Do you suffer from “Sundayitis”?

I used to dread Sunday evenings even more than Monday mornings.  On Sunday from about 4pm onwards I used to get a tight feeling in my stomach, thinking about what the coming week was going to be bring me.  Mondays were better, because then you knew what you were dealing with:  Sunday nights were worse because it was the anticipation of it (usually exaggerated) which was somehow more stressful.

source: Business Essentials

I lost my appetite, found it hard to relax and enjoy the Sunday night comfort programming on TV, and generally used to retreat inside myself and feel a bit miserable.  Slightly nauseous, an increased heart rate, and general loss of sense of humour.  I’d lost my mojo.  My kids could spot it a mile off even though I did my best to conceal it.  They used to call it “Sundayitis.”

A survey by online recruitment specialist Monster reveals that 76% of working Americans suffer “Sunday Night Blues.”  In Europe it’s not quite so bad, at 42%.  I find this a scary number.  It’s OK to experience this once in a while, perhaps at the end of a particularly great weekend, or if something really hairy is looming at you on Monday morning, but when you start to get it EVERY Sunday it might be a sign that something needs to change.

I used to get it when I worked in the food business and had 8 restaurants to manage.  The restaurant managers all used to upload their week’s figures on Sunday afternoons, and once the numbers started coming in I would sit there working out how I was going to deal with the bollocking I knew I was going to receive from my boss the next morning.

(He was one of those who was never satisfied, and who told me on the day I joined to treat all my managers as “lying, lazy, thieving bastards – that way you’ll never be disappointed and will occasionally be pleasantly surprised.”  I should have quit there and then.  It took me 12 months of Sundayitis before I escaped, during which time I became depressed, took up smoking and contemplated suicide.)

These days Sundayitis can be even more extreme.  My daughter used to work for a large London PR agency, and was regularly at her desk on Sundays in order to make Monday morning even vaguely manageable.  She has done the right thing and quit, and is now going it alone as a freelancer.

Sameer Syed used to work for JPMorgan, and was a Sundayitis sufferer.  He has some sound advice in his article on the subject:

“If you’re just clocking in and clocking out, that’s not how you’re going to succeed.  Everyone knows that at bigger companies especially you have to show the value that you’re adding. You have to show the passion. You have to work on projects outside of your day-to-day. How do you do that if you’re not passionate or interested in your job? At that point, it just becomes a chore. At that point, you just become miserable.”

So if your Sundays are a bit miserable and you know you are stressing about the coming week, do something about it is my advice.  You can recover your career mojo by some changes you can make, for instance by some renegotiation of your role or a crucial conversation with your boss. Or maybe you need to stop avoiding and take some more decisive action.  Whichever route you choose, doing nothing is probably a bad idea.

I’m currently writing a book on the subject of mid-career mojo loss and what you can do about it.  It’s called “My Job Isn’t Working!”, and will be out later this year.  If you would like to contribute your experience in strict confidence I would be delighted to hear from you.   My email is michaelbrowntraining@live.co.uk

 

 

 

 

Posted in Change, Conflict, Personal Development | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

She suggests a minimum of one hour of sustained gaze (Right! Errata, 1 min?)

I am reblogging an article from David Kanigan’s excellent Live and Learn because it stirred my soul. It’s the first time I have reblogged like this, so hope it works ok.

It got me thinking about how this is all part of the depressing degradation in our relationship building skills. We find it harder and harder to give each other real eye contact.

Let me give a few examples:

I deliver a lot of training using video conferencing tools such as WebEx. It is unusual to see people actually turn on their camera so they can so each other. Is this because they are naked from the waist down (the usual excuse given), or is it a symptom of a deeper malaise?

Take a look at people in restaurants eating a meal together. How often are they giving each other unbroken eye contact?

I love the idea of Marina’s exercise. Terrifying to do, no doubt, but so powerful. Think how you could use this at work. I think the time has come for the silent performance review. Now that WOULD be daunting!

Have a read and see what you think. How about planning some proper eye contact with someone important? As some of David’s readers have suggested, maybe that person is you?

Live & Learn

“Try not to blink,” says the performance artist Marina Abramovic. “The more you blink, the more you think.” In the spring of 2010, Abramovic spent over 700 hours looking into the eyes of more than 1,500 visitors to the Museum of Modern Art. Many wept openly. Sometimes Abramovic cried, too. To really experience the power of eye contact, she suggests a minimum of one hour of sustained gaze.

