This site is dedicated to discussion of ideas and strategies that are part of the process of growing and sustaining a small business

When your customer is a bully: 4 steps to change the relationship


bully

I was recently appointed to a legislative task force on workplace bullying.  Bullying is a phenomenon that pervades our society.  It is in our schools and our workplaces.  If you are a small business owner and you’ve been in business any length of time you most likely have discovered that customers can be bullies, too!

So how do you know your customer is a bully? I had finally reached my limit in dealing with a client who was repeatedly rude, sent rambling and threatening emails, was frequently demanding of services outside of the scope of work of our contract and when questioned replied with snippy, condescending remarks.  On one occasion she accused me of carrying out work that she did not authorize.  I showed her proof that she did authorize the work and she offered no apology.  I called her up to express my concerns about her behavior and she was incredulous! She did not think she had done anything wrong.

After the phone call I reflected on how to improve the relationship and realized I was dealing with a bully.  I did the right thing by confronting my client about her behavior because the bullying ceased.  I asked a few others about their interactions with this client and learned that her behavior was well known and a pattern over many years.

Wikipedia defines bullying as “the use of force, threat, or coercion to abuse, intimidate, or aggressively impose domination over others. The behavior is often repeated and habitual.” My former client clearly fits the profile of a bully!

Experts say that the typical bully lacks social skills and has trouble solving problems with others, and has negative attitudes and beliefs externally and internally.

So I made the decision to free myself from this bullying relationship.  Here are 4 steps to take that worked for me:

  1. Diffuse the power of the bully by taking equal ground – in my case I was firm in stating the behavior I experienced, demanded an apology and stated that I would no longer accept it.
  2. Show equal force – I stated that I was willing to separate myself from the project if she continued to act in that way.
  3. Bring others into the conservation – bring in other parties to diffuse the situation.  In business settings, find another person who may be able to deal with your client or customer.  In my case I copied her superior on all correspondence so she could experience the bully’s communication.
  4. Use peer interaction to get the bully client or customer under control.  You may find an opportunity to expose the behavior in front of others.  This could have a calming effect.

 

As small business owners, we sometimes feel that we have to please our customers at all costs.  I have adopted a customer philosophy that “the customer is always right even when they are wrong”.  However, that philosophy does not extend to bullying which crosses the line.

Do you have a customer who is a bully?  If so, it may be time to change this relationship.  I found that I am not alone in experiencing customer bullying.  There are many other articles on this topic.  You may also want to read 12 Tips for Dealing with Bully Customers, Don’t Let your Customers Bully You and Don’t Let Your Customers Bully You.

 

8 Tips for Endurance and Persistence: Staying in it for the long haul


woman swimming enduranceIn September of this year Diana Nyad swam unassisted from Cuba to Florida and achieved a feat unmatched by anyone else.  Not only did she achieve a record swim – she accomplished this at the age of 64.  And this was her 5th try.

Admittedly, she said that there were many conditions that were in her favor.  Most of all it was her persistence, her belief system, the support and encouragement of her team and favorable conditions that led to her ultimate success.  In an interview she said that it was all about endurance.  She said, “Endurance grows…perspective grow as you age.”

While I wasn’t swimming the channel or running the Boston Marathon, I learned the lesson of persistence while pursuing my Ph.D. which took six years during which time I was working full time, raising a family and dealing with life’s problems and challenges.  I learned that the P in Ph.D. was for persistence.

Survivors tell stories of how they were able to save their own lives.  Most will relay how resourceful they were with the surroundings they had and then will describe the mental picture they had of being freed from their circumstance.  They also recall how images of their loved one’s or imaging words of encouragement from them motivated them to keep trying.

When you own or operate a small business, endurance and persistence are the key essentials to longevity.  I firmly believe that if you are in the right marketplace with your offerings, persistence and determination play major roles in helping you focus in the marketplace, identify your value to your customers and overcome obstacles that impede your success. 

