Shaking hands

What's New? and Making Something from Nothing

Without the salutation of "Happy New Year", we return to our old rote greetings or conversation starters. "What's new?" is one of the most popular.

How we answer this question could change our life and the lives of others.  But instead we all tend to perpetuate an empty robotic exchange of nothingness. 

I know we are "busy" and short cuts and auto-responses expedite, streamline, and generally make our lives more efficient.

But what about the unintended consequences? What is lost in the these meaningless transactions?

A lot.

Everyday, we enter into many micro transactional conversations that involve these queries. Our brains are not engaged, we blurt out things in this short attention span edition of our ADDHD lives. 

So someone you know or don't know innocently and probably automatically says, "What's new?"

My unscientific survey reveals these most popular and ineffective answers:

  • Nothing
  • Not much
  • Keeping my head above water
  • Busy. Very busy
  • Same ole same ole
  • Nothing to complain about
  • Nada mucho, how about you?

You say you want conversations. You want want less "small talk" and more substance. And yet, your answers to this question often leads to a laughable script for the least substantive conversation possible.

What's new?

Nothing. Really busy.

Yeah me too. Nothing-to-say

Wow. Weird to be able to mouth the conversation as it happens, like a movie you have seen too many times. You know what the next line is so your interest and attention fall off.

Are you a network node that leads to other people, ideas and places or are you a predictable dead end street?

We have to stop these robotic meaningless, missed opportunities to connect! And it is not just the hollow responses. It is also the duty of the initiator to follow-up. A "nothing" response can't be accepted. The lack of sincerity and veracity have to be called on the carpet.

"Nothing!" And then you launch into a list of the things you have monitored and tracked because you are a master networker. You ask about their kids, their pets, their hobbies, their charities. You are following the updates of your network. And you know from FB, Linked-in, blog posts, and the media that--"Nothing" is simply not true.

So YOU ask about the new things that your colleague is too busy or lazy to mention, to resurrect their attention and the conversation.

Do you believe in the Law of Attraction?  You attract to yourself what you give your time, attention and words to---Negative or positive. 

So when you have nothing to say you attract nothing. 

So now change the setting to an interview.  Are your answers different? Of course.

How about when your boss' boss sees you in the elevator?

How about when you meet someone you do not know who will be your next boss?

How about to a head hunter? Or a prospective new client? 

The point is you may never know who you are talking to until you do. 

The challenge is your brain and your mouth get into bad habits. They start talking before you think.

Pause before you answer any question? Think then speak. Listen then respond. Awaken in the moment! 

Never say "nothing" or that "I'm busy". We are all busy!

Start by bragging or complaining? No way! Start with something positive.

Personal or professional? Yes! Talk about what is new that is on your mind. Work, your kids, your hobby, the book you are reading--anything and everything is available to mention.

I try to put myself in the mindset of an ambassador. How am I representing my country, my people? Who am I trying to help? How can I be authentic but also diplomatic? How can I assert my ideas without offending? How can I engage people in my work in a mutually beneficial way?

You can't win with just defense. Responding to all inquiries is good but what do you think? What will you assert or advance? Who are you trying to help--besides yourself?!

Your reputation is built on your impressions. Listen to yourself. How are you doing? 

I have always asked my external teams, my sales reps, my fundraisers--anyone who interacts with the public as part of their jobs--How do you answer the question: "What's new?"

This is a softball pitch, right down the middle. You have to be ready to hit it out of the park.

I coach my teams to use this wonderful question to discuss something that is personally exciting to them about our organization. Something that is new, fresh and interesting. Something they know about. Not the elvevator pitch. Not the company line, or that last press release necessarily. Their genuine energy and enthusiasm will be contagious.

Nothing is never interesting or engaging. Nothing is worse than boring. Nothing is a lie. Nothing is not even possible.

What's new? A great question that deserves an answer. A fantastic conversation starter. Let's not waste it.

Adopting a lifestyle of mentoring and networking requires us to be the ones who put a stop to these meaningless conversations and help others make something from nothing.

