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Archive for April 2011

Difficult Conversations and Nine Mistakes to Avoid

No one likes to have difficult conversations and no one is immune to workplace tensions: It is inevitable that you will have some trying conversations with colleagues or clients over your career. At best these conversations are unpleasant, at worst they can blow up into larger issues which have real emotional, productivity and economic impacts.

I have discussed how to improve communication in this blog numerous times. But even with the best communicators, there are still times when you will have to have a difficult conversations. As such, I wanted to share with you nine mistakes you should avoid when having a difficult conversation. By avoiding these nine mistakes, it should help you achieve a more positive outcome regardless of how tough things get.

These nine mistakes come from a great article by Sarah Green, based on Holly Weeks “Failure to Communicate“.  I think you will find this information of value and can be applied immediately.


Mistake #1: We fall into a combat mentality.
When difficult conversations turn toxic, it’s often because we’ve made a key mistake: we’ve fallen into a combat mentality. This allows the conversation to become a zero-sum game, with a winner and a loser. But the reality is, when we let conversations take on this tenor – especially at the office – everyone looks bad, and everyone loses. The real enemy is not your conversational counterpart, but the combat mentality itself. And you can defeat it, with strategy and skill.

Mistake #2: We try to oversimplify the problem.
If the subject of your argument were straightforward, chances are you wouldn’t be arguing about it. Because it’s daunting to try to tackle several issues at once, we may try to roll these problems up into a less-complex Über-Problem. But the existence of such a beast is often an illusion. To avoid oversimplifying, remind yourself that if the issue weren’t complicated, it probably wouldn’t be so hard to talk about.

Mistake #3: We don’t bring enough respect to the conversation.
The key to avoiding oversimplification is respecting the problem you’re trying to resolve. To avoid the combat mentality, you need to go further – you need to respect the person you’re talking to, and you need to respect yourself. Making sure that you respond in a way you can later be proud of will prevent you from being thrown off course if your counterpart is being openly hostile.

Mistake #4: We lash out – or shut down.
Fear, anger, embarrassment, defensiveness – any number of unpleasant feelings can course through us during a conversation we’d rather not have. Some of us react by confronting our counterpart more aggressively; others, by rushing to smooth things over. We might even see-saw between both counterproductive poles. Instead, move to the middle: state what you really want. The tough emotions won’t evaporate. but with practice, you will learn to focus on the outcome you want in spite of them.

Mistake #5: We react to thwarting ploys.
Lying, threatening, stonewalling, crying, sarcasm, shouting, silence, accusing, taking offense: tough talks can present an arsenal of thwarting ploys. (Just because you’re trying to move beyond the combat mentality doesn’t mean your counterpart is.) But you also have an array of potential responses, ranging from passive to aggressive. Again, the most effective is to move to the middle: disarm the ploy by addressing it. For instance, if your counterpart has stopped responding to you, you can simply say, “I don’t know how to interpret your silence.”

Mistake #6: We get “hooked.”
Everyone has a weak spot. And when someone finds ours – whether inadvertently, with a stray arrow, or because he is hoping to hurt us – it becomes even harder to stay out of the combat mentality. Maybe yours is tied to your job – you feel like your department doesn’t get the respect it deserves. Or maybe it’s more personal. But whatever it is, take the time to learn what hooks you. Just knowing where your vulnerable will help you stay in control when someone pokes you there.

Mistake #7: We rehearse.
If we’re sure a conversation is going to be tough, it’s instinctive to rehearse what we’ll say. But a difficult conversation is not a performance, with an actor and an audience. Once you’ve started the discussion, your counterpart could react in any number of ways – and having a “script” in mind will hamper your ability to listen effectively and react accordingly. Instead, prepare by asking yourself: 1. What is the problem? 2. What would my counterpart say the problem is? 3. What’s my preferred outcome? 4. What’s my preferred working relationship with my counterpart? You can also ask the other person to do the same in advance of your meeting.

