Understanding apathy

January 9, 2014

Students stop attending classes. Staff members will do anything to avoid a departmental meeting. Voters don’t go to the polls.

Apathy and disengagement abound. For leaders and change agents, figuring out the root causes can morph into an obsession, but “why?” is the wrong question to ask. Chances are, you’ll never find out why. If you ask, you may get an answer that you know is not really true.

Why did you stop attending class? May result in a head hung low and a sheepish, “I dunno…”

Why did you stop attending meetings? May result in a superficial smile and a politically correct, “I’m so sorry… I’m just so busy right now…”

Why don’t you vote? May result in a shrug of the shoulders and a deflated counter-question, “What difference does one vote make anyway?”

Asking people why they have become disengaged or disenchanted rarely results in a useful answer. It takes too much mental energy to think through the answer. Or if the person already knows the answer, it takes too much emotional energy to share it. The probability of confrontation is high. It’s too risky.

To avoid confrontation, those who have abandoned a project, process or commitment may share a polite answer that allows them to sidestep the real issue, or they may shrug it off entirely.

If you really want to understand the reasons someone has become disenchanted, sit down with them, face-to-face, and ask a different question: How do we make it better?

Surveys and e-mails are not an effective way to ask this question. They are impersonal. Quick. Efficient. And ultimately, they send a message that you want something (information), but you’re not willing to invest anything (effort).

If you want insight, you need to be willing to invest effort. If you want depth of insight, be wiling to add a personal touch that is genuine and sincere. Book a lunch (and then pay for it). Invite the person over for coffee (without asking the invitee to bring anything).

Show that you are willing to give in order to get… and do so without expectation. The disenchanted may be guarded, unwilling to take risks or afraid of consequences if they are honest. If you want their input, you need to extend the offer first. Be generous and establish an environment of personal trust and social (or professional) safety. There should be no punishment for sharing viewpoints, opinions or feelings.

When you ask “How do we make it better?” you allow the other to share without the risk of punishment or confrontation. You may never get that person back, but you can figure out what happened so you can improve for those who follow in their footsteps.

Ask, “How do we improve?” Then, shut up and listen.

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


De-grouping to be a more effective leader

August 2, 2013

LinkedIn logoYou are probably familiar with the term “re-grouping”. It means taking a breath and a step back from a situation in order to re-assess the current state of it.

Lately, I have been “de-grouping”, mostly on LinkedIn. For a number of years, I have been a member of the maximum number of groups allowed, which is 50. I signed up for groups related to topics I was interested in professionally including leadership, literacy, languages, marketing, education and other topics. I tried to read discussion posts and contribute. I thought it was a good way to keep my pulse on sectors and industries that I felt were important to my career.

What I found was quite the opposite. Instead of staying on top of news and trends, I was inundated with messages, many of which did not help me learn, grow or provide many insights.

On the flip side, I was also unable to contribute much of value to many of the discussions.

I have pared down my membership to 10 LinkedIn groups. Here are the three criteria I used to decide which groups to stay in:

  1.  I personally know some or all of the members. I’ve seen the whites of their eyes and I can easily remember their smile.
  2. I learn something from the discussions.
  3. I can contribute something of value to the discussions from time to time.

For me, cutting back on the number of groups I am a member of on LinkedIn has helped free up time and energy for other activities such as tending to my clients, teaching students and preparing upcoming presentations and workshops for the fall. All in all, being more selective about how I spend my time and energy online has helped me to cultivate my professional and leadership skills overall. I’m still online… just more selectively than ever before.

I have increased energy as I am using laser-focus to determine which activities bring value to my profession and where I can also make a meaningful contribution.

Related post: How to delete LinkedIn contacts who spam you (and why you should) http://wp.me/pNAh3-1CO

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If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Share or Tweet this: De-grouping to be a more effective leader http://wp.me/pNAh3-1De

If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


How I finally cleaned up my Inbox — and how you can, too

July 16, 2013

Sarah Elaine Eaton, speaker, presenter, keynote, technology, social media, Calgary, Canada, educator, education, professional developmentI just deleted 5000 messages from my e-mail box without reading any of them. I admit it: I am an e-mail hoarder. I save all kinds of messages that I don’t need to.

This year, my business has grown and I find myself busier than ever before. My messy inbox was killing my productivity and adding to my stress levels. I have missed important messages from clients and colleagues.

So, I went to war with my Inbox. Over the past 24 hours I have been relentlessly and ruthlessly deleting unnecessary e-mails. Here are some of the messages I have deleted:

  • Newsletters
  • Event invitations
  • Thank you notes
  • Updates from friends, colleagues and organizations that I support
  • News alerts
  • Social media messages (e.g. “You have a new Twitter follower!)
  • Meeting confirmations for events that have passed
  • Photos

In addition to deleting unnecessary messages, I filed another 3000 or so. Now every message that I need to keep has been neatly filed and organized into a folder.

How long did all this take? Less time than you might think. Once I put my mind to it, I was focused and diligent. The entire process took less than two days.

The trick is not to open every single e-mail and read though it. I looked at the subject line and made an instantaneous decision: Delete or File.

I have been an e-mail user since the late 1980s — the dawn of e-mail. I have never been able to figure out how to keep my Inbox clean. It has taken me about 25 years to figure out that most messages can be deleted or filed.

It feels great to see, for the first time ever, an Inbox that is manageable.

As I get busier and my business grows, I can not afford to miss messages or have the stress of cyber clutter. For me, cleaning out my inbox has been an important step in developing personal leadership and self-management skills.

Is it your turn to clean out your inbox?

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If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Share or Tweet this: How I finally cleaned up my Inbox — and how you can, too http://wp.me/pNAh3-1CX 

If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


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