Thanks for reading. John


What's your BIT?---How you introduce yourself matters

I conducted workshops for employees of PepsiCo and Gavina Coffee on multicultural networking and mentoring last week. How to connect with different people, from different backgrounds. How to inform your path by actively seeking new perspectives from other cultures and demography. There is always a fascination with my exercises to develop your BIT, your Brief Introductory Talk.  Something I have written about several times. The process of obtaining those perspectives, of reconnecting with people you know but don't know, and meeting new and interesting folks, starts with a conversation. All relationships, new and ongoing are about the conversation. Continuing the conversation is the key to all great and fulfilling relationships.Could be e-mail, facebook postings, telephonic, or face-to-face. These exchanges of words and ideas build and deepen relationships. They all start or re-start at the beginning when you introduce yourself or re-introduce yourself.First-impression  
The the most fascinating of these routines is the self introduction. What you say in the first 10-15 seconds. Nothing can alter a conversation more than this. I call this your BIT, your Brief Introductory Talk. It is so surprising what people say in their robotic way. They are not thinking before and when they talk. Their introduction is not customized to the situation or context. They often use company or industry jargon outside of work. I was in my son's classroom during his school's open house. I was proudly watching my son interacting with his classmates. I noticed another dad. He was dressed in the full designer blue suit, decked out with the gold Rolex, those little initials on his cuffs, and the $600 shoes--you know the type. I decided to introduce myself to him. With an outstretched hand I said, "I'm John, Bobby's dad." I pointed at Bobby. Mr. super executive wheeled around with his auto-smile flashing and boomed, "Hi, Steve Williams Sr. VP of Sales and Business Development for XYZ Corporation." "Nice to meet you", I replied and added, "Is one of these your kid?" He was still in the fog of work. He suddenly snapped out of it and said, "Oh yeah, Eddie's my son, that's him right there." "Oh good, for a minute there you scared me Steve, you know it is a misdemeanor to loiter on a school campus?", I quipped. Mr. Sr VP chuckled but I am not sure he was very amused. At least Steve accompanied his BIT with a smile and a firm handshake. It is bizarre how many adult professionals do not smile, and apparently lie to me and say, "Nice to meet you" with no direct eye contact and a face that reflects indifference and what appears to be disgust. And how many cadaver handshakes I have endured, the cold dead lifeless excuse for a greeting. Nothing better than to meet someone with these off-putting impressions. :)
 
Most people need to improve their BITs. This is not only what you say to introduce yourself, but how you respond to an initial inquiry. You know, "What brings you here?" or "What do you do?" etc etc  Here's a few basic questions to freshen your tired and auto-pilot BIT:
  1. Is your BIT an invitation or a roadblock?
  2. Is your BIT jargony or industry or company specific?
  3. Is your BIT customized for the situation and the audience?
  4. Is it delivered with some enthusiasm and a smile?  

Listen to yourself. Do you know what you are saying and to whom you are saying it? Be focused and remember where you are and who you are at the moment. Like Mr. Williams in my story above, he is a father first and foremost when he is at the school. No one cares about his classification at work when he is visiting his son's school. We all take on multiple roles and identities in our lives and each one deserves a BIT.

My new favorite BIT, depending on who I am talking to, is "I help wealthy people give away their money?" Always starts a conversation!

Students of all ages are the worst. They erroneously think being a student is a weakness. Everyone wants to help a student. So declaring your quest for knowledge and experience is endearing and engaging. "I am just a student," says you lack confidence and self respect. Versus "I am a 2nd year student at (school) and I am thinking about becoming a teacher." That invites questions and interest.

Weave in your hobby, avocation, current professional development pursuit. "I work for Gavina Coffee and a new mother of twins."  or ...."sit on the board of (your charity)"..........

Stop, think and listen to what you say about yourself. It may surprise you. Your BIT is the start of a great conversation or not. It is a key part of your first or newest impression. If you are not listening to what you are saying and how you are saying it, then odds are your recipient is less interested too.

What's your BIT?

