Archive | Personal Branding RSS feed for this section

Optimism Rules: Why We Should Embrace Good News… Despite the Headlines

Is the world really going, as my grandfather used to say, “to hell in a hand basket?”

Reflecting on the headlines in recent weeks, you might be tempted to think so. Two devastating hurricanes displacing millions, a destructive earthquake in Mexico plus racial violence, global terrorism, renewed threats of nuclear confrontation… the list goes on.

Not so fast…

Before you conclude that things are worse than they’ve ever been and our children and grandchildren are consigned to a far more difficult life than we’ve known, let’s look at the facts. According to research, the most salient indicators of human flourishing–food, sanitation, poverty, violence, literacy, freedom, and the conditions of childhood–have all vastly improved in the last generation. Some examples:

1. Contrary to the belief among most Americans that worldwide poverty is getting worse, the number of people living in “extreme poverty” (less than $2 a day, according to the United Nations), is decreasing by over 100,000 people every day. Similarly every 24-hours, more than 300,000 people throughout the globe gain access to electricity–unprecedented in human history.

2. Worldwide child mortality, a long-established barometer of living standard, has fallen by over 55% in less than one generation. Again, this is unprecedented in human history.

3. According to national statistics, violent crime rates in the United States are the lowest they’ve been in 50 years.

4. At the turn of the century, the average life expectancy was just 31 years (due in large part to rampant child mortality). Today, it’s well over twice that–71 years.

In addition, consider that the most superfluous comforts we experience today were, as late as the dawn of the 20th century, unimaginable luxuries. And only a few hundred years ago, a family of six children in a western country like Germany considered themselves incredibly fortunate if four of them survived to see their eighth birthday. (As a parent of three and uncle of twelve, I couldn’t imagine how painful this would be.)

These and other facts compelled NY Times Journalist Nicholas Kristof to call 2016 “the best year in the history of humanity.” 2017 may well be even more promising.

As I write this, understand that I am an eternal optimist, primarily because my life experience has been such that I’ve never had a compelling reason to view life as anything but positive. I completely understand that others have not been so fortunate, and I empathize with people who have endured unexpected tragedy and hardship.

But the fact is, negativity has been ingrained in our culture for a long time. Performance coach Ben Bergeron, in his NY Times Best Selling book, Chasing Excellence, notes:

“Almost two-thirds of English words convey the negative side of things. Positivity, therefore, must be a learned behavior.”

With so many positive trends in the world taking place in our lifetimes, why does optimism seem so counter-cultural?

The most obvious reason is the media, whose ratings-driven agenda sensationalizes the negative. Apparently, good news doesn’t sell–at least that’s what can be concluded from the current headlines. If it’s true that, as a cynical journalist once quipped, “no one wants to hear about a plane taking off… only when it crashes,” then the media plays a significant part in skewing public perception toward a negative, even nihilistic, view of the world.

But to me, the more troublesome and convicting reason is the responsibility that we play in our own dim view of things. Writing in the Breakpoint commentary, best selling author and radio host Eric Metaxis notes:

“Quite simply, we often enjoy being angry about the state of the world, especially when it allows us to blame someone else. We are addicted to news-induced anger.”

Author Brené Brown coined the term “common enemy intimacy” to describe how our mutual anger and frustration–usually at some person, political party, or institution–becomes a replacement for openness, curiosity, and optimism. How true.

I don’t mean to understate some of the difficult problems facing the world today. There are plenty of vexing cultural, technological, moral, and environmental concerns. But there’s also plenty of reason to be positive–there is no better time in all of human history to be alive, and the future looks bright as well. (And for Christians like me, we have all the more reason to be optimistic in light of God’s promise to redeem and restore all things. In fact, the New Testament actually mandates that Believers focus on the positive–see Philippians 4:8)

Yet, as Metaxis concludes:

“That’s why it’s so important—while acknowledging the desperate evil and suffering around us—to appreciate the good news, the progress, and the things we have to celebrate. After all, how can we truly comprehend what’s wrong with the world if we don’t recognize when something is going right?”

