Blog, Business

Simple Ways to Improve Your Communication Skills

Contrary to popular belief, becoming an effective communicator is a skill set that is learned, not something embedded in a person’s DNA. While there are certain personalities that have easily obtained the qualities of astounding communication, there is no communication skill that cannot be learned through hard work and dedication.

With that in mind, let us review a few fundamental skills that will help improve one’s ability to effectively communicate and influence others as a leader.

Think outside of the box

To become an effective communicator, think creatively and do not immediately dismiss an idea because it seems outside of your comfort zone. Sometimes, the most inspiring ideas evolve upon reflection and adaptation. Therefore, smart leaders know they need to stretch their creative bounds to inspire and influence others.

Practice makes perfect

Organizing thoughts and ideas into a polished outline will not only keep them in order, but also allow for a more natural message conveyed in real-time — a trait that is especially imperative in large meetings and other professional gatherings.

Once one has completed this step, it is imperative they practice all they have put into place. Read each point of conversation aloud, as this will allow for the discovery of content that needs to be adjusted or re-worded. Rather than reading from a slideshow or stiffly reiterating lines on a sheet, the message will be confidently and naturally delivered to the audience.

Be an active listener

A speaker best communicates when they are actively listening, which ultimately allows for a more organic response and expands their understanding of the dialogue at the same time. Keep in mind that real communication involves an exchange between all parties involved, not just by one individual.

Engage in organic dialogue

Leaders that engage in organic and interactive dialogue will establish a trust and rapport that cannot be formed from an audience that is being talked at. When a speaker reads from a slide with little to no emotion, the experience is dull and most will not take anything away from the message. Engaging and connecting with the audience will convince them to show empathy and pay attention to the message.

Avoid using certain words

Using strong, effective words will contribute to better communication as a leader. There are words that should not be used often and some that should be avoided entirely. There are situations that are more cavalier, but profanity should be avoided.

Other slang words like “dude” and “guys” are informal and can come off as being immature. Words like “actually,” “but,” “assume,” and “fine” lead to a negative connotation immediately. Therefore, it is imperative you adapt your language accordingly, as co-workers and peers do not want to hear excuses or sugarcoating.

Finally, always be constructive, respectful, and positive when communicating with individuals inside and outside of the workplace. You may be surprised how small, seemingly meaningless changes will garner results.

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Blog, Business

How to Create and Maintain Strong Mentor Relationships

This blog post originally appeared on Paul Saunders’ website.

Success is very rarely achieved alone. Instead, it is a product of multiple interrelated factors, such as support, advocacy, and receiving advice from the right people at the right time. More often than not, these above qualities are best found in mentors. Unfortunately, as more and more young professionals flood the workforce, the idea of finding a more experienced shoulder to lean on and glean insight from is quickly fading into the background.

However, we must shift our focus from encouraging these fresh faces from actively seeking mentors. Instead, we ought to encourage those with professional experience to step into such roles more freely, as they will not only be able to teach the next generation, but learn from them as well.

With that in mind, let us explore how one can effectively create and maintain strong mentor relationships.

Search your existing network

It is likely that you already work with, or at least know of, one or more young professionals in need of support. Therefore, the first step to becoming a mentor is getting to know each of these individuals. Take the time to discover their aspirations, goals, and learning styles. Once you have a better understanding of their long-term direction and goals, it will be much easier for you to engage with those you feel your expertise would benefit the most.

Be yourself

As a mentor, it is imperative you demonstrate every day that you are exactly who you say you are, rather than putting on airs and puffing up your previous experience to garner more awe and respect. This feat is achieved simply by being yourself. Behave, emote, dress, and speak exactly how you would normally. After all, authenticity and transparency are two key components to earning another’s trust.

Hold each other accountable

Sometimes, it is all too easy for these professional relationships to dissolve into average friendships. While this shift may be beneficial in interpersonal ways, it can seriously deter your ability to do more than simply pass advice back and forth.

