15 Business Tips Every Entrepreneur Should Know

Image credit: Shutterstock

Image credit: Shutterstock

The biggest problem founders and small business owners have is that they’re experts in their field and novices in what it really takes to effectively run a business. That’s what usually trips them up, sooner or later.

Don’t let that happen to you. Admit that you don’t know what you don’t know about business, starting with these 15 tips guaranteed to help keep you and your company out of hot water. Some are straightforward, others are counterintuitive, but they’re all true. And some day they’ll save your butt.

Always make sure there is and will be enough cash in the bank.
Period. The most common business-failure mode, hands down, is running out of cash. If you know you’ve got a cash flow or liquidity problem coming up, fix it now.

You can’t fire bad employees fast enough.
You just can’t. Just make sure you know they’re the problem, not you (see next tip).

The problem is probably you.
When I was a young manager, my company sent us all to a week of quality training where the most important concept we learned was that 90 percent of all problems are management problems. When things aren’t going well, the first place to look for answers is in the mirror.

Take care of your stars.
This goes for every company, big and small. The cost of losing a star employee is enormous, yet business leaders rarely take the time to ensure their top performers are properly motivated, challenged, and compensated.

Your people are not your kids, your personal assistants, or your shrink.
If you use and abuse them that way, you will come to regret it. Capiche?

Learn to say “yes” and “no” a lot.
The two most important words business owners and founders have at their disposal are “yes” and “no.” Learn to say them a lot. And that means being decisive. The most important reason to focus – to be clear on what your company does – is to be clear on all the things it doesn’t do.

Listen to your customers.
It boggles my mind how little most entrepreneurs value their customers when, not only are their feedback and input among the most critical information they will ever learn, but their repeat business is the easiest business to get.

Learn two words: meritocracy and nepotism.
The first is how you run an organization – by recognizing, rewarding, and compensating based solely on ability and achievement. The second is how you don’t run an organization – by playing favorites and being biased.

Know when and when not to be transparent.
Transparency is as detrimental at some times as it is beneficial at others. There are times to share openly and times to zip it. You need to know when and with whom to do one versus the other. It comes with experience.

Trust your gut.
This phrase is often repeated but rarely understood. It means that your own instincts are an extremely valuable decision-making tool. Too often we end up saying in retrospect and with regret, “Damn, I knew that was a bad idea.” But the key is to know how to access your instincts. Just sit, be quiet, and listen to yourself.

Protect and defend your intellectual property.
Most of you don’t know the difference between a copyright, trademark, trade secret, and patent. That’s not acceptable. If you don’t protect and defend your IP, you will lose your only competitive advantage.

Learn to read and write effective agreements.
You know the expression “good fences make good neighbors?” It’s the same in business. The more effective your agreements are, the better your business relationships will be.

Run your business like a business.
Far too many entrepreneurs run their business like an extension of their personal finances. Bad idea. Very bad idea. Construct the right business entity and keep it separate from your personal life.

Know your finances inside and out.
If you don’t know your revenues, expenses, capital requirements, profits (gross and net), debt, cash flow, and effective tax rate – among other things – you’re asking for trouble. Big trouble.

You don’t know what you don’t know.
Humility is a powerful trait for leaders, and that goes for new business owners, veteran CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, and everyone in between. More times than not, you will come to regret thinking you knew all the answers.

Behind every failed company are dysfunctional, delusional, or incompetent business leaders. The irony is, none of them had the slightest idea that was true at the time. Even sadder, most of them still don’t. Don’t end up like one of them.

7 Ways Entrepreneurs Can Invest in Themselves

Image credit: shutterstock

Image credit: shutterstock


Startup entrepreneurs often go it alone or almost alone, serving every function in their new companies. They are the idea people, the passionate leaders, the team builders, engineers, marketing experts, logistics officers, bookkeepers and strategists all in one.

The reality is that often this phase is necessary. That means that one of the most challenging things for the startup-minded to do is to keep investing, keep building their own personal skills and abilities. Time and focus-wise, it’s a monumental challenge. Most entrepreneurs skip the personal investments because those investments seem disconnected from their businesses and products. If an entrepreneur has an extra hour, for example, many prefer to invest in their company over investing in themselves.

The problem with that approach is that most entrepreneurs are their brands and products.

Moreover, if you can take a step back and see that your entire entrepreneurial venture rests on a single set of shoulders, it makes business sense to ensure that those shoulders are as prepared, as skilled and as strong as possible. That means investing in yourself because, from that perspective, it’s the same as investing in your product.

