When your nose is to the grindstone, all you see is the grindstone.

It’s too easy to get caught up on all the things we need to do or all the things making us unhappy.  But when we focus only on work or only on the negative, we miss making connections with the people around us.  We miss seeing new opportunities.  So look up. Look into someone eyes.  Start a conversation.  Enjoy a moment of silence. Take time to reflect and refocus.  You’ll be glad you did.

Make the most of this long weekend … rain or shine!

What to do when you have too much to do …

Segretaria stressataIt is difficult to provide great service to your team and your customers when you are always running behind on the to-do list.  But, if you’re like me (and chances are you are!) there are times when there simply seems to be too much list and not enough time. When you start to feel overwhelmed, remember the following:

You’re not saving time if the time you save now slows you down later.  Cutting corners or skipping breakfast in order shave off a few minutes is not going to help you in the long run if you have to re-do a task when it’s done poorly or too many mistakes are made because you’re physically and mentally drained.

Be sure you are doing what YOU need to be doing.  Take a look at all those items on your list.  Do all those items belong to you?  Are there some that could be completed more efficiently by others?  Are there tasks others are doing that you could be doing?  By taking a look at what you are doing, as well as what others on your team are doing, you may find that reassigning some tasks and responsibilities create efficiencies

Stop and breathe!  There are times when taking a ten minute break saves you twenty minutes later. Increased stress and feelings of panic slow you down and increase errors. When you start feeling overwhelmed, go for a walk, watch a funny or inspirational video.  Do something that brings down your stress level.

And yes, there will be some days, perhaps even a week or two at a time, when every day seems to short.  Sometimes life happens all at once and for a little while, your personal definition of work\life balance will seem a little off-kilter.  When that happens, take one of those ten minute breathers and put down in writing just what a personal celebration looks like when life gets back to your definition of normal.

Negative Self Talk and Stress

Last week’s blog “7 Tips to Manage Stress” spoke about recognizing and addressing imagined dangers.  One rather common imagined danger is our negative perception of ourselves.  It reminded of a blog posted almost three years ago.  Here is a revised and slightly updated version of that original post.

train“I’m not smart enough.”  “Someone else can do it better.”  “I’m just going to fail.” “I am so stupid!” “What made me think I could do this?”

When we tell ourselves we can’t do something, we are usually right!  Not because we are not capable, but because we have convinced ourselves that we can’t.

My daughter was the victim of bullying in middle school.  I was shocked and appalled at the cruel things that some of the girls in her school were saying.  I did not understand how anyone could speak to another person that unkindly.  And then one day, I caught myself “being mean” to me.  I was struggling with a project, had missed a deadline and started berating myself for not being smart enough, driven enough, organized enough, blah, blah, blah.  Of course, once I started the negative self-talk it quickly spiralled out of control.  If only I was taller, younger, older prettier … well, you get the picture.

At that point I realized that I had spent way too much time and energy finding fault with myself and instead needed to start giving myself the pep talks I regularly gave my daughter.  I needed to learn how to shut off that negative voice and replace it with positive messaging.

When I was little, I loved the story “The Little Engine that Could” and I realized that story still had significance to me. Instead of chugging along and saying “I think I can, I think I can”, I decided to up the ante a bit and instead chug along and say “I know I can, I know I can.”

Negative self-talk is by far a larger contributor to failure than lack of knowledge or experience.  The next time you find yourself doubting yourself, calling yourself down or focusing on the reasons why you think you can’t … stop …. and toot your own horn.

“What we think, we become.” …  Buddha

What Makes Your Customers Angry, Frustrated or Upset?

angryman2About three years ago, I was in Prince Edward Island facilitating customer service workshops for a client. When we started discussing the question “What are some things that make your customers angry?”, one of the participants said “Snowstorms and I have no idea what to do when someone yells at me because the roads and airports are closed and they can’t get off the island.”

