Monthly Archives: February 2014

How Are You at Handling Criticism?

critic      How are you at handling criticism?

I’m not very good at it, honestly. I know, I know, we’re supposed to welcome “constructive criticism.” But even the so-called “constructive” kind is still criticism, and for those like me cursed with strong ego and thin skin (relatively speaking) criticism stings. In my online dictionary the first definition of “to criticize” is to express disapproval — the second is to give a considered opinion. When I am on the receiving end I tend to confuse the two.

Nevertheless, I know that receiving criticism well is a mark of maturity. In the best sense of the word, the one who criticizes me is not trying to hurt my feelings — quite the opposite. He/she is trying to point out something I need to see in order to be more effective. The well-meaning critic is (hopefully) following the Biblical admonition to tell the truth in love. So how do I learn to set aside my reflexive defensiveness and take criticism well?

The first thing I need to do when someone criticizes me is indeed to check my defenses. As I said, my defensive reaction is a reflex, a learned response to a perceived attack. When I am on the defensive I am generally at my worst, prone to put up my dukes, lash back, and say things I should not say, using accusatory or retaliatory words which can quickly turn a productive dialogue into a raging conflict. Maturity demands that we learn to check those defensive impulses the moment they arise! I’m better at this now than I used to be, but still working on it.

So when I’ve decided to respond in a calm and mature fashion — more or less — I can move on to the next two things: consider the source and consider the motive. Is the criticism coming from someone I trust? Is it coming from someone in authority? Is it coming from someone who reports to me? Is it coming from someone who knows me well? Does my critic understand the situation? Deciding if the critic is credible is fairly easy, but evaluating the critic’s motive becomes tricky: I have to consider carefully whether the critic has an agenda of his or her own. For example, I may be pushing forward with a new initiative, only to encounter critics of change who have a vested interest in the status quo. Do I dismiss them, or do I decide that their concerns are valid and I need to pay careful attention? The motive of the critic is a huge factor in determining how much credence we give them.

That’s why, when handling criticism, I need to remind myself to seek the truth. Seldom does criticism come to us without at least some shred of truth. Do I have the maturity (there’s that word again) to sift through what may be harsh words and find the gem of honest evaluation that I need to take to heart?

Sometimes the final step, and the hardest, may actually be to thank the critic. This isn’t always possible, and it may not always be appropriate, but most of the time I think it’s an important step toward closure. Proverbs 15:1 brings timeless advice when it says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” When I am criticized, can I be the one who listens and responds with grace and humility? Can I thank the one who criticizes me?

Like I said, I’m working on it. How about you?

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Posted by on February 13, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Whatever You Do, Don’t Bore Me!


We talked about this last time: if you’re in sales or fundraising, sometimes you may find yourself dealing with a highly Analytic donor or client. You try to establish rapport using warmth and — pardon the expression — schmooze, but it just doesn’t work.  These prospects insist on data and proof, which can make it challenging for us highly Relational types to build a connection using our usual approach. When dealing with Analytic people you had better have your empirical information close at hand! Credibility only comes when they believe in your competence.

But there’s another type of prospect for whom the exact opposite approach seems best. These are the strong-willed, impatient, even impulsive types, sometimes called Drivers (although that’s not a perfect description). Drivers make decisions quickly. They march to their own drummer. They are absolutely not afraid to skip steps, start in the middle, and cut you off halfway through your presentation. And in my experience, the absolute worst thing you can do when dealing with a Driver is to make him or her feel bored.

I’m that way. I remember having an insurance guy make a presentation to me — this was back in the day of the flip chart desk-top presentation using a special notebook (the paper kind) with charts and graphs in plastic sleeves. When he opened this thing up and I saw about 40 of these pages my heart sank! Are you telling me I have to sit through forty of your flipping charts (double entendre intended)?!! I was bored before we even got started! And, no, he didn’t get the order.

Now if I had been the Analytic type, which I suspect he was, I would have devoured those 40 charts. I might even have wished for more. I might have asked for my own hard copy so I could study them on my own. But the salesman never stopped to figure out that I was a Driver who abhorred the thought of sitting through a protracted presentation. If he had done something very simple at the outset it would have set my mind at ease: he could simply have said, “Don’t worry, we’re not going through all of these — I’m just going to show you the ones that are of interest to you.” I would have breathed more easily and actually paid attention. And he might have sold me a policy.

