Archive for the ‘Articles by Brenda Bernstein’ Category

The #1 Way to Solve Business Disputes

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Stock image of person wearing business suit and boxing glovesAs a business owner, I want my relationships with both clients and vendors to run smoothly 100% of the time. In actuality, of course, business dealings sometimes involve conflict. Although I am not exactly a conflict avoider, I don’t enjoy it either (I left the legal profession almost 6 years ago for that reason and have never looked back)! Nevertheless, I strongly believe that when faced head-on and handled well, conflict can lead to greater trust and a foundation for long-term success.

Whether you are a client or a business owner, you might possibly have experienced conflict in a business relationship, or if not, then you might possibly experience it in the future. Below are some situations I have faced, and which have had different outcomes based on one predominant factor. This factor makes the difference between a happy customer and a dissatisfied one.

Commitment to Excellence at The Essay Expert

I have a team of writers at The Essay Expert who do top-level work, and 95% of our clients are satisfied with the first draft of their resume and LinkedIn profile. I am proud of that number; and I am even prouder that for the small number of clients who have issues with their first write-ups, we are able to create happy clients 99% of the time. The writers who work with me are fully committed to satisfying our clients and they go the extra mile to accommodate each person’s preferences. In the end, I believe that the most important value we offer is our commitment to doing the work required to satisfy every client. Clients leave feeling like we truly partnered with them to meet their needs.

Sometimes I face a situation where a client and writer are not a perfect match. In these cases, if the client speaks up right away (which I encourage them to do), I first determine whether we can resolve the situation with the current writer. If not, I assign the project to another, more senior writer or, in rare cases, step in myself. If any uncorrectable human errors have occurred, I will always offer a partial refund. I am always available for discussion and negotiation, and will do everything I can to reach an agreement and satisfactory resolution.

Sometimes the clients who become The Essay Expert’s biggest fans are those who were not satisfied initially, and with whom we worked tirelessly to remedy the situation. In fact, just this week, one such client referred a connection who hired us for a resume and LinkedIn package.

How to Handle – and Not Handle – Billing Disputes

I am a client to other companies as well as a business owner, and this week I experienced both excellent and poor customer service. In one situation, I raised issues about the service I was receiving and questioned the validity of some charges on their invoice. Despite the fact that I have been a client of this business for two years and have never questioned an invoice before, the owner refused to discuss the issue, instead telling me that the firm no longer would be working with me. I stated my desire to work things out and he still refused, though he did tell me to pay whatever I wanted and they would write off the rest. I was left with a negative impression and if anyone asks me about that business I will tell them how I was treated.

In contrast, with another firm, when we ran into an issue where a job they were doing for me went over budget, I agreed to their terms and requested something in return from them that I felt would be a good trade. They thanked me for my communication and agreed to give me what I asked for. I was left with a positive impression and will continue to refer business to that firm.

The #1 Factor: Customer Service (Plus…)

In each of these cases, what made the difference? Customer service. That’s the #1 factor to watch when addressing business conflict. Good customer service can turn conflict into good will. Bad customer service can create ongoing negativity.

customer-serviceAlso note that someone has to start the conversation about the issue at hand if anything is to be done about it. When my clients do not tell me they are dissatisfied, I am at a big disadvantage. I can’t resolve an issue I don’t know about. It’s therefore essential to ask clients about their experience consistently so that they have an opportunity to voice any concerns. Showing interest in the quality of their experience is a key piece to customer service.

Once an issue is aired, I have found that it’s very helpful to hold a strong vision for the relationship. Whichever party states a vision, the other party often aligns with it. This alignment sets the stage for a satisfactory resolution. In rare cases, one party might state a vision for an amicable ongoing relationship and the other does not join that vision; in this situation, the conflict will likely not be resolved.

Thankfully, most of us as human beings are wired to want to work well with other human beings. And most businesses have a strong commitment to good customer service. That commitment, when put into action, creates a foundation where almost any conflict can be resolved.

If you have stories of good customer service or more ideas of how to resolve business conflicts, please share below!

