Thursday, February 28, 2008

Establishing Rapport: Pacing and Leading (NLP 3/5)

More NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) highlights after my reading of Develop Your NLP Skills by Andrew Bradbury.

This post (#3 out of 5 total NLP posts) is about effectively establishing a rapport with someone. I think most of us employ the NLP techniques of "pacing" and "leading" to some degree, but it's good to be more aware of how we can bring it into play to enhance our interpersonal relationships:

  • Pacing - Use mirroring techniques to match the person in terms of tone, word choice, volume, breathing tempo, and body language to form a rapid bond or to strengthen an existing relationship.
  • Leading - You can then test your rapport with someone by "leading" with an action and seeing if they follow your lead - i.e. if you straighten up in your seat, cross your legs, or put your hands on the table during a conversation that person will soon follow if they're comfortable with you.
I found one of the examples in the book (Develop Your NLP Skills) to be very interesting - If a customer comes in or calls and is upset, frustrated, or yelling you'll have greater success in communicating with them if you first mirror them by also raising your voice and adopting their body language ("pacing") to show that you're also angry about the situation.

An example: Someone comes into your dry cleaning store fuming, "You missed this spot on the back of my favorite dress and I wore it out without noticing, assuming you had cleaned it thoroughly. Why didn't you get the spot out and why didn't you tell me when I picked it up?" Mirroring her tone, loudly and seemingly frustrated, you respond, "It makes me angry that we would let that happen since we pride ourselves on our customer service. It's totally unacceptable that we didn't mention it when you picked it up, and we can't continue doing business with good clients like you in that way. Now, what can I do for you to make this right?"

Once you have a rapport with them, then you can transition into "leading" by softening your voice and gesturing less to bring the customer with you to a calmer place where you can discuss more effectively. It seems like this technique would be great for negotiations and resolving conflicts quickly.

I think it would be difficult to match someone at first if they're yelling and angry because that's not the way I would naturally think to diffuse the situation. My inclination is to play it soft from the beginning and approach it with tact and appeasement, but maybe next time I'll try pacing and mirror their frustration at first. However, in personal discussions I'm not sure it would be as effective because emotions have a way of escalating and "discussions" often become bigger than intended.
  • Have you ever tried pacing and leading either in a professional or personal situation?
  • Was it intentional or unintentional, and how did it work?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Productivity and Efficiency

The topics of productivity and efficiency are near and dear to the hearts of many overachievers. We're constantly looking to do things "better, cheaper, faster" in both our professional and personal lives. In the last month, organization and personal productivity thoughts began hitting me from all sides.

It started when I picked up a copy of Timothy Ferriss' book, "The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich," as part of my monthly pleasure reading. His creative and envelope-pushing ideas on how to get more done, and the suggestions for how to live an idyllic 4-hour workweek, had me quickly join the ranks of his cult-ish following. I've recommended it now to a number of people who would love the idea of personal outsourcing, creating hands-off revenue streams, and traveling the world in search of more life.

Then a friend, and fellow Balanced Scorecard believer, came over to visit with a copy of David Allen's "Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity." While it's VERY different from Ferriss' book, it offers some great ideas on how to manage your mental and physical inboxes; it teaches tools to help triage the information and task overload that we all deal with.

At the same time, I was reading the "The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It," by Michael Gerber, which offers an effectiveness methodology for small business owners. By analyzing the business in terms of workflows and trying to systematize the process, we can get more done without the stress that comes from having to switch hats frequently throughout the day.

Then at the gym on Friday, I was doing the elliptical machine and flipping through the DIY magazine Ready Made and came across an article on the "new crop of organizational gurus." It was a short article, but it did a great job of summing up the new (but old) trend of productivity preachers and pundits. The article helped me group these books together in my mind and that alone made me feel more organized.

From the Ready Made article:
The inquisition of inefficiency breeds new gurus and inventions in every era. During the 1980s, Steven R. Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was the bible, and must-have trappings included overstuffed Filofaxes, Rolodexes, and Franklin Day Planners. In the 1990s the Container Store - which now brings in revenues of $491 million - expanded nationwide. In 1999, the BlackBerry debuted, combining a phone with 24/7 access to email. It quickly earned the nickname CrackBerry, as it became the addiction choice for knowledge workers and their unhappy assistants everywhere.