Mistake #8: We make assumptions about our counterpart’s intentions.
Optimists tend to assume that every disagreement is just a misunderstanding between two well-intentioned people; pessimists may feel that differences of opinion are actually ill-intentioned attacks. In the fog of a hard talk, we tend to forget that we don’t have access to anyone’s intentions but our own. Remember that you and your counterpart are both dealing with this ambiguity. If you get stuck, a handy phrase to remember is, “I’m realizing as we talk that I don’t fully understand how you see this problem.” Admitting what you don’t know can be a powerful way to get a conversation back on track.

Mistake #9: We lose sight of the goal.
The key in any tough talk is to always keep sight of the goal. Help prevent this by going into conversations with a clear, realistic preferred outcome; the knowledge of how you want your working relationship with your counterpart to be; and having done some careful thinking about any obstacles that could interfere with either. (Remember, “winning” is not a realistic outcome, since your counterpart is unlikely to accept an outcome of “losing.”) If you’ve done the exercise described in Mistake #7, this should be easier. And you’ll be less likely to get thrown off course by either thwarting ploys or your own emotions.

When we’re caught off-guard, we’re more likely to fall back into old, ineffective habits like the combat mentality. If you’re not the one initiating the tough conversation, or if a problem erupts out of nowhere, stick to these basics: keep your content clear, keep your tone neutral, and keep your phrasing temperate. When disagreements flare, you’ll be more likely to navigate to a productive outcome – and emerge with your reputation intact.

You can purchase Holly’s document here!

NOTE: I have no financial interest in this document.

Written by David Frederick

April 29, 2011 at 10:29 AM

Consumers Like Brands Containing Likable Numbers

I came across this very interesting article on how consumers are attracted to certain numbers. This article reminded me of the marketing rule of 9 and some of my own work regarding the Brand-ABLE framework.  In this article authors Dan King and Chris Janiszewski articulate the interesting psychological affinity for certain numbers utilized in brands, products, and advertising, and how you can leverage this in your marketing and advertising.

For example, Consumers like numbers such as 10, 12, and 24 that are the sums or products of common grade-school arithmetic problems, and as a consequence they prefer brand names containing those numbers, research suggests. For your interest, I have included the executive summary here. You can read the full report here.


The Sources and Consequences of the Fluent Processing of Numbers

by: Dan King and Chris Janiszewski

Executive Summary

Brand names use numbers to label levels of a product line (e.g., Nikon D40, D50, D70, D80; Canon PowerShot A430, A530, A630), inform the consumer about product performance (e.g., Miller Beer’s MGD 64, Heinz 57, Intel Core 2 Duo), and facilitate brand trademark recognition (e.g., Levi’s 501, Toyota MR2 Spyder, X-14 Cleaner). Each of these applications assumes that numbers in brand names are an important source of information. It is also possible that numbers in brand names are a source of affective responses; that is, certain numbers are more liked, and in turn, this liking increases the liking for the brand that incorporates the number into its name.

The authors find that the source of number liking is the ease with which the number is processed. This ease of processing, similar to a feeling of familiarity, can come from two sources. First, numbers that are encountered more often are more familiar and liked. For example, smaller magnitude numbers (e.g., 1, 2, 3) are encountered more often than large magnitude numbers (e.g., 1001, 1002, 1003) and rounded numbers (e.g., 10, 100, 1000) are encountered more often than nonrounded numbers (e.g., 11, 101, 1001), Second, numbers that are generated more often are more familiar and liked. Numbers that are sums and products are more frequently generated than other numbers under 100. Thus, brands that incorporate these numbers into their names have the potential to be more liked.

A series of experiments documents the influence of numbers on the liking of brands. For example, an imaginary brand name for anti-dandruff shampoo (Zinc) is more liked when it includes a common product number (e.g., Zinc 24) than when with includes a prime number (e.g., Zinc 31). The research also shows that the presence of the operands responsible for the sum or product further enhance the liking of a brand name. For example, not only is a Volvo S12 more liked than a Volvo S29, but liking is further enhanced when an advertisement for a Volvo S12 includes a license plate with the numbers 2 and 6. The operands 2 and 6 make 12 more familiar because they encourage the subconscious generation of the number 12.