So there’s two equal and opposite approaches to the sales presentation. For the Driver, be brief and to the point, and don’t bore me — but have the information ready in case I ask for it. You can keep it light, keep it moving, and be direct, and it’s okay to ask me for a decision because I may already have made it before your presentation is even finished. For the Analytic, be thorough and businesslike, take your time, and don’t schmooze me. Build trust by presenting me with facts, and don’t expect a speedy decision, because you’re not going to get one.

For those of us in sales and fundraising, different learning styles really do keep things interesting!

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Posted by on February 12, 2014 in Uncategorized


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When “Trust Me” Isn’t Enough


I might have mentioned this before, but from time to time (like most of you) I’ll get these flashes of insight — my so-called epiphanies. Unfortunately when I get one I tend to run excitedly to tell someone about my latest burst of brilliance — and when I do they’ll often look at me dumbfounded and say, “Well, duh — you mean you only just figured that out?!” I seem to have a flair for rediscovering the obvious.

For that reason I have come to refer to these insightful bursts as my WDE’s — my “Well, Duh” Epiphanies. Some years ago I had a WDE which went like this: I suddenly realized that not everyone thinks like me.

I’m told that I am a highly relational person, reasonably intuitive, and quick to establish rapport. I tend to trust people quickly and I feel people tend to trust me equally quickly. And when I was newer in sales I was convinced I could connect with just about anyone. So it came as a shock when I began running across prospects with whom I seemed to lack any ability to get to relational first base. I could not for the life of me establish rapport with these individuals at all — and usually the harder I tried (using my arsenal of winsome relational techniques) the worse it became. More than once I walked away with my ego severely bruised. My vaunted relational skills had apparently failed me, and I was baffled and frustrated!

Then I began to discover that not everybody takes in information and processes it like I do. This discovery of Learning Styles (thank you to author, speaker and friend Cynthia Tobias — was a revelation. Turns out the people I was having the hardest time with are the Analytics, those men and women for whom proof is everything — and proof means data. In approaching these prospects I was placing all the emphasis on my so-called interpersonal skills, trying to get these tough clients to believe me because they trusted me and to trust me because they liked me. What I had failed to realize was that Analytics only trust you if they think you know what you’re talking about. You have to prove your credibility with facts. You earn their trust through competence and knowledge — not with your winsome smile and your engaging manner. And if they ask for the data to back up your claims, you had better have those data readily at hand. The same spreadsheets and reports that make a Relational person’s eyes glaze over are bread and butter to the Analytic. They’re essential.

In time I learned (the hard way) to temper my approach with the prospects I came to recognize as Analytic. I learned to have the data handy in my briefcase so I could prove my point with facts. I learned not to behave in ways my Analytic clients believed to be untrustworthy but to back off and to be uncharacteristically businesslike and subdued — hardly my natural bent. And I started having some success with the very type of client that had formerly frustrated me so.

We’ll talk more about Learning Styles later. For now, if you’re in sales or fundraising and you’re having a hard time building trust with certain prospective clients or donors, maybe the approach you’re taking — even though it makes perfect sense to you! — is somehow undermining their trust in you, and not building it up. Here’s a handy “Well, Duh” Epiphany: when it comes to establishing interpersonal connections, we’re not all the same!


Posted by on February 10, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Crossing Tokyo Bay


One of the goals of a true leader is to be the Keeper and the Promoter of the Vision. As a leader you determine where the organization is going and you steer the team through often stormy seas, always keeping an eye on the far distant horizon, rallying the troops with enthusiastic descriptions of the Glorious Future that lies ahead.

A compelling image, it’s true. Being Keeper of the Vision is important — but, to borrow from Stephen Covey, what about those times when the urgent things seem to completely subsume the important things? Are there times in an organization when the lofty language of vision takes a back seat to the terse commands of immediate danger? As every leader knows, the answer is “Absolutely.”

Back in my U.S. Navy days when we were sailing across the wide Pacific Ocean, we typically had our radar set to its maximum range — about 40 miles in those days. I remember many times when we were sailing on the same course all day long, seeing another distant and harmless ship here and there, traversing the calm seas under the breezy sunshine at our blistering cruising speed of around 22 knots. At times like that it was easy for the captain to maintain the Vision — we knew our ultimate destination and we were on a good course and speed to get there without interruption. Sometimes your organization is like that: nothing but fair winds and following seas, as the mariners used to say. Being a leader at times like that is a calm and lofty experience indeed.