How to Write a KILLER LinkedIn® Profile – Don’t Miss these Updates in the 9th Edition!

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When I first undertook writing a book about LinkedIn®, I had no idea what I was getting in for. I did not know how much the platform would grow and evolve. I could not have fathomed the massive changes happening on LinkedIn® weekly if not daily, necessitating updates to the book every few months. How was I to know that the images that on a stroke of insight I added into the book would have to be changed regularly, requiring special formatting assistance every time?

It’s a good thing I didn’t know all that before I wrote the book, as it might have stopped me. As it turns out, however, I enjoy the challenge of continuing to author the #1 best-selling e-book about LinkedIn®. To maintain that status, I must constantly rethink and update the information I’m providing.

The 8th edition of How to Write a KILLER LinkedIn Profile was published in January 2014; now, just 4 months later, here’s what to look forward to in the 9th edition.

How to Write a KILLER LinkedIn Profile – 9th Edition Updates

  1. New organization of the book by section.
    Sections were a great way to organize information in my resume e-books How to Write a WINNING Resume and How to Write a STELLAR Executive Resume, so I carried over the idea here. Rather than just a list of 18 tips, the book now is divided into LinkedIn® Profile Nuts and Bolts, Writing and Presentation Tips, and Playing the LinkedIn® Game to Win. Plus there’s still an Introduction, Bonus Tip section and Appendices A-H. I think you’ll find the organization of the book to be helpful as you go through the tips!
  1. Hugely expanded chapter on crafting LinkedIn® Summary statements with examples, and more examples of Experience section entries.
    You asked and I answered. I’ve provided more substantive tips and real-life examples of LinkedIn® profiles that you can use as a model for yours!
  1. Introducing LinkedIn®‘s new blocking feature.
    LinkedIn® has finally responded to complaints that stalkers can’t be blocked on their site. I’m thrilled to report on this new feature!
  1. New tips on how to make connections, expand your network and keep in touch; and on LinkedIn® Skills and Endorsements.
    I receive many questions on these topics and have addressed many of them in the new edition. Plus, get the most up-to-date information on how these features work!
  1. Completely revised chapter on special sections, de-emphasizing outdated “partner applications” and updating new functionalities including SlideShare.
    LinkedIn®’s “partner applications” disappeared over a year ago, so I decided it was time to stop referencing them. The focus now is not on replacing the functionality of those apps, but on building a robust profile with the tools LinkedIn® provides now.
  1. More updates including the latest on LinkedIn® Jobs, the new face of LinkedIn® Groups, special export issues for Mac Users, and the latest overused buzzwords.
    All images and functionalities have been updated to match the new look and features of LinkedIn® as of May 2014!

How to Get the 9th Edition of How to Write a KILLER LinkedIn Profile

If you have purchased the PDF version of my book prior to this release, you will be receiving a link to the new book automatically. If you purchased the book on Amazon, you’ll want to log in to your Kindle dashboard and turn on “Automatic Book Update.” You should then receive a notice in a few weeks announcing that an updated version of the book is available, which you will be able access via your Manage Your Kindle page. If you do not receive this notice, contact Amazon directly.

So… If I had it to do all over again, would I do it? Yes! This book is like my baby. I would even include all the screen shots again (thankfully my amazing assistant Jeanne Goodman takes care of replacing those for me!).

If you’re a current owner of my book, I hope you enjoy the update. And if you haven’t gotten a copy yet, now’s the time to do it! I truly believe this edition is better than ever—making it even easier for you to create a KILLER LinkedIn® Profile.

How to Bring Your Personality into Your LinkedIn Profile!

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I received the following note on LinkedIn® this week from CEO and Creative Director Steve Klinetobe:

“I just finished reading your eBook. Thank you, thank you. Tonight I’m going to read it to the kids. Never too young to start building your network! :)”

This was probably the first LinkedIn® invitation I’ve ever received that made me laugh, and I was jumping up and down in my seat. How great when people can express themselves in their professional communications!

