Mar 312011

image credit: St. Louis Family Life

We have an intern at work who is trying to get hired on full time. A couple of us at the office have taken to giving him all sorts of advice and trying to guide him along. Yesterday he had a bunch of interviews. We sat him down, helped him assemble a portfolio of his work, gave him a nice notebook to take in, loaned him one of my pens and did what we could to prep him for the questions he would get.

Today, we introduced him to the lost art of Thank You notes. I am continually surprised how many people don’t think of sending them after an interview. I believe they are a critical step that is often overlooked. In fact, Thank You notes are not just for sending after an interview, but for anyone who does you a favor.

Some say Thank You notes are old-fashioned and out of style. I disagree. In fact, more than ever, they are wonderful ways to show you appreciate someone. In the age of email and instant gratification, taking the time to hand-write a note and send it via the postal service really stands out. It says, “I care enough about you enough to spend time and money to say so. Thank you for what you have done for me.”

Have you received a Thank You note? They are a wonderful surprise when they come. They are sure to draw a smile and a kind thought. They rarely get thrown out, too. I have a file folder at work for all the notes I have received since I first started working. I transfer that file from each job with me. I take them out and reread them, too. I love each one.

So how does one write a Thank You note? Start by saying, “Thank you for _______.” Tell them what they did that impressed. Be specific. When you write it out, don’t worry if it sounds small compared to the actual meaning the act has to you. Let the fact you are taking the time to send the note convey how much you appreciate their effort. It will, don’t worry.

Next, write a sentence or two recounting why their assistance means so much to you. Don’t stress to much over it. Just say what is in the heart. Can’t find the words to say it? How about these: “I can’t find the words to describe just how much your friendship means to me. Thank you so much.”

Simple and short. Three or four sentences are all you need. Sure you could go on, but don’t make the note into an epistle. That is for another time. Focus on the specific event where they changed your life in some small way. Make them feel the depth of your gratitude and move on.

Sign it and send it. I try to keep a box of notes, envelopes and stamps handy so I can take two minutes and dash off a note, address it and stamp it. The easier it is to do immediately, the more likely that it will happen at all. I keep a small list on my iPod Touch to remind me to write them when I get back to my desk.

Take a couple minutes this week and write someone a Thank You note. It doesn’t even have to be on fancy card. I will guarantee the recipient would rather get a note on spiral notebook paper over nothing at all. Take the challenge. Send someone a Thank You note and revive a lost art.

 Posted by at 6:00 am
Mar 292011
Courtesy of Business Week

Image source: Business Week (click for a great article on how to shake hands)

For some people, one of the most terrifying experiences is to have to introduce themselves to someone they don’t know. The uncertainty of not knowing the response and calling attention to themselves is almost more than they can bear. Consequently, they often sit off to one side, head down to eliminate eye contact and try to “disappear.”

One of the hardest parts of making a professional network is meeting people. That initial act of introduction is often enough of a deterrent to keep even the most gregarious on the sideline. I am in that place myself often enough. Even though I have been in my new job for over a year, I still walk into meetings where I don’t know many of the people in the room. It is very easy to sit on the side or back of the room and pretend to be deeply engrossed in some work until the meeting starts and not introduce myself.

Mustering all our courage, we need to engage. The easiest way to meet someone is to stick out your hand and say five little words, “Hi. My name is Dan.” (Substitute your own name for mine, of course.) Five little words. It can even be reduced to three, “Hi. I’m Dan.” They are easy to remember and it is pretty hard to screw them up.

Why stick out your hand? In the Western hemisphere (and many places beyond), a handshake is the universal greeting. It is easier to negotiate the handshake if you instigate it. Less chance to be the one ‘missing’. Stick your hand out and let them figure out how to complete the maneuver.

What is the optimal response to such an introduction? Well, there are many ways, but the most common is, “Hi Dan, my name is Frank,” while returning the handshake. Why add the other person’s name? It is the first of three repetitions of their name, to help cement it into the mind so as to not forget it. The way to remember someone’s name is to repeat it as often as is socially allowable. A minimum of three in an introduction makes a huge difference for memory. Use it once at the beginning, once at the end (“Nice to meet you, Frank.”) and somewhere in the middle of the conversation. Dale Carnegie said a person’s name is the sweetest sound on Earth. Use it often.

From there, the ice is broken and hopefully it is easy to continue on a short discussion. Make a comment and then ask a question. “I am project manager for Project X. What is your role?” Simple as that. Let them say something. You can either keep the conversation going with another comment and question or close it off with a “Nice to meet you, Frank.” Fifteen seconds is about all it takes. The dividend it will return will be huge. More people will know you and think of you as a good conversationalist, interested in others and a nice person.

Take the challenge. Stick your hand out once today. Meet someone new somewhere. A few practices and it will become second nature. Good luck! Let me know how it goes.

Mar 252011

We are constantly changing. Something new comes our way every day and we have to make adjustments to cope. Construction might start up on our route to work and we have to change our pattern to still get to the office on time. A spouse or child needs help with a last-minute project and plans are modified to allow the necessary time. A baby comes three months early. Changes come in all sizes and severities. How we react to change is important.

I used to react to change quite poorly. I didn’t like anything to upset my carefully planned schedule. When I had it planned, I expected everything to stay that way. I would let it sour my mood and upset my whole day. My wife will probably say that is putting it very mildly. She is right, of course.

source: Bob's Home Repair Blog

It may be a function of getting older, but I think I am getting better at handling change. It has been a conscious effort for me over many years. One of the earliest conscious efforts I remember making to change involved swearing. When I was about 12 years old, I picked up some bad words. I would never dare use them around my mother, for that would have invoked more trouble than I wanted. When I was by myself, though, I could let loose a string not appropriate for one my age.

One principle taught by Stephen Covey is that between a stimulus and the  associated response is a space where we can choose how to respond. Self control comes from expanding the space to the point where we can make a conscious decision. Hitting my thumb with a hammer will illicit some response. When I was 12, it resulted in swearing. I wasn’t interested in doing anything different and just let the words fly the moment of the impact.

Once I made the decision to change, I worked to widen the space. At first, I just tried to delay the words for a moment. The swear word still popped out. Then I would feel bad for giving in. As time went on, I found I could delay that response to more than a moment. When I got it up to around a second, I realized I had enough time for my mind to substitute a different word lesser in vulgarity.

Eventually, I reached enough control and space to decide not to respond verbally at all. For the most part, that is still the case today. My kids are now screaming, “But what about….” Yes, I still have those moments when I am under pressure or stress and that alters my ability to respond how I want. I’m working on that part. Change is a journey.

My point is that when I want to make a change, I work on that tiny space between the stimulus and my response where I get to choose. I first work to widen that space until it is big enough for conscious thought. All I try to do is to delay my reaction just a little more each time. I don’t worry about what the reaction is until I can stretch it to about a second. When that happens, I can then control my response. Change is finally visible at that point. It can take awhile to get the space widened in some cases, so don’t get discouraged. Once it does happen, the freedom to change is achieved. Then I can direct the change in the way I desire.

It takes practice and effort. Give it a try. Tell me what you think. Thanks for reading.

 Posted by at 6:00 am