Place two chairs three and a half feet apart, and sit facing someone. Do not talk or touch. Focus your eyes between that person’s brows, so that you can see both pupils simultaneously. Don’t look away. Eye contact elicits avoidance behavior in many species, but humans are exquisitely attuned to it. Even newborns will look longer at people staring straight at them than they will at those with averted eyes…

To really see — and feel connected to — someone, you…

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Posted in Personal Development | 1 Comment

“Keep up, sit up and shut up.” The Poor Presenter’s Prayer?

I have to credit my wife with this one.  She has been giving me excellent forthright feedback for nearly 40 years, and this morning over breakfast was no exception.  She was explaining something to me, and to be honest I was not giving her my wholly undivided attention.  Most unlike me.

“Keep up, sit up and shut up!”
“Thank you my darling”

I asked her a question which revealed how little I had been listening, and so she gave me some feedback, effortlessly using the well known BEST model (Behaviour, Effect, Suggestion, Transformation).  The best bit was the wonderful Suggestion part:

“You need to keep up, sit up and shut up.”

Yes indeed, point taken, mea culpa.  Sorry for not listening, and interrupting.  Bad habits borne of years of having too much energy and the attention span of a gnat.

I found the phrase reverberating around my brain, as it has a certain ring to it and scans well.  Having thought about it further, it strikes me that this catchy phrase may be one which subconsciously many a BAD presenter has in their mind as they kick off their presentation:  it’s the Poor Presenter’s Prayer, if you like.  Let’s examine the three components one at a time.

KEEP UP!

The poor presenter has way too much content and not enough time, and rather than reduce the scope of the presentation decides the best answer is to go through it more quickly.  They pray that the audience will be able to keep up and not get lost or confused.  To help the audience they sometimes resort to putting all the content onto the slide so they can read it as well as listen to it.  This of course results in the brain having to cope with both audio and visual inputs, and as a result it gets jammed.  Bad mistake.

SIT UP!

The poor presenter hopes that their content will be inherently exciting and motivating to their audience, who will show their appreciation by putting away all distractions, sitting up straight, not reading their emails, pinning back their lugholes and opening wide for this stream of fascinating information.  If only.  You can’t tell an audience to be interested, you have to earn that.  If they are being naughty and not paying attention, that will be your fault.  You get the audience you deserve.

SHUT UP!

Poor presenters will tell you at the start to shut up.  They do so discreetly by having an Agenda slide on which the last bullet will say “Questions”.  How nice of them to allow time for questions.  Your time will come, but not until the end (and if they’re particularly uneasy they will deliberately run late so there is no time for them.)  This means they do not want any interaction during the presentation.  This is because they fear that if there is, they will lose control.

The trouble with that is they therefore lose the chance to gauge what their audience feels about what they are saying.  It becomes a one way transmission, and there is no way of knowing whether it is being received the other end.  It also means the person who asks a question because they don’t understand something has to basically give up.  How stupid is that?

So there you have it.  Three very good ways of messing up your presentation, neatly encapsulated in my wife’s excellent motto.  My advice is to do the opposite when you’re presenting.

But make sure you apply it by the letter whilst seated at the breakfast table.

As a bonus item this week, here’s a video of me demonstrating The Poor Presenter’s Prayer.  And making one or two additional errors along the way.  See how many gaffes you can spot, and if you want my list of the errors let me know.

 

 

Photo Source:  footage.framepool.com

Posted in Presentation Skills | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

30 -50 and employed? How much are you hurting?

I’m planning to write a business book this year . I’ve been mulling on it for far too long, and every year that goes by it seems to me that the case for the book gets more compelling. In this article I’d like to do a wee bit of research in an attempt to validate the book’s proposition.

Over nearly 20 years I have spent thousands of days in training rooms around the world with people who are what I shall call loosely mid-career.  They share with me and each other how they feel about their job, their career, their frustrations and challenges, and how they see the future.

squeezedIt’s a bit of a bleak picture, to be honest.  They are hurting, and in many cases either don’t know what to do about it, or don’t feel able to make a change. You might say they feel stuck.

Even more depressingly, many of them have lost sight of the fact that they are hurting.  They have fallen asleep at the wheel, and don’t recognise it.  They are plodding down a path waiting for something to happen.  Meanwhile their families are growing up, their skills become less useful and they become less personally marketable.  The clock is ticking.

Where are they hurting?  It’s a pretty long list, but let me try and summarise.  This is not going to make for easy reading I suspect.

