The importance of human relationships in the modern world

I spend a large chunk of my daily life attached to technology. I wake up courtesy of the alarm on my phone and as I turn it off I am greeted by the notifications that have reached me overnight. Fantastic, one of my friends on Instagram has posted for the first time in a while. Swipe that notification away. Oh, good, two of my favourite shoe stores have given me a special 15% discount on their fall selection. Delete, delete. I put my phone down and have a fleeting recollection of my clash with a ferocious lion in my dream last night. I try to delve into my memory to find the remnants of my battle, but all I find are two cheap pairs of shoes. Before the day has even begun technology has penetrated its way into my conscious thought. I would imagine that many of you find a similar beginning to the day, perhaps with less lions, but likely with the same bombardment of trivial information.

That’s the cost of living in the modern world. Even if you try to cut down on screen time, most of you will find that your job requires you to spend many hours looking at a screen. Your appointments, communications, and the general organisation of your daily life are likely delegated to you by a small rectangular beacon of information. Technology makes life convenient and efficient. China, through Alibaba innovations, is the poster boy for the integration of technology into everyday life. Alibaba promotions show the ‘ideal’ daily life in which an individual uses their phone for every aspect of their day – getting from place to place with Didi Chuxing, reading news from Youku Tudou, shopping on one of their numerous online marketplaces, and so on. The growth of virtual reality makes this even more invasive. Online stores are being designed to replicate the interior of real stores, giving the feeling of walking around browsing products. Whether this level of assimilation reaches the Western world is yet to be seen, but unless there is significant pushback it appears that the impact of technology on everyday life will continue to grow.

This growing reliance on technology makes real human relationships even more important. Perhaps much of your interaction with a client or work associate happens through text or calls, with a rare face to face meeting along the way. A positive interaction with a client can lead to increased trust and bonding, thus taking the relationship to a new level. A client will often prefer working with an individual with whom they have good rapport, even if that person is less technically adept than the competition. Learning skills to make the most of face to face interactions is therefore paramount in the work climate of today.

Firstly, you should go into business meetings feeling relaxed and confident. In the lead up to a meeting try to remove any expectations that you may have set upon yourself. View every client interaction as an opportunity for success, but placing too much weight on that opportunity can cause anxiety. Nervousness can cause you to speak too quickly, fidget, lose concentration, sweat profusely, and leave an overall impression with the client that you are disorganised or even untrustworthy. You will personally have to test what works to quell your nerves. You could develop a pre-meeting routine that gets you in a confident mindset, or have a few pre-planned questions to fall back on in case you get caught up on your words.

Once in the meeting, begin with a firm handshake, an abundance of eye contact, and an upright body position. Whilst conversing consciously make an effort to slow down your speech to articulate yourself clearly. Mimic the client’s body language and mannerisms to create a subconscious bond. While this may feel wooden at first, these techniques should all become natural with some practice. However, if it continues to feel unnatural, drop it. The most important aspect of your interaction is that you truly listen. You don’t want to miss a subtle change in tone or choice of wording because you were too busy trying to cross your legs at the same time as the client.

Once you have overcome any issues of nervousness and mastered a few key techniques to boost your confidence, interactions should feel more genuine. That is the key to striking a positive business relationship. Yes, a firm handshake and upright body position may subtly influence a client’s opinion of you, but the true success of your meeting will come from human connection. Don’t try to refocus the meeting on business issues if the topic wanders, feel free to talk about fishing or dogs for twenty minutes if that’s where the conversation leads. The true purpose of the meeting should be to feel like you’ve developed a stronger relationship with the individual across the table.

Now that technology has permeated our everyday life, these client interactions have become fewer and farther between. As a result, to be successful in maintaining business relationships, you must nail down the impression you make in these meetings. Ultimately, the impression you give will not come from your body language, level of eye contact, or firmness of handshake, but from the bond you make with another human being.

