I was coaching a colleague this past week, a talented woman of Chinese ancestry and upbringing and we were talking about designing her future.  She is at a wonderful age to pursue her dreams (….. I believe that all ages are appropriate for this mission), but she started talking about all the reasons why it might not work out.


We've all heard those little voices in our heads…..the ones that mutter, “you’re not good enough”, “why would anyone hire you?”, “why do you think you have talent?”  The voices, when we start paying attention to them, get stronger, louder and more seductive as our listening increases.  They often stop us from proceeding and encourage us to settle for something  that is totally easy  within our comfort zone. 


We discussed that it’s nothing more than a voice, one without credibility, that its words are not true, and that we ascribe a power to it out of proportion to reality.  We have the ability to banish it and substitute other voices, more positive that empower us.  We have total control to interrupt this internal malevolent siren.  We need to realize that courage is not the absence of fear; it’s taking action in spite of our fears. 


She admitted that she was always afraid to swim, that she nearly drowned as a child, and since then has stayed away from water, and kept her children away from water.  In that magical moment, making an internal decision, she looked at me and said, “I will take off my afraid”. 


Wow!  You never know when a flash of someone’s brilliance will smack you upside the head!  This visual simplicity gave me a new look at “Courage”. I pictured ripping it off, stomping on it, and throwing it away.   After our conversation, she felt stronger and I felt stronger.  She gave me  words and pictures to reach for when my own little voices choose to haunt me:   I see them on a T-shirt, on a wall, on the mirror, on my forehead:   “I will take off my afraid too!”



By Cheryl Crumb


 My brother served for 4 months on jury duty last fall and when I asked him what was the biggest learning from the experience, he said, “Never put anything in writing that you wouldn’t want to appear on a courtroom screen”.  Wow…after 120+ days of legal immersion the verdict was  “guilty by reason of email stupidity!”


Emails....The "Good"

 Email communication is beneficial when it….

  • Outlines a proposed agenda for an upcoming meeting
  • Lists discussion questions for said meeting
  • Summarizes decisions, actions and commitments
  • Acknowledges appreciation for actions taken


Emails....The "Bad"

The most important thing to know about emails is when NOT to write one.  If there’s a conflict or disagreement and emotions are dialed up (anger, annoyance, irritation, frustration…..), close your keyboard! Our instinctive reaction is to fight …get even….prove we’re right and you’re wrong.  Do not press “send”.  Instead, wait 24 hours, and ask a couple of non-related people to read it.  Hopefully, the passing of time and the inclusion of others’ input will save you from self-destructive folly.


Once it hits the airwaves it lives forever and repeated readings by the receiver can continue to ignite negative reactions.  The email can also be forwarded (or at worst become viral) and the new readers don’t have the context so it’s easy for you to become the “bad guy”. 


Emails....The "Ugly"

Let me illustrate with a colleague’s experience.  She's now sadder but wiser.  She  was applying for a senior-level job and had connected with the hiring manager.  The usual, acceptable exchange of emails commenced….


Applicant # 1 – “Thanks for taking the time to speak with me today….excited to see our alignment….enclosed is my CV….look forward to next steps…..”


(5 days later) Hiring Manager #1 – “I’d like you to review the XYZ book to get your perspective…..”


(Same day) Applicant #2 – “I welcome the opportunity to share my views……”


(Same day) Hiring Manager #2 – “I’ll set up the next steps….”


(Same day) Hiring Manager #3 – “Look for a call from Mr. X from my team.  He’s leading the project on…..”


(Note:  The call with Mr. X occurred.)


And then.....trouble

(49 days later after the applicant left numerous phone messages requesting status and call-back.)  Applicant #3 - “I have always been very surprised about the lack of respect some hiring managers have for candidates.   It is your choice as the hiring manager to connect with candidates or not, but once you start a process, why can’t you tell candidates that you are no longer interested once you come to this stage in the process?  You asked me to read a book and give my opinion.  I became the top influencer for weeks on the interest group website and the book publishers commented positively on my blogs.  I quickly captured your needs and yet you could not tell me that you were not interested in my candidacy any more.  I heard great things about you but it does not speak well of you or your company’s culture when you cannot even come back to me to let me know that you are no longer interested in my professional profile.  I have been in your shoes many times and it takes 30 seconds to send an email to someone who is waiting for information.  Have a great day!” 