The 2001 publication of David Allen's Getting Things Done kicked off the Internet Age cult of productivity. As the speed of work and volume of messages increased a zillionfold, workers needed new ways to cope with information overload. Allen's book promised that and more, by itemizing a complex, hyper-controlled, geek-friendly system for managing attention, ideas, and tasks. There are now 600,000 copies in print, and Getting Things Done has been embraced by such companies as Google and Sony. It also spawned an entire movement known as "lifehacking," a system of tips and tweaks to engineer your life to work better. Today, Lifehacker ( ranks the #6 blog on the Web."

It's interesting that the productivity and efficiency question has been around for a while, and every decade gurus take a different swing at it to include the newest antidotes for the latest overload. (I wonder what the productivity pundits would say about the fact that I just hand-typed that entire excerpt because it wasn't available online.)

While there is a lot of advice out there, it seems like there isn't a hard-and-fast solution to this pervasive "overload" problem. Maybe it's because individuals are unique in how they feel most productive, and each person's approach is customized to their situation. Or maybe it's because we're just doing so much in our lives and find it justifiably overwhelming at times.

I think that the real reason we keep bumping into this issue is that we continually push ourselves to greater heights. The moment we become more efficient, we decide to take on more. Ah, the classic pattern of an overachiever!

  • Do you have any productivity or efficiency suggestions that work for you?
  • What tricks or tools do you use to remain productive and efficient?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

NLP Tips: 2. Preferred Thinking Styles

More NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) highlights after my reading of Develop Your NLP Skills (3rd edition)by Andrew Bradbury.

This post (#2 out of 5 total NLP posts) is about how "Preferred Thinking Styles" can be helpful in communication. Personally, I'm not sure I believe it 100% but I found it interesting conceptually, so I thought I'd share:

"Preferred Thinking Styles" (PTSs) are ways in which we mentally represent the external world in our heads. The 3 common PTSs are visual (thinking in pictures), auditory (thinking in sounds), or kinaesthetic (feelings, physical and emotional). According to NLP, if you listen to the types of words someone uses frequently, it's a clue into what type they are. For example:
  • Visual- "I don't see what all the fuss is about - it looks pretty straightforward to me."
  • Auditory - "It sounds like a lot of fuss about nothing if you ask me. I'd say it was pretty straightforward."
  • Kinaesthetic - "I don't know what people are getting so upset about. I found it pretty straightforward."
The NLP methodology says that each person is most comfortable being communicated with their Preferred Thinking Style. If someone is predominantly a Visual person, then others should try to paint mental pictures for them and use words that are "visual." If you find that your boss, your significant other, or business partner uses one kind of PTS (determined by the words they use in conversation), it's best to communicate with them using keywords from their PTS.

Naturally, it makes you wonder what type of PTS you are. I'd probably classify myself as a visual person, but that's from knowing how I think about problems (not from the language I use). I find that I do communicate best with other "visual" people when problem solving, but I'm not sure that applies to everything. It would be interesting to know if I end up using visual keywords when I communicate with others.

But at the same time, the words you use are often largely dependent on the context of the discussion - i.e. Did you see that giant elephant? Did you hear that woman at the store talking so loudly? How did you feel the presentation went? That's why I'm not sure if the words we use are indicative of our thinking style, but I haven't invested the time to test out the concept.

  • Do you think there's something behind these Preferred Thinking Styles or is it bunk? Your thoughts...?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Indexed: Wisdom in Math Form

Thoughts and insight drawn mathematically on index cards...I love it! Jessica Hagy brings us wisdom, perspective, humor, and insight on a 3x5 canvas. Check out her Change This manifesto, "Indexing a Career: A Career Path in Pictures"

Also, be sure to check out her blog Indexed. Definitely check out the site...there are a lot of funny ones on different topics. Here are some good ones that relate to career, success, and development:

I haven't read her book "Indexed" yet, but I'd definitely endorse if from what I've seen from her so far. Funny, insightful, and mathematical - thanks, Jessica!
  • What wisdom would you put on a 3x5 index card?

Friday, February 15, 2008

NLP Tips: 1. Communication

I just finished reading Develop Your NLP Skills (3rd edition)by Andrew Bradbury and am going to capture some of the interesting NLP tips in a series of posts (this one being the first).

NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) is a methodology and collection of tools to aid in communication and personal development. Because NLP claims to be based in science, I thought it would be up my alley, but I found it to still be a bit too fluffy. But I did learn some interesting things that can definitely help in my personal interactions and in my work as a coach.