Because entrepreneurs spend so little time thinking about boosting their personal skills and strengths, remaining focused on their work, they often don’t know where to start. Since I’ve spent most of my professional life at the intersection of business and education, I have a few suggestions on how you can keep making investments in yourself, even if you’re an overwhelmed entrepreneur. Here are seven:

Go to school

Few things do more to enhance both your credibility and intellectual capacity than higher education. The learning environment itself can provide new connections and spark creativity. There are incubators offering specialized training now in every city. Finishing your degree or starting a new one can make a big difference and just about every school has a part-time or returning student or executive program.

Teach

A school environment is just as powerful if you’re teaching. And, like an advanced degree, being a teacher confers a great deal of credibility. Teaching also forces you to know what you’re teaching at expert level, confront and consider new ideas and explain things in new ways. If you’re an expert in something, reach out to community learning programs or colleges in your area and get in the classroom.

Online program

While the online learning environment is still buyer beware, more and more very credible institutions and incubators are offering online courses and programs. It’s possible to earn certifications in a variety of business-related subjects from places such as Harvard or Stanford or any number of state universities. Even if you’re just exercising your mind or staying up-to-date on current topics and trends, it’s a good investment.

Read unrelated things

If you’re a reader, make sure your reading list includes topics that are unrelated to your business endeavors. Read crime thrillers or romance novels or theoretical physics – whatever will distract you from your hour-to-hour obsessions. Giving your mind a break will inspire creative problem solving and invigorate your work when you return to it. Just a few hours a week of reading about ants or Adam Ant can make a big difference.

“I read spy and espionage thrillers exactly because they district me from trying to run and grow my business,” said Edgar M. Duarte of Duarte Monteiro Group in Miami. “If I read all business books or things in my field, I’d absolutely get sick of it. Taking a mental break allows me to really focus on business when I need to.”

Physical health

Among the biggest oversights entrepreneurs make is neglecting their physical health. If your ability to work is the most essential thing to your business success, it makes no sense to risk it. I know how hard it is, but get to the gym, make good health and diet choices. Take vacations. As with all these suggestions, staying healthy is an investment in your business – it may help to think of it that way.

Co-working

Consider moving yourself and your business to a co-working community. The collaborative, entrepreneurial spirit of shared ambition and sacrifice can be intoxicating and empowering. By co-locating, you’ll find mentors, partners and different-thinkers – all of whom can add to your personal growth and strategic creativity.

Network

Join organizations and attend events. Most people view networking as opportunities to advance their businesses. But they are just as important in building personal connections – assets you can take with you from project to project or business to business. Investing in networking and getting to know your network personally will increase your personal reach and capacity.

How to Spend 5 Minutes in the Morning to Supercharge Your Whole Day

These activities offer a outsize impact with a short time investment.

CREDIT: Getty Images

CREDIT: Getty Images

Which investment would you take, one that costs a dollar and returns 100, or one that costs 20 and returns 25? This problem isn’t a head scratcher. We all instantly recognize that the 100X payoff is the better bet. But when it comes to time, somehow deciding how to spend this limited resource isn’t always as clear-cut.

We spend hours emptying our inbox to little effect, or waste whole afternoons checking social media or browsing the web. Meanwhile, there are a few activities out there that are the temporal equivalent of that awesome 100X investment, activities that if you spend mere minutes on them early in the day, will pay you back with vastly more energy and productivity later on.

What are they? Quora users recently converged on a handful of sure bets when a curious poster wanted to know, “What can I do in 5 minutes in the morning to make my whole day better?” (Hat tip to Business Insider for the pointer to the thread.). Here are the answers that came up again and again, as well as links to the scientific reasoning behind the power this these simple morning routines.

1. Writing

Many people think of writing as something teachers or work forces them to do, but there’s a huge pile of science showing that taking a few moments to write out your thoughts is a phenomenal way to boost your mental health. All it takes is a five minutes daily thought dump.

“Use the Five Minute Journal every morning. You’ll feel more positive and happier when you use it. Your whole day will be better as a result,” suggests entrepreneur Chris Remus. “I actually used it for 6 months, stopped and came back to using it. That was over five years ago and I haven’t looked back since.”

Or combine two powerful science-backed happiness boosters into one and opt for a gratitude journal instead. That’s what another entrepreneur respondent, Nela Canovic, advises: “Write down 3 things you are grateful for today. Think about what you already have in your life. Don’t focus only on material things (such as a car or a computer), but rather think in more simple or basic terms, such as having.”

2. Meditation

Meditation might sound like a difficult undertaking only tackled by monks or tech executives with Herculean levels of self control and a lot more household help than you have, but experts insist that you can get the benefits of mindfulness meditation in just a few minutes a day. And what an array of benefits you can expect. Meditation has been shown to do everything from increasing focus to lowering blood pressure and even helping raise profits (Yes, really).

