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Diffusing Criticism

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Why do you approach criticism the same way you approach an unguarded railroad crossing?

I recently spoke about diffusing criticism and opened by asking that question. At an unguarded railroad crossing your life is at stake. When you receive harsh criticism, your self-image and reputation can be at stake if you act wrongly.

How is criticism received in your brain?

We have a composite brain broadly described by Bert Decker to consist of the First Brain, the seat of our emotions, and the New Brain, the seat of our reasoning. When the First Brain and the New Brain conflict, we do stupid things. Have you read about a motorist that tried to beat a fast train to a railroad crossing and died as a result of his stupid behavior? The primitive running down a gazelle on the savannah takes control over the reasoning motorist.

In the same way, our First Brain urges us to take stupid actions to criticism. We may withdraw to stop communicating. We may counterattack, thinking we’ve been attacked. Or, we may rationalize away the criticism, missing an opportunity to grow and learn.

How will you handle criticism when your are at that potentially dangerous crossing?

First Brain Engagement

Criticism raises your pulse, races your mind, and can make you a deer in the headlights. That’s your First Brain taking charge of the situation. Although the First Brain is deaf, dumb, and blind, it demands you recognize and work with it. We speak to it through our behaviors. Do what you’d do at an unguarded railroad crossing: Stop, Look, and Listen.

  • Stop – Get off your cellphone, look away from your computer, put away distractions to signal your First Brain to pay attention. The First Brain reacts to criticism by increasing and decreasing respiration as it prepares you to run or to hide. Take control of your breath and count your breaths to convince the First Brain its plan to run or hide is unnecessary. Focus your attention on being present.
  • Look – Give the person your full attention as you focus on eyes, body language, and speech. You can tell a lot from eye contact and body language, such as “Is this person being honest with me?” “Is the tone of voice consistent with what’s said?”
  • Listen – Tell yourself it’s okay to listen. Criticism can only hurt you by the way you react. Engage your First Brain and New Brain. “Is the eye contract and body language consistent with what’s being said?” “What are the key points that you hear?”

New Brain Engagement

People criticize to motivate change or to punish. Punishment is not a healthy dialogue intended to improve your performance. Disengage from punishing criticism, just as you would avoid a dangerous railroad crossing. If the person intends to help you improve your performance, you’ve got to engage your New Brain to understand what’s said and how you can benefit by it.

  • Repeat and paraphrase – Are you sure you heard or understood what’s said? Repeat or paraphrase what you’ve heard to confirm what’s been said. If done with sincerity and a proper tone of voice, the other person will appreciate that you are listening and thinking about what’s said. Pilots repeat to ground control what they hear. If you were approaching a railroad crossing, and your passenger mumbled, “I think a train is approaching,” you would immediately repeat, “Did you say that a train is approaching?” What works in the air and on the ground, works when you receive criticism.
  • Ask questions –  You learned in school that asking questions reinforces your understanding of the materials. Asking questions also coordinates your New Brain and First Brain, as you signal that it’s okay to go into unfamiliar feelings and understandings.

Deal with Feelings First

You’ll notice that your first reaction to criticism is to engage the First Brain. That’s counter to what we’re taught in school and often at home – think and analyze first, sympathize last. If you want to learn from sincere criticism, you’ve got to be present, and to be present you’ve got to be emotionally present.

The heart has its reason which reason knows not of. ~ Blaise Pascal

As you coordinate your feelings and thinking, you are prepared to empathize with the feelings of the other person. Perhaps the reason for the criticism is a perceived hurt or slight that can’t be expressed in words. If you refrain from judgment and know the other person’s point of view, you can distinguish the valid emotions from the reasoned criticism you received. A simple apology – not a denial – is the answer when the person feels you caused a hurt.

Behavior Tips

Your behaviors telegraphs your state of mind. A few simple ones can be a life-saver when you are unsure of the purpose of the criticism.

  • Remain calm
  • Show respect
  • Smile
  • Use an open body posture

Conclusion

You approach criticism the same way you approach an unguarded railroad crossing, because a bad response can damage your self-image and reputation. We’re all aware of what happened when a candidate for the presidency reacted poorly to criticism. We think, how could the candidate have be so stupid?

