6 lessons from the class everyone should take but no one ever does.

I work in advertising. I know the value of the New and Improved. Which is why I am always trying to create a newer, improved-er version of myself. I realized at the beginning of my career that if I wanted to catch up to the best professionals in this industry I was going to have to do my homework. So I began studying and learning. Not in a structured school program. But in a self-directed, choose-your-own-adventure, movie montage kind of way.

Like most people who are into self-improvement, I have focused heavily on communication skills: public speaking, presentation skills, selling skills. But the deeper I get into this game Prince called, Life, I realize that most people (including me) spend too much time on the wrong side of the equation.

The most effective and important communication skill is not speaking. It’s listening.

Listening is where all success starts. It is only through listening that we understand the problems that we need to solve. It is how we hear what isn’t said (don’t think about this too hard or it sounds really stupid). Through listening we learn about other people. We learn about their history, their values, their styles and their quirks. Which allows for deeper, more meaningful and more valuable relationships. Yet when was the last time you heard about someone going to a listening seminar?

So here are The Perfect Agency Project’s 6 Keys To Improving Your Listening Skills. These are sure to make you a better, bigger-eared version of yourself.

1. Listen Competitively.

Start by trying to be really good at listening. You already know the little things you have to do to be a great listener. We learned them playing Simon Says. Look at the person talking. Give the person speaking your full attention.  And do this like your earning potential, relationships and Parent Of The Year award depend on it. Because they do.

2. Shut your mouth.

We are often so compelled to talk that we stop listening. If you want to be a great listener you have to silence your own impulses. And focus on your role as a listener. This means you are not providing answers, or solutions or opinions. You are harvesting. Not planting. Know what season it is. Bring the right equipment to the field.

3. Keep your partner lubricated.

I don’t mean with alcohol or KY.  With affirmations. And demonstrated interest. Lean in. Show you care. And you will keep others flowing with information. Yet without the annoying public outcry that comes with waterboarding.

4. Listen with your Spidey Sense.

Go beyond the words that are said. Note the tone. The emotion. Those things are like limps, signaling that something deeper is wrong. Or they could signal that someone is in a good mood that exceeds the norm for the current situation. Maybe they just got engaged. Or maybe they are on drugs.

5.  Play back, Jack.

The curtain call of any good listening session is the summary of what you heard.  The highlight, simplified conclusion or takeaway that demonstrates that you really heard what was said. What was implied. And what is now important.  Do this and you will always leave a conversation with more personal equity.

6. Lock up the valuables.

The most important listening skill is keeping the private stuff private. You have to know which things you heard were intended for you alone. And don’t talk about them. When people know that you are trustworthy they tell you more. You become an important confidante. An insider. It’s like being sponge-worthy.

Improve your listening and everything else will improve. Better relationships with your friends, family and co-workers. Better solutions to problems. More and better networking. And better creative ideas. If you have your own tips and tricks for better listening I would love to hear from you.

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Could you pass the Fender Bender Test?

Sunday afternoon I was in a fender bender. Boo. I was driving my daughter home from basketball practice. We were having a nice conversation about her practice and I was looking forward to making chili when we got home. Then I was going to bake a couple of pies with the apples we picked at a local orchard in the morning. Then Normal Rockwell was going to sue me for infringing on his schtick.

I was driving within the notorious Five Mile Circle of Doom: that 5 mile radius that surrounds your home. Statistically, this is where the majority of accidents happen. As I passed into the invisible circle I slowed down because a tanker truck was stopping at a railroad crossing in front of me. Then I heard it. That telltale crunchy metallic BANG of a car slamming into another car. A moment later I heard another BANG. But this time I felt it too. I had been hit from behind. And suddenly the chili, apple pie and Norman Rockwell lay in shattered fragments on the pavement. Now Danica Patrick was going to sue me for stealing her schtick.

