How To Be Professional in the World of Business

stockvault-businessman-and-crystal-globe113846Entering the realm of business, as exciting as it is, brings about many changes in your life. Being responsible for your business means being responsible for how you look, what you say, and how you say it. The same goes for people that are in charge of representing their company or their company product/service to the outside world.

Leaving the image grooming for stylists, I would like to focus on the image that you create by communicating with your customers, potential customers, competitors or business partners. Effective communication is not easy, and you have to take into consideration many different factors before you can take your idea to the general public.

Here are some clues how to convey a successful and professional message that will enhance the probability of your product/service success.

 

KNOW YOUR ENEMY

It is vital that before any business meeting or product/service presentation you get to know your target audience. I am not encouraging any industrial espionage, but rather suggesting that you make an attempt to adapt yourself to the kind of people you are going to deal with in order to create the most appropriate atmosphere for your message to be positively viewed.

Adequate dress code and manners are highly required while talking to people on high positions. They perceive it respectful, and yes, they will notice if your tie has stains. Such a small neglect can drastically decrease your image, and significantly influence future decisions of your audience.

Your concepts have to be understandable from the very beginning so your target audience does not get lost. This would require from you some linguistic preparation. Learn proper vocabulary, especially while talking to people of a particular specialty, like IT, mathematics, physics, etc., who are used to technical terms. You do not have to rearrange your entire personal dictionary, but make sure you know what you are talking about, and eliminate such rookie mistakes as confusing terms or using them incorrectly.

 

EKHM…, UM…, EEEE…

While presenting a product or idea, make sure you are prepared, and know exactly what you want to say. Anticipate possible questions beforehand to omit hesitation particles which make you look less competent in the eyes of your audience. Never read from the paper! You are competent and an expert in your own field and that is the image that you want to sell out. Write down all the main points which you want to mention, but do not put your whole presentation on paper; bullet points which you can expand further with your own words are extremely helpful, since they facilitate the flow of your speech, and keep you from being stressed about forgetting something.

 

OOPSIE DAISY…

In spite of our constant fight for perfection, we are all fallible. Do not be afraid to admit making an error. There is no point in hiding it, if at some point you get painfully aware of the fact that you confused some terms or presented the wrong product or service. Upon spotting a mistake our primal instinct tells us to make up an excuse or deny it. However, admitting to a mistake makes us more human in the eyes of our audience.

Getting it off your chest also lowers your own level of stress, and increases your credibility. Making an excuse is more energy consuming than acknowledging an error. It also leaves us with a risk of being incoherent during the rest of the presentation. You have to remember that mistakes are unavoidable, and what makes all the difference is how we handle them in public.

 

SIZE MATTERS

One of many rules of the world of business is respect to your fellow businessmen, which refers to the size of a message you want to convey. You cannot be too descriptive nor too stingy with details. You have to be exact in both writing and speaking. This is why you should skip formal style and stick to semi-formal business style which aims at exactness and presentation of bare facts. No phatic communication is allowed – it is meaningless, thus redundant. Do not mistake a fact-based style with being impolite – you should always start with a greeting and finish with a farewell, but put aside weather conditions, health issues or latest office gossip.

Establishing certain image of your business is as difficult as it is important for its further development. Every little detail counts, and every little detail can decide upon your overall success. The art of presenting a product or idea is one of the most crucial business activities you will have to face in your professional career. Nowadays, the inspiration is not everything. You have to be able to promote it, and wrap it in an encouraging and interesting package to attract your target customer base or simply to convince your future investors of its lucrativeness. Bearing that in mind, make sure that you yourself are as presentable and perfect as your product.

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Self-Awareness Workout Session

stockvault-healthclub-equipment137889Recently, I was asked to write a guest post for the blog called A Life Colored Amber. The blog, starting with its heart-warming title and finishing on its content is all devoted to spreading positive attitude towards life, so I had to think hard about a topic optimistic enough to meet the requirements. Finally, I decided to muse upon the notion of self-awareness, which influence on our lives is nothing but positive in every aspect.