What do you think about the state of the world? Do you think things are getting better or worse… and how does your attitude towards the future shape your hopes, dreams, and plans?

Comments { 2 }

Power Talking: Get Those “Buts” Out Of Your Mouth

I’m always looking for new customer service training ideas. Whenever I’m out in the marketplace–in restaurants, retail stores, community events, etc.–I’ve got my radar on for real life examples (both good and bad) that I can use for future sessions. And one of the simple behavior patterns I’ve noticed that separates exceptional customer service practitioners from their mediocre counterparts is vocabulary.

True customer service pros are what I call “power talkers.” They deliberately refrain from using weak, indecisive words and phrases and instead respond to customers with language that injects clarity, focus, and positive expectations into their conversations.

Words have power | Power talking

For example, consider how one simple, everyday word can weaken communication:

“We can schedule your car for service this afternoon, BUT we won’t have it done until tomorrow.”

“We received your request BUT the person who handles your account isn’t here today.”

“Robert is an excellent communicator, BUT his computer skills are weak.”

Notice how the word “but” negates everything that was said before it. This weak word saps all the energy from the conversation. How many times have you heard, “Yes, but…” and felt deflated knowing that your idea or comment is about to get a rebuttal?

Words have power | Power talking

A more powerful and energetic alternative is to replace the word “but” with “and.” Notice how it changes things:

“We can schedule your car for service this afternoon AND we will have that for you by noon tomorrow.”

“We received your request AND I will have the person who handles your account call you when she returns tomorrow.”

“Robert is an excellent communicator, AND he is developing his computer skills.”

If you’re seriously committed to building a strong personal brand, delivering exceptional customer service, and continually sharpening your leadership skills, the words you use matter. “Power Talking” is based on this simple but powerful truth: The words we use shape the outcomes we create in serving customers–and in everyday life.

Try it: I guarantee these simple changes in language will add substance and impact to the perceptions you create.

“Power Talking” is based on three principles of human communication:

1. People judge you–and you judge them–based on the words and phrases you use in your everyday communication. Consciously eliminating negative, powerless expressions and projecting a more positive, resourceful image will cause people to respond more positively to you.

2. The people you want to influence–your customers, co-workers, children, etc.–take cues from your language when deciding whether or not they will cooperate with you. While some words or phrases unconsciously sabotage our efforts to work with other people, others are extremely effective.

3. The words you use when talking to and about yourself help to shape your own self-image and they translate to your actions and behaviors.

Here are some examples of each of these principles from my own experiences:

At a recent auto retailing conference, one of the presenters–a successful car dealer–opened by saying, “You’ll have to excuse me, I’m not much of a public speaker.” Can you guess how his presentation went? It was awful.

Overhearing a phone call from an employee to a late-paying customer, she said, “I was wondering if you could send in your payment sometime soon.” A better way to get cooperation would be to simply ask, “When may I expect your payment?”

Responding to a “When will my car be done?” inquiry from an anxious customer, a service advisor said, “It should be done sometime tomorrow afternoon.” Instead of projecting such an unclear expectation, a better response would have been: “It will be done by 3pm tomorrow.” (Then have it done by noon and exceed the customer’s expectations.)

Although each of these examples seem simple, becoming a “power talker” is not easy. Years of cultural conditioning can weaken our diction, corrupt our clarity, and suck the life blood out of our communication.

Words have power | Power talking

Finally, together with “But,” here are five more popular powerless words and phrases to eliminate from your vocabulary:

1. Try. Known as “the king of wimpy,” try carries with it no commitment at all. As Yoda said in Star Wars, “Try, no. Do, or do not. There is no try.” Instead, be clear…and be firm. Candor and honesty will go much farther to build trust with your customer than “trying” ever will.