I pulled my car off the main drag and onto a side street. I got out of the car. And that’s when I realized what had happened. I had been part of a 3 car pileup. I was the third and final ball in a Newton’s Cradle fender bender.

Back on the main road there were two cars still intimately engaged like two dogs getting it on in public. Which is always such an awkward thing to see. Even for dogs.

After a moment the two cars disengaged and gingerly limped off the main road and onto the side street with me. We got out of our cars and remembered to first ask if everyone was okay. Then we introduced ourselves. This is one of the all-time oddest ways to meet someone new. Hey, crash here often?  How about this crashing inducing weather we’re having?

First I met the woman who hit me. I’ll call her Laura (because that is her first name, and her last name is too difficult to spell). She was driving a new grey Honda Oddessy mini van. She had a car full of humans and was finally heading home from a long day of volleyball at the high school.

The person driving the car that created the crash was a tall goofy boy who was college-dropout aged. He was odd. And he raised an eyebrow of the responding police officer who said, “I’m going to talk to him first. He’s acting pretty shifty.’ But I don’t think he was acting. That was just him being himself.

This left me, Laura, her kids, and soon her husband John (who came to help) to talk amongst ourselves as we waited. And the more we talked the more I liked them. They were nice people. Laura asked my daughter how her basketball practice was. Which was a very nice thing to ask a kid who had just been in her first accident. And it demonstrated Laura’s ability to think beyond herself, even though her brand new minivan has just been dented, gashed and bruised. And her engine was now wheezing like a junkyard conversion van. John was friendly, composed and funny. He said, ‘Well at least it didn’t happen during the Packer game.’ I laughed.

But as we talked we realized we had more in common. Laura and I had both gone to the University of Wisconsin. We quickly found several people we knew in common. And then we realized that we both work in (and love) advertising.

So there we were. Our cars dented and saddened by recent events. Yet Laura was cool, collected, considerate and humorous. Which are the traits you need to have to be successful in advertising. Because in this industry fender benders and traffic jams and last minute surprises are routine. After this surprise-round of speed networking we decided that we should meet again to talk about doing business together.

While we at The Perfect Agency Project don’t recommend getting in an accident, it does provide a valuable look at how people respond to the negative. It gives you a good look at who they really are under pressure. And if you like them then, you will probably like working with them too. Laura passed The Fender Bender Test with flying colors. Would you? I encourage you to think about it. But I hope you never know.

3 rules of marriage I should have told Brad and Angelina.

If you want to do something great, like create the perfect agency, it’s helpful to have a great partner on your side. Like my wife, Dawn. It doesn’t even matter which side of you they are on (just choose one and go with it). But finding a compatible partner for your life-business is really hard.

I reflected on this as I heard about the shocking break up of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Ok, so I wasn’t really shocked. While I am certainly not a pessimist, I am pretty good at spotting trends. And I know that if you are a famous person and you marry another famous person, you’re not likely to end up in the Marriage Hall of Fame.

Despite the fact that we once shopped at Famous Footwear, my wife and I are not famous. And while studying for our marriage (yes, we really studied) we learned some important facts. One was that 50% of marriages die before the people in them do.

Like most couples, Dawn and I celebrate the victories in our marriage. Like anniversaries. Next week we will have been married 14 years. And we celebrate the anniversary of our first kiss. Mostly because it was the day I stopped hopping like a frog.

But there is another thing we do in our marriage that most couples don’t do. We view other couples’ divorces as our wins. I realize this sounds bad. But if 50% of marriages fail, this is a game of survival. And while we are always saddened to hear of a friend, coworker or family member that got voted off Marriage Island, we’re thankful to still be playing the game.  When we hear of a couple splitting up, Dawn and I always high-five (seriously).  It’s as if we just scored a point in the Marriage Sand Volleyball league.  We knew someone was going to lose that point. And it wasn’t us.