But one time we sailed into Tokyo Bay, heading for the Japanese port of Yokosuka. I had never in my life seen so many ships, boats, barges, tugs, fishing boats and random water craft in one concentrated place in my life — like a floating Interstate 5 at rush hour! At times like that you forget about talk of your long-range “vision.” You also forget about the luxury of gazing across those wide open seas toward the far horizon. And that 40-mile radar range? You have to shift your thinking drastically, reducing that radar sweep down to about 2,000 yards, just to avoid hitting something or being hit. (Old Navy saying: “A collision at sea can ruin your whole day.”) Experiences like that are when a leader shows his/her true mettle. Can you avoid your natural impulse to panic? Can you, as Kipling said, keep your head when those around you are losing theirs? Stressful times like that transit of Tokyo Bay reveal a lot more about the character of the captain of a ship — or the leader of an organization — than peaceful days sailing under the open sunshine of the breezy, broad Pacific.

Is your organization on the wide open sea, with your steady hand guiding the group toward your Vision, full speed ahead? Or are you in Tokyo Bay with the potential for disaster imminent, reacting to the barrage of danger signs all around, doing your best to arrive safely at the dock without a collision? Yes, the lofty language of vision is important — but so is the steady confidence of the leader who is competent and sure-handed under stress. Here’s a salute to those leaders who possess the ability to thrive in both the calm and the crisis.

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Posted by on February 7, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Are You Staring At Your Ski Tips?

fallen-skier           I used to ski — snow ski, that is. I learned the basics of good old downhill skiing in 9th grade on the mushy slopes of Snoqualmie Summit, riding the ski bus once a week from the Washington Athletic Club. Back in those days (DANGER: NOSTALGIA ALERT!) we used to have to start tying our ski boots at about North Bend because it took so long. Yes, I said “tying.” Boots came with laces: only experienced, moneyed skiers had boots with buckles. Our skis had cable bindings, too, for that matter…but I digress.

Yes, I used to ski, and although I stopped skiing decades ago there is one lesson that our instructor (I think his name was Thor) kept drumming into us: don’t focus on the tips of your skis! As beginners that’s precisely what we tended to do. We would traverse the slope as far as we good, then make a clumsy, panicky turn and traverse back the other direction, all the while with our eyes riveted to the tips of our skis, as if that would somehow keep us vertical. As we started to gain a bit of momentum, still staring at those ski tips, we would invariably run smack into the side of a mogul and go tumbling, often popping our cable bindings in the process.

So Thor kept reminding us: don’t stare at the tips of your skis! Instead focus your attention down the slope. Not only does it help you point your weight in the right direction — it also helps you see those moguls coming up well ahead of time, so you can actually maneuver to avoid them. This was a revelation! Not only could we anticipate obstacles, we could — amazing, but true! — keep from running into them! By staring fixedly and fearfully at our ski tips we only ensured that, by the time we saw the mogul, we were milliseconds from running into it — too late to react. Looking down the slope felt counterintuitive at first, but it proved to be essential to generating any sort of rhythm on the way down the mountain. Once I had the nerve to try it, prying my eyes from those ski tips and gazing at the slope ahead, I finally started learning how to ski. (Not great, you understand, but much, much better.)

The metaphor for us seems clear. If we try to plow through our day staring at the tips of our proverbial skis, then all we ever seem to do is to react. The obstacle (a task, a deadline, a project, a problem) looms suddenly before us, completely unexpected, and our response is clumsy, awkward, unfruitful, maybe even disastrous. But as we start to lift our eyes and learn to gaze ahead down the slope, we begin to see those hazards coming. We become proactive — we anticipate. And as a result, we handle the problems better. We develop some satisfying rhythm, even some grace. And we don’t fall down quite so much!

Does every problem seem to knock you down, sprawling in the snow? Maybe you need to listen to Thor: “Stop looking at the tips of your skis!”

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Posted by on February 6, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Efficiency ≠ Effectiveness!

I spent quite a lot of my career in radio advertising. It used to be true, and I presume it still is, that the chief means an advertiser uses to determine how much he or she is willing to pay for radio time is a tool called “Cost Efficiency.” The precise metrics and parameters may change but the concept remains the same: the buyer sets a Cost Efficiency goal which is 100% based on audience ratings — answering the basic question, “How much am I willing to pay to reach this audience?” Radio stations then compete to meet that goal: either you’re sufficiently Cost Efficient and you make the buy, or you’re not and you don’t. No hard feelings. The numbers don’t lie.

