It’s time to talk less and listen more.

I am always trying to create a newer, better version of myself. Soon after I began my professional career I realized that there are a lot of smart, talented people on this planet. To catch up to the impressive people I admired most I was going to have to do my homework. So I began studying and learning, again. Not in a structured school program. But in a self-directed, movie montage kind of way.

Communications Skillz.

Like most people who are into self-improvement, I have focused heavily on communication skills: public speaking, presentation skills, selling skills. But the deeper I got into this game Prince called, Life, I realized that most people, including me, spend too much time on the wrong side of the equation.

The most effective and important communication skill is not speaking. It’s listening.

George Floyd

George Floyd told the police officers arresting him that they were killing him. When you saw the video you heard it right? Because you were listening. Now, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, we should all be listening more. We are all being called to create a better world. A world where police brutality stops. Where everyone has safety, freedom, and equal access to opportunities. But creating a better world starts with each of us becoming better versions of ourselves.

Listening

Listening is where all improvement starts. It is only through listening that we understand the problems that we need to solved. It is how we hear what isn’t said (don’t think about this too hard or it sounds really stupid).

Through listening, we learn about other people. We learn about their history, their values, their fears, their styles, and their quirks. Which allows for deeper, more meaningful, more valuable relationships.

Yet when was the last time you heard about someone going to a class on listening? So here is a free mini-class on listening that takes 2 minutes to complete. But it is sure to make you a better, bigger-eared version of yourself.

6 Keys To Improving Your Listening Skills.

1. Close your mouth.

We are often so compelled to talk that we stop listening. If you want to be a great listener you have to silence your own impulses. And focus on your role as a listener. This means you are not providing answers, or solutions or opinions. You are harvesting. Not planting. Know what season it is. Bring the right equipment to the field.

2. Listen Competitively.

Try to be really good at listening. You already know the little things you have to do to be a great listener. We learned them by playing Simon Says when we were kids. Look at the person talking. Give the person speaking your full attention. Do this as if your relationships, influence and earning potential depend on it. Because they do.

3. Keep your partner lubricated.

I don’t mean with alcohol or Vaseline. With affirmations. And demonstrated interest. Lean in. Show you care. You will keep others flowing with information. Yet without the backlash that comes with waterboarding.

4. Listen with your Spidey Sense.

Go beyond the words that are said. Note the tone. The emotion. Those things are like limps, signaling that something deeper is wrong. Or they could signal that someone is in a good mood that exceeds the norm for the current situation. Maybe they just got engaged. Or maybe they are on drugs. You should know the difference.

5.  Play back, Jack.

The curtain call of any good listening session is the summary of what you heard. The highlight, simplified conclusion, or takeaway that demonstrates that you really heard what was said.  Show that you know what was implied and what is important. Do this and you will always leave a conversation with more personal equity.

6. Lock up the valuables.

The most important listening skill is keeping the private stuff private. You have to know which things you heard were intended for you alone. And don’t talk about them. When people know that you are trustworthy they tell you more. You become an important confidante. An insider. It’s like being sponge-worthy.

Key Takeaway

Improve your listening and everything else will improve. Better relationships with your friends, family and co-workers. Better networking. And better solutions to problems. The Lord knows we need better solutions to our problems right now.

If you have more tips, tricks and techniques for better listening I would love to hear from you.

The skill the world needs from you now.

2020 has been a challenging year. It has served up more flavors of adversity than Baskin Robbins has ice cream. Like COVID-19 itself, no one is immune to the stress in our system right now.

We need to recognize the pressure the people on our planet are feeling. Because pressure makes humans make poor decisions.

Under stressful conditions, bad choices compound. The result is escalation. A simmer becomes a boil. Smoke becomes fire. Self-control evaporates. I’ve been there. I’ve felt it in myself. I’ve seen it in others. It’s intensely powerful. And destructive.

Escalation brings out the worst in us. Yet it comes naturally. We all have the ability to trump a bad action or a bad comment with an even worse response. It becomes a competition to see who can inflict more pain, create more damage and elicit more anger. But it’s a competition that no one wins.

