Squashing the Chatterbox

What is the most energy sapping aspect to your life? For those parents out there, being a parent is probably at the top of the list. For those that manage staff it may be the constant strains of their team. Maybe it is your customers, or suppliers, or a physical thing like long-distance driving, presenting, or just long working hours. These are all common answers, however there is one underlying factor that leaves us exhausted on a daily basis. The common drain I talk about below stops us from performing efficiently and has a big impact on our ability to rest and recuperate as well.

I am referring to the mind. We’ve all got one, and the constant “chatter box” inside of our minds that seemingly never switches off can be destructive to our energy levels. I am certainly no clinical psychologist, but I have always had a rampant chatter box that stops me from actively listening, stops me from mentally being in the moment, and definitely stops me from getting quality sleep. All of this can be quite destructive, especially over a long period of time. Some of us with an overactive mind will need to manage this throughout our entire lives. And, on top of guarding our energy levels, I am a big believer that in order to manager others well we must first be able to manage our selves well first.

It is not all doom and gloom – trust me, there is a big hit of positivity to come by the end of this article. If someone with a chronic case of “chatter box syndrome” (like myself) can find ways to overcome this and restore balance, then there is hope for many out there. A useful first step is to acknowledge that this is a factor, and that time and resources need to be put into correcting this. The second step is to get active – in every which way. That is to start listening to people that have good strategies in their lives to keep their mind in a quiet calm state. The third is to find what works for you. This may take some trial and error, but just going through this process of discovery can bring benefits – knowing you are actively sourcing the best solutions for yourself will already give you one less thing to worry about.

Common tools for shutting down the chatter box include:

  • regular exercise (a little goes a long way),
  • meditation (this is next step for me – I’ll let you know how I go),
  • recognising your triggers for anger, frustration, anxiety and halting your reaction before it takes over,
  • REGULAR deep slow breathing throughout the day,
  • nature – even a walk once a week, or eating lunch in the park can be beneficial,
  • hanging out with friends, or being around people can help you find connection and gives an opportunity for you to get all of those thoughts out of your mind,
  • support groups/networks, to be around people with similar challenges can make you feel less isolated as well as gaining insight into real world solutions that work for others
  • Professional Development Coaches – provides guidance, validation, and accountability so your chatter box can take a break on the big challenges in your business

I am sure there are many more (please share in the comments), but initiating any of these into your routines will start to make a positive impact and lift energy levels. There will be other benefits that tends to come with your ability to self-manage your thoughts and emotions, which in turn makes for a happier smoother daily experience for you and those around you. Clearer thinking, better decision making, increased problem-solving capability, and an overall increased capacity in terms of performance. Most importantly energy levels will go through the roof. Add in a clean diet and a high consumption of water and your energy levels will sky rocket. Easy affordable and a potential game changer for some. This is also a huge step to being a better leader in your work and personal life. I told you there was a big hit of positivity! Start today and let us know what works for you.

Be like horses - De-Clutter your language!

I was so lucky to attend an amazingly unique training session as a participant last summer. It was held on a small horse ranch in the Yarra Valley wine country of Victoria, Australia. The session was conducted by a good friend of mine, Cheryl Cruttenden. Cheryl expertly uses horsemanship as the basis of her executive training. I found the horses a little scary to start off with (their big and I’m a big scaredy-cat – I know, I know, I know… it’s embarrassing). Once I got over my fears, the session was both insightful and valuable to highlight personal and team growth opportunities.

One of the first exercises we did was to observe a few horses grazing in a paddock and use one-word answers to describe what we were seeing. The group came up with words such as calm, eating, bullying, affectionate, slow, and dominant (amongst many other words) for different horses and their actions which played out in front of us over a ten-minute period. As Cheryl brought the team back together to discuss the descriptions she highlighted to us that only a few of the words were actually things that did in fact happen. For example, a horse that is eating grass can be described as eating. However, saying that a horse is being affectionate is an assumption. The horse is actually rubbing its neck against the horse next to it. It may have had an itch. It may have been cold. It may have been trying to shove the other horse away. We don’t know. The description is open to a wide deluge of mis-interpretations. It is this type of observation labeling that clutters our thoughts and our language with each other every day of our lives.

This fact stunned me. I was smashed in the face with the realisation that our personal and professional lives is littered with this sort of cluttered thinking and communication. If we all simply saw things for what they were, rather than guessing and assuming it would make for a reality which is clearer, more pleasant, and smoother for all concerned.

In the real world I know that as a leader we must use our instincts along with our experience of people to make tough decisions. It is a fact of life that a good leader will sometimes be forced to make decisions based on half the story, or a fraction of the facts. With this in mind, where possible this needs to be balance by recognising that there are large blank spots in what we know about given situations at hand. Here we need to acknowledge where we are making assumptions, and therefore where we need to investigate further for confirmations on facts. We also need to decipher what we are being told – what is a factual description and what is assumed information. The result is that better decisions are made when the “clutter” is removed.

