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Use storytelling at work

Did you hear any captivating stories as you sat around the Thanksgiving table this past week? If so, you might have noticed that the speaker used certain techniques to draw you in–vivid descriptions, facial expressions, a narrative arc. A good storyteller makes these things seem natural.

If you think about it, storytelling has A LOT of cross-application when it comes to work. In the past, I’ve discussed how it can be a powerful sales tool, but it can be useful to anyone in almost any industry. Use storytelling techniques to:

  • Be a more engaging, charismatic leader
  • Keep others’ attention when you’re presenting during a meeting
  • Snag a new client
  • Make a convincing argument or illustrate an idea
  • Present a point to your team

Ok. You’re probably convinced that storytelling is useful, but it doesn’t necessarily come naturally to everyone. How do you work on developing your storytelling techniques?

1. Practice

You probably won’t be a natural storyteller at first, but the key is to PRACTICE. Think about scenarios in which storytelling might come in handy, and then make an effort to do it. Be sure to practice the story you’d like to tell beforehand–do it aloud and in front of a mirror to work out any rough patches.

2. Consider the main point

Your story can’t just be a story. It has to have some kind of relevance to the topic at hand. If, for instance, you’re trying to prove the effectiveness of a product, tell a story about how the product helped a specific person. If you’d like to demonstrate to a potential new client that your company is trustworthy, tell about a time that your team came through in a pinch.

3. Remember the classic story arc

Every good story has a beginning, middle, and end. The beginning should hook your audience, while the end should clearly give the main message and potentially be a call to action. If your story is jumbled, others will have trouble deciphering the main message or become disengaged.

4. Use a “lead-in”

It’s odd to jump straight into a story with no lead-in. You’ll want to tie the story to the topic that’s being discussed before plunging in. Frame up your story with a lead-in like one of the following:

  • “I am confident product XYZ is a good value to our customers. One example that comes to mind is…”
  • “I think it would be beneficial if we changed to system X. One reason is that…”
  • “This reminds me of something I witnessed last year…”
  • “We have to consider statistics, of course, but anecdotally, I once noticed…”
  • “I’d like to give you an example of why I think X would be a good idea…”

5. Practice some more

You may not hit the nail on the head the first time you try storytelling. Keep at it and modify your techniques as need-be. Does your delivery need work? Do you need to use better vocal inflection? Are you having trouble articulating your main point?

Assess, try again, repeat. Skilled storytellers don’t develop overnight.

 

Need more storytelling techniques? Feel free to contact me for guidance.

 

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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This blog post was first published in October, 2012.

Cell phones, e-mail and the internet were intended to help ease the stress of life, yet it would appear they actually make the work week longer, the pool of contacts larger, and the deadlines closer together.  We instinctively fight to stay afloat, throwing ourselves through all sorts of hoops without a moment’s rest. After all, how can we expect to take even a moment for ourselves when our to-do pile grows bigger by the minute?

 

take time to pause

We can, and we should, insists Nance Guilmartin in her book, The Power of Pause. Herein she argues that pausing before undergoing a task gives you a better shot at success, in that it provides you with the opportunity to reflect, weigh options and make judgment calls uninfluenced by charged emotions:

“We’re quick to say yes to someone’s request because we don’t think we have a choice. We just hit the Reply All or Send button on an e-mail instead of considering our options, picking up the phone, or walking down the hall. We jump to conclusions based on assumptions, expectations, or wished-for outcomes that are frequently far from reality.”

Taking a step back while under stress is counter intuitive and takes practice to master. Yet, whether you wait a minute, an hour, or a day, “your ability to make better choices is sharpened, and that can lead to significantly better results for you and for your clients,” says Guilmartin.

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A moment of pause enables us to see the big picture of our circumstances. An angry e-mail from a client, for example, seems to demand immediate reply. But is action without true pause the best route to take in this situation? No, Guilmartin says, because during a stressful, disagreeable exchange, the chance is high that our emotions will get in the way of maintaining good relationships with those around us.

In a situation such as this, a pause allots us time to ask key questions aimed at the heart of our stress. To do this, Guilmartin suggests that “you use a simple phrase to help you shift from jumping to a conclusion, even if you think you are right and have the facts. Ask yourself this seven-word question: What don’t I know I don’t know?