Self-awareness puts us in total control over our own lives. Only when we start paying deeper attention to our own self realizing our roots like family history, biological inheritance, upbringing, and our surrounding like social groups, environmental forces, cultural influences, can we fully understand the importance of our own self in the current course of life we happen to be a part of.

It is often said that traveling broadens our minds. We learn a lot from people of other cultures, since we belong to a totally distinctive one. Learning cultural differences deepens our self-awareness by increasing our sense of belonging, and I can relate to this, since I never felt so utterly Polish only when I had a chance to live in Spain surrounded by Spanish people trying to impose their habits on me.

This experience strongly influenced my identity. For the first time I learned that I can change my habits, my rituals, even my every-day language, but deep down inside I am only a mere observer of what is happening with me. I had this overpowering feeling of split personality, I acted like a Spaniard but my Polish self was in constant amaze of my actions. It was as if I had an inner observer who manipulated me to see my reaction to a particular stimulus. On every step of my experience I knew that I can safely go back to the core of my own self which was defined by all the factors that I mentioned in the previous paragraph.

Sounds like a mental breakdown? Maybe, but I am not the only one out there.

I would like to describe an extreme and rather morbid example but it’s the only one I know that was documented and described in the literature devoted to self-development. During WWII a Jew psychologist Viktor Frankl was taken to a death camp, which made him realize huge potential of self-awareness. This is how Stephen Covey describes his aha-moment:

“One day, naked and alone in a small room, he began to become aware of what he later called “the last of the human freedoms” – the freedom his Nazi captors could not take away. They could control his entire environment, they could do what they wanted to his body, but Victor Frankl himself was a self-aware being who could look as an observer at his very own involvement. His basic identity was intact. (…) Between what happened to him, or the stimulus, and his response to it, was his freedom or power to choose that response.”

Dr Frankl exercised his self-awareness into the extreme level of meta self-awareness where he could picture himself away from his present situation – by using imagination and paramount potential of his memory he could place his self in a completely different situation, like for example his lectures at the university. Covey summarises his experience in one sentence: “Frankl used the human endowment of self-awareness to discover a fundamental principle about the nature of man: Between stimulus and response, man has the freedom to choose.

Now, I used this extreme example not to make you a zombie who shuts himself from the outside world in his own imaginary one, but to make you realise how much of a power of choice do we really have, what a wide variety of reaction patterns we possess.  It is not a situation that has power over us, it is our own self that can allow or not to be influenced by it; our own concession is the real boss here.

Is it possible to exercise self-awareness to the level of usability in every-day situations? Of course, but it requires patience, deep involvement and regular practice. There are many sites devoted to self-awareness, but the only draw-back is that meditation practitioners focus mainly on our body and thought-free state of mind, psychologists draw your attention to self-exploration whereas neurologists suggest brain stimulation practices.

Below, I have chosen exercises that are a mixture of all those approaches, and so you will find: physical exercises that raise our body control awareness, self-reflection practice set together with brain exercises which appeal to our left and right hemisphere (analytical and emotional one).

 

Physical

Gaining control over our body is a very important step in gaining control over our responses to certain triggers stimulating our reactions. Very often tense muscles increase the level of anger, stress or fear. It is vital to know how to control our body in order to control our negative emotions.

The very basic exercise raising the awareness of your body is to sit, lean back and close your eyes trying to recognize what parts of your body are tense. Now try to picture a certain situation and do the same. For me, stressful situations tense my neck muscles whereas anger releasing ones my stomach muscles.

The next step is to lie on the bed tightening and relaxing different parts of your body. With time, you will notice that you gain access to more and more muscles, even the ones that probably you did not know that existed. The more muscles you can consciously tighten, the more probable it is that you can also relax them on demand, which is the overall aim of this practice.

