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Friday, February 28, 2014

Facilitating Ain't Lecturing

     As a facilitator and trainer, I realize that both lend themselves to less skilled people turning each role into a college classroom for bored teens just trying to get through to the next class.  Facilitating requires that the facilitator guide discussion, control the environment where the discussion takes place, and generally move the discourse along.  A good facilitator is almost invisible in the room.  They take charge and step in and out of the discussion at the right times.  They step in to ask questions that open the floor up to the participants' opinions and learning.  They make sure the entire meeting runs on time and no one bogs down the flow.  They step out when appropriate to direct the attention to the people who matter in the discourse.  They shut down the talkers, command respect for the speakers and themselves, and they bring their own personal style or touch (professionalism, humor).
     A trainer acts in much the same way and also contributes wisdom and learning.  The trainer takes the learner to a point of understanding and to new information.  The trainer turns old information into refreshed information that is useful and increased in value.  The trainer makes the environment conducive to receiving content in a relaxed setting where there are no distractions but an increased interest in what's happening in the room.  The trainer does not lecture but helps the learner to experience the lesson through sound, words, visuals, music, laughter, color, lights, and human contact.  A trainer delivers enlightenment.
     When any of these skills is absent between these two roles, the facilitator and trainer devolves into lecturing.  The trainer/facilitator is now professorial and bordering on boring.  They run the highest risk of losing the attention of their learners because now they are bombarding the human mind with information that piles up and has nowhere else to go.  It collects in the brain with little opportunity to process it and do something useful with it.  In order for the influx of information to be collected, stored and used, the listener has to have a chance to put what they've learned into practice.  Any time the person at the front of the room denies his or her participants this benefit, whatever they are teaching is lost in large part to boredom and information fatigue.  Lecturing is for people who lack creativity in teaching.  Engage your audience.  It's about them.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Taming the Tongue

     You don't have to be a bible reader or believer to know that the following statement is true in the book of James:  "...but no man can tame the tongue.  It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison."  Seem a little strong?  Not really.  It's one of those hard truths we don't like to face.  As much as we like to think we can control what we say, many of us fail at it.  We don't often think before we speak, and that lack of forethought has ruined many a relationship.  How many apology tours have you seen in the media these past few years with notable people having to smooth over some ill-spoken statement based on their biases?  How many celebrities have had to make nice with GLAAD because of some homophobic slur or with some minority organization because of racially charged words toward a particular ethnic group?  It happens regularly because the tongue seems to take on a life of its own.  And with the ubiquitous use of cameras and social media these days, one can hardly get a word out without someone taping it and posting it along with their own commentary to spark a flame.  Oh, and by the way, James references that as well:  "Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark."  One word, one comment, one off-the-cuff remark, and suddenly there is a firestorm of calls for your head on a platter.
     Adlai Stevenson once said, "Man does not live by words alone, despite the fact that sometimes he has to eat them."  We've established that words have power.  When you consider that words have declared war and also peace, an announcement of a marriage and also divorce, birth and also death, hope and also despair, a hiring and a firing, and all other manner of good and evil, we know that they bring us both great joy and great pain.  So knowing what to say, when to say it, and how to say it are essential skills in being a competent communicator.  When we lack those skills, we find ourselves promptly embarrassed by a wild and unwieldy tongue.
     Therefore, keep these three things in mind to save yourself from having to choke up an (insincere) apology:
  1. Speak from intellect and not emotion.  Most often, people get into trouble because they say something out of how they are feeling at the time.  If they are angry, they blurt out a response or reaction without much thought.  However, if they stopped for half a minute and thought through what they were about to say, they'd probably refrain from speaking out of the emotion they were feeling at the moment.
  2. Plan your response ahead of time if you know the topic is sensitive.  Words are hard enough to choose when you have time to think.  To speak on something that is volatile without preparation is like jumping out of a plane for the first time with no instructor.  You are in free fall without a clue as to how to get yourself out of that mess.
  3. Practice self-control.  There will be times when you are tested.  Knowing how to react under pressure comes only by going through challenges mentally a few million times so that you are not caught unawares.  Using verbiage that can neutralize situations or soften harsh comments are the mark of a skilled speaker.  Become one today.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sharper Development In the News

I was grateful to moderate this important meeting. The city manager has a tough choice to make.

Police chief candidates face tough questions at public forum - - Columbia, South Carolina |

Monday, February 17, 2014

Weather Postpones Sharper Development Solutions’ Women’s Leadership Forum for One Week

Weather Postpones Sharper Development Solutions’ Women’s Leadership Forum for One Week

Check out this press release.  And if you're interested, register to attend.  It's going to be a dynamic session that will and can change the lives of the people who are willing to invest in their success.  Only those who are willing to do the work will reap the rewards.  Find out how. Register at (803) 622-4511.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Language of Love