Dean Franklet is a third year economics and finance student at the University of Canterbury where he is President of the largest commerce society on campus. Spending his life in Texas and then New Zealand with a few other stops along, he gives a unique global viewpoint to portray in his writing.

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The Rise of a Fossil Fuel Backed Cryptocurrency?

One of the most important things to remember about a digital currency is that it is just a way of transferring ownership and assets electronically. In fact, for those who are scrambling to understand both cryptocurrency and blockchain, this idea is the first, and unfortunately all too often, the only port of call. That said, it is a decent place to start.

Cryptocurrency uses a decentralized digital communications “protocol” called blockchain to facilitate value transfer extremely efficiently. As a result, the largest banks and governments are now taking it seriously. There are also multiple ideas being developed about how this technology should be used, and what types of assets can be valued and transferred, which has also attracted the interest of the largest energy companies and telcos.

It was inevitable, then, that someone would come up with a way to align the world’s existing fossil fuel reserves with a form of cryptocurrency, enabling a new form of digital currency backed by energy as collateral, rather than gold or any other kind of asset.

In today’s global economy, the US dollar acts as a global currency because that is what barrels of oil are priced in and have been since 1971. It is also why some OPEC states, such as Venezuela, have tried to change the “oil-currency” from dollars to euros. The impact of the current setup is that U.S. monetary policy can have a huge influence on the rest of the world.

This is no doubt one of the reasons, beyond the implications of Brexit and England’s search for a new place in the world, that inspired the London-based entrepreneurs behind Bilur, and helped them attract funding.

Bilur, as described in industry press in early May, is a “new Ethereum-based cryptocurrency that wants to compete with Bitcoin.”

According to founder Ignacio Ozcariz, the CEO of RFinTech, the company behind Bilur, he hopes to create an oil-based cryptocurrency. In his words “[c]rude oil and its derivatives … have been running [the world] during the last wave of the industrial revolution. All of them are primarily energy vectors that, jointly, with the flow of energy in the form of electricity, have driven the unstoppable 20th-century technological revolution. So why not consider energy as the new monetary standard, as it is the base for the technological world.”

This is already a key issue at the heart of existing cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum. Many people support the use and development of these cryptocurrencies because they are theoretically beyond the control of government. In order to control a cryptocurrency, a government would need to invest substantial energy, time, money and programmers in order to fundamentally change the rules of the system. And this illustrates the key issue clearly. Cryptocurrency and blockchain cannot be divorced from a concept of energy as currency. It takes energy to allow the computations to occur. This system cost is then priced into all cyber currency transactions. It is like a minimal processing fee, or ATM charge, for accessing the system.

Energy backed cryptocurrency is entering a new phase because of the debate about global warming. Bilur’s value is tied to oil, but solar is already a considerable player in many parts of the world. That includes in OPEC countries that are struggling to wean their economies off fossil fuel (starting with Saudi Arabia). It also includes India, China and Germany. Connected to blockchain technology, solar energy can be monetized efficiently. This is a field that is taking off, particularly in Europe and China. As a result, a solar-backed cryptocurrency would make a lot of sense. Rather than selling “carbon credits” to allow firms to emit pollution, a “clean currency” might be a better solution for both consumers and investors.

What Does This All Mean?

Regardless of the feasibility of a fossil-fuel backed or gold backed cyber currency (there is a high profile effort afoot in the UK to create a gold-backed UK Royal Mind Gold token), these examples illustrate one thing: cryptocurrency creates a new platform for the next phase of value exchange in a tech-driven globally-connected world.

The ability to generate, transfer, swap and monetize “energy” will be very valuable in the world we are entering. This is also known loosely as the “shared” or “peer-to-peer” economy. There will be multiple attempts to create new currencies. There already have been. Many of those new cryptocurrencies will be backed by an asset in the real world in order to give them a tangible value. However, as with Bilur, the idea that such endeavours are based on ether serves to put a dollar value on “energy/computing time” already. This is because most holders of ether buy them in dollars, and energy or calculated computations of machine time are the basis for Ethereum in the first place.

