Beware of These 5 Communication Myths

 

Myth #1: Time Heals All Wounds

The truth is, that time usually deepens wounds. If time really healed all wounds, people would not blame their behavior on their childhood and past events as they often do. In fact, time can deceive us into thinking that problems with others have been resolved, but all it takes is to see them again or something to remind us of those previous unresolved issues and we will become upset all over again. In essence, our unresolved past is lying around waiting to strike us in the present.

What to do? Do not rationalize by thinking, “Well, they are not saying or bringing it up, so I will just let it go.” Just because they are not bringing it up does not mean that they have let it go. They may feel awkward or embarrassed or they may not know how to bring it up so they have decided to bury it. The key is to proactively bring up issues and resolve them.

Myth #2: Don’t Rock the Boat

The truth is, if you don’t rock the boat, the boat will probably sink. Faced with an issue or problem that is bothering us, many people rationalize, “I am not going to say anything. It is not that big of a deal. I don’t want to rock the boat.” The problem with this way of thinking is if we don’t say anything, the issue is unlikely to be resolved. Then what was once a small issue may fester and grow into a big problem.

What to do? As stated above, proactively bring up issues as they happen.

Myth #3: Be Diplomatic

The truth is, if we are too diplomatic, the point we are trying to make will not get across and nothing will get resolved. Have you ever had someone claim that they told you something, but you really don’t remember or didn’t understand the message they were trying to send? This happened because the message being conveyed to you was so subtle that you missed the point.

What to do? When we have to communicate an issue, bringing it up in a respectful way is important, but make sure the issue and what you want done is clear and direct.

Myth #4: Sandwich What You Really Want to Say Between Two Compliments

The truth is, the “sandwich method” is so obvious that people immediately identify the strategy and feel manipulated. The sandwich method is when you place what you really want to say between two positive compliments. “I appreciate how hard you work, but blah, blah, blah… and thank you for working with me on this.” This communication trick can permanently damage relationships.

What to do? Tell people the truth. People are smart, but we are lousy actors, so be honest and clear. If you have issues, talk about them and get right to the point. When you have something nice to say, bring it up in a conversation unrelated to the problem so you can get the most benefit out of the conversation.

Myth #5: More Communication Leads to Resolution

The truth is, simply having more communication can lead to wasting time and possibly more misunderstandings. Sometimes it is believed that the more people talk about something, that easier the message will emerge from the sheer volume of information. But how often have you been in a meeting where people “talked about things” and nothing got resolved.

Consider this: if the solution were simply to increase communication, wouldn’t you expect that the increase in e-mail, cell phone use, and video conferencing would have significantly reduced communication problems? In spite of all of these extra tools now accessible to us, it seems that there are more misunderstandings, mistakes, and conflicts than ever before. And people still complain that they don’t receive the feedback they need to do their jobs properly.

In fact, communication technologies can also help people spread misinformation with blazing speed, sometimes leading to devastating results. Communication technology is not inherently bad. However, the way people use it is often ineffective. Increasing the amount of communication through multiple channels is not the answer.

What to do? Instead of just increasing the amount of communication, make sure that people know how to effectively use the different methods to communicate. These methods can make the critical difference in successfully resolving issues as they arise.

Take Action

Pass this tip on to people you care about; your co-workers, your boss, your employees, your family and friends. Use it as a basis to talk to the people around your office, in your organization, and your personal life. Have an upfront conversation about the “myths of communication” and assess what everyone is willing to do differently. This way everyone will benefit from the knowledge and wisdom we all have to contribute.


The Law of Reflection

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Abide by the Law of Reflection

The Law of Reflection states that what we give out is what we tend to get back. You may also know this law as the Golden Rule, or by the phrases “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” or “What goes around comes around.” 

We have all heard these phrases in various forms and often recite them ourselves, but what strikes me is how easy it is to forget the powerful role this philosophy plays in honest communication.

Just think about it. How often have you experienced someone who does not listen to you or is not fully honest with you? In the spirit of National Honesty Day, be truly honest with yourself. Have there been times when you did not listen to that person or when you failed to openly share with them? As leaders, parents, colleagues and friends, we must model the behavior we seek.

