Saturday, August 19, 2006

Listen to Chapter 1 read by the author (that's me!)

On this lazy summer afternoon, I decided to record the first chapter of the book.

It's 28 minutes and you can listen to it by clicking here.

Feel free to let me know what you think...

And enjoy,

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Book Excerpt: Chapter 5: Lose All Fear of Face-to-Face Encounters

When Jack eats out alone, he sits at the bar instead of at a table because it’s much more conducive to striking up a conversation. He even finds that it helps to be friendly with the bartender, which allows people nearby to see that he is a friendly guy. Here’s a recent experience he had:

I was at a barbecue restaurant and I sat next to a guy at the bar but I did not end up talking with him because I missed the opportunity in the first two seconds. I realized afterward that as I sit down, saying just about anything can be the icebreaker, like a simple joke about being addicted to barbecue or how good it feels to sit down after working 97 hours. It’s like sticking a wedge in the door so it won’t close and it sets the stage for a possible conversation. Even just acknowledging the other person and saying “How ya doin?” as you sit down can open the window for a conversation.

But if you sit down in silence and miss that tiny window of opportunity, the whole thing seems to get 50 times harder because then you have to break a pre-existing silence with some kind of “opening line” and that triggers a whole "conversation" in my head instead of with this other person in the world.

That is not to say that the ice cannot be broken later in a potential encounter, but I think, with some of these mechanisms in place, it just seems much harder and a waste of that “window.” So, I try to keep in mind that there is a window that may only last two seconds into which is it is very easy to put down a tiny, simple placeholder to let the other person know that this could become an encounter; then making it an encounter becomes much easier as the time goes on because that marker was there right from the first moment.

What is small talk?

Most shy people hate small talk, claim to be horrible at it – “shy away from it.”

But what exactly is small talk?

Small talk is the starting point of all relationships. Think of it as a dance you do with someone new to find common ground, a way to ease into a conversation. Through small talk you decide whether “big talk” is appropriate.

When you look around a room and see people chatting, you might assume that small talk comes naturally to most people, but that is not the case. In fact, it’s not a talent at all but rather an acquired skill.

It’s like kindling. Hopefully, enough branches will burn hot enough to ignite the logs of real conversation, which can burn for much longer.

Dr. Bernardo Carducci, director of the Shyness Research Institute, says the tag “small talk” connotes that such conversation is trivial and unimportant. On the contrary, small talk is the basis for beginning relationships. It’s where we start with almost everyone we meet. So if you can’t, or won’t, do it, think of all the connections and relationships you’ll miss out on.

Technology has revolutionized the way we communicate – for better and for worse. David Rose, a Cambridge, Mass.-based expert on computer interfaces, likes to point out that 20 years ago, an office worker had only two types of communication technology: a phone, which required an instant answer, and postal mail, which took days. "Now we have dozens of possibilities between those poles," Rose says. And most of those happen in isolation -- email, instant messaging, even the phone. As a result, we are losing both the skill and the desire to make small talk.
In today’s high-tech society, many people are losing the art of day-to-day conversation. It’s a skill, and if we don’t practice it and keep it in shape, we will forget how to do it and avoid putting ourselves in situations where that atrophied skill will be required.

How to Create Your 10-word Blurb

Brenda sometimes finds it hard to answer the simple question, "What do you do?" in a short, concise and interesting way. Sometimes she rambles on or is afraid she sounds uninteresting. If she gives a pat answer, she fears she’ll sound like a robot. She wants her “elevator speech” to be perfect, to convey everything there is to know about her in 2 sentences so the other person “gets it.”

That’s a lot of pressure for one sentence.

So many of us get so tongue-tied when we have to talk about ourselves or our work, even though so many conversations in our culture start with the question, “What do you do?”

It seems so simple but, believe it or not, this is often one of the most difficult questions to answer. It becomes even more challenging when what you do is unique, specialized or new, or when you do a lot of different things.

Before trying to answer, you have to understand the purpose of the question. When someone asks, “What do you do?” their goal isn’t necessarily to find out what you do. They do want to know, but more than anything, they want to get a conversation going.

What you say depends on whom you’re talking to. Is it a stranger? Someone you haven’t seen in a long time but who knows something about you? Someone from a past work experience? Someone from your personal life?

If it's a colleague familiar with your industry jargon, using that jargon shows you know your stuff. If it's a neighbor, your jargon may be intimidating. All of these variables need to be taken into consideration before you answer the question.

Most people won’t hear the first thing you say anyway. Remember, there’s a lot going on and they will probably only grasp a tiny bit of your communication, maybe one or two words. But don’t worry. It won’t be your only chance to answer the question so you don’t have to say it perfectly. Your challenge is to say something that will be easy for them to grasp under the circumstances. To avoid an awkward exchange, it helps to have something ready. That’s where your 10-word blurb comes in handy.

Don’t ever answer with a label, unless you are trying to stop the conversation. For example, don’t say, “I’m a designer” or “I’m a copywriter” or “I’m a lawyer.” Although it’s short and sweet, it is actually the worst thing you can say. Why?