Yet escalation happens in homes and schools. It happens in the workplace. It happens in hockey games. And in bars where people watch hockey games. Escalation happens when police officers lose touch with their humanity. And when angry protestors don’t feel like their point is being received.

What The World Needs Now

What is less natural, but far more valuable, is de-escalation. Removing the tension from a situation. Recognizing when a poor decision by someone else requires a good decision by you, and me.

Don’t respond to anger with more anger, but with empathy. We need to demonstrate that we are listening. That we understand. And we are willing to make things better. Because there are times when we all need someone else to step in and help us adjust our settings when we can’t self regulate.

Key Takeaway

Calmness and compassion are as contagious as anger and fear.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

Need a job? 14 tips for interviewing in crazy times.

It’s that time of year again. College seniors should be triumphantly crossing the stage and grabbing their pricey diplomas to the proud applause of their relieved families. Only this year things are different. Thanks to the COVID-19 crisis, graduating seniors haven’t seen their classmates in months. Graduation ceremonies are on a laptop. And students are stumbling out of college to find nearly 40 million adults out of work and willing to stab them with a fork to get the same entry-level jobs.  

Under these conditions the smiles, pride, and sense of accomplishment of the college grad are short-lived. The student loans are coming like the Educational Grim Reaper.  Empty-nesting parents’ once again have birds in the nest. And everyone needs worms.

Find A Job Like It’s Your Job

Whether you are a new graduate or newly unemployed, it’s time to find a job. Except now, because there are many more candidates than there are jobs, you need to bring your A-Game. If you are anything like I was when I graduated from college you don’t have a clue how to land that first job. I have learned a lot since then. Here they are in a particular order.

12 keys to successful job hunting.

portrait of a man in corporate attire
Looking good is always a good idea.

1. Request an informational interview.

This is the single best advice I can offer. It’s a free audition for you and the employer. And if the person you are calling won’t take the time to help out a young prospect, or an experienced candidate who needs a hand, you don’t want to work for that selfish bastard or bastardette anyway.

2. Research the company you want to talk to.

If you really want to talk to an employer you should know something about them and their company. To impress, show up with as much knowledge as you can find on the business you’re interested in, and its clients. A great tool I recommend using to do your research is the internet. Because it has all the information ever accumulated by mankind. #noexcuses

3. Work Your Network.

Use Linkedin to see if you have a connection to someone who works where you want to work. Do your research to see if you know someone who can introduce you to someone at that organization. Having an insider vouch for you is like cutting to the front of the line. Ivy Leaguge kids know to do this. You need to too.

4. Make connections.

I’m not just talking about people networking. Make connections between the organization’s needs and your own areas of knowledge and expertise. I got my first job because I knew a lot about farming. And the advertising agency I called for an informational interview had a new client that manufactured farm equipment. The agency seemed to know nothing about agriculture. So to them, I was like Doogie Howser in flannel.

5. Write down your talking points and questions ahead of time. 

If you don’t have any questions for your interviewer you suck at interviewing. Because it indicates that you aren’t thinking, or are not interested. Both make you easy to move to the reject pile.  Yet it can be hard for humans to come up with a good question when you are asked if you have any questions. So script you questions before the interview. You’ll get extra points if you tie your question to some research you did on the company. One of the great things about video conference interviews is that you can keep you written prompts handy for reference at all times. Heck, you can stick Post-It notes all over your interview space if you want. This is like legal cheating. Do it. It helps.

man taking notes in front of his computer
Come prepared with talking points. Because it is hard to think on your feet when you are sitting down.

6. Show up with a pen and paper.

If your interview is in person make sure you bring a pen and notebook and demonstrate that you have them. It shows that you are prepared. That you are gathering information and taking tips and advice. It is a sign of respect to the interviewer. It says, ‘I would like to capture the pearls of wisdom you are sure to drop.’ Employers assume anyone who would show up to an interview without a pen and paper will forget to do other things too. Like zip their fly, wash their hands, and bring their corporate credit card when they are taking a client to lunch. Demonstrating that you have the pad and paper says more than you realize. Even if you never use them.

7. Show up a little early.

Don’t get carried away here. There is a proper amount of early. Too early and you look socially awkward. And late is the kiss of death. This is also true for a video conference interview. Log on a few minutes early to demonstrate your timeliness. Just being there when the interviewer logs on will make a good first impression. As long as you are clothed. For tips on how to look good on camera see this post I wrote about looking good on camera for a TV interview from home via Zoom.