The influence of available operands on liking for the number brand extends to advertising claims. The authors conducted a study in which consumers were asked to make a choice between V8 and Campbell’s tomato juice. Some consumers saw a V8 advertisement that stated, “Get a full day’s supply of 4 essential vitamins and 2 minerals with a bottle of V8” whereas other saw an advertisement that stated “Get a full day’s supply of essential vitamins and minerals with a bottle of V8.” More consumers chose the bottle of V8 when the number 4 and 2 were explicitly mentioned in the claim. Creating similar advertisements for Campbell’s tomato juice did not influence preferences for Campbell’s.

Written by David Frederick

April 28, 2011 at 10:30 AM

Five Tips for Building Better Business Relationships

I came across this great nugget of knowledge from sales coach Jim Cathcart that discusses the issues of building better business relationships. Aside from the 5 tips he advocates, he asks the very poignant question: “Who is glad they know you?”.  I believe this is a universal question, but certainly has reliance in business and is a key ingredient to building strong business relationships. Here are Jim’s five tips:


Five Tips for Building Better Business Relationships

We’ve all heard that it’s not what you know but who you know that determines your success. But sales coach Jim Cathcart asks this: “Who is glad they know you?”

That’s why people do business with others they know and trust. When you offer value to another person, then they have a reason to care about staying connected with you. Cathcart offers these five tips for building better business relationships:

  1. Approach each contact as the beginning of a long-term high-value relationship. Expect great things over the long run, and do your part to help both of you achieve your desired outcomes.
  2. Plan to be loyal to your customers whether they are loyal to you or not. And be trustworthy, so they will want to be loyal in turn.
  3. Continually ask yourself, “What else could I do for them without asking for something else?”
  4. Give them the option to occasionally “have a bad day” without becoming upset or judgmental toward them. Nobody is always at their best.
  5. Don’t always ask for something, occasionally just give them something or just listen to them without trying to “fix” them or sell to them.

Written by David Frederick

April 27, 2011 at 1:27 PM

Job Burnout

Like we needed a study to prove this? But all joking aside, this is a serious issue and extremely costly for the employee, employer, health care and family.  The issues of stress are real and deadly. Stress and burn out are NO laughing matter. Check it out:


An increase in job burnout over a period of 18 months is associated with a 2.09-fold increased risk of developing musculoskeletal pain during the subsequent 18 months, according to a study led by Galit Armon of Tel Aviv University focusing on 1,704 healthy people. The researchers say high job demands may increase muscle tension and decrease micropauses in muscle activity, leading to pain.

You can download the PDF Report Here.

Written by David Frederick

April 27, 2011 at 1:20 PM

Apple’s Bug – Update

Hmmmm.. Nice try guys. Just fix it and stop doing it. Or at minimum, ask out permission. Apple has admitted that iPhones store location information and plans a patch to scale back that data collection — but the company says widespread complaints and privacy fears mischaracterize what information is on its phones. What Apple isn’t saying is that regardless of the what type of data is captured, stored, used, etc. it doesn’t matter. You need to ask the users permission. Unless of course, Apple puts the fine print and implied consent into the ULA of the iTunes updates. Which NO ONE EVER READS. That is my bet on how this will be resolved.



Apple has admitted that iPhones store location information and plans a patch to scale back that data collection — but the company says widespread complaints and privacy fears mischaracterize what information is on its phones.

In a lengthy question and answer statement posted to its website, Apple said the data file uncovered by researchers and publicized last week isn’t a log of a phone’s location, but a list of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers nearby. That helps the phone figure out its location without having to listen for faint signals from GPS satellites.

Tracking is a normal part of owning a cellphone, of course. But what’s done with that data is where the controversy arose.

