Apr 09
Dealing With Difficult People - Part 4: Document, Document, Document

the-office.jpgThis post concludes our series on Dealing With Difficult People​. Parts 1, 2, and 3 can be found here, here​ and here. 

​Post written by Mike Torsell

One of the biggest challenges to working collaboratively with anyone, difficult or not, is often making sure everyone is on the same page. Misunderstandings can arise even in the most copacetic working arrangement so it is an easy leap to say it can be a bigger issue when dealing with someone who happens to be "difficult." 

When communication styles differ, it is doubly important to take the time to ensure that we are all on the same page. Letting misunderstandings remain only builds potential resentment later on, in turn ​​further exacerbating an already precarious situation. Because of this, it is important to keep close track of what is being said during meetings.

I personally believe being a careful documenter can head off animosity between you and a colleague before it even has a chance to start. Taking notes during meetings and spending some time going over those notes shortly after the meeting to ensure that everyone has the same understanding of what was discussed and decided means that everyone leaves the meeting with the appropriate expectations, deadlines and deliverables to work on going forward. From there, you also have a great working record of your project that will be helpful​ when bringing new team members up to speed or updating key stakeholders.

So, take careful notes when meeting with your colleagues and take the extra time to confirm that the notes capture a mutual understanding of what was discussed, how it was discussed and what is expected going forward. Lay out any action items that have arisen and determine a timeline for the completion of these items. Share and save the notes somewhere easily accessible to all involved. This helps you to head off future problems built on pent up resentment over misunderstandings. 

Mar 20
Dealing With Difficult People - Part 3: Fine Tune Your Ear for Listening

-​Post written by Beth Donithen​Frasier-Frasier-Crane.jpg

This is part 3 of 4 part series on dealing with difficult people. Parts 1 and 2 can be found here and here.

​When I was a kid, I loved playing that game Telephone.

You remember the one, where a group of friends sit in a circle. One person begins by whispering something in the ear of the person next to them and then that person is supposed to pass the same message onto the next person. The message travels around the circle until the last person speaks the message aloud for all to hear.

The game was so much fun because the end message was always so different from the starting message, and typically something completely unintelligible.

Why is that? It has to do with listening.

Effective communication is not just about saying the right thing or using the correct words.

Fifty-five percent of communication is what we see, 38% of communication is what we hear and only 7% are the words we use. When it comes down to it, listening is far more important to a conversation than speaking.

"If we were supposed to talk more than listen, we would have two tongues and one ear."

 ​​​​​​​Mark Twain

Stop talking, tune into your colleagues and start listening to them. This involves paying attention to what they say, and even more to what they do not say. Listening is different from just hearing. Listening requires effort.

When participating in conversations remember to:

  • Remove distractions and focus on the other person
  • Listen and don't interrupt or finish the other person's sentences
  • Nod or use small words to encourage the other person to continue sharing
  • Do not interrupt and wait for a pause before asking any questions
  • ​​Stay engaged

By practicing these skills, you will develop your ability to listen effectively and better understand your co-workers and clients. When people feel understood, they are less likely to become frustrated and angry. Good listening skills are essential to establishing strong business relationships and help you build a successful career.

Pass that message around the circle.

Feb 27
Dealing With Difficult People - Part 2: Your Body Language Speaks Volumes

Post Written by Tom Widzinski​

​This is part 2 in a 4 part series. Part 1 can be read here.​

History geeks (like me) need only watch clips of the infamous 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debate to realize that body language and non-verbal communication can target a difficult person long before any words are spoken. During the debate, Nixon's visual trifecta of poor eye contact, perspiration and a five o-clock shadow doomed his verbal efforts and reportedly prompted Chicago's mayor Daley to comment, "My god, they've embalmed him before he even died."

Studies have noted that nearly 60% of communication is processed from a combination of body language and non-verbal cues. Many of the same non-verbal techniques we use during interviews can help when we're trying to deal with - or avoid being perceived as - a difficult person.

Stay Calm, Stay Neutral

An aggressive stance, folded arms or a clenched jaw are globally recognized signals of a potentially difficult or confrontational person. Conversely, slouching, a bowed head or slumped shoulders can indicate disinterest, defensiveness or fear. A neutral body position, with head upright and arms relaxed at your side can help diffuse an antagonistic encounter and may help engage a more timid individual.

