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Do You Believe in Intuition?

 “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”—Albert Einstein

Intuition is something that cannot be proven; despite this, many people believe in it and use it for decision making. It’s often referred to as a “gut feeling,” as if it resides inside the body like an invisible organ, or a “flash of insight,” like a lightning bolt in the brain. So, what is intuition? Does anyone know? Do you believe in it or do you debunk it as New Age woo-woo?

Cognitive scientists—experts who study the mind and its processes—treat intuitive insights as quick, initial assessments of a situation. The brain recognizes repetitive patterns, especially in areas that we focus on and have experience with. The more you know about a subject or situation, the more familiar you are with it, and the faster your brain can make assessments and find solutions based on your experience. In other words, intuition comes as a by-product of knowledge and experience. For example, an experienced physician can often tell something is wrong with a patient before running a single test. A law enforcement officer can “feel” if something is “off” about a crime scene, even if he or she cannot specifically say what is wrong.

Since intuition draws on what you know and brings past experiences into your present awareness, it can help you form possible solutions that logic and linear thinking may not reveal. It can be a valuable tool in decision making.

Does this mean you should rely on intuition alone? Probably not. But it does mean that intuition has a valid place in decision making. Take those “gut feelings” and “flashes of insight” seriously and evaluate this with your more rational mind for better decision making and problem solving. (See my blog post Tune into Your Intuition for more information.)


How to Calm Angry Customers

At some point, everyone must deal with angry customers who may use a variety of tactics to show their displeasure. Next time you are faced with angry customers, keep these tips in mind to resolve the issue and consistently deliver quality customer service.

  • Stay Calm

One of the greatest challenges in customer service is staying calm when a person is angry. Angry customers often need to vent until they have released their frustration. The key is to not take customers’ behavior personally. They are only reacting to an event, and their anger has nothing to do with who you are. Focus on uncovering the issue behind the anger and do what is necessary to resolve it.

  • Practice Active Listening

Allow irate customers to speak as long as they need while you actively listen to their complaints. Try to avoid interrupting or offering a solution too soon. Acknowledge them by nodding or stating that you understand. Tell them that you are sorry about the situation, even if it is not your fault. Once they have released the majority of their anger, repeat their concerns to let them know that you have fully understood their complaint. (See my blog post Listen and Learn for more information.)

  • Agree to a Solution

There are several tactics that can be used to arrive at a solution with angry customers. Sometimes, customers will have a solution in mind that may be acceptable. If your company already has a policy in place for the specific situation, you can offer that solution to them. After arriving at a solution, take action immediately so that the issue is resolved as quickly as possible and follow up with customers at a later date to ensure continued satisfaction.

Remember that there is often a lesson in every customer encounter. As Bill Gates once said, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”


Discussing Problem Behaviors for Improvement

Dealing with employee performance issues is one of your most challenging tasks, yet it is important to respond quickly when problem behaviors affect productivity. Often, employees don’t realize how their behavior affects their work and the team, but quickly turn things around when they realize the impact.

Here are some tips for addressing problem behaviors with employees that will set them on the path toward improvement.

  • Get Ready

Once you have identified a performance issue, examine the situation to discover the cause of the problem. Is there an attendance issue, does the employee require additional training, and has this situation occurred in the past? With this information in mind, you will be ready to set a time and place for a formal discussion regarding the behavior.

  • Meet with the Employee

Begin the discussion by acknowledging the employee’s contributions to the team and validate the importance of his or her work. Then, state the problem in clear terms and explain how the behavior is affecting the team. Remain calm and avoid emotional statements, especially if the employee becomes defensive. Keep the employee focused on the behavior that is negatively affecting his or her work performance.

  • Provide an Action Plan

Before ending the discussion, put an action plan in place that outlines what steps the employee will take to improve. Include training classes, mentoring, and additional monitoring, if necessary. Finally, establish a clear time line for each step that needs to be completed, your expectations for results, and any consequences for noncompliance. Make it clear that the main goal is to ensure a productive work environment for everyone.

  • Document and Follow Up

Document the discussion, so patterns can be identified if the problem recurs. Be sure to follow up with the employee according to the time line in the action plan and offer support.

When problem behaviors in the workplace are handled quickly and effectively, the employee’s work performance can show signs of improvement almost immediately. Be sure to acknowledge positive changes and offer support to continue to build a solid track record of improvement. By being proactive and handling problem behaviors early on, you can maintain the efficiency of your department and help your team be positively productive.