De-cluttering communication, and the communication that you accept from your team will cause a cultural shift in your workplace. For starters gossip will begin to dissipate. Emotionally based perceptions will start to lose out to factual perceptions, and those that work hard with a positive intent will start be seen, while those that are not performing in alignment with the business will start be found out. I personally like the look of this de-cluttered picture.

Ask yourself how cluttered your thinking and communication is. Start by writing these perceptions down in two columns when you are observing a situation play out in front of you; column one for real descriptions & column two for assumed descriptive words. Continually do this until it becomes second nature to recognise what you really see without all the other clutter and see what happens to your own performance as well as those around you.

Thanks Cheryl! I am no longer scared of horses, but I also learnt a valuable lesson about de-cluttering that has nothing to do with keeping my desk tidy!

Not ready? No problem.

There are many tough aspects to Sales and the act of selling within your business. We can become demotivated due to a lack of progress, continual rejection, and a confusion of how much time and resource should go into sales activities. This can be magnified when you are managing a team of people where Sales is a considerable part of their function within the business. So, how are we expected to keep pushing forward with a positive mindset and a high-energy approach!?! Listening to experts talk about a positive mindset can be the type of talk that sends a business owner over the edge and into bouts of depression, denial, or manic stress.

In my experience building a framework for your sales process is the foundation that all goodness springs from in terms of revenue growth. Having a solid professional approach to your sales cycles will keep you on track and help you keep your actions efficient. But, what about effectiveness? Being effective is the number one target, and in terms of sales our scoreboard is revenue, or number of new clients, or deals completed. So how do we maintain our focus and keep pushing forward when the results are not materialising?

For me, my first experience of manic stress in relation to sales was when I was a Sales Rep for the first time. I felt like I had no idea how I was going to get a meeting, or where I was going to target, or even what I was actually selling at times! No one wanted to see me, take my calls, or listen to the value I could offer. It was a frustrating time, and since I had no experience to draw on, all I could do was take advice from colleagues around me and press on. It was tough. I became mentally and emotionally exhausted, and if it wasn’t for some good support and a few lucky breaks, I don’t think I would have lasted six months.

In the ten or so years since then, I built up my sales capability to the point where I have led sales teams, and now educate in the area. It is amazing to write this article and look back at what the act of sales used to mean to me compared to how I approach it now. There are several ways a sales process can be set up to build a sustainable flow of revenue. However, there is one key mentality which has helped me to push forward with optimism and gain results for my businesses and my clients.

Never register a No

There are many things I have been called in my life (insert joke here…) But, seriously, one thing keeps on popping up, and usually it comes from my prospect partners and prospect clients. Persistent. I love this, as they always mean it in a complimentary way and do not associate my persistence with any form of annoyance or irritability. It is a term of endearment as they are thankful for my persistence. Otherwise we would have never been able to connect and understand how we may be able to help each other. The importance of persistence is beautifully articulated in the book titled Grit – The Power of Passion and Perseverance, by Angela Duckworth. Here we understand how persistence plays a huge role in determining one’s ability to succeed in any activity we undertake.

Beyond persistence a key learning I developed was that when we are selling a, we tend to refer to our work in black-and-white terms. Did you get the sale? Yes/No. Did you get a meeting? Yes/No. Are they interested? Yes/No. Was it a good call? Yes/No.

Unfortunately, we end up with many more No’s than Yes’s, and this links to the feeling of failure and dejection. My heart sinks thinking about this feeling, and that people are experiencing this daily. The answer for me was to change my perspective. To turn the tables on the whole scenario and to take back control of the scenario.

I started to see that there was a big spectrum between “yes” and “no”. There was more to the situation, and to the relationship building process. No matter how abrasive or abrupt a prospect may be acting, I didn’t automatically write the contact off. I didn’t see it as a flat-out NO. I started to think in terms of “Not Ready”. Please allow me to explain.

The more experience I gained in business the more I begun to understand the importance of timing. It is often the case where the solution you are providing (i.e. the product you are selling) is being offered at the wrong time for a client rather than it being the wrong solution. The contemporary consumer (B2C or B2B) is time poor, usually mentally stressed in some way, and has little patience for information that is not relevant for them now. So, if this consumer is being approached at the wrong time, then it is safe to assume that the approach will be backhanded swiftly and brutally. At this point, I do not accept a “no thank you” response. I do my best to investigate what is happening in the person’s business or life, and ask as many questions as I can without prying or agitating. I also tend to slip in a comment along the lines of “not now? Great, when would be better”. If this is not appropriate, then maybe it is a matter of saying “Great, I’ll drop you a line in six months or so”. By doing this I am keeping the dialogue alive and continuous. There is no “no”, there is only “not ready”.