So many people give up before they finish the race.  First you have to show up, and then you have to endure until the end to win the prize.  There really isn’t a short cut and so much of endurance has to do with mental toughness. Here are 8 tips for endurance and persistence:

  1. Stay positive and don’t let negative self-talk get in the way
  2. Believe that you can, that you have the ability and strength
  3. Work with the end in mind and develop a mental picture of how it will look in the end
  4. Know what motivates you and tell yourself constantly about it
  5. Get encouragement from others, wherever and whenever you can
  6. Give yourself pep talks and post positive affirmations about your challenge
  7. Reward yourself for progress in the midst of your pursuits and plan in advance  what these milestones are, what you will do when you reach them
  8. Make “don’t give up”, “hang in there” your mantras

 

With great sacrifice comes great reward.  Learn how to persist and endure.  This is a quality that will separate you from the majority of people.

How has your ability to persist and endure paid off in your personal life or your business?

photo credit: jdlasica via photopin

Life’s lessons can be found in passing on


Lessons

I’m not trying to be morbid but it seems that there are life’s lessons to be learned from the passing on of the ones we love.  Two days ago I attended the memorial service for the mother of a friend I have known for almost forty years.  Her mother passed away at the age of 90 and had lived a full and fulfilling life.

While it was a sad occasion in many ways it was a celebration of a life well lived and a legacy that will live on in her children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and the community of lives that were touched because she was here.  This woman, known for her grace, elegance, dancing and joy of life was not a woman of great career accomplishment.  She was a homemaker, wife, mother, grandmother, friend, and babysitter.  She was a great cook who shared this passion with her family and friends and it was an outward demonstration of her love for them. 

A grandson with his own grown family shared the reflections of his grandmother and a life well lived.  In all of the anecdotes there emerged a few themes. She cared for her family and was present in their lives.  She showed her support by being there in ways that mattered to them. She shared her gifts with others – her cooking and dancing.  She overcame obstacles in her early and young adulthood, surviving internment camps during Nazi occupied territory in World War II; losing everything twice and rebuilding her life.  She found love there and marriage to her life partner.  Together they found the strength to immigrate to America with their two infant girls.  They raised a beautiful family together.  Her obstacles and personal tragedies were channeled into a quiet courage, strength and grace that are embodied in her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.  Her spirit of joy is evident in how they carry themselves.  That is a legacy.

Are you living your life today so that you have a legacy?  How will you be remembered?  Do you take the time out of your business activities to listen to others, support and encourage them? How do you treat those who are closest to you? Your spouse, siblings, children, friends?  Do you spend time with them that is not done in a begrudging way where you view it as a sacrifice away from your work or a waste of time? Do you take the time to provide quality emotional support to those who count on you to give it? Or are you so absorbed in your business or work that you don’t invest in your family emotionally because all of your energy is given to your work or business?

As a business owner, success is important but family and close relationships are most important to me.  Without strong personal relationships, we risk not having a central core that keeps us strong despite life’s obstacles that come our way.  Whether you work for yourself or others, challenges and disappointments will certainly come your way.  Nurtured, strong relationships will provide a buffer and foundational support to help you overcome challenges.

Life’s lessons? How you spend your time on a day to day basis shows what is really important to you.  When life is over what is left is the memory of how you treated others, not the number of zeros in your checkbook.  While accomplishment in your career success is important, your contribution to your family, friends and community is how your legacy will be measured.

photo credit: deeplifequotes

Leaders need integrity: 19 dos and don’ts


IntegrityA leader without integrity is like a horse without reins.  You can’t go anywhere as a leader without it.

Some leaders don’t quite understand why they are not able to move their so-called followers to a common goal.  These same leaders may notice in-fighting and squabbling amongst their followers.  One reason may be that they lack integrity. 

According to Miriam Webster dictionary integrity is  the “firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values, incorruptibility.”  Some of the synonyms for  integrity include: character, decency, goodness, honesty and virtue. On the other hand, some antonyms are badness, immorality, evildoing and villainy.

Leaders in American culture are thought to be inherently good – if not, they would not be in a position to lead.  We believe that our leaders should be honest, moral, and virtuous – in other words, they should have integrity.  We all know that there are many so-called leaders who are in positions of authority but are seriously lacking in integrity.  Integrity is not so much a skill of leadership but an aspect of character.  You either have it or you don’t. 