Diffusing and learning from criticism is a valuable skill for everyone.

Be a Successful Negotiator

How can you improve your skills as a successful negotiator? That was the topic of my speech that I presented on Wednesday, March 21.

You may think Donald Trump or your favorite political candidate is the best negotiator. In fact, you are your best negotiator. You’ve been negotiating since you were born and cried for food to the present when you negotiated for your job. Negotiating has been your way of life. People invented language to negotiate.

Room for improvement exists for any skill. These are the strategies and tips that I spoke about during my talk.

Confidence

Have confidence in yourself as a negotiator. A negotiator is best when he or she is speaking freely. A negotiation is another form of conversation. How do you feel when a telephone solicitor reads a sales script to you? You know the solicitor has a one-way conversations in mind. Your needs, wants, problems, and concerns are not in the script. A confident negotiator converses with the other party.

Are You Negotiating with the Right Party?

Before you begin negotiations, ask yourself if you are negotiating with the right person. Does this person have the character, competency, and power to negotiate? If he or she lacks one of these, you’ve not found the right person.

Be Outcome Aware

Be outcome oriented when negotiating. Your negotiations can end one of three ways with these associated consequences:

Lose-Lose: Neither party benefits, and in some case the negotiations damage the personal relationships or the situation become worse. Two people trying to get the best of each other lacks food faith and can create new problems.

Win-Lose: A one-sided wins usually means that one party is has control over the other and is asserting  power, not negotiating for a mutual increase in value. These are episodic relationships and result is only as good as the power of the victor to enforce it.

Win-Win: The parties agreed to an exchange that creates new value that increases wealth, status, knowledge, or well-being. Each party has improved his or her reputation by negotiating in good faith and has built a relationship for future negotiations and agreements.

Prepare Your Thinking and Speaking for the Negotiations

Analyze the Situation

Do your homework by working on these four areas to negotiate at your best:

  1. Understand your position and define it by writing down your wants, needs, problems, and concerns.
  2. Understand the other party’s position by listening and asking questions to discover his or her wants, needs, problems, and concerns. Probe for hidden concerns by using empathy and avoiding value judgments.
  3. Figure out how you can most clearly state your position so that you will be heard.
  4. Create an organized list of the options you will propose for each term you will negotiation. For non-negotiable terms, prepare to politely but firmly say, “I will not negotiate on that item.”

Lead the Discussion

Remember that you are in a conversation. Keep reminding everyone at the table that you seek an agreement that serves the interests of all parties.

Keep a win-win outcome in mind by reviewing how the points of agreement are serving your wants, needs, problems, and concerns. A win-win is not necessarily a compromise agreement. Your aim is not to compromise. Your aim is to be heard, understand the other party’s positions, and explore the options that serve the interests of both parties. That could mean getting everything you ask for, agreeing to the other party’s proposal, or fashioning alternatives that serve you both.

While negotiating, listen without judgment to the other party’s options, in the same way that you intend your options to be heard. If an option is unacceptable, say so with the reason it is unacceptable, which can include, “I will not negotiation on that option.”

Keep Flow in the Negotiations

A good conversation needs the grease of small talk. While you will stick to the issues during direct negotiations, light conversation about sports or personal interests keeps the conversation flowing during breaks and downtime.

Your negotiating style shapes the agreement and builds your reputation. A reputation for an honest and direct negotiating style may be the most important result from the negotiations. Your good reputation will encourage the other party to honor the agreement and open the door for future agreements.

Be likable and watch your language. People like to do business with a cheerful and appreciative person and will avoid a curmudgeon.

Conclusion

Enjoy yourself as you negotiate. People will see your upbeat temperament and want to mirror it. Work to create an agreement that serves the interests of all the parties, including those not at the table.

Be a Better Facilitator, Be a Better Leader

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Facilitating is an important skill on the job, at home, and in your community.

If you want to lead, you need to be a great facilitator. I asked Jim Dowling, a great facilitator that I have the privilege to work with,

What are three practices that will improve my facilitating skills?

We discussed these points:

Authority

A facilitator uses authority to persuade the participants to trust the process. Authority comes from having an agenda and using transparent protocols for the meeting. By setting down what will be discussed and how it will be discussed, the facilitator creates the authority to keep the discussion on track and civil. People will trust the process when they believe the everyone will be heard and have a voice in the meeting. The reluctant will take part when they believe the group will respect every person and give opinions a fair hearing.

