritcd.com.

Can Everyone Be a Leader?

Collective LeadershipIn recent years, a growing number of organizations have changed the way they are structured. The old top-down way of doing business, in which management wields all the power, is increasingly giving way to a collective leadership style, in which all employees are involved in setting and reaching company goals.

Some of the most successful companies - like Google, Apple, and Zappos, for example - are comprised of employees who are passionate about their company’s business strategy and working toward its goals. They are also engaged in actively promoting their company’s policies.

Collective leadership is one way to increase employee growth and productivity. Blurring the lines between boss and worker, it empowers the latter - and leads to creativity, team building and openness, allowing employees more ownership of their work, while maintaining a level of discipline that ensures the job gets done.

Leaders who practice this type of collaboration believe that their power doesn’t come from their title or position, but rather that the group is stronger when everyone shares information and each individual is encouraged to offer ideas and suggestions.

The challenge for the leader is to create an environment where diverse individuals can work together effectively toward those shared goals. To do so, keep these points in mind:

  • The manager must trust the employees and their judgment, and make sure the employees know it.
  • Employees need to be capable of achieving the stated goals.
  • Employees must believe in what they are doing and know they are members of the team.
  • The manager needs to recognize that employees from different generations may have different work styles and know how to blend those differences for team productivity.

A manager who practices collective leadership is easy to spot. First and foremost, she doesn’t dictate to her team, rather, she brainstorms with them, and they arrive at solutions together. This leader knows how to allocate time and resources to foster this collaboration, allowing team members to hold various roles in which their responsibilities evolve.

She doesn’t run around “putting out fires,” instead, she gets to the root of an issue, offering immediate and ongoing feedback. She coaches all year round, not just at performance review time. And she ensures her team members are cross-trained, trusting them and allowing them to be accountable for themselves.

Of course, it’s not simple or easy, but there are some guidelines for creating a collective leadership style in your workplace, according to Marion Chamberlain in the Huffington Post:

  • Rotate leadership responsibilities, giving everyone the chance to understand what it means to “lead.”
  • Educate everyone equally, giving them access to the same information.
  • Don’t promote just to promote. Let individuals learn new tasks and move forward in those they are best at.
  • Offer good salaries, benefits, and additional perks, so employees will want to keep advancing their skill set.
  • Allow employees to make their own decisions and hold themselves accountable, based on clearly stated guidelines.

The collective leadership approach has grown with the increase in international competition and the shrinking of the global marketplace. Employees want to have more responsibility and autonomy in their work, as they actively engage and work as a team to create and set goals, and to achieve them.

This is especially true of the generation born between 1981 and 2000, the Millennials, who, in general, like to interact and collaborate with their colleagues, using a high degree of creativity to accomplish goals. This is a major divergence from the Baby Boomers who thrive on direct orders and chain of command, closed doors and annual reviews.

A truly collaborative environment is creative and innovative and must tap into the best qualities of all the diverse individuals of all ages in its workforce. Putting at least some of these techniques in place can be a smart business decision that pays dividends over the long haul.

For more information about how Merit Career Development can hone your leadership and management skills, please contact Jim Wynne at jwynne@meritcd.com.

Leadership That Inspires

Transformational LeadershipThe popular quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi summarizes Transformational Leadership well: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

How do you best inspire others? By being who you want them to be and doing what you want them to do. By walking the talk. By leading by example. By enthusiastically sharing your vision and inspiring them to join you in making it a reality.

One who inspires trust, respect and admiration in his followers to the degree that they agree to work with him toward a common goal for the betterment of all—that person is a transformational leader.

Remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., giving his inspirational “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial? How about John F. Kennedy motivating Congress to support his dream of sending an American to the moon? Both transformational.

According to John Juzbasich, CEO of Merit Career Development, transformational leaders such as King and Kennedy—and millions of others such as teachers, scout leaders and heads of community groups—work toward change that is for the good of the whole. They provide needed guidance in times of change, whether it be societal, environmental or policy.

Transformational leadership has four pillars:

  1. Inspirational Motivation is the passionate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., facing millions of inspired supporters in Washington, D.C., using powerful words in a powerful speech in an attempt to bring about profound societal change.

  2. Intellectual Stimulation challenges others to reach for the stars. Literally, in Kennedy’s case. As Juzbasich says, “We weren’t even a player in the space race at that time!” Some great benefits came out of that challenge being taken up in 1961: space blankets, Velcro, and dried foods are all invented byproducts of the space race.

  3. When the group looks up to its leader and wants to be like her, that leader has Idealized Influence. Both attitude and behavior must match; this is where the leader must walk her talk.

  4. Individualized Consideration. Think about Vince Lombardi, the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers. He knew each football player on his team so well, he knew exactly how best to motivate them to inspire performances beyond all expectations.