  1.  Low levels of trust, borne out of weak relationships, borne out of lack of time and budget to build those relationships.  Where people don’t trust each other they can’t collaborate, and if they can’t collaborate they can’t survive in a complex matrix based working environment.  Work/life balance is an outdated concept.  There is now a grim acceptance that there is never going to be a balance, and instead organisations talk about “Work/life integration.”  Your work is going to intrude on your personal life, and you need to have the ability to deal with that without moaning.

2.  Insecurity and fear are endemic.  The fears are numerous, but the main one is fear of becoming irrelevant and falling behind technically.  As the millennials start to overtake them, deploying new skills and attitudes which are seen as more current, the 30-somethings fear not being seen as adding enough value.  If cuts are going to be made, they could be next.

3.  The “more with less” mantra has ground away for too many years, so that there is no meat left on the bone.  Starved of resources, and yet still being asked to increase productivity, the mid-career manager has nowhere left to turn.  The pressure continues to bear down from above, whilst the people in their teams are looking to them for more support.  This truly is the “squeezed middle”, and it is the hardest job in the world.

4.  Outdated, cumbersome and irrelevant processes and procedures are overwhelming them.  On average these people only spend 2 days per week doing value add activity.  The rest is sucked away by time wasting meetings, an incessant barrage of email and other noise and trying to pick their way through the almost impenetrable fog of “tools” so they can get stuff done.  A few years ago they had the energy to try and fix all this.  Having been hit on the head a few times and told to get back in their box, it’s easier to shut up and get on with it.  If you stick your head out you will be seen as being difficult and this will be held against you.

5.  They have been exposed to a directive style of management for so long that deep down many of these talented individuals have turned into Children.  In essence they are waiting to be told what to do next, and have given up being proactive.  Coaching is rare, and where it does take place the preferred style is Directing, so that it is more akin to on the job training – a very different dynamic which fails to develop them the way it could.

The result is an exhausted, frustrated and under-achieving middle layer.  The annual Gallup Employee Engagement survey continues to report 70% or so of employees not actively engaged in the business they work in.  They are capable of so much more.

How much of this list can you relate to?  Have I somehow over 20 years just got unlucky with the people I have been working with?  Have I picked up a severely distorted impression of how things are out there these days?

If so please do challenge me.  I know there are plenty of examples of where my list does not apply, but I am confident that there is a pattern here, and am doing my best to call it objectively.

What’s your experience?  Please do comment.

Image source:  step4success

Posted in Life Skills, Personal Development | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

THE definitive list of ways to handle questions. (Or is it?)

I’ve blogged before about the options you have when someone asks you a question.  These are particularly handy when you’re making a presentation, although they come in handy when being interviewed as well.  Politicians use them all the time.

nervous-presenterSince I wrote my original article I have come across a few more, which I thought I’d share today.

They are what you might call more advanced options, and may require some practice and careful use.

Just to remind you, here are the basic 5:

 

  1. Answer it.  Use only when you know the answer, are confident no one else in the audience knows, and it’s a useful and relevant question which you have time for.
  2. Deflect it. Give it to someone else:  “What do other people think?”, accompanied by a sweeping hand gesture around the whole audience.  Use this when you don’t know the answer, or want to involve the audience.
  3. Reflect it. Give it back to the questioner.  A good device for letting an expert show off (that’s why she asked the question in the first place, so if you allow her to show off she doesn’t need to any more).  Also great for handling stupid or cynical questions (they soon stop asking these once they know you are going to give them back).
  4. Defer it. Tell them you’re going to cove that later.  This leaves you in control and saves time.
  5. Scope it. Take it offline.  Do this for specialist questions, or those that are irrelevant or you don’t have time for.  Also those it suits you not to deal with publicly.

And now for the more advanced versions:

  1. Ignore it. Pretend you didn’t hear.  Just keep going, and hope they go away.  Use this one very carefully as it can aggravate the audience.  Politicians use it all the time.  It’s a great one for cynical questions, and if nothing else leaves you in control.  For a while at least.
  2. Answer a different question. Use the question to tell them something that you want them to hear.  Useful if the question is awkward, or you don’t want to (or can’t) answer it.
  3. Tell them they are asking the wrong question. I love this one.  It requires a high degree of confidence to pull it off, but if you do you can win the admiration of the audience.  “That’s not the question you should be asking me.  What you should be asking is…..”  It works off the premise that the audience doesn’t know what it doesn’t know, whereas you do, so it’s hard for them to argue with you on this.

Please note that of these 8 options, only one involves you answering it!