Because labels leave too much room for interpretation. They mean different things to different people. If you say you’re a “developer” and you mean you’re a software developer but the person you’re talking to thinks of a real estate developer, you’ve already got a miscommunication.

Or they may hear your label -- “lawyer” -- and decide right then and there that they don’t need a “lawyer” or don’t like “lawyers” or aren’t interested in “lawyers.”

Also, the label you use is often industry jargon that you understand but may not be clear to your listener. For example, few people actually know what a copywriter is or does. Plus, the word “copywriter” is often confused with “copyright,” and people may assume a connection to “copyright law.” Another miscommunication.

So instead of labeling yourself, create a blurb that literally says what you do and who you do it for. Here’s an example for the copywriter:
I write direct mail marketing materials for the healthcare and financial industries.

See how that simple sentence includes what you do and who you do it for? Notice also that it uses verbs and adjectives instead of nouns to paint a picture of what the writer writes and for whom. Because of that, the listener could pick any of the words in that sentence and say, “Tell me more about that.”

Don’t sound like a robot
Once you’ve done the preparation and practiced a bit with variations on your 10-word blurb, you’re ready to use them. But be careful. There’s nothing worse than sounding like you’re reciting lines you’ve memorized, as if you can’t remember what you do.

Now that you know what to say, your challenge is to find a way to say it that is spontaneous, as if it’s coming directly from you in the present moment (which it is) and as if it’s the first time you’ve said it. These techniques will help:

· Look directly into the person’s eyes when you say it. That way, even if you’ve said it before, this is the first time you’re saying it to this person and looking at them reminds you of this.
· Let yourself be imperfect. That’s what conversation is. And if you see they are not understanding, stop and try again.

“I don’t think you have to be talkative to converse, or even to have a quick mind. Pauses in conversation do no harm… What matters is whether you are willing to think for yourself, and to say what you think… What matters most is courage.”
Theodore Zeldin, author of Conversation: How Talk Can Change Our Lives

Be the first one to ask “What do you do?”
One of the most challenging situations may be introducing yourself to a stranger about whom you know nothing. How are you supposed to know what will engage this stranger? You can’t. You can’t divine their 10-word blurb and you can’t say, “I’ll tell you if you tell me first.”

The solution: ask the question first, which means you have to speak up first. This is a dilemma for some of us, but one worth getting over if it means the rest of the conversation will go more smoothly. If you make a habit of being the first one to ask the question, you will learn enough about the other person to guide you toward your best blurb to say to that person.

What to talk about: conversation starters
Use your blurb to exchange the basics, but don’t focus on yourself. Instead, become interesting, which means become a good conversationalist.

This has two components: 1. Listening well and 2. Bringing ideas, topics, questions, projects, and your own challenges to discuss.

Strive to become a good conversationalist. Some environments are easier than others. There will no doubt be events or parties where you just don’t feel welcomed or in the mood to chat. Try to get over that by using your conversation skills and topics.

Here are a couple personal examples from my experiences. Interesting things are constantly happening to me and probably to you too. Do you take notice of them? You should, if your goal is to become a good conversationalist. All you have to do is notice, remember the anecdote and then bring it up next time you’re in a networking situation.

For example, I sometimes ride my bike to the train in Hoboken to go into New York City. Recently I got on the train and without thinking left my bike helmet on the seat next to me when I got off. I didn’t even notice it until a few hours later when I was on my way back to Hoboken. I looked around for someone to ask about the Lost and Found. I noticed a command station at the end of the platform with a big glass window and as I approached, I saw my helmet sitting right there on the ledge, as if it was waiting for me. Someone has obviously returned it. That reaffirmed my faith in people, as well as in the PATH train.

Has anything like that happened to you lately? Do you have a feel-good story to share? If so, tell the story and see where it takes the conversation.

Here are a few other personal examples that I use as conversation starters:

1. Health issues. Due to osteoarthritis, I need a hip replacement. So I will sometimes bring that into the conversation and ask if my conversation partner knows anyone who’s had a hip replacement, etc. (Usually their mother has.) I have learned a lot of useful information this way.

2. Current events. You may want to stay away from politics, but you can always talk about the latest scientific discovery, award recipients, sports tournaments, etc. Movies are generally safe territory and quickly give you a good idea of what kind of person you’re talking to.

3. Facts you’ve learned or books you’ve read. Bring up a novel, biography or especially a business book that you’ve read and share a bit of what you’ve learned. For example, I’ve been reading “A User’s Guide to the Brain” and I learned that chickens have 25 taste buds, while humans have 2-5,000. Drop that little tidbit into the conversation and see where it goes.

4. Jury duty. I was selected to sit on a grand jury recently and have been bringing it up as a topic in many different environments. Everyone seems to have a story about either ducking jury duty or doing it. What other civic activity could lots of people relate to?

5. And when in doubt, talk about the food. If there is a buffet, stand by it and make recommendations to anyone who approaches about what's good (or bad). But be sure to keep your hands free to shake hands and exchange business cards.