Unfortunately, the lack of integrity does not mean that you won’t rise to achieve the rank of leader.  However, if you are lacking in integrity, your motives and actions will always we suspect. A loss of integrity is difficult to restore because it erodes trust which is fundamental for any leader to have credibility.  If you are a leader or a person in authority that wants others to follow you here are 19 do and don’ts to build integrity.

Do:

1.      Keep your word

2.      Be honest and forthright

3.      Be of good character

4.      Encourage and affirm others

5.      Be a positive example and role model

6.      Walk your own talk

7.      Be principled in your actions and stand up for what you believe

8.      Behave ethically

9.      Be consistent in your actions

Don’t:

10.   Criticize others for actions you have taken

11.   Manipulate others

12.   Cheat, lie or steal

13.   Condone unethical behavior

14.   Intentionally misrepresent information

15.   Vilify others to make yourself look good

16.   Act immorally or condone the immoral acts of others

17.   Bully others or rule by intimidation and threats

18.   Embarrass or humiliate people who work for and with you

19.   Do something that you would be ashamed to tell to your mother or children

20.   Act for selfish gain

Personalize this list

Look through the list and check off those items that demonstrate how you operate with or without integrity. You may want to start with the phrase, “Have I ever…..” It may be helpful to think of specific examples as you go through this exercise. It goes without saying that you should continue to do those things that exhibit the behavior on the “Do” list.  If you’ve checked off items on the “Don’t” list, take this opportunity to create and action plan of how you can change your behavior.

I am interested in hearing your thoughts on what may be missing from this list.

I’ve been asked to lead…now what do I do? Follow these 10 Steps


Yield to Leadership

Congratulations! You’ve been asked to lead or chair an event, committee or project in your community.  You eagerly accept.  Now where do you begin?

You have interest in the project and you like the idea behind the cause but now that you’ve been asked to be in charge you don’t know what to do.  Is this you?  Sometimes we are eager to lead but realize that while we are not lacking in our passion we may be lacking in skills.

After all, leadership is a combination of experience, natural ability and skill.

You may not have the natural ability or experience but there are basic steps to leadership. To be an effective leader here 10 steps that you will need to take:

  1. Set the vision. You will need to be able to describe to the people who have “signed up” for your cause what you intend to do in the future.  You need to paint a visual picture with your words of the desired end result of all of the work the group that you are leading will achieve. Test the vision by asking your group if they agree or disagree.  Be willing to discuss and consider different ideas to get buy-in.
  2. Clarify the mission. Explain the purpose of the organization that you have been asked to lead.  You must make sure that everyone understands the mission so you will need to ask questions. Why are you here? What are we here to do?
  3. Develop other leaders.  The first job of a leader is to develop other leaders.  You cannot do it all alone.  Seek help from others in your organization that have skills that you do not have.  Identify clear functions that can be delegated in part or in full early on.  If needed skills are not present in your group then find others that may be recruited with the skills that your need to move forward.
  4. Make hard decisions and be decisive. Leaders have to make decisions some of which may be hard.  That’s why “it is lonely at the top”.  You will need to be decisive to move the group forward toward your common goal.  Practice sound decision making by gathering facts, seeking counsel of trusted advisors in your group and using your intuition.
  5. Motivate and inspire the group to achieve the common objectives. Leading can be challenging when the work gets tough or obstacles are encountered along the way.  As the leader you must generate enthusiasm and excitement to keep everyone motivated.  Find ways to have fun and encourage people who are committed to the cause.   Kick off events, pep rallies, and rousing talks are all ways to motivate the group.
  6. Stay positive and see mistakes as an opportunity for learning.  There’s nothing worse than a leader who is pessimistic or negative about the work at hand.  Being positive despite setbacks keeps a group motivated. Leaders who look at mistakes as opportunities show their followers how to overcome diversity.
  7. Communicate frequently. As leader it is your job to check in with people who are working on the common cause to see how they are doing.  Do they need help? Are they doing well? These conversations provide opportunities to give and get feedback and link ideas and people together which builds trust.  Find time to bring the group together to ask for opinions and ideas encourage feedback from your group.  People will learn from each other and this will help to build group culture and collaboration.
  8. Seek counsel from others with opposing views to avoid “group think”. Avoid gridlock and huge gaffes by bringing people in the group who have opposing ideas or perspectives.  Sometimes we attract people who are just like us and we are attracted to groups that affirm who we are.  If you notice that your group is monolithic, test your ideas with others outside of your group to get different perspectives.
  9. Develop a plan of action engaging all in the process. Engage the entire group in developing the plan of action by soliciting their input throughout the process.  Plans that have buy-in by the group will have a greater chance of success when it’s time to implement.  No one can say “no one asked me for my opinion”.
  10. Reward and recognize success. Recognizing everyone who puts forth an effort is an important job of the leader.  You would be surprised how many people are motivated by simply saying “hello” or “how’s it going”?  Recognizing effort, a job well done of individuals and key milestones met by the group along the way are vital to success.  And of course when it’s all over, celebrate and be sure to properly thank all who contributed to the success of achieving your goal.