Humor is sorely missing from most people’s LinkedIn® profiles, and to be honest, it’s not always appropriate. But inserting your personality into your profile sure is. One of my clients, sales superstar Anna Wang, wrote in her self-authored profile, “When I’m not bludgeoning quotas with a baseball bat, I can be found rocking out with my band, or parked at a poker table.”

That’s a woman I would want on my sales team!

And Jess Hornyak, Marketing Director at KEVA Sports Center, crafted this paragraph as part of her LinkedIn® Summary:

When I was little, I wanted to drive a garbage truck. Then, I moved to Wisconsin and declared I would be the next Green Bay Packers QB once Brett Favre retired.?No one ever told me “No” (or that girls don’t play in the NFL), but soon after I found art and writing, and hopes of being the next big name in football were passed along to Aaron Rodgers.

Jess’s creativity shines through and would persuade me to consider her seriously for a sports marketing position.

Of course humor is not the only way to express your humanity on LinkedIn®. Take this example from one of The Essay Expert’s clients, a dedicated teacher with a background in HR, whose passion is teaching the “whole child”:

When it comes down to it, children *are* our human resources, and it is imperative to support them to reach their full potential. To that end, educational policy and program development are intensely interesting to me. I believe strongly in differentiation in the classroom, and I believe that this is what we should offer to all of our children.

If your career has taken an unconventional turn, revealing your personality might be particularly useful. Here’s an example from Nick D’Antonio, a law school graduate who decided to change paths (not that I would know anything about that…)

My career path veered off course when I realized I didn’t want to become an attorney (please hold the “How many attorneys” jokes). Of course, I graduated during one of the tougher periods for the employment of early careerists; many like me did what was required to remain independent and hopefully make in-roads into a career.

It wasn’t until recently when introspection led to the conclusion that what I’ve done all along has been to build a reputation for promoting customer satisfaction through exceptional service, and a steady flow of repeat business. Not multi-million dollar repeat business – yet – but garnering repeat business taught me the power of the personal business connection.

So…want to talk Sales and Marketing?

If I were looking for someone with an upfront personality who has what it takes to make it through law school and take the risk of following his passion, I might want to talk sales and marketing with this guy. He does not apologize for his background and makes a good argument for himself.

What’s your personality and your compelling story? What’s the best way to tell it? I encourage you to put as much of yourself forward on LinkedIn® as you are comfortable sharing, as appropriate for your background and industry. Perhaps you too can create a tale that’s worthy of reading to the kids at night.

How Networking Got Me a Podcast … and Can Get You a Job

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One of my new year’s “ressaylutions” was to investigate and choose a CRM (customer relationship management) system. This week I chose Infusionsoft; but this blog is not about CRM systems or new year’s resolutions. It’s about networking.

The sales rep at Infusionsoft connected me with Wes Schaefer, a.k.a. The Sales Whisperer. The first thing Wes did after learning about my business was ask me if I would do a podcast for him on the topic of writing LinkedIn profiles. I was very happy to oblige. I felt grateful for his support and didn’t think twice before giving him a free LinkedIn profile review.

Guess what? I now have a podcast that went out to Wes’ list and aired on April 22. It turns out I’m not even going to work with him for the project I initially contacted him about! But possibilities opened up for doing some business together and for me to present webinars to his 5,500-member list.

People want to connect with people,
and they want to help! It’s human nature.

It’s amazing what can come out of simply talking—and listening—to people, and then doing whatever you can that might be helpful for them. Here’s the thing: People want to connect with people, and they want to help! It’s human nature.

If you’re a job seeker, it’s important to remember these facts about people. You might be afraid to approach someone who could help you because you don’t want to bother them, you feel needy, or some other related reason. Remember: People want to connect with people, and they want to help.

That said, people also don’t want to feel used or bothered. So how do you approach the connections you have in a way that pushes their “I want to help” button? One way is to be indirect. It helped, for instance, that I did not call Wes looking for an opportunity to present a webinar. HE saw the opportunity. And he did not ask me for a free LinkedIn profile review; I saw that opening to help him.