Don’t just say, “I’m fine”
When someone asks how you are, instead of responding with a bland, “everything’s fine” or “Nothing much,” take the opportunity to highlight a project you’re working on. Or, if you’ve acquired a new skill or accomplished a new goal, mention that. It’s not bragging if you focus on the facts.

Getting deeper into the conversation

Once you’ve got your personal introductions out of the way, it’s time to dig in deeper. There are two ways this can go. If you take the initiative to lead the conversation, your genuine curiosity could kick in and you ask about something you’ve heard the other person say.

If you don’t take the lead, they’re likely to ask you about something you’ve said. That’s good too and one “novel” way to convey more details about your work is by telling stories. Everyone loves a good story, so instead of listing your accomplishments or reciting your resume, tell them a story.

Stories are ideal for a sit-down networking luncheon or on a plane, situations where you can say more than your blurbs, where you have a little more time to chat. People relax to listen, bringing one level of defense down. Also, stories inspire, motivate and engage people. We tend to listen closely to stories told with genuine enthusiasm and passion, no matter what the story is about. Your listener may immediately start identifying with characters in your story, thinking to themselves, "Oh yeah, that happened to me too. We have a lot in common." Or, "I need someone to help me with that too."

Tell stories about projects you’ve worked on, with a focus on the outcome that resulted from the effort you put in -- how you were a hero and saved the day! Use examples that your listener will relate to and which reinforce the aspect of you that would mean the most to them. Include characters he can identify with, a situation that would be familiar, a crisis that might be just like the one he’s in right now, as a matter of fact.

And when you’re done with a story and if there’s a pause in the conversation, ask your partner to tell you a story.

Excerpted from Stop Pushing Me Around: A Workplace Guide for the Timid, Shy and Less Assertive (Career Press, 2006). Order your copy here.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Preparation is one key to self confidence

In a recent article in the Denver Post, there was a sidebar from Stop Pushing Me Around on the 4 Steps to Developing Self Confidence (read the blog post on that here).

This was picked up in a couple different places, including, the blog of Bud Bilanich. In this posting, he takes my idea about preparation and builds on it with his own examples.

And here's the actual excerpt from my book:

Always take time to prepare. Don’t waste time talking yourself into “feeling” confident. Be more productive in your preparation. The better you know your stuff, the more confident you will feel. No matter what the event or activity, make sure you set aside time to practice or to think through all the possible scenarios and how you would respond to them. Again, it’s a question of directing your attention away from the anxiety and toward the actions needed.

Have you had success with the technique? If so, contribute your comments so others can learn from you too.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

If you manage someone who is shy...

There's a chapter in Stop Pushing Me Around that is devoted to managing shy employees, with lots of tips on how to help them come out of their shell and make sure you're getting everything they have to contribute. On her blog at, Leslie Levine addresses this issue today.

And in the August 4th issue of the Toronto Globe and Mail, Wallace Immen's second article based on my book focuses on that topic. Here's an excerpt from it:

In every organization, there are people who have great ideas but never seem to bring them up in meetings.

You know they are capable of more, but they prefer to fly below the radar, rather than reaching for the top.

As a manager, your challenge is: How do you help a good worker who is naturally shy to blossom?

Tact is the key, says career consultant Ilise Benun, president of Hoboken, N.J.-based consultancy Marketing Mentor and the author of a new book, Stop Pushing Me Around.

"Facing the unknown and being put on the spot are situations that shy people really fear," she says, so it's important to keep the pressure low and not appear to be singling someone out for special treatment.

A manager who gives shy employees the space and time to use strategies that work comfortably for them will see them shine, she says.

How to help that happen? Here are her suggestions:

Make the first move

Shy people tend not to reach out because they are afraid of the reaction they will receive, she says. It's important that a manager build rapport with shy employees so that they aren't intimidated to speak up when they need something.

Check in with them informally on a regular basis and ask if there is anything they need to help them in their work, Ms. Benun suggests.

Don't put them on the spot

You don't want to come straight out and say, "I realize you are shy about responding at meetings," which would make a shy person feel conspicuous.

Instead, you can send a memo, something like "If it helps, I can get you an early copy of the agenda to help you prepare for the meeting."

You can read the rest of the article here.

You can buy the book here.

"Curiosity is the antidote to shyness" says NJ paper, The Courier Post

Here's a short excerpt from a column (written by Eileen Smith) in today's Courier Post, a New Jersey newspaper.

"Shy people imagine rejection -- dramatic, hostile rejection," Benun says. "They are actually surprised when people express interest in their work."

Because they are so focused on what everyone else is thinking about them, introverts are usually poor listeners.

"All that noise in their own minds gets in the way," she says.

The most effective antidote for shyness is a strong dose of curiosity, to listen to what other people have to say without interrupting, judging or mentally rehearsing a response.

Read the rest, plus the sidebar: 7 Steps to Self Confidence here.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Tips for overcoming shyness in the Globe and Mail

From today's Globe and Mail (Canada's National Newspaper), here is an excerpt from one of 2 articles written by Wallace Immen about the ideas in Stop Pushing Me Around, one of which features a Marketing Mentor client, Ana Garza-Robillard from Montreal.