8. Dress professionally.

Determine what that means in your world. For my first interviews out of school I borrowed a suit from my college buddy, Greg Gill Jr. Greg is now a judge and wears a black dress to work. I have never worn a tie to work since. But I made good first impressions. And I got job offers. Remember, it is always better to be overdressed than underdressed. And you are never fully dressed without a smile.

9. Practive telling your story.

You have an interesting story to tell about what you know, what you have done and what makes you a great addition to any organization that would hire you. Practice telling that story. Make it concise, funny and interesting. It should get better every time you tell it. Like a standup comedy routine. People love stories. Telling a great one will give you an unfair advantage over others you are competing with for the job you want. Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn. It’s how great candidates get noticed.

10. Lose the like.

If there is one thing that reminds me that you’re still a kid it’s using like the word like like way too like much. While on the topic of language, I would also like you to stop saying, ‘to be honest…’ or ‘to tell you the truth…’ Those indicate that the rest of what you said may not be fully honest or truthful. Also, avoid pairing kinda or sorta with really. Those words are opposites, and they negate each other. It’s like putting a humidifier and a dehumidifier in the same room.

confident young woman sitting on office chair in old aged artist workshop
Don’t dress like this. Unless you are interviewing to be a belly button model. 

11. Prove direction.

It’s great to be open to various possibilities. But I want to hire someone who knows what she or he wants. So know your skills. Know what interests you. Have a vision. And don’t get lost on the way to or from the bathroom.

12.  Don’t drink at the interview.

Interviews in some industries, like advertising agencies, can be tricky. Especially if you show up late in the afternoon or on a Friday. The beer is often available and encouraged (this is starting to sound like an ad for advertising). Don’t play along. The dangers outweigh the risks in this case. Demonstrate your self-restraint. Ad people are really good at drinking (see Mad Men). And there are always plenty of permanent markers around and artists who know how to use them on your face.

13. Talk about how you and your friends never use Facebook or Instagram.

Even if you are on Facebook all day every day say that you can’t stand it. Businesses are always trying to spot the next trend they know nothing about. Kids, this is the ace up your sleeve. Tell them about the cool new things you are into and how you are rejecting all previously embraced media. Your stock will rise. Trust me. For the experienced unemployed, make sure you know about TikTok, Snapchat and Dingle. Okay, I may have made one of those up. You should know which one.

14.  Follow up.

After the interview, send a note thanking the people you met for their time.  This is important in several ways. It shows that you are considerate. It shows that you follow through. And it ensures that the people you talked to have your contact information. Send a note in the mail or by email. Both work. Email makes it easy for them to reply to you. A mailed note always feels special. And retro. Here’s the story of a great follow up note I received after an interview.

 

Key Takeaway

A good interview, whether in person, on the phone, or online is all about being prepared. Do your homework. Know the company and the people you are meeting with. Prepare your talking points and your questions ahead of time. Bring a pen and paper. Don’t drink. Where clothes. Smile. And follow up. Good luck!

*If you know someone who needs a job right now, please share this post with them. Let’s give them every advantage they can get.

Another birthday met means 11 new goals set.

Until yesterday it had been 366 days since I last had a cake under my candles. The 2019-2020 Adam Albrecht season saw many more wins than losses. I enjoyed serious adventures. I made new friends. I experienced my first global pandemic. Because local pandemics just aren’t pandemic-y enough for me. My pace of personal and professional growth for the year met my expectations. So I gave myself a passing grade.

Now I am excited to kickoff a great 2020-2021 Adam Albrecht season. Each year, on opening day, I like to establish new goals for the year. Here are the latest.