Your eyes are the windows to your non-verbal soul

It's easy to perceive someone as difficult if they are blankly staring a hole through your head, looking over your shoulder or gazing at their shoes as they speak. A good practice is to maintain eye contact for an extra moment, but not long enough to be perceived as aggressive or creepy. A proper amount of eye contact can communicate confidence, interest and respect, and can immediately set a comfortable, professional tone.

Smirks, and frowns, and pouts - oh my!

Few things can identify a difficult person like a misplaced facial gesture. Do you remember the Olympic gymnast whose brief podium-scowl went viral and overshadowed the fact that she was just awarded a silver medal? Facial expressions can be the hardest to conceal and the easiest to misinterpret. Experts suggest that in a professional environment, we should practice aligning our facial emotions with the situation. Don't be insincere, but a measured expression is often preferable to a badly timed podium-scowl.

Feb 19
How to Deal With Difficult People - A Lesson in 4 Parts - Part 1

Post Written by iKoss Team, Compiled by Joel Cuthbert​

its-not-you-its-me1.pngFour consultants crammed into a stuffy sub-compact for two hours on a cold, dark and slushy w​​inter morning in Western New York.

It sounds like the set-up for a bad punch line, but no. The scene is set for a 1-day seminar in Central New York in mid-December on Dealing with Difficult People.

Consultants work with many different, occasionally difficult, individuals on a regular basis and navigating these various personalities effectively is critical.

Learn what four iKoss consultants feel the key lessons are to be successful when dealing with difficult people:

Lesson #1 – It's not them, it's you - Joel Cuthbert

When I first registered for the seminar, I expected to leave with a store of munitions to aid in client relations and defend against assault from difficult personalities. Instead, I learned I was the difficult person.

True, my wife always maintained this belief – likely some of my friends and colleagues as well – but it certainly never crossed MY mind. How was I the problem, and what could I do to change it?

The truth is it's not about dealing with difficult people at all, just different communication styles.

We are all unique, complex and, yes, difficult people required to interact and collaborate in demanding, high-stress environments to be successful. Conflict often arises when we fail to understand one another or speak the same language.

So, dealing with difficult people is less about managing bad habits or negative attitudes and more about understanding and respecting personality types in order to communicate effectively – what my colleague would call 'flexing to their style.'

Look at it from another perspective. The person you find difficult to work with may have the same trouble understanding and communicating with you. To that person, you're the difficult one.

Just having this awareness can help diffuse your initial response (i.e. frustration, anger, indifference) and clear the way to understanding the real cause of the conflict – two professionals on different wavelengths.

Stop focusing on the reasons you find the other person 'difficult' and start focusing on what you can do to improve the situation and better manage the disconnect, so you can get beyond the conflict itself to constructive solutions sooner.

It's not about what they're doing, or not doing, but what you can be doing. You can't change who they are, but you can change how you approach them and these situations.

Because when it comes down to it, it's not them, it's you.

Feb 13
Level Up: 'Gamifying' Your Career Development

Post by Jennifer Koss

​​gamification.jpgRecently, our consultant and frequent blog contributor, Joel Cuthbert, wrote about the use of gamification principles to increase day-to-day engagement.

​We are seeing an increase in the application of these principles, directly related to the myriad benefits achieved by employing gaming dynamics and motivators in the workplace. Some of these benefits include:

  • Higher levels of overall employee engagement and satisfaction
  • Improved adoption of new applications and technologies
  • Increased and sustained traffic to company web sites and resources
  • Innovative learning strategies
  • Enhanced end-user experience
  • ​Deeper, more involved buy-in of corporate initiatives and changes

The list goes on.

In fact, everyone – from self-employed bloggers to C-suite executives – is talking about it. Gamification has effectively made the transition from fringe theory to corporate buzzword.

Still, buzzwords, which represent promise and possibility for employers, often hold little meaning, and even less value, for many employees.

At iKoss, we currently use gaming principles, reflected in our approach to rewards and recognition, to support continued employee growth and education. For us, gamification is about producing a high-performing team alongside an overall positive employee experience.

So, what exactly are we doing to turn gamification from a simple buzzword into a real opportunity for our consultants?

You create your own storyline

We are moving away from rigidly prescribed professional learning and making career development a more flexible and personalized endeavor.

This means that your development is driven by your choices as an individual employee and not by corporate edict. We put the controller in your hands, empowering you to direct your own development by identifying your areas of interest, setting your own goals and deciding how you achieve them. Measuring your progress is up to you.

Through every step of this process, we, as employers, are positioned to help support your decisions and growth.

