Smash Your Ego! Why Humility Matters

Hulk Smash Ego!

Humility may be losing ground.

However, for some reason I value it more than virtually any other human trait. I don’t know why, but the people I respect most are the ones that are out there, doing incredible things, but are so humble about it that it makes their accomplishments that much more amazing.

A colleague once told me about an author that she really liked and that she was excited to meet in person at a conference. Then she met this author and got the sense that he was pompous and it totally turned her off. It’s difficult to say what function this serves for us as human beings, but it’s wired into us.

It’s important to acknowledge that in our “marketing wins” world, you do have to promote yourself. I’m not advocating for a silent promotion strategy. What’s important is how you come across – in my opinion, you should be confident but not arrogant.

Note for the psychology majors: I know that an ego itself is not a bad thing. It is your definition and perception of yourself, and without one, you would be lost. A healthy ego is important for self-esteem. Here, I am speaking about common usage of the term – like in the phrase “Wow, that guy really really has an ego.”

Here are some considerations when you are telling others about yourself, your business, your charity or your product.

Don’t: Have an overly inflated ego.
Do: Value yourself. While it is possible to overdo ego, this does not mean you shouldn’t have pride or a sense of self-worth. True confidence comes from self-acceptance and embracing who you really are, not trying to be someone else.

Don’t: Only talk about being good. It will likely have the opposite effect you intended.
Do: Be good. Be your best self and you will build a strong reputation, which will serve you well in the long run.

Don’t: Put yourself in the spotlight all the time.
Do: Encourage and support shining a light on others. Give them the credit they are due.

Don’t: Promote yourself heavily or loudly to the point of annoyance.
Do: Ensure others know you exist and the value you can add for them. Stay in touch, add value over time and be consistent. That will do more for you than just trying to be the noisiest.

Don’t: Dominate conversations.
Do: Listen strong and let the other person speak. It will help you build a stronger connection, give you information that will help you better serve others and meet their needs.

Don’t: Assume you can solve all of the problems of the world alone..
Do: Ask for help. Give others a chance to succeed, present ideas and speak up. Sharing ideas can yield a better solution and a place to build from together.

Don’t: Brag.
Do: Connect.

There’s always a place and a way to sell yourself, get in front of the right people, let others know you exist, and show your value. Just don’t overdo one-sided self-promotion.

Smash your ego. Channel your inner Incredible Hulk.

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less. C.S. Lewis

Constant Questions: Do you agree with this view of confidence, humility and self-promotion? How do you feel when you meet someone arrogant? Do you feel that it doesn’t matter how you come across because you are just so amazing, awesome and the best person ever and no one else is even close to as good as you? You might need some ego-smashing.

This video does a great job of explaining the difference between confidence and arrogance.

Watch Your Language: Why We Should Stop Skinning Cats

Language Wordle

People often ask what is more important – what you say or how you say it?

They are both important – this post focuses on the language we use to convey our ideas, and how they can effect the conversations we have.

As someone who believes that life is 50% content, 50% presentation, the language we use in our daily lives fascinates me. I’ve seen people who have a lot of great things to say, but their delivery made for a less than compelling message. On the flipside, I’ve heard people who are amazing presenters and communicators, but they lacked substance. In the marketing world we are in, we tend to embrace the latter, and they may succeed at least in the short-term. Ideally, you can have a strong message that is presented well, and it ‘sticks’.

Why do we talk the way that we do? Do you think about the origins of what you are saying or the impact of how you speak on the effectiveness of your message? Or the end results?

The words we use affect our conversations. Think about a racial slur, a derogatory term, a swear word, a slang word for a body part. These have more obvious effects because of the societal taboos put upon them. They draw instant emotional reactions.

Now think about these other categories of phrases and words that we use that impact your conversation in ways you may not even think about – until now.

Phrases with violence to animals

For some reason, a lot of these phrases have made their way into our regular vocabulary. They are quite graphic and violent, and yet are spoken by some of the most mild-mannered and peaceful people, because they are widely accepted phrases.

  • There’s more than one way to skin a cat
  • Kill two birds with one stone
  • Let’s stop beating a dead horse
  • Not enough room to swing a cat

Instead, can we find less violent alternatives? They don’t have to be boring and can convey the same message. How about instead of skinning a cat, we say, “There’s more than one way to scale a mountain”?

