7 Magic Phrases That Can Save an Awkward Conversation

A compliment, a question, and a game can get anyone to like you. Memorize them.

01-awkward-conversationPay a compliment
Why is it so easy to forget someone’s name within seconds of meeting them? Because, you weren’t really listening—you were too busy thinking about what to say next. One easy way to skirt that natural selfishness and propel any conversation forward is to open with flattery. When you meet someone for the first time, “Pay that person a compliment when repeating their name, thus helping to anchor and embed it even deeper into your memory,” says professional mentalist Oz Pearlman, who sometimes has to remember the names of hundreds of people he just met for his act. If you compliment Alyssa on her necklace, you instantly prime your brain to recall her name the next time you see that necklace, Pearlman says. “As a bonus, everyone enjoys flattery, so that compliment can go a long way toward you being remembered as well.”

 

Ask lots of questions—good questions
Research shows that in conversations with unfamiliar people, we tend to rate the experience based on our own performance, not theirs. What’s more: the experience of talking about ourselves can be more pleasurable than food or money. So, how do you give your conversation partner the pleasure of a good conversation? Ask them questions—a lot of questions, and ones that call for more than vague one-word answers (a good rule is, if your question can be answered with “fine,” don’t ask it). Avoid work if you can; instead, ask about play—”What keeps you busy outside of work?” is a good place to start. According to Debra Fine, author of The Fine Art of Small Talk, one question pretty much guaranteed to put someone in a positive mindset and open doors to their personality: “What has the highlight of your year been so far?” This allows the person to show you her best self and, if her highlight includes a topic you’re interested in too, may lay the groundwork for a true friendship. Here’s how expert minglers naturally make small talk.

 

Make a game out of small talk
If you keep feeding a person questions and they keep giving you nothing back, go for the jugular and make it a game. According to Jeanne Martinet, author of The Art of Mingling, small talk should be playful like a game of tennis, not serious like a job interview. Her go-to game? “I’ll say something like, ‘Tell me three things about your company, and I’ll guess what company it is.’ Or, ‘What’s that you’re drinking? Wait—let me guess.’ Get them into the spirit.”

 

Try to make their day better
If your conversation partner still isn’t biting, make things even easier for them by asking games researcher Jane McGonigal’s favorite question: “On a scale of one to ten, how was your day?” Anyone can think of a number between one and ten, McGonigal says, and they’re likely to elaborate on their answer as they go. But it gets even better. After they respond, ask them this: “Is there anything I can do to move you from a six to a seven (or a three to a four, etc.)?” You’d be surprised how happy this little gesture will make someone. This is what good listeners do in daily conversations.

 

Play the sympathy card
Ready for a cheater’s way to advance a conversation? Memorize three magic words: “that sounds hard.” “Nearly everyone in the world believes their job to be difficult,” entrepreneur Paul Ford wrote in his viral essay, “How to Be Polite.” “I once went to a party and met a very beautiful woman whose job was to help celebrities wear Harry Winston jewelry. I could tell that she was disappointed to be introduced to this rumpled giant in an off-brand shirt, but when I told her that her job sounded difficult to me she brightened and spoke for 30 straight minutes about sapphires and Jessica Simpson.”

 

Seek their opinion
This tip has been tested by perhaps our most tactful founding father, Benjamin Franklin. In his memoir, Franklin describes an “old maxim” that helped him along in his political career: “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.” In other words, if you ask someone for advice or a favor and they oblige you, they will be psychologically primed to like you and help you again (today this phenomenon is know as The Ben Franklin effect). So, if you truly want to endear yourself to a stranger and show them you value their mind, ask for their advice on something. If they give it to you, they get to feel important and valued—and you might just learn something in the process. Here’s the best advice 22 successful people rely on.

 

Exit gracefully
When your conversation reaches a natural conclusion, pull the trigger by saying “I won’t keep you” or “Give my regards to [mutual acquaintance]” before making your escape. Adam Dachis, coauthor of The Awkward Human Survival Guide, adds that context can provide you the perfect exit strategy. “If you’re at a party, excuse yourself to get a drink; if you’re at work, you can leave to get some coffee. You can also say, ‘It’s nice talking to you, but I have to talk to someone before they leave.’”

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Managing Change Effectively

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There is no question that people do not like change (https://hbr.org/2012/09/ten-reasons-people-resist-chang). Although some people can adjust more readily than others, it is inherent in our nature that managing change on any level is difficult.

When it comes to business, change is inevitable. As the world changes, so do our businesses in order to stay up-to-date and competitive. However, with each change, it becomes necessary to follow a transition process to acclimate both employees and customers. A transition can be the cause for issues to crop up in any area of your business. At a minimum, it can cause whining, grumbling and potential mistakes from your staff.