It is easy to understand why this will be so important. Blockchain connected devices are powered by energy. That energy has to be paid for, and calculating what that energy is worth is going to be the first, most basic discussion. Why? Well, you cannot hook up a block of gold or a barrel of oil to a digital network and get it to work. You can, however, hook up an electric car, washing machine, mobile phone, or solar charging device.

With shifting global currents, unstable national governments, and economic flows of capital between different parts of an increasingly globalised world, it is clear that initiatives to create a new global currency (or several of them) will continue to attract attention, and venture funding.

Here is what investors, market commentators and regulators need to remember. The value of Bilur is tied to oil. Despite Trump’s call to return to a world driven by fossil fuel, however, energy markets and cryptocurrencies based on them are meeting a new age. Questions about valuation and worth of assets – taking into account negative externalities like carbon emissions and the energy cost of accessing the system with them – will dominate market formation, rules and the digital networks upon which all will depend.

Marguerite Arnold is the founder of MedPayRx, a blockchain healthcare startup in Frankfurt. She is also an author, journalist and has just obtained her EMBA from the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management.

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How to build your emotional intelligence and look out for those around you

There are few responsibilities we have at work that won’t be handed over to computers and automatons in the decades to come, but one skill that will never be fully devolved to the robots is emotional intelligence.

Every encounter you have at work is defined by the emotional intelligence of those involved. Even when you work by yourself, the way you respond to challenges and set-backs is defined by your so-called ‘EQ’.

So while Silicon Valley boffins work away at ‘affective computing’, a form of artificial intelligence that will augment our own use of empathy, insight, and self-control. Ultimately, you remain responsible for your own interpersonal relationships and how you manage your emotions.

If it’s an area of your game – and, indeed, your very existence – that you’ve neglected, it could be time to pay a little closer attention to your emotional intelligence. Maintaining high levels of EQ can help make your workplace a more pleasant, creative, productive place to be, as well as reducing your personal stress levels and enabling you to identify, work towards, and achieve your fundamental ambitions.

Get to know your own emotional universe a little better, and you will come to understand how those around you function, too. Hold regular meetings with yourself, and take good minutes. Ask yourself not how you’ve performed today, but how you’ve felt, and how you’ve reacted to issues that have arisen. If your instinct has been to hide from, shout at, or bury problems as they’ve emerged, you can probably consider yourself in need of a thorough emotional overhaul.

Find a quiet moment and a pencil and paper and try to trace back your flawed reactions to their basic underlying causes. Did you hide because you feel inadequate? Shout because you felt out of control? Bury a task because you felt swamped by your workload? The good news is: these are symptoms of underlying problems that can be addressed in positive ways.

Feelings of inadequacy cause some of the worst reactions in human beings. We lash out or hide away because we’re afraid of being found out. But these are not solutions that will help next time those feelings rear their ugly head.

Instead, use feelings of inadequacy as an opportunity to address potential areas of improvement. Turn a task that frightens you into a learning experience, or into a chance to collaborate with a like-minded soul. Figure out how you can turn mistakes or weaknesses into strengths – for example, by using gaps in your understanding as a prompt to ask ‘childlike’ questions about the way that things are done, and to expose potential areas of improvement.

When you know yourself better, and feel more confident dealing with your emotions, you will be better equipped to understand and facilitate the emotions of others. When you deal with a colleague or customer who responds in a way you didn’t expect, try to put yourself in their shoes. What have they already been through today? How has your part in the interaction derailed their expectations? Are they acting in a way that suggests they could be feeling stressed, out of their depth, betrayed?

When this is the case, it is time to look both ways. Help your colleague along with similar EQ tools to those that you’ve been developing. If your employee feels inadequate, turn their tough task into a training opportunity. If they’re red in the face and ready to explode, suggest everyone takes a deep breath and counts to ten. And look at yourself: have you said something aggressive or defensive to provoke them because of your own emotional state?