Almost everyone is shy to some extent in certain situations. Ms. Benun says. It's extremely common for people who are dynamic in their everyday job to turn very uncertain in an unknown situation out of fear they will make a mistake or look incompetent.

This can actually make people stay at a job they dislike, rather than face the prospect of interviewing for a much better position somewhere else.

The good news is that shyness is not genetic but, rather, behaviour you develop based on experiences in your life, says Ms. Benun, who regularly runs assertiveness workshops in Canada.

That means if you learn to identify situations in which underlying shyness is holding you back, you can minimize its paralyzing effects.

Here's her formula for emerging from the shell of shyness:

Know your demons
Learn to recognize situations that typically make you feel shy and how you habitually react to them, for example, by avoiding them or not speaking up.

Commit to making a change
The next time a situation comes up that makes you feel shy, vow to try a different approach, such as speaking up rather than staying silent. Making such changes will, over time, increase your confidence.

One small change at a time
"The reason people remain shy is they have built it up into a huge, immovable thing to overcome, and they decide it is too big a challenge to even think about it," Ms. Benun says.

Making small changes expands your comfort zone and creates the momentum to make big progress over time.

Set targets
Create a time frame for taking concrete actions on goals you want to achieve. For instance, "meet a new person daily" or "attend two networking events monthly."

Create lots of options
If you give yourself many opportunities to interact with people, each one won't carry as much weight and will therefore be less stressful.

Don't bow to the competition
Don't assume that other people have more right to speak up because they appear more confident than you. In fact, your input may be more valuable than anything they have to offer.

Spend time preparing
The better you know your stuff, the more confident you will feel when the time comes to present it.

Visualize support
Instead of imagining a meeting as a place where you might end up being interrogated and judged, imagine it as a circle of colleagues all there to help you. With practice, that will become your reality.

Ask for honest feedback
Shy people tend to dwell so much on their negatives that they fail to see their positives, Ms. Benun says. Seeking input from others will draw out positive things they see in you, and give you more confidence to overcome your shyness.

Review progress
Keep a log of your goals and review daily, or at least weekly, marking down progress you've made. Every success will make you more confident, Ms. Benun says.

You can read the entire article at the Globe and Mail.

And you can buy the book here.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Book Excerpt: Chapter 1: Getting to Know Yourself Better

[You can listen to Chapter 1 read by the author by clicking here]

Andy is an extremely intelligent computer programmer who considers himself shy. He likes his work but wishes he could be left alone to do it. He works in a small family-owned software development business run by an insecure boss. This boss promised Andy a bonus last year but it hasn’t been mentioned since. Andy would like to speak to his boss about the bonus but he never knows when he’ll be in a good mood and he doesn’t know how to approach it, so he hasn’t said anything in many months.

Kathy, a self employed graphic designer, cringes at the thought of approaching "strangers" at networking functions or through cold calls. She is a wonderful designer and has been lucky because most of her work has come by word of mouth. Kathy says she doesn’t have the confidence to talk to strangers. So she can’t bring herself to attend a networking meeting, even though once she’s there, she has a great time.

What does Andy mean when he says he’s “shy?” What is the “confidence” Kathy needs to put on her coat and go to a gathering of strangers?

Let’s begin by defining our terms:

What is shyness?
Webster’s defines shy as “easily frightened” and “disposed to avoid a person or thing.” Dr. Bernardo Carducci, Director of The Shyness Research Institute in Indiana University Southeast, says that shy people are slow to warm up, have a limited comfort zone and avoid approaching strangers.

What is confidence?
According to Webster’s, confidence is “a feeling or consciousness of one’s powers or of reliance on one’s circumstances” and “faith or belief that one will act in a right, proper and effective way.” In other words, to be confident is to know you can handle whatever comes along, which you probably can.

So Andy is frightened to ask about his bonus and is avoiding the subject. And Kathy is afraid to approach a stranger because she doesn’t think she’ll be able to handle herself in an impromptu conversation.

Gregg Krech, a leading authority on Japanese Psychology and the author of the book "Naikan: Gratitude, Grace and the Japanese Art of Self-Reflection" writes, “In the center of [a shy person’s] anxious feeling is the seed of the desire to achieve, to transcend, to be worthy. The real problem is not these feelings in and of themselves; it is that we are letting this particular group of feelings "push us around.”

You see, it may feel like we are being pushed around by co-workers and bosses and clients, but we’re actually doing it to ourselves. So the assertiveness we need to learn is not to be addressed towards the pushy boss or coworkers. Instead, we need to learn to be assertive with ourselves and our feelings so we can achieve our goals.

Even if you’ve been shy all your life and it “feels” natural, there are things you can do, actions you can take that will expand your horizons and bring you out of your shell. Benefits -- even riches -- await those who can speak up and reach out. That’s the premise of this book.

Who is shy?

Dr. Bernardo Carducci, author of "Shyness: A Bold New Approach," who has been studying shyness since the early 1980’s, asserts that the number of Americans who consider themselves shy has hovered around 40% for the past 25 years.