Communicating with Different Generations

How each generation prefers to communicate is one of the major areas of conflict in the workplace. How well you communicate among generations and how well you teach generations to communicate with each other are major factors in creating effective, productive cross-generational teams. The key to success is knowing the communication preferences for each generation and using a variety of media to reach your entire team. Here are some quick tips you can use to improve communication with different generations.

Traditionals (1922-1943/46)

  • Use high touch, not high tech.Many Traditionals are uncomfortable with high-tech communication media and distrust messages delivered this way. They prefer to communicate in person—one-on-one, at meetings where everyone is present in a room.

Baby Boomers (1943-1964)

  • Keep communication two-way. Communication is a shared activity and can come from anyone, anywhere. From face-to-face meetings to coffee shops, Boomers like to interact, express their opinions, and share their expertise.

Gen X (1964-1980)

  • Send it via email and text.Gen Xs prefer email and instant messaging to in-person meetings, which are a “waste of time.” As long as the result is achieved, why meet?

Gen Y (1980-1995)

  • High tech, not high touch. Keep communication short, fast, and informal.Instant messaging, texting, email, social media are all preferred communication media. Why talk when you can type?

Gen Z (1995-2010)

  • High tech, social media.  They absorb information quickly.  They want all types of feedback – positive and negative – as along as it gives them what they need to improve and move forward.

Understanding each generation’s attitudes about communication can help lessen differences and prevent misunderstandings. Think about the people you work with and your customers from each of these generations and decide how you can communicate with them more effectively.


How to Take Good Meeting Notes

The ability to take clear, effective notes at meetings is important for productivity and professionalism. You have to listen for key messages, capture them quickly, and be able to translate the notes later! Here are some tips to help you improve note taking.

  • Go Old School. While some people prefer to take notes on an tablet, laptop, or smartphone, these devices create a separation between you and the speaker. It gives the impression that you are working on other things rather than participating in the meeting. Also, it can be hard to capture notes on a device if someone is speaking quickly since they will speak faster than you can type.

Many experts agree that using an old-fashioned pen and paper for note taking is accepted practice—at least for now! If you do use electronic devices, make sure you turn off incoming alerts.

  • Use Shorthand. Create your own shorthand or learn standard shorthand. Those who frequently take notes, especially notes for meeting minutes, use shorthand. This includes visual note taking, such as drawing an arrow from a task to the name of someone at the meeting. You can also use color coding, for example assign a color to each person and code tasks by the person’s assigned color code: “Task A—Red, Task-B—Green.”
  • Capture Key Points.Start before the meeting by checking the agenda and set up your notes with a new page for each agenda item. Place the agenda topic at the top of the page and fill in important details as each item comes up. Listen for key messages and note them as briefly as possible on the appropriate page.
  • Write Up Your Notes ASAP. As soon as possible after the meeting ends, write up your notes while they are fresh in your memory.

Taking good notes is a useful skill at every level of your career and helps you become more positively productive.


Remember to Remember

Short-term memory is how the brain stores small pieces of information that you need to access right away, like someone’s name or title. According to experts, the maximum you can store in short-term memory and have immediate access to is about seven pieces of information. Long-term memory, in the other hand, stores the information you don’t need right away, and long-term memory has much greater capacity than short-term memory.

Keeping your brain healthy with physical activity, puzzle solving, eating right, sleeping well, and improving your general well-being can improve your memory, and so can these tips.

  • Practice focusing more and multi-tasking less. Paying attention helps your brain handle information more efficiently. If you need to memorize something or remember key points for a speech or report, focus completely on that activity to improve your ability to remember it later.
  • Break down large pieces of information into smaller sets of items. Remember a speech by organizing key points into sets of three or four related points. Learn each set one at a time. When you have learned three sets, practice them until you can easily remember them, and then tackle the next three sets.
  • Engage your senses to imprint the memory. When you meet someone, shake their hand, say their name aloud, deliberately see something significant about their appearance, and ask them a question. This involves several of your senses and will improve your ability to remember the person later.

Improving one’s memory is not just for older people. Anyone can use these tips to keep their brains sharp!



