Merge's Blog

Monthly Archives: May 2012

Old habits are not always the best solutions for new situations

I usually tell leaders to trust their instincts and follow their intuition.  “When in doubt, fall back to your first instinct and gut feeling,” I tell them.  “You know what to do, you have the experience and the knowledge to make decisions and take action.  Don’t second-guess yourself.”  However, last year, a driving trip in Australia caused me to re-evaluate this advice.  Turns out that this counsel only makes sense when you are in familiar surroundings where you can trust your past experiences.  Just yesterday, I was reminded of this again.

I delivered a workshop to a small team of eight people, and my talk was accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation.  However, we ran into a small technical problem and I decided to not to use the projector, but just set my laptop on the conference room table where everyone could see it.  Because the group and room was so small, this solution worked very well.  Well … except I ran into an unexpected problem. Normally when delivering a presentation, I either have a confidence monitor in front of me (for larger crowds) or I glance back at the screen (for smaller groups).  Yesterday however, much to the amusement of my small audience, I found myself repeatedly looking up at the screen in the front of the room … yes, the one that had nothing projected on it!  Turns out that I am so used to glancing at the big screen that I simply kept forgetting that the presentation was just on my laptop.

Yesterday’s incident brought to the forefront of my mind the importance of NOT falling back to instinct when you are in a new environment – such as a new organization or a new department (or in my case, a new situation).  Turns out that when you’re in unfamiliar territory, it’s actually more appropriate to fight your old habits and force yourself to be thoughtful about every action.  If  you’re going into a new circumstance – a new job, a new leadership team, or even new business ventures, then this is a notion that is definitely worth reminding and remembering.

What do you think?  Do you agree that there are times when you should not rely on your gut instinct, when you should fight the urge to fall back upon old habits?  Please jump in and share your thoughts.

Paraphrasing creates better working relationships

People who are empathetic listeners have higher-quality working relationships with their staff, their colleagues, their clients, and even their superiors.  And paraphrasing is  a powerful way to be empathetic.  In the latest issue of CGA Magazine, I explain the four levels of paraphrasing, and give you examples so that you can apply this important skill in your workplace.  Read The Art of Empathetic Listening.

And once you have, c’mon back here and share your experiences (positive or negative) with other leaders so that we can all learn together.  Add your comments below.

Be prepared to show what you “sell”

I just had a very odd experience earlier this week.

I’m trying to help my in-laws move out of their house into an apartment.  One came up for rent in a building they like.  I called the agent who was listing it.

“Are they looking at renting it now?” she asked.  “Because it’s vacant.”

“They might” I replied.  “It depends on whether they like it and if it meets their needs. If it doesn’t, then they’ll wait for the right one to come along.”

“Well, no offense”, she says, “but if they’re not going to rent it, then I don’t want to waste my time showing it.”

Nonplussed, I paused.  “Well I can’t really tell you if it will fit their needs until we see it.”

“Well I’ve just posted some very nice photos on the Internet.  You can see what it looks like there.”

What I said to myself was “You’re kidding, right?  Who rents an apartment based solely on photos that they see on the Internet?”.  What I said out loud was “If you want me to rent it, then I have to look at it before I can make a decision.  You decide if it’s something you want to do or not.”

“Okay, let me think about it and I’ll call you back” she said as we ended the call.

She still hasn’t called me back, and quite frankly I’m not holding my breath.  For her sake, I hope the reason is because the apartment has already been leased.  But the whole odd incident got me thinking …

I’ve always believed that if you want people to buy — buy your product, or your service, or even you — then you need to show them, clearly, in brilliant technicolour, the compelling value that you have to offer.  Which means that you do whatever it takes to help them see, first-hand, what it is that you or your product or your service does to meet their needs or make their lives easier.  Yet this lady was too lazy to even let me see the inside of an apartment that she wanted me to lease.

So … is this okay?  Am I being unreasonable when I expect that those who are trying to sell me their ideas, products, services, or even themselves will do whatever is necessary to make sure that I see the all the advantages and benefits that will accrue to me?  Or is this just an example of the new way to “sell”?  C’mon, tell me what you think — am I on the mark, or am I way off base?!

