Professional Development Programs

Instructor Tips


Instructor Tip:  Mindfulness at Work

Mary DoyleBy USM Professional Development Instructor Mary Doyle

Do you ever feel that your “to do list” just keeps getting longer and longer with nothing ever completed?  Do you find yourself distracted by thinking about all the things you need to do rather than being focused on the task at hand? Training your brain to be mindful can help you be more productive, spend less time jumping from task to task, and end your day being calm and collected. 

Here a few things you can do through out the day to begin being more mindful. Take short breaks throughout the day and focus for one to three minutes on the feeling of your breath, the actual sensations of your inhalation and exhalation.  This simple exercise will help you feel calm, less rushed and overburdened.   Get up from your desk and slowly walk down the hall paying attention only to how each foot feels touching the ground.   Try doing one simple activity without multitasking such as listening attentively to someone on the phone without looking at your computer screen or thinking about what you have to do next.   To learn more mindfulness strategies that will inspire you, and help you be more focused and productive at work, sign up for our new Fall workshop, Mindful Leadership.

Mary Doyle, M.A.,  Mary’s diverse background includes organizational development, project management, sales training, strategic planning and coaching senior level executives in corporations, health care settings and non-profit organizations.  Her day to day experience as a manager in a large health care organization, motivating, and helping employees reach their potential combined with her extensive background as a group facilitator enables  her to create a dynamic learning experience. Mary earned her B.S. degree from the University of Maine, and her M.A. in Training and Organizational Development from Emerson College.  She is also a 2010 graduate of the Hanley Leadership and Institute for Civic Leadership, Development program. 

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Instructor Tip:  4 Supervisor Strategies for Dealing with Negative & Disgruntled Employees

Suzi BenoitBy USM Professional Development Instructor Suzi Benoit

Employers are beginning to understand the overall cost of difficult, toxic or disgruntled employees.  Here’s a seemingly straightforward question – If an employee isn’t happy, why don’t they just leave? The problem with the question is that it implies that the disgruntled employee could be happy in the right environment. The answer may be that some folks are most comfortable working where they are free to nitpick and complain. Perhaps they are just negative people. Maybe they are afraid to be held accountable so they talk about all the ways in which their job is too difficult or even impossible to perform successfully.

This negative view can catch on with other employees. Eventually, even motivated workers may believe that the work is impossible to do successfully. Just how negative things may get depends upon the supervisor’s skill and work approach. Is the supervisor confident and skilled in verbal confrontation when the disgruntled employee brings their fatalistic view to the staff meeting? Does the supervisor have the skill to set boundaries on negative, de-motivating language this employee uses to discourage co-workers? It’s the supervisor’s job to engage all the employees in their group. You don’t have to live with these folks. Here are four strategies you can use together as a comprehensive approach.

  • Know your employee group – some of your employees are aligned with you, some are not. It pays to cultivate strong relationships with as many employees in your group as you can. But, there are some that resist authority or who just don’t like you. Be realistic and control certain behaviors that get the group off track.
  • Use your verbal skills – you should practice professional but firm responses to negative comments in more public venues. Leaving negative comments unaddressed in staff meetings gives the impression that negative and disrespectful talk is okay. There are ways to talk about how these comments do not help everyone to perform well.
  • Address complaints head on – when an employee complains a lot there is a tendency to ignore what they say. The problem is that there can be a grain of truth or legitimate complaints contained in what seems like whining. Parse out the content that you can do something about and then let the employee know that it’s resolved and the complaining needs to stop.
  • Termination – there are some employees that will continue the negative or unprofessional harping no matter how you warn them or how much you talk about their negative impact on others. Maine is an at-will state so as long as your process is clean, clear and free of bias against protected classes, the termination can be well-founded.

