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Whatever the Project Is, Start Today

It’s almost time for us to welcome the new year of 2018! One of the many things I love about the Christmas and New Year holiday season is reflecting and planning: Looking back on the key themes and accomplishments of the year gone by while setting ambitious goals for the coming year. Here’s a question for you:

If the last year of your life were a movie, what would be the genre?

What I like about this question is it acknowledges a subtle truth: Your life is not a series of isolated events; instead, your life is connected to a bigger story.

Jim Rohn is one of the most influential business philosophers and personal development authors of our time. His article, 13 Ways to Improve Your Life, continues to inspire me and this year, as the SwingShift and the Stars season officially comes to a close on December 31st, #8 really stood out to me:

8. Invest your profits.
Here’s one of the philosophies that my mentor, Earl Shoaff, gave me: Profits are better than wages. Wages make you a living, profits make you a fortune. Could we start earning profits while we make a living? The answer is yes.

As Jim mentions below, “faith without action serves no useful purpose” — and Love INC is an organization that truly embodies this famous saying. They serve as a cooperative effort between churches and community agencies to provide effective help for our neighbors in need. Love INC is doing work that no other organization is doing–and they need our help. Your donation becomes part of Love INC’s story, and therefore part of your neighbor’s story–your action will make a big impact! And giving back in this way becomes part of your story now and in the years to come. Before the SwingShift donation deadline of December 31st passes, I’d like to humbly make one final request for you to join me in supporting Love INC. (And it’s your last chance to make that tax-deductible donation for the year!)

I’m a big advocate of laying the groundwork for setting clear, compelling goals with actionable steps and New Years resolutions are no exception. It’s a wonderful time to create goals that will inspire, motivate, and positively change you all year long.

But why do so many of us wait until New Year’s Eve to create these goals and start making change?

Why not now?

For my final blog post of 2017, I’d like to share Jim Rohn’s inspiring article, Whatever The Project Is, Start Today. 

Prove to yourself that the waiting is over and the hoping is past—that faith and action have now taken charge.

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Whatever the project is, start today.

Knowledge fueled by emotion equals action. Action is the ingredient that ensures results. Only action can cause reaction—and only positive action can cause positive reaction.

All of that said, there are still so many people who are really sold on affirmations. There is a famous saying that “faith without action serves no useful purpose”—and how true that is! Now, there is nothing bad about affirmations when they are used as a tool to create action. Repeated to reinforce a disciplined plan, affirmations can help create wonderful results.

But there is also a very thin line between faith and folly. You see, affirmations without action can be the beginnings of self-delusion. And for your well-being, there is little worse than self-delusion.

The man who dreams of wealth and yet walks daily toward certain financial disaster and the woman who wishes for happiness and yet thinks thoughts and commits acts that lead her toward certain despair are both victims of the false hope—which affirmations without action can manufacture. Why? Because words soothe and, like a narcotic, they lull us into a state of complacency. Remember this: To make progress, you must actually get started!

The key is to take a step today. Whatever the project is, start today. Start clearing out a drawer of your desk… today. Start setting your first goal… today. Start listening to something motivational… today. Start putting money in your new “investment for fortune” account…today. Write a long-overdue letter… today. Anyone can! Even an uninspired person can start reading inspiring books.

Get some momentum going on your new commitment for the good life. See how many activities you can pile on your new commitment to the better life. Go all out! Break away from the downward pull of gravity. Start your thrusters going. Prove to yourself that the waiting is over and the hoping is past—that faith and action have now taken charge.

It’s a new day, a new beginning for your new life. With discipline you will be amazed at how much progress you’ll be able to make. What have you got to lose except the guilt and fear of the past?

Now, I offer you this challenge: See how many things you can start and continue in this—the first day of your new beginning.

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5 Key Practices of Great Hospitalians

Having spent countless hours researching, training, and championing customer service in our 300+ employee company for the past decade, one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is the vast difference between service and hospitality.

Most people view them as interchangeable. They’re not. There’s a big difference  between the two and knowing the difference can give you a huge advantage in building both your business and your personal brand.

Service is what you do for somebody.

Service at a restaurant or hotel is hot food on warm plates, valet parking, or 24-hour on-call concierge. In my business, it’s fixing your car right the first time, having it ready when we said it would be ready, or offering free pickup and delivery within the city limits. Excellent service is important, but it’s not enough.

Hospitality is how you make people feel.

Hospitality goes well beyond service. It is impacting the way a customer experiences the interaction, delivering the emotional connection you make with your customers. Renowned restauranteur Danny Meyer describes it like this:

“If a waiter puts a spoon on the left side of the table I’m sitting at, this is service. But if a waiter remembers that I didn’t like the big spoon with my soup last time I was at their restaurant, that’s hospitality. Service is a monologue. Hospitality is a dialogue.”

In my business, it’s the service advisor who, while checking in her customer’s vehicle, notices a bumper sticker or something else in the car that indicates the customer has children in dance, or is a military veteran or a fly fisherman, etc. Or the salesperson who remembers the dream vacation his customers were planning the month after they picked up their car—and then calls to see how their trip went.

Great customer service doesn’t always feel good. But great hospitality AND customer service always feels good.

In the digital age, as more and more customer service becomes commoditized, hospitality is a powerful strategy to differentiate your business from the competition. It’s also the most effective way to build your personal brand. High hospitality people practice the following habits with passionate consistency:
1. They are curious, always asking probing questions and demonstrating genuine interest in others.
2. They are high in emotional intelligence, starting with self -awareness.
3. They consistently display optimism and kindness.
4. They demonstrate a high level of empathy.
5. They have a growth mindset, always willing to put themselves out there to learn new skills and make new connections.

Perhaps the best attribute of hospitality is that it can be employed by any business or individual, anywhere. Although it may seem simple, it’s not easy. Authentic hospitality requires the consistent practice of presence; of looking out verses looking inward, taking the focus off yourself. Danny Meyer could not have said it better:

“You may think, as I once did, that I’m primarily in the business of serving good food. Actually, though, food is secondary to something that matters even more. In the end, what’s most meaningful is creating positive, uplifting outcomes for human experiences and human relationships. Business, like life, is all about how you make people feel. It’s that simple, and it’s that hard.”

With the holiday season fast approaching, it’s a great time to start thinking about how being a “hospitalian” means presenting the best version of yourself; thinking of yourself less and putting others first, even family members who may get on our last nerve during holiday gatherings!

How can you put aside your need for affirmation and gratitude and commit to becoming a “hospitalian”? I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

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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?

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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?

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