The first thing I want to highlight is a very basic concept on communication, but useful to keep in mind.
Many people view communication as:

I Think > I Speak > You Hear What I Say > You Know What I Mean.

This isn't exactly right because communication involves some amount on translation and decoding. In reality communication is more like:

I Think > I Encode > I Speak > You Hear > You Decode > You Think You Know What I Mean.

Communication isn't easy because we have to translate our thoughts into words and then hope that they're "decoded" as we intended by the other party. Sometimes, communication is a bigger problem with the people closest to us.

Since we've had many years of interaction and communication with them, we expect our immediate family and friends to know how we "encode" and what we mean when we say X, Y, or Z. We believe that they've been "decoding" our communication for so long that they can read our minds.

But we have to remember - they don't have the perfect decryption key, and even if they did, it would be hard to do in real-time and under emotional conditions. A communication breakdown becomes even more frustrating because we think they should know what we're talking about (because they should have superior decoding abilities for dealing with us).

This NLP perspective on communication definitely made me think about how I encode my thoughts and why clear communication is difficult (especially with the people closest to us).
  • Does this perspective bring up any observations you've had on communication?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tom Peters: Get to Know Your Team

From Tom Peters' 100 Ways to Succeed (Part II), by way of Change This (a site I really like). If you haven't read anything from Tom Peters, he's a well-regarded business thinker and consultant. His "thing" is to challenge the norm (which you can definitely tell from his writing and presentation style) and he gets paid bank to give keynote speeches and chat with CEOs.

From his PDF, slide 16:
100 Ways to succeed #77: in the moment

Your workteam today is not your workteam yesterday. Take a quiet moment or two or three BEFORE you go to work (not in the middle of your commute) to go through your up-to-date mental file on each person, where they are personally, where they are professionally, etc.

Among other things, this might result in a 90-second stop at two or three workstations to talk about what’s up with a kid’s school problem, etc. Or ask about an online course that so-and-so is taking, or why (women do this sooooo much better—and if that’s sexist, so be it) “you seem to be a bit gloomy lately”—whatever. Maybe it means quick lunch plans. A 10-minute walk in the park mid-morning. Whatever. I’m hardly suggesting that you be a snoop—just that you are, after all, trying to work with your team to get something done and help each one develop and contribute in the process.

Think like Coach Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K): Each practice-game-day is different. Act accordingly.
What I like about this is that it reminds us that managers are incredibly important because they provide the human element in business. They are the ones that can make a difference for their employees - creating a supportive environment, forging a team-based culture, encouraging personal development, etc. Part of doing this well is really getting to know the people on your workteam and figure out what they're feeling and what they're up to in the other areas of life.

I know, personally, I'm usually busy running here and there, trying to take care of business and getting things done that I sometimes forget to connect with people I'm working with. Even just a sincere "How ya doin?" is good to get the conversation started. It makes a huge difference.

Tom Peters has also written a number of books, including The Pursuit of Wow! that has been popular among businesses (I know that Commerce Bank has adopted the Wow! approach, among others).

Changing Yourself First

I came across this common saying today that made me think about all those times I've tried to change situations or other people with very little success:

"The only person you can really change is yourself"

Somewhat related to this idea is Gandhi's popular quote:

"Be the change you wish to see in the world"

Together these quotes emphasize the importance of the individual and the change that happens on the personal level. As my mom always said, "Don't worry about what everyone around you is doing, just worry about yourself."

Do you find that you're asking others to change, but not seeing the changes you can make in your own life? How can you can rethink your attitude or actions so you can be happier with your situation and the people around you? In what ways can YOU grow, learn, and develop to make the most of who you are?

You've probably thought about these things already, but if you'd like to spend some dedicated time on personal development, send me an email at and we can set you up with some one-on-one coaching to help you be the best you can be!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Career Workshop: This Saturday (2/16)

Overachiever Coach is hosting a Career Workshop in the DC area this Saturday!

It's only $15 (which is a steal for coaching services!) and you'll get a great session to help you figure out what you want from your career - - whether it's getting more from your current job, changing jobs in the same industry, or thinking about a completely new direction:

Whether you want to get more out of your current career, change careers, or figure out what would make you happier, join us as we explore your skills and interests to get back in touch with what brings meaning to your professional life. Create an action plan for moving boldly toward what you want in both the short- and long-term.
For more information or to sign up online, check out my Overachiever Coach Workshop Schedule.