Don’t be afraid to lead if you are asked. Leading others takes confidence and experience helps to develop it. To a large extent, leadership is always on the job training.

In what ways are you leading others in your community?  What experiences have you had that have helped to shape your leadership style?

Blocked on Blogging: 25 Reasons


Procrastinate2

I must confess that I have been blocked on blogging the last couple of months.  Was it the summer, social issues, my work, or just plain old procrastination that got in the way? Well I finally was able to muster up the courage to get back on my “blogging horse”.  So here is my list my reasons that I put off blogging for a while.  For my fellow bloggers I am sure you can relate to my reasons.  For others of you who have put off other important but not urgent matters, you may also identify with this list.  For my readers, please forgive my lack of consistency for not posting regularly this summer.  So here goes.

  1. Stressed out over social issues.
  2. Stressed out.
  3. Overwhelmed by events.
  4. Global unrest.
  5. Too much commentary on everything from everybody ranging from politics to Miley Cyrus’ MTV performance.
  6. Global warming and weather.
  7. Work commitments.
  8. Summer vacation.
  9. Summer weather.
  10. Attitude.
  11. Too much to write about and not knowing where to start.
  12. Too little to write about.
  13. Feeling that no one will care about what I’ve written.
  14. Lack of time.
  15. Dealing with personal issues.
  16. Dealing with major work deadlines.
  17. Procrastination.
  18. Solving other people’s problems.
  19. Letting other people’s agenda become my agenda.
  20. Writing an idea and not following through.
  21. Writing a blog and failing to post it.
  22. Failing to prioritize.
  23. Putting it off made it easier to put off.
  24. Filling the time up with other things.
  25. Getting out of the habit.

 

Do you see yourself in this list for anything else that you’ve committed to do but simply can’t find the time or motivation to do it?  If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Are You a Role Model?


big sister2

Do you have one or two people who were important role models to you when you were a young child? You are indeed a fortunate man or woman to have had a role model as a young child.  I recently spent time with my “big sister” who was a role model for me when I was a young girl. I mentioned that to her when we were together and she seemed surprised.  Most people who are role models have very little idea how much they influence others – especially a young person.  The positive influence of a role model is treasured commodity.

My sister inspired this piece because I thought about all of the things I learned from her for which I am eternally grateful.  The eleven year age difference put me in the position to be a little sister who was a “tag-along” but never viewed as a pest. Some of what I learned from her was through observation of her behavior.  I watched my sister get ready for the prom, go out on dates and was a flower girl in her wedding.  From her I learned how to be a lady.  I watched her go to college, be a part of a sorority and the concert choir. She let me help her with her sorority projects and I attended her concerts.  I listened when she practiced her singing. My sister worked her way through college and from time to time during the summers I would visit her at the lunch counter where she worked as a waitress and order French fries; she cheerfully waited on me.  I was so proud of her! My sister graduated from college and continued on to earn her Master’s Degree and become a teacher and beloved educator.