Bonuses beat virtual goods and points

At iKoss, we gamified ongoing employee education and professional development by directly linking it to our review process and compensation model.

Performance Reviews – We built our quarterly performance reviews on a simple point system and incentivized that system by tying it to employee bonuses. Client resources use this point system to score our consultants on key areas of performance within the client environment. Each quarter, our consultants need to meet or exceed a set average score to receive their bonus.

Year-End Profit Sharing – Career development also factors heavily into our year-end profit sharing and discretionary bonuses. iKoss partners take many things into consideration when rewarding consultants, foremost among them being evidence of ongoing education and development (i.e. attending seminars, fostering internal knowledge sharing, demonstrating new skills or applying learned principles in the client environment).

This approach has helped iKoss remain a high-growth, high-impact small business – recognized in 2014 as a leading entrepreneur in upstate New York – by offering competitive compensation and continuing to recruit and retain top talent.

We know first-hand what gamification is doing for iKoss and its employees. Are you making sure it's doing enough for your company and employees?

Jan 30
Moving from Training to Learning

Post written by Cindy Naughton ​​​​​

learning-priorities-Development.jpgWebster's defines training as: "a process by which someone is taught the skills that are needed for an art, profession or job." Learning is defined as: "the activity or process of gaining knowledge or skill by studying, practicing, being taught or experiencing something."  

In today's business world, where training dollars are first on the proverbial budget chopping block whenever the economy shows signs of slowing down, learning professionals and managers must be smarter about the ways employees gain knowledge and skills. 

Considering the average employee spends 40% of his or her total work time learning with information constantly being thrown in their direction, incorporating more informal learning into an employee's development plan is not only imperative but will improve overall speed-to-competency.   

While you may think learning only happens in the classroom, more than 80% of learning happens in everyday situations.* It's time to raise both employee and manager awareness of what learning is and where learning happens. Recognizing where and how learning takes place keeps employees continuously engaged in their own learning and increases the competence of the overall workforce.

There are many methods of informal learning opportunities available to employees, including:

  • Speaking with peers to gain new insight into the way things are done or inquiring about the culture. Understanding the rules of engagement and cultural elements of a department, division or company paves the way for faster inculcation into an environment. 
  • Skip-Level Reviews provide tremendous insight into the successes and challenges in a department, division or with a particular leader. This feedback mechanism can help jumpstart advanced knowledge at the company. 
  • Reading books is a very popular way to carry on informal learning. It's also an easy, fast, convenient and inexpensive way to provide the learner with knowledge on a particular subject.
  • Podcasts are like magazine subscriptions for your ears. They are one of the best ways to learn (or be entertained) while doing something else. A new study in NewScientist noted that students who listen to lectures on podcasts tested better than those who listen in class. The beauty of podcasts is you can listen to them virtually anywhere and many are only short segments allowing you to stay focused on the content.
  • Making mistakes may feel uncomfortable, but if approached with an open mind, it is one of the most valuable learning methods. Making mistakes and learning from them is not simply a human skill. According to scientific research, animals not only learn from their own mistakes, but can learn by observing their peers' mistakes. In the animal world, avoiding blunders may dramatically improve one's chances of survival. Both humans and animals learn to live and live to learn. Human beings, however, have a unique skill: the ability to process and ponder their mistakes in ways which can lead to significant opportunities for learning and growth.

Stop relying solely on formal or corporate training to keep employees learning and building their competencies. Begin looking outside the box to more informal, self-served learning options

* Source: CEB analysis. Building a Productive Learning Culture.  More Learning Through Less Learning


Jan 22
Excelling in Today’s Business World

Post written by Cindy Naughton ​

standout-300x225.jpgAs a certified professional coach, I have coached many individuals across many different industries, from CEOs to Administrative Assistants. Over the years, I observed five common characteristics that keep all of these individuals at the top of their game and recognized as high performers:   