 

Self-Reflection

It is very important to be able to name your feelings, and to know yourself thoroughly including all your Achilles’ heels. Here, I would like to present three exercises that increase your level of self-esteem and influence your objectivity towards yourself.

 

Ex.1. The Victory Log (on the basis of Mike Brescia’s e-book Today Is Your Day To Win)

The overall aim of this exercise is to raise your level of confidence in stressful situations. Your task is to think about every little or big success that you have ever achieved throughout your life, and make a list of them on the piece of paper which you can carry around with you at all times. There is no time limit: from your early childhood up till now, nor is there any level of achievement: everything counts! Have you ever dated a hottie? Put it on your list. Did you climb a really tall tree when you were 10? It also makes a list. Did your boss compliment your work? Yes, that’s very much listable.

Now, in every situation that makes you feel uneasy, stressed or lost, you will take out the list and read it. The further you walk down the memory lane of your achievements, the lower is the level of your stress and higher is the level of confidence you gain.

 

Ex. 2. Self-Pros and Self-Cons

Listing your strengths and limitations enables you to work on the latter. Personally, my list of cons is considerably longer than pros, but it gives me motivation to work on them in order to cross them out from the list or change their position from con side to pro one.

Being aware of your qualities also helps you recognize certain triggers that influence your negative emotions. For instance, if you have recently discovered that you are a lost case of a perfectionist, it is more probable that in the future you will not get irritated by your son’s recklessness in colouring within the lines, since you know that those feelings stem from your personal weakness, and your negative emotions are in this case misdirected.

 

Ex. 3. Post Argument Objective Concluding

This exercise will practice your objectivity towards yourself, and hopefully in the future will prevent you from reacting improperly to a certain situation.

Think of a recent argument that you had, and look at it as objectively as you can. Write down all the possible reactions that you could have had, everything that comes to your head, do not judge it just write with the flow of your mind.

Now, look at the list, and divide the reactions into emotional and cold-blooded – was your reaction emotional or cold-blooded? If emotional, try to figure out what factor triggered this emotion remembering that our feelings are personal and we should not be subjected to them.

When you are done pondering on the triggers, look at the list again, and find the most appropriate reaction, universal to every human being, not only you.

 

Brain Stimulation Practice

This exercise will put you in touch of both sides of your brain, the one that is responsible for solving mathematical equations, analytical and comparative thinking and the overall use of logic, and the one that steers our emotions, imagination, creativity and artistic skills.

Your task is to write down a word that comes to your mind and describe it both ways:

  • using an intellectual and factual approach to it like grammatical definition, historical facts, linguistic diagnose, semantic description, etc.
  • using your emotional response like personal experience connected to this word,  feelings that you attribute to it, desires that are awaken by the word, or stories that comes to your mind when thinking of it

Learning the difference between subjective and objective response to a word is a milestone in raising the level of your self-awareness. It is a simple word for now, but in the future it may be a whole sequence of situations.

The examples of exercises shown above require a deep sense of self-involvement and determination. You have to fully open yourself to yourself, and understand your ulterior motives, the unique reasoning of your mind and how your body reacts to external factors. It is difficult to admit that we are fallible, but I think that this is the first big step in the difficult process of self-improvement.  So just to finalize my thoughts, I would like to leave you with a quote of Doctor Covey who said that:

“To change ourselves effectively, we first had to change our perceptions.”

5 Secrets of Improving Your Work Flow

stockvault-pen-on-diagram103903Being an effective person usually means being able to do many different chores simultaneously in very little time. However, many people, including researchers, believe that multitasking is a myth.

Adam Gazzaley a professor of neurology form the University of California claims that human brain is extremely sensitive to external stimuli, and is able to cope with such interruptions only to a limited extent. Every little distraction (phone call, sudden loud noise, etc.) overloads and resets our brain which has to work hard to recover rapidly all the data necessary for the completion of the task we were working on.