Quora users agree wholeheartedly with this chorus of meditation boosters. “Sitting for 5 minutes to detach from the thoughts of your mind will have a profound impact on your day,” insists founder Ariel Banayan. “You’ll understand your own negativity better. You’ll have just a little bit more freedom from your thoughts so that you can focus on what has to be done during the day without excess thinking.”

Engineer Raviteja Chirala assures readers that getting started is easier than you imagine. “Don’t worry about reading about how to do and all. It’s as simple as closing your eyes for five minutes without any distraction and focus on your breath and nothing else,” he writes.

3. Exercise

Much like meditation, the scientific case for the benefits of exercise is open and shut. And just like with meditation, the range of potential positives from even a little physical exertion will probably surprise you. Exercise won’t just make you fitter and healthier, it’ll make you smarter, happier, and less stressed too, research shows.

With an upside like that, how could it not be worth setting your alarm a few minutes earlier, argue a number of Quora respondents. “Morning exercise does not just wake up your body, it gives you a dose of adrenaline to clear your mind and help you to focus,” claims product designer Minh Killy Le. “Working out in the morning also results in numerous benefits such as upbeat mood, positive thinking, more healthy metabolism, etc.” And you only need five minutes to feel these effects, he insists.

“Try any intense workout in the morning,” agrees Chirala. “It can be a HIIT or any regular workout that can push your boundaries. For example running, crunches, push-ups, squats. Whatever you’re comfortable doing in your limits and yet not really comfortable. This excites your body and helps it to get on track for the rest of your day.”

5 Dos and Don’ts of Thought Leadership Marketing

Image credit: Hero Images | Getty Images

Image credit: Hero Images | Getty Images

Gone are the days when marketing meant putting out some advertisements and hiring a copywriter to rave about how great your brand is. In a technology-saturated age where consumers are more skeptical than ever of self-promotion, traditional advertising strategies just don’t work anymore.

That’s why many entrepreneurs are interested in the new value of thought leadership. If you’ve been privy to trends in marketing over the past few years, you’ve almost certainly heard the term being thrown around at least a few times. But thought leadership is more than just the latest marketing fad — it’s more of a philosophy that’s probably here to stay. In essence, thought leadership is about providing genuine value to your customers without even a hint of self-promotion — showing them that you’re the no. 1 expert in your field — somebody who is 100 percent worthy of their trust.

The idea is that people are more willing to invest in you if they are confident that you really know your stuff. ut positioning yourself as a thought leader isn’t easy — and if the terminology is new to you, it can be hard to know where to start.

Thought leadership expert Danielle Sabrina offers five dos and don’ts for those who want to implement thought leadership into their marketing plan:

1. Show, don’t tell.

The point of thought leadership is to demonstrate your expertise, not simply talk about it. Your trophy cabinet may be impressive, but it’s important to show how you’ve earned your accolades.

If you’re an expert in Facebook advertising, don’t just talk about how much you know. Write an in-depth article (or two or three) tackling specific issues in the world of Facebook ads. Not only will be people be more interested in reading an article that could help them, but you’ll earn their trust by showing the proof of the pudding.

2. Provide, don’t promote.

From spam emails to pyramid schemes to Nigerian princes who always seem to have millions of dollars to offer you, people are more skeptical than ever of online advertising. No matter how much you try to disguise an advertisement, don’t underestimate the general public’s ability to sniff out promotion from miles away.

That’s why you should focus on being a genuine resource for potential customers. Your emails, social media channels and blog posts should constitute a gold mine of useful, actionable content for anyone interested in your field. This will encourage people to revisit your site, check out your other material and sign up for your email list.

3. Depth, not breadth.

Dig deep. Being a thought leader doesn’t mean knowing everything about every aspect of your field. It’s about being the go-to person in your particular niche, which can be very narrow.

A single detailed, statistics-backed blog post will take you much farther than 10 vague, general ones. Instead of mass-producing articles to provide a constant stream of content, shift your focus and energy to creating thorough, comprehensive content that deals with a specific problem. This will drive traffic to your site and differentiate you from the thousands of similar sites on the internet.

4. Analyze, don’t assume.

You might think you know what people want to know about, but the truth might surprise you. Often times, we get so caught up in our fields that we lose sight of what our clients — rather than our peers — want to know. Pay attention to your customers. Take note of what they’re asking on your social channels, and respond to their questions. Interview them to see what’s working for them and what they’d like to see more of.

In addition to showing that you value your customers, this can give you ideas for your next blog post, social media post or product.

5. Open a dialogue, not a monologue.

As Sabrina says, “The idea is not to interrupt the conversation, but become part of it.” After all, you’re not the only participant in your field. Engage with your peers, and don’t be afraid to share their content if it could be of use to your customer base.