  1. First and foremost they are genuine and authentic. Individuals who are continuously recognized as high performers are true to the core. They say what they mean and they mean what they say. If they make a commitment, they honor that commitment. If they are unable to honor the commitment, they purposefully and deliberately renegotiate BEFORE the due date of the commitment. They don't hide behind a mask of what they think someone else (usually a superior) wants from them. Instead, they show up every day, to every meeting, as the person they drove to work as – themselves. Anything else feels disingenuous. These individuals also tend to attract the like in their circle of influence as well – that is, they attract others who are genuine and authentic. 
  2. They don't waste precious time playing the "blame game." When an issue or breakdown occurs while trying to accomplish a task, high-performing individuals spend their time focusing on resolving the issue rather than figuring out who caused the issue. The bottom line for these individuals is the focus remains on accomplishing the original task. By doing this, they often develop a better, more innovative solution. Maintaining the focus on accomplishing the original task serves the intended customer and does not diminish a fellow employee who may have made a mistake. 
  3. They are "Just the Facts, Ma'am" kind of people. As in the line made famous by Sergeant Joe Friday in the TV series Dragnet, high-performing individuals operate from the same premise. They have little or no tolerance for hearsay, he said/she said, gossip or rumors. High-performing individuals concentrate their efforts on understanding the facts before taking action.   
  4. Trust is immediately granted. These individuals will always extend the benefit of trust, and maintain that others are sincere, competent and reliable, until proven otherwise.    
  5. They believe humans are infinitely capable. This attitude allows them to view situations in a more objective manner and, again, without blame. They believe no one comes to work wanting to do a bad job and, perhaps, that some people are just not in the right role.  They are not bad employees; they just haven't found the right role within the company. 

These attributes come naturally to high-performing individuals but can be developed by anyone with effort and commitment to adopting such behaviors.   

Dec 22
Stress-Free New Year's Resolutions

Post written by Tom Widzinski

Resolutions Graphic.jpg 

As my iKoss year comes to a close, I'm reflecting on some rewarding moments (learning the Salesforce CRM platform) and looking ahead to some exciting milestones (a major client go-live affecting 100,000 employees). I'm also trying to sneak in some New Year's resolutions using a few tips to keep the process stress-free.

Keep it simple

A sure way to jinx my New Year's resolution is to create a goal that's so complex that a positive outcome is almost impossible. I try to keep my resolutions balanced within my work-life reality. Instead of promising to write a new novel, I might vow to create a blog piece when I'm inspired. Although travel to Europe isn't likely, I can resolve to schedule some day trips and long weekends before the calendar gets too full. New Year's resolutions don't have to be complicated, and seemingly simple goals can often lead to unexpected growth and enjoyment.

​Give yourself a break

It's easy for New Year's resolutions to become a yearly exercise in reliving every failed risk instead of an occasion to welcome new opportunities. I try to create a list of positives from the past year and build my resolutions on the satisfaction associated with those moments. Resolutions don't have to be designed from scratch, and using last year's positives as a foundation can yield some of the most rewarding accomplishments.

Invite some friends

When I'm struggling to define a New Year's goal, a group resolution is an enjoyable alternative. Group resolutions allow each person the ability to achieve an objective without the stress of a solo journey. Group resolutions encourage positive reinforcement, continued motivation and more opportunities for social collaboration. I've found that a group resolution often has a greater impact than a personal vow since each person gets to add their unique experiences and perspectives to the effort.

Forget the calendar

The hectic end-of-year is often the worst time to commit to a new goal. Although New Year's is the traditional time for resolutions, there isn't a rule mandating that personal objectives must be in place by January. A resolution created on Valentine's Day, an anniversary, or the first day of baseball season can attach greater meaning to a personal goal and avoids the crush of responsibilities that are already attached to the end-of-year calendar.

​I'm using these tips so that I can embrace my New Year's resolutions as positive objectives rather than stressful end-of-year chores. Can someone remind me next summer about my resolution to attend more baseball games? ​

Dec 11
Prepare for Launch: Getting Ready for Go Live and Beyond


When I think about the topic of today's post I think about the iconic scene at the end of the classic movie, The Graduate. ​In it, Dustin Hoffman's character has stopped his love interest's wedding and run off with her, supposedly happily ever after. Yet, the camera stays on their faces as they slowly begin to realize what they have done and wonder, "now what?" This is sort of the feeling the day after a software launch. 

System launch day is an exciting one, you have been working on this for so long and now it is time to share it with your end users. ​This is also a delicate time as you want to make sure you can get their acceptance of the new system. However, there are ways you can make launch time a successful time.

Get Some Sleep: Of course you are nervous about a new system launching and every possible scenario has been running through your head non stop. Still, take a deep breath and realize you will best be able to handle these possible scenarios with a clear well rested head. So, forget about it for a day or evening and take some time for yourself. Everything will still be there the next day. Plus, you can't do anything until it actually launches. 

Be Ready for Questions from End Users: ​​Despite your best efforts for training, your users are of course going to have questions. Some of those questions may be things you have gone over during training. Be patient, a friendly and helpful approach to getting your users comfortable with everything will only solidfy their acceptance of the new software. 