There are lots of ways to help ensure your marriage is successful.  But if I was in charge of the Department of Homeland Matrimony, I would create 3 laws to improve the marriage success rate.

  1. No famous people marrying other famous people.
  2. No getting married before you are 30. We change too much during our 20’s and make too many dumb choices.
  3. Everyone must listen to the audio book, Marathon Marriage by David Moore. Dawn and I got this 4 CD series as an engagement gift from my Auntie, Jan Faust. It made us think about and discuss important issue before we signed the contract. It tried to scare us out of running the marathon. And it forced us to think about building a strong marriage that will last. And not just throwing a great party.

Brad and Angelina, if you are reading this, I’m sorry things didn’t work out. I’m sorry you and the six kids have to go through this tough time. I’m sorry it is being talked about in all of the media. But I’m thankful it is you, and not me.

Why there has never been a better time to wear white.

Welcome to After Labor Day! This, unfortunately, is the darkest time of the year. Because now we are supposed to put away our white clothing until Memorial Day. Or until Diddy invites us to a party. Whichever comes first. I have known about this rule since I was old enough to make my own fashion faux pas. But I didn’t understand the rule, until now.

After long minutes of research (hey, it’s the information age) I discovered the Labor-Day-White-Thing was basically a mean girl rule established by a small gaggle of old money biddies in the late 1800s. They decided that they would use the imaginary rule to identify and ostracize new money ladies who didn’t know the insider rules, and wore white on the wrong days. Yet over time everyone adopted this standard.

How lame is that?  

This isn’t a rule. It’s a joke. Or at best a standard we follow without reason. With this knowledge, how do you pick out your clothes tomorrow?

There are two ways to view these widely followed, but non-rule-rules.

  1. We can adhere to them, just like everyone in-the-know.
  2. We can see them as the gifts they are. And use them to help us stand out from the masses.

When I was in college I had a track teammate named Alex Mautz. Alex liked wearing shorts so much he decided not to pack them away after Labor Day, or Halloween or Thanksgiving. In fact, Alex wore shorts every day for an entire year. Which is no big deal if you live in Florida. Or Ecuador. But we lived in Madison, Wisconsin. Where I experienced -26 Fahrenheit without windchill. Alex turned heads everywhere he went. Not only was he memorable, he provided total strangers with an instant conversation starter from November through April.

One of the most important things we do at The Perfect Agency Project is find ways to help people and organization stand out from the crowd. That’s how you build a memorable brand. And if you want to be noticed, cultural and category norms are a gift.

White wedding dresses don’t stand out. Red ones do. I have seen thousands of diamond engagement rings that all blend together. But my sister Heather’s stands out. Because it’s an emerald ring. Chick-fil-a is one of my favorite restaurants. But unlike most restaurants, it isn’t open on Sundays.  Yet Chick-fil-a is the first restaurant I think of every Sunday (can I get an Amen?).

If you, your brand or business want more attention, find a convention and start doing the unconventional. There are opportunities all around you. If you would like help finding your white clothes after Labor Day let me know. We could grab some caramels and talk.

Why September 6th is the most important day of the year.

Happy New Year! That’s right, Tuesday September 6th is the real New Year’s Day. I know you’re probably wondering what the Dick Clark I’m talking about. Allow me to explain.

Americans traditionally celebrate the new year at the worst possible time. In January you are stumbling out of the most hectic and stressful time of the year. Which makes it a poor time to set new goals, quit bad habits and reinvent yourself.

The simple fact is that the fall, not spring, and certainly not January 1st is the best time for new beginnings.

If you were a tree, today is when your next ring would start to grow. Preschool starts in the fall. And so does Kindergarten, middle school, high school and college. Which means fall is the start of the next chapter for kids, parents and teachers alike. The day after Labor Day is the first day schools everywhere are back in session and fully engaged.

When summer break is over for kids summer vacations are over for adults. Which means that starting today we are all back to work. Our businesses are operating at full strength for the first time in 3 months. Factories are humming. Offices are buzzing. And farms are really farmy.

