Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Take the First Step

by Gilda Bonanno LLC http://www.gildabonanno.com/

I love fortune cookies - they are my favorite part of getting Chinese take-out food! The message in my fortune cookie yesterday read: "He who climbs a ladder must begin at the first step."

It reminded me of the more well-known message from the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu, "the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."

How often do you get fail to start something because it seems so overwhelming?

Any book on project management or goal setting includes the recommendation to break a big project or goal down into smaller steps to make it more manageable. Once you have outlined the steps, then you actually have to take the first step, however big or small it is.

The next time you are feeling overwhelmed by the project in front of you, or a goal that seems impossible to achieve, just take that first step. You'll feel good that you did and you'll find that it makes taking the next step easier.

Gilda Bonanno's blog www.gildabonanno.blogspot.com

Saturday, March 28, 2009

5 Ways to Be a Better Listener

by Gilda Bonanno LLC http://www.gildabonanno.com/

Listening is a crucial skill for professional and personal success. Yet it seems like such a basic skill - we all know how to listen, right? But although this skill is basic in theory, it's difficult to execute. Yes, everyone can listen, but how many people can listen well?

Communication is a two-way street - there is a sender (the speaker) and there is a receiver (the listener). And if all goes well, the message that is sent is the same message that is received. As the receiver/listener, it is your job to make sure you understand what the sender/speaker is trying to communicate.

Why is listening important? First, it shows respect to the speaker. When was the last time someone listened - really listened - to you? Didn't it make you feel good, like you had something worth listening to? That's how you want to make others feel when they speak to you. Business and life would be a lot easier if we showed each other more respect.

Second, if you listen well, you can learn something. If you ask a good question and then open your ears and close your mouth, you'll be amazed at what people will tell you. This point was driven home by one of my favorite colleagues, Nancy Urell, when she shared a wise saying that she heard: "When you talk, you hear what you already know. When you listen, you learn something new." (Nancy Urell, Principal, Career Corner Associates, a training and career management firm, http://www.careercorner.net/) What new things could you learn if you stopped to listen?

Here are 5 ways to improve your listening skills:

1. Focus. If you decide that someone is worth listening to, then give the speaker your full attention. Turn away from the computer and set your cell phone to vibrate. We may like to think we can multi-task, but we really can't do it with tasks, and we certainly can't do it with people. You can't read your email or read the newspaper and listen to someone at the same time. Sure, you might hear what they are saying, and you may even catch the meaning of some of it, but you are not really listening.

2. Show that you are listening. Make eye contact, ask relevant questions and avoid distracting behavior like yawning or checking your watch frequently.

3. For a few minutes, let it be all about the other person. Don't use the time to think about your rebuttal. It's important to remember that the function of listening is to understand what the other person is saying, not necessarily to agree with it. Yes, you can disagree, but first you have to understand the other's point of view. And sometimes, just listening and having the other person feel "heard" will be enough to defuse any disagreement.

4. Read between the lines. Don't just listen to the words – also tune into the non-verbal communications. Watch the other's body language and become aware of the feelings behind the words. If you're not sure, ask questions to check that your understanding matches theirs. Usually you have to deal first with the person's feelings, whether anger, frustration or joy, before you can move on to problem-solving or resolution.

5. Resist the urge to interrupt. Ah, this is a tough one for many of us, me included. Sometimes we're so agitated by what we've heard, or we're so excited, that we feel we have to cut them off with "but that's not what happened" or "you think that's bad, wait till you hear what happened to me!" Interrupting tells the other person that you think your words are more important than theirs, which is not the message you want to send. As with any skill development, practicing helps.

As Stephen Covey reminds us in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, "seek first to understand, then to be understood." The next time you're in a conversation with a colleague, a loved one or even someone you've just met, practice active listening. You'll be amazed at how that simple habit can improve your relationships and give you opportunities to learn.

Gilda Bonanno's blog www.gildabonanno.blogspot.com

Thursday, March 26, 2009

You CAN Get Better at Public Speaking

by Gilda Bonanno LLC http://www.gildabonanno.com/

As a presentation skills coach and trainer, I have had the opportunity to observe presentations by many people from all backgrounds and walks of life.

It is my firm belief - and experience has not contradicted me - that while some people are more naturally comfortable with public speaking, EVERYONE can become competent at it, IF they spend the time and work on the right things. Yes, this means YOU, too!

We all know people who are very knowledgeable about a topic but can't communicate effectively. We also know people who don't know very much, but they "talk good." Each group of people can only get so far in their careers before they hit a roadblock. Your goal is to have both knowledge AND the ability to communicate that knowledge effectively.

The ability to communicate effectively what you know is the one skill that will differentiate you from everyone else. It doesn't matter what your background is, where you went to college (or even IF you went to college) or where you grew up - if you are an expert at something and can communicate that expertise effectively, you will succeed. Period.

Make this the year you get better at public speaking and eliminate the roadblock in your path to success and confidence.

Gilda Bonanno's blog www.gildabonanno.blogspot.com

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Indulge Your Imagination

by Gilda Bonanno http://www.gildabonanno.com/

"Indulge your imagination in every possible flight." - Jane Austen

Great advice from one of my favorite authors! What would happen if you actually indulged your imagination? Or if you actually allowed your mind to be free to consider all the possibilities rather than immediately coming up with reasons why your ideas will not work?

There is a concept in improv comedy called "Yes And." It means that when another performer "makes an offer" by declaring something, you should respond by accepting that offer and building on it in the spirit of "Yes And" rather than denying it. For example, if the other person says, "here we are in Paris," and you respond with "no, we're in London," the scene doesn't advance. Instead, if you respond with, "yes and I love all this French wine," you have helped to move that scene forward.

"Yes And" can be a very helpful concept to use when indulging your imagination or participating in brainstorming at work. If the goal is to generate new ideas and solutions, it helps to allow or require people to respond to ideas only with "yes and here's how can we make that work..." Otherwise, the automatic response often will be "no, that can't work" or "yes, but" which is the same as "no."

You want to indulge the imagination and pursue the art of the possible - then later you can cull the ideas and subject them to a reality check. Most great ideas start out as wildly improbable, "crazy" flights of the imagination.

Gilda Bonanno's blog www.gildabonanno.blogspot.com

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Color Your Way to Creativity

by Gilda Bonanno LLC http://www.gildabonanno.com/

The Crayola crayons box of 64 (with built-in sharpener) is 51 years old! The first Crayola crayons were introduced by Binney & Smith in 1903 in the following colors - Black, Brown, Orange, Violet, Blue, Green, Red and Yellow - and the box of 64 debuted in 1958.

Colorful crayons are fun for children - and they can also be a great way for adults to unleash their creativity. A few years ago, I bought myself a box of 96 crayons. Writing or drawing with those great colors helps me feel more creative and lets me tap into parts of my brain that usually are dormant.

The next time you want to brainstorm ideas or look at things from a different perspective, put down your regular pen or pencil and pick up a crayon or marker in your favorite color.

And if you're in the mood for some nostalgia, visit www.crayola.com and click on Color Corner (under About Crayola) and see which colors you remember and which have been retired. For the record, the following colors were retired and "enshrined in the Crayola Hall of Fame on August 7, 1990" - green blue, orange red, orange yellow, violet blue, maize, lemon yellow, blue gray and raw umber.

Gilda Bonanno's blog www.gildabonanno.blogspot.com