Be Ready for Last Minute Fixes: You tested everything, I am sure you did, but you didn't test this...There are going to be things you missed in development. This doesn;t mean you messed up during development and testing, it just means that some things only appear after a larger user base with differing technology skill levels gets into the system. Make the fix and communicate clearly to end users what is going on. 

Think About Where Your Users Need More Training: ​By now, you are starting to understand where your users are having difficulty with the system. ​In the coming weeks, you can now develop new training and work step instructions around those gaps. This is a crucial step in getting everyone on board long term. 

As Stabilization Winds Down, Develop a Formal Change Process: ​Many of your initial changes will be on the fly during the first few weeks or months. But as that time winds down, you will need to think about formal proccesses for change control that are up to audit standards. Begin developing an organized and clear way for the business to make new functionality requests and for you to update the system in an organized way, 

The formal change control process will be the last step to a fully functional system that should hopefully be of use to the organization for many years. So come back next time when I wrap this series up with some tips around developing that process. 

Dec 05
How to Play Games at Work and Get Ahead

​Post written by Joel Cuthbert

gamepost.jpgWant to turn some heads at the office? Stand out from your peers? Impress your boss?

Repeat this simple mantra: Games are good.

Feels strange, right, but kind of exciting? Like wrapping your lips around a new word.

​Now loosen your collar, let your hair down and repeat: Games have a legitimate place at work.

I don't know about you, but shirking the stuffy corporate climate of yesteryear gives me goosebumps. I like it.

So, one more time, just a little louder: Games are an effective workplace motivator.

Whew, I think we've made some real progress here …

Okay, so the steady gamification of the workplace is no big secret. You've likely encountered gamification in some form in your career by now, particularly if you work in the corporate environment.

In fact, Gartner predicted more than 70 percent of Global 2000 companies would have at least one "gamified" application by 2014.*

But here's a lesser known fact.

Gamification is not just for big budgets and large-scale technology investments or elaborate learning strategies. Gaming principles can be applied routinely on a smaller scale, in everyday situations and settings, as part of different activities and using a variety of mediums.

It doesn't need to be complex. It just needs to be compelling.

As consultants, it's a particularly useful tool. We're often managing client resources who have their day job to think about in addition to the creeping ennui of weekly project meetings. Incorporating gaming motivations – status, rewards, achievement, self-expression, competition, altruism** – into these meetings can be an effective way to incentivize engagement and increase buy-in from key stakeholders.

After all, in its broadest sense, gamification is about increasing and prolonging engagement, enhancing your audience's experience in a more interactive and participative way.

Here are some relatively simple techniques I've seen used that can help make your meetings more addictive than games:

  1. Appeal to the creative side of your audience's collective brain and use the whiteboard feature when presenting virtually. Pose questions aimed at drawing upon audience experience or kick off meetings by asking how attendee​​​​​s spent ​their weekend or holiday.​ 
    Motivators: Self Expression
  2. Incorporate progress bars into the design of your presentation. Establish a destination by setting your agenda up as a checklist and let your audience see their progress by pausing between topics to revisit the agenda and check off items as they're covered. Or use chevrons in place of a traditional title bar, building upon them as you advance through the presentation.
    Motivators: Achievement
  3. Monitor performance and spotlight individuals or teams who achieve quarterly goals and successes. Or, track sales or support teams on a leaderboard and revisit standings at the end of meetings, recognizing and/or rewarding winners on a quarterly basis.
    Motivators: Status, Reward, Achievement, Competition
  4. Draw your audience into a presentation by embedding images or key facts throughout the content, a technique I saw during a virtual meeting for several hundred client employees. Conclude with a poll asking how many times they saw a particular image or about key information from the presentation. First to respond correctly wins.
    Motivators: Reward, Competition
  5. Place questions strategically throughout your presentation and reward responses with candy or virtual recognitions like applause sound effects or pop-up visuals. Get creative with it. And remember, candy is a bigger motivator than you'd expect.​
    Motivators: Reward, Achievement
  6. Rally attendance or improve punctuality by granting small workplace prizes or privileges to the first few attendees who join. On the back end, you can push similar reward to attendees when they submit post-meeting surveys or feedback.
    ​Motivators: Status, Reward, Competition

Bring your presentations into the 21st century and don't let them die of dysentery on the Oregon Trail ever again. Start implementing some of these ideas and say Game Over to mundane meetings forever.

How are you helping "gamify" your workplace?



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