Simple Tools for Greater Productivity

“Life is not complex. We are complex. Life is simple, and the simple thing is the right thing.”         Oscar Wilde

Keeping things simple is a good way to be organized and positively productive. Here are some simple productivity tools to implement:

  • Set priorities and take action to support your most important goals each day.
  • Learn to delegate effectively. When you delegate, you gain time to focus on your most important activities, and you have an opportunity to develop employees. See my blog post Delegate for Results.
  • Stop multi-tasking. Instead focus on a single task and give it all you’ve got until it’s completed. Focusing is one of the most important skills you can use to get things done better, faster, and easier.
  • Organize your workspace for productivity. Keep items you use daily within arm’s reach of your computer and file away documents as you finish with them.
  • Optimize technology tools, so they fully support you and your team and improve productivity.
  • Stay fit and healthy to be as productive as possible. Eat well, exercise, get enough sleep, stay hydrated, and make time for non-work activities.
  • Start the day with planning the night before. See my blog post An Easy Morning Starts the Night Before for some tips.

Choose one of these tips, focus on it, and make it a habit—then add another and another to help simplify your work and be more positively productive!




Don’t Run Away from Conflict!

No one likes conflict, especially with team members or coworkers. When a conflict arises, many people avoid handling it, and sometimes, that is the best way to go. Some conflicts resolve themselves with time, and some are related to short-term stresses that go away when the stress does. While avoidance may work in the short term, it is not a good solution for conflicts that persist or that escalate.

Good leaders and managers know when to let a conflict resolve itself and when they need to step in. One tactic for addressing conflict is to use your positional power to resolve it. While this can work, it should be used only when absolutely necessary, such as in matters of safety or security or if tempers are raging and people need time to settle down. As a long-term solution, it doesn’t work. Unless the source of the conflict is dealt with, it can simmer and eventually boil over.

Addressing conflict requires you to have a conversation with everyone involved to discover the underlying cause of the conflict and determine how to handle it. Require people to be objective and refrain from making personal or derogatory comments. Focus them on behaviors, explain how the conflict is harming the team’s ability to be positively productive, and state the need to resolve the situation.

Bring people together for a facilitated conversation to focus everyone on a common goal. Reframe the situation and encourage them to find solutions that eliminate the conflict and that everyone finds acceptable.

Handling conflict requires resilience and strong communication skills, and it is a hallmark of professionalism. See my blog post Build Resilience for more information.


Don’t Let Someone Hold You Up!

No, this is not about crime prevention. When people you work with don’t give you what you need when you need it, they are holding you up. In many cases, you often don’t have authority over them and can’t control their behavior. What you need is their cooperation. So what can you do?

  • Never give people the actual date you need something. Even the most accountable people can forget what you need when you need it or be tied up juggling their own priorities. Always give people a deadline that is a day or two before you actually need the information.
  • Make more assertive requests. Frame requests in a way that requires commitment. For example, don’t say, “This is due by Friday.” Instead say, “This is due by Friday, can you get it to me by noon?” When someone commits to a specific time for a deliverable, they are more likely to do it.
  • Remind them when it’s due. A day or two before it’s due, send a quick email, make a call, or drop by their cube and say, “Are you still able to get [fill in] to me by noon, Friday?”
  • Thank them.When someone gives you what you need when you need it, say thanks even if it happens every month or week. A little appreciation goes a long way for cooperation. 

What if you don’t get it by noon Friday? If you followed tip 1, you have a couple days of room. Politely remind the person they agreed to get it to you and explain the impact it has by being late. If someone chronically fails to get you what you need, you may have to talk to your manager since this situation is affecting your ability to be positively productive.


When You’re Just Too Tired to Work…

Let’s face it, some days you’re just too tired to get anything done. Maybe you partied a bit too much the night before, or you were up with a sick child, or the neighbors kept you up with their loud music. Whatever the reason, you still have to drag yourself into the office.

How do you get anything done when all you want is a nap?

  • Kick off the day with a healthy breakfast.Avoid sugar, carbs, and the fast food drive-thru that can spike your blood sugar. The quick boost of energy you get right away won’t stay with you and when it’s gone, your energy will crash. Instead, power up with proteins and fiber, like oatmeal with milk or eggs and multi-grain toast.
  • Yes, I know, you’re tired!I’m not telling you to hit the gym, but a brisk ten-minute walk can boost your oxygen intake, get the blood flowing, and energize you. Also see my blog post Sitting Is Bad for Productivity and Your Health.
  • Drink water, not coffee.While you might reach for the coffee pot and down a few cups to pick you up, coffee dehydrates you and can make you feel more tired if you drink too much. Switch to water to for a better, more hydrating pick-me-up.

The best cure, of course, is a good night’s sleep. If you experience insomnia frequently, a trip to your doctor is probably a good idea.