In job searching, the “indirect” approach works as well. You are not likely to get a warm welcome with the question, “Can you give me a job?” Rather, take a research-oriented approach—much like I was researching CRM implementation providers when I called Wes.

I know I love connecting people with others who can help them, and I also love sharing my specialized knowledge with people who really need it. It makes me feel special! The following ideas are based on the premise that most people feel the same way I do. Here are…

4 Ways to Use Your Networks to Get a Job … Without Turning Anyone Off

  1. Ask for a meeting and say something like this: “I’m considering a career change and I have done quite a bit of initial research, including x, y and z. My colleague John suggested that you might be a great resource to find out more about this industry. Would you be available to meet for lunch?”
  2. Write a letter advising your networking contact that you are doing research about an industry or list of companies (note someone does not have to work at a particular company to be in the know). You can provide the list of companies and ask if they know contact information for key players, current trends, organizational culture, major projects pending, organizational/staffing changes and opportunities, and/or problems the company is facing.
  3. Ask your close connections to do some research for you! If your husband is a golfer, he can mention your job search on the course and find out who might be a valuable resource for you. Or if your cousin is in construction and you are exploring the possibility of working in that field, ask your cousin to talk to her contacts who might be willing to meet with you and tell you what it’s like to work at her company.
  4.  Join an association, or even a networking group in an area where perhaps you haven’t interacted before. Introduce yourself and what you’re up to. These groups are eager to provide resources and to connect you with people who can help.

Many times, these types of researching questions will lead to information about an open position. The trick is to honestly approach people with the expectation that they will give you information—not a job!

Of course, it’s a good idea to learn more about the person you’re contacting as well. It’s likely you’ll be inspired to do something for them, just as they were inspired to support you.

If you have used any of these techniques in the past, please share your experience. And if you try one of them after reading this blog, please report back on your results!

The Power of Mission and Vision … What’s Yours?

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Why Have a Mission and Vision Anyway? And What Does It All Mean?

Creating a mission and vision statement can be a formidable task. Large companies spend weeks and months on the process. When used to full advantage, a mission and vision truly underlie a company’s business model and become what employees and clients/customers align to. If someone is not excited about the company’s mission and vision, that person is not a good fit for the organization.

ActionCOACH, my business coaching company, defines vision as strategic intent—why the entity exists; it is a statement against which all decisions can be measured. Mission, by comparison, is a practical description of how the ultimate vision will be achieved.

Of course you can have a mission and vision whether you are a job seeker or a business owner. As you read the story of The Essay Expert’s mission and vision, I invite you to consider what your mission and vision would be. If you create one you like, please share it in the comments.

The Essay Expert’s Mission and Vision Journey

The Essay Expert did not have a mission statement for probably its first year. When I created one, it sounded right and it stuck (it also was a relatively easy process given that I was the only person who had to approve of it!). Here it is:

The Essay Expert works intensively and personally with job seekers, college applicants and companies, to create powerfully written job search and marketing content. Our clients achieve unprecedented success in moving their careers, education and businesses to the next level.

That mission statement does state how my company will achieve its ultimate goal. But without a vision statement, that ultimate goal was not defined. Then, last year in a business coaching meeting, Susan Thomson encouraged me to craft a vision statement to complement the mission. The vision I created was this:

To empower people and companies to be confident and unstoppable in reaching their goals.

This seemed like a statement with a higher purpose and goal that I believe in. And I have been using it. Each time I have considered bringing in a new writer, I have read this mission to them and ask for their thoughts on it, introducing them to the culture of my company.

Inevitably, the writers I have chosen for my team have been very committed to contributing to the success of The Essay Expert’s clients. They have been truly aligned with my mission and vision, and I have never had a problem with a writer not being fully committed to The Essay Expert’s clients.

Be Careful What You Vision For…

However, I have also encountered some issues when I have demanded more time and corrections from my writers than some other resume writing companies they have worked with. Why was this happening? Why were my writers feeling frustrated with my commitment to excellence?

Two weeks ago, I discovered through a brief coaching session with Dr. Bob Wright that my company’s mission and vision were part of the problem. They were all about our company’s clients, and not about our team! This was a blind spot for me up until Bob pointed it out, and it was quite a revelation.