Neither Apple nor Google immediately responded to FoxNews.com requests for additional information.

Apple’s comments are the company’s first comprehensive response to allegations that iPhones — as well as Google-based Android phones — store up to a year’s worth of user-location data, reports that have drawn attention from Congress and the ire of its users.

“Apple is not tracking the location of your iPhone,” the company said in an issued statement. “Apple has never done so and has no plans to do so ever.”

The company claims that the location data people are seeing is a crowd-sourced database of nearby Wi-Fi hotspots and cell phone towers, collected for a new feature Apple plans to roll out in the future.

“These calculations are performed live on the iPhone using a crowd-sourced database of Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data that is generated by tens of millions of iPhones sending the geo-tagged locations of nearby Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers in an anonymous and encrypted form to Apple,” the company said.

“This data is not the iPhone’s location data — it is a subset (cache) of the crowd-sourced Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower database which is downloaded from Apple into the iPhone to assist the iPhone in rapidly and accurately calculating location,” the statement explained.

Apple revealed that it is also collecting anonymous traffic data to build a crowd-sourced traffic database with the goal of providing iPhone users an improved traffic service in the next couple of years.

In 2009, Google announced that it was tracking similar information on traffic congestion.

“When you choose to enable Google Maps with My Location, your phone sends anonymous bits of data back to Google describing how fast you’re moving. When we combine your speed with the speed of other phones on the road, across thousands of phones moving around a city at any given time, we can get a pretty good picture of live traffic conditions,” explained Dave Barth, product manager for Google Maps.

The root of the problem stems from a software bug that causes the phone to keep certain crowd-sourced data longer than necessary — creating the illusion that the phone is saving a historical log of user whereabouts.

“We don’t think the iPhone needs to store more than seven days of this data,” the company added.

Apple expects to release a fix in the next few weeks that will reduce storage of information. The software giant also plans to stop backing up the file from the iPhone to the user’s computer, a practice that raised concerns among security experts. Computers are much more vulnerable to remote hacking attempts than are phones.

The company also noted that future releases of its iOS software, the cache will be encrypted, adding a further layer of protection.

Written by David Frederick

April 27, 2011 at 1:15 PM

Killer Combo

A very interesting article from CNBC on two critical commodities coming to a recessionary tipping point in the U.S. economy. Check it out -DF

Killer Combo of High Gas, Food Prices at Key Tipping Point

By: Christina Cheddar Berk
News Editor – CNBC

The combination of rising gasoline prices and the steepest increase in the cost of food in a generation is threatening to push the US economy into a recession, according to Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners.

Gas station in San Francisco.

Johnson looks at the percentage of income consumers are spending on gasoline and food as a way of gauging how consumers will fare when energy prices spike.

With gas prices now standing at about $3.90 a gallon, energy costs have now passed 6 percent of spending—a level that Johnson says is a “tipping point” for consumers.

“Energy is not quite as essential as food and water, but is a necessity in today’s economy, and when gasoline costs more than bottled water—like now—then it takes a huge bite out of disposable spending,” he said, in a research note.

Of the six US recessions since 1970, all but the “9-11 year 2001 recession” have been linked to—of not triggered by—energy prices that crossed the 6 percent of personal consumption expenditures, he said. (During the shallow 2001 recession, energy prices had risen to about 5 percent of spending, which is higher than the long-term 4 percent share.)

What may make matters worse this time around, is there has been a steep increase in food prices that occurred as well. In other recent recessions food costs were benign, at between 7.5 percent and 7.8 percent of spending.

This year food prices have climbed 6.5 percent since the beginning of early January, according to Consumer Growth Partners.

“The combined increase in the necessities of food and energy creates a harsh double whammy for already stressed consumers,” Johnson said. The last time this happened was in the recession that lasted from 1973 to 1975.

Johnson estimates that food and energy eat up about 15 percent of consumer spending at today’s prices, compared with about 12.7 percent two years ago.