Forty per cent of Americans. That’s a lot of shy people.

So no matter how much it feels like you’re the only one, you are not alone. The ranks of the shy include men and women, young and old, salaried and self-employed. They come from across the professional spectrum, span from the top of the corporate ladder to the bottom, and can be found in all industries, from information technology and accounting to advertising, publishing and the world of fashion and design.

It’s not always easy to believe that shyness is so widespread because many shy people don’t appear to be shy. In other words, there are many seemingly outgoing people who feel shy, who see themselves as shy, but it’s not always evident to the outside world. And there are many who "masquerade as extroverts" because they have to -- CEOs, performers, and media-savvy people who spend lots of time in the limelight. Some of the more famous ones include Carol Burnett, Johnny Carson, Barbara Walters, Al Gore and more.

In fact, we all have shy moments when facing a new challenge or an unknown person. The only difference is that some of us let it hold us back while others don’t. That’s a choice you can make.

Shyness and biology: genes, temperament and brains

For many people, shyness feels innate. But are people born shy? And if so, is biology destiny?

According to a study reported in the Wall Street Journal in early 2006, there is such a thing as a “shy gene” and it’s called 5-HTT. However, not everyone born with this gene becomes a shy child or a shy adult. It only lives up to its name when you grow up in a certain type of environment.

In other words, if you have the “shy gene” and you were raised in an environment where your parents had little social support and if you were protected from the world -- instead of encouraged to venture out into it -- you may have become a shy adult.

However, if you have the shy gene but were raised in a strong community with many adults attentively teaching you what you needed to learn, and by parents who made a conscious and consistent effort to get you out to play with other kids despite your reluctance, you are more likely to have “shaken” your shyness.

Researchers have also attributed shyness to natural temperament. There is evidence that approximately 15 to 20 percent of infants are born with what Dr. Jerome Kagan of Harvard University (Kagan, 1994) and his colleagues (Kagan, Reznick, & Snidman, 1988) refer to as an “inhibited temperament.” Inhibited children are those who are easily aroused or excited. They are the ones who, at two years of age, might be more likely to hide behind a parent’s legs when a stranger enters their play area. They are the ones who, at seven, play by themselves instead of with other children.

Dr. Carducci proposes that this inhibited behavior begins to be labeled by parents, teachers, and acquaintances as “shyness.” Shy behaviors then become habits that are strengthened, like muscles, as we mature.

But the opposite may be true as well. “Parents who engineer gradual emboldening experiences to their shy children provide a lifelong corrective to the fearfulness,” writes Daniel Goleman in his best-selling book, "Emotional Intelligence". He also cites statistics that 1 in 3 infants born with an inhibited temperament lose their timidity by kindergarten.

Beyond our genes and our temperament, we have our brains, which also play a role. Here’s how it works: When you learn a new skill, your brain actually changes. If you wanted to learn to use a computer, for example, your brain would arrange a new neural pathway for learning to use a computer. As you learn, this new pathway develops. The more you practice, the more proficient you become, the more your brain changes, until your brain gradually develops the neural pathways to make your "practicing" become automatic. Soon, you don’t have to focus and you can type and click and open documents without even thinking about it. You’ve learned to do something new.

So experience sculpts the brain. Everything we learn changes our brain and becomes part of our neural pathways. We’ve known for a while that a child’s brain has a remarkable plasticity and changes as a child learns and develops. More recent studies on the adult brain also demonstrate an astounding ability to create new neural pathways, even as we age. For example, memory-enhancing exercises and intellectual stimulation have been proven to keep the brain evolving and to prevent dementia.

So although you may not realize it, you have more control than you imagine over which pathways in your brain get strong and which ones get weak. This applies to behaviors as well, both shy ones and assertive ones. Each time we don’t speak up, we are actually strengthening the neural pathways in the brain that keep us shy. That means you can also strengthen the neural pathways that make you more assertive, by learning and practicing over time, appropriate strategies and techniques.

Sharon Begley, science columnist for the Wall Street Journal writes, “If you combine the discoveries of the plasticity of the adult brain, with the hints of what underlies shyness, then I'd say one has to entertain the possibility that an adult's 'shyness circuits' can be remodeled.”

In short, you can learn a few new tricks, if you want to. It’s not “hard” work. What it takes is repetition and perseverance.

Are you shy all the time? (Are you sure you’re shy?)

There are plenty of personality tests, like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator™ that will “reveal” your true personality type. You may have taken one in high school or on your first job and earned the label of “introvert.”

One problem with these personality tests is that they don’t tell the whole story. In the real world, you are not just one way – there are many factors that determine each of your behaviors. Plus, you are constantly changing. So even if you have a naturally quiet temperament and lots of shy moments, chances are there are other moments, other environments, other circumstances in which you are less shy, or perhaps not shy at all. Maybe you don’t have a lot to say in every situation but there are probably also situations where you are quite talkative. Maybe you wait for someone to take an interest or ask a question before you open up.