I learned from my sister by spending time with her and asking questions. She always took the time to answer my questions about life and growing up.  My sister was a bit of a coach by encouraging me to follow in her footsteps to attend the same competitive academically accelerated high school, even when I had some doubts.  She entrusted me with her high school graduation ring and as an added incentive allowed me to wear it for the summer after my 7th grade year of school.  I lost this ring by accident while swimming at the beach and reluctantly and tearfully told her.  She compassionately understood how I lost her ring and was not angry with me. Of course it goes without saying how much I love and admire my “big sister”.

As an adult, I am still blessed to have the compassionate understanding, support and encouragement of a lifelong friend and confidant in my “big sister”.

From her I learned how to be a lady, to exercise patience and understanding, push myself academically, to pursue excellence in my career and be the best person I can be.  So much of who I am today is because of the time my sister gave to me as a young girl. To my sister, I say “thank you”.

In my business I am struck by the number of people who let me know from time to time how I have inspired them in their business to take a risk or overcome a personal challenge because I offered a word of encouragement.  As a business person so much of what you do is visible and observed by others.

Are you a role model?  You never know.  It may take a lifetime for someone to let you know. Your behavior – your actions, your words – the time you spend with others and the kindness you show can and will have a lasting impact.  Take time to share and care with others.  It matters.

 

 

photo credit: Patrick Q via photopin cc

15 Personal Qualities Impact Future Success


personalityAs a consultant and trainer, I see the lack of interpersonal skills – or personal qualities as the number one reason for conflict, and poor leadership in organizations.  The trouble is that most people aren’t aware of the importance of these qualities and fail to recognize their own short comings in these areas.  In a world where everyone is crazy, the sane people start to look abnormal.  With interpersonal skills, it is much the same.  Poor behavior becomes the norm and it has grown in social acceptance.  However, it still leaves dysfunctional tracks in organizations, and families.

A business associate forwarded a link to me on Personal Qualities not measured by tests http://www.docstoc.com/docs/33016765/THE-LIST-Personal-Qualities-NOT-Measured-by-Tests by Gerald W. Bracy.  Mr. Bracy was inspired to create this list from a paragraph written by Robert Glaser of the University of Pittsburgh for the National Academy of Education in 1987, occurring in NAE’s critique of a plan to “restructure the National Assessment of Educational Progress simply stating that the human qualities that we value the most are very difficult to assess”. Mr. Bracy lists 26 personal qualities.

Receiving this information was timely because I also recently attended the Association of Governing Boards conference in San Francisco where several speakers including keynote Robert Reich spoke of the failure of the public school system to educate the whole child and overemphasis on standards and assessments.  Indeed the modern-day de-emphasis on the arts, cultural activities and even sports programs for financially strapped urban school districts has devastating consequences for lifelong success of these students.

I’ve selected 15 personal qualities from the list that everyone, from schools to business organizations, may find desirable.

  1. Creativity
  2. Critical thinking
  3. Resilience
  4. Motivation
  5. Persistence
  6. Curiosity
  7. Humor
  8. Reliability
  9. Enthusiasm
  10. Civic-mindedness
  11. Self-discipline
  12. Empathy
  13. Courage
  14. Resourcefulness
  15. Humility

 

For me, these qualities I have listed strike a personal chord because they were taught to me by my parents when I was a child.  They were reinforced in school by teachers because we were graded on things like “citizenship” and “behavior” which were largely subject to interpretation by the teachers.  I carried these qualities into my higher education and throughout my career.  They have served me well.

photo credit: fisserman via photopin cc

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Small Business Marketing: A Key to Sustainability


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I just finished reading Tom Patty’s new book, Marketing Without Money, a welcome read on my flight from San Francisco to Philadelphia. Tom skillfully weaves his experience as a top marketing expert with ad agencies, his owned “failed” experience as an entrepreneur and his role as SCORE counselor into a comprehensive set of no-cost marketing ideas for small businesses. 