  1. Faith: Read The New Testament again.  I read a lot. But I haven’t dug into The Bible with purpose for a few seasons now.  So, I’m making this a New-Testy kind of year.
  2. Fitness: Drop My Covid Weight. Back in March, when we all boarded the CoronaCoaster, I felt healthy, fit and ready for spring break. Now I have 8 pounds worth of lockdown weight to burn off. I’m aiming to hit an even 210 pounds this summer. Which is less than I weighed when I graduated from both high school and college. Thankfully it’s finally warm enough in Wisconsin to get summer, summer, summertime fit, like Will Smith. Remember when he used to be a rapper?
  3. Marriage: 12 Dates Wih My Wife. If Dawn and I have a real date every month, all feels right with the world. Granted those dates may be curbside pick up at Culver’s. Or masked hikes through Costco. But I don’t care where we go. I don’t care what we do. I don’t care pretty baby. Just take me with you.
  4. Parenting: Meaningful Life Conversations With Each of My Children Every Week. My children are 14, Turning-13-This-Week, and 9. Which means they are in the thick of childhood changes, challenges and life lessons. I want to make sure that I am helpful during this time, and not just an annoying old guy who keeps telling them to hand over their electronics at night.
  5.  My Parents: Talk Every Week. My Mom used to call my Grammy every Saturday morning like clockwork. I want to develop a regular weekly check-in with my parents. Maybe during my commute. Assuming we will have commutes again.
  6. My Business: I want to add 3 great new people to The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency.  Great people are the heart of a great business.  Finding great people to add is both important and challenging. So that’s what we’re going to do. If you are one of those people, or know someone who is, let’s talk!
  7. Finances:  Increase My Net Worth By 25%. Tracking your net worth is an import habit to help you understand, maintain and improve your financial health. I want to improve mine by 25% over the next 12 months. Much of that will be related to how the financial markets recover. But it also means acting on new opportunities that are available due to the financial cliff that we all just lemmingied off. Or hadn’t you noticed?
  8. Volunteering: Give Blood. I have some. Other people need it. Let’s make this happen. 10-4 Good Bloody.
  9. Relationships: Expand The Breakfast Meet Up Club. Earlier this year I started a breakfast meetup of really badass guys who live on Milwaukee’s North Shore. It’s comprised of entrepreneuers and highly successful businessmen who are also husbands and fathers. We meet once a month to trade ideas on how to be great, and talk about the important things that guys don’t always have a chance to talk about with other guys. I want to add 3 more impressive cats to the group this year to bring us to an even 10.
  10.  Book: Publish My First Book. Thanks to the COVID-19 lockdown I am much further along on this project than I expected to be at this time. Now I’d like to put the hammer down, get my Johannes Gutenberg on, and get this thing to a printing press.
  11. Home: Make A Home Base Improvement Decision. Dawn and I have been exploring the idea of some remodeling, buying a new home or building for years. But you can explore forever and never arrive anywhere. I would like to arrive somewhere in the next 12 months.

Key Takeaway

Birthday’s offer a great time to reevaluate your life. Each year on your birthday check your trajectory, your happiness meter and your contribution to others. Push yourself to do more each year. Life is like a soap opera. Which mean we only get one life to live. Take advantage of it. And make sure that each season of You is worth watching.

Good things happen when you give good first.

In March I got a call from a marketer who was looking for help. Her team had been working on a repositioning effort for many months and just hadn’t cracked the code. She was looking for a new perspective. And I had one.

The Proposal

Over the next few days we developed a Zoomy relationship. We had several discussions.  Then I proposed to her. Meaning, I shared a proposal for The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, to help her and her team with their challenge.

Turned Down

A few days later I heard back from her. She shared that unfortunately, a few of their client projects had been paused. And a spending freeze had been implemented. So they wouldn’t be able to begin the engagement with The Weaponry.

The Response

This was no surprise. These are challenging and unpredictable times. So I responded with the following note. (Names have been changed to make the note sound more colorful.)

Thanks for the update Magenta. These are crazy times. But things will get better. And when you are ready, I hope we can work together.
In the meantime, if you think I can be of any help as you are finding your way forward, I am happy to talk to you and Cyan, and offer any advice I can at no charge, under my Phone-Calls-Are-Free promotion.
I hope you have a great week and that we are all back to normal soon.
-AA

The Offer

Magenta responded that she would love to take me up on my offer to talk with her and Cyan, the CEO of her company. A few days later we Zoomed. And I offered as much advice as I could in an hour and 2 minutes. All for free. Because I had it to give. And I thought it could help them find their way through a challenging business environment.