Changing Attitudes

When managing change in your business, keep this quote in mind.

“Without change, there is no innovation, creativity, or incentive for improvement. Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable.” ~ William Pollard

The Need for Innovation

Innovation and creativity are two of the most important factors that make your business a premier vendor for your customers. How you and your staff interact with customers and how you provide the best products and services to them will nurture loyal customers and make their lives better. While your techniques and results may change, your values do not, and that is what your customers will come to expect from you.

Creativity is Evergreen

Your ability to create, or to help your customers create, is a valuable talent. Managing change offers you an opportunity to find new ways to develop and display your “wares.” Since change requires learning and developing new skills, people that go through any transition can stimulate their creative centers at the same time they are learning.

How to Manage Change Effectively

To help your employees, customers, and yourself manage change in a positive manner, look for ways to reward people who make the transition effectively.

  1. Use change to retrain staff on necessary skills and review their knowledge.
  2. Offer incentives for staff to display their new knowledge and expertise to customers.
  3. Offer discounts to customers who try your newest innovation.
  4. Take the change in stages that make sense for the involved participants.
  5. Explain why you are making the change and how it will improve your product, your operations, or grow your business.
  6. Give staff and customers a forum to voice their opinions and complaints.
  7. Thank people for trusting you and making the effort to try something new.
  8. Express your understanding of resistance to change.

As you ask your people to take the steps to change, remind them of how far your business and industry has come and where you would be if you never made any changes.

Protect Your Business While On the Move

thinkstockphotos-518339196Even if you’re not working for an organization that requires you to travel on a regular basis, there is still a high likelihood that you will work from home at some point during your week. Giving people the ability to work remotely not only increases worker productivity but also drives efficiency, lowers stress, reduces employee turnover, and more. However, all of these benefits come at a pretty significant cost: giving employees the ability to work while on the move also increases the chances of a cyber attack pretty profoundly.

Organizations that want to leverage the power of modern technology with as few of the downsides as possible would do well to learn three specific letters as quickly as possible: V, P, and N.

What is a VPN?

Short for “virtual private network,” a VPN is exactly that – a private network that extends across either a public network or a larger, global network like the internet. Think of it as a lane on a highway that only you and your employees are allowed to use while on your way to work. Sure, there are other cars out on the road trying to get to various destinations, but YOU are the only one who gets to enjoy that one, special lane.

This may be a bit of an oversimplification, but this is largely the idea at the heart of a VPN. It allows users like yourself to both send and receive information over public networks like the internet with all of the privacy and security they would expect if they were connected to a smaller private network in their office.

Many businesses use VPNs to help increase security as more employees work remotely. Using a VPN, remote users can connect back with the head office, or regional offices can connect with one another, without worrying about anyone with malicious intentions intercepting their traffic.

Why is a VPN So Important?

For business professionals on the go, VPNs are important, thanks to one simple, little word: security. While connections to the internet are a dime-a-dozen, SECURE connections are much harder to come by. If you hop onto the Wi-Fi network at your local Starbucks to send some important files to a client, anyone on that some network could potentially “snipe” that file out of the air and gain access to it if they know what they’re doing. This is because Starbucks’ network was designed to be public so everyone could use it, which unfortunately means any and all traffic going over that network is essentially up for grabs.

However, if you used that same Starbucks Wi-Fi connection first to connect to your VPN, the kid with the laptop three tables over trying as hard as possible to read your emails can “hack” all he’d like, but he won’t be learning your trade secrets anytime soon. VPNs allow businesses to extend the security of their local intranet while located out of the office, allowing remote employees to be as productive as they need to be without worrying about something like a data breach.

These are just a few of the key reasons why VPNs are so important for today’s modern business world. When dealing with something as inherently volatile as the internet, the security and privacy benefits alone are more than worth the investment, even – and before you begin to think about the added level of protection this gives to employees working out of the office. In an era where data breaches are all too common, and concern with data privacy is at an all-time high, virtual private networks are one of the single, best ways to remain protected and productive at the same time.

Out of the Mouths of Babes

thinkstockphotos-547540180Customer service is sometimes the part of the job that we dread due to the range of customer complaints that ensue. However, if we look at customer service as an opportunity, we can create a lot of positive energy from it. While not all stories are as entertaining as this one, the fact that the customer service response became a boon for the company is evident.