Small businesses have little time and money for marketing.  But without marketing, small businesses cannot survive.  Here’s what I found most worthwhile from this book.  Patty says that in marketing, one way to increase value is the use of positioning.  Listed below are a few things he says that any business can do to improve its “value equation”:

  1. Offer a money-back guarantee
  2. Include shipping at no additional cost
  3. Create a value pack

 

I bent the corner of this page because I believe there is merit in taking a look at how I might make these changes in our business.

Patty speaks of the importance of promotion as another way to increase awareness.  Small businesses often don’t have the resources to pay for expensive television commercials, but in the example given – a business that advertised during the super bowl – it was the idea, not the commercial that created a lasting impression.  Ideas are free.  Small businesses should get publicity that gets others talking about the business. Press releases are boring and are self-promoting.

The ultimate set of ideas I gained from Patty are about marketing leverage.  He offers strategies to grow your business by asking questions like:

  • What is my customer really buying (instead of what am I selling)?
  • How can my business be more attractive to my customers?
  • How can I make my business more convenient?
  • How can increase my value to my customers?

 

Marketing your business can help you attract new customers and grow your revenues. Investing in this book and the ideas it presents may add a boost to your business.  I intend to go back to the many sections of the book I’ve underlined and dog eared and follow through on a few good ideas to help grow my business.

SalFalko via photopin cc

5 Ways to Lose your Followers: Making Bad Leadership Good


Leadership is a dynamic relationship between followers and leaders.  Without followers you cannot lead.  A follower can decide at any time for any number of reasons not to follow the leader.  When that happens the leader’s duty is over.  Whether it’s formal or informal – in a business or social setting, the leader without followers loses status and followers become disinterested.  We are seeing this unfold on the world stage today as business and political leaders fail to lead.  Bad leaders are ineffective because they destroy the bond with their followers.

Leadership is ability of one individual to exercise influence over a group of people.  The ability to influence can be related to power and authority.  Power relationships are formed formally and informally through relationships and they are inextricably tied together.  As a follower your degree of choice can cause tight or lose bonds with your leader.  Choosing to follow someone willingly because you like them, like a mentor is the strongest form of leadership. When you are required to follow someone because they have direct authority over you or because they have greater power than you, and it is coercive or abusive – that is the weakest form of leadership/followership. 

Here are five ways to lose your followership and your ability to lead:

  1. Inability to share the credit for work that is done by others.  Have you ever worked on a team where the leader presented the final product and took all the credit? Can you think of examples of when this happens how it makes team members feel?  Can you think of a business or political leader who has done this well?
  2. Need to control and failure to delegate. Hiring an expert, then failing to let them do their job is a great example of this.  Micromanaging people that you’ve retained to do a job can lead to mistrust.  Once you lose trust, you may lose your followers.
  3. Lack of respect/civility, talking over people, not following agreed upon process, name calling. This is flat out bad behavior that will run people away from you, not to you. This makes people feel bad and they will leave your influence as soon as they are able.
  4. Failure to compromise.  Sticking to a rigid philosophy or manner of doing things even when others around you urge you to change will cause a leadership crisis and a fleeing of followers.
  5. Punishing all employees because the organization is not managing well.  One size does not fit all.  Leaders have to take the time to discover why things go wrong and avoid punishments.  Find the perpetrator and take appropriate actions.  Punishment is a form of coercive leadership.
  6. Unethical and immoral behavior.  Out of control behavior in one’s personal life will drive people away who have moral standards of conduct.  Although the barometer of what constitutes moral and acceptable behavior has evolved somewhat, most people agree that cheating, lying, and stealing are immoral acts.  Followers won’t want the association or the attention with this kind of leader.
  7. Failure to admit mistakes; blames others; lack of accountability. Leaders who practice “the buck stops here” philosophy will always attract followers and admirers.  Failing to admit mistakes makes leaders look small and insincere and become an instant way to lose credibility.

 

Leaders attract and retain followers when they articulate a clear vision, are positive role models.  Effective leaders listen, care for and engage their followers. They share power and decision making and delegate responsibility with authority.  The hold themselves accountable for the actions of their followers and operate with the highest degree of integrity.