The Note

A week later Magenta sent me another note. She had great news. She told me that her company would love to move forward with me and my team at The Weaponry. But now they wanted to expand the scope of work because they saw how we could help them beyond their original request.

The Reminder

That note from Magenta was one of my favorite emails of 2020. Not because it represented new business and new opportunities for The Weaponry. But because I believe so strongly in providing value to others. And that when you give freely to other people, without expectation, good things happen. And that email confirmed my beliefs. (Not like I confirmed my beliefs when I was in 8th grade with bread and wine. But you know what I mean.)

Key Takeaway

Share your time, talents and knowledge with others. We all have the ability to provide immense value to friends, family and total strangers. Right now your experience and insights can help others in profound ways. If you think I can be of help to you as you are finding your way forward, I am happy to talk and offer any advice I can at no charge under my Phone-Calls-Are-Free promotion. Shoot me a note at adam@theweaponry, and we’ll look for a time to talk.

Why you should set an alarm every day.

I am a reflector. I reflect on what went right and what went wrong nearly every day. In the last days of 2019 I reflected on what I did right that year in hopes of doing more of what worked in 2020. Little did I know that a tiny virus was about to create the greatest global disruption in human history. And much of what worked in 2019 would be taboo just months later.

Following my blog post 19 Things That Worked For Me In 2019 I got a lot of positive feedback. People told me they picked up new ideas, were motivated or inspired by some of the activities I wrote about.

However, there was one point that I shared that generated a strong thanks-but-no-thanks response from a large number of readers. Interestingly, it was the #1 thing on my list. It was the action that set up all the other actions.

Set An Alarm.

I set my alarm for 6:00am every weekday, and no later than 6:30am on the weekends. I get up and write, read or workout right away. The alarm helps me get the most out of every day. And I mean every day. Weekends, vacation days, holidays, beach days, leg days and Hollandaise.

When I started this alarming habit several years ago I started gaining traction on my dreams. I started accomplishing more. I felt like I was pulling ahead in life. Because the most valuable time I could find to invest in my goals and dreams was early in the morning.

Buzzer Beater

I am keenly aware of the fact that I will be dead long before I want to be. So I try to do all the things I want to do while I still have the time. And my alarm clock has helped me add hours to my days. Which puts more life in my life. Like Mikey’s cereal.

The Wake-Up Call

If 2020 is the year you are going to make great progress on your lifelong dreams you are going to need some help from your alarm clock. Like Rodney Dangerfield, that little noisemaker doesn’t get the respect it deserves. Because it doesn’t just squawk in your earhole. It can help make your entire life more fulfilling.

When It All Starts.

The idea of a long lazy morning in bed has no appeal to me. The opportunity cost is too high. I started my business early in the morning. I think early. I write my blog early. I work out early.

Early in the morning no one bothers you. You have energy and focus and hope. Take advantage of that. Block your time. And milk it for all it’s worth. #wholemilk

Go to bed early when you can. Get as much sleep as you can. But don’t get to the end of your days with regrets that you didn’t do all that you wanted to do when you had the time to do it.

Key Takeaway

Don’t sleep in on the weekends. Or holidays. Or ever. Set an alarm. Get up. Get things done. Read something. Learn something. Do something. Get more out of your time. And if you don’t have a great reason to get up early on the weekends and on vacation, find one. Your life will be more enjoyable once you do.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share this with them.

Do you have a bias towards yes or no?

Every situation provides you with reasons to act. And reasons not to act. You can rationalize every decision you make. And you would be right. Just point at the reasons.

Whether you are looking for reasons to get into action or reasons to opt out of action, you will find what you are looking for. (Unlike Bono) Those reasons will provide the rationale that will govern your commitment, participation, and effort.

Because it is not the conditions that determine what you do. It is your predisposition. It is your default approach to life, work, and opportunities that determine what you will do in every situation.

Develop a bias towards action. Towards Yes. Towards attendance. And involvement. This bias will lead to an expanding life. This mindset will lead you to the experiences, successes, and learnings that will make your life interesting, enviable and valuable to others.

Look for reasons to do. To act. To try. Life is a yellow traffic signal. It is up to you to decide to stop or go.