In other words, are you missing something important you haven’t considered? In the angry client e-mail example, it could be you didn’t communicate sufficiently with the client at the outset or some important detail was lost in the shuffle.  Pausing to reevaluate both what went wrong and how to respond will optimize the chances of moving forward with the client in a fair, productive manner.

To put it another way, pausing actually increases brain performance. The next time you’re faced with overwhelming circumstances, remember that you have the choice to take a time-out. I encourage you take it. In so doing, you’ll give yourself the gift of perspective, time to weigh your options, and a moment to clarify your goals. Not only do you have this choice, even though it may not seem like it at the time, research shows that choosing to slow down helps you in the long run.

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Herbert Benson, “Are You Working Too Hard?” Harvard Business Review, November 2005, 54-56.

Nance Guilmartin, The Power of Pause: How to Be More Effective in a Demanding, 24/7 World (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2010), 36, 153.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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Your Input determines your Output

After recently reconnecting with an old friend, I was reminded of what a huge difference it can make in a relationship to simply keep up with someone. It’s easy to say that life gets in the way, but sending a text or an email to check in on someone else’s life has such a positive effect on a relationship that it is absolutely worth the effort.

In work, as in life, what you put in determines what you get out. A friendship can’t flourish if you don’t put in time; likewise, your career can’t grow if you don’t nurture it. There is, of course, a certain degree of luck and chance to any career, but to leave the whole thing to the hands of fate would be to give up on yourself.

Input #1: Networking

Output: A stronger coalition of career advocates

One of the most important parts of career-building is networking, which certainly requires positivity and a willingness to put yourself out there. In some ways, it truly is a case of faking it ‘til you make it. You’ll never know how attending a networking event will benefit you until you try, but you can pretty much guess what staying in and watching TV will get you!

Input #2: Develop a system

Output: Efficiency and accuracy

Take time to learn your own natural rhythm. You’ll find different information all over the place regarding working in spurts versus staying steadily productive, but if you can find the system that works for you, you’ll see a marked improvement. Maybe you flourish by setting a timer for yourself and focusing on one task at a time for a set period, including your breaks. Experiment with different amounts of time and see how your attention span is affected.

The one thing to keep in mind is all the data showing that multitasking is not only ineffective but harmful to productivity. You may feel like you’re getting more done, but having to change your focus more frequently is keeping you at a superficial level of attention, rather than allowing you to dive deeper.

Input #3: Take care of yourself

Output: Better health and attitude

When it comes to your personal health, fewer things are more important. If you’re not getting enough sleep, eating well, or exercising regularly, your mental and emotional wellbeing will suffer. Take breaks when you need to; walk away from your desk, stretch your legs, and go mingle with co-workers from time to time.

Remember: Physical health isn’t the only health. You have to take care of your mental and emotional sides as well. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, underappreciated, or just plain worn out, your work will inevitably suffer. To get back in balance, I advise you to schedule intentional breaks. Whether this be an occasional afternoon to yourself (to drink coffee in a café, grab a massage, or go on a family outing) or a two-week vacation, it’s a good idea to distance yourself from the office every once in a while. This allows you to rest and rejuvenate, but it also gives you perspective—a chance to reflect on the bigger picture.

 

Ultimately, it all comes back to putting in effort before you expect positive results. Simplifying yourself down to terms of input and output may be a little reductionist—remember that you are a complex and wonderful being, and you need to take care of yourself as well. Take some time each day without any external stimulants coming at you—no television, no social media, no radio—just you, checking in with yourself. If you put energy into maintaining your own health, you’ll be able to put energy into your career. Like a renewed connection with a friend, you’ll find there are tangible benefits to revitalizing your approach to your work.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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If you had to describe the purpose of your business in one sentence, could you do it? That’s the challenge posed by Daniel Pink’s* brilliant one-minute exercise. He believes that a lot can be revealed by asking employees about the purpose of their organization.

To do this, pass out index cards and ask everyone to write about the organization’s purpose in one sentence. The results can be eye-opening.

I’ll let Pink explain more about the process.

Daniel Pink company mission

https://www.danpink.com/pinkcast/pinkcast-2-6-how-a-simple-index-card-can-surface-your-organizations-purpose/

*Pink is the author of #1 New York Times bestsellers Drive and To Sell is Human. He publishes an informative business-related video every other week on The Pinkcast.

 

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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Next week, I am going to address how Millennials can demonstrate their loyalty and prove themselves to their company. To lead up to that topic, I wanted to revisit a past blog post from  a couple years ago about how Millennials are perceived in the workplace. Thanks for reading and, as always, thank you for your feedback!

