Thursday, 24 July 2008

I’m a home-based consultant

After reading Milena Thomas post “I’m Staying Home From Now On. Will you Still Respect Me Tomorrow?”, I am tempted to write about my own stay-at-home experience.

I have “stayed at home” for almost 4 months now since I left my last company. I feel I really deserve this break since I have been working non-stop for almost 9 years except for some small vacations each year, which are usually shorter than 5 days. I am grateful to Jeffrey for making this experience possible for me.

You might imagine me lazing around. I hate to break your imagination but I have to tell you I am not. It is just like Dogbert’s saying: “I’m not unemployed, I’m a consultant.” So you see, I am training myself to be a consultant!

Why? First of all, being a consultant requires one to be organized and have great time management skills. It requires me to plan my day and do the things I need to do for the day. Here, I am practicing these skills to perfection each day. Practice does make perfect and after four months, I think I have graduated. So, I will be moving on to the next level. ( I will talk about this in later post)

Of course, I have gone through problems and overcome them.

Sometimes, I feel good because I have all the times in the world to do things and that is usually in the morning. At night, I feel that “time really flies” and I usually do not finish what I set to do for the day. Sometimes, I do not even wake up until afternoon due to my “late” nights (I really mean wee hours in the morning). I really like staying up late.

Sometimes I can be very relaxed. Other times, I can be quite agitated because I am afraid I will turn into a lazy bum and enjoy being that.

Staying-at-home is not hard and it is not easy either. In fact, I find it to be harder than working because it requires much more discipline and “keeping to the flow”. I can be washing the bathroom, cooking, blogging, reading books, doing laundry, reading online news, going to gym - all in one day and keeping the flow going. It is most probably not in one day because I have all “the motivation” to take things very slowly.

I know I should focus on fewer activities than that, but I am adamant that even though I am not working, that does not mean I cannot learn new things, keep up-to-date to what is happening, and improving my knowledge.

In Chinese saying, there are "big woman" and “small woman”. “Big woman” is someone capable, strong, and independent. She is the type that can either put guys off because she is too smart and powerful or she can get a lot of respect for being assertive and successful in the place prevalently dominated by male. And "small woman" is someone who whines and feeds the ego of guys, with guys taking care of her and being pampered. “Small woman” also stay at the “castle”, taking care of it and the family while the man fight the outside world. The man, who "bring home the bacon" also expected to be cared tenderly by the “small woman”. That is where the “small woman” cooks the bacon, feed the man and show tender-loving care.

I used to focus my energy so much in being a big woman, until I totally feel out of the planet when doing housework, cooking and so on. I even have problem keeping my desk tidy. Jeffrey gave me a sound advice – if you want to be a great big woman, you need to be a damn good small woman first. I am true-blue about this. If I hold a prominent position in a company and managing a large team of people, what pride do I have if I cannot even take care of my children, my husband and our home? Yes, I can hire maid, but I cannot be fully dependant on her.

So, I aspire to be both - small and big woman.

I think I am getting near it. I am much better at cooking and keeping the house in order now. And I am still reading and learning new skills every day.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Being responsive is critical for better communication

Imagine you speak passionately to a group of audiences on a topic, “How to double your income in a year”. You exuberate such an excitement that your eyes glow and you feel like your spirit is almost going to spring out from your body as you feverishly share what it takes you almost a lifetime to learn and months to prepare. At the end of your speech, to your amazement, no one have any questions to ask. This is the tenth speech you have delivered and in all the previous speeches, you received a lot of questions and even heated arguments. Now, the reaction of your audiences is not even a subtle acknowledgement of the effort you have put in the speech. It cannot be any worse than having this non-responsiveness to what you have just earnestly and sincerely shared. You begin to wonder whether you have delivered to the wrong audiences. Maybe they do not like or need money at all, you think. But all people need and like more money, the more the better. You feel the sudden impulse of hitting them on their head and see if they can respond. “Oh”, you thought, “what the hell!”. You grab a stick (don’t ask me why there is a stick there) and hit one of the audience nearest to you. (Let me digress here, if you are a non-responsive person, I advise you not to sit near the speaker next time). That it is - no response as well! At the end, you actually find out you have gone to the wrong room. Your audiences are autistic patients and you will record that speaking experience as your worst.