When people blame us, we tend to blame them; when people accuse us, we tend to accuse them right back; when people withhold information from us, we tend to keep information from them. It also tends to hold true in the positive direction. When people take responsibility for their actions, we tend to take responsibility for ours; when people apologize, we tend to apologize back; when people focus on the solution; we tend to do the same.

Abiding by the Law of Reflection motivates you to be honest with others and compels others to be more honest with you. Be honest in acknowledging your mistakes, communicating your concerns and expressing your appreciation. Doing so will encourage others to do the same. Take that a step further and really listen to people if you want people to listen to you. Listen, no matter who are speaking with.

As National Honesty Day quickly approaches, abiding by the Law of Reflection is one way to increase your level of honesty.


Cure Your Email Headaches!

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Do not hide behind your keyboard to avoid uncomfortable or difficult conversations.

In the spirit of National Honesty Day, let’s be honest. We have all decided to send an email to deal with an uncomfortable or upsetting issue instead of having a direct conversation. Do emails really help resolve issues or confusion more quickly and effectively?

Research shows that 90% of a message’s meaning is conveyed by tone, body language, context and source; not just words. Therefore with email, tensions rise and problems escalate when people hide behind their keyboards to avoid the discomfort of talking directly about issues. This leads to distorted one-way conversations that lack the tone, context and body language that clarify messages in two-way dialogue. Thus, email wars erupt, clutter mailboxes, eat up time and thwart collaboration, morale and productivity.

Email can be a terrific, quick and efficient form of communication, or it can be horrific. It all depends on how it is used. Below are a few tips for how to effectively use email:

Use email for its four main purposes: to communicate information, to receive information, as a form of documentation, and for friendly correspondence.

For example, use email to keep everyone informed of a project’s status, to verify what was discussed in a face-to-face or phone conversation, to ask a quick question, to say hello, and to compliment.

Do not use email to resolve emotional upsets.

In other words, if you are upset with someone or someone is upset with you, do not use email. Call the person or go talk to the person face to face. Given the inherent difficulties with communication via email, it is not a good way to communicate emotions or resolve difficulties.

State the purpose of your email immediately.

By stating the purpose in the subject heading or in the first sentence of your text, you minimize the possibility that the recipient will misinterpret your message or delete it before it is read.

Write email as you would a newspaper article.

The first paragraph should contain the most pertinent information, with details following in subsequent paragraphs. People are busy and need the highlights. They may never finish the email and may miss important information if it is buried in the body of the text. If appropriate, have a quick summary sentence at the end.

If an email volleys more than twice, pick up the phone.

If you email back and forth with someone more than two times about the same issue, it is time to pick up the phone and get clarification. When emails volley back and forth about the same issue, it is often a sign that something else is going on (someone is really upset, doesn’t understand, is being resistant, and so on).

If you don’t want an email published in a newspaper, don’t send it.

You never know what will happen with your email or to whom it will be forwarded once you press send.

This National Honesty Day, choose to use email for the right purposes. If you are upset, confused or have a serious issue to resolve, pick up the phone or walk down the hall and have an honest two-way conversation. Do not use each stroke of the keyboard to brush issues under the rug. Remember, email can be either a terrific or horrific tool. It all depends on how it is used. Be careful!

Keep an eye out for tomorrow’s honest communication tip in honor of National Honesty Day (April 30)!

Did this tip help you? We welcome your feedback at info@stevengaffney.com or 703-241-7796.


How to Deliver Bad News

Steven - 2015 profileBad news about us is better coming from our own mouths than from someone else’s.

As National Honesty Day approaches and you consider your own level of honesty, you might find yourself in the “Truth vs. Lies” trap. This trap leads many to believe that if they simply refrain from lying, they are honest. That’s a great start, but as I’ve said before, honesty goes beyond not telling lies. It also requires us to share ALL details (the good and the bad) and to tackle difficult conversations head-on. These aspects of honesty are particularly challenging when it comes to delivering bad news about ourselves.  

Sharing bad news is part of everyday life. The key is to proactively share such information before the other party discovers it. In the end, people usually find out the truth. Therefore, honest communication is critical to establishing credibility and trust with our customers, potential clients, co-workers and staff, as well as our family and friends. You can tell how open and trustworthy a relationship is by how willing someone is to share things that are difficult but important to hear.

When it’s time to share bad news and difficult information, keep in mind these four techniques for effectively delivering the message:

Deliver it immediately.