Being connected in your field can open up opportunities for collaboration and help you reach a broader audience. Further, it provides additional proof that you’re current and up-to-date about the status quo in your area of expertise. Think of the people whose opinions you trust. Did they gain this trust by trumpeting their skills, continually telling you how great and talented they are? Probably not. It’s much more likely that they earned your trust by repeatedly showing their expertise, sharing their knowledge and providing valuable information to you and others.

That’s the big concept behind thought leadership marketing. In the words of Sabrina, “Thought leadership marketing is not just about selling your product or service. It’s also not about telling the world your company is the best. It’s about sharing value and being a resource.”

When done correctly, thought leadership marketing builds rapport with your customer base without coming off as fake and self-promotional; it allows you to present yourself as a true expert that people trust.

And in the end, earning trust means earning business. Simply showing off your skills isn’t enough anymore. Today, consumers demand proof, and thought leadership is an excellent way to provide it.

3 Qualities of Remarkably Confident Women

Confident Women

Confident Women


Don’t be afraid to stand out.

MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: How can more women leaders instill confidence in the workplace? is written by Priti Shah, vice president of leadership product strategy and corporate development at Skillsoft.

Confidence may come more naturally for some women than others, but regardless of where we start out, we need to take the steps toward becoming advocates for ourselves. As women continue to face an uphill battle in the workplace, it’s crucial for us to be thinking about what we stand to lose if we let opportunities pass us by because we haven’t asserted ourselves properly. And being proactive about finding mentors — continuously learning and defining our personal brands — will always put us in a better position to be seen as equally confident to our male counterparts.

As I rose through the ranks in the predominately male technology field, I’ve learned that it’s essential for women to show conviction — but how? And what about those of us for whom self-advocating doesn’t come naturally? Regardless of your place in the organization, these three strategies can improve your confidence as a leader and the confidence of those around you:

Be proactive about finding a mentor (and be one yourself)
Careers are rarely made without a little guidance along the way. Open yourself up to networking and find someone you identify with and admire in a similar career trajectory. For women, this can be of even greater value if you make a point of approaching a female colleague you trust and respect, who can offer you a broader glimpse into the unique set of challenges we face in the workplace and how to tackle them. It’s also important to share your knowledge by and mentoring and sponsoring others. This will help to establish yourself as an authoritative and confident leader within your organization.

Be proactive about learning
Working for a learning and development company, this is certainly top-of-mind for me and I can’t overstate the importance of seeking out anything and everything your company offers to further your professional development. Some employers will make it easier than others — with apps for your phone or personalized platforms for continuous learning — but regardless of your situation, make it a point to approach your manager, your mentor or anyone in HR about what learning resources may be available to you. At the very least, your proactivity will demonstrate that you take self-improvement seriously.

Be proactive about your personal brand
Identifying and defining your personal brand provides you an opportunity to articulate what makes you stand out and demonstrate that you are a highly capable leader. It is who you are in your combined personal and professional capacities that, in sum, make you less of a nine-five worker and more of a well-rounded asset to your company. As much as you may feel you have an understanding of your personal brand, take the time to write things out — your interests, your goals, your passions, your motivations, your strengths, your weaknesses — and you’ll gain a clearer picture of what skills you want to work on and what attributes you want to promote more proactively.

Perhaps the most significant moment of clarity I’ve had as a woman in the workforce was when I first realized that I needed to be the biggest and most vocal advocate for myself. This can apply to anyone in the workplace — male or female — but is even more of a necessity for women who may already be at a disadvantage because of the existing unfortunate gender stigmas. In all likelihood, as women, we aren’t able to just walk into work on the first day and have the whole office assume, “she could be the next leader of this company,” but by practicing the above strategies, your ability and confidence will be undeniable.

10 Online Classes Every Entrepreneur Should Take Before Starting a Business

You need a good education in the business of doing business.

There comes a time in many people’s lives when they long to own their own business, to be captain of their own destiny and the architect of their own fate. For far too many people, this dream dies unanswered. Those who answer the call, however, find that great rewards only come to those brave enough to take chances–and smart enough to learn as much as they can about business before taking that fateful leap.

Having a great idea for a new business is only the first small step in starting your own business. In order to make that business successful, you need a good education in the business of doing business.

Here are 10 important online classes every budding entrepreneur should take:

1. “Starting a Business While Working a Full-Time Job”

Leaving the security of your current job is a very scary proposition that not everyone can afford to take. This course is aimed at those who can’t afford to give up the security of a steady paycheck while building their own business. Instructor Ryan Robinson, a veteran entrepreneur with a number of successful startups under his belt, teaches students his own 10-step methodology on how to successfully launch a business while keeping your day job.