If you have friends who have been struggling with figuring out their career, please point them to my website ( or have them email me directly (

You can help them be happier and make the most of their career!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Achievers and Happiness

From a Yahoo Finance column (Feb 6th) from Laura Rowley, "Wanna Be Rich? Be (Moderately) Happy":

"Numerous studies have found that happy people enjoy an advantage over malcontents: Cheerful people earn more, enjoy better health, have closer relationships, and live longer, among other benefits. But in this case, researchers wanted to explore how happy you need to be to get those perks. Do the 10s enjoy the highest well-being in all areas of life?

The answer is no -- and there may actually be a downside to scoring at the top of the scale. In a survey of more than 100,000 people in 96 countries, for example, the 8s on the 1-to-10 scale perform best in the realm of achievement.

Diener surmises that the 8s benefit from the creativity and energy of happiness, which help them stay committed in the pursuit of long-term goals and overcome obstacles along the way. But the 8s also maintain a touch of worry, stress, or internal dissatisfaction that motivates them to strive for more."

Later in the article, they go on to say that that people who are 10s in happiness have stronger relationships, are better-liked, and have high self-confidence, even though their 8 counterparts have higher GPAs and have more tangible "successes" in the traditional sense (promotions, salary, positions of responsibility, etc.). The 10s might not have all the trappings of a moderately happy 8, but they have more of the "important intangibles" in life.

It also says that 10s often project their happiness onto their relationships; even though they may have unhappy moments, they tend to view them overall through rose-colored glasses:

"The 10s tend to idealize their partners and look for the best in them, leading to more enduring and upbeat relationships. Alternately, the lack of satisfaction that drives the 8s to want more in their work lives might also prompt them to be more critical of their partners, to more readily see their faults -- and to be more willing to look around for something better."

I'd like to think I'm a 10 (because overachievers always want to be a 10 in everything), but I'm guessing that I'm probably more of an 8 or a 9. I've done a lot of reading on Happiness and how to be a 10 more often, but I feel my overachiever self and my happy self fighting it out behind the scenes. This off-stage dual between achievement and happiness poses an interesting question:
  • Can overachievers be a 10 in happiness or are we confined to an 8 because of our natural tendency to always strive for more?
What do you think? Please add your thoughts in the comments section!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Spinning in Circles Now, for Future Fun

A friend pointed me to xkcd, "a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language" and I found a comic/post that typified some of my overachiever-ness:

What I like even more about the comic, aside from the fact that it talks about angular momentum (a subject close to my mechanical engineering heart), is that she's spinning in circles so that she can ultimately have more time with her stick-figure friend; but by doing so, she's missing out on time they could be spending together at that moment. She's squandering their present happiness just to squeeze out a few more seconds of "future fun"...she must be an overachiever.

While I'm not trying to slow down the rotation of the earth, I know I'm guilty of missing the fun in front of me because I'm thinking of all the ways I could improve it, even just marginally. In all my planning and doing, I end up wasting the time I do have instead being present. In fussing about how much more amazing it could be, that I miss the opportunity to enjoy that moment for what it is.
  • Do you ever miss out on the present because you're so wrapped up in improving it or planning for the future?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Imposter Phenomenon

From today's NY Times article "Feel Like A Fraud? Maybe You Should":
Social psychologists have studied what they call the impostor phenomenon since at least the 1970s, when a pair of therapists at Georgia State University used the phrase to describe the internal experience of a group of high-achieving women who had a secret sense they were not as capable as others thought. Since then researchers have documented such fears in adults of all ages, as well as adolescents.
But what's more interesting is that in further research, imposterism has been reversed and intelligent/confident people pose to be less smart or less talented to downplay their own abilities. I've often noticed this "imposter phenomenon" among overachievers where a smart person will offer excuses or redirect to lower expectations.

In a 2000 study at Wake Forest University, psychologists had people who scored highly on an impostor scale predict how they would do on a coming test of intellectual and social skills. An experimenter, they were told, would discuss their answers with them later.

Sure enough, the self-styled impostors predicted that they would do poorly. But when making the same predictions in private — anonymously, they were told — the same people rated their chances on the test as highly as people who scored low on the impostor scale.

In short, the researchers concluded, many self-styled impostors are phony phonies: they adopt self-deprecation as a social strategy, consciously or not, and are secretly more confident than they let on.

“Particularly when people think that they might not be able to live up to others’ views of them, they may maintain that they are not as good as other people think,” Dr. Mark Leary, the lead author, wrote in an e-mail message. “In this way, they lower others’ expectations — and get credit for being humble.”