Failure talk

When we use certain words or phrases, there is a subconscious psychological effect on ourselves or others. These phrases can be especially toxic in organizations because they can destroy productivity and creativity.

  • “I will try…” or “I aim…” or “Hopefully…” or “If we are successful…” – these phrases imply the possibility of failure and are proven to make the achievement of whatever you say afterwards less likely to happen. Instead, say “I will…” or “When we succeed…”
  • “It’s impossible…” or “I can’t do it…” – by saying these phrases, you are creating negative reinforcement pathways in your brain. Steve Jobs had the sentiment that you can achieve the impossible if you don’t know that it is impossible. Keep an open mind and think about how you can make something happen, and you will be surprised at the results. If you must say you are not doing something, say “I choose not to…”, which at least reinforces your own power to make choices.
  • “That’s a bad idea…” – as adults, we often shut each other down before letting great ideas breathe. This can stifle creativity and eventually make us stop generating or sharing ideas. This is an innovation killer. Open your mind to new ideas. At the very least, we can learn from and build on ideas that initially may not make sense to us. Huge change doesn’t happen without creativity.

Bad apologies

Apologizing is a difficult thing to do. When done right, you can rebuild bridges, repair relationships and ease tension. When done poorly, you can make things much worse very quickly. The first step is being sincere about apologizing. Next is making sure the language you use doesn’t have the opposite effect you intended to have.

  • “I’m sorry but…” – think of the word ‘but’ as a magic eraser that eliminates everything you said right before it. This apology doesn’t take on any accountability, and that is what the other person is usually looking for.
  • “I’m sorry that you were offended…” – saying it this way also doesn’t take accountability for your actions. You are disowning your role in the situation.

A real apology would start more like this – “I’m sorry for what I did and for offending you.” An earlier post I wrote talks about how to really apologize.

Compliments

Sure, we all like to be told something nice. Maybe for a few moments, it makes us feel good about ourselves. Usually, a compliment is superficial and doesn’t require much understanding of who you are as a person. It doesn’t hit deep into our souls, so it likely doesn’t have a lasting effect. Check out what compliments sound like:

  • I like your shirt
  • Good job
  • You are awesome

Nothing is wrong with compliments – they can be nice and uplifting. However, if you really want someone you care about to know that they are important to you and really elevate their spirits, consider using acknowledgements which are very specific and speak to the essence of who the person is. Here is what an acknowledgement sounds like:

“The way that you handled that situation really speaks to your courage and resolve. You always have such a strong way of reading people and what is important to them, and I’m sure that is why you are able to manage difficult situations that come up.”

So what can you do to start using better language? The main thing you can do is to really listen to yourself and others – by being conscious of the language you are using, you can make better choices and increase the success of your communications. That is, if you care about that sort of thing.

Constant Questions: What language do we use that has effects we may not even realize? How can we become more aware of the impact of the language we use, and change it for the better? I guess we can’t do it, because it’s impossible. I’m sorry if you are offended, and I don’t want to keep beating a dead horse, but your idea is bad. Well, at least you’re wearing a nice shirt.

This post was inspired by conversations with my great colleagues at Future Possibilities for Kids, where we talk about random issues like this all the time in the interest of self-development and building our own leadership and coaching skills.

BONUS: Another thing that has an effect on others around us is grammar. Like it or not, when you use bad grammar, it may take away from your message. Weird Al preaches on this below.

Storming the CASL: What About In-Person Spam?

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Today, Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL – playfully pronounced “castle”) took effect, primarily focused on Commercial Electronic Messages. It is regarded by many as the world’s toughest stance on spam by any government body. Interesting that it’s launching on Canada Day, perhaps sending some subliminal message of strength and patriotism.

In this post, I will make no judgements, commentary, or declare my opinion about CASL itself – there are plenty of people already doing that. In the end, I am against spam and unwanted communications, and the effect they have on those of us who are trying to communicate properly, meaningfully and respectfully. It desensitizes and jades people to communications and creates a population of annoyed cynics – and who can blame them for becoming that way.

