Turning a negative into a positive

How many times have you been in a position where you have had to deliver feedback that was negative – or constructive (the new negative)?  Perhaps you managed a team that included one or two members that underperformed.  Perhaps you needed to address something that went off the rails in a project.  Perhaps, in a volunteer role, you needed to offer advice or direction to a group or person who was unreceptive, indifferent or, even worse, belligerent.  Even as a board member, you may have needed to speak up about a touchy topic.  And anyone who has a family of any kind – be it kids, parents, sibs or just a close friend – knows that we’ve all needed to speak our minds about some topic or action that has rubbed us the wrong way.

Having been in many of the above situations myself as the giver (and perhaps even more often as the recipient) of negative feedback, I’ve gleaned a few tricks to turn negatives into positives.  I hope these help you in your day to day activities the way they now help me.

  1. Always start the conversation with something positive. 
    No matter how awful the conduct, or incompetent the work product, there is always some nugget of good that you can pull out.  Assume the best.  Most folks are well intentioned, put in the requisite effort and want a positive outcome.  Focusing on the positive as you enter the conversation can set the tone for a much more productive exchange about the things that do need improvement.
  2. Use the situation as a teaching moment.
    As they say, you learn from your mistakes.  Help others do the same by helping them not only understand what they may have done wrong but, more importantly, how they could have done better or acted differently.
  3. Share other perspectives.
    People often better understand the impact of their actions by seeing it from the perspective of others.  Take the time to demonstrate how others may be affected.
  4. Empathize. 
    We’ve all been in that place where we were on the receiving end of constructive guidance.  It is important to remember how it feels to be on the receiving end.  Empathize if possible, or at the very least, be compassionate.
  5. Don’t get frustrated by excuses.
    With criticism often comes excuses.  It is human nature to defend one’s actions.  Don’t get frustrated when the excuses come out. Accept the other person’s perspective – but be sure that yours is understood as well.

I hope you find these tips useful the next time you have to have one of those difficult conversations.

Thanks for reading!


Are you a Forum Shopper?

“Forum Shopping.”  I love this expression.  Not just because I love shopping – more importantly, because I am fascinated by the lengths people will go to get the answer they want.  In the legal profession, we call that “forum shopping” – asking multiple people for an opinion in a quest to get the opinion you are looking for.

At home, my kids use the technique often.  If my daughter comes to me first and doesn’t get the desired response or result, she will quickly go to my husband, ask the same question, and conveniently omit to mention the conversation she just had with me on the same topic. (In many cases, she gets what she wants from my husband, but is punished later for the approach.)

Admittedly, I have also gone “forum shopping” on occasion. For example, when I was pregnant with my daughter, I found it very difficult to cut back on caffeine – even though most doctors advised to do so.  But, after extensive research, I found a web site (most likely sponsored by the Coffee Growers’ Association) that posited that drinking three cups of caffeinated coffee per day was not hazardous.  I copied that link and shared it with all who dared to challenge me.

Fortunately, my kids turned out OK (although my five year-old son somehow enjoys coffee.)  But forum shopping can be risky – especially when used for business.  Here are four reasons why:

  1. If you have to search hard to get the answer you want, it is likely not the best answer
    If you truly want or need a professional opinion, you should heed the advice provided.  You can always find someone to take your side and agree with you – but that doesn’t make it the right answer.
  2. When you reject the opinions of others, you may alienate them as well
    While you may have found one person to give you the answer you want, you are in turn rejecting the opinions and advice of all those who told you otherwise.  If you want or need their trust and support to move forward, this is not a good way to earn it.
  3. Going around the process shows disrespect for it
    Organizations work hard to build processes that ensure good decision-making.  Forum shopping exposes a loophole in many of those processes.  If others catch on (and they will), standard process will become irrelevant and bad decisions can follow.
  4. Diverse perspectives are only valuable when they are all truly considered
    When forum shopping, you are asking for multiple perspectives – but only to get the one you are looking for.  This is not truly getting a diverse opinion.

Of course, there are times when forum shopping can have a positive result (refer to my coffee example earlier).  But, I recommend proceeding with caution.

Please share your thoughts or comments below.


Words of wisdom

How To Calculate The Real Cost of Services

As an attorney who has worked on both sides of the table (firm-side and client-side), I have become highly sensitive to attorney billing practices – or for that matter, billing practices for any professional service.  Far too often, I have seen a client, myself included, select a service provider based on cost—because that provider offered a lower per unit rate.  However, after engaging service providers in various industries to provide services, based on rate as well as other factors, I have come to learn that the lowest rate does not always represent the best price or quality, and can be more expensive in the long term.

 To help make sure others do not make the same mistakes I have, I hope that this list of cost considerations beyond the “hourly rate” helps you find the most effective providers for your business.

1.  The cost of speed
Some people simply work faster and more efficiently than others.  If Provider A is billing $1,000/hour and Provider B is billing at $250/hour, you would think that Provider B would be less expensive.  If Provider A had the experience and expertise to deliver the service 5 times faster than Provider B, (s)he is not only less expensive, but also more effective in a shorter time frame.