Therefore, it is imperative you strive to maintain a strict balance between friendly banter and holding each other accountable for your actions and pursuit of professional development. Otherwise, your time and efforts leading up to this point may seem as though they served no purpose.

Clearly, there are plenty of stipulations to becoming a mentor, as it is not simply about forming a bond with another over work-related matters. Instead, mentorship provides a unique opportunity for mutual benefit and growth, meaning it ought to be treated with the utmost respect and seriousness.

Blog, Business

Mindfulness Exercises That Aid in Relieving Stress

This blog post originally appeared on Paul Saunders’ website.

In this day and age, it is not uncommon to feel overwhelmed by one’s responsibilities at home and in the workplace. In fact, a recent survey conducted by the American Psychological Association revealed that this phenomenon is rapidly sweeping the United States, with upwards of 75 percent of Americans reporting symptoms of chronic stress. Furthermore, approximately 45 percent of the same participants reported experiencing regular sleeplessness.

Thankfully, there are effective methods of mitigating the draining impacts of everyday life. However, it is imperative to note that such a feat is not achieved overnight. Instead, reducing one’s overall stress level is a long-term commitment that often requires further lifestyle adaptations, like exercising more often, adopting a healthier diet, and so on.

With that being said, let us explore some mindfulness exercises that can aid in relieving stress.

Focusing on breathing

When we begin to feel overwhelmed, our bodies release a number of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which trigger your natural “fight or flight” response. Once this switch has been flipped, our hearts begin to pound, our muscles tighten, and our breathing quickens considerably.

To effectively combat the body’s initial response to stress, it is best to focus on controlling your breathing. This can be achieved by removing yourself from your stressors, closing your eyes, and making a concentrated effort to take deep, even breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Regaining control over your breathing will subsequently regulate your heart rate and reduce your body’s production of adrenaline and cortisol.

Practicing acceptance

As difficult as it may be to admit, our circumstances are not always under our control. Sometimes, traffic will make us late for work at the most inopportune times; babysitters will cancel and ruin our plans; and we will fall ill before a big deadline or event. However, there is little more we can do than accept the situation and our feelings toward it. Otherwise, we will cause ourselves to become unnecessarily angry and stressed.

Now, this is not to say that you should become complacent and simply accept every negative incident that comes your way. After all, you do have the power to alter situations that you do not like. However, in times of heavy traffic or altered plans, it is imperative we choose our battles and prioritize our personal wellbeing over a simple emotional outburst.

It is entirely possible, if not feasible, to take the reins and steer yourself toward a more stress-free life. However, accomplishing this goal requires patience, persistence, and the understanding you will fail from time to time. After all, you are only human, but showing yourself a level of gentleness and grace will only improve your mindset over time.

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The Benefits of Allowing Pets in the Workplace

This blog post originally appeared on Paul Saunders’ website.

Bringing pets into the workplace is becoming an increasingly popular trend, forged by the likes of Amazon, Ben & Jerry’s, and Google. Now there are nearly 180 companies following suit in New York City alone.

However, it is important to note that introducing employees’ beloved furry friends to the office is not just some ploy companies are using to attract the newest members of the workforce. Instead, this tactic has been proven to garner positive results on personal and corporate levels, from improving employee morale to decreasing overall turnover.

With that in mind, let us explore the benefits of allowing pets in the workplace.

Pets improve the company’s image

Allowing employees to bring in their pets not only improves their perception of the company but can make a positive impact on customers and prospective hires as well. This is especially true if clients physically visit the business, as the opportunity to interact with an employee’s pet enables them to relax and thoroughly enjoy their time at the establishment.

Pets alleviate stress

It is no secret that employees endure elevated stress levels throughout the standard work week. However, bringing one’s pet to the office can allow them to feel more comfortable and optimistic, regardless of the tense situations they may encounter.