Of course, at lower income levels, these percentages are much higher. One sign of the stress some consumers are already feeling is that some AAA offices have already seen an increase in out-of-gas service calls, as motorists try to put off filling their tanks or drive around trying to seek out the gas station with the least expensive price.

Also some regions are being hit harder than others. Gas prices in Hawaii continue to set new highs, according to AAA data. The average price on Wednesday was $4.51, topping the prior record of $4.50 for a gallon of regular unleaded set in July 2008.

Written by David Frederick

April 22, 2011 at 11:52 AM

Posted in Business, Economics, General

Apple & Surreptitious Data Capture Update 2

As I reported on this early this week, this topic is picking up greater steam, more alarming information is coming to light including the surreptitious capture of data by other “smart” phones and devices. Check out this article from the Wall Street Journal. As a huge Apple fan and heavily invested user and consumer of Apple products and services, this is deeply disturbing and disappointing.


Apple, Google Receive Phone Users’ Locations


Apple Inc.’s iPhones and Google Inc.’s Android smartphones regularly transmit their locations back to Apple and Google, respectively, according to data and documents analyzed by The Wall Street Journal—intensifying concerns over privacy and the widening trade in personal data.

Google and Apple are gathering location information as part of their race to build massive databases capable of pinpointing people’s locations via their cellphones. These databases could help them tap the $2.9 billion market for location-based services—expected to rise to $8.3 billion in 2014, according to research firm Gartner Inc.

In the case of Google, according to new research by security analyst Samy Kamkar, an HTC Android phone collected its location every few seconds and transmitted the data to Google at least several times an hour. It also transmitted the name, location and signal strength of any nearby Wi-Fi networks, as well as a unique phone identifier.

Google declined to comment on the findings.

Until last year, Google was collecting similar Wi-Fi data with its fleet of StreetView cars that map and photograph streets world-wide. The company shut down its StreetView Wi-Fi collection last year after it inadvertently collected e-mail addresses, passwords and other personal information from Wi-Fi networks. The data that Mr. Kamkar observed being transmitted on Android phones didn’t include such personal information.

Apple, meanwhile, says it “intermittently” collects location data, including GPS coordinates, of many iPhone users and nearby Wi-Fi networks and transmits that data to itself every 12 hours, according to a letter the company sent to U.S. Reps. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) last year. Apple didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The Google and Apple developments follow the Journal’s findings last year that some of the most popular smartphone apps use location data and other personal information even more aggressively than this—in some cases sharing it with third-party companies without the user’s consent or knowledge.

Apple this week separately has come under fire after researchers found that iPhones store unencrypted databases containing location information sometimes stretching back several months.

Google and Apple, the No. 1 and No.3 U.S. smartphone platforms respectively according to comScore Inc., previously have disclosed that they use location data, in part, to build giant databases of Internet WI-Fi hotspots. That data can be used to pinpoint the location of people using Wi-Fi connections.

Cellphones have many reasons to collect location information, which helps provide useful services like local-business lookups and social-networking features. Some location data can also help cellphone networks more efficiently route calls.

Google also has said it uses some of the data to build accurate traffic maps. A cellphone’s location data can provide details about, for instance, how fast traffic is moving along a stretch of highway.

The widespread collection of location information is the latest frontier in the booming market for personal data. Until recently, most data about people’s behavior has been collected from personal computers: That data generally can be tied to a city or a zip code, but it is tough to be more precise. The rise of Internet-enabled cellphones, however, allows the collection of user data tied with much more precision to specific locations.

This new form of tracking is raising questions from government officials and privacy advocates. On Wednesday, Rep. Markey sent a follow-up letter to Apple asking why the company is storing customer-location data on its phones.

“Apple needs to safeguard the personal location information of its users to ensure that an iPhone doesn’t become an iTrack,” Rep. Markey said in a statement.