Well…they may not lie, but they do exaggerate.

Cost Efficiency only works, in my experience, for three reasons. First, it’s fairly easy to teach someone to put together a buy using some pre-determined Cost Efficiency goal as the standard. Second, a Cost Efficiency goal at least creates a level playing field, evaluating all contestants using a common standard — the device may be flawed but it’s consistent. And third, I suspect most advertisers don’t really know if their advertising actually works or not. J.C. Penney once made the famous statement, “I know that half my advertising dollars are wasted — I just don’t know which half.” People thought he was kidding, but I’m convinced he meant it. Drawing a straight line between your advertising and your cash register is a tricky business!

In other words, an advertising buy may look good on paper — it’s highly Cost Efficient — but it may not accomplish the advertiser’s goal very well at all. It’s not very Cost Effective.

I think there’s an underlying mistake we tend to make frequently in our culture — we confuse efficiency with effectiveness. The two ideas are far from synonymous. In your workplace, if you’re a manager, you may be tempted to make decisions based entirely on efficiency only to discover that what looked good on paper actually results in frustration, fatigue and burnout. Your plans aren’t effective at all! If you’re a parent, you may think scheduling your family time “efficiently” is the highest goal, only to experience a growing emotional disconnect between you and your kids, or you and your spouse. Important concepts like friendship, love, teamwork and commitment simply can’t be done “efficiently.” The process of cultivating the things that are most important in life  — our relationships — is inherently messy, ragged and inefficient. (Speaking of messy, is there an “efficient” way to raise kids, for example?) You could almost say, when it comes to relationships, that Efficiency is frequently the enemy of Effectiveness.

Sometimes as fundraisers or salespeople we have a choice: we can focus on what’s Efficient or we can emphasize what’s Effective. It’s efficient to send out the same letter to 500 recipients — it’s effective to hand-write 20 personal notes. It’s efficient to send 300 eblasts — it’s effective to make a dozen personal phone calls. Each can be important, and at times those ideas of efficiency and effectiveness can mesh nicely — but at those times where they don’t, I suggest that it’s better to be effective than efficient. What do you think?

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Posted by on February 4, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Of Football and God

Okay, let’s REALLY stretch this metaphor…

Yesterday we were at my son’s house watching the Super Bowl. Needless to say, for Seattle fans the game was the kind of cathartic, exhilarating moment that only comes after long years of drought, a word which accurately describes the Seattle sports scene when it comes to major sports championships. At one point I was holding my infant grandson when something terrific (for the Seahawks, of course) happened in the game, and I reacted like any success-starved Seahawk fan would react: I went nuts.

Of course, my shouts of glee totally freaked out my grandson who immediately started crying. Naturally I felt awful, trying to explain to the little guy that Grandpa was happy, not mad, but it was no use. Mommy had to take him away for some calming-down time. After that my son and I did most of our cheering (and fortunately for the Seahawks there was plenty to cheer about) in pantomime. We were highly enthusiastic but relatively silent. Relatively.

Reflecting on the episode today I realized that it would have been no use trying to explain to my infant grandson the finer points of football, and what it was that made Grandpa leap up and holler at the TV set. To my grandson’s ear, I probably sounded angry, agitated, threatening — one minute he was calmly bouncing in Grandpa’s arms, and the next minute this large, loud man is yelling in his ear and stomping around the room! Someday he’ll get it, but not yesterday.

And, I thought, isn’t that just a little bit analogous to the relationship between us and God? Sometimes God moves and we just don’t get it. We don’t understand His actions, His emotions, His perspective. One minute we’re bouncing happily and calmly in God’s arms, and the next minute our world is upset and our tranquility vanishes, and God suddenly seems vindictive or angry. Something is happening that we in our spiritual infancy just don’t get, and no matter how much He might try to explain it, our tears of agitation and fear do not quickly subside.

There’s an old saying that comes in handy at times like that: “When you can’t trace God’s hand, trust His heart.” My grandson is really little and doesn’t know my heart of love for him very well yet — but as adults, we actually do know quite a lot about the heart of God, I think. So next time something God does triggers fear in me, maybe I’ll remember the Super Bowl and calm down. Maybe God isn’t mad at all — He’s just cheering me on!

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Posted by on February 3, 2014 in Uncategorized


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