Suzi Benoit, LCSW, SPHR, teaches workshops within the USM Professional Development Program’s Human Resource Management course category. Upcoming Course:

Suzanne Benoit, LCSW, SPHR is author, speaker and consultant. Ms. Benoit is a human resource consultant working with companies and HR professionals; developing tools and solutions to a wide variety of employee relations problems. Strategic planning and workplace quality are specialty areas. She has a varied background in a family business, large for-profit corporation and small business. She is often called in to help shift workplace atmosphere to a healthier standard. Doing business as Benoit Consulting, Ms. Benoit develops strategies that approach a healthy workplace from the point of view of owners, customers AND employees. Striving for excellence means a no-compromise posture on workplace abuse and intimidation and creating supporting structures that reward candor, respect and accountability. Her recently released book on Toxic Employees describes how negative dynamics develop and how they can be shifted toward the positive with a strategic approach. She writes about these and other HR topics at and speaks to a wide variety of business groups offering quality technical info with humor and an interactive style. Ms. Benoit can be reached at Learn more at

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Instructor Tip: Jack Smith
Grant Writers Need to Track Social Trends

Grant writers need to track social trends. These are some of the top websites I used to monitor major social trends to stimulate grant ideas that can be converted into social programs.

  • The Ted talk series consists of many dynamic and thought-provoking presentations that examine trends and solutions to social problems. 
  • Wired provides a futuristic view of the world. If you really want to understand future social trends, sign up for the daily newsletter.
  • Practical social activism and the concept of a shareable economy. This is a major social trend.
  • American Demographics is now part of Advertising Age Useful source for understanding demographic trends.
  • Chronicle of Philanthropy is like the New York Times of the nonprofit world. Contains info from leading foundations, development directors job advertisements and political issues facing the nonprofit sector. The site also contains an extensive database of foundations. 
  • NonProfit Times is more provocative than the Chronicle Philanthropy, geared more to nonprofit managers.

Jack SmithJack Smith, USM Professional Development Grant Writing Certificate Program Instructor. Learn more about this certificate program.

The Smith Group is a consulting practice specializing in training and consulting services to public agencies primarily in the areas of program development, grant management and organizational development. Clients include large and small nonprofits, professional firms and government agencies. The Smith Group is based in Houston, TX and has been in business for over 25 years. Jack Smith is the principal consultant. Learn more about The Smith Group. Learn more about Jack Smith.

The Smith Group /
404-888-9994 /

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Instructor Tip: Janet Edmunson, M.Ed.
5 Steps to Positivity

Janet EdmunsonEven a pessimist can find optimism.

Optimism is important for us all, as it can help us live longer. Ed  Diener and Micaela Chan found in looking at multiple studies that an optimistic outlook can add between four to 10 extra years of life, impacting cardiovascular disease, flu and cancer.     

We all can become more positive.  A study by Sonia Lyubomirsky and colleagues showed that only 10 percent of our total happiness is predicted by external circumstances—like the death of a loved one, divorce, illness, or a financial crisis.  So where is the other 90 percent?  Fifty percent comes from what we inherit.  That’s our baseline.  We can’t change that.  Some of us are just more optimistic while others are more pessimistic.  But that leaves 40 percent in which we can control.  

Positive and negative emotions are at work within us—all the time. Sometimes the negative ones win out.  Research from Barbara Fredrickson reveals that we have a tipping point—with negativity on one side and positivity on the other.  To get emotional balance, we need at least three positives for every negative.   The good news is that we can use specific techniques to proactively add more positives into our life. Below are five ways to do that.

Ask “What went well today?”
This is so simple, but so powerful.  All we do at the end of the day, and it doesn’t have to be every day, is ask “What went well today?”  Then dig deep to think of at least three things.   Did we get to hold our new granddaughter?  Did we have a good conversation with our significant other?  If it’s been an especially bad day, one of our “what went well’s” might be as simple as enjoying the bowl of ice cream we had.  Know that there are some positives in bad days just like there are some negatives in good days.  This exercise becomes even more powerful as we look for positives during the day, as they are happening. 

Find meaning
My late husband, Charles, who was a compassionate leader in his company, was haunted by the old 60’s song sung by The Vogues.  “It’s a five o’clock world when the whistle blows, no one owns a piece of my time.”  Charles was concerned that too many people were selling their lives away for a paycheck and didn’t find meaning in their jobs.  He understood that when we are engaged and feel purpose in our job, life becomes more fulfilling.   

One way to find what is meaningful is to answer this question “When have I been energized at work or in my life?”  If we are aware of what is energizing to us, we can bring the conditions for that about more frequently.   

Discover and apply strengths
Whenever we use your strengths—doing what we do best—we get a blast of positivity and become happier and less depressed.  Strengths include our talents, interests, skills or character (i.e. “This is the real me.”)