There are times when our customers are angry and upset because we messed up.  And then there are the times our customers are angry and upset because of something we have absolutely no control over, like the weather.  When it comes to knowing how to manage those moments, start by taking a moment to list as many causes for customer frustration as you can think of.  Next identify which of the four following categories they fall under:

Unrealistic expectations:  Sometimes our customers come to us believing we provide a product or service that we don’t.  Now ask yourself,”Why don’t we offer this product or service?  Is this something we can do?”  If the answer is yes, make it happen.  If the answer is no (and sometimes it is), who does offer this product or service? Then be prepared to send your customer there.

Policies and procedures:  I had a friend walk into a restaurant about 11:00 am.  He ordered the Denver omelette. The server said “We don’t serve breakfast after 10:00.” So my friend flipped to the sandwich section and ordered a Denver sandwich.  No problem with that order!

Take a good, long look at your policies and procedures.  Who are they designed to protect … you or the customer?  Do they make sense to the customer? Chances are they might not, for the simply reason your customer doesn’t understand all the ins and outs of running your business. So have some fun or be prepared to offer an alternative.  I imagine my friend would have share the above story from a whole different perspective if the server had said something like “We don’t serve from our breakfast menu after 10:00 am, so how about I ask the cook to make you a Denver sandwich, with the bread on the side?”  (Or perhaps have separate menus for breakfast and lunch to avoid that confusion all together.)

Human error: This list could get long.  Focus on the errors that happen most often or have the most significant impact on the overall customer experience. Ask yourself “Why are they happening and what can we do to prevent it.” Then take action.

External factors:  There are some external factors that come at you out of the blue.  Your customer may have had a fight before leaving home for the day or had terrible, horrible, very bad day at work or just received some difficult news.  There are some external factors you can pretty much count on.  Plan for those.  For example, if you run a business in PEI, chances are pretty good that at some point in any given year, bad weather will hit, roads and airports will be closed and customers will be stranded.  Put a plan in place to deal with that moment.  Work with your team to recognize the frustration and teach them how to respond with empathy.  What can you do to help them pass the time?  Perhaps some games or a quiet room for them to read or get caught up on other work.  Who will keep them up-to-date on travel updates?

Two important things to remember when confronted by an angry, frustrated or upset customer are:

Don’t take the anger or frustration personally. Sometimes the person is angry with you because you are a handy target. They are angry or frustrated and they need to express it. It may not be fair but it happens.

View complaints positively. Instead of looking at them as a negative, look at them as opportunities to improve your conflict management skills and the service you and your company provide. Changing the focus from a negative to a positive helps you be in the right mind set to successfully manage those moments when they arise.

And one last suggestion, this is a great exercise to incorporate into your next team meeting.  Get your team together, ask them to identify when and why their customers are not happy and to come up with potential solutions to either eliminate or minimize the frustration.  This activity generates some laughs, group sharing and some great ideas.

There is no Easy Button (repost)

There are some interesting opportunities opening up right now.  All are good, but they can’t all be done at once and as I was thinking about these options, I was reminded of this post written over a year ago.  I think at some point, we’ve all be in a situation where there is no obvious one right answer to a situation, scenario or question.  At some point, the thinking has to stop and we need to act.  

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There are times in our lives when, in spite of all the experience we’ve gained, in spite of all the books we’ve read, in spite of all the advice we’ve asked for and received, there is no clearly obvious answer to the question “Now what do I do?” or “How do I respond to that?”

When sitting still, when maintaining the status quo for at least a bit longer is absolutely not an option; when the pros and cons have been written down, when the risks, benefits, potential outcomes have been analyzed and then analyzed again and there is still no clear solution, then what?

When the only obvious choice is to move, then close your eyes, take a deep breath and go with the option that feels right, or perhaps, just feels less wrong.  Don’t second-guess your decision when everyone else around you is.  That doesn’t mean refusing to alter from the course; it means recognizing you made a decision based on what you knew and believed at that moment.

There is no easy button and while sometimes we may wish there was, it is during the interesting times, the tough times, the times of opportunity, we find out just how strong or who we really are.