2. Have to. In customer service, saying “I’ll have to…” implies that serving your customer is going to be a burden, as in “I’ll have to check the availability and call you back.” Replace this negative line with the hospitable phrase, “I’ll be glad to…”

3. Basically. Together with “like,” “you know,” “well,” and a host of others, “basically” is what I call a “filler word” that serves no purpose; eliminate it–just say what you plan to say.

4. To be honest with you. When you hear this from someone, doesn’t it make you wonder, “Does this mean he is usually not honest?” Remove it–and simply say what you’re planning to say.

5. Should. When someone in customer service tells you, “I should have it done by…” how confident are you in such a weak commitment? Be decisive–say, “I will have it done by…” then over-deliver on your promise.

Remember, people judge you–and you judge them–based on the words and phrases used in your everyday communication. Regardless of your line of work, consciously eliminating negative, powerless expressions and projecting a more positive, resourceful image will welcome people to respond more positively to you.

Which powerless words and phrases do you encounter most often?

Comments { 3 }

How to Live to 100: Nine Healthy Blue Zone Habits

They’re known as the Blue Zones: Areas around the world with the highest concentrations of centenarians (people who live to be 100+ years old). These Blue Zone areas include parts of Japan, Mexico, Greece, Italy, Costa Rica, and even Southern California.

In 2005, author Dan Buettner launched a research project seeking to learn the longevity secrets of these vibrant cultures which culminated in the 2008 publication of The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest. Although I haven’t read the book, Buettner’s research has been well documented. His work is a fascinating summary of what makes the world’s healthiest people so healthy.

Despite the fact that people live longer today than ever before, let’s face it: Most of us know very few people who make it even close to 100 years old, much less any full-fledged centenarians. Yet Buettner’s work features people like Francesca Castillo of Costa Rica, who, at 100 years old, still cut her own wood and cleared brush from her yard with a machete.

What sets centenarians apart? Is it purely genetics, or are there specific practices we can identify and adopt to help us increase our own life spans? Here are nine habits which, according to Buettner, centenarians throughout the world’s Blue Zones all share:

People who live in Blue Zones walk... a lot.

1. Walk…a lot. This reminds me of the best selling book, Eat, Move, Sleep by Tom Rath, who points out that sitting more than six hours a day is the most underrated public health problem in America. According to Buettner, Blue Zoners walk practically all day, not because they necessarily want to, but because most of them don’t own a car. While that’s not an option for most people, (something that, in my line of work, I’m grateful for!) Buettner recommends finding a place to live that favors activity and connectivity.

2. Don’t retire. Refocus. Blue Zoners all share a deep sense of purpose for their lives. They greet each day with a compelling reason to live. The traditional definition of “retirement” simply doesn’t exist in their vocabulary.

3. Find a de-stressing ritual. Although faced with the same worries we all have, centenarians manage stress through a variety of daily rituals, such as spending time with friends.

4. Follow the 80% Rule. In the age of super-sized portions, centenarians only eat and drink until they feel 80% full.

5. Eat lots of vegetables. In the Blue Zones, the least expensive and most popular dishes are plant-based. Most eat limited amounts of meat and very little refined sugar and carbohydrates.

6. Drink a little wine. Contrary to popular belief, centenarians, by and large, are not teetotalers, although most drink limited amounts and wine is the drink of choice.

7. Cultivate strong friendships. Blue Zoners are consistently found to have a core group of life long friends who provide stability, intimacy, and support.

8. Be part of a community. There is a strong sense of belonging in Blue Zones; a deep-seated cultural expectation of people caring for one another, often centered around religious faith.

9. Stay married. According to Buettner, a positive, committed relationship adds at least six years to life expectancy.

Here’s a question: What would it mean to the quality of your life–and the strength of your personal brand–if you had the physical, mental, and spiritual capacity to live 100+ years? Which of these nine habits resonate the most with you? Which ones challenge you? I’d love to hear your feedback!

This post was adapted from my 2013 blog post.

Comments { 0 }

Everything You Do Matters

I was first introduced to the Butterfly Effect by author and blogger Andy Andrews.