My question is, what about in-person spam? Here are some examples of what I mean:

  • You just meet someone and they are trying to sell you and close you from the first sentence
  • At an event, you see someone who is rapid-firing out their business card at anyone who will take it, and doesn’t bother getting to actually know anyone
  • Someone is not listening to you at all in a conversation and just keeps talking over you, through you and around you
  • People who express views from a place of hatred and exclusion, such as racists and bigots
  • An acquaintance who is always asking for something and never offers anything in return

  • What we really need is a shared understanding of what is appropriate, and to respect each other enough abide by that understanding. Rather than trying to get louder and noisier to make your voice heard, maybe what you really need to do is listen.

    To stop yourself before from becoming an in-person spammer:

  • Listen well and really get to know people
  • Ask questions and practice curiosity to increase your understanding
  • Heighten your self-awareness and the impact you have on others
  • Make sure you understand how people want to be treated and then do that
  • Ensure all of your communications are meaningful and respectful, and not just about you all the time.

  • This brief conversation of tweets from two respected friends says it all – and applies no matter what channel you’re using. This is in response to the flurry of emails Canadians have been receiving to obtain “opt-in” explicit consent for ongoing communications, many of which have been less than stellar.

    Spam is spam, wherever it’s coming from.

    Constant Questions: Have you ever experienced in-person spam? What is the worst story you have? How do you think we can avoid it? Have you ever actually eaten Spam or its lesser known cousin Klik?

    The ultimate SPAM video!

    Who are your Spinach Buddies?

    You need people you can count on. You need people who are honest with you. You need people who tell it to you like it is.

    You need Spinach Buddies.

    Popeye eating spinach

    Have you built a relationship with your customers or your donors where you would feel comfortable telling them they have something stuck in their teeth, either literally or figuratively? Would they tell you?

    You’re probably wondering how you can have something figuratively stuck in your teeth. That’s something like a typo on your website, or you still have your out of office voicemail on even though you’re back. Or your fundraising appeal is way off. Or that your pitch is weak. Or your product is flawed. I’m not talking about people that just complain, those are easy to find. I’m talking about the ones who are so close to you, that when they see something going wrong, they genuinely care about you and your organization and want to see you doing better, so they tell you the truth.

    Spinach Buddies aren’t only your customers, but they can be your volunteers, your suppliers, media contacts or your staff and colleagues.

    On the journey for continuous improvement, ongoing, honest feedback from people who care is your best companion.

    Feedback

    So how do you get more Spinach Buddies?

  • Make sure you have easily available channels for getting feedback – email, phone, in-person, social media channels
  • Seek feedback directly – surveys, tough conversations, focus groups
  • Make it okay for people, including your own staff team, to give input and actively reward feedback
  • Celebrate success and the results of implementing changes, giving credit to the people whose input was helpful
  • Keep current Spinach Buddies close to you by keeping them informed and going back to ask for advice

  • If you have a lot of Spinach Buddies, then you’re doing a great job of relationship building. Or you’re one of the very few people in our society who is actually eating too many leafy greens.

    Friends don’t let friends walk around with spinach stuck in their teeth.

    Thanks to a trusted colleague and friend, Nikki Pett, for the inspiration for this post. NO, she did not have anything in her teeth, but our conversation over a lunch was the basis for this post.

    Constant Questions: Has a customer or donor ever told you that you have something stuck in your teeth? Do you tell others when something isn’t right? Am I way off about this theory? Do I have something stuck in my figurative teeth?

    9 seconds of hilarity that is a nice fit.

    Thank you, but no thank you

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    Stop saying thank you to donors. Of course, I don’t mean that as it sounds. Showing appreciation for donations is one of the (if not the) most important things that happens after someone gives. All I’m saying is find another way to say it.

    You are a bunch of creative people out there and I’m sure you can find some awesome alternatives. A simple thank you always has its place, but to get people’s attention, show them that you’ve taken some more time to think about showing gratitude.

    So how about a contest?

    I am looking for the best opening line for a thank you that doesn’t say “thank you” in it. Get creative, get fun, get quirky, but show your appreciation.

    Starting as soon as this post is released, tweet your best opening line for a thank you email, letter, phonecall, fax, or stone tablet message to #BestTY and the best one wins, it’s that simple.

    Just don’t say thank you.