2. “How to Start Your Own Side Business”

Not sure if you are quite ready to take that chance? This course provides a comprehensive guide on how to keep your job while starting a successful side business and how to avoid many of the common mistakes and pitfalls that can stall your business. This course is perfect for passionate, creative working professionals who long to start their own business while keeping the security of their current job.

3. “Essentials of Entrepreneurship: Thinking and Action”

This course provides an introduction to the basic building blocks needed for budding entrepreneurs. Topics covered include: how to evaluate the opportunity and feasibility of a proposed business; the importance of a business plan and how to create one; and how to achieve success in a new business venture.

4. “Developing Innovative Ideas for New Companies: The First Step in Entrepreneurship”

Not everyone who has a great idea for a new business or product has a business background. This course is a general introduction to business basics, entrepreneurship, industry, and markets that can help beginners get a better handle on how to start that first business.

5. “The Lean Startup”

Two of the greatest weaknesses of startups–small staff and limited financial resources–can also paradoxically be among their greatest strengths. Being lean means you can pivot quickly to take advantage of opportunities or to recover from problems, and limited staff means it is much easier to keep everyone on task and on target. This course gives you the information you need to maximize results while minimizing work and expense, which together can quickly make your startup a success.

6. “The New Business Toolbox”

This course gives you the tools you need to recognize potential pitfalls–and opportunities–that your business may face, and how to turn them to your advantage.

7. “How to Build a Startup”

The most valuable tool any company can use to build a strong foundation is to listen to its customers. This course, led by veteran entrepreneur and author Steve Blank, focuses on the “Customer Development Process,” which teaches businesses how to develop and test ideas based on feedback from their customers.

8. “Find Your First Profitable Idea”

The key to starting a successful business lies in being able to recognize that million-dollar idea when it comes along. This course will teach you how to recognize business ideas that have the potential to grow into highly lucrative successes–and avoid those that are destined to fail.

9. “New Venture Finance: Startup Funding for Entrepreneurs”

The best business idea in the world is worthless if you can’t find and secure the financing to make it a reality. This essential course will teach you the “language” of startup capital, how to raise startup capital, and how to create the perfect investor pitch to get the money you need to get your business off the ground.

10. “Fundamentals of Entrepreneurship: Pitching Your Business and Yourself”

This course is a basic introduction to the world of entrepreneurship–what a true entrepreneur is, how to be an entrepreneur, and, most important, how to pitch your entrepreneur vision to potential investors and customers.

Whether you are a veteran entrepreneur or just starting out on your first business venture, these courses will help you get on the right track to business success.

18 Behaviors of Emotionally Intelligent People

Emotional intelligence is a huge driver of success

When emotional intelligence (EQ) first appeared to the masses, it served as the missing link in a peculiar finding: people with average IQs outperform those with the highest IQs 70 percent of the time. This anomaly threw a massive wrench into the broadly held assumption that IQ was the sole source of success.

Decades of research now point to emotional intelligence as being the critical factor that sets star performers apart from the rest of the pack. The connection is so strong that 90 percent of top performers have high emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is the “something” in each of us that is a bit intangible. It affects how we manage behavior, navigate social complexities, and make personal decisions to achieve positive results.

Despite the significance of EQ, its intangible nature makes it difficult to measure and to know what to do to improve it if you’re lacking. You can always take a scientifically validated test, such as the one that comes with the Emotional Intelligence 2.0 book, but unfortunately, most such tests aren’t free. So, I’ve analyzed the data from the million-plus people TalentSmart has tested in order to identify the behaviors that are the hallmarks of a high EQ. What follows are sure signs that you have a high EQ.

1. You have a robust emotional vocabulary
All people experience emotions, but it is a select few who can accurately identify them as they occur. Our research shows that only 36 percent of people can do this, which is problematic because unlabeled emotions often go misunderstood, which leads to irrational choices and counterproductive actions.

People with high EQs master their emotions because they understand them, and they use an extensive vocabulary of feelings to do so. While many people might describe themselves as simply feeling “bad,” emotionally intelligent people can pinpoint whether they feel “irritable,” “frustrated,” “downtrodden,” or “anxious.” The more specific your word choice, the better insight you have into exactly how you are feeling, what caused it, and what you should do about it.

2. You’re curious about people
It doesn’t matter if they’re introverted or extroverted, emotionally intelligent people are curious about everyone around them. This curiosity is the product of empathy, one of the most significant gateways to a high EQ. The more you care about other people and what they’re going through, the more curiosity you’re going to have about them.

3. You embrace change
Emotionally intelligent people are flexible and are constantly adapting. They know that fear of change is paralyzing and a major threat to their success and happiness. They look for change that is lurking just around the corner, and they form a plan of action should these changes occur.