Giraffe Bread

Lily Robinson, 3 and 1/2 years old, wanted to know why the Tiger Bread from Sainsbury’s (a British convenience store) wasn’t called Giraffe Bread. After all, it looked like giraffe skin. She wrote a letter to Sainsbury’s and her mother mailed it to their customer service department. (https://www.helpscout.net/10-customer-service-stories/)

In an incredible customer service response, Chris King, 27 and 1/3 years old, responded to Lily with another letter and a gift card. That response in itself would have been an incredible customer service moment, but the story continues.

Sainsbury’s decided to change the name of the bread to Giraffe Bread and created signage explaining the story. Lily’s mom was so impressed that she wrote about the story on her blog. (https://jamandgiraffes.com/2011/06/15/our-careline/) The story then got picked up by BBC News (http://www.bbc.com/news/business-16812545) and became a marketing tale that has returned goodwill to Sainsbury’s many times more than what the first gesture from Chris King cost them. While this return doesn’t happen every time you offer excellent customer service, your actions and response to customer complaints are opportunities to cement relationships with customers. Often, it is the customer service assistance that creates the most indelible mark in a customer’s memory.

Customer Service as an Opportunity

There are many similar instances that companies never find out about that affect their bottom line. Not every customer calls or writes to a company because of a good or bad customer service experience. However, they may tell all of their friends about it. Positive or negative, word of mouth goes far and can create a bundle of good or bad press for a company.

Because most of us are dealing with automated phone systems and customer service reps that speak other languages and barely know English, a lot us have become numb to the massive amount of poor customer service. When we do come across good customer service, sometimes it is a shock to our system. We crave good customer service, and most people will return and refer others to any company that treats them well.

Examples of good customer service opportunities abound:

*The mechanic that takes the time to explain what is wrong and why it needs to be fixed, but won’t fix anything that is unnecessary.
*The patio furniture sales person who brings out a ladder to get the last display model from the ceiling-high display shelf.
*The jeweler who walks the customer through the options of repair for their cherished, but cheap, pearl necklace.

These types of customer service experiences are appreciated by the customer and remembered.

By treating every customer service issue as an opportunity to strengthen your relationship with a customer, you can build the loyalty that every business needs. Loyal customers are your bread and butter, the customers who pay your monthly bills month in and month out.
Being a small business can give you more of these opportunities because you know your customers personally, so use these moments as a chance to shine.

What A 9-year-old Reporter Can Teach Us About Perseverance

thinkstockphotos-486159102Nine-year-old Hilde Lysiak is the brains behind Orange Street News, which bills itself as the only newspaper dedicated to Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania. When she broke the story of a murder in her neighborhood hours before professional news outlets, she received some backlash from online commenters. Because of her young age, some people said that she should focus on “cute” stories. One even went so far as to say that she should report on “tea parties and dolls.”

Despite the criticisms, Hilde has continued to report the news. She has a hotline that people can call to have vandalism investigated. Stories reported by Orange Street News range from local thefts to the expansion of the route of a local ice cream truck. While some feel that reporting on the hard news is not the job of a nine-year-old, one group, in particular, disagrees: publisher Scholastic has just offered Hilde a four-book deal. She will be co-writing a mystery series with her father. The first book comes out in 2017.

Had Hilde backed down when she received criticism, she would never have gotten this opportunity. The book deal makes Hilde one of the youngest individuals to publish a book series.

Just as it took perseverance for Hilde Lysiak to keep creating stories for Orange Street News, marketers need to keep up consistent efforts even when they’re not getting results right away. Here a few areas where prolonged and consistent action is necessary to get the sales that make your business a success:

1. Social media marketing.

There are over 32 million Google results for the phrase “social media marketing doesn’t work.” However, when you go further, you’ll find that the ways that people have been social media marketing are what does not work. For marketing on social media to work for your brand, you need to post consistently. According to Buffer, you should post anywhere from once per day on LinkedIn to five or more times a day if you are marketing on Pinterest. Without this level of commitment, you will not get the results you want.

2. Email marketing.

If you send an email blast just once with no follow-up, your conversion rate will be low. However, follow-up emails can raise it considerably. Research from Salesforce indicates that it can take anywhere from 6 to 8 “touches” to generate a sale. People are usually not ready to buy the first time they have an offer. By reaching out several times, you can help build their trust and comfort levels and get them willing to buy.

3. Blogging on your site.

If you do not blog consistently, you will not get the sort of traffic and build the type of relationships that can help support your brand. Blogging at least twice a week will help you get more traction in the search engines and will give visitors more materials to check out while they decide whether to give you their business.

No marketing effort will work overnight. By being consistent and persistent in your marketing materials, you can improve your conversions and see more success in your marketing efforts.