    The contest will close Saturday, August 17th at midnight, EST, and the winner will be announced shortly after. The best ones will be Storified, along with the announcement of the winner, and captured here in a future post.

    The judges for this contest will be me and these four amazing fundraising type people:

  • Mary Cahalane, Director of Development at Charter Oak Cultural Center and fundraising wizard, as her blog Hands-on Fundraising will show you.
  • John Lepp, Partner at Agents of Good, standing up against bad fundraising everywhere, and mega-zealot about treating donors right.
  • Ann Rosenfield, Executive Director of the WoodGreen Foundation, and her hands are insured for $1 million because she is a handwritten note legend.
  • Brock Warner, Donor Programs Officer at War Child Canada and recent entrant into the blog world with iamafundraiser, much to the delight of…well…everyone!
  • Supreme appreciation to these excellent friends for supporting this – I know they are all big advocates of showing ‘donor love’.

    So what’s up for grabs? Recently, I was lucky enough to win a Twitter contest run by Zipcar, and I won a $25 Amex gift card. I committed that if I won it, I would find a way to give it away, so that was the birth of this contest. I know it’s not a trip to Paris, but it’s the pride, not the prize, folks.

    However, after hearing about the contest, John and the good folks at Agents of Good have generously offered to do a free evaluation of an appeal or thank you letter for the winner. Now that’s something to write home about…hopefully to say thanks.

    UPDATE August 12, 2013 – I’m going to up the ante to spur on entries by adding three $10 Amazon.com gift cards to be given out randomly to those that enter. Use it towards a fundraising book or a waffle iron. Maybe get something nice for a friend. Whatever you like!

    Note, the Amex card is a US gift card, but it should be usable at any online vendor if you’re not from the US. If you win, I will mail it to you once the contest is done, wherever you are in the world.

    Here’s the catch. You must be on Twitter! This is as good an excuse as any to start.

    Good luck to all!

    Constant Questions: I would ask you here for the best opening line for a thank you, but you’re going to tweet it, right? Instead, what is the worst opening line for a thank you that you have seen? What are some creative ways you have said thank you or seen it done?

    FBO – Why charities need it

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    There are an estimated 85,000 charities in Canada, 180,000 in the UK, and 1.1 million in the US.

    (Pause for gasp)

    That’s not even factoring in the various other not-for-profits and causes that although they may not issue tax receipts, are still a destination for donors.

    So…the big question. Why should anyone give to you?

    You can’t compete only on:

  • Product (your cause)
  • Service (how you treat people)
  • Loyalty (how much people like you)

  • Why not? Because these things can be replicated and built by others. In this free market, openly competitive charitable world, when something is seen as successful, originators may win in the early stages, but imitators gravitate to your success. Unless there are real barriers to entry, they can do the same thing that you’re doing.

    So your differentiation factor, the unique space you occupy where there’s no room for anyone else, is the one thing you can use to stand out and get people to pay attention.

    If you don’t differentiate, you end up competing on…price.

    In the charitable sector, this could be seen as competing on administrative costs. As we know, in isolation, this is usually a weak indicator of how well an organization is doing. It also doesn’t connect someone strongly to you when a “cheaper” charity comes along.

    Guess what – it’s our fault.

    If donors want to keep comparing charities based on something like administrative costs, it’s because we haven’t given them something else to talk about. If you’re not different from anyone else, then what’s interesting about you?

    So what do you need to do? Find your FBO.

    Figure out what you do where you are the first, best and only. That’s your differentiation factor.

    First = longevity and trust.

    Best = credibility and confidence.

    Only = exclusivity and pride.

    Then find a way to build this into your branding, communications and organizational soul. More importantly, talk about what it means for people considering getting involved. (Plus gentle reminders to those that already are!)

    One caveat – this must be tempered with ensuring your donor and volunteer communications are focused on their role as the hero in the story. FBO is only for those rare moments when you are talking about yourself. By the way, also stop asking for money. Instead, start conversations.

    FBO – think about it. Then find it and use it! It’s the best shot you have in standing out in a sea of same.

    Thanks to Krishan Mehta for first introducing me to this concept and to Tim Rooney for his wisdom about the importance and mechanics of differentiation.