     So it's Valentine's Day and couples are expressing their feelings to the one they love all day long.  Gifts, flowers, candy, and all manner of expressions of amour abound today.  Let me take advantage of the occasion, and challenge everyone to stop for a minute and consider your love language when talking to those with which you do not have an intimate connection.  As you know, it is easy to tell someone you are attracted to or committed to that you love them.  Well, at least most times it is.  Some people we love out of obligation because they are family, and some we are actually in love with.  Some we started out loving and somewhere along the way fell out of love, but we're hanging on to the relationship for reasons we can't explain.  I get it.  Today is tough for you because you're expected to express something you may not feel.  (Sigh) So now you have to tell a lie.  Let's consider this complicated issue.
     Whether you are in the situation just described or whether it's your relationship with a neighbor, coworker, boss or ex-somebody, we still all must and should speak the language of love to those we interact with regularly.  Let me clarify that I'm not referring to the Five Love Languages that Dr. Gary Chapman teaches in his book of the same name.  I'm referring to simple phrases and meaningful conversations that speak to the hard job of loving humanity.  It is hard to love people.  Even for people like me who tend to be people-focused, not everyone is lovable, and that's what makes loving humanity hard.  However, despite the many hangups all of us have, if we expressed love over hate which seems to be the preference of today, then we could stamp out a lot of the senseless wrongs that are committed.  Whether prejudice and discrimination, jealousy, greed, ignorance, poverty, arrogance or abuse, the driver in all of these is hatred.
     The simple antidote to hate is love.  You don't have to be romantically linked to another individual to show them you care or at the very least that you don't hold any animosity toward them.  You need only practice peace, kindness, and gentle words in your dealings with them.  If they don't receive your efforts, you lose nothing.  You have contributed one more act of love in a world that seems to counter it like war to compromise.  I believe if we keep intentionally pumping love into a seemingly loveless world, ultimately, we can fill it like a bucket at a well.  It will at some point overflow.
     Remember that the Holy Bible describes love as being patient with those who may not love us back.  Love makes us want to be kind to those who may want to spite us.  Love doesn't make us lust after those things that belong to someone else.  Love isn't arrogant and boastful.  Love isn't so filled with pride that it doesn't allow us to show humility.  Love takes into consideration other people's feelings so we think first
about how we come across to them; we try not to be offensive.  Love makes us want to put other people's wants and needs ahead of our own.  Love doesn't make us fly off the handle when something happens we don't like.  Love doesn't keep a running list of what we did wrong; it promotes forgiveness.  Love makes us suffer with others when bad things happen to them.  We don't rejoice in their hardships even though they may have wronged us.  Love is honest.  It removes the desire to cheat or betray another human being.  It always finds ways to be a fence of protection against the evil forces in the world; it seeks to be agreeable first and trust another person; it keeps hope alive; and love never gives up on people.  Love never fails. (1Cor. 13:3-8)  Express love today to everybody.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

When Words Are Wasted on Excuses

     Recently, I experienced slack customer service from a company with which I'd just started doing business.  I'd been asked to do an event with them.  I was supposed to provide the training, and they were in charge of marketing.  They dropped the ball on the marketing so registration was slow.  They decided to cancel without consulting me.  After a series of missteps following that poor decision, I was left frustrated and determined I wouldn't be working with them again.  I expressed my concerns to the contact person, and the response came via an email--a long one, packed with excuses.  There was something about a mishap with the phone system, a failed attempt at reaching me by phone earlier in the week (I found no evidence of this), and other commitments that got in the way of her following up.  None of these were of concern to me, of course.  They were not my problems.  Most customers feel that way.  They don't want to hear why things went wrong on the vendor's end.  They just want the matter resolved.  No excuses.
     Words matter.  They can cheapen what's valuable.  Anytime we make excuses, we are justifying our failures.  We are not taking ownership for our mistakes, and we are shifting blame.  Excuses are useless in life.  Valid reasons for something that happened are all that are necessary.  When you can give an honest account of what and why a situation occurred with or without apology, then there is no room for excuses.  Your words should be strong and confident.  If you're late, don't make excuses.  If you forgot an important date, don't make excuses.  If you say something that offends someone, don't make excuses.  Instead, apologize.  Plain and simple.  You blew it.  Apologize and leave it at that unless the other person demands to know why.  They deserve as much.  So an exchange could go something like this:
     Husband:  Did you give my mom the money like I asked?
     Wife:  No, I apologize.  I didn't get a chance.
     Husband:  You didn't get a chance?  I asked you to do that a week ago?  She's been waiting!
     Wife:  I'm sure, and I'll get it to her today.  I'll make sure I offer her my apologies as well.  I dropped the ball on this one.  I'm sorry if it caused her some problems.  I'll take care of it.
     The end.  Unless the other person persists, then the conversation should be over.  If they do, such as:
     Husband:  Never mind.  I'll do it myself.  But why didn't you?
     Wife:  Well, my plate's been full.  The kids have had at least three school events this week.  I had two tight deadlines at work.  And don't forget having to bail you out of that commitment at the church.   Sorry, but I just couldn't do it all.
     Those are not a bunch of excuses.  They are valid reasons in response to a question.  I didn't need a bunch of excuses from the company that bungled the situation with me.  I didn't care why things didn't happen, I just know they impacted me negatively.  Making a bunch of excuses can make a person look lame in the eyes of the person who is holding them responsible.  Sending them in a long email made her look even lamer.  Teachable moment:  never send a frustrated customer an email with excuses and a superficial apology.  Pick up the phone, and talk to them in person with an apology and a plan to make things right.
     So no more excuses.  Own it.  Fix it.  Apologize.  Move on.