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‘Just one more wall post…’

At the same time, people are not able to resist “friendly nudges,” as Professor Gazzaley calls them. Most of us do not switch our phones off when working on something important. Not only that; we tend to answer it every time it calls, diminishing our mental capability to finish what we started. However, nowadays it is not phone calls as much as social media that is most threatening to our brain proper functioning. According to Nucleus Research, 77% of employees use Facebook during work hours which decreases work productivity by 1.5%.

Interrupting your own work flow is like shooting into your own team’s goalpost. You use more energy upon finishing any task which makes you tired quicker than normally. You are more easily distracted which again leads to loads of errors, frustration and general hatred directed at your work, work mates and quite possibly your boss – the usual reason for all world’s evilness.

So, is there any way that you can keep your work flow going smoothly without having to resign from every pleasurable parts of your working time?

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Perfect Timing – the Key to Success

The secret of smooth, efficient performance is strict time management and self-control. The very first step is to organise your duties according to their relevance. Here, with help and advice comes Stephen Covey with his 4 Quadrants of Time Management, starting with the explanation that the real “challenge is not to manage time, but to manage ourselves.” The key to success is strong will power to proceed according to what we planned.

To make a perfect plan, we should divide our tasks into urgent and important. Very often if something is urgent it is not important, like a phone call or a colleague who wants our opinion or help. In certain situations, when our work flow is in danger we have to learn to say ‘not right now.’

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Change Your Aim

Obviously never answering the phone or being too assertive towards your work mates is not a good plan for business development nor for working relationships, but we have to be conscious that these actions are only a reaction to a present pressing matter. Being efficient is by all means not living in a moment; it is all about Prevention and Preparation, which combined eliminate Urgent. Too often we tend to procrastinate if we come across a matter that is important but has extended deadline, instead of including it into our schedule and work on it step by step.

Thinking in perspective enables to see probable obstacles and to create an emergency plan for them. In the long run, it avoids us to make unnecessary mistakes, which disrupts our work flow and even sometimes forces us to take a step back.

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A Proper System of Reward

A schedule is another important efficiency enhancer. If we prioritise our goals into short and long-term, organise our work day, we feel more secure, our intentions are more flesh-and-blood, and we can tackle them one by one. Crossing out accomplished tasks gives us warm feeling of reward, and motivates us to do more.

But why not take the reward further? I say, do a task and take five to charge your batteries. In this short period of time you can visit Facebook, have a chat with a colleague or just eat some snack. It is important that the break is long enough to get you relaxed but short enough not to make you disconnected from your working mode.

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Order Outside, Order Inside

To be organized means to have everything under control. Everything includes your working environment which should reflect your inner order. Clean desk, neatly organized files, both in your filing cabinet and in your computer, not only make you work faster, but also create an aura of being in control which increases your self-assurance, making you eager to achieve as much as you can in order to prove yourself.

To be effective, you have to learn how. It is more time-consuming at first, but it brings many incentives. You have to learn how to organise your schedule in a way that is helpful to you, hence you need to experiment a bit. Remember that your planning kit should be your servant and it is not you who should adapt to it. A schedule tailored to your needs, self-control and harnessed time management with time will make you feel balanced with your workload, help making value-based decisions, and enhance opportunity-minded rather than problem-minded way of thinking.

Dear Reader, I am sure that you already have many other ways of coping with time management and work efficiency. Would you like to share your secrets of your perfect working day? Or maybe your system of reward is worth mentioning … 🙂

What Hazing and Marketing Have in Common

Portrait of a smiling young businessman with gun.The phenomenon of bullying is dark and often traumatic, especially for those who experienced it. It is out there, present and reaching out with its greedy hands for all its potential victims. There are many web pages devoted to bullying, on which psychologists and trauma experts try to explain the psychology of a bully or provide their victims with psychological shields against them. Even so, this topic remains carefully avoided in every-day conversations being still on a top 10 list of stress reasons.