Churches now begin their regularly scheduled programs. So if you see a church, and see a steeple, open it up and you might see all the people.

The new television season starts now.  Both NCAA and NFL football kickoff now too.

This is a great time of year.

For those of you who used your summer vacation days well, you are hitting September 6th fully recharged. Not only did you take the last three months to fill up on Vitamin D, travel, relaxation and inspiration, you got a three-day weekend to top it all off.

Now that your tanks are full and you are refocused it is time to treat this like the new beginning you almost missed. Set new goals. Drop a bad habit. Pick a new challenge. Plan your next chapter. Grab that next rung. Or build your own ladder.

At The Perfect Agency Project we are fully engaged. Your team should be too. We’re all primed, rested and ready.  Let’s push hard. Have fun. And make this the best year ever. And here you thought today was just another Tuesday.

 

 

 

The most common phrase you should never say.

At the Perfect Agency Project we have a fairly obvious goal. In case you’re not great at reading comprehension, the goal is to create the perfect agency. And at the perfect agency people collaborate and are nice to each other.  Which means they don’t do or say jerkilicious things.

That’s why we are banning a very common phrase you probably hear or say all the time. Ready for it? Still ready?  Further ado. Even further ado  Okay, here it is:

I don’t disagree.

Please stop saying this.  This is one of the jerkiest statements we can make to each other.  It paints your reaction in a negative light. Both don’t and disagree are negative words.  Which makes it a double negative.

As most of you don’t not know, the double negative actually makes a positive. So this statement actually says, I agree.  But it states it in the most negative, reluctant, non-affirming way possible.

Instead let us say things like I agree. Or You’re right.  Let us support each other. Let us acknowledge our alignments positively. And most importantly, let us eat more lettuce. Now if you agree with me, please respond to this post by saying, completely don’t disagree with you. It won’t make me not laugh. But it will let me know who read all the way to the end.

Let’s stop TGIFing around.

Welcome to the second post in my Days Of The Week Series (my gut says this will be one of the seven best). Today we’re talking about Friday. Which is really more like Friday! It’s one of the most popular days of all time (see what I did there?) Everyone loves Friday. But I don’t love the way we often think about the day.

We all know the phrase TGIF.  The thing I dislike about this is that Thank God It’s Friday is really saying, ‘OMG! I am so thankful I have reached the end of my week of suffering!’

But on Fridays at the Perfect Agency Project we want to: Make the most. Not just coast. So we are rebranding the day as Phone a Friend Friday. Or Fone a Friend Friday. Or Phone A Phriend Phriday. Your choice.

Relationships are really, really important in business. I’ve made a genuine effort to develop, maintain and grow mine. In fact, people are one of my favorite things about this planet. And they were an important factor in me choosing to live on Earth.

Today we use lots of ways to keep in touch. We text, email, tweet, snap, chat, IM, Link and stalk people. But Fridays were made for phone calls. Because schedules free up and the pace slows down at the end of the week. So instead of using that lighter load at the end of the week to knock off early, or hang out at either the real or the proverbial water cooler, I encourage you to call someone in your network that you haven’t talked to in a while.

At a minimum, my Phone a Friend Friday calls are always a highly enjoyable end to the week. But they routinely provide great insights, advice and learning opportunities. They help strengthen my relationships. They often shine a light on another friend or contact that could use a call, a hand or a word of encouragement. And these calls regularly lead to new opportunities for me to work with some of my favorite people again.

So don’t start mailing it in just yet my friends. Pick up the phone today and end the week on a high note. Your Friday calls may prove to be the most valuable part of your week on both a personal and professional level. If you don’t know who to call, call me (614-256-2850). Even if I can’t talk at the time I’m sure to call you back. And my voicemail messages alone are usually  worth the call. Have a great day. And I look forward to catching up soon.