(Same day) – Hiring Manager #3 – “Having been in my shoes you should also know that these activities take time and process.  The responsibility for this role moved to another manager in the organization and I forwarded your information to her.  I will forward her this note as well.”


(Same day) – Applicant #4 – “Yes, I know these things take time and understand well that things change very fast.  Nothing personal.  I just feel that you could have told me that things were changing and my expectations would have changed accordingly.  I went from next steps to nothing.  Thank you for forwarding my information to the new hiring manager, but I have accepted a job offer elsewhere.  I wish I could have collaborated with you.  I could have added value to your team.  Let me know if I can be of assistance to you or to your network.”


(Same day) – Hiring Manager #4 – “Thanks for letting me know things changed on your end.  As you stated, professional courtesy is a necessary business attribute and works both ways.  Good luck and congratulations”.


Is this the result you wanted?


As you read this exchange of “said and unsaid”, ask yourself…..

  • What’s the likelihood of a relationship for these two in the future?
  • Who looks mature?
  • What do you think the hiring manager is thinking?
  • Is this the result the applicant wanted?


Once you put it in writing, you can’t un-ring the bell.  Only attack when a knock-out is the goal.  Concluding with  “have a great day”, or “let me know if I can be of assistance”  doesn't soften the words….they rile the reader even more because of their incongruity!


Emotional situations need a real-time (face-to-face or ear-to-ear) dialogue.    Consider whether the intent was malicious or thoughtless?  Start by putting yourself in the other person’s place.  Begin with empathy.  Allow for face-saving room to maneuver. And don’t forget to ask yourself, “Do I want to be right, or do I want a relationship?”  As Stephen Covey said, “start with the end in mind.”


There are enough people taking pot shots at us.  Don’t add to it by shooting yourself in the foot!



There’s no shortage of upset people in the world.  Some days it seems like all of them have found their way to our doorstep.  This is one of the most difficult situations to manage, and it happens frequently in our business and personal lives. 


The customer yells at us and our instinctive, knee-jerk reaction is usually polarized:  fight or flight.  The former includes defending and attacking and the latter involves ignoring and hoping it will go away.



  •  Customer screams, “You’re late for the second time.  How can I trust you?!”.
  • Fight response:  “If you hadn't changed your mind 5 times we would have been on time.”
  • Flight response:  Click!


Effectiveness of these interactions?  Perhaps momentarily personally satisfying, but ultimately relationship-destroying.


If our instinctive response is insufficient, what’s better?  I suggest a four-phased process that will help us in these difficult times. 


 Managing Upset Customers



The hardest part of empathy is not pretending.  It’s about metaphysically putting yourself in your customer’s shoes and allowing yourself to feel what s/he must be experiencing.  It allows you to appreciate the difficulty of their situation.  It’s not about right/wrong, guilt admission, falling on your sword or pious clichés.  Your acknowledgement needs to genuinely validate their right to be upset.  Your words, voice and body language must be congruent.   Biggest caution:  Don’t say, “I know how you feel!”.  It’s presumptuous….and you don’t.  You’ll get caught.


Why is empathy so important?  Until your customer ( substitute spouse, friend, colleague, boss, neighbor….) believes that you “get it”, they’re incapable of listening to your well-intended promises of action.  The venting you hear may or may not be personally aimed at you, but the gasket needs to expel this force if it is to eventually become rational again.  This phase only ends when the customer’s venting has ceased.  Moods may reignite and if so, more empathy is called for.  Emotions become the cotton balls that prevent our ears from hearing!



This is the second phase of managing upsets and the goal is to understand the background and issues surrounding the complaint.  It is NOT a trigger to say the words, “I understand”!  Why not?  Because you don’t understand until you’ve listened, questioned, listened more, questioned again and finally summarized.  The rule for summarizing is “feelings first, facts last”, which continues to show our customer that we’re aware of the impact of the problem on him as well as the details and context surrounding the issue.



Offer Response

The first two steps earn you the right to offer a response, which is the third phase in our process.  Now you have enough information to offer something valuable, and the customer’s blood pressure has reduced to a level where he’s capable of listening to possibilities. 