Well, the computers have got it easy compared to us. But actually, a few mindfulness techniques and a concerted effort to take the time to improve your levels of empathy and self-knowledge, can put you in control sooner than you’d think. Check out this new visual guide for some great ideas on how to do so.

G. John Cole is a digital nomad and freelance writer. Specialising in leadership, digital media and personal growth, his passions include world cinema and biscuits. A native Englishman, he is always on the move, but can most commonly be spotted in Norway, the UK and the Balkans.

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Mastering Your Career: The Right Postgrad to Pursue

Everyone knows what an MBA is, but if you’re living outside Europe, the MiM, or Master’s in Management, may have passed under your radar. Nonetheless, whether you’re looking to change your career or kick-start it, a Master’s program is worth looking into, and in the world of business, the MBA and the MiM are the top contenders.

So which one is right for you?

The first step is to be honest with yourself. Unlike most other Master’s programs, the Masters’ in Business Administration and in Management are not mainly academic, but rather a ticket into a “members only” club with equally ambitious and accomplished individuals that can help make or break your career. It is hence extremely important that you pick the right club for yourself.

Length and goals

The MiM can more or less be considered a mini-version of the MBA. The duration of MiM programs averages out at less than a year, while MBAs will take anywhere between 1 and 2 years, which will allow enough time for an internship in case you are looking to experiment with different roles. More importantly, the MiM caters to recent graduates who either haven’t entered the workforce yet or have worked less than a certain period. As a result, the MiM is obviously less specialised and more theoretical than the MBA, where there is usually a minimum experience requirement, giving you the opportunity to share experiences and insights with people more advanced in their respective careers and apply what you already know to cases and real-life scenarios. That said, the MiM does bear the added benefit of allowing those without business-related backgrounds, i.e. athletes, arts majors, scientists, etc. to break into more “business-oriented” roles by offering a well-rounded foundation of basic concepts and theories to help you get started.

With this in mind and before you go any further, stop and ask yourself: where am I in my career? Would you qualify for an MBA? More specifically, would you contribute and benefit more from building a foundation of business concepts, or from being thrown straight into the water to discuss them?

Outcomes

Being a shorter and more recently introduced program, the MiM almost always costs less than an MBA within the same school. As a natural result, it will often be the case that an MBA grad will be compensated much more generously for their subsequent role. Similarly, MiMs will usually have an entry level or graduate role after they graduate, rather than a managerial role as the name of the program might imply.

Where to do it?

Going back to our first point – that is, MBAs and MiMs are more social than academic – it goes without saying that the choice of business school to attend is much more crucial than the program you decide to enrol in. You might find that you qualify for MBAs at hundreds of good schools, but only a MiM at the top-ranked one you want, and the best decision for your professional future might be to go for the less senior program at the more prestigious school. A lot of the importance and status of your degree will come from getting into a top school rather than what you did there, so the name of the university will make all the difference in the world. Your degree will represent a stamp of approval on your CV, increasing your employability and potential salary. The bigger the school, the bigger the stamp.

However, this isn’t the only reason it’s important to put a lot of thought into the school you attend. Effectively, both of the programs we are discussing are more about the people than anything else, and the choice of school is the choice of people to spend the next one to two years with, to refer and be referred by, to be inspired by, to start ventures with, and even to go sailing with, which means it will have a greater impact on the kind of experience you will have. Whether you decide on a MiM or an MBA, you will have access to the same student body at the same time, and to the same network of alumni later, so similarly to our previous point, you might have gotten into two top schools, but you might want to go for the school with a slightly lower ranking, but a reputation for a great culture which will increase the odds of your time there being enjoyable and of being a beneficial investment in the long run.