“You see people who work toward positive change all over the world and they are changing the world in various ways,” says Juzbasich. “We all have these qualities. They can be measured and developed. Paint a picture of a better world and inspire your people to want what you want, reframing the task so the person feels honor and prestige.”

A transformational leader is a role model who challenges team members to ‘own’ their work. He understands the individual strengths and weaknesses of those he seeks to inspire and assigns tasks appropriately so that team members can be successful.

And he doesn’t stop there. Transformational leaders not only inspire others to pursue a task that was thought to be impossible, they empower group members to grow into inspirational and transformational leaders themselves.

Just as these leaders expect the best of themselves and strive to perform at their highest level, they expect the same from their teams. That expectation, along with the leader’s belief in them, continues to inspire the group to do its best, in turn creating higher levels of satisfaction all around.

For more information about how Merit Career Development can transform your leadership and management skills, please contact Jim Wynne at jwynne@meritcd.com.

The Right Leadership for the Right Situation

Situational Leadership
Do you change your style, and adapt to the abilities of your employees?

If you are in a management position, you probably won’t have trouble imagining the following scenario:
Boss to subordinate: Please enter these statistics into the database while I’m at my meeting.
Subordinate: Sure thing!

Two hours later, boss returns to find subordinate had either 1) entered statistics in unintelligible ways or 2) had done nothing because he wasn’t sure of the process.

Can the boss get angry and upset? Sure. Should he? How would you react?

Leaders must be sure to take a few steps before delegating any tasks to their employees or they risk the above situation—wasted time and effort and upset people all around.

The act of taking the time to determine the maturity and training levels of the people being supervised and then guiding them accordingly is known as Situational Leadership. Instead of using just one style, successful leaders adapt their styles to the training and experience of those they lead, based on the job that needs to be done.

Leaders can choose from among four leadership styles:

  1. Tell: The leader tells his group what to do and how to do it.
  2. Sell: Leaders give information and direction, but do more in the way of “selling” their ideas in order to get people engaged.
  3. Participate: The leader works closely with the team, sharing the decision-making process and focusing on the relationship with his group.
  4. Delegate: Leaders hand off most of the responsibility. They oversee the progress, but are less involved in routine decisions.
There really is no single best style of leadership. The most effective leadership is task-relevant and the most successful leaders are those who adapt their leadership styles to the maturity, and education and/or experience, of an individual. By maturity, we mean the individual’s ability to set attainable goals and the willingness to take responsibility.

John Juzbasich, CEO of Merit Career Development, says that Situational Leadership is actually a simple model and easy to follow. “Look at the task at hand and the individuals on your team and choose what style to use based on their level of readiness. Know your people well and know how to work with them.”

The choice of leadership style—telling, selling, participating or delegating—is always made relative to the task-at-hand and the person’s readiness to perform.

The four levels of employee readiness are categorized in the following ways—from lowest to highest.

  1. Lack Skills, Knowledge or Confidence. These employees need to be developed so it’s important to give them stretch assignments. But it does mean you’ll need to give more support, clear direction, and oversight.
  2. Willing, but Skills Not There Yet. The willingness is there, but these people will need to develop the skills to do the job well. Be prepared to do more handholding and teaching.
  3. Have the Skills, but Not the Confidence. These people are ready and willing and have a better skill set, but are nervous. Meet with them, coach them and give as much support as they need to feel confident.
  4. High Levels of Confidence and Strong Skills. Sounds perfect, but you still need to be available for guidance and input, just give them the breathing room they need.

Can these levels change? Sure.

With good coaching, readiness level can improve more rapidly than you expected. Likewise, someone can be fully motivated and engaged and then have a flat tire or have an argument with their teenager over breakfast, and suddenly they seem to go backwards in their ability to perform.

An aware leader would recognize that something was wrong, that the situation had changed, and would adapt her style to meet it.

Many variables, including personal issues and changes within the company, can cause shifts in employee readiness, and the effective leader must continually assess the best way to present projects to his or her subordinates. The ability to assess an employee’s readiness level and adaptability are hallmarks of the situational leader. The leader’s level of success will reflect how well he or she has learned those lessons.

Using Negative Feedback for Improved Performance

Receiving FeedbackThe old Johnny Mercer song says you should accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative. When it comes to feedback, negative information may be what you should accentuate because it may be more meaningful to employees, and can even help them to become more productive and in tune with your company’s goals.

A recent study found that people may be more encouraged to change by hearing negatives. By about 3 to 1, people crave corrective feedback more than praise—as long as the corrective feedback comes in a constructive manner. Respondents in the study also believe corrective feedback does more to improve their performance than positive reactions. Corrective feedback—a nicer way of saying negative—includes suggestions for improvement, exploring new and better ways to do things, or pointing out something that was done in a less than optimal way. (Positive feedback is what you’d imagine: praise, reinforcement, and congratulatory comments. It’s no surprise that these tend to be much easier to deliver.)