We can discover our strengths by taking a free online (for women) and (to discover character strengths).  Or just ask someone close to us what they think our strengths are.  Learning about our strengths makes us feel good.  Applying them in a new way can make us feel even better. 

Enjoy our passion
We lead busy lives so our passions often take a back seat.  But that ruins an opportunity for positivity.  Passions are an expression of who we are.  If we aren’t engaging in them, we are neglecting part of our identity.  Passions can be all kinds of activities—exercise, music, art, dance, and hobbies.  Rousseau and Vallerand found that participating in our passion predicted life satisfaction, meaning in life, and vitality, while also minimizing anxiety and depression. Now’s the time to pick that instrument back up or grab the paint brush.

Stay connected
Connecting with others may be the most important way to bring positivity into our life.  It’s wired into our biology—shooting out pleasure-inducing hormones when we make a positive social connection.  Social connectedness is the only thing that the happiest ten percent of people have in common, according to researcher Ed Deiner.  Social bonds not only predict happiness, but also career achievement, occupational success, and income according to a Harvard study by Vailant.  So let’s pick up the phone and call an old friend, or make plans to go to dinner with others. 

--Janet Edmunson, M.Ed., President of JME Insights, speaker and author of Finding Meaning with Charles.  To book Janet to speak at your next event, visit her website at

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Instructor Tip: Robert Kenney, Ph.D
Managing Individual Commitment to Change, Step-By-Step

Bob KenneyWhen implementing either small- or larger-scale change, managers focus much of their attention on creating the best strategic and tactical plans.  However, for these plans to work, managers also need to understand the human side of change management.   Managers need to consider how employees will react, how to get their teams to work together, and how to lead their people.  “People issues” can be handled best when managers take a proactive approach through one-on-one conversations with their staff, since success rests at the level of the individual employee.   Among the employees, new leaders will emerge, new skills and capabilities will be required, and many will respond with confusion and resistance.   The following step-by-step suggestions can give managers the guidance that they need to facilitate these conversations, as a crucial part of the change process:

Step 1.  Describe the reason for the change, as well as the specific changes that will occur, at both the organizational and individual levels.  The employee needs to be able to answer the question, “How will this affect me?”  Be sure to communicate the logic & reasoning behind the change and include very specific information about how the employee will be involved and affected.   Finally, be sure to present both the negatives & the positives associated with the change.  Not only will this show the employee that you are being honest, but it will give him/her the opportunity to see the change from both sides and with a more thorough understanding.  Starting the conversation this way can help reduce uncertainty and distrust and will set the tone for the remainder of your discussion.

Step 2.  Get the employee’s reactions.  Practice great active listening skills, in an effort to understand how the employee sees the change.  Acknowledge negative reactions and try to understand why s/he is reacting negatively.   Let the employee know both the givens and the areas where flexibility exists.  This allows the employee to get all the information s/he needs to make sense of what you just communicated and also the employee to feel more involved.   It creates an atmosphere of openness and it may give you access to important information about which you may not be aware.

Step 3.  Clear up any misunderstandings, answer any questions, and acknowledge any objections.   Provide direct answers to employee questions, as well as more detailed or complete information, if the employee indicates that your first message was lacking.  Do not forget the givens.  And, if you don’t know how to answer a question, admit it and promise to find the answer.  Then do it.  You response sets the stage for the communication being seen as an exchange of information, and it gives the employee the accurate & complete information s/he needs to constructively deal with change.

Step 4.  Ask the employee for ideas that might help the change occur more smoothly.  Ask the employee for his/her ideas on how to help the change occur more smoothly for him/herself and perhaps for others.  Consider developing an implementation plan.  Or, if a plan exists, ask the employee what might be added to it to make it stronger.  This part of the conversation gets the employee thinking about what s/he can do to help the change work and may uncover critical solutions that only the employee, on the frontline, would know.

Step 5.  Ask the employee for his/her support for and commitment to the change.  Consider asking for commitment at this point, rather than demanding it.  “Can I count on your help?”  Do not get defensive!  Having completed the earlier steps makes this much easier to accomplish.  This step acknowledges that strong relationships involve give and take.

Step 6.  Finally follow through by monitoring the plan and reinforcing any progress as it occurs. Use status reports and feedback, as well as appreciation and encouragement.  Do not forget that monitoring the progress also may have to involve assessing the stress and anxiety experienced.  By all means, you must lead by example.  This helps to ensure that you and the employee follows  through and solves additional problems as they occur, including new or greater fears that may surface as the change gets under way.