Keys include:  offer alternatives.  Customers need to be able to make a choice in this situation which has until now robbed them of their power.  Begin by summarizing all of the actions you CAN do.  Set expectations by admitting what you CANNOT do.  Keep the sequence as stated:  positives (can do) first, followed by negatives (can’t do) later.  Starting with all the things we cannot do is a guarantee of  reigniting soaring blood pressure. 


The temptation is to deal only with offers to correct the problem.  It has urgency and it’s responsive.  Keep in mind that offering alternatives on how this problem can be prevented is optimally most valuable to everyone.  And what if the customer was partially or mostly at fault?  Rather than talk about who was wrong, words guaranteed to re-trigger the BP reaction, talk neutrally about causes and actions to prevent those causes from recurring. 




In any crisis conversation, customers need the last word.  Until they agree to accept the promised solutions, you're continuing the Upset Merry Go Round.  So, get that acceptance or find out what’s still missing for them. 


A final word

Managing this process is a skill and it will be as awkward and jerky as when you learned to ride a bike a thousand years ago.  The bad news is….it takes lots of practice: the good news is…..we're surrounded by upset people to practice on!





My web designer and content manager, Andrew Fraser, is experiencing the success that most entrepreneurs yearn  for…..becoming so busy that he needs to subcontract.  And that’s the subject of this blog….how to retain the trust that your clients have in you as you become bigger than yourself.


Always keep in mind your goal:  making your customers more successful. 

The trust they’ve developed with you is based on your competence, reliability, integrity, honesty and openness.  The challenge is to make sure that you retain the relationship with the addition of a third….or fourth….or more… 


When we’re looking for subcontractors, our focus is generally on their technical prowess. 

Obviously, that’s important, but it’s only the beginning.  We need to think of our new subcontractor as an extension of ourselves…..another appendage that has to work in harmony with the rest of our body.  An out-of-control appendage can cause a tremendous amount of damage to a valued supplier-customer partnership.  So, when screening subcontractors, check references carefully and ask questions about their reliability, honesty and work ethic.  Get examples of specific projects in which these behaviours showed up…..or didn’t.  If it’s the latter, no amount of technical expertise is worth the risk of the damage control you’ll engage in later!


Your Game Plan

Once you’ve hired your “appendage”, adhere to the following ground rules when working together.  Let’s use the masculine so I don’t get caught up in his/her/he/she:


  • Ensure your “appendage” understands the big picture background of the project.    Don’t skip this step because you feel it’s irrelevant and time-consuming.  If you do, it will come back to haunt you!


  • When your customer makes a request, don’t commit until you have first discussed it with your “appendage”. Share what the customer asked for and the reasons behind the request.   Why?  You hired him for his competence, so think of him now as an “appendage plus a brain”.    Can he do it….on time…..within the cost parameters?   It’s a real mood-buster when someone commits you to something in which you’ve had no say, especially when resources are constrained.  Additionally, upon understanding the request, he might be able to create options or enhancements that make your solution more powerful than what the customer asked for. 


  • After having had the above discussions, share with your “appendage plus a brain” the commitments you’ve made.


  • Since “your word” is your bond with the customer, your “appendage plus a brain” must optimally fulfil commitments made to you and the customer.  You must clearly state that in the event a project is in jeopardy, he must inform you immediately….not wait and hope that all will sort itself out.  The objective is to avoid an 11th hour call to your customer which starts out, “Sorry……”. 


  • Specify that you expect the following communication from him at regular stages:  the status on the work he’s doing for you (3 choices:  ahead of schedule, on time, behind); breakdowns he’s experiencing that might make the project vulnerable; and the actions he’s taking to deal with those issues.  This gives you time to reconnect with your customer and share an honest progress update.  Remember, customers  hate it when you give them bad news that’s too late for them to take action.  Avoid hearing them say, “why didn’t you tell me sooner?”


  • Continue to keep him posted as the project morphs.  Believe me….this upfront time will prevent hassles later.


Congratulations on your entrepreneurial growth, and keep in mind that you now have 2 partnerships ….the one with the client and the one with your subcontractor.  You're the linchpin for both.   One final note and this is based on my obsession with TV’s Judge Judy:  put every agreement with your partners in writing! 


I have a friend who excitedly called me, explaining, “I just got promoted.  I’m a leader now!” 