I now realize that my company’s mission and vision must be not just about the work we do, but about who we are as a company and as human beings working together. To that end, my new vision and mission are “in progress” and will include something like this:

We bring out the best in our clients and each other as a team of writers. We are committed to excellence. We strive to write more effectively, communicate more effectively, and showcase the brilliance in ourselves and in everyone we touch.

Can you imagine a company where everyone is aligned with this philosophy? Where we are all working together toward excellence, becoming our best selves while supporting our clients to do the same?

That’s a company I would want to work for!

What is your mission and vision for yourself or your company? Please share below.

2014′s Best and Worst Words to put on Your Resume

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Last week, as reported by Forbes in The Best and Worst Words To Use On Your Resume, CareerBuilder came out with a list of both recommended and ill-advised resume words and phrases for 2014. The list was generated through interviews with 2,200 hiring managers and human resources staffers.

One surprising result from this survey, says Forbes, is a possible change in the length of time hiring managers spend looking at a resume: 17% said they spend 30 seconds or less, but 68% said they can read for up to two full minutes before moving on! That’s fairly good news for any job seeker – but it means you need to avoid turning off the reader with distasteful words and phrases so that they will be more likely to read further.

I believe an even bigger trick would be to leave out these “worst” words while also including the keywords from the job description your resume is targeting. No problem right?

For instance, one of the no-nos on the list is “self-motivated.” But what if the job description asks for someone who is self-motivated and you know your resume will be going through an ATS (Applicant Tracking System) for screening? What if, by some stroke of misfortune, the job description contains the words “results-driven,” “team player” or “detail-oriented” – phrases I have banished from my resumes since day 1?

I think that would be my worst nightmare.

My point is: Do avoid these words, but do not do so at all costs. Sometimes exceptions need to be made.

By the same token, just because a word is on the “best resume words” list doesn’t mean you should overuse it. Of course hiring managers want to see words like “improved” and “increased/decreased.” But these words can get very old very fast. Repeated usage of the same verbs can put your readers to sleep; so consider varying your language to keep them on their toes! Consider synonyms like “heightened,” “boosted,” “multiplied,” “accelerated,” “cut,” “shrank,” and other power verbs. I for one will use more colorful words until a report comes out with those words on the “worst” list.

For a robust list of power resume verbs, check out my e-books, How to Write a WINNING Resume and How to Write a STELLAR Executive Resume.

OK I won’t keep you in suspense any longer. Here’s CareerBuilder’s list of the worst words to use on your resume:

  1. Best of breed
  2. Go-getter
  3. Think outside of the box
  4. Synergy
  5. Go-to person
  6. Thought leadership
  7. Value add
  8. Results-driven
  9. Team player
  10. Bottom-line
  11. Hard worker
  12. Strategic thinker
  13. Dynamic
  14. Self-motivate
  15. Detail-oriented
  16. Proactively
  17. Track record

And the words hiring managers want to see:

  1. Achieved
  2. Improved
  3. Trained/mentored
  4. Managed
  5. Created
  6. Resolved
  7. Volunteered
  8. Influenced
  9. Increased/decreased
  10. Ideas
  11. Negotiated
  12. Launched
  13. Revenue/profits
  14. Under budget
  15. Won

The real lesson here is that hiring managers want to see results, not descriptions of your greatest characteristics, nor broad claims of greatness. The more you can convey the facts and numbers of your achievements, the better.

Now do this: Check your resume. How many of the “worst resume words” are on it? Can you transform your resume into one that will keep a hiring manager reading for an entire … two … minutes? If so, you might be able to list “Won resume game” as one of your most impressive credentials.

Do You Suffer from Computer Stress Syndrome? You’re Not Alone

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If I had to choose ONE thing that stresses me out me out more than anything else in my work life, it would be computer problems. It might not surprise you that I’m writing this blog because, on this very day, I am ready to tear my hair out due to multiple technical aggravators.There are thousands of articles and probably hundreds of books that talk about how to handle stress. But … do any of them talk specifically about how to handle the stress of heart-stopping technical issues? I couldn’t find any in my admittedly basic-level internet search.