 

A doctrinal thesis published in 1963 by a meteorologist named Edward Lorenz, in short the Butterfly Effect states that a butterfly can flap its wings on one side of the world and set in motion molecules of air that in turn set in motion other molecules of air and eventually create a hurricane on the other side of the world. Ridiculed by the scientific community for more than thirty years, the Butterfly Effect nevertheless persisted in myths and urban legends until physics professors in the mid-1990’s proved it, not only with butterflies and air molecules but with every form of matter…including people. Eventually, the Butterfly Effect became a scientific law called the Law of Sensitive Dependence upon Initial Conditions. When applied to people, it essentially means that all of your actions can shape far-reaching outcomes spanning generations. It means that everything you do matters.

I was reminded of how this law applies to personal branding during a talk I gave as a guest at a local B.N.I. (Business Network International) meeting several years ago. The story begins in Traverse City, Michigan during the summer of 1982 between my junior and senior year of college. My girlfriend–who is now my wife–had just flown in for my sister’s wedding and my parents invited us to join them, my sister and two of my brothers for dinner downtown. Five months earlier, my dad had purchased a Buick dealership in town, taking a small, under-performing franchise and turning it into the top selling dealership in northern Michigan. It was the height of summer in this beautiful, scenic Lake Michigan resort town and our entire family was coming together for a much-anticipated wedding celebration.

After a wonderful dinner we hopped in our cars to head home. While backing out of the parking space, one of us–I cannot recall who–inadvertently sideswiped another car in the cramped parking lot, leaving a 6-inch crease in the rear fender of the parked car.  By this time it was nearly dark and there was on one else in the lot. We could easily have pretended nothing happened, hopped back into our cars, and driven away.

Instead, noticing what had happened, my dad jumped out of his new Buick, surveyed the damage to the other car, pulled a business card out of his wallet, wrote a short message on the back along with his home phone number, and left it on the windshield.

Having witnessed my father’s leadership and personal responsibility my entire life, I was not surprised by his response and never thought about the incident again–until the morning of my B.N.I. presentation nearly 30 years later. Following my brief speech (I can’t recall the topic), each B.N.I. member delivered their customary introduction along with a few comments on my talk. After the first few members spoke, a woman introduced herself and, after some kinds words about my message, proudly mentioned that she and her family had purchased every car they owned from us since the early 1980’s.  Then she explained why.

“I had recently moved to Traverse City back in the early 1980’s and had spent the evening shopping downtown with some friends when I returned to my car and immediately noticed a pretty big dent in the rear fender,” she said, adding that this was the first brand new car she had ever owned and really wanted to keep it looking great. “Frustrated and angry, I walked to the front of the car and noticed a business card stuck in my windshield with your father’s name, phone number, and explanation of what happened. I called him the next day and he was so gracious and apologetic. He not only arranged to fix the dent but he gave me a car to drive while it was in your body shop. To me, the integrity that your father displayed was huge, something I have never forgotten, and as a result, my entire family has done all of our business with your company ever since.”

I was shocked. That was the first time I was reminded of that incident since it happened–it seemed like a lifetime ago.

What does this have to do with the Butterfly Effect?  Everything. What was to my dad a simple act of doing the right thing–his response would have been the same whether anyone had seen it or not–was, to this woman, a rare display of integrity that resulted in lifelong loyalty. And for a big ticket purchase like an automobile, that’s a lot of revenue.

The lesson? The quality of your life–the strength of your personal brand while you’re alive and the legacy you leave after you’re gone–is driven not so much by the major events and big decisions you encounter at key times in your life, but by the seemingly small, everyday decisions you make, both good and bad.  If the flapping wings of a tiny butterfly can affect meteorological events thousands of miles away, imagine the impact of your everyday decisions.

My questions for you: How can you apply the Butterfly Effect to improving your personal brand? What seemingly small decisions have you or those close to you made that have had significant long term consequences? How can a deeper awareness and understanding of this principle impact your life?

This post has been adapted from my 2013 blog post.

Comments { 4 }