I didn't want to dampen his enthusiasm and tell him that he was promoted to a management role, but leadership is up to him, not to a company declaration. 


What really is leadership? 

There’s no shortage of quotes and this question netted 766,000,000 results in my browser.  It isn't a title, there’s no correlation to authority, and it isn't solely the domain of the top of an organization.  Simply, to me, a leader is someone who takes willing people from where they are now to a desired future.  The journey from “here” to “there” is usually fraught with unknown obstacles and “lions, and tigers and bears, oh my”.  Many journeys end up short of the goal because the leader allowed him/herself to be distracted.  Let’s think about it…”here” is safe and known; “there” is new, possibly scary, and the route has not been plotted.   


Above all, leadership is a choice we make….

and we have to re-choose it repeatedly.  Leadership Is never about safety.  Sometimes we’re tired physically and spiritually, and when we choose to maintain the status quo and do what we've always done, we’re choosing non-leadership.  It’s not necessarily evil, but it’s without power.  Being conscious that we’re choosing non-leadership is a good place to begin.


One thing is clear:  without leadership, organizations falter in times of change. 

It’s critical from the boardroom to the shop floor.  I laugh when people talk about running a leadership class in a day or a week as if it can be “taught”.  I believe that leadership can definitely be learned but it occurs through being in action, not being in study.  Leadership is like Baskin & Robbins ice cream….there are many flavors,   colors, and  textures but at its core it’s about character….particularly optimism, integrity, energy, courage and persistence.  A “willing” follower can turn “unwilling” in a nano-second.  No amount of formal authority can regenerate willingness.  It can only produce obedience. 


What do I say to my newly promoted friend?    


Be clear on where you are now. 


Read the world with eyes wide open and declare the future you want.  Think about this:  the future doesn't exist until you make a declaration about it! "By the end of the decade, man will walk on the moon" (paraphrase)....or...."I have a dream....".    Engage and inspire others in the strength and power of that possibility. Make it visceral…so people can see, hear and smell it.   Enroll others so that this possibility is as much theirs as yours.  Actively involve others by discussing how to get there.  Listen.  Recognize the fears, real and perceived, acknowledge small wins and celebrate achievements.  Know that energy will flag, including yours, as you get past the excitement of the starting line, but not near enough to the magnetism of the goal….so put conscious effort into generating enthusiasm for all of you.  When mistakes are inevitably made, celebrate together what was learned rather than punish failure.  Continue to keep the vision alive and recognize that you can’t over-communicate.  Nurture self-esteem as the gift it is.  Point out that people can accomplish more than they think they can.  When distractions present, focus everyone on what’s important.   When…not “if”…you blow it, admit it, share what you learned and then push yourself forward.    


Consider, there is no leader if there are no followers. 


It’s a take-off on the proverbial, “if a leader falls in the middle of the woods, but there’s no one there to see, was he really a leader”? 

Speaking of willing followers, who’s the most difficult person you’ll ever have to lead?  Look in the mirror!  It helps put others in perspective.


It may be simple, but that doesn't mean it’s easy.  Consider that a coach or mentor can help you on your leadership quest.  Start by choosing leadership!


Conversation as an art is on the decline.


Text blasts aren't helping, and since most schools don't teach us how to listen or ask questions, we're devolving into superficial bursts of incomplete thoughts. Unfortunately, they don't result in productive action.


When I'm conducting communication training, I frequently ask: "What's the typical Ear-Q?" (Ear-Q is my way of stating listening effectiveness.) It's pretty best, 25%. In the world of school and grades, that equates to a spectacular failure. Another way of looking at it, 75% of your brilliant nuggets have plummeted into the dark abyss because no one heard them. No listening, no action!


Bad habits abound.


Pick the ones that ring true for you: Do you interrupt, finish the speaker's sentence, tune out because you're bored, utter "yes, but....", not look at the speaker, or top the claim with, "that's nothing...I....."? The word "listening" is derived from the Olde English words Hlysnan (hear) and Hlosnian (suspenseful waiting). To listen fully we must wait in suspense to hear what the other person has to say. Natural temperament and bad habits have curbed suspenseful listening.


Like most things worth doing well, improvement involves internal self-talk and skill application.