Distillation

Speakers say a lot at meetings, covering points on and off the agenda. Fatigue from listening and learning can disrupt the connection between the speaker and the audience. People absorb knowledge at different rates. It’s the facilitator’s job to keep the speakers on track and help everyone with their listening and learning. A great facilitator periodically summarizing what the speakers have said. Speakers appreciate a summation during the meeting if the facilitator respects the speakers’ authority on their topic and keeps the speakers the focus of attention.

A great summary distills the key points and ideas delivered in a logical and memorable précis that links back to the theme of the meeting. It states how the audience can benefit by what was said and shows how it relates to the purpose of the meeting. The facilitator summarizes, builds bridges, and tells the audience the next steps outside the meeting.

Temperature

A great facilitator knows the temperature of the audience and the speakers. How are the speakers reacting to the audience? How is the audience reacting to the speakers? People are excellent at taking the temperature of people, because we’ve done it since birth and know an uncomfortable situation. The art of taking the temperature is knowing what to do when it get hot, cold, or stormy. The facilitator is the social lubricant for the meeting and a condenser that focuses and re-channels discomfort or ill-will. If the concepts of the speaker roil the audience, the facilitator identifies the discomfort, names it to the audience, and relabels it to remove its power and move on to the next point. For example, the speaker states why the unemployed members of the audience are not getting jobs and tensions rise. The facilitator steps in, acknowledges that the discussion is uncomfortable and why, says why the speaker’s key points relate to the topic, and moves the audience and the speaker on to what’s next.

If you want to be a better leader at work, at home, or in the community, learn the skills of a great facilitator and practice them.

District 4 Toastmasters Spring Conference

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The Event

The District 4 Toastmasters held their Spring Conference, It’s Vegas Baby, at the Milpitas Embassy Suites on May 14, 2011. I attended the all-day conference that featured keynotes speeches and a table topics competition in the morning and district officers’ meeting and international speech competition in the afternoon. We thank the conference support staff whose hard work led to the success of the conference.

Keynote Speaker Jana Barnhill

Past President of Toastmasters International Jana Barnhill inspired us to stay on mission to improve our public speaking and our communities at home and worldwide.  She related her experiences visiting clubs where she found each club has its own flavor, yet each club helps each member to improve his or her speaking, gain leadership skills, and grow the circle in influence.

Speech evaluation is a club’s foundation for improvement, so Jana reviewed the keys for a  Toastmaster to deliver a great evaluation:

  • Focus on the positive to be effective.
  • Lift the speaker to a higher level.
  • Never let the speaker settle for what’s comfortable.

Jana chided that you don’t get to Vegas, baby, by settling. Surround yourself with successful people, and work to your full potential as a better speaker and person.

Jana asked, Why join Toastmasters? Because being a Toastmaster affects how people see you, Jana replied. A Toastmaster everyday demonstrates learned and practiced skills in listening, analyzing, and leading. That is why you should join and stay with Toastmasters.

Toastmasters’ Key Tool for Improvement: Mentoring

Kevin Dolye, DTM and International Director, Region 2, why mentoring is important and how to approach mentoring in a Toastmasters’ club. He drew the distinctions between a mentor as coach and mentor:

  • Coaches correct and mentors support.
  • Coaches tell and mentors listen.
  • Coaches lead and mentors partner.
  • Coaches want results now and mentors look for long-term improvement.

To motivate us to mentor, Kevin asked us to name the teacher that helped the most in grade school. Everyone in the audience had a name in mind; proof Kevin said of the power of mentors and their everlasting impression on us. And, I say, thank you Mrs. Faulkner!

The International Speeches

The international speeches and speakers inspired me and their messages can inspire you. Here are the seven speakers I had the privilege to hear:

Arnie Buss, Losing My Baggage – Arnie recounted a lifetime of emotional baggage that he’d collected. These personal defeats and rejections weighed down his spirit and ability to move forward. Outside help provoked him to reconnect with the defeated and rejected Arnie and ask him, What could I do? The answer most often was he did the best he could then and now he could make peace with his past. His emotional baggage got left behind, and unimpeded Arnie  continues his journey.