Thanks for reading. John


Friending and Linking with purpose

Aren't first impressions important anymore? How we introduce ourselves, what I call your BIT(brief introductory talk) can make a world of difference in how the conversation and the relationship get started. How we shake hands, hand out our business cards, and what we say, form these critical impressions. And whether people are added to our networks will be largely governed by these impressions. But for some reason, these common courtesies and protocols go out the window when we go online. We do things online we would never dream of doing face to face. Connecting through online social networks may seem less intrusive, so really smart and nice people abandon generally expected etiquette. I guess it is so easy to hit the send button and move on to the next transaction that they don't think about it. Fb

What am I talking about? Okay I get a FB or Linked-in request every day. You know, on FB, "so and so would like to be your friend. If you know so and so, click Confirm." or " I'd like to add you to my professional network on Linked-In." If I know the person and I see this connection as mutually beneficial, then I confirm or accept immediately. However, 90% of these requests are from people I do not know or once met years ago. But since their request does not give me a clue how I know them, acknowledge the time that has elapsed, or even a superficial and insincere request about my health and well-being, I hit delete. Even a note that says "I need to use you, would you mind?" would be refreshing! Logo_linkedin_88x22

Ignore or delete these requests:

  1. Crashers-It is very irritating to get a friend or a link request from someone you don't know AND they employ the generic pre-set message Not even a salutation, note or indication what they want. Don't have time to solve the riddle or read minds and I certainly do not want any strange interlopers in my network. Delete.
  2. Left Fielders--This person seems familiar or maybe knew them in a previous life. You have not heard from them in years and they again use the generic request. Ignore or delete.
  3. Posers--You know this person but they did not give you the time of day before. Now they are in desperation mode. Like a lonely heart looking up old flames, they are looking to reconnect and it will be a one-sided deal with you on the losing end. And again, there is no explanation. Delete.

The problem is people can appear to be in such a rush or sending such quantities that thoughtfulness and personalization are trampled in the name of speed. And speed kills. We have to avoid being hit and run networkers. Our brain has to be engaged before we floor the gas otherwise we get into accidents and hurt ourselves. 

Not unlike a resume that does not have a cover note. Or when presumptuous people  give my name as a referenceand don't give me a heads-up. I may have a very favorable impression of the person, but have lost touch. And the new position they are seeking surprises me and since I do not know what they have been doing in the interim I can not connect the dots. Elegant hand offs matter. Making the extra effort to manage the process and give it a personal touch is invaluable.

There is an art to reconnecting with "old" contacts. It takes thought and time.

What if you opened your snail mail box and found a bunch of business cards inside, would you call them? Absolutely not. The BIG difference in a social network is that by confirming or accepting I would also agree to give them access to MY network. That scares me. This could be borderline network theft. Crash the network and then let them take what they want. And who opened the door?

Networks of contacts, circles of friends, and/or your connections are a precious resource that is to be protected and nurtured. There is no prize for the most. This is one place where size does not matter. Yes, if you are selling stuff or services then making mega connections will be helpful. (if everyone knows that is what you are doing) Any attempt to mask sales with empty attempts to share or support is a violation of the network. But we do want to share our networks as well. How we share and who is in our networks is always your choice.

Like everything, and as Covey says, "Start with the end in mind". What is the goal of your network? As you know, there is a real and profound difference between your professional and personal networks. Especially on FB, you have to make choices. Do you care if you have casual acquaintances, friends of friends, mixed with your best buddies and family and work colleagues? People find you on FB, people you knew, people you liked and not, people you care about and people who are seriously irrelevant. How can you treat them all the same? It is a gut check. Do you care? Do you want to read about their current lives? Make the call. The quality of your network is based on your choices, it always has been. And in the end it reflects you.

Good networking requires effort and time. Reading people's walls or Linked-in updates can be fascinating, but I have never found them sufficient to strengthen the network. I have to supplement by going offline to private e-mail, phone calls, or even a human interaction to make the online transactions meaningful. Some will argue with me. I endorse whatever works for you, but the quality of your network starts with your confirming or accepting that initial request. And if that request is personal and thoughtful, then your network grows with purpose.