-Margaret
Young businessman in office looking at camera.

Let’s talk about a touchy subject: Millennials and loyalty. At first glance, the Millennial generation seems to be comprised of disloyal job-hoppers. Statistics show (according to Multiple Generations @ Work”) that a staggering 91% of Millennials expect to stay in a job for less than three years. Such high turnover can be tough for companies and cripplingly expensive. In fact, close to 90% of the firms surveyed (according to an article from MainStreet.com) reported that the cost of replacing a Millennial employee was anywhere from $15,000 to $25,000.

These numbers seem overwhelmingly negative, but let’s take a step back and look at Millennials and loyalty from a larger scope.

First of all, consider the context. Millennials have entered the workforce during one of the worst economic periods in history. Companies are downsizing, outsourcing, and slashing salaries in an attempt to stay afloat. And even though cost-of-living and college tuition are increasing dramatically, paychecks are not. Says Rich Milgram, Beyond.com‘s founder and chief executive, “Younger job seekers don’t have it easy in the current economy and they’ve been put in a hole by the generations that have gone before them.” Oftentimes, Millennials practice strategic job-hopping because they know they could be let go at any time. It’s a defensive move and gives them a sense of security if they feel their current position is in danger of being snipped.

Secondly, Millennials’ definition of loyalty is often different from other generations. Consider this statistic for a moment from Philly.com:

More than eight in ten young workers (Millennials, aged 19-26) say they are loyal to their employers. But only one in 100 human resource professionals believe that these young workers are loyal.

Why the huge difference in perspectives? Many believe it has to do with the way Millennials think about loyalty. Many members of this generation do not necessarily pledge themselves to a company, but to a boss or co-workers. Cam Marston, author of “Motivating the ‘What’s In It For Me’ Workforce” says, “Effective bosses are the number one reason why Millennials stay at a job…They have great respect for leaders and loyalty, but they don’t respect authority ‘just because.’ This is why it’s so important to have exceptional leaders at companies to retain these younger workers. They don’t want someone who micromanages and thinks of them as just another worker. They want someone who inspires them to stay at a company.”

Another attribute that keeps Millennials loyal? Workplace atmosphere. A 2012 survey by Net Impact found that 88% of workers considered “positive culture” important or essential to their dream job, and 86% said the same for work they found “interesting.” Additionally, the same Net Impact survey found that 58% of respondents said they would take a 15% pay cut in order to work for an organization “with values like my own,” demonstrating that Millennials are not just content with “any old job,” but seek meaning in the work that they do.

The issue of Millennials and loyalty is a tricky one, but one thing is certain: We cannot just write-off this generation as disloyal and wishy-washy. With the right workplace atmosphere, excellent leadership, and by providing the right set of motivation tools (as covered in a previous post), Millennials will stick around and perform the kind of innovative, creative work they’re known for.

If you (or your company) needs help creating the right conditions for your Millennial workforce, contact me to discuss potential strategies.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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promotion worthy actions at work

Work. We all know to go above and beyond, we all know to be on time, meet deadlines, and dress for the job we want. But what about the things not everyone is keeping in their mental rosters? Things that have the opportunity to set you apart and give you an edge? Start with these four out-of-the-box tips:

1. People Like Being Around Likable People

Remember the cursed group projects of high school or college? Remember the characters you got stuck with? The slacker who never showed up, the bossy pants who refused others’ contributions, the walking vanity incapable of seeing beyond their lip gloss, or the one who was so emotionally strung out they spent most of their time crying in the bathroom? Don’t be those people!

Yes, you’re going to have a bad day. Everyone is going to have a bad day. But remember that people like to be around people who make them feel good. People feel easier working with someone engaged, easy-going, prepared, and generally friendly. When those new projects come up, chances are co-workers are going to opt for someone pleasant to be with and work with on their team. The better you can make someone feel at work, the more they’re going to feel good working with you.

2.Pretend This Is Your Favorite Underdog Movie

Someone needs to show Russia who is boss? Rocky punches in. Someone needs to herd a bunch of sheep? Babe the pig starts running in circles. Whatever your film genre, you’ve seen it – a job needs to be done, and someone unexpected comes along to do it. Now, don’t sign up for designing posters if you’ve never opened Photoshop. But, do get out there, take a chance on accepting a new responsibility and succeeding in it. Yes, there might be a learning curve or surprisingly unpleasant aspects to the job, but show you are willing to fill gaps. Show you are a more valuable asset than your coworkers by having a broader range of skills and greater willingness.

