Active Listening

I recently took some training on Interview techniques and Active Listening.  It was an eye-opener, to say the least!!

The difference it makes when someone is really listening and paying attention vs that same person doing something else while you are speaking makes an amazing difference to the speaker.  Much more than I thought - if you don't believe me try this little exercise with someone yourself.
  1. Write down two different topics.  The first one should be one that you are passionate about and could speak about for hours if given the chance.  For the second topic, choose something that you really don't care about and/or have no interest in.
  2. Get a little timer (60seconds should do) and have someone sit close to you.
  3. You are first going to speak about the topic that interests you ... however the person you are speaking to should not be paying attention to you ... they can doodle on a piece of paper, answer their phone, check emails and speak to someone else.  See how long you last and can keep on speaking about your chosen topic before you completely lose your train of thought and start to wonder yourself ... I doubt you'll make it to the 60second mark if the other person is ignoring you properly!
  4. Now choose the topic that doesn't interest you.  The person you are speaking to should actively listen, however ... they will be questioning you and showing a keen interest in what you are saying.  I bet that you'll find you have a lot more to say about this second topic than you thought you did and that it will be a lot more enjoyable!
This is a small example of the power that another person has.  Remember it when you are interviewing other people when you are giving your staff an appraisal or doing a 1-1 with them.  You need to be paying full attention and not letting distractions get in your way as you will be doing yourself and the person you are speaking to a severe disservice.

Money and Your Team

As much as you'd like your team to work for free and to have the highest quality staff at the lowest possible prices ... it will never happen.  You might tell yourself that you're doing what you're doing because you love the job and the company that you work for and that your staff and employees should feel the same - but - let's be honest ... you and your team are doing it for the money.  You probably have a family that you are looking after, and if not, you're doing this because you have your own personal interests that you wish to pursue.

Now with that being said ... the one fact of life that we can never get away from is tax.  Unless you live in a part of the world that provides tax-free income, you are just like the rest of us giving away 30% - 50% (or even more!) of everything you earn to the Government. 

Remember the famous phrase from Benjamin Franklin in his letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, 1789, which was reprinted in The Works of Benjamin Franklin, 1817:
"'In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes."

Despite the frustration, you might feel about this, there really isn't too much you can do to resolve this situation.  All you can do is hope to continually grow your gross income so that the tiny amount you get to pay all your bills with at the end of the month increases by another small fraction.

Well, guess what ... the British Government has now introduced a new tax on phone lines.  This tax is designed to fund the expansion of broadband services across the country and improve the overall infrastructure of next-generation services.  At first glance, this small extra tax (at £6/year - approx US$10 per year) does not seem like such a big deal and makes sense as you need a phone line to have Internet services - right????

Actually WRONG!!!  The stupid thing that has obviously not been considered and thought through properly is the fact that a large proportion of current Broadband Internet AND Telephone users in Britain utilize a Cable service ... so in essence, the people using the greatest amount of service and access are the ones that WON'T have to pay for it!!  In addition, there are millions of Britain's that don't even have a computer yet and they will still have to pay for this tax also! 

Now, there is obviously not too much you can do to change the overall taxation system of the country that you work with/in (although it is definitely true that even a small voice speaking loudly and with conviction makes a difference) ... you can, however, ensure that the way your staff are treated and compensated is in their best interests and works to their favor.  Make sure that if they work out of hours they get paid for it.  If they do extra work for the company they get the appropriate compensation and if they are entitled to a holiday - they take it!  You need to look out for your team and if you do it right and do it regularly they will look out for you too!

When does Customer Service End?

Have you ever noticed that the small entrepreneur will go that extra mile, while the big businesses don't bother?  I guess the easiest explanation for this is that these smaller business people are actually closer to their customers and are able to realize the importance and value of customer service in driving back repeat business.  A good read I found that demonstrates this is here.

The question is though ... why don't the big boys?

The easy answer is that they are too far removed, but that is not really getting to the heart of the issue ... more and more often you see businesses and senior staff that think they are where they are forever and that nothing is going to change.  However, the one good thing that came out of this recent recession is the realization that this is just not the case.  If you don't care about your customers and have a good business model to boot ... you won't be in business for long!  I know that's a bit harsh and a lot of innocent people suffered but maybe the realization that growth is not the final objective is a lesson worth learning.

It is essential that all businesses provide an appropriate level of after-sales SERVICE to their customers.  This should be more than just a phrase, but something that should actually deliver VALUE.  

The easiest way to measure this is to ask your customers!  Don't be afraid to send out surveys and questionnaires... but make sure that you pay attention to the responses and that you do something about the issues your customers are telling you they don't like.

Mind Mapping

What is Mind Mapping?  In its simplest form, it is a technique whereby you use a diagram to represent words and ideas.  Linked to this are other tasks or items that are related to the previous item in a hierarchical fashion.  By arranging the elements intuitively according to their relative importance it is easy to quickly branch out from the initial (main) point into lots of previously unexplored and unexpected avenues.

Letting your mind “wander” in this fashion is extremely useful from a brainstorming” point of view and the creation and use of mind maps have been shown to be useful in the study, problem-solving and decision-making processes.

Free downloadable Mind Mapping Software includes a program called FreeMind.  As the name implies this is a free application and one that is extremely user-friendly and intuitive.

FreeMind is a premier free mind-mapping software written in Java. The recent development has hopefully turned it into high productivity tool. We are proud that the operation and navigation of FreeMind is faster than that of MindManager because of one-click "fold / unfold" and "follow link" operations.

So you want to write a completely new metaphysics? Why don't you use FreeMind? You have a tool at hand that remarkably resembles the tray slips of Robert Pirsig, described in his sequel to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance called Lila. Do you want to refactor your essays in a similar way you would refactor software? Or do you want to keep personal knowledge base, which is easy to manage? Why don't you try FreeMind? Do you want to prioritize, know where you are, where you've been and where you are heading, as Stephen Covey would advise you? Have you tried FreeMind to keep track of all the things that are needed for that?

If your company restricts access to downloadable applications, I would suggest you try a program called – available for use and access online, it is not as pretty as FreeMind, however, the fact that you can access it anywhere you can access the Internet is a plus in itself.  Currently, in beta, it is also a free program.  You can access it here.