How can you provide more effective constructive feedback? Consider these strategies:

  • Give more. You may be more comfortable giving all types of feedback if you do so regularly. Professor M.S. Rao advocates constant feedback, which goes hand in hand with continuous learning. Both support fast growth in careers, personal, or professional life. Feedback as a daily interaction becomes a natural part of the workplace rather than a dreaded annual event.

  • Focus forward. Look ahead with feedback so that you can help to direct future behavior in the right direction. Make specific suggestions about how you would like things to change.

  • Address the behavior, not the person. Focus on the specific behavior that you want to change, rather than personal traits, suggests Diane Gottsman, an etiquette and manners expert. For instance, this statement is too much about a character flaw: “You have no organizational skills and it showed in your presentation this morning.” This alternative gets specific about the action that needs to change: “It was clear that you were struggling to keep the audience’s attention on your report this morning, and I have some suggestions that I’d like to discuss.”

  • Actively listen. Feedback recipients need to feel that they have been heard, as a Fast Company article points out. In fact, you may want to ask the recipient for his or her feedback before offering your input. The employee may already know what needs to change. If so, it’s a great opportunity to compliment your employee’s insight and solicit ideas. Make sure you leave time for a response, and repeat what has been said to you to be sure you have heard right.

  • Control your emotions. Avoid giving feedback if you are angry or upset. If you become emotional during a feedback conversation, tell the person that you will need to think about the response and schedule a follow up meeting for another time.

  • Increase opportunities to make feedback more meaningful. Have a conversation after each project or assignment to shift the focus to career planning and how to mesh employee capabilities with those plans. Communication at the management level can note the up and coming stars and make sure the company retains these valuable individuals and continues to develop their talents.

To be an effective manager, giving feedback is a key skill. Merit Career Development offers leadership and communication courses that can help you hone your skills. For more information, please contact Jim Wynne at jwynne@meritcd.com

Are You an Effective Listener? (Really?)

Are You Listening?We've all done it. You're standing talking with a coworker, and she asks a question. Suddenly, you realize your mind had wandered as she continued to talk. The little voice in your head said it was time for lunch...reminded you to follow up with a client...or maybe you were distracted by a colleague walking by. You weren’t paying attention. You weren’t listening.

Most people think they know how to listen, but although you hear the words, you may not fully understand the meaning behind them. Listening actively takes concentration and practice. It’s important in all interpersonal relationships—in the workplace and in our personal lives.

If you want to improve communication between you and your colleagues or clients, become more efficient in your work, or create more rewarding personal relationships, then listening effectively is critical. The good news is that these skills can be learned just as effective public speaking skills are learned. And here’s how:

  • Ssshhh - Stop talking and just listen. Many business cultures reward speaking - no matter what. But when we are talking - even inside our heads - we can’t hear and process what is being said to us. Even if it means there is a silence after the speaker finishes—while you prepare your response - let it be.

  • Body Language - According to Forbes, making and keeping eye contact is essential in Western cultures, where good eye contact equals paying attention. Face the speaker and fight the urge to check your cell phone or computer.

  • Practice - Listen to challenging material that requires concentration, such as a lecture or a sermon. Use these to sharpen and improve your vocabulary and your understanding of nonverbal cues - those you give as well as those you observe. Lean toward the speaker, nod, and give smiles and verbal cues (uh-huh, hmm, yes) of encouragement.

  • Study Up - Read about the topic of a presentation or an important meeting ahead of time. Leave any preconceived perceptions of a speaker, colleague, or topic at the door.

  • Be Attentive - Don't interrupt or jump to conclusions. And don't sketch out your response while he is still talking or think about what you want to say next. You run the risk of giving a reply that will be off the mark, and then your disinterest will be obvious.

  • Focus - Focus on the big picture as well as on the small details, watching for ways you can personally relate. Also, listen intentionally, consciously steering your mind back to the speaker when it wanders (because it always wants to stray).

  • Do Unto Others - According to Dr. John A. Kline, who has written extensively on leadership and communication, using a form of the Golden Rule is effective. Ask yourself, “How would I want someone to listen to me?” And then listen as if you were going to have to repeat the conversation in an hour - this time, as the speaker.

  • Ask Questions - Everyone listens through their past experiences and reacts accordingly. Take responsibility for understanding what’s been said. If you don’t, always ask, don’t assume. And, according to Sklatch, open-ended questions are the best way to gain clarity, such as, “Can you give me some examples of that?”

We all want to be heard and understood, and taking the steps to ensure we are doing the same for others is the best way to achieve this.