    Constant Questions: As an individual, what is your first, best and only? How about your organization or charity? Did you think that FBO was a typo and I meant FBI? If you’re worried about the FBI, what for? Something you need to share with us? Maybe this blog isn’t the best place – it’s a public space and I don’t want it to get virtual cyber yellow tape wrapped around it!

    How to Apologize

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    A bad apology feels like walking away from a buffet dinner hungry. You didn’t quite get what you were looking for.

    We all mess up, we all make mistakes. Hey we’re human, it’s part of what we do and we’re not perfect. However, when you mess up and you realize or it’s been brought to your attention, the next few moments are so critical. The ever important apology.

    Remember, it's not about you.

    Remember, it’s not about you.

    Has someone ever made a mistake at your expense and all you were looking for was a genuine acknowledgement of this and you were willing to put it behind you? Then, when the apology comes out and it isn’t genuine, blame is put back on you, or the person even attacks you, it actually makes you more upset than whatever they did in the first place. This doesn’t only apply to personal relationships. It can be especially frustrating when dealing with organizations with customer service that doesn’t want to accept any responsibility for their wrongdoings.

    Why are we so bad at apologizing?

    Our intentions are likely good, but perhaps the way it comes out is skewed because:

  • We are feeling guilty
  • We are subconsciously wanting to avoid accountability
  • We are getting defensive
  • We don’t really believe we did anything wrong

  • The Apology Continuum

    Here are some categories of apologies, varying from none at all to really getting it right:

    The non-apologies:

  • No apology at all. Maybe you didn’t notice anything was wrong or didn’t feel an apology was necessary, but likely this lack of acknowledgement will get noticed and cause resentment. Although, sometimes no apology at all might be better than a bad one.
  • “I’m not sorry.” This isn’t technically an apology, but at least it’s honest. Although if an apology was called for, this is a direct contradiction and could mean trouble!

  • The partial or non-genuine apologies:

  • “I’m sorry,” with no specifics. What you are really saying: I don’t really understand why I’m apologizing, but let me just say a non-genuine sorry so we can move on.
  • “I’m sorry but…” What you are really saying: I’m sorry but here are a bunch of qualifying reasons why I’m off the hook. Imagine when you talk that “but” is a magic word that eliminates everything said right before it.
  • “I’m sorry that you were offended” or “I’m sorry if what I did offended you.” What you are really saying: My actions were correct, so it’s your fault because what I did shouldn’t have offended you.

  • The real apologies:

  • “I’m sorry for offending you.” Now we’re getting better. You are acknowledging without question your role and taking responsibility.
  • “I’m sorry for what I did and for offending you.” One step up. Accountability & acknowledgement.
  • “Have I offended you? I feel like I have and I’m sorry for doing what I just did.” Anticipating that something has gone wrong and actively seeking input. The proactive / pre-emptive apology. Put out the fire before it even burns. This requires being really in tune with the other person and having very high emotional intelligence, but is quite effective.

  • Just being conscious of how bad we naturally are at apologizing will make you better at it, but here is some guidance on doing it better:

  • Pick the right timing to apologize – usually the sooner the better, but not if the other person won’t be ready to listen when the situation is so raw
  • Give a true apology that is centred around the other person
  • If appropriate, offer an explanation of why you did what you did – not phrased as an excuse, but as a launchpad for explaining what you could do differently next time
  • Demonstrate that you understand the consequences of the mistake you made
  • Ask what you can do to make things right, other than the apology itself
  • Leave them alone and don’t assume that your apology will instantly make everything alright

  • Apologizing well is useful whether you are dealing with personal relationships, if your company made a mistake, or if your charity messed up with a donor. So many people are just looking for a real acknowledgement and they will be satisfied.

    Remember, it’s not about you. If you make it about you, you’re missing the point of an apology.

    Constant Questions: When has your apology needed an apology? When did you get it right? Do you have any advice on how to apologize well? Hey, you just offended me – are you sorry? Are you REALLY sorry or just saying it? (Ok, you didn’t offend me. You could never offend me, not after all we’ve been through together in this post.)

    Closing thought, taking it old school to the days of low frame rate cartoons. It was either this or The Human League’s “I’m Only Human”, but then I would have to apologize for the bad haircuts and longing glances that dominated 80’s music videos.