I did however find a report entitled Combatting Computer Stress Syndrome that surveyed 1,000+ computer users, finding that two-thirds of them had experienced this phenomenon. Despite being self-proclaimed “savvy” users, people facing technical snafus had increased stress levels, in tandem with interrupted work or play time, loss of valuable data, dropped network or e-mail connections, and the inability to complete online purchases (that last one somehow did not garner my sympathies).

My particular technical snafus today included the inability to access my QuickBooks file, some disappearing and/or inaccessible emails, and problems getting my MacMail to retrieve my business email. At the same time, I am deciding whether or not to begin implementing a CRM system – a project that sends me into overwhelm after just about 2 minutes of thinking about it. Even as I write, my heart is racing and my head pounding. If only there were a yoga class I could escape to at 8pm on a Sunday night!

The article about Computer Stress Syndrome offered no solace, as it was focused on the quality of technical support – not on what to do when you are a business owner or other responsible professional facing time-sucking, aggravating and unexpected issues, or issues that you just have a hard time getting your mind around. Of course, decent tech support is essential to keeping stress levels from going through the roof. But needing to be on the phone with tech support at all is often the problem for me. I tend to postpone the inevitable for as long as possible.

And what about business-related projects like the CRM that I need to deal with and that I respond to just like I would a technical problem? I would love to hire someone to take care of it for me, but it seems that no matter whom I enroll, I need to make decisions and figure things out so they know how to proceed. In many areas, I have no problem directing people and being involved in decision-making processes. But when it comes to technology I sink.

The only thing I can figure out to lower my computer-induced stress levels is to take the time to solve the darned problem. In fact, I could not even complete the writing of this article until I spent an hour with Apple’s tech support team to make at least ONE of my technical issues go away. I think I have some limit, like I can handle it if there are 1-2 technical issues, but 3 or more and I’m toast.

I have no further wisdom to share on this topic and am writing to ask for yours. Does anyone out there have a coping mechanism to deal with the insidious Computer Stress Syndrome? If so, please do share. You might change a lot of people’s lives for the better.

CTL Brainstorming Day 2013

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On November 1, 2013, more than 150 career professionals from 6 countries met for the annual Career Thought Leaders’ Global Career Brainstorming Day to discuss best practices, innovations, trends, and other factors currently impacting global job search and career management. I am pleased to write about their findings, just as I have for the last 3 years!

Resumes are not dead! Even if you get your foot in the door with LinkedIn or an Executive Bio, your resume will still be a key part of your job search process. You absolutely must show a recruiter, in no uncertain terms, how you will solve their client companies’ problems. And you’ll need to make your great impression in not 15 or 20 seconds, but six (6)!!

Here are the top 10 takeaways I’d like to share for resumes in 2014:

  1. Focus on your most current position. Many people reading resumes do not even look past that first position, so capture their attention right away! Remember that many recruiters are reading resumes on their phones, so make them mobile-friendly (there are applications available to create mobile-friendly resumes).
  2. Go for succinctness and clarity of direction, especially in your personal branding. Less is more. That means no 5-6-line summary paragraphs!
  3. Include quotes/testimonials on your resume – these tidbits are even easier to collect now that LinkedIn recommendations are so commonly given.
  4. Create multiple versions of your resume – for email, mobile, social media profiles, and yes, one on paper for networking and interviews.
  5. In most cases, keep your resume to 1-2 pages. Of course there are exceptions to this rule.
  6. In Europe, you may still include a photo, birth date and information about your familial relationships on your resume (Do NOT do this in the U.S., the U.K. or Australia). Generally, the U.S.-style “multinational” resume is becoming the norm.
  7. Be sure to have an ATS-friendly resume available for on-line applications. You might want one resume that works for both humans and ATS systems, or you might choose a format that works for both.
  8. Consider creating an infographic resume, which is a rising trend. Twitter resumes, video clips and other multi-media presentations will also make you stand out from the competition.
  9. Snail mailing a resume can make a good impression! Do it in addition to emailing and submitting on line!
  10. Don’t be afraid to include hyperlinks on your resume. This is a great way to keep things concise while offering a portal into the depth of your experience. More and more, resumes are becoming an aggregation of social media, with less content in the resume itself.