There has to be a reason why so many intelligent, educated people don't listen well. Let's conjugate listening to understand its separate elements. First, it begins with Hearing. We passively process thousands of sounds daily. We may register a sound, yet not be listening. There are lots of barriers to hearing, external and internal. External barriers include noise, visual distractions, and vocal accents. Internal barriers, however, are a greater obstacle...negative thoughts about the speaker or subject, mind-wandering, emoting, fantasies, and pretending.


Research indicates we're distracted or preoccupied 75% of the time.


The problem that occurs with not hearing is most of the time we don't know what we haven't heard. We're blind to our deafness! We need to be present to the person who is speaking, to concentrate and focus on what they are saying and to not allow ourselves to engage in self talk of "this is boring" or "this is wrong". It takes effort, but it's doable and essential. (I heard someone say that this concentrated discipline actually burns calories, so there might be a double benefit!)

Listening Process


That takes us to the second phase of listening.....Interpreting. While Hearing is passive, Interpreting is automatic. We can't not interpret. We're "meaning making machines." We make everything mean something, and this occurs through the filter of our life and cultural experiences. I often start a listening exercise by asking people to turn to page X in their workbook. Automatically, 70% of the class picks up their pen. When I ask why they picked up their pen when I didn't say anything about pens, their response, "paper means a pen will be used". That's an example of unconscious interpreting and automatic action. The result of this interpreting? We make assumptions, and we treat them subconsciously as truth and don't question them.


A story will help illustrate. As a northerner, I was visiting a restaurant in the southern US called The Angus Chop House. When I asked the waiter what was good, he said....or so I thought...."The Successful A". Made immediate sense to me...."A" for Angus", "Successful" for their most popular cut. I tried to find this offering on the menu and when I wasn't able, I recalled the waiter. "Where is the Successful A?", I asked. He said, "right here" and pointed to "6-oz. filet"! A combination of accent, northern ears, and assumptions, caused me....A Communications fall prey to the Listening Trap. No one is immune!


If that's all we do......quietly hear (or not) and unconsciously automatically assume, we can safely bet our house mortgage that we'll have a communication breakdown! Since what often happens is this "passive partial listening", only one-quarter of the real message gets through.


We can't not make assumptions, so don't set that as your goal.


Instead, by knowing that we will always assume, and most often, not even be aware that we've given birth to a set of assumptions, we need to introduce questioning into our conversational repertoire. That's the third step. Questions challenge or clarify our assumptions and add definition to ambiguity. One problem, however, is that many people are reluctant to ask questions.....for fear of looking stupid. The bigger the group, the more people you'll look stupid to, so even less questions are asked. From their side, speakers need to make it easy for listeners to ask questions. This could include praising the questioner for their insight or suggesting that questions will help them better articulate their thoughts. My rule of thumb: even when you think something is so obvious, there's always something that can be learned through questions. That new insight might reveal the gold nugget. So, being a good listener takes persistence and courage.


It's no good stopping there, because the speaker will answer your question, which you'll hear correctly or not, and out of which you'll make meaning. So, we're back in the spiral. All processes need a check phase and ours is called Restating. That's the fourth and final phase. The obvious is to restate the content of what the speaker said, but that's only the beginning. Also restate what the speaker didn't other words, the "unsaid" assumptions you made. I often use the example of a teenager saying, "Do I have to?". Restating the content results in, "he asked whether he had to". Restating the "unsaid" results in, "he doesn't want to". Finally, generous listening involves a restatement of feelings, expressed or implied. With our previous example,"You sound reluctant to take action and resigned about the entire project." That complete restating will likely spark a more powerful, revealing conversation.


The good news is that listening is a muscle that can be strengthened.


There's no shortage of people to practice with. By being conscious about all four phases of listening, we can shift from being a passive Teflon Listener to a catalyst that evokes a fascinating, comprehensive conversation.


Next time you complain that someone didn't tell you something, consider that what is not said is caused by the listener!



A few months ago I worked with a large brand-name company who asked, “What’s most important to our customers?”  It’s a great question, and a healthy one that all of us should be asking ourselves, and once the answers are discovered, we should share them with all employees.


There are any number of mistakes that companies make, but one of the biggest is when we make assumptions about our customers.  It’s easy to assume. It takes no effort and it happens whether we want it to or not.  Operating from blind spots causes us to offer customers what we think they want. (We’ve all heard the “ass-u-me” conjugation!)   While we might be right with no harm done, we might also be missing the nuances that customers most value.  Our biggest limitation is “what we don’t know that we don’t know”!