Robert Kenney, Ph.D., is president of a training firm based in Lynchburg, Va. Bob delivers workshops through numerous centers for continuing and executive education at major universities such as Duke University, and the Universities of Virginia, North Carolina, and Pittsburgh.

Robert Kenny teaches USM workshops in Change Management, Exceptional Customer Service, Constructive Conflict Resolution, Making Change Work, Leading Through Influence and more.

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Instructor Tip: Sue Knapp
Lean Six Sigma Tips for Your Job

Sue KnappLean Six Sigma includes strategies and tools for making business processes more productive. The key objective of Six Sigma is to focus on process improvements to reduce errors. Lean focuses on accelerating the speed of processes and reducing waste. The combined use of Lean and Six Sigma principles and tools can result in dramatic improvements in speed, quality and profitability. 

Here are some tips that are based on Lean Six Sigma tools that you can easily apply to your job.

  1. Work “on” your department or business rather than “in” it. You have probably gone into a business (such as a store) and quickly observed what the business could do to better serve the customer and improve their processes. You might have wondered why they have not thought about making these improvements. Most likely it is because they have been so busy working “in” their business, that they have not stepped back and gained perspective of what might make things better. Try to gain perspective on the processes in your organization by stepping back and looking at the processes from the customer’s view.
  2. Do a thorough analysis of your customers. Divide your customers into segments so that you can analyze what is important to them.  A useful tool is the Kano Analysis which involves looking at each customer segment from three categories. The first category consists of basic needs which are generally “unspoken.” An example would be when staying at a hotel, customers assume their rooms are going to be clean. If these basic needs are not met, customers will be extremely dissatisfied. The second category consists of satisfiers which are the characteristics that increase or decrease satisfaction, such as cost, ease of use, speed. These needs are typically “spoken.” In the hotel example, satisfiers could be Internet access, a room away from the elevators, or a special rate.  The third category consists of delighters which are generally unspoken and involve the unexpected features that “delight” customers. With the hotel example, a delighter might be an upgrade to a suite.
  3. Gain more value from your processes and for your customers by eliminating waste from a process. Wastes can exist in eight areas including waiting, overproduction, rework, motion, transportation, processing, inventory and intellect. An excellent tool for identifying waste is a process map where each step is clearly identified and analyzed.
  4. Errorproof your processes. Errors are those unintentional mistakes that can be difficult to control. Errorproofing is designed to prevent, correct, or draw attention to errors as they occur. One example would be prior to having surgery, having patients mark the part of the body where surgery is to be performed. Useful errorproofing techniques include making it impossible or harder to create the error or to build in a method for making it obvious for when the error has occurred. Another possibility is to make the system robust, so it can tolerate the error.

Susan Knapp, Ph. D., has over 25 years of experience as a manager and trainer and has been a consultant to Fortune 500 companies, universities, government agencies, hospitals and the United States Air Force. She received her Six Sigma Black Belt training through Acuity and the Ohio State University. 

Sue Knap teaches within USM’s Lean Six Sigma Green Belt and Lean Six Sigma Black Belt Certificate Programs. 

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Instructor Tip: Peggy Page
Think Like a Designer

Instructor, Training & Development Certificate Program

Peggy PageAs the manager of people who create training classes and materials for a living, I often exhort them to “think like a designer”. In fact, this is an incredibly useful mindset no matter what you are creating – or what problem you are trying to solve. But exactly what is design thinking, and how can it help you?

Let’s start by defining what we mean by “design”. It’s common to think of design as simply what something looks like, and even experienced instructional designers can get too hung up on graphics, color schemes and fonts. But think of how an automotive engineer designs a car; sure, it has to look great in order to attract customers, but it also has to run well, conform to safety and environmental requirements, be reasonably economical to build while still returning a profit to the manufacturer, meet the expectations of corporate executives and so on. Design thinking helps that engineer think through all of the constraints and requirements that shape the end product, right up front.