Bad news about us is better coming from our own mouths than from someone else’s. If someone else discovers our bad news before we divulge it, it undermines their trust in us, and they may begin to wonder what else we are hiding.

Take 100 percent responsibility for your actions.

Remember, no one makes us do anything. We choose our actions for a variety of reasons. Great leaders and coaches take responsibility for their team’s actions as well as their own. Taking responsibility helps others receive any news favorably. Consider Ronald Reagan. He began slipping in the polls during the Iran-Contra affair until he took full responsibility. After taking responsibility, his popularity rose again.

Get ahead of the curve on bad information.

If the future looks bleak or more bad information is possible, find out as much as you can and share it as quickly as possible before someone else discovers it. Years ago, tainted Tylenol killed people, yet the company survived the crisis in part because company officials quickly and openly shared what they knew with the public.

Take immediate and widespread action to correct the situation.

People feel more secure when they hear and witness someone doing something about the situation. Unfortunately, organizations and individuals often take a reactive wait-and-see approach – only to have the situation worsen. How we respond to mistakes defines us. Consider the Tylenol example again. The company immediately pulled all the potentially deadly products off store shelves. They did not wait to be forced to take action; they proactively told the public what their company was doing to correct the situation and prevent further accidents.

No one likes to share bad information, but doing so honestly is imperative to maintaining the bond of trust. Trust is the foundation of all relationships, and honest communication is the key to developing and building the relationships we desire.

Keep an eye out for tomorrow’s honest communication tip in honor of National Honesty Day (April 30)!

Did this tip help you? We welcome your feedback at info@stevengaffney.com or 703-241-7796.


Want Higher Performing Employees? You Need to Ask These Three Critical Questions

steven-gaffney-newsletterIn working relationships, whether as an employee or a consultant, creating an opportunity for success is key.

Everyone wants their employees to succeed and reach critical objectives but often a crucial step in the feedback process is missed. This misstep can sometimes leave the employee unsure about how to adjust their behavior and the employer unable to effectively measure said change.

In this audio interview, with Kelly Riggs of The Business LockerRoom, Steven shares the three critical questions that must be asked to get honest, practical, measurable advice.

This content is based on his newest book, “Be A Change Champion. Mastering Momentum: 10 Factor’s for Sustaining the Boom and Avoiding the Bust of Change.” It is the only book out there dedicated to sustaining the momentum, motivation, and morale of change- big and small.

Listen In Now, Click the Icon Below

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The Halloween Principle

Are there life principles that you used to live by, but now you don’t? Have you ever allowed someone to spook you to such an extent that you change your behavior? It’s natural to let someone’s bad reaction derail us from doing what we know needs to be done. I encounter this reality so often as I speak with people across the country about communication issues that I have a name for it: The Halloween Principle – because people get spooked, and then they start living according to fear rather than the life principles they believe in.

The sad part is we often do this subconsciously, meaning that we’re unaware of how much a past situation is affecting our present. If left unnoticed and unchecked, our changed behavior could even alter our future.

It often takes someone to point it out before we can say to ourselves, “That is so true. I know what needs to be done and I know certain life principles work, but I’m not living that way.”

To help you see whether you’ve been spooked, let’s look at a few life principles that most people believe in but have trouble living by because the Halloween Principle has taken over.

1. Honesty Is The Best Policy

Most people I meet believe that honesty is the best policy. They may even believe they live by it. But on further examination, they don’t. When they are upset, they stuff what they are thinking and feeling and tell others that things are okay. Or when people ask them for feedback, they spin their answers to sound nice and pleasant out of fear that if they say what they really think, that person will get defensive and react badly.

The result is that people don’t get their issues handled. In our personal lives this can lead to all kinds of trouble. Spouses fall out of love and get divorced. Kids fear telling their parents the truth or just don’t feel comfortable talking, so they stop talking with their parents and get advice and support from peers instead. Good friends get annoyed or angry, drop out of communication, and friendships slip away. When issues aren’t handled in our professional lives, program and project problems can escalate into bigger problems; good employees get fed up and leave, and clients and customers stop hiring us.

Considering all these negative ramifications, why do people continue to withhold, spin, and alter the truth when they know that honesty is integral to fixing problems? After all, someone can’t fix a problem if they don’t know about the problem.