Furthermore, a 2012 study by the International Journal of Workplace Health Management found that employees who brought their pets to work had decreased levels of hormonal stress, especially when compared to those who did not bring any pets at all. In fact, those individuals showed steadily increasing levels of hormonal stress until the end of the workday.

Pets increase employee performance

Those who work in pet-friendly environments have been shown to work longer hours, as they no longer have to worry about rushing out of the office to care for their pets at the end of the day. Furthermore, these employees also have fewer absences, likely because they do not have to stay home to tend to their pets when they are sick.

Pets promote positive interactions

As previously mentioned, a pet-friendly workplace improves employees’ morale and decreases stress. Additionally, pets act as a common point of interest, thus creating social opportunities for employees who would otherwise not speak to one another. In the long run, these increased social interactions could aid leaders in fostering an environment of teamwork, collaboration, and communication.

This tactic certainly is not for everyone. However, there are some outstanding benefits to bringing pets into the workplace. Perhaps it is time you consider affording your employees this privilege, as it could boost not only their personal performance but your company’s performance as well.

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What is Workplace Wellness?

Over the years, individuals have become more proactive in caring for their bodies and trying to mitigate diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and heart failure. However, with elevated healthcare costs, a more demanding work schedule across the board, heightened physical inactivity and poor dietary habits, many find themselves floundering in their efforts as soon as they have begun.

In order to combat these negative factors, many companies have taken the time to curate workplace wellness programs, which are designed to reduce healthcare costs and improve employees’ overall health and well-being. While there are some mixed reviews on the efficacy of such strategies, some have genuinely garnered positive results, thus sparking the interest of organizations on a global scale.

Given these facts, it may be beneficial to further explore the topic of workplace wellness and the impact it could make on employees and corporations alike.

What does workplace wellness entail?

When one hears the term, “workplace wellness,” their minds may go straight to physical fitness and nutrition. However, these programs offer a number of other benefits, such as smoking cessation and screenings for high cholesterol, glucose tolerance, and diseases of the blood.

A workplace wellness initiative will also encourage employees to change their daily habits, mostly by providing standing desks and suggesting frequent stretch breaks to reduce physical inactivity. Furthermore, some programs go so far as to offer employees memberships to a local gym at a reduced price, or cover their fitness expenses entirely.

It is important to note, though, that workplace wellness does not just seek to improve employees’ physical well-being. Instead, its aim is to improve their mental well-being as well. After all, work-related stress is an epidemic that has swiftly swept nearly every Westernized country.

Therefore, these initiatives provide employees with new and innovative methods of combating stress, coping with tense situations, and maintaining a more positive attitude at work overall. Additionally, they may introduce more social activities in order to break the ice amongst employees and combat any feelings of loneliness that are associated with working in an office.

Although these workplace wellness initiatives do mean well, some are still skeptical or are wary of taking advantage of their benefits. Therefore, some companies may need to incorporate incentives to boost employee engagement and success, such as gift cards, an additional day of paid time off, or a premium discount to their favorite retailer.

Regardless of the tactics you choose to employ, it is evident that workplace wellness can make a positive impact on the modern workforce. Therefore, it may be beneficial to consider taking these steps to improve your employees’ long-term well-being.

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How FinTech Could Disrupt the Financial Industry

Technology is one of the most ubiquitous and unstoppable forces in our modern world, impacting nearly every industry across the board. Naturally, finance is no exception.

However, technology seems to pose a larger threat to the financial realm than any other, as banks and other institutions have employed a business model that has worked rather well over the years, driving large profits and creating further room for growth.

Financial technology, otherwise known as fintech, aims to disrupt this business model in order to bring more financial inclusion to those who would not normally be granted the opportunity, such as blue collar workers, marginalized people groups, or members of rural communities.

Fintech has drastically changed the climate of the financial industry, forcing smaller firms and large institutions into a state of fight or flight. Either they adapt their policies to remain relevant in the eyes of the public, or they hold tightly to their outdated practices and fade out of the picture over time.