Yes, it is a definitely a heart-wrenching and stomach grueling feeling of speaking to people are non-responsive.

Imagine you as a leader, who has sincerely shared your negative feedback with one of your team member, who fall short of your expectation. You even write a one-thousand-words email to explain the behaviors you observed from the person and suggested few ways for him to change. Though there is some amount of criticism, but you honestly want to help the person to improve. How would you feel if you do not even receive a single email or phone call or message in response? Not even a thank-you note. No agreement or disagreement with you. You most probably will not feel so inclined to share more advices or feedbacks with the same person anymore.

I once heard from a CEO of a company who felt so impressed with an employee in the company who wrote him a thank-you email. The good CEO was making tremendous effort to get to know each of his employees by scheduling some small but prestigious dinners with them, each time with only three to four employees to allow better interaction. Out of the thirty to forty employees, only one wrote back to say thank you, not just for the gourmet and the CEO’s time but also for the insights shared by the CEO. And you are pretty sure that person, who is also, fortunately, able to deliver good job quality, has gone far in the company.

If you are not convinced until now that responsiveness is critical for better communication and also building better relationship, please try this. Try to smell whether unresponsiveness is there in the air around you. Probably, you have lived with it for so long you are driving most people away, especially those smart and experienced people who have not much time for everyone, much less the non-responsive one.

Get this right. Responsiveness is VERY IMPORTANT to good communication. It requires not only listening skills, empathy, and paying attentions but also involves actions. It requires one to understand and act on the understanding to the best of one’s abilities.

Take for example, a trainer or mentor who advise his students to undergo a makeover with specifics given to which parts to improve. Let’s say Johnny has his hair too long for a sales person to portray the right image to the customers and Johnny’s mentor and also superior, Edmund advised him to cut his hair. Weeks after weeks, Johnny went around with his long hair, making sales call. He failed to close any sales after weeks. He may not have the right skills but his look which is non-professional may aggravated the situation for him. But Johnny believes no one should judge him by his look. But the truth is, everyone judges others by their looks. So, in the end, Edmund has no choice but to give up on him.

Failure to take action based on sound advices has shown that Johnny is not responsive and not valuing himself and people who spend times to teach him. Yes, Johnny might respect and have listened attentively to Edmund, but responsiveness includes action(s). And actions speak much louder than words. This is always the case. You can be very smart, very loyal, and very creative but as long as you do not put that into actions, you will fail miserably.

Sometimes, it is our culture and background that cause us to be unresponsive in most of the situation. It also maybe due to our lack of confidence that we are afraid to respond for fear that people may think we are stupid if we ask silly questions or say something that reveals our lack of knowledge. Of course, do not just simply ask questions without understanding what is being communicated. Responsiveness requires understanding as well as actions.

I still remember in my secondary school, there was one girl in our class that we all found it hard to mix with her. She was the one who always asked teachers a lot of questions; however, the questions she asked had already been covered or taught by the teachers just a while ago. That was quite annoying as it prolonged the lectures and prevented the teachers from moving on to the next topics. While responsiveness is good, I certainly do not hope to call for responsiveness without a good cause.

A logical and favorable level of responsiveness can be cultivated. Through trainings and practices, you will soon find it to be part of your daily interaction. You will become responsive without any great efforts or even without you noticing it.

So, remember the followings:

1. Listen attentively. Do not interrupt unnecessarily. Nod your head or something to show that you are following the conversation.

2. Understand what is being communicated.


3. Most importantly, Act!!

a. Ask questions if you are not clear about something. It is also advisable to do some research on your own first, if you have the time.

b. Say thank you to show your appreciation. If it is an email, reply the email saying thank you. If you need to approach the good speaker in the crowd of hundreds of people, do it. Showing appreciation does require some effort. And greater the effort, the appreciation shown is much greater.

c. Give your feedback - how you feel and what you think. Be careful whether you are being defensive, which you should not.

d. Act on the person’s request or advices if they are good ones. If unsure, check again with the sender of the messages on what actions are required.

e. If you come across some blog entries or articles that you like, leave some comments, even just a short one. You should know how much it means to the writer to get some sort of responses, even disagreement is most welcomed.