I’ve engaged in Voice of the Customer interviews numerous times for clients, and the overwhelming response is their eagerness to participate.  That’s a positive sign because they too want to contribute to improvement opportunities.  An important ingredient is to ensure that this does not sound like a telemarketing research call.


Setting up Interviews

Here are critical components:


  • Have the supplier company make the initial email contact, professing a genuine desire to improve the business partnering relationship, and credentialize you.
  • Follow up in writing with the company and introduce yourself.
  • Promise confidentiality and anonymity, unless the customer organization wants their voice to be known as well as heard.  Let them know that comments from all participants will be aggregated and specific names will not be used, unless they give authorization.
  • Be realistic about the length of time that the interview will take.  (I ask for 20-30 minutes.)
  • Share in advance some of the questions you plan on asking, so that there will be no surprises about the depth of the conversation.
  • Ask only “high value” and open questions.  Don’t insult or limit customers by wasting their time with closed questions or numerical responses.
  • Capture as much of their comments verbatim, to reduce the possibility of misinterpretation.  Before completing the call, show that you listened by sharing the words and insights that you learned from them.
  • After each call, send an email of appreciation, citing the key messages you heard.


Kinds of Questions to Ask

If you’re looking at improving a relationship, it’s important to ask about both perspectives of the partnership.  Here are some questions that I generally ask:


  • “What are some of the challenges facing you in your role right now?”
  • “What is your leadership team holding you accountable for?”
  • “How have your projects and challenges shifted over time?”
  • “Think about your best supply partner….what did that individual do to earn that distinction?”
  • “If you could design a job description for ‘The Perfect (X Company….and Role)’, what would you want that person to do for you?
  • “What is most important to you when choosing a supply partner?”
  • “Give me an example of something that X Company did that was positively memorable for you.”
  • “Give me an example of something that X Company did, albeit unintentionally, that caused you to question the value of the relationship.”
  • “What would you like X Company to start doing or do more of….stop doing or do less of?”
  • “What is the #1 message that you would like X Company to hear?”


Read the rest of this entry »


Reblogged from The Experion Group


What makes successful people successful? Sure, they’re likely bright. They might have advanced education. Maybe they were even lucky. There’s another hugely important ingredient to add to the mix.


Think about it … what do the following successful people have in common: Sir Richard Branson, Alexander the Great, Oliver Stone, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and David Beckham?


They all had mentors … experienced people who thought, “You are worth my time and effort; I can offer you ways to expand your horizons and increase the likelihood that you will achieve success”.
The Chinese ancients had a proverb:


“A single conversation across the table with a wise man is worth a month’s study of books”.


Albeit politically incorrect and gender dismissive, this belief was echoed by Dr. Beverley Kay in her recent book “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go” when she said,


“Behind every successful person there is one elementary truth: somewhere, somehow, someone cared about their growth and development. This person was their mentor”.


Enlightened organizations are realizing the truth behind these statements and are orchestrating formal mentoring programs as part of their knowledge management and succession management strategies. Find a wise and experienced individual and team her/him up with an emerging leader.



Read the rest of this entry »


Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and yes, there is a cab company that goes out of its way to do the right thing. My friend, Phil, returned from the Las Vegas CES (Consumer Electronic Show) on January 11 minus his 2-week old I-Phone. His last memory was using it in the hotel. He suspected an airport pickpocket. Imagine his surprise when he got home and heard a phone message from Nellis Cab Company, telling him they had found his phone in the backseat and were shipping it free for next day arrival.


I called Nellis and asked about their policy. Founded in 1962, this small family operated business differentiates itself from other motorized hustlers. The message is “Customers First”. All drivers are expected to check the cab after every passenger leaves. We passengers obviously become very distracted….or so it would seem by the sheer weight of lost and found. Nellis has discovered luggage, laptops, golf clubs, cell phones….to the tune of 7-10 per week….and they have a team of people dedicated to reconnect them with their loved ones. Policy also says that if the owner can’t be identified, the goods are donated to charity. Nellis budgets thousands of dollars to reunite “man” and goods.


So, forget the cliché - Not everything that happens in Vegas stays in Vegas!