2.  The cost of learning
At many service organizations, monthly quotas and bonus structures incent individuals to bill every minute of their time.  But, should you really be charged for the time it takes for them to learn the basics of your industry? Or, if they are being paid for their expert advice, should you be paying for the time it takes them to become an expert?  Not all time should be billable – make sure the rules of engagement are clear ahead of time.  Otherwise, the costs can add up quickly. 

3.  The cost of mistakes
If a provider makes a mistake, you should not be billed for the time it takes to fix it.  Period.  Otherwise, you are literally paying for their mistakes. 

4.  The cost of your time
Each of the above scenarios are focused on the time that the provider spends on a project.  What about your time?  Every minute you spend reviewing work, fixing mistakes, and teaching them about your industry or your business is time lost for you.  How much is your time worth?

5.  The cost of inferior work
Perhaps the greatest cost is the lost opportunity cost that can result from inferior work.  At the end of the day, ROI is the most important measure.  If (using the previous example), Provider A can deliver a product that is 5 times more effective than Provider B, then Provider A is the better choice (assuming hours billed are equal).  Quality of service is difficult to gauge before choosing a provider, and should be the most important factor in the selection of a service provider.  References or personal recommendations can help.

I hope that the few minutes you took to read this article saves you exponentially more time in the future.  Have a great day.


Words of wisdom

Helpful Hints For Successful Negotiation

Negotiating a deal or an agreement can often be stressful – and even adversarial.  But, more often than not, it represents the beginning of a relationship (as opposed to the end of one).  Therefore, it is not only important to get the terms you desire, but that all parties walk away feeling good about what they got (or gave).

Here are a few negotiating tips that I have found help achieve that end goal.  Use them as you’d like.

1. Let the other side go first.
When you let the other side present their position first, you are immediately in a better negotiating position.  There have been times when I have been in the position of having to present my stance first.  Once the negotiations have concluded, I step back and say, “Darn, if only I had known XYZ, I could have gotten more!”

2.  Be prepared. 
You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve witnessed people negotiate against themselves because they were not aware of what was already agreed upon in a draft agreement.  Know your starting point and be prepared to defend your stance.  Knowing what is “market” and having examples to reference can also help.

3. Know where you want to end before you begin.
Part of preparation is knowing where you want to end up.  And, what your fallback positions are.  You may ask for, but not get, everything you want.  Know your “must haves” versus “nice to haves” before sitting down with the other side.  This requires honest conversations among your side of the table as part of your preparation process.

4.  Don’t be afraid to ask for more than what you want. 
The direct approach can often be the most effective.  Rather than game playing, trying to one-up the other party, or the parties on your side of the table, clearly and succinctly state your position.  Start high.  Ask for more than what you want to ensure that you will end up closer to your ultimate goal.  And then, be quiet.  And listen.

5.  Know who you are negotiating against. 
A quick LinkedIn or Google search can provide a lot of intelligence. It always helps to know who you are dealing with.

6.  Make the other side feel like they won.
As noted earlier, negotiations often represent the beginning of a relationship.  So, it is important that everyone walks away feeling like winner as it will not be the last time you see one another.  If the other side feels like you took blood and their first born child, the resulting business relationship may be less than fruitful.

At the end of the day, never lose sight of the ultimate business goals, while always keeping in mind the legal framework within which those goals, and that business, operates.  I hope these tips help you next time you are at the negotiating table.

Thanks for reading!


Words of wisdom

How To Prevent Annoying Business Conversations

We’ve all experienced them.  Those conversations where, when you walk away, you wonder if anyone other than yourself heard anything you had to say.  You are immediately concerned if any of the next steps that were mentioned will be followed up on.   I’ve been in many of those conversations and, honestly, have caused a few as well.  However, over time, I’ve learned how to try to avoid this situation. 

So, here are five tips to avoid annoying conversations:

1.  Don’t play the “one-up” game.
Although it is tempting to want to “one-up” a story of how you did X, Y or Z, hold back.  While your story may seem entertaining, it can often come across to the other person as, “That’s nothing. Let me tell you about what I did.”  And that can be annoying.

2.  If you ask the question, don’t answer it. 
This one seems simple but, so many times, I’ve seen people (including myself) ask a question and then jump in with an assumed response.  If you have asked a sincere question, and want to know the answer, be quiet and let the person answer it.  Not only will prevent annoyance, but you will also get better information.

3.  Don’t get annoyed with “stupid” questions.
Conversations are all about learning from one another.  So, you can’t get frustrated when someone asks a question that seems “stupid” to you.  It’s not stupid to them, so be sure not to make them feel that way.

4.  Be sure they know you heard them
One of the most important things you can do in a conversation is listen, then repeat what you heard back to the person – especially for content that is important for you to understand.  When you repeat it back, the other person can be confident that you heard them properly (and correct you, if not).  Otherwise, they could walk away wondering if you really understood what they said.

5.  End with a clear set of next steps
Before the conversation is over, clearly communicate any follow up steps.  This will ensure that everyone knows how and when the conversation should continue, and what people’s roles and responsibilities are in the interim.   It helps to put it in writing after the meeting as well, to confirm that you and your colleague(s) are on the same page.

While these tips may not prevent conversations about annoying or frustrating topics, they will help ensure that the conversations themselves are less so. 

Thanks for reading.