Wondering about LinkedIn? LinkedIn profiles are a complement to your resume, not a carbon copy. LinkedIn provides an opportunity to be more personal and engaging. As recommended in my e-book, How to Write a KILLER LinkedIn Profile, create a robust LinkedIn profile complete with multimedia presentations, projects and videos. And use your LinkedIn Summary to project your “motivation, passion and individuality.”

For more detail about trends in a range of job search categories, please go to the full article, Findings of 2013 Global Career Brainstorming Day:  Trends for the Now, the New & the Next in Careers. For last year’s report, see my article, Are You Up on the Top Resume & Cover Letter Trends of 2012-2013?

Were you surprised by any of the findings?  What did you learn?  Please share in the comments below.

This January I Switched to Apple. What are You Tolerating in Your Life?

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I’d say it was a long time coming, given that I’ve had nothing but problems with my Dell PCs for the last … oh … 20 years?

For the most recent 3 or so of those 20, several of my friends and colleagues have been begging and pleading with me to convert to Apple.

Did I listen? No. Changing just seemed like way too much work.

Then, in January, I hit a limit. My 1-year-old Windows 8 computer, whose operating system I had just reinstalled, was not working any better than it was before I reinstalled it. My programs were constantly going to “Not Responding.” Tech support could not fix the problem and was telling me I needed a more powerful computer with more RAM. Sales was telling me the 8 GB of RAM on my current computer should be plenty.

I figured either sales was wrong or tech support was wrong, and Dell should either fix the problem or give me some amount of credit toward a new computer. They claimed to be unable to do either. It was decision time, and I was DONE with Dell.

Perhaps you are celebrating, along with many of my friends, colleagues and even distant acquaintances, that I waltzed into an Apple store and bought a MacBook Pro. In the end, this change happened in an instant.

It wasn’t easy getting up to speed on the MacBook. The delete button drives me crazy. The command button is located in the most inconvenient spot I can imagine. My files are all organized differently now. Outlook was downloading all my email repeatedly and I had to get tech support to get a duplicate deletion program. I needed a new way to access my accountant’s server so I could use my QuickBooks program. I had to call HP support to get my printer working wirelessly. I blew out two adaptors trying to connect the Mac to an external monitor. And there’s more.

This is why I did not want to switch to a Mac.

But get this: The computer doesn’t use battery power while it’s asleep. It wakes up immediately. I can leave my house carrying my laptop and no power cord and trust that the battery will last. The programs work and don’t slow down on me ever. And iCal integrates with Google Calendar without a 3rd party program!

Most of the issues I faced were ramping up issues and are all resolved. And I get all the good stuff. I’m starting to be a proud Mac user.

My question out of all of this is, “Why the heck did I wait so long?” You can ask any of my close friends and relatives and they will attest to the fact that I was spending hours upon hours with Dell tech support for years. I have never been happy with a Dell computer! And yet, I resisted change. Pure and simple. I kept choosing to upgrade to a “better” Dell, hoping it would solve my problems. It never did.

People do this. Look at how many people stay in relationships that require hours of conversation to try to make them work. Look at how many of these people move in together, or get married, thinking that the “upgrade” will help. Or they have children in order to fix their relationship. Now that’s an upgrade! We so often avoid the risk of starting over with someone else because it would require an unknown amount of work – even if we have a strong inkling that ultimately the benefits would justify the investment. We resist change even if all our friends are telling us to “switch to Apple.”

Many of us stay in jobs that are not a good fit. Even if we’re miserable, at least we’re dealing with a known quantity. I myself kept working for 10 years as a lawyer, because it was safe and provided a living wage, even though there was no amount of adjusting and mind talk that could make me enjoy that job. I even accepted a promotion (my “upgrade”) before reaching my breaking point and starting something new.