Belinda Chua, Singing – Belinda wanted to sing, but her voice betrayed her, leading to feelings of being a failure in the eyes of her parents, teachers, and friends. The shame haunted her and dampened her spirit, until the day she decided to take singing lessons. Belinda hasn’t become a professional singer, but she has learned important vocal exercises that improve her body and spirit, and she’s learning to sing in harmony one note at a time.

Maria Leone, What Does it Take to Make It? – Maria shared three lessons from her audacious work to be a successful business executive, loving mother, and cancer surviver: indulge your love of learning at every stage of your life, feed your determination to succeed even if you don’t know the outcome, and realize each choice taken is yours alone.

Chris Lozano, Surfing Life – Chris used the metaphor of his favorite sport of surfing to remind us that whether you’re riding a surf board or standing on life’s ground, the difference between taking a spill or riding to shore depends on staying in the moment,  recognizing opportunities and deciding which is right for you, and being persistent. And, know how to tell the difference between the dorsal fin of a dolphin and a shark.

Emmanuel Mayssat, One Million Lights –  Emmanuel, a Silicon Valley engineer, told us about One Million Lights, a project to distribute one million solar lights to replace dangerous and polluting petroleum lanterns and give children a better chance to learn and live health lives. He called on each of us to take on a project to make a better world.

Lucillee Sarkisian, Keep Moving – Lucillee challenged our belief that our brains are static and do not grow. She further exhorted us to do what’s right to care for our brains. She told us brain research has found that no matter your age, you can grow both new neutrons and connections in your brain through mental and physical exercise. Walk your brain to better health and thinking was Lucillee’s message.

Jean Tsong, Battle Hymn or Siren Song? – Jean discussed Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother  through her own experiences as the daughter of Asian-American parents. Jean pled her case that parenting is more than implanting a fierce desire to achieve. Children want and need love, Jean testified from her own experience. Nurturing children puts them in harmony with themselves and those around them. Jean said Chua’s thinking may be the symptom of the personality disorders that are hidden from sight and unacknowledged in Asian cultures.

Seven inspiring and educational speeches from seven individuals that lived what they learned and shared with us. I thank them all!

My Personal Thanks to Page Edwards

On a personal note, thank you, Page Edwards, our newly elected Division E Governor, for placing your confidence in my leadership skills when you selected me as a candidate for the incoming E3 Area Governor for Division E.

Praise for the Speakers at the Division E Speech Contest, Every One a Winner

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The International Speech Contest for Division E of District 4 of Toastmasters International was held on April 8, 2011 at 1455 Market Street, San Francisco. Though one speaker won the contest, all five speeches captured and motivated me to write these summaries.

Scott Goering, How to Give a Speech: Master the three essentials of public speaking outlined by Scott, and you can master the world:

  • Be comfortable with your body, and your gestures will come naturally.
  • Internalize your message, and the audience will know you are authentic.
  • Turn it on, and show that you are a motivator that people want to hear.

Michael Dart, Coffee with Nikki: Michael struggled with and closed down from fears about life and death. Confronting those fears hindered his personal fulfillment. He began change by knowing he had to put aside his expectations limited by fear and to embrace what life delivered. Change in practice began when he agreed to mentor Nikki, an orphaned Vietnamese-African America outcast from Vietnam who became a street person in San Francisco. When he  learned how Nikki celebrated the unbearable, he began to ask crucial questions beyond his fears such as, “Where do people like Nikki go who don’t fit in our society?” Finding the answer to this question gave Michael unexpected rewards.

Maria Leone, What does it take to make it?: Sharing with us personal stories at once horrifying and edifying from her life and death battle with breast cancer, Maria told us what it took for her to win at life:

  • Fall in love with learning.
  • Stay the course.
  • Say Yes! to life.

John McKnight, Values: Recounting the incredible life of Emily Warren Roebling, wife of Washington Roebling, the reputed builder of the Brooklyn Bridge. When Washington was unable to complete his duties as the lead engineer, Emily selflessly and silently took his place to complete what was then a man’s job. She taught herself higher mathematics, the calculations of catenary curves, the strengths of materials, bridge specifications, and the intricacies of cable construction. When Washington’s superiors wanted to remove him from the project, Emily spoke for him and persuaded them to keep him on so that she could finish his work. John McKnight reflected that when he is in doubt about his career, he meditates on the values that led Emily Roebling to success, a lifetime devotion to learning, leading, and communicating.