I have chased contacts for years to finally gain a meeting. This however, is not the truth. I am not chasing anyone, I am simply connecting, re-connecting, and keeping the dialogue alive. Sometimes prospects end up selling to me, or becoming friends, or end up being a valuable part of my network. I know this sounds a little insane, but trust me – when you are doing this with over one hundred prospects all at the same time you start to see results. Not only are you going to get lucky with a few people when your timing is perfect, but you are also building relationships that will give you sales opportunities well into the future.

The Decision Making Triad

Good decision making does not come naturally to me. There, I said it! I admit it!!!

I am naturally a very emotive person, and particularly when I was younger I would allow emotions to cloud my judgement. The result would be poor decisions resulting in a loss of time, money, and opportunity. To make matters worse, my emotions and ego would then stick up for my poor decisions leading to defensive behaviours and justification. The justification didn’t change the result, nor did it make me feel better.

When it comes to business, as owners or managers we are passionate about what we do. Emotion is going to be a big part of how we communicate with our customers and staff. Emotion is a great connecter, inspirer, and can drive us through projects and tough times. But emotion is inconsistent, temporary, and fluctuates. This is why emotion is a poor basis to make decisions upon. A good example is anger and frustration. I am sure I am not alone in feeling these on a regular basis. When you are angry at a staff member for providing poor customer service, or missing a sale this is not a good reason to change staffing, or decide on next quarter’s L&D plans. This is simply a snap shot that needs to be banked (or noted) and added to all the other information you have. But what other information? and when is a good time to make business decisions? Let me introduce what I call The Decision Triad

The Decision Triad

Things can get complicated very quickly in life so I try and keep things as straight forward as possible. When it comes to making key decisions in business I use a triad of three key techniques in conjunction with each other. To use these together makes for a strong clear way to  lead and direct your work environment.

  1. Notes

Keeping a regular record on what you see and hear can become one of the most powerful tools you will ever use. If you are like me, you’ll know that memory can be very unreliable. Especially when we are talking about things that happened six months ago, (let alone last Monday…!) You may use a hip pocket notepad, or an A3/A4 notebook that you keep locked away in your office and update on your breaks, or you may utilise one of the many great mobile/tablet apps to keep your notes. Whatever you use, make sure it is “user friendly”. The last thing you want is for your note taking to become another job you need to do on top of everything else. Write down all of your observations that you feel are good or bad, or just worth remembering. In this exercise, you are not writing down tasks. This is not a To-Do List. Purely observations. An example may be that a team member came to work 15 minutes late, or that the toner on the printer ran out and a spare was not organised. These small observations will give you great insight for a later date when you come to making decisions on your people, your processes, and your business strategies. A quick tip – make your notes detailed, and include dates and times. Use a consistent format so it is easy to read over quickly when it comes to reviewing all of your information.

  1. Analysis Schedule

We all have a calendar and schedules. If you are really organised, you will have an Ideal Week that is adapted to current needs for the week at hand. But within this do we have a time of the week where we take time out to analyse our business and all the observations we have seen? Some may want to do this daily, or maybe even once a month is enough, but the key to this part of the triad is to STOP! Stop and consume all the relevant information within your business and then decide on your tasks and the tasks of your people. This small investment in time can save thousands and thousands of dollars as well as a lot of man-hours.

  1. Numbers

If notes and a regular schedule make up the base of the triad, then Numbers is most definitely the apex.

Knowing your numbers. Checking them regularly. Knowing what drives good and bad results. Knowing how they relate to particular people or marketing activity in your business are all ultra-critical. Relating the key driving figures in your business (usually called KPI’s or Key Point Indicators) back to ultimate revenue and profitability are going to put you in the driving seat. Relating these numbers to your observations and doing this regularly will then create a very clear picture of what the next steps are going to be. I would describe myself as a people-person, so I naturally thought that making decisions based on numbers was quite a sterile way of doing things. But, I have learnt that numbers show us everything. They tell us about our engagement with our customers, how effective our communication is, and where we are failing to connect with each other amongst many many other things. Well-crafted KPI’s can start to create magic. Suddenly you can gain confidence in your leadership ability that you have never experienced before. You can gain clarity in what you are trying to achieve and how you are going to achieve it. You can start creating time in your working week.

Ultimately, you can be catapulted into a mindset where you feel that you don’t need to make a decision again. You simply need to follow what your numbers are telling you to do. Whenever there is uncertainty you can refer to your notes, or ask your team why a certain number is the way it is (i.e. get inquisitive). You may even need to ask if the number you are measuring are the right ones. If they need change, then change them!

In many businesses, you will be able to utilise your CRM or POS system reports. There is also the good old spread sheet which I must admit I am still fond of. But, be under no illusion. If you do not set up this triad then being consistent is going to be tough. Therefore, it will be near on impossible to gain consistent performance from your team and your products. The triad will not stop us from losing our temper occasionally, and it will stop us getting frustrated, but it will ensure our decision making is sound. It will help us have effective conversations with our team, and I am certain this will positively affect our enjoyment at work along with sales results.