4. You know your strengths and weaknesses
Emotionally intelligent people don’t just understand emotions; they know what they’re good at and what they’re terrible at. They also know who pushes their buttons and the environments (both situations and people) that enable them to succeed. Having a high EQ means you know your strengths and how to lean into and use them to your full advantage while keeping your weaknesses from holding you back.

5. You’re a good judge of character
Much of emotional intelligence comes down to social awareness; the ability to read other people, know what they’re about, and understand what they’re going through. Over time, this skill makes you an exceptional judge of character. People are no mystery to you. You know what they’re all about and understand their motivations, even those that lie hidden beneath the surface.

6. You are difficult to offend
If you have a firm grasp of who you are, it’s difficult for someone to say or do something that gets your goat. Emotionally intelligent people are self-confident and open-minded, which creates a pretty thick skin. You may even poke fun at yourself or let other people make jokes about you because you are able to mentally draw the line between humor and degradation.

7. You know how to say no (to yourself and others)
Emotional intelligence means knowing how to exert self-control. You delay gratification and avoid impulsive action. Research conducted at the University of California, San Francisco, shows that the more difficulty that you have saying no, the more likely you are to experience stress, burnout, and even depression. Saying no is a major self-control challenge for many people, but “No” is a powerful word that you should unafraid to wield. When it’s time to say no, emotionally intelligent people avoid phrases such as “I don’t think I can” or “I’m not certain.” Saying no to a new commitment honors your existing commitments and gives you the opportunity to successfully fulfill them.

8. You let go of mistakes
Emotionally intelligent people distance themselves from their mistakes, but do so without forgetting them. By keeping their mistakes at a safe distance, yet still handy enough to refer to, they are able to adapt and adjust for future success. It takes refined self-awareness to walk this tightrope between dwelling and remembering. Dwelling too long on your mistakes makes you anxious and gun shy, while forgetting about them completely makes you bound to repeat them. The key to balance lies in your ability to transform failures into nuggets of improvement. This creates the tendency to get right back up every time you fall down.

9. You give and expect nothing in return
When someone gives you something spontaneously, without expecting anything in return, this leaves a powerful impression. For example, you might have an interesting conversation with someone about a book, and when you see them again a month later, you show up with the book in hand. Emotionally intelligent people build strong relationships because they are constantly thinking about others.

10. You don’t hold grudges
The negative emotions that come with holding onto a grudge are actually a stress response. Just thinking about the event sends your body into fight-or-flight mode, a survival mechanism that forces you to stand up and fight or run for the hills when faced with a threat. When the threat is imminent, this reaction is essential to your survival, but when the threat is ancient history, holding onto that stress wreaks havoc on your body and can have devastating health consequences over time. In fact, researchers at Emory University have shown that holding onto stress contributes to high blood pressure and heart disease. Holding onto a grudge means you’re holding onto stress, and emotionally intelligent people know to avoid this at all costs. Letting go of a grudge not only makes you feel better now but can also improve your health.

11. You neutralize toxic people
Dealing with difficult people is frustrating and exhausting for most. But high-EQ individuals control their interactions with toxic people by keeping their feelings in check. When they need to confront a toxic person, they approach the situation rationally. They identify their own emotions and don’t allow anger or frustration to fuel the chaos. They also consider the difficult person’s standpoint and are able to find solutions and common ground. Even when things completely derail, emotionally intelligent people are able to take the toxic person with a grain of salt to avoid letting him or her bring them down.

12. You don’t seek perfection
Emotionally intelligent people won’t set perfection as their target because they know that it doesn’t exist. Human beings, by our very nature, are fallible. When perfection is your goal, you’re always left with a nagging sense of failure that makes you want to give up or reduce your effort. You end up spending time lamenting what you failed to accomplish and should have done differently instead of moving forward, excited about what you’ve achieved and what you will accomplish in the future.

13. You appreciate what you have
Taking time to contemplate what you’re grateful for isn’t merely the right thing to do; it also improves your mood by reducing the stress hormone cortisol (in some cases by 23 percent). Research conducted at the University of California, Davis, found that people who work daily to cultivate an attitude of gratitude experience improved mood, energy, and physical well-being. It’s likely that lower levels of cortisol play a major role in this.

14. You disconnect
Taking regular time off the grid is a sign of a high EQ because it helps you to keep your stress under control and to live in the moment. When you make yourself available to your work 24/7, you expose yourself to a constant barrage of stressors. Forcing yourself offline and even–gulp!–turning off your phone gives your body and mind a break. Studies have shown that something as simple as an email break can lower stress levels. Technology enables constant communication and the expectation that you should be available 24/7. It is extremely difficult to enjoy a stress-free moment outside of work when an email with the power to bring your thinking (read: stressing) back to work can drop onto your phone at any moment.