When I ask people why they withhold or spin the truth, they often say, “I used to be more honest and straightforward. But awhile back, I was in a situation and …” And then they proceed to tell me how a boss, a spouse, a co-worker, or a friend got upset when they spoke the truth and took it out on them in one way or another. No wonder people get spooked.

2. The Law of Reflection

The Law of Reflection says that whatever we give out in life, we tend to get back. You may say if another way: what goes around comes around, you reap what you sow, do unto others, but it’s all the Law of Reflection.

Most people know this is a sound principle to live by, but few implement it to its fullest capability. For example, sometimes a person chooses not to give as much as they could because in the past they encountered someone who took and took – and kept on taking until they drained that person dry. So that person allowed someone’s selfishness to stop them from giving their heart and soul to others. In other words, they allowed the person to spook them and started to live by the Halloween Principle.

On further reflection, this person may realize that we all run into selfish people from time to time, even people so selfish that they’ll take advantage of others. But that is no reason to stop living the Law of Reflection – because there are always exceptions to the rule. In general, however, the more we give and help out others – whether that’s our boss, our co-workers, our employees, our spouse, or our friends – the better our life will work.

Choose to Overcome the Spook

No principle will always work out just right. But as a whole, these life principles do work and provide benefits to us and to others. For that reason, we have to stop letting people spook us. We need to make our choices and live by our principles rather than allowing others to derail us and dictate how we’re living.

When we become aware of the Halloween Principle, it gives us the power to choose a different course of action – the one we know is right for us.

Here are a few practical recommendations for disarming the Halloween Principle:

  1. Separate:  When you feel an internal disconnect between the way you want to live and the way you currently are living, try to remember when that disconnect started. Then ask yourself why you’re allowing that situation to continue to affect you. Maybe it is time to separate from the situation by forgiving and letting go. If you can’t let it go yet, implement some practices to work on it. If you are not sure of one, contact us and we can give you some simple recommendations that produce a profound effect.
  2. Counteract:  There are several ways to counteract the Halloween Principle. First, surround yourself with people who have the attributes you want to live by. If you believe that honesty is the best policy, make sure the people around you are willing to tell you the truth. If you want to live by the Law of Reflection, then choose to be around people who try to help out and give value to others. Another important key to counteracting the Halloween Principle is to read books and articles, listen to podcasts and radio broadcasts, and watch DVDs that provide information, advice, and encouragement to live by the principles that are important to you. Remember this: insights can happen in an instant, but sustained change takes effort, reinforcement, and reminders.
  3. Model:  In the future when you encounter someone who spooks you from being yourself, ask yourself whether this is an exception or the new rule. Remind yourself that every life principle has exceptions, but overall, they do work. Choose to live your life principles – modeling them for yourself and others – rather than being controlled by your reaction to an exception. Think about the situation as a valuable reminder of the importance of standing up for what you know is right and taking responsibility for your life.

Who have you allowed to spook you? Have you stopped living by any of your life principles? Now that you are aware of the Halloween Principle, what are you going to do about it?

If you need help or would like more information, please call us or send an e-mail to info@stevengaffney.com


Dan Rivers Radio Show

In recent weeks, I have been invited to do a number of radio interviews. In my latest interview, which is embedded below, I discuss a variety of topics; from the government shutdown, to how to facilitate more honest communication in the workplace, and what leaders can do to move their organizations forward. Enjoy the interview below:

Keep me posted of your feedback.


Five Essential Keys to Rebuilding Trust in Today’s Political Environment

The foundation of all relationships is trust. When trust is lost, it functions like a sinkhole – it takes down everything else with it! In today’s environment, it seems that many of our typical ways of doing business and ways things have been done in the past have been lost. Trust is hard to build and easy to lose. Unfortunately, in today’s political environment, it seems that trust has crumbled and almost been lost entirely.