Thanks for reading. John


The beginning of networking---Dedicated to my Dad and your Dad

Happy Father's Day! If you are fortunate to still have your dad, I hope you called him. If you have lost your father, think about him and appreciate that he gave you the opportunity to be where you are. 

I dedicate this blog to one of my best friends, Willie Banks. He lost his Dad a few days ago.
 ~In memory of William "Bill" Banks II~


Being a Dad is one of the greatest challenges, joys and adventures ever. It gives you an appreciation for the cycle of life. It gives you a chance to appreciate what your parents tried to do and how they shaped your view of the world. As Robin Williams observed when his son was acting up by using a string of obscenities, he saw his father with his arms stretched high and an evil smile across his face, screaming Yes! Yes! Yes! Fathers take pride in their off-springs successes and also a bit of pleasure in their children's confrontations with reality--especially when parents provided sage and unheeded advice. 

Here's how Roderick Yoshimi Kobara (that's my Dad) ignited J0434748 my interest in networking and a clearer path for me to succeed. Raising me was not always easy. I was very inclined to be anti-everything. Part of it was the times--the late 60's, part of it was my incessant desire to be different and independent. Part of it was the teenage funk generated by the endless war between the hormones and the pituitaries. One of the many victims of this battle is the cross cultural decline of respect for parental units, their irrelevance, their responsibility for all wrongs in the world and their embarrassing lack of coolness. 

During this awkward time, my Dad was frustrated with his oldest son--that's me. He found little benefit in my impersonations of Richard Pryor or when I told people I met that I was Viet Cong. He found these unfunny comedic pursuits and my less than stellar performance in the classroom reason to be concerned. Being a classic Asian Dad, a man of few words, he would say pointed things from time to time leaving the interpretation to the imagination of his children. One of these poignant moments changed my life. 

Dad always told us, the four kids, always to represent the family, to not embarrass the family name, and to be polite but quiet. There is a Japanese concept/value called enryo. Enryojpeg It is a giant cultural concept that means self-discipline, self-sacrifice, no-ego, and modesty. But when uttered by a parent it meant, do not touch, ask for, eat anything when visiting someone else's home. Restrain all needs. Defer to others. My parents would say "Enryo!" You can see how this would clash with the good ole American values of rugged individualism, me-first, assert yourself, take control, and lead! 

When people came over, especially my parents friends, my Dad requested we greet, shake hands, and then quietly retreat to our rooms. This was a confusing request in the enryo world in which we were raised. So we rarely obeyed this command. This was embarrassing to my Dad. After the umpteenth time we did not comply, Dad called my brother and me into the kitchen. As the oldest, I got the brunt of it. As teens we were stupidly inattentive even when our lives were at stake. My father railed against our incorrigible behavior. My brother Mitch and I looked at our shoes and this enraged Dad more. He grabbed me by the front of my shirt and pulled me onto my tiptoes. He stared me down, as Mitch moved to the furthest and safer corner of the kitchen. Dad said, "Do you know why I want you to do this?--say hello to our friends, shake their hands?" It's because I was never a public person. My career has been hurt by my inability to make speeches and meet people. You have to be public people to be successful in America." We had no idea what he meant. We just knew we disappointed him. It was not until much later I realized that being a public person was being comfortable and confident networking and making presentations. For my Dad, through his experiences of post WWII assimilation, humiliation and prejudice, he never felt fully accepted or welcomed in the business world. He partly blamed himself for his inability to acquire these skills. Nevertheless, my Dad was very successful in his work, and as a father, but he wanted a better life for his kids. And this was one of the many ways he guided us. 

Our Dads have taught us many things. 

For my buddy Willie Banks, I am grateful to your father for teaching you to be such a beautiful, generous and extraordinary friend and father. may he rest in peace.

Dad and me
For my Dad, thanks for teaching me how to be a public person. I have used that inspiration to be a better father and to go from enryo to an enlightened and fulfilling path. And I actively share and teach these concepts to anyone who will listen. 