With that in mind, let us examine the other ways in which fintech could impact the financial industry.

Venture capital firms are not as necessary as they once were

In the realm of fintech, venture capital firms are no longer a necessary method of acquiring funding. This shift was exhibited at the beginning of 2016, when global venture capital investment in fintech decreased by approximately $22 billion from 2015.

Some view this as an indicator that venture capital firms are losing authority. However, a popular opinion is that venture capital firms now feel less inclined to support the next great disruptor of the financial industry, hence their lack of interest in funding even the most innovative designs.

Banking fees may become a thing of the past

It has long been rumored that banks make upwards of $4 billion annually just from the fees they obtain during fund transfers. Because of fintech’s mission to make finance more accessible and inclusive, many of its startups seek to decrease or eliminate banking fees entirely, even in international transfers, allowing their customers to keep more of their own hard-earned money.

Mobile banking could continue to rise in popularity

Although mobile banking is already a prevalent force in many regions of our modern world, it is only anticipated to grow with the fintech industry, which is projected to expand by 55 percent within the next two years alone. Therefore, we could see digital wallet systems like Apple and Android Pay reaching into even the farthest corners of the world by 2020.

Evidently, great changes are not simply looming on the horizon; they are already here, slowly shaping the future of one of the most influential industries in the world. Regardless of what is to come, it will be intriguing to see how far the financial realm will come in just five years’ time.

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To Make an Impact, Donate When the World is No Longer Watching

This blog post originally appeared on Paul Saunders’ website.

Nearly four months have passed since Hurricane Maria struck the United States Territory of Puerto Rico. Recovery has been painfully slow; the island is only at 66 percent power generation, and many hard-hit communities are still functioning solely off the food, clean drinking water, and emergency cash that has been supplied by non-profit organizations. There is a long road ahead for those who remain on the island.

Yet, as 2017 came to a close, relief efforts saw a boost in donations, as the holiday season is known to make a positive impact on generosity across the board.  According to a study conducted by the Center on Philanthropy (COP) at Indiana University, respondents reported giving approximately 24 percent of their annual total between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Furthermore, another COP study concluded that of high net-worth donors (specifically, households with income greater than $200,000 and net worth over $1 million), 42.7 percent of participants gave more during the holidays than the rest of the year.

While this upward trend in giving is greatly appreciated by the recipient organizations, they often see massive downturns in two key time-periods: approximately six weeks after a natural disaster, and just after a new year has begun. This may not be surprising: after these events, life moves on, news outlets feature other stories and, unfortunately, new disasters grasp our attention. The fact remains, however, that these relief efforts and charities still need help long after the cameras stop filming and the holiday season has passed. These drops in giving activity can be counteracted if contributors follow a key principle: continue to donate when the world is no longer watching.

Staggering charitable gifts is an effective method of propelling recovery efforts, especially in the case of natural disasters, as their impacts are far more pervasive and difficult to reverse than their man-made counterparts. New Orleans took upwards of 10 years to fully recover from Hurricane Katrina and the widespread flooding that followed. Houston is not projected to rebound from Hurricane Harvey until at least 2020.

Additionally, it is imperative that each individual does their due diligence and researches each charity related to the causes they wish to support. Ideally, funds should be sent to charities that are transparent about their financial structure and non-profit tax status. If an organization is credible, they will post their tax forms, called 990s, directly to their website.

Furthermore, it is advisable that you steer clear of crowdfunding initiatives or charities that appear shortly after a disaster. Unless you personally know the individuals behind these efforts, you may be funneling money into the hands of someone who does not know how to properly disseminate resources following a natural disaster.

There is no set timeline for Puerto Rico’s recovery; even experts are not sure when, or if, the island will ever be pieced together again. However, this is a perfect example of how we must not allow the victims to fall to the back of our minds.  Hopefully some of the suggestions made here will help clarify the structure and direction of your charitable giving, so that those most in need can get the continued help and support they deserve.