Shy is a label you put on yourself (or someone else put on you) and it just stuck around. Until now, you may have been limited by the habits you’ve formed around the label of shyness or “introvert.” But the actions that go along with the label – keeping your opinions to yourself at a staff meeting or letting a new contact walk away without exchanging business cards -- these are things you do, actions you take, or don’t take. And you can decide to take a different action in any situation.

Even if the label of “shy” reflects your natural temperament, it’s likely you are capable of much more – all of us are. When we believe the labels, we limit our ability to recognize how flexible we are and how much potential each and every one of us has. And we limit our access to the abundance offered by the world around us.

Try this. Take this sentence -- “I am ______” – and fill in the blank in as many different ways as you can. Try for 100 but feel free to go further. Do it over the course of a few days or a week as you observe yourself in action. Notice the myriad aspects of yourself. See how many pages you can fill and then study the range and expansiveness of who you are. Then, ask your friends and family to fill in the sentence, to get other people’s perspective on you.

What you need to know: Exactly when are you shy?
We don’t necessarily need to understand why we are shy. It really doesn’t matter. But if we want to expand our comfort zone, what we need to know is what we do and when we do it. And that can be done through observation.

Instead of making a blanket statement like “I’m shy,” it makes more sense to begin to identify the situations in which you are most uncomfortable and the types of people in whose presence you feel shy. Then, likewise, identify the ones that make you the most comfortable. That way you can create a plan to systematically expand your comfort zone.

· Are you shy in big groups but not in small ones? If so, where is the cut off point for size?
· Are you shy around people with authority but not around those you consider your peers?
· Is there one person or type of person around whom you’re the most shy?
· Are you shy around outgoing people? Or people who seem loud and boisterous? Do you see these people as “aggressive”?
· Are you shy with people who are considering hiring you but then once you’re “in”, you relax and can “be yourself”?
· Are you shy at gatherings of people you’ve never met before?
· Are there settings in which you take a lesser role on something that you have been highly involved in designing, implementing or managing?
· Do you shrug off compliments and have trouble taking credit for success?
· Are you shy around people of the opposite sex? Same sex?
· Are you shy at any hint of conflict? Or when other people are expressing their opinions freely?
· Are you shy at a particular time of day, in the early hours rather than in the evening?
· Are you shy if someone asks you a direct question, even when you can voluntarily offer the information any other time?
· Are you shy in formal settings but outgoing when it’s more casual? Does it depend on what you’re wearing?
· Are you shy when there is pressure to perform, like speaking to a reporter or into a tape recorder? When there’s no chance to retract what you say? When it feels like this is your only chance?
· Do you notice yourself saying phrases like, “I’m sorry” or “Excuse me” but can’t stop yourself?

Do you:
· Apologize all the time?
· Avoid potential conflict?
· Avoid risks?
· Fear making a mistake?
· Fear being found wrong?
· Find yourself annoyed and irritable in groups?
· Blame others for being boring?
· Blame others for your discomfort?
· Get mad at yourself easily?
· Feel things are often unfair?
· Fear rejection?

Reflect a bit on these lists. What is it about these situations that allow you to turn a part of yourself off, to lose access to your ideas and your words?

It is very natural to think of being shy as containing a large measure of victimhood. But if you think about it, it is actually selfish to be shy. Not only are we withholding our ideas from others, but because we feel this way, we require special attention, additional time to feel comfortable. That’s not always possible. We do have something of value to offer and it’s not fair to others – in fact, it’s stingy of us not to contribute, just because we don’t feel like it.

What you need to know: What are the fears?
The problem with our fears is that they are locked in our heads and they exist only for us. This may also be a great thing. If they're all in our heads, we have complete control over vanquishing them - if we realize them to be the destructive forces they are, instead of mistaking them for some kind of reality. If we can bring them out into the open, they can be examined as to whether or not they correspond to reality.

Let’s go back to Kathy, who is terrified of attending a networking event because she doesn’t know what to say to a stranger.

“I’m afraid I will say the wrong thing or I will mumble or not finish a complete sentence and the other person will be looking at me as though I’m stupid.”

So the way she tells it, Kathy is afraid of the way someone will look at her. Is that something to fear?

“Ok, let’s say someone looks at you as though you’re stupid. Then what will happen?”
“Well, the other person will reject me.”
“How exactly?”
“Well, he will just walk away in disgust.”
“Has that ever happened to you before?”
“No, not really.”
“Have you ever seen someone do that?”
“Well, no.”
“And have you ever done it to someone?”
“No, I would never do that.”
“So here’s the picture: you introduce yourself to a stranger and at first he is interested in what you have to say but as soon as you start to stutter or say something “stupid” (what would that be?), this person gets fed up, rolls his eyes, and simply walks away in disgust? Do you really think that would happen?”

As the picture of what Kathy imagines gets filled in with details, she can start to see how irrational and how unlikely it is. And yet, when the fear is inside her head, it seems completely plausible -- so plausible that she has convinced herself not to attend an event because of it on many, many occasions.

That’s only one fear – there are many more where that one came from. What about the fear of confrontation, of being humiliated, of not knowing the answer, of being judged by "authority figures" – bosses and supervisors, clients and prospects, anyone in a position to critique or choose?