15. You limit your caffeine intake
Drinking excessive amounts of caffeine triggers the release of adrenaline, which is the primary source of a fight-or-flight response. The fight-or-flight mechanism sidesteps rational thinking in favor of a faster response to ensure survival. This is great when a bear is chasing you, but not so great when you’re responding to a curt email. When caffeine puts your brain and body into this hyper-aroused state of stress, your emotions overrun your behavior. Caffeine’s long half-life ensures you stay this way as it takes its sweet time working its way out of your body. High-EQ individuals know that caffeine is trouble, and they don’t let it get the better of them.

16. You get enough sleep
It’s difficult to overstate the importance of sleep to increasing your emotional intelligence and managing your stress levels. When you sleep, your brain literally recharges, shuffling through the day’s memories and storing or discarding them (which causes dreams) so that you wake up alert and clearheaded. High-EQ individuals know that their self-control, attention, and memory are all reduced when they don’t get enough–or the right kind–of sleep. So, they make sleep a top priority.

17. You stop negative self-talk in its tracks
The more you ruminate on negative thoughts, the more power you give them. Most of our negative thoughts are just that–thoughts, not facts. When it feels like something always or never happens, this is just your brain’s natural tendency to perceive threats (inflating the frequency or severity of an event). Emotionally intelligent people separate their thoughts from the facts in order to escape the cycle of negativity and move toward a positive, new outlook.

18. You won’t let anyone limit your joy
When your sense of pleasure and satisfaction are derived from the opinions of other people, you are no longer the master of your own happiness. When emotionally intelligent people feel good about something they’ve done, they won’t let anyone’s opinions or snide remarks take that away from them. While it’s impossible to turn off your reactions to what others think, you don’t have to compare yourself to others, and you can always take people’s opinions with a grain of salt. That way, no matter what other people are thinking or doing, your self-worth comes from within.

Source: 18 Behaviors of Emotionally Intelligent People

How to Change Your Poor Personal Reputation at Work

Image credit: Shutterstock

Image credit: Shutterstock


Changing the way others see us is difficult — very difficult. Here’s why: People form opinions about us, fairly or unfairly. As an example, say that others believe that you’re overly harsh or critical. Humans like to be right, right?

Therefore, once an opinion is formed, we tend to look for evidence that supports our beliefs. Conversely, we ignore behavior that contradicts our thinking. This is particularly true when the thing that contradicts our perception of someone is the absence of a bad behavior — a non-behavior.

We have worked with several mid- and senior-level executives to help them change their colleagues’ perceptions. In one case, an executive was known for being very direct. He didn’t mince words when he saw a problem or something that could be improved. His subordinates came to expect his criticisms and were used to hearing him voice them in front of their coworkers.

So, he changed: The executive began seeing that his behavior was having a negative effect on the groups he led. He found out, for example, that some of his direct reports labeled his office “the gates of hell.” So, he started to watch what he said. This executive then actually managed to go for several days without as much as one critical word.

But he slipped. He criticized one of his direct reports in front of the entire team at a meeting — and immediately regretted his behavior. Yet it was too late. He had said something harsh. And that action reinforced others’ perception of him.

The trouble with getting others to see and believe in a change in the offending person’s behavior is that people are unlikely to think, “That’s the first harsh thing I’ve heard the boss say in a few days.” Instead, people are more likely to think, “Yep, just what I thought, always negative.”

So, even though you, the offending person, may have improved, say, 95 percent, that one slip will reinforce what people think; perceptions will remain unchanged. This is why changing the way people see you is so difficult.

Still, changing how you’re perceived is not impossible. The key is to get people to notice your improved behavior, something that is unlikely to happen without some prompting word or phrase from you. A technique that has worked well for us over the years is to ask for help from the person whose opinion you want to change. In the case of our executive-client, we had him enlist the help of a couple of his key subordinates.

He did this by saying, “I have received feedback that I am too critical and I know it’s true. I’m trying to be less negative, but changing is difficult. Would you be willing to help me?” In our experience, this request usually gets a favorable response. Generally, people ask, “What can I do to help?” This was the case with the executive. He explained that he wanted his observers to pay close attention to his behavior and note every time he said something that could be perceived as harsh. He then met individually with them to get their feedback.

After several weeks of identifying only a limited number of times when the executive was harsh, his observers began to accept that he had changed. There was the added benefit that they began to spread the word to others within the organization. Over time, the executive was able to reduce the frequency of these feedback sessions. And once he and others had accepted the new behaviors as normal, he was able to phase-out the sessions altogether. He was able to get people to notice a non-behavior.