Help us find the errors in our new site. And win prizes!

We just launched our brand-new, completely renovated from top-to-bottom, website and we’re very excited!  We’ve spent weeks trying to make sure that we’ve ironed out all the wrinkles.  But as in all things new, we know that we’ve missed a few!  Whether it’s typos, links that take you unexpected places, or just plain ol’ errors, we know that despite our best efforts, they’re out there!  So we’d like your help … and for your time and trouble, we have prizes!!

For each dead link, typo or website error that you find, the first two people who send us an email ([email protected]) with the details will receive their choice of one of Merge’s downloadable audio Leadership Series programs (a $197 value). See what you can choose from at the Marketplace tab on the new site.

Visit Merge’s new site

We’ve already awarded prizes to eagle-eyed Sharon Williams and Geoff Cox, so jump in and get your share.  Just give us the details through the Contact Us link on the website.

Negative people try to stall; don’t let them

Back in March, I blogged about defensiveness as one of the tactics that negative people use to create toxicity in the workplace.  Stalling is another tactic used by negative people.  Their objective in stalling is to attempt to change a decision or control a situation. They may not want the assignment or project and, by stalling, they hope that someone else will take over.  If they put off doing what you ask them to do long enough, perhaps you’ll ask someone else.  And the unfortunate truth is that many times, just to be able to get things done, we let them get away with it!

So how can you overcome this?  Persistence and tenacity.  Involve these people by listening, really listening, to them.  Ask probing questions and be relentless in your follow-up.  Find out what the real reason for the delay is.  Don’t give up, you may have to ask several rounds of questions before you get at the real reason.  Once you find out, provide assistance and offer to help them, but don’t let them off the hook.  Determination and doggedness is the only way to combat stalling.

What do you think?  Do negative people resort to stalling?  And how have you dealt with it?  Add your comments below please.

P.S. here are some links to previous blog posts that addressed ways to deal with workplace negativity.

Getting your ideas across to management

The great folks at PDNet and CGA Canada have invited me to deliver a live webcast ” Getting Your Ideas Across to Management” on Thursday May 24, 2012 at 9 AM Pacific Time.   If you’ve never attended a live web event before, it’s a great way to get focused relevant learning right at your desk.  Using just your desktop or laptop computer, you’ll be able to view and hear the webcast.  Plus, a recorded version of the webcast will be available to all participants for one year.  Priced at just $129 ($99 if you’re a CGA member), it’s a steal of a deal!  REGISTRATION CLOSES 24 HOURS BEFORE THE EVENT STARTS. SO DON’T DELAY! To register, or get more information, go to

When you offer your expertise and advice in the workplace, do your managers stop and listen? When you share your knowledge and experience, do your colleagues and team mates nod their heads in agreement and use it as a springboard for further discussion and dialogue? Perhaps most importantly, can you influence others, even senior leaders, to come around to your point of view, particularly when their minds are already made up? If you answered “yes” to these questions, then congratulations as you have mastered one of the most essential and fundamental skills of effective business relationships.   Your ability to persuade and influence, to get your ideas understood and accepted by others, particularly by those who are senior to you in an organization, is a key predictor of future professional and career success. But … if you weren’t able to answer these three questions in the affirmative, then it’s time to take action to change this state of affairs! In this fast-paced content-rich webcast, you’ll learn specific and practical ways to gain greater respect and influence for your ideas, and as a result, improve your track record in getting your ideas recognized, accepted, and implemented.