Psychologists view impostering to be more of a self-presentation strategy than a personality trait. In my experience with overachievers, a lot of smart people use it to "fit in" with a crowd of normal people (Yeah, I went to MIT but I partied most of the time...) or to "hedge their intelligence" among other smart people in case they do poorly (I was up all night and then drank 2 cups of coffee before the presentation, so it might not go that well...). I think it's common among well-educated 20-30 year olds and I must admit to a small amount of impostering, myself.

We must play the imposter role well or we risk being exposed, which is even more socially awkward than just being smart (Why didn't you say you went to Harvard in the first place instead of trying to dance around it?). It's an odd balance to be an overachiever - one doesn't want to come off as a smarty-pants or arrogant about past accomplishments, but we also want people to suspect that we're smarter than we let on.

Over the years I've realized that it's OK to be intelligent, it's OK for people to see how hard you work, and it's OK if the results aren't as good as you had hoped. If anything, it's admirable to be comfortable with who you are and open about those kinds of things.
  • When have you been guilty of impostering?

Friday, February 1, 2008

Harvard's Positive Psychology Course

For those of you who haven't heard yet, there is a class being taught at Harvard called "Positive Psychology" (commonly known as the Happiness Course) that has become one of the most popular classes at Harvard, with over 800 students enrolled in Spring 2006.

The NY Times (1/24/08) wrote a blog post/article "Teaching Happiness, on the Web" on how the popularity of the course is so widespread that Harvard will now offer it online as well.
The class, taught by Tal Ben-Shahar, focuses on the psychological aspects of a fulfilling life, including topics such as happiness, self-esteem, empathy, friendship, love, achievement, creativity, music, spirituality and humor. But happiness doesn’t come cheap. Those taking the course noncredit or for undergraduate credit must pay $700. Graduate credit costs $1,625.
Needless to say, the class is stirring up some controversy about why they're teaching a class like that at Harvard and why it costs so much. The instructor for the class, Tal Ben-Shahar, recently appeared on Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show" and Jon offered his standard skepticism and deadpan opinion on the class. Check out the interview here (embedded in the NY Times article).

I personally think this class is great and I'm excited to say that a good friend (and fellow coach), Sara B. Frederick, will be a Teaching Fellow for the class for the upcoming semester. The NY Times article prompted me to write a comment on the site about the importance of the class. Here's my response:
This course is important because:

1. Just by being offered at Harvard means the faculty is willing to acknowledge it as a growing trend (among students and in a broader sense).

2. Its popularity shows that the subject matter is both relevant and valuable. Students are telling other students or registering after reading the course description and syllabus. It is something that resonates with them and they are flocking to it.

3. It is helping to shape future leaders, offering a broader perspective on life and personal mindset at the outset of their careers. The bright minds at Harvard will go on to be VPs and CEOs in Corporate America, start businesses, do groundbreaking research, present before the Supreme Court, invent new technologies, invest in new companies, and generally be on top of their field. We want them to be self-aware and interested in personal development so they can lead, manage, and achieve in a more effective (and "enlightened") way.

Offering these highly-talented individuals a chance to investigate different perspectives on life, happiness, and balance will certainly have an impact on their lives, and in the lives of the people around them.

It won't be seen right away, but in 5-10 years, as they grow into roles of prominence and responsibility, their attitude and perspective will impact countless people as their sphere of influence grows. Wouldn't it be nice to work for a boss/CEO/director who understands the importance of balance, family, personal fulfillment, challenge, and the other aspects of "life"? Intelligent, well-rounded, and positive people are hard to find these days, and the best companies will scoop them up quickly.

If this class can reach just one future leader and provide him/her with a valuable perspective on life, the class been an incredible success.

Tal's course brings to mind Michael Ray's class for Stanford business students, "Personal Creativity in Business." It also raised some eyebrows at the time, but the impact was far-reaching, as seen by the alumni of the course who went on to be future business and thought leaders (Jim Collins- "Built to Last", Jeff Skoll- first president of Ebay, just to name a few).

As a personal/career coach for OVERACHIEVERS, I help young, driven people find meaning in their career and life. By positively impacting these talented individuals, I know they will go on to do great things with their potential and make a difference in their personal relationships, in their workplaces, in their communities, industries, and society overall.

Tal, this class makes a difference.

Lee Knight

  • What do you think? Is a class like this important?
For more info on the course, there are a ton of articles about it on google.