Most people feel obliged to give a quickfire response, which has to be 100% correct, otherwise people will think they did a useless job.  This is of course nonsense, as you could never know everything about anything, so why bother?  Be happy that the answer is often sitting within the audience anyway, and you are allowed to not know the answer.

My final tip:  whatever you do, DO NOT ask people to keep questions until the end.  If I have a question 10 minutes in because I do not understand something, and you tell me I have to wait until the end, I am now out and wasting my time.  This technique is used by weak presenters who are scared of questions, and they hope to keep going until it’s too late for questions.  Allow them in throughout:  they energise, they help people to understand and clarify, and make into a more interactive session, and less of a presentation.  You can relax and ditch your self imposed Presentation Nerves.  Everybody wins!

When you’ve dealt with the question go back to your agenda and break eye contact with the questioner: you don’t want them thinking they can hog the whole show.

There may well be some more question handling options.  If you can think of any, do please share.

Posted in Presentation Skills | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

7 steps to build Trust

I know it’s a bit early to call it, but I reckon one of the hot topics for 2017 is going to be Trust.  I guess that’s not surprising, given what’s going on in the US, Russia and elsewhere.  I’ve noticed a big increase in the number of online articles on this subject, so thought I’d wade in with my take on it.

It’s quite easy to let ourselves worry about this. On the macro level we can worry that Trump is going to do what he said he would.  Or we can worry that he won’t, in which case we also worry about him.

Horrible Boss #1

Horrible Boss #1

But how about at work?  How are the trust levels around you?  Do you see things getting worse?

Is it as bad as Georgina Kenyon makes out in her article “There’s no such thing as flexible work.”?

 

“….the propensity for email, texting and quick-type apps has led us to forget some of our people skills, including distinguishing the nuances of language and meaning, fostering of a feeling of belonging among groups of people, and knowing our bosses and colleagues well enough to have confidence that others will pull their weight. That, in turn, has diminished implicit and earned trust among the people we work with.”

What do you make of this statement:

“No matter how much a work rock star you might be, your manager does not trust you. Your colleagues do not trust your manager. And, truth be told, you probably don’t trust most of your colleagues or your boss, either.”

Do you recognise that, or is she wildly overstating it?

Trust is the platform on which high performance teams are built.  It lies at the heart of Win/Win, and thus is an essential component in collaboration.  It’s what you need to build first before you dig into the details in a negotiation.  If you successfully build trust you can afford to trip up over the details, because trust is more important than anything else.

Let’s assume we all get the point:  this is not rocket science. Less obvious perhaps is HOW we go about building it.  Here are my thoughts:

  • Building Trust involves taking risk.  One of the best ways to do it is to display openness:  giving away some information (perhaps saying how you really feel about the situation).  If the other party is cynical it may take advantage of this information rather than reciprocating with a piece of openness from their side.  Making the first Trusting move involves risk – so be open with something which is not too high stakes.  You can move towards the riskier stuff once you know you are on a path towards Trust.
  • Be aware that building Trust requires both Courage and Creativity.  I need to be the first to put the gun down and have the presence of mind to get creative (possibly by asking a question.  “What are the options here?”  might be a good one.)
  • Building Trust takes time, which is possibly one of the reasons why it is being eroded so much, as we have even less time now than before.  You may need to plan how you can make the time available to build that crucial relationship.
  • It’s hard to build Trust without physically being with the other person.  Yet another factor in the erosion of Trust in the workplace.  If you do not know (because you can’t see the whites of their eyes) what the other person thinks of your proposal, it’s hard to trust them.  If you can’t physically be with them, try the next best thing:  speak to them online with the video switched ON!!!  (Yes, I know it means you will have to put some clothes on for the call.  Sorry about that.)
  • Building Trust requires us to be humans, and to get to know each others as humans.  Try putting some of the human stuff on your meeting agendas.  Give time for feedback, acknowledgement, celebration.  Let people check in with any personal news they want to share before you dive into the agenda.  Try eating a meal together, or even better, preparing it.
  • Think about your management style, and see what happens if you switch from performance management to performance coaching.  Ken Blanchard has an excellent short video on this.  If your team feels that instead of judging their performance you are supporting it, the dynamic changes and they can open up and be more real with you.

  • Finally, be reliable.  Do what you say you are going to do.  Make commitments on small things you know you can deliver.  Once you establish a pattern of reliability, your reputation for trustworthiness will build.

How have you gone about building trust in your team?  What’s the first thing you could do to build it?

Please share any ideas you have or ways of building trust which have worked for you.

 

 

Image © Warner Brothers

 

Posted in Leadership Skills, Negotiations | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments