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Opinion Editorials

I Sound Like an Idiot, Even When I Don’t Mean To…

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Has it happened to you?

I only recall one saying that my father ever said, and it tends to come up more often in my life, than not. “Son, don’t let your alligator mouth over-ride your mosquito butt…” I tend to realize that I’ve said something inappropriate after it’s already out there. I’ve recently received a phone call from someone that I’ve respected from afar for awhile and have never intended any nefarious word or thought. However, unintentionally I have offended them.

It’s not them, it’s you!

In my less mature days I would simply say this was the other person’s problem, but now I try to look at all sides. In this case it had to do with some things I had written. When 70% of communication is body language, it only makes sense that in this fast paced, often negative world of blogging, we tend to lose sight of the fact that our opinions may come across despicable and not of our intended purpose. We’re opinionated – all of us. It’s a difficult balance to write or comment in a reasonable length that isn’t overly burdensome to the reader, yet truly reflect your intent.

Plea for kindness…

I’ve written often about the need for civility in the blogosphere. Not always is it possible to write an article without picking a side. Even the mainstream media can’t seem to deliver news without telling you what to think. However, it was a good lesson for me to remember that when I write comments or posts, I need to be more cognizant of what the reader may be “hearing” and not necessarily what I was saying.

Can I be neutral?

Being neutral and still commenting on a post or writing one of my own is near to impossible. I think that most people do read blogs to garner information, but some also want to know what you think when you’re writing. I’ve tried to just deliver information, but the mere fact that I am writing about it means that it sparked some emotion or interest. Being direct maybe a better option. I find that the times I get misunderstood, is when I am trying to point out both sides of an issue. (not that the issue that spawned this post was a neutral statement, I was just being an idiot and didn’t see how others might understand my comments)

My point?

I don’t really have a main point here, other than to ask that those who read my stuff feel free to e-mail me and ask what the heck I meant if you feel offended. (phone call might be better) If I intended to offend you… I won’t hesitate to get a cheesy grin and tell you to get over it; but typically I didn’t intend to offend.

For the writers out there, make double sure, before you hit submit that your message is exactly what everyone else would understand it to be and that it’s consistent with other comments that you’ve made in the past.

We could all do a bit better at communicating with others a keeping our target audience in mind.

Matthew Rathbun is a Virginia Licensed Broker and Director of Professional Development for Coldwell Banker Elite, in Fredericksburg Virginia. He has opened and managed real estate firms, as well as coached and mentored agents and Brokers. As a Residential REALTOR®, Matthew was a high volume agent and past REALTOR® Rookie of the Year & Virginia Association Instructor of the Year. You can follow him on Twitter as "MattRathbun" and on Facebook. Matthew's blog is TheAgentTrainer.com.

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10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. monika

    March 30, 2008 at 2:11 pm

    I usually agonize before I hit submit….probably far more than I should.

  2. Missy Caulk

    March 30, 2008 at 2:30 pm

    Matthew, sometimes is is difficult when you can’t see the person and hear the tones. If I say something that might be taken wrong, I try to say LOL or explain.

  3. John Lauber

    March 30, 2008 at 3:17 pm

    So true Matt. It’s been that way with email too. You always need to re-read something, especially if it’s a “heat of the moment” or emotional type of response. There never was a great way to rescind an email. It’s true of comments and posts too.

  4. Matthew Rathbun

    March 30, 2008 at 4:53 pm

    Monika – I’m with you. I spend too much time reading, but I do so for grammar and content and not enough for effect.

    Missy – Yeah, I wasn’t really a big “smiley face” person at first, but I found that 🙂 can make it all better.

    John – yep, can’t rescind an e-mail…. occasionally I can modify a bad post. Never been able to recant a comment….

  5. Bill Lublin

    March 30, 2008 at 5:36 pm

    Matthew- as long as you are aware, you minimize the impact of a hasty post – and the smilies are a great cure – there is such a narrow psychological bandwidth to written communication like this and emails, that the greater sensitivty you show in your post is our best friend- And making sure we talk about what we “know” and not what we “think” when we make absolue statements – but I am sure that a 🙂 beats a :-p everytime!

  6. Matthew Rathbun

    March 30, 2008 at 6:54 pm

    @Bill – you’re quickly becoming my fav commentor. Always great to get your insight! Thanks for hanging out here!

  7. Judy Orr

    March 31, 2008 at 8:13 pm

    I’ve also noticed that it’s obvious that some people that read posts or e-mails simply don’t read them fully or correctly. Then they form a quick opinion on their erroneous interpretation of the post or e-mail and it’s obvious by their response. I see this a lot on blog post comments.

    I’ll read a reply and go back and re-read the post and think, “What was that guy reading?”

    I sent a guy (referred by a friend) an e-mail explaining nicely how I couldn’t find anything in his price range and though it was doubtful anything would come up I’ll keep searching (an automated search). He replied back that he was sorry he was wasting my time and maybe he should find someone else who would be more willing to help him. He was pissed! And I was very nice, even though there was nothing in his price range in the area he wanted and there wouldn’t be unless it was a tear-down. I had to explain this to my friend so she wouldn’t think I was being a jerk.

  8. Colorado Home Loan

    March 31, 2008 at 8:19 pm

    I wish people would learn the skill of not being easily offended. It’s a waste of energy to spend time being offended. I don’t think I’ve ever read a blog post that offended me. It’s just real estate stuff, after all.

  9. Lane Bailey

    April 3, 2008 at 10:35 pm

    As one that usually finds lines not to be crossed by looking behind me… I understand. It is tough in an online world to get across exactly what we mean, rather than the worst case scenario.

    Don’t beat yourself up too much.

  10. Sue

    April 18, 2008 at 7:35 pm

    Its hard to know how you will come across and accurately be represented. Many times people can take things the wrong way as they cannot see our facial or any other expressions or mannerisms. Thats probably why the “expression” symbols were implemented to help that along a little. 🙂

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Opinion Editorials

How to find the sweet spot between procrastination and desperation

(EDITORIAL) Many intelligent people find themselves stuck in analysis paralysis (procrastination) and missing their window of opportunity. Others make decisions without enough information. How do you find the sweet spot between the two?

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I need to confess something to you

So, a little confession’s good for the soul, right? I feel like I need to confess something to you, dear reader, before we jump right into this article. What follows is an article that I pitched to our editor some months back, and was approved then, but I’ve had the hardest time getting started. It’s not writer’s block, per se; I’ve written scores of other articles here since then, so I can’t use that as an excuse.

It’s become a bit of a punch line around the office, too; I was asked if I was delaying the article about knowing the sweet spot in decision making between procrastination and desperation as some sort of hipster meta joke.

Which would be funny, were it to be true, but it’s not. I just became wrapped up in thinking about where this article was headed, and didn’t put words to paper. Until now.

Analysis by paralysis

“Thinking about something—thinking and thinking and thinking—without having an answer is when you get analysis by paralysis,” said St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Matt Bowman, speaking to Fangraphs.

“That’s what happened… I was trying to figure out what I was doing wrong, or if I was doing anything wrong. I had no idea.” It happens to us all: the decisions we have to make in business loom so large over us, that we delay making them until it’s absolutely necessary.

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Worse still are the times that we delay them until after such a time as when making the decision no longer matters because the opportunity or market’s already moved on. So we try to find the avenues for ourselves that will give us the answers we seek, and try to use those answers in a timely fashion. Jim Kaat, the former All-Star pitcher said it well: “If you think long, you think wrong.”

Dumpster Diving in Data

In making a decision, we’re provided an opportunity to answer three basic questions: What? So what? And now what?

The data that you use to inform your decision making process should ideally help you answer the first two of those three questions. But where do you get it from, and how much is enough?

Like many of us, I’m a collector when it comes to decision making. The more data I get to inform my decision, and the sufficient time that I invest to analyze that data, I feel helps me make a better decision.

And while that sounds prudent, and no one would suggest the other alternative of making a decision without data or analysis would be better, it can lead to the pitfall of knowing how much is enough. When looking for data sources to inform your decision making, it’s not necessarily quantity, but an appropriate blend between quantity and quality that will be most useful.

You don’t get brownie points for wading through a ton of data of marginal quality or from the most arcane places you can find them when you’re trying to make an informed decision. The results of your ultimate decision will speak for themselves.

“Effective people,” said Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, “know when to stop assessing and make a tough call, even without total information.”

Great. How do I do that?

So, by what factors should you include (and more importantly, exclude) data in your decision making?

Your specific business sector will tell you which data sources most of your competitors use already, as well as the ones that your industry disruptors use to try to gain the edge on you.

Ideally, your data sources should be timely and meaningful to you. Using overly historical data, unless you’re needing that level of support for a trend line prediction, often falls into “That’s neat, but…” land. Also, if you’re wading into data sets that you don’t understand, find ways to either improve (and thus speed) your analysis of them, or find better data sources.

While you should be aware of outliers in the data sets, don’t become so enamored of them and the stories that they may tell that you base your decision making process around the outlier, rather than the most likely scenarios.

And don’t fall into this trap

Another trap with data analysis is the temptation to find meaning where it may not exist. Anyone who’s been through a statistics class is familiar with the axiom correlation doesn’t imply causation. But it’s oh so tempting, isn’t it? To find those patterns where no one saw them before?

There’s nothing wrong with doing your homework and finding real connections, but relying on two data points and then creating the story of their interconnectedness in the vacuum will lead you astray.

Such artificial causations are humorous to see; Tyler Vigen’s work highlights many of them.

My personal favorite is the “correlation” between the U.S. per capita consumption of cheese and people who died after becoming entangled in their bed sheets. Funny, but unrelated.

So, as you gather information, be certain that you can support your action or non-action with recent, accurate, and relevant data, and gather enough to be thorough, but not so enamored of the details that you start to drown in the collection phase.

Trust issues

For many of us, delegation is an opportunity for growth. General Robert E. Lee had many generals under his command during the American Civil War, but none was so beloved to him as Stonewall Jackson.

Upon Jackson’s death in 1863, Lee commented that Jackson had lost his left arm, but that he, Lee, had lost his right. Part of this affection for Jackson was the ability to trust that Jackson would faithfully carry out Lee’s orders. In preparing for the Battle of Chancellorsville, Jackson approached Lee with a plan for battle:

Lee, Jackson’s boss, opened the conversation: “What do you propose to do?”

Jackson, who was well prepared for the conversation based on his scout’s reports, replied. “I propose to go right around there,” tracing the line on the map between them.

“How many troops will you take?,” Lee queried.

“My whole command,” said Jackson.

“What will you leave me here with?,” asked Lee.

Jackson responded with the names of the divisions he was leaving behind. Lee paused for a moment, but just a moment, before replying, “Well, go ahead.”

And after three questions in the span of less than five minutes, over 30,000 men were moved towards battle.

The takeaway is that Lee trusted Jackson implicitly. It wasn’t a blind trust that Lee had; Jackson had earned it by his preparation and execution, time after time. Lee didn’t see Jackson as perfect, either. He knew the shortcomings that he had, and worked to hone his talents towards making sure those shortcomings were minimized.

Making trust pay off for you

We all deserve to have people around us in the workplace that we can develop into such a trust. When making decisions, large or small, having colleagues that you can rely on to let you know the reality of the situation, provide a valuable alternative perspective, or ask questions that let you know the idea needs more deliberation are invaluable assets.

Finding and cultivating those relationships is a deliberate choice and one that needs considerable and constant investments in your human capital to keep.Click To Tweet

Chris Oberbeck at Entrepreneur identifies five keys to making that investment in trust pay off for you: make authentic connections with those in your employ and on your team, make promises to your staff sparingly, and keep every one of them that you make, set clear expectations about behaviors, communication and output, be vulnerable enough to say “I don’t know” and professional enough to then find the right answers, and invest your trust in your employees first, so that they feel comfortable reciprocating.

Beyond developing a relationship of trust between those who work alongside you, let’s talk about trusting yourself.

For many, the paralysis of analysis comes not from their perceived lack of data, but their lack of confidence in themselves to make the right decision. “If I choose incorrectly,” they think, “it’s possible that I might ________.” Everyone’s blank is different.

For some, it’s a fear of criticism, either due or undue. For others, it’s a fear of failure and what that may mean. Even in the face of compelling research about the power of a growth mindset, in which mistakes and shortcomings can be seen as opportunities for improvement rather than labels of failure, it’s not uncommon for many of us to have those “tapes” in our head, set to auto play upon a miscue, that remind us that we’ve failed and how that labels us.

“Risk” isn’t just a board game

An uncomfortable fact of life is that, in business, you can do everything right, and yet still fail. All of the research can come back, the trend lines of data suggest the appropriate course of action, your team can bless the decision, and you feel comfortable with it, so action is taken! And it doesn’t work at all. A perfect example of this is the abject failure of New Coke to be accepted by the consumer in 1985.

Not only was it a failure to revive lagging sales, but public outrage was so vehement that the company was forced to backtrack and recall the product from the market. Sometimes things just don’t work out the way they’re supposed to.

You have to be comfortable with your corporate and individual levels of risk when making a decision and taking action. How much risk and how much failure costs you, both in fiscal and emotional terms, is a uniquely personal decision, suited to your circumstances and your predilections. It’s also likely a varying level, too; some decisions are more critical to success and the perceptions of success than others, and will likely cause you more pause than the small decisions we make day-to-day.

In the end, success and failure hinge on the smallest of factors at times, and the temptation is to slow down the decision making process to ensure that nothing’s left to chance.

Go too slowly, however, and you’ve become the captain of a rudderless ship, left aimlessly to float, with decisions never coming, or coming far too late to meet the needs of the market, much less be innovative. Collect the information, work with your team to figure out what it means, and answer the third question of the series (the “what”) by taking action.

#TakeAction

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Opinion Editorials

Starting a business when you’re broke (and how to make it work)

(EDITORIAL) If money isn’t always a prerequisite to entrepreneurship, how can you start something from nothing?

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Breaking into the business world can be an intimidating venture, especially if you don’t have the money or experience to back up your ambitions. Experience, however, can be earned – or at least approached through a “fake it until you make it” style approach. But what can you do if you dream of launching a business but you don’t have the cash? Is money a prerequisite to entrepreneurship?

Money helps but isn’t a requirement for those hoping to start their own business – you simply need to get creative. If you’re not sure where to start, here are a few things to consider.

One of the best ways to build your confidence around the topic of entrepreneurship is to refocus your attention towards those who also started from nothing, but have since made it big.

Steve Jobs started out tinkering in his garage as a teenager and went on to found the tech giant Apple, while multimillionaire consultant Sam Ovens publically discusses his finances – he was broke just a few years ago but had made over $10 million dollars by the time he turned 26.

Such stories attest to the fact that anyone can ascend to great heights.

Even though many people think money is the most important part of any business endeavor, successful people will tell you that true self-understanding far outranks cash on the list of necessities. Take some time to reflect on your goals and on how you view yourself as you pursue them.

If you think you can’t achieve your goals, then you won’t be able to. The mind is a very powerful thing.

If introspection reveals that you’re low on self-esteem, work on improving your view of yourself and begin developing a more positive perspective. You may find it helpful to write down what you think and then revise this description, working all the time to internalize this improved view of yourself. Though it may seem like a pointless process at first, you’re actually participating in your own transformation.

Another key determinant of success that far surpasses money is passion.

People succeed when they pursue goals that matter to them on a deeper level.

Typically this is the case because passion leads you to accumulate expertise on your chosen topic, and this will draw people to you.

One incredible example of the transformation of passion into profit is 17-year-old Jonah, who makes thousands of dollars a month selling watches online. Jonah comes from a family of jewelers, so he had ready access to the necessary knowledge and cultivated an outstanding selection of timepieces on his site, but it was his ability to combine his material knowledge with real understanding of his customers that made his business successful.

At the end of the day, he wanted his customers to have the perfect watch, and he brought his own passion for the field to bear on creating that experience.

Finally, if you hope to start a business but don’t have any cash resources, the best thing you can do is learn your field and network with those in it – without bringing them on board as professional partners.

It helps to have contacts, but you can’t grow a fledgling business by paying others to do the hard work.

Hunker down and work from home, working at night if you have to keep your current job, and start from the position of humble aspirant. If you show you’re committed to the real work of starting a business, you’ll find that others support you.

If you hope to start a business, but don’t have the money, don’t despair – but also don’t put your dream on hold. The only way to build the foundation you need to live that dream is by doing the hard work in the here and now.

Lots of people started just where you are, but the true successes are the ones who had the courage to push past the barriers without worrying about the financial details. You already have what you need, and that’s the passion for innovation.

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Opinion Editorials

How to deal with an abusive boss and keep your job, too

(OPINION EDITORIAL) Sometimes bosses can be the absolute worst, but also, you depend on them. Here’s how to deal with an abusive boss and, hopefully, not get fired.

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Nothing can ruin your work life like an abusive boss or supervisor. But when you’re dependent on your boss for assignments, promotions – heck, your paycheck – how can you respond to supervisor abuse in a way that doesn’t jeopardize your job or invite retaliation?

A new published in the Academy of Management Journal suggests an intriguing approach to responding to an abusive boss. As you might expect, their study shows that avoiding the abuser does little to change the dynamic.

But the study also found that confronting the abuser was equally ineffective.

Instead, the study suggests that workers in an abusive situation “flip the script” on their bosses, “shifting the balance of power.” But how?

The researchers tracked the relationship between “leader-follower dyads” at a real estate agency and a commercial bank. They found that, without any intervention, abuse tended to persist over time.

However, they also discovered two worker-initiated strategies that “can strategically influence supervisors to stop abuse and even motivate them to mend strained relationships.”

The first strategy is to make your boss more dependent on you. For example, one worker in the study found out that his boss wanted to develop a new analytic procedure.

The worker became an expert on the subject and also educated his fellow co-workers. When the boss realized how important the worker was to the new project, the abuse subsided.

In other words, find out what your boss’s goals are, and then make yourself indispensable.

In the second strategy, workers who were being abused formed coalitions with one another, or with other workers that had better relationships with the boss. The study found that “abusive behavior against isolated targets tends to stop once the supervisor realizes it can trigger opposition from an entire coalition.”

Workplace abuse is not cool, and it shouldn’t really be up to the worker to correct it. At times, the company will need to intervene to curb bad supervisor behavior. However, this study does suggest a few strategies that abused workers can use to try to the tip the balance in their favor.

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