One caution here: Don’t start this process unless you are serious about making a change. If you ask for feedback but don’t make the necessary change, you’ll only call attention to your bad behavior more. You’ll make the situation worse.

Changing the perception that others have of you is hard work, but, with persistence, it’s do-able. The process we’ve outlined here is the best one we have found for getting people to notice positive behavioral change. That way, you can finally stop worrying that others are describing your office as the “gates of hell.”

9 ways to start a conversation with absolutely anyone

Flickr/Sustainable UMD

Flickr/Sustainable UMD

Did you know that public speaking is often rated the number one thing people are afraid of?

But while getting up on a stage in front of an audience can definitely be nerve wracking, many people find striking up a conversation one-on-one just as intimidating.

Maybe it’s the CEO of your company, a new colleague, the guy in the mail room, the girl from IT, or a stranger in the street. Whomever you want to talk to, there’s a way to strike up a conversation. And the best news is that it gets easier with practice.

Try these conversation starters to talk to absolutely anybody:

Skip the small talk. “What’s up with this weather?” and “How ’bout them [insert local sports team]?” are as bad as cheesy pick-up lines when it comes to starting a conversation. Avoid tired topics. Every situation is unique, so you should be able to find a unique conversation starter.

Ask for their opinion. Everyone has one! For someone you don’t know well, start with light subjects like the food, the music, the atmosphere, etc. “Do you like your Margaritas with salt or without? Do you watch horror movies? Do you like this song?” It’s probably best to stay away from really sticky subjects like politics unless you already know the person very well.

Ask for their advice or recommendations. This works very well when commenting on someone’s outfit or accessories, as in “What a great tie! Where did you get it?” or on the food, as in, “Everything looks good. What are you having?”

Ask them a question — that’s easy to answer. This is great when you know or find out that a person has expertise in a particular field. If you’re talking to your company’s IT guy, for example, you could ask him whether he’s the guy who installs hardware or software. But avoid asking anyone to explain something super complex or involved; if that’s where the conversation leads, great, but asking a really complicated question up front can feel demanding.

Comment on the environment. No matter where you are, there are things to comment on: the music, the food, the lights, the guests, and so on. Even if you are stuck in an elevator with someone, you can comment on the music, the speed, the crowdedness, etc.

Ask for an update. If you know someone a little or know them by reputation, ask for an update on something you know they’ve been doing, for example, “Oh, Mary mentioned you were taking swing dance classes. How’s that going?”

Ask open-ended questions whenever possible. If your question can be answered with a simple yes or no, don’t be surprised if that’s what you get. Having follow-up questions ready can also help the conversation flow. If you are asking what kind of food they’re having, for example, you might follow up with, “That sounds good. Do you know what kind of wine would go well with that?” Almost everything can be followed up with, “Why?” (Just don’t ask it too many times and end up sounding like a three-year-old!)

Ask a hypothetical question. These can be great conversation starters, but try to tie them into something happening at the event or in current events to avoid seeming too random. You might say something like, “I just saw this movie where all the laws were revoked for one day. What would you do if there were no laws for a day?”

Ask about their kids, pets, or hobbies. People love to talk about the things that are important to them. If you know that your boss loves to sail, asking him about his latest trip is a surefire way to get him talking.

5 Things Great Leaders Do Every Day

The secret to great leadership does not exist in that cup of coffee you drink every morning.

CREDIT: Getty Images

CREDIT: Getty Images

1. Inspire optimism

It can be difficult to always be the person finding the silver lining inside a huge, gray cloud. Even if you’re the only one carrying the burden, keep in mind that after a little while, positive feelings always do catch on.

2. Be genuine

No matter how small the action, great leaders are genuine in everything they do. They are purely themselves, take it or leave it, and they don’t compromise their ideals or core values in an attempt to be liked. They do things because they believe in them; they believe in the words they say, they believe in the people who work for them, and they believe in themselves too.

3. Practice confidence

While we all have our bad days, there are some that require us to continue to buck up and continue plowing forth, even when all we want to do is find somewhere to rest our head. Confidence is something that leaders carry regardless of the environment they may find themselves in. Great ones practice it every second of every day.

4. Communicate

Seeming both accessible and able to speak to those around us is a huge plus for leadership. Allowing yourself to act as someone that is responsible enough to take care of problems effectively–while being compassion and receptive–is great for encouraging people to trust you in every sense of the word.

5. Decide things–and stick to them

In a world where people constantly change their minds about all sorts of things, like which cereal to consume, or whether or not they know someone they’ve decided not to like, it can be hard to find stability to hold onto. Good leaders provide that, however. They are decisive when everyone else tends to waver–a great asset that allows others to become natural followers who easily fall in line right behind.