It is then clear that there are a lot of factors to consider before making a decision; Do you have the necessary work experience? Can you afford it? Will the name of the school help you progress faster and get more interviews when you start looking for a job? The list goes on, but the best way to help yourself decide is to figure out your strategy. Where do you want to go? Will a business-related master’s degree be helpful at all in getting you there? Which one would get you closer? And keep in mind that, yes, these programs are intended to help you change your career or progress more quickly, but there is more out there and if they are not perfect for you, there are countless more or less technical programs to choose from, and which will only make you stand out more.

Sarah Yakzan is a Master’s in Management candidate at London Business School. Before moving to London, she got a BA in English Literature from the American University of Beirut, and worked for a year as Marketing and PR manager, External Relations Coordinator, and Blogger. She will start her next role at Facebook in August.

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How to give negative feedback to your employees

Positivity has become something of a cult the past few years. Like political correctness and the ‘#gratitude’ craze, it comes from a good place – but is meaningless if performed by rote, rather than discovered through respect and mindfulness.

Negativity is by no means a healthy attitude, but point-by-point identifying of negative trends within an atmosphere of constructive support can help to identify means of improvement that might be overlooked by those wary to dwell on failure or mistakes. If you have an employee who is underperforming or plain out of line, restricting yourself to positive discourse can severely limit your ability to address and rectify the problem. But how can you deliver negative feedback without overstepping the mark?

You can take some of the burden off your shoulders by opening a feedback session with a period of self-review. Giving your employee a voice will make them less likely to feel victimized by the remainder of the session. They may already be aware of the issue you want to confront, or they may unearth the issue or the reasons behind it when given free reign to talk about their performance. Heck, they might even confess to something you hadn’t picked up on!

It’s likely their self-review will not be in sync with your own opinion, but listen to their side of the story, and use questions rather than statements to try to get a better understanding where they’re coming from. Be prepared to change your opinion or your plan of action in response to what you learn. Hopefully, your air of dignified humility will rub off on your troubled colleague.

That said, you should enter the room with a plan – even if it might end up changing. Have specific examples of their mistakes available, and relate them to concrete work issues and statistics rather than on personality traits. Don’t fall back on the classic positive-negative-positive pattern unless you really have something positive to say. The idea of sandwiching negative feedback between positive comments is well-known today, and you will lose trust if you are not completely sincere in all your points.

Finish up your feedback with some direct modes of action. Targets, behaviors and techniques are all more powerful – and trackable – than “be better” or “work harder”. And before you go, ask for feedback on your feedback. Make sure that the reasons for your criticism have been understood, that your employee knows the path forward, and that they think you’ve been fair. This way you can leave them feeling empowered, make sure you’re not missing anything, and build on your feedback technique for next time.

These approaches are all most effective in a workplace that has a healthy feedback culture. Holding regular review sessions is a great way to check in with your staff and keep the dialogue open. If they understand that negative – but constructive – feedback is part and parcel of the workplace, and they are accustomed to giving and receiving it, the process will be much smoother when a serious problem arises.

Your first such meeting can be dedicated to sharing the art of feedback. In a healthy company, not only is nobody afraid to speak up, but each employee recognizes the value of their ideas and opinions on everyone else and the business as a whole. It can take a while for this atmosphere to flourish, so don’t rush it – start slowly, and build the process over the first few weeks. Hopefully your crew will come to value the empowerment that comes with shared responsibility, and to feel accountable to the team and not just the boss. Let them know the rules and make sure it’s a safe place for people to be honest about negative trends or incidents from which the group can learn. Arguments might occur, especially at first, but these can be healthy too – rather than stamping them out, try instead to arbitrate and help your colleagues to figure things out between them. This can truly strengthen your squad.

This new guide provides clear steps to establishing that culture of feedback, and ideas on how to handle those difficult moments when backhanded compliments are no longer cutting it and negative feedback is called for. Learn these ideas well, and your experience of negative feedback is likely to produce positive results.

G. John Cole is a digital nomad and freelance writer. Specialising in leadership, digital media and personal growth, his passions include world cinema and biscuits. A native Englishman, he is always on the move, but can most commonly be spotted in Norway, the UK and the Balkans.

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