3. Manage Your Time

Engage in your work. By no means should you morph into a workaholic, but when you’re working, get to work. The best way to do this is to cleverly manage your time. If you have multiple projects, make a guesstimate of how long each one will take, rate their priority, organize the steps for each one, and maybe throw the more entertaining ones between the snore-fests.

Then, block out your time. Excel spreadsheets can be great personal tools. Keep track of what you do with your time so you can use it most efficiently, and hopefully clock out a little earlier. This also comes in handy when the boss comes knocking with another task. Simply shoot her your schedule of the things you are already doing, show her how much more still needs to be done, and convince her that another employee might have more time to do a good job on it.

Keep in mind: businesses want organized managers. Having proof of your time management skills might come in handy when a promotion opens up.

4. Take Care Of Yourself (Treat Yourself Like a Human Being)

The work day is long. No one can sit and stare into the abyss of a computer screen for eight hours and maintain their brain power. Do things to keep yourself somewhat functioning. Try:

  • yoga on your lunch break
  • going for a walk
  • reading your favorite magazine or a book for a few minutes
  • drawing a few pictures while you brainstorm

Each person is going to feel rejuvenated by something different. Yeah, a full spa treatment probably isn’t going to fit into the workday, but maybe grabbing a foam roller and getting those office chair kinks out of your back will make the rest of the work day easier.

 

Now, get out there and start using these tips to get ahead of the pack and to be a better YOU.

 

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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BBQ and Delegation

Your perfect barbecue goes something like this:

  • You create the perfect guest list (people you enjoy hanging out with and who get along well with each other)
  • Each guest takes on the responsibility of making a different dish (something they’re good at making!)
  • On the day of the event, everyone enjoys a delicious spread of food and each other’s company.
  • Even if it rains or someone spills the potato salad, you’ll still have the makings of an excellent get together.

Of course, not every BBQ turns out this way. You might encounter drama between guests, or you may end up with seven different desserts, but no potato chips or veggie tray. The trick is knowing your guests’ personalities, knowing their strengths, and delegating effectively.

You can probably already draw parallels between the perfect BBQ and delegating to a work team, but let you give me my take on it:

When you’re leading a team, it’s difficult (and frankly inadvisable) to do everything yourself. If you tried to cook everything for a twenty-person barbecue, you’d end up pulling out your hair and not having much fun.

At work, the stakes are higher. If you’re working on a project, you’ll have deadlines to meet, stakeholders to please, and a team to attend to. Instead of taking on the bulk of the work yourself, TRUST that your team is capable enough to shoulder some of the burden.

Not only will delegating tasks to others lighten your load, it will help your team members feel like they are important parts of the work (just like the people at your BBQ who are providing the watermelon or deviled eggs).

Furthermore, delegating adds diversity of thought.

Your team members will inevitably do things a little differently than what you might have done on your own, and THAT’S OKAY. It’s great to work with a diverse set of ideas—that’s what drives innovation. Just like the person who brings a unique dish (grilled asparagus and ricotta pizza, anyone?), you will find creative new ideas through your team that you might not have found on your own.

Just make sure everyone is well-suited to their tasks.

In the workplace, certain people will love crunching numbers and digging into strategy. Others will love idea-generation. Still others will take pleasure in the artist elements of a project.

The better you know your team members, the better you can assign tasks. Just like you know Bill makes delectable beer-battered chicken, but you wouldn’t trust him to know merengue from tapioca pudding, so too should you understand the strengths and weaknesses of your team.

Don’t forget to make things fun.

One of the keys to successful delegation is making sure people are working well together, connecting, and facing any issues with a positive attitude and a problem-solving mentality. Day-to-day work doesn’t have to be a grind. If everyone is well-suited to their tasks and the team is keeping an affable, open line of communication between one another, the work can actually be (gasp!) fun.

You can also amp up the fun factor by hosting lunch-and-learn meetings, creating light-hearted challenges, raising money for a cause, or going on the occasional team outing. Though these may seem like frivolous activities to some, they are actually great ways to help your team members connect with one another, build a sense of camaraderie, and help YOU better understand what makes the people on your team tick. Having a deep understanding of your team members is crucial to effective delegation.

 

So, make a plan, start delegating, and get ready to fire up that grill!

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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