Google previously has said that the Wi-Fi data it collects is anonymous and that it deletes the start and end points of every trip that it uses in its traffic maps. However, the data, provided to the Journal exclusively by Mr. Kamkar, contained a unique identifier tied to an individual’s phone.

Mr. Kamkar, 25 years old, has a controversial past. In 2005, when he was 19, he created a computer worm that caused MySpace to crash. He pled guilty to a felony charge of computer hacking in Los Angeles Superior Court, and agreed to not use a computer for three years. Since 2008, he has been doing independent computer security research and consulting. Last year, he developed the “evercookie”—a type of tracking file that is difficult to be removed from computers—as a way to highlight the privacy vulnerabilities in Web-browsing software.

The Journal hired an independent consultant, Ashkan Soltani, to review Mr. Kamkar’s findings regarding the Android device and its use of location data. Mr. Soltani confirmed Mr. Kamkar’s conclusions.

Transmission of location data raises questions about who has access to what could be sensitive information about location and movement of a phone user.

Federal prosecutors in New Jersey are investigating whether smartphone applications illegally obtained or transmitted information such as location without proper disclosures, the Journal reported in April, citing people familiar with the matter.

A spokeswoman for the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada said the office “had concerns” about using cellphones to collect Wi-Fi data and has expressed those concerns to Google. “The whole issue of the tracking capabilities of new mobile devices raises significant privacy issues,” she said.

The business of collecting location information begain in 2003, when Boston-based Skyhook Inc. launched and began the practice of “wardriving”—cruising around in cars to collect information about Wi-Fi hotspots. Comparing the names and signal strengths of nearby Wi-Fi hotspots against a database allows for a cellphone’s location to be determined within 100 feet, in many cases, Skyhook says.

“For the first four or five years, people thought we were nuts,” said Ted Morgan, Skyhook’s founder and CEO. “We invented this whole concept of driving around and scanning for Wi-Fi and tuning these algorithms.”

In 2007, Google began building its own Wi-Fi database, using the StreetView cars. Last year, Apple switched from using Skyhook and began creating its own database of Wi-Fi points for use on its newest phones, although it still uses Skyhook data for older phones and Macintosh computers.

Skyhook’s Mr. Morgan says the company attempts to protect users’ privacy by collecting data via cellphone only when a person requests location from its servers—for instance when they are actively looking at a map. Each time a user requests location, the information is encrypted and gathered without any identifying user numbers, Mr. Morgan says. That means Skyhook can’t follow a person from one location to the next, he says.

Google seems to be taking a different approach, to judge from the data captured by Mr. Kamkar. Its location data appears to be transmitted regardless of whether an app is running, and is tied to the phone’s unique identifier.

In its letter to Congress last year, Apple said that it only collects location data from people who use apps that require location. It doesn’t specify how often a person must use the app for intermittent collection to occur.

Apple also said in the letter that it collects Wi-Fi and GPS information when the phone is searching for a cellular connection. Apple said the data it transmits about location aren’t associated with a unique device identifier, except for data related to its mobile advertising network

Apple gathers the data to help build a “database with known location information,” the letter says. “This information is batched and then encrypted and transmitted to Apple over a Wi-Fi Internet connection every twelve hours (or later if the device does not have Wi-Fi Internet access at that time),” the company wrote in the July letter to Congress.

The letter, which is available on Rep. Markey’s website, became newsworthy this week in light of findings from two researchers who uncovered a file on iPhones that keeps a record of where the phone has been and when it was there. The file is unencrypted and stored by default.

Researchers have found that Apple devices like the iPad and iPhone are logging user data like locations and time stamps. WSJ’s Jen Valentino-DeVries reports on digits.

The discovery of this location file touched off a furor among iPhone owners who could see for the first time a trove of location data about themselves stored on their phones. The researchers, Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden, said that they had no evidence that the file was being transmitted to Apple.

Write to Julia Angwin at julia.angwin@wsj.com

Written by David Frederick

April 21, 2011 at 8:26 PM