If we can look objectively at our own fears, especially the tiny ones that hide behind automatic reactions, if we can bring those out into the light of day, we may see that they are just as unrealistic as Kathy’s. Sometimes that helps just enough to overcome them.

Try this. Next time you notice that a fear is holding you back, write out the scene of what you imagine will happen. This will help you see whether it is realistic. Show what you’ve written to someone you trust. Ask their opinion. Sometimes even that is enough to let it go.

Sometimes what you feel isn’t the most important thing
Our culture places tremendous value on our feelings. We are encouraged to “get in touch” with them, to “work” on them, to think and talk about them, to treat them with the utmost respect and attention, as if they were our most valuable asset.

We are encouraged to steer clear of anything uncomfortable. We do what’s easiest or most familiar instead of what needs to be done. We choose activities and events based on personal interest or entertainment value. Our feelings are often responsible when we decide at the last minute not to attend a gathering or a class. We rarely do anything we don’t “feel” like doing. This is how many of us make our decisions, both trivial and important ones -- from making a difficult phone call to choosing a career.

“We are not out of touch with our inner world -- that world of feelings, of preferences, of desires and discomfort. It is a world we know too well. In the course of exploring our pain, our worries, our feelings and our dreams we forego the development of our more needed skill -- to notice and engage the world around us.”
Gregg Krech, author of Naikan: Gratitude, Grace and the Japanese Art of Self-Reflection

We believe that getting what we want should be easy. We are seduced by hyperbolic promises like “Become self confident in 10 days” or “Get fit without doing exercise.” These voices are speaking to the part of us that wants to feel good and doesn’t want to work, to the part of us that engages in magical thinking.

But we know that mastery in life happens slowly over time and only with effort. If a goal is worth striving toward, it usually requires work and sacrifice and often, yes, discomfort. So are feelings the best foundation for decision-making?

Think about the networking meeting that Kathy is afraid to attend. What if one of her goals is to build her business and bring in enough work so that she can hire an employee and she can spend more time with her children or work at her church? She knows that networking is an essential tool in that process but she is terrified of talking to strangers and therefore never “feels” like going anywhere new. Should she therefore not go?

Can she stop the fear through sheer force of will? Probably not. But if she allows her feelings to prevent her from doing what’s needed to achieve her goals then she won’t build her business and she won’t be able to hire that new employee and fulfill her purpose.

Goals aren’t achieved by magic. No amount of wishful thinking or feeling good or dreaming will grow your business or help you climb the corporate ladder. If your long-term goals are important to you, whatever they are, you’ll no doubt have to endure some discomfort to achieve them. That’s a given.

Having a different attitude might help get through that discomfort. It would be more constructive to place less value on how we feel and more value on our goals and what we’re trying to accomplish, both professionally and personally.

What you need to know: Where your attention is

“Anxiety is misdirected attention.” (

Andy gave feedback on a report to a co-worker, who seemed appreciative of it. But not long afterward, he started to imagine that he’d been too harsh and worried that the co-worker was angry with him.

This is very similar to Kathy imagining that the stranger she’s talking to will think she’s stupid.

So many of us spend time imagining what has happened or what will happen. Think about how often you catch yourself replaying an awkward conversation in your head or rehearsing what you’ll say when you stand up to your boss about the way an issue was handled.

When this is going on, where is your attention?

It may seem like your attention is focused outward because these thoughts have to do with someone else. But in fact your attention is focused inward, on yourself and what you imagine others will think of you.

In reality, you have no idea what another person thinks, much less what someone will say or do. You will never know. You can get some information by watching and listening. But when your attention is focused inward, it’s impossible to see or hear. You miss offhand (and sometimes even direct) comments or body language that could help you read the other person more accurately. You miss openings that could get you closer to your goal.

This happens automatically for most of us. We don’t consciously point our attention inward. It just keeps going back there, unless we shift it consciously, and get in the habit of doing that.

Morita Therapy, founded by Japanese psychiatrist, Shoma Morita, teaches acceptance of our feelings while shifting our attention to something more constructive. It is based on the idea that we can make a conscious attempt to shift our attention from our feelings to our purpose. “We focus our attention on the things that help us live a fulfilled and meaningful life,” writes Morita. “We don’t allow our anxiety to prevent us from the taking actions that will lead us toward our goals. We simply bring the anxiety along as we strive to live well and do what’s important.”

This is simple but not necessarily easy. It means you have to notice where your attention is first, then redirect it, literally move it somewhere else.

For example, if you’re sitting in a meeting, rehearsing what you’ll say when it’s your turn to speak and not paying attention to the comments that come before you, your focus is inward. In those moments, you can catch yourself and redirect your attention to the people in the room. You will likely hear or see something new, something that could affect what you will say, something that could trigger a brilliant idea that isn’t already in your head.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of what you may be missing. Action can pull you back into reality and distract you from your shyness. The shyness doesn’t disappear; it just moves out of the spotlight and becomes less and less of an obstacle. Paradoxically, the more actions you take, the less shy you will feel. Not only will you become more skillful and confident in work situations by gaining experience in them, but you will be turning more and more attention away from yourself (and your problems) toward the reality out there. You become a shy person who speaks up and reaches out.