The February issue of LeaderMag featured an article by Bruce Hodes, Five Ogres and an Angel, about the resistance to change in organizations. I love this quote which he shares: “Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have – and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up.” – James Belasco and Ralph Stayer, Flight of the Buffalo (1994).

Hodes asserts that two of the main elements blocking change are “comfort” and “drift.” Comfort is something we’re all familiar with. We humans like things to stay the same. We get attached to our routines like a warm blanket, even if they aren’t serving us. And drift, the pull of the current always in the same direction (toward the status quo), affects us whether in our homes or workplaces. Hodes’ advice: “Trust your intuition—be convinced that even in the face of resistance this is the way forward.”

The payoff according to Hodes is Performance Improvement. I certainly got that with my MacBook Pro. My question to you is: Where in your life are you resisting change, falling victim to comfort and drift, when you really know it’s time to make a move? Where is there room for performance improvement in your life? Maybe it’s time to stop “upgrading” what you already have and to start something new.

Holding High Standards… The Power of Disaffirming

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If you manage other people and you hold high standards for work product, you probably have encountered a situation or two where you have had to tell someone they did not do a good enough job. How do you feel when you face this type of situation? Do you feel bad about it afterward? Or do you feel empowered and like you made a positive difference in the world?

I grew up thinking that if I corrected someone or disaffirmed them, I was being mean and overly critical. I still did it, but I felt self-critical more than anything else and made myself wrong for hurting others.

I’ve been spending the better part of the last year becoming more comfortable with my opinions and with expressing them, even if I know someone might feel hurt. As the owner of a company who cares greatly about the quality of the work we put out, I have many opportunities to be honest with people about their writing. “Behind the scenes” at the Essay Expert, I work with a team of subcontractors and review their work before it goes out to a client. Sometimes the first drafts that come to me do not meet my standards. And The Essay Expert’s clients count on my high standards.

Last week, I faced two situations that inspired me to write about the power of disaffirmation in creating results and even cultivating relationships.

In one, I received a draft of a LinkedIn summary from one of my writers that I felt didn’t hit the mark. There was time for me to have a quick call with him and steer him in the right direction. I told him what didn’t work about what he wrote and gave him some different ideas of how to approach the project. The second draft was brilliant and here’s what the client, who lives in Switzerland, had to say: “Thank you so much for sending the draft. I cannot put my first reaction into words (not even in German) – in the very best meaning of the word!”

If I had been shy about issuing corrections, I would not have had such a happy client. Because I disaffirmed the writer, he learned about how to write for a new type of client and both of us got to feel great about the client’s response.

In another situation, an editor took 5 hours to edit a document that would have taken me 3. Not only that, but she sent it to me an hour late and failed to correct some glaring errors in the document. I spent 2 hours editing the document before sending it to the client—1 hour more than I would have spent if I had edited it myself.

Again, my disaffirming power sprang into action. I very directly told her about the problems I saw and what I was prepared to pay her for her work. We ultimately reached an agreement and parted amicably.
Sometimes when I work with someone on a project like a law school admissions essay, the applicant tells me not to hold back with my criticism. I laugh when they make this request – I have no problem telling it like I see it! But when it comes to critiquing in a managerial role, I’ve historically had a more difficult time.

The greatest part about these two recent experiences to me is that I felt strong and good about myself even though I had criticized people I am managing. I’ve been learning a lot about stepping into a managerial role in a powerful way. Sometimes disaffirmation can hurt both the recipient and me—but what hurts more is compromising on what I know is right, or on the quality of the work my business produces.

Ultimately I am somewhat of a mama bear, willing to growl a bit in order to provide a top product to my clients. I will take strong action, give direct feedback, and use the power of disaffirmation if that’s what it takes to run a successful and well-respected business.

If you are in a managerial position, how do you express your criticism? How do you handle it when someone fails to come through in the way you expect? Are you willing to talk straight to people? And how do you feel when you don’t? And what’s the bigger goal that inspires you to take the actions you take?