Congress is at a 5% approval rating which begs the question, “Who are those five percent?” I think that when you ask most Americans, we have lost trust in many of our elected officials and their ability to do the jobs we elected them to do. The good news is that there is a path forward that is applicable not only to our politicians, but to all of us in our everyday lives to help us rebuild trust. The following are five essential keys to rebuilding broken trust:

  1.  We need to constantly be talking to one another. You can’t just have one conversation with someone and expect to have trust; trust is built through multiple conversations. You can’t go to the gym once and expect to be healthy; you need to go multiple times. You also build trust through transparency and by taking with each other, not at each other.
  2. We need to have honest, open communication. The biggest problem when it comes to honesty is not what people do say to each other, but what they don’t say. For example, politicians need to share the actual truth that they are afraid to alienate certain parts of their party. They are scared they will not be re-elected and if they compromise, it will show weakness.  However in reality, the ability to compromise shows strength.
  3. We need to hit “reboot” and begin to discuss what we have in common as the building block to move forward.
  4. We need to create a plan that actually shows we will not find ourselves in our current situation in the future.
  5. We need to make sure that there are consequences to prove our commitment to rebuilding trust. We need to reward the right behaviors, not the wrong ones.

With these five keys, we can take the very difficult situation that our country is currently in and make it a better tomorrow. Hopefully this is a wake-up call for us all to make sure we have elected officials who understand that trust is critical, are willing to do what it takes to keep that trust trust, and have the courage and strength of character to do what’s best for our country. Having worked with many corporations, associations, and government agencies, I have come to realize that no matter how dire certain situations may be, with the right leadership anything can be overcome. The key question is “What are we willing to do about it?”


The Sandcastle Principle

I was jogging back and forth on the hotel’s beach one afternoon in Ixtapa, Mexico, when one of those life insights—an “aha moment”—hit me. Oh, what insights a vacation can bring! As I was running, I noticed some children diligently building an enormous sandcastle with a bit of help from their parents. The children were clearly having great fun. I surmised the whole project had taken hours. Later that day, I returned to the beach to watch the sunset and I realized that the grand sandcastle was gone. No sign of it remained. The tide had washed away all the children’s hard work.

The next day, I went for another run. Again I saw the same children playing in the sand. They were laughing and seemed to be having just as much fun as the day before. There was no mention that their great sandcastle was gone. No tears of sorrow that all their hard work was washed away. No complaining about how life could treat them this way. No moping around or bellyaching about how great yesterday was. Then it dawned on me how these children could teach us all something — a very important life principle. I call it the Sandcastle Principle.

As adults, we work so hard each day, investing our time, effort, and creativity in many projects and priorities — some of which remain and some of which get washed away. But the truth is that what lingers long after the priorities and goals are or are not achieved are the memories we have of our interactions with others. Hence the Sandcastle Principle.

Think about it. In today’s work world, we are seeing that money and employment can come and go. Fortunes may be lost, businesses may be shuttered, but what will never be lost is our legacy and the impressions we leave with others. I’m sure if you thought about it, you could tell me who your best teacher, boss, or mentor was. I am sure you might even be able to tell me who saw things in you that you did not even see in yourself; or you could name someone who gave you a break when no one else would.

For that reason, I have two questions for you: Who are you building sandcastles with? What memories are you creating and what impressions are you leaving behind?

The Shocking Reality

Unfortunately, if we look at our lives and the way we spend our time, most of us would discover that we spend too much of our time with people who waste our time. These people come in many forms. Some are self-righteous and not open to accepting other points of view. Some are pessimists, some are complainers, and some are bellyachers. Some are the people who love to point out why something can’t be done but don’t offer any solutions of what could be done. Some are the ones who ask us for advice but don’t use it. All are Time Wasters.

It is easy to fall prey to these Time Wasters, especially when we enjoy helping people and want to make a difference. But in the end it is always a frustrating and draining experience.

Oddly enough, we often expend a lot of effort on Time Wasters, even to the detriment of the time we spend with people who really nurture, replenish, and enhance our lives—the Life Enhancers. In fact, we often are willing to make withdrawals from the bank of time that we spend with these Life Enhancers and deposit it in the Time Wasters.

To make matters worse, the Time Wasters may leave us so emotionally exhausted that we have less to give of ourselves—less patience, less guidance, less support, and less happiness – to our Life Enhancers. Our exhaustion and frustration with our Time Wasters may even lead us to be short tempered or rude to our friends and loved ones. It’s a trap most of us have fallen into at one time or another.

What an interesting reward system! We reward our time to those who don’t deserve it and take away our time from the people who are worth it. What a shocking reality!

The Great Switch Multiplier

What if we reversed this tendency and took time from the Time Wasters and invested it in the Life Enhancers?