Procedure manuals are worth the effort

About sixty minutes into a recent ten-hour trans-Atlantic flight, our plane encountered an unexpected mechanical problem and the pilot announced that we were going to make an emergency landing at a nearby airport.  He went to some length to reassure us that it was not a crisis situation, but more a prudent precautionary measure given that the majority of our journey was over water.  We landed safely, the problem was fixed, and within another three hours we were on our way.  End of story.  What caught my attention though was what happened earlier in the plane, immediately after the captain’s announcement.  While passengers remained calm and composed, almost three-quarters of my fellow travelers leaned forward, pulled out the emergency procedures card from the seat pocket in front of them, and proceeded to carefully read the instructions.  It was interesting to me that merely an hour ago during the safety demonstration, the flight attendants had asked them to do exactly that, and almost nobody had complied.  But now, because of a potential crisis, everyone was concentrating closely on this very same information.

It got me thinking about the procedures manuals and check-lists that exist in the various departments in so many organizations.  Many managers and supervisors I work with advocate eliminating these documents.  They’re outdated most of the time, no one ever looks at them, it takes effort to keep them current – these are just some of the reasons I hear from those who would do away with them.  But the real worth in such documents comes during times of crisis.  It’s when things start to go wrong that people seek out the manuals and check-lists.  It’s when the unexpected happens that people turn to the security of what has been documented in writing.  All of which suggests that perhaps there IS value in job handbooks and process guides, even if it takes work to keep them current and even if they get outdated the moment they are completed.   What do you think?  Waste of time, or worthwhile effort?

Engage or enrage? … a leadership choice

David Gouthro CSP is my professional colleague and today’s he’s my guest author. He’s also the current president of the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers (and a fellow Board member). I’m thrilled he agreed to join us here today on the Turning Managers Into Leaders blog.

In leadership, it can sometimes be a challenge to decide when to engage your followers and when to simply tell them what to do. In this blog post, I’d like to explore the value of the former.

I recently had an opportunity to attend a workshop on Engagement Strategies that focused on a wide variety of techniques for engaging people to a greater extent than simply telling or lecturing to (at?) them. There was widespread acknowledgement amongst participants that this was a far superior way of both transmitting information as well as increasing a sense of ownership for that information. It seems organizations are often driven (by time and budget constraints) to deliver information in the fastest and least expensive way possible. Unfortunately this is often at the expense of absorption, ownership, accountability, etc. I see it happening when a new vision or mission is being rolled out, new products announced, policies and procedures described, organizational changes laid out, etc. One of the lost opportunities in many organizations is the ability to access and apply the knowledge and wisdom residing in the heads of their employees. Companies run “town hall” meetings with large percentages of their employees getting together in one place at one time, but fail to design those gatherings for optimal engagement. The result? Some people may hear (and ideally absorb) the opinions of one or two bold individuals, but others are enraged (or at least disengaged) because they didn’t have an opportunity to contribute to solving a common problem or addressing a common opportunity. It’s ironic that although organizations seem to not have (or take) the time to more fully engage their employees in the dissemination and exploration of information, they are somehow able to pull time out of their hats (or other locations not to be mentioned here) to repair the fallout that occurs from lack of understanding and commitment that results from one-way, passive communication.

There are numerous well-documented and proven approaches to more fully engage employees in the presentation of information. Too bad more leaders don’t use them!

So, what examples and situations have you observed where employees are engaged … or enraged? What did you (or the leader) do that made it work … or not work? Do share.

You can contact David through his website at

“Happy birthday to me” is a great way to overcome procrastination

So continuing with our topic of practical ways to overcome procrastination (I offered the 5-minute technique and the salami technique in previous blog posts), I have one more to put forward.  I call this “happy birthday to me”, so called because it has to do with giving myself a gift.  Let’s face it: it’s easy to put off things that don’t have a positive result in the near future; it’s hard to get motivated to do something if the reward is too far out in time.  But if I can see a short-term reward, I find I can make a task feel much more immediate and so it gets done.  And if I can’t envision a prize on the immediate horizon, then I just create my own.  A walk down to the local coffee shop or 15 minutes of Angry Birds after I’ve finished a task is as much a reward or “gift” as anything else.  Perhaps most importantly, “happy birthday to me” works!

Jump in and share your ideas on how you overcome procrastination.  This is the last of three posts on this subject (at least for now), but you can add your comments to this or the previous two posts anytime.