So next time you’re talking or meeting with someone, ask yourself, “Where is my attention?”

Excerpted from Stop Pushing Me Around: A Workplace Guide for the Timid, Shy and Less Assertive (Career Press, 2006). Order your copy here.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Should you present proposals via email or in person?

This week's Quick Tip from Marketing Mentor sparked a lot of response to our suggestion to present proposals to clients on the phone or in person instead of simply sending off a pdf document via email. Here are the highlights of the discussion. Please feel free to add your own comments.

Here's what I wrote:
Just because it's easy to submit a pdf proposal to your prospect or client via email doesn't mean you should.

In fact, in our recent Marketing and Pricing workshops, Peleg Top talked in depth about his policy to present his proposals in person whenever possible. (And if it isn't, on the phone is the next best thing.)

Otherwise, here's what happens: you send the proposal that you spent hours working on and all they do is flip to the last page to see how much it costs.

Instead, if you're in the same room with your prospect, you can go through the proposal, answer questions, explain your process and then, when it's time, get to the money issues.

The key is to approach it as a "working meeting" in which both sides invest time to talk about process and to begin brainstorming ideas.

This meeting will undoubtedly give your prospect a feel for how you work -- and you will also learn how they work. And I guarantee you that no one else will give them such a strong taste of what they'll get for their money.

Recently, two Marketing Mentor clients -- a designer and a writer -- teamed up to propose an annual report project to a local non-profit. They had a great meeting and the non-profit said they'd make a decision in a week. Instead, the prospect called the next day and awarded the project to our clients!

I know what you're thinking. "But my prospects won't want to meet with me." Well, it depends on how you approach it. And we have some ideas for you on the audio portion of this tip. So if you want to learn the magic words to say to get that meeting, [click here to listen] (it's just under 4 minutes).

Here's what Bob Bly wrote:
Sending the proposal via email takes 2 seconds.

Presenting it in person takes all day and conveys to the client that you are
not busy and your time is not valuable.

Here's what Douglas Kelly wrote:
It is so sad to see people that allow themselves to be “pushed around” — the theme of your confidence-building training. 90% of the world is bluff. People will push you only as far as you allow them. If young people knew that, they could do so much more.

As to your advice about not sending your proposal to your client or prospect by pdf. Here’s a way I’ve learned to remedy the situation of the client/prospect flipping to the back and looking at the price first. (They do it every time.) I send them the entire presentation-proposal, but without the costs. I approach them with it as if it is a draft.

Then we do a conference call or meeting in which I go through everything with them ostensibly to assure it is what they are seeking and showing what we can do for them to address their marketing or sales need. When they have no clue about what it might cost, you can get their real reactions to what you propose. Without a price, it is still a draft. Therefore they don’t feel it’s real, so they don’t need to make an up or a down judgment on your proposal. Or worse, make it an object of bargaining. And you may actually learn something from the conversation that can be added to make it serve their needs better.

By the time you finish this preliminary teleconference they will have bought into what you’re proposing. And you re-confirm all the aspects of it with them. This makes them feel as though they have an equity or proprietary interest in what you’re doing. It has their fingerprints on it. Then you tell them you will brush it up a little and make the changes in the strategy or tactics that might have come up in the conversation. And arrange for a second teleconference or meeting with them. At the second meeting your proposal has the price included, even itemized.

You can send a pdf to them then, with the price, and they will better understand the reasons for the cost being what it is. They may balk at the total price. If so, you can show them places you can cut out work to accommodate their comfort range in costs. This way you aren’t appearing to just cut your price. Rather, they can see that if they want to pay less, then they get less. Just as when they buy something as ordinary as a DVD player, or a computer, or a car.

Neither party loses face nor does the client/prospect think you are just pulling a price out of the air. You appear to be quite professional. And you don’t come off as bargaining for your services. A little bargaining might take place, but it won’t seem as if it’s just price cutting. Most clients have no idea of what it takes to prepare or execute a strategic plan, or even a direct mail package. All they know is that it probably costs more than they thought it would. But doesn’t everything?

There are many different renditions of this idea that are useful. They way I’ve explained this, it works better for large projects. But the principle of it works even for small projects. The idea is to take them one step at a time and don’t allow yourself to be hurried or intimidated. If one allows them to push for getting a good price before they even know what they’re buying, then one is indeed being pushed around.

Here's what Marcia Morante wrote:
I'm incredibly busy right now, and the thought of taking the time to present proposals in person doesn't seem manageable. On the other hand, if I'm shortlisted by the client, that's a different story. You'll usually be invited in.

Although I agree with you that a face-to-face meeting is best, it's a fairly big investment in money and time if the client is at the other end of a plane ride and a hotel stay.

What about a telephone presentation using Webex or a tool like it? ( offers something similar called Is that almost as good or the same as sending an Email? It's also usually easier to get a commitment for a telephone call than for a visit.

What do you think? Any ideas or resources to contribute? If so, please comment.