Why is it so shady a topic then? Because very often bullies grow into mentally stable, respectful members of our society, and who knows maybe your current interlocutor is one of them, and one does not want to poke a beast. Besides, it is kind of lame to admit that you were bullied as a child, isn’t it? We are, after all a bunch of out-grown children trying to play the game of adulthood, but possessively holding on to our past traumas that are believed to have shaped us the way we are.

One of the most common examples of bullying is hazing, which occurs in almost every social group formed as an in-group with distinctive purpose (military units, firemen, policemen,  etc.) or governed by distinctive set of rules (fraternities, sub-cultural groups, etc.). Perceived pejoratively, mostly due to many documented cases of extreme hazing that resulted in unnecessary deaths of its participants, it is undoubtedly one of the most interesting sociological phenomena that incorporates many psychological tools used on a daily basis by marketers, door-to-door salesmen and many religious groups which mission is to gain new church members by spreading their beliefs worldwide (Krishna religion, Jehovah witnesses, etc.).

Fraternities often offer their brothers or sisters-to-be the opportunity to live for a couple of days among the brotherhood/sisterhood just to “check it out.” Sounds innocent, but in fact it is a very common influence technique mostly practiced by traveling salesmen or car salons. By being allowed to use something or to live somewhere for a trial period, a bond is created.  This bond is a proverbial foot-in-a-door that creates a crack in a person’s mind, which later on can be easily widened and exploited.

The crack happens when your subconsciousness has already taken the decision and now your brain will do anything to stay loyal to it.  Why would it do such a thing? Just because it wants to be consistent with the rest of your body.

Every human being is driven by consistency. Despite Emerson’s well-known words that “consistency is a hobgoblin of little minds,” this trait of human character actually serves to protect our brain from too many stimuli by appealing to its ability of forming logical connections. Not bad at all, right?

It only starts to be bad, when it is used by people who know the right buttons to be pushed in order to exploit this ability for their advantage.

The more you use something the more attached you become. One day of using a hover with aggressively advertised super powers or driving a car that is clearly too big for your needs will probably make you forget about your initial opinion. Doubt will change its place with certainty. You will start to see things that diminish your original reservations. You yourself will become the biggest enemy of your logic.

And the same simple rule stands behind this sinister business of hazing. The harsher the hazing the bigger commitment to the group is created. The brain tries to justify the effort, and a person starts to see a particular social unit as unique, worthwhile and attractive. This psychological phenomenon is so deeply rooted in our subconsciousness that people tend to perceive groups without any initiation rites as boring, invaluable and unsatisfactory, what was shown by the research conducted by Elliot Aronson and Judson Mills in 1959.

They conducted a series of interviews with people who had just been admitted to some college groups. The researchers give an example of a woman who chose a sex discussion group, and based her choice entirely on the fact that she had to endure severely embarrassing initiation rites. She called this group far more interesting whereas the other ones that did not haze their participant “worthless.”

How to get rid of hazing while even participants vote for it? Subconscious or not, those are their choices after all…

William Styron, a writer and a former marine looks back at his own agonies of initiation rites as a collective of activities that made him “resilient, (…) braver and better.” He also claims that without hazing it would be impossible to achieve the same level of trust and camaraderie that exists among the marines. They all are aware of the fact that they all went through a “training nightmare” and this rough experience unites the in-group at the same time secluding it from the rest of the world by its uniqueness.

As much as many people hate hazing and are against it, I do not see it uprooted from our society any time soon, since it works almost on the verge of our subconscious selves, taking control of us if we want it or not, regardless of the side we are on: hazing or being hazed.

Yes, there have been many cases of deaths, and that’s how generally nowadays people associate hazing with. Unfortunately, in every social group there would be a case of a mentally distorted brute acting out his/her aggression. So maybe the ideal preventive measure would be to try to root out those unhealthy cases of aggressors, instead of a tradition which fighting off is, I am afraid, like Don Quixote’s duels with windmills – futile in its enormity.

 

Reference:

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Robert B. Cialdini, PhD., ‘Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Collins Business (2007), pp. 57-103