Thanks for reading. John

Shaking the hand that needs you

I went to a fundraising dinner for Coro in Los Angeles where a a couple of my friends were being honored. Rick Tuttle one of my long time mentors who helped me see my potential and think out-of-the-box regarding my career. And Steve Soboroff a colleague of mine from Big Brothers Big Sisters and now in the philanthropic world. Steve has inspired me with his dedication and commitment to helping others and to showing up. 

Steve turned his acceptance speech into a micro workshop on how to shake hands and hand out your business card. He aimed his remarks at the graduating Coro Fellows who are now traversing the job market for employment. However, his animated how-to session was entertaining and instructive for all of the 400 attendees. 

Have you ever had a lesson on handshaking and handing out your business card? We all know how important these things are in forming or giving a first impression. We all have experienced when it has gone badly. Yet, most of us have never received a primer on these basic social skills.

Steve told a great story about when he was the Chairman of the LA Parks and Rec dept and arranged for then President Clinton to play golf at one of LA's nicest public golf courses, Rancho Park. Steve was invited to play with William Jefferson! And during that round of golf, Steve was treated to-"the most engaging person I have ever met." Steve asked the President how he coped with shaking so many hands. At the time Steve had just started a hotly contested campaign for mayor of LA. The President stopped in the middle of the fairway and gave Steve a lesson on handshaking.

Bill and john 001

 Here's what he told Steve:

  1. Slow down and take your time
  2. Direct eye contact and smile
  3. Firm grip and little or no shaking 
  4. Take the other hand and grab the forearm or elbow of the other person 

This last one is the key. The other hand adds an extra dimension of enthusiasm and trust to the shake. And Preident Clinton added that this also prevents the other person from pulling your arm out of the socket, especially if you have to shake a lot of hands. :)

Lastly, everyone wants to be remembered including you. So say your name slowly and listen and repeat the name of the person you are meeting. How you introduce yourself really matters--know your BIT (brief introductory talk) and then the experience will be memorable.

I got to meet President Clinton a couple of times and shake his hand.

 He is a master at focusing on you and making you feel special. 

By the way, I guess Bill Richardson, the former Governor of New Mexico, owns the Guinness record of number of handshakes in a day at 13,392! Ouch. 

This is a nice video on the dos and dont's on handshaking:

Now for the business cards: J0424431

Steve went on and showed everyone at the dinner how to give out your card. Actually this was the first time I ever heard anyone talk about this. These are great tips!

  1. Hand your card face up so the person can see it. Say what you do.
  2. When you receive a card, look at it. Be respectful and read it, make comments, or ask questions.  


This is also part of your first impression. Don't be a Vegas dealer and just hand your cards to everyone. Unless it really does not matter who you meet or who meets you. I guess stapling your business card to bulletin boards has a place in a mass sales effort. However, in networking, business cards are valuable and should be treated that way. 

  1. Keep your business card to yourself until someone asks for it.
  2. Only ask for cards or contact information for people with whom you intend to follow up.
  3. When someone offers you their card; the courteous thing to do is to thank them. Take it and read it. Reading what is printed on it, enables you to make a connection with the person giving it to you. It also says  that you care and respect the card that has been given to you.  
  "You can't shake hands with a clenched fist." - Indira Gandhi

Lots of debate about the origin of the handshake. Generally agreed that it started in midieval times when knights greeted each other with open hands to show they were unarmed. Even in this hyperbolic swine flu world, shaking hands is an essential form of communication and first impressions. 

Thank Steve Soboroff for helping all of us remember that the little things that make a difference. Now get moving and shaking. Thanks for reading. John

  


Context, Lies, and Audiotape............

Say what you mean and mean what you say.  March Hare, Alice in Wonderland


What you say, how you start the conversation, how you introduce yourself--really matters. Most people have a bunch of auto-pilot, semi-Pavlovian responses and routines. They say things that may or may not be relevant to the situation or worse, may not be something they even believe! 