What if we invested that time by focusing on mentoring, coaching, and advising people who want and will do something with our wisdom, advice, and counsel? Besides feeling more gratified and satisfied, we would probably produce more results. Why? Because as the most effective leaders and managers know, if we invest in the Life Enhancers, they will pay it forward.

What we give to them is multiplied because as they grow, they reach out and invest in the lives of other Life Enhancers. An investment in a Life Enhancer is like dropping a pebble in a pond — the ripple expands ever outward. I call this the Great Switch Multiplier.

I consult with numerous organizations, and everywhere I go, effective employees tell me they wish they had more face time with their boss and members of upper management. What is even more striking is how often leaders allow their time to get swallowed up by the Time Wasters. If they would only refocus their time on the Life Enhancers — those who would appreciate and make use of more guidance, coaching, and mentoring — the impact to the organization would be profound.

The Most Important Investment

In these economic times, when investments in the financial markets seem risky and uncertain, there are some surefire investments we can make. We can invest in the Life Enhancers. These are the people you want to build your sandcastles with.

Some things may be lost during this economic downturn, but much of that can be regained. Time, however, is not one of those commodities. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. So invest your time wisely. Here are four immediate actions you can take for profound, long-term impact:

  1. Distance yourself from the Time Wasters.
  2. Share this article with your Life Enhancers.
  3. Thank them for all that they have contributed to you and to your organization.
  4. Let them know that this year they will be your priority.

This is how you can multiply your effect and make a difference in the quality of your life and the lives of others. Implement the Sandcastle Principle and reward your time to the people who are worth your time. Then watch the results multiply in the lives of the people around you.


7 Ingredients for Career Success

When it comes to our career success, we are often not honest with ourselves about reality and what needs to be done to take our career to the next level. After all, we are responsible for our own careers — not our boss, not our co-workers, not the human resources department, and not our significant other. If we are responsible, then we are the ones who are going to have to do something about it. Examine the following seven essential ingredients to career success and honestly rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being the worst and 10 being the best) to see what area you really need to focus on.

1. Know where you want to go.

If you are not sure where you are going, you may drift in a direction that wastes your time and does not bring you the joy and fulfillment you desire.

2. Know where you are.

You must know where you are in order to plan how to get where you want to be. In your assessment, be honest about what you currently think about yourself, the people around you, and your situation.

3. Let the past go.

Stop dragging your failures around every day. Learn from the lessons of the past that will be helpful and move on. Don’t get stuck in the memories of how you were wronged. Give it up and move on. Life has never been fair and will never be fair. Let go of the past and enjoy your life.

4. Focus on what you can control.

Since you can’t control other people, concentrate on what you can control — yourself and your responses. When confronted with a problem, one of the most important questions you can ask yourself is: “What am I willing and going to do about it?” Answering this question will help you focus on what you can do to resolve issues and reach your goals.

5. Be coachable.

Be willing to listen and learn from everyone. For example, when you receive negative feedback, be careful not to shoot the messenger. Resist the temptation to dismiss advice from someone you may not like. Instead, try on the feedback like you would try on a hat and see if it fits. Consider whether there is anything you can take away from the feedback that will be helpful. Often the feedback we get defensive about is the feedback we really need to be listening to.

6. Be committed.

Commitment is about taking action based on what you said you would do, despite how you feel about it at the moment. Be committed to doing whatever you must do to accomplish your goal. What if failing is not an option? If you really want to be committed, tell people you are going to do something and ask them to hold you accountable for doing it.

7. Take action.

Planning is good, but action is the key. This is where the doers separate themselves from the talkers. We’ve all spent time talking about an idea but not acting on it, only to find out later that someone had a similar idea, implemented it, and reaped the rewards. Taking action is essential to accomplishing our goals. Remember, some action is better than no action. If need be, you can change, reverse, or alter your course later. The key is to take at least some action now.

Now that you have rated yourself, pick the lowest score. Share those scores with five people and ask them for their advice. Then choose three specific actions that you will do based on this advice. Ask someone to hold you accountable and then do the things you need to do. For extra motivation (and for accountability reasons) set up a consequence for not following through.

The only person you can control is you. Take full responsibility for your career success. Make things happen and enjoy the ride to the next level of your career. It will take commitment and hard work, but if you are ready, you can climb the ladder of success — however you define it!