Anthony Hogan, Home: Modeled on the lyrics of Otis Redding’s (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay, Anthony recounted his life’s path while introducing us to his kinfolk in Georgia, his intellectual awakenings on the East Coast, and his growing taste for the sensuality of living a full life in San Francisco. Redding’s song became a metaphor for the pain and happiness in Anthony’s life.

Each speaker delivered the #1 speech.

Putting Knowledge to Work in Vietnam

Saigon Toastmasters, 12 March 2011

I just got back in the second week of March from three weeks of job and business opportunity shopping in Vietnam, mostly in HCMC.

While in Vietnam I quickly experienced the limitations of my perspective in that:

  • I don’t speak Vietnamese.  I learned English is the international business language of Vietnam, while Vietnamese is required to deal with the government.
  • I didn’t know the complete rules of social engagement. I learned the Vietnamese spend a lot of time on small talk and sometimes never move on from there. Making a mistake in the business part of a conversation that would be ignored in the US can be a deal breaker in Vietnam.
  • I didn’t know the best ways to follow up on my meetings. I learned that follow-ups are done with phone calls or text messages, while email is rarely acknowledged or replied to.
  • I didn’t know what caught the attention of potential employers. I learned that that titles and diplomas get more attention than in the US, and can open door in unexpected ways.

I scrambled for jobs and opportunities, learning as I went. In the event, I got more informational interviews and job offers in three weeks than I’ve had in two years in the Bay Area.

I spoke at two Toastmaster clubs (presently the only operating clubs in Vietnam), gave an impromptu speech at Citynetevents on the rooftop terrace of the New World Hotel in HCMC, taught a class on the 8 good habits of Google managers at Hong Bang University, mentored students in spoken English, and spoke with hundreds of people – in short, I had a great time.

How did I do it? I think these points build upon Pat McHenry Sullivan’s writings (www.visionary-resources.com) sum up what I did by:

  • Lowering my emotional barriers to give people ready access to me.
  • Working on being authentic: I said that I needed a job and needed it now.
  • Being present: I treated each day as the first day of my job search.
  • Turing my stress into energy: I can’t remember sleeping less and doing more in three weeks.
  • Putting aside my feelings of embarrassment for not speaking the language and not knowing the finer points of social and business etiquette.
  • Focusing on one objective: find a job.

The experiences taught me that today’s worries should not make my world stand still.

Stand up for what you need and find out how to get it.

Thinking on Your Feet

Louis Nizer

Do you feel comfortable thinking on your feet? Louis Nizer in “Thinking on Your Feet” writes that practice, practice is the key to being composed and delivering valuable content on demand. That great extemporaneous speech you heard was likely the result of the speaker’s careful selection of content, close consideration for the needs of the audience, and hours of practiced delivery.

Here is some of Nizer’s advice on speechcraft:

Focus – The first step of preparation is to determine the subject matter. As you write the speech, be conscious of its structure and rhythm – how your thoughts flow. Build anticipation into your speech. Prepare the listener for your point, don’t make it a surprise.

Brevity – “When the speaker had talked for 5 minutes, I was so impress that I’d decided to give every cent to his cause; ten minutes later I was prepared to throw in all my silver; twenty minutes after that I wouldn’t give him anything. At the end of the talk, when the contribution plate was passed around, I was so utterly exhausted that I extracted two dollar for my time.”

Preparation – To think on your feet is to understand what you’re talking about. Commit a speech to memory as a thrilling plot. Ideas should be memorized, not words. Recited words are not thought. A speech from ideas allows for natural posture and reduces the length.

Have Fun – Good public speaking is entertainment. Good humor requires the same planning and preparation as the other parts of your speech. Be creative and think how you can turn the common into something new and memorable: What foods these morsels be.

Nizer’s Witticisms

  • More actors have had their minds go blank than murderers.
  • The courage to experiment is rarer than the ability to achieve.
  • A pound of taffy when you’re alive is better than a ton of epitaphs.