What's Your BIT?
The the most fascinating of these routines is the self introduction. What you say in the first 10-15 seconds. Nothing can alter a conversation more than this. I call this your BIT, your Brief Introductory Talk. It is so surprising what people say in their robotic way. They are not thinking before and when they talk. Their introduction is not customized to the situation or context. They often use company or industry jargon outside of work. I was in my son's classroom during his school's open house. I was proudly watching my son interacting with his classmates. I noticed another dad. He was dressed in the full designer blue suit, decked out with the gold Rolex, those little initials on his cuffs, and the $600 shoes--you know the type. I decided to introduce myself to him. With an outstretched hand I said, "I'm John, Bobby's dad." I pointed at Bobby. Mr. super executive wheeled around with his auto-smile flashing and boomed, "Hi, Steve Williams Sr. VP of Sales and Business Development for XYZ Corporation." "Nice to meet you", I replied and added, "Is one of these your kid?" He was still in the fog of work. He suddenly snapped out of it and said, "Oh yeah, Eddie's my son, that's him right there." "Oh good, for a minute there you scared me Steve, you know it is a misdemeanor to loiter on a school campus?", I quipped. Mr. Sr VP chuckled but I am not sure he was very amused. At least Steve accompanied his BIT with a smile and a firm handshake. It is bizarre how many adult professionals do not smile, and apparently lie to me and say, "Nice to meet you" with no direct eye contact and a face that reflects indifference and what appears to be disgust. And how many cadaver handshakes I have endured, the cold dead lifeless excuse for a greeting. Nothing better than to meet someone with these off-putting impressions. :)

Ups and Downs of Elevators
The LA Social Venture Partnership held a contest for the best "elevator pitch" from a non-profit. Non-profits were trained in the business art of delivering a compelling investment message about their work in 180 seconds. The winners received $20000 and all of the participating orgs received invaluable insight into how to articulate what they do and why it deserves support.

While non-profits are learning their pitches. We all have something to learn about making a concise and compelling pitch about our business idea or why someone should hire us. Intuitive as this is, it is no simple task. 

David Rose, the serial entrepreneur, gives in 10 things to know before you pitch a VC for money He discusses how you convey Integrity, Passion, Experience/Knowledge/Skill, Leadership, Commitment and Vision. These are essential qualities for any investment including the hiring decision. What is your elevator pitch for yourself? How do you convey these qualities in the answers to the interview questions? In other words, how are you expressing your qualifications, differentiating yourself from others AND conveying a great sense of comfort that you will fit in. Like a VC pitch, this take work, practice, and feedback. Being brief and concise is much harder to do. It is far easier to babble, ramble and make it up on the fly. :) Mark Twain said, "Sorry I have written such a long letter, I did not have time to write a short one." 

The personal elevator pitch is used when you are asked the hardest and easiest question in the world, "Tell me about yourself." This is where you can shine. You can't rely on your ability to improvise or ad lib. You are ready for this question with your prepared story that is relevant to this context, this job, this pitch. You get to communicate what led you to this moment and opportunity. You are given the chance to highlight your progression and what you learned. A career without failings and therefore learnings is one that is surreal and pretentious. All brag and no fact. So be prepared to talk about your mistakes as well as your successes. One of my most memorable interviews was with the legendary Vinod Kholsa, he asked my to "review my greatest failures in reverse chron order and do not tell me the lesson learned." Never had that one before, he was trying to see if I could reflect on mistakes and whether my mistakes were big enough. In the end, your story gives some clues as to who you are and what makes you tick. Your story can be 2-3 minutes long and it will lead to follow-up questions and your interview will turn into a conversation. This wiki-how page has a good summary Personal Elevator Pitch As recommended, write it down, practice in front of a mirror, make an audio recording of your pitch, work on it to make it feel and sound natural. You can only do that with real preparation and practice. And get feedback from your mentors. They will tell you if your story is believable and engaging.  You can only do that with real preparation and practice. 

Everyone can use a little or a lot of work on their story and their pitch. The buildings where these elevators reside are much shorter today. So stop the audiotape answers, smile, be conscious of the context and tell your story! 

Thanks for reading. John