Design thinking combines practicality with creativity to solve a problem. It embraces the constraints on the solution, using those limits to drive creativity. Suppose you’re asked to solve a problem at work – employees are making lots of mistakes using a new software system, and your management team thinks training is the answer. It’s easy to jump to solutions (and isn’t better training always the solution?), but design thinking makes us think more deeply when presented with a problem. In this case, there’s a limited budget, your employees are scattered all over New England, and no one has the time or inclination to drive to a class. Time for some creative thinking, and it’s important to suspend that insistent habit we all seem to have these fast-paced days of getting right down to fixing a problem before we really understand it. In these early stages, design thinkers suspend judgment, gather more information from people with a variety of perspectives, think of the problem from every possible angle, brainstorm lots of possible solutions before narrowing it down to a few prototypes. This kind of upfront thinking is often skipped because it seems to take so long. Who has time for the right solution when a quick solution is needed? But once you’ve acquired the habit of design thinking, you can accomplish these steps quickly and efficiently.

Here are some tricks to help you “think like a designer”:

  1. Embrace constraints – There are always limits within which we have to solve a problem. Look for them, embrace them, use them to spur your creativity!
  2. Suspend judgment – Try to keep your mind open to really understanding the problem before you leap to solutions. Brainstorm with others, seek a variety of perspectives, and generate lots of ideas before narrowing it down to one that really fits the situation.
  3. Keep your hands off the keyboard – Great designers use old technology like pencils and the backs of napkins in the early stages of design. For most of us, using the computer makes thinks too concrete too soon.
  4. Know your end user – Who is going to use the solution you create? Whether you are creating training materials or kitchen cabinets, it’s the end user who will really decide if your solution works!

Above all, design thinking is holistic. It begins and ends with the big picture; it asks “What problem needs to be solved here?” and “Will this proposed solution in fact address all of the issues, keeping in mind constraints and context?” It strives never to ignore the obstacles, but to account for them.

And finally, design thinking encourages practicality, not perfection. It acknowledges that there are many routes to a solution, none ordained as the perfect and only ones possible. Design thinkers work at it until it works. As Edison said when it famously took him so many attempts to invent the electric light bulb, ““I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”

That’s design thinking!

- Peggy Page teaches Best Practices in Online Instruction and Designing for Effective Learning.

Peggy Page has over thirty years of management experience in several industries, with the last ten years focused on managing the learning function and learning design. A Past President on the Maine Chapter of ASTD, Peggy also presents on training design and eLearning at the national ASTD TechKnowledge Conference. In her current role, Peggy manages the training design team at TD Bank, where eLearning and the virtual classroom play a central role in educating a geographically dispersed and growing employee population.

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Instructor Tip: Kristine Avery, SPHR
Contemplating HR Certification? 10 Steps to consider

Krisatine Avery

Achieving the SPHR (Senior Professional in Human Resources) or PHR (Professional in Human Resources) certification is quite an accomplishment, and the long-term career benefits of becoming HR certified far outweigh the effort necessary to prepare for the exam.  If you’re contemplating whether you should sit for the exam, consider these 10 steps.

10. Confirm exam eligibility
The first thing to do is to check on your eligibility to take the exam. Visit to determine how your education and years of experience factor into the eligibility requirements.

9. Validate your knowledge
The exam is based on a comprehensive body of knowledge for 6 areas: Business Management & Strategy; Workforce Planning and Employment; Human Resource Development; Compensation and Benefits; Employee and Labor Relations; and Risk Management. The exam consists of 175 multiple choice questions taken from the body of knowledge.

8. Learn what's new with HR trends, best practices and regulatory compliance
The study materials provide you with practical information which you can apply to your job about Industry trends, best practices and legislative information to help you be compliant with new regulations. Not only do you learn to prepare for the exam, you learn about how to improve your HR practices on the job.

7. Network with other HR professionals
HR Professionals are people-people and like to gather for professional development, networking and to earn recertification credits. Take advantage of knowledge sharing and learning best practices by participating in SHRM events, such as chapter meetings and conferences.

6. Self study and group learning go hand in hand
I recommend preparing for the exam through self study and through the classroom setting because both methodologies are beneficial. During the self study portion, students read, take quizzes, study flashcards, listen to audio-casts and complete online practice tests. In the classroom environment, students ask questions, participate in discussions, and learn through the instructor's presentation. The SHRM Learning System, along with the HR Certification Guide, are quality study materials.

5. Obtain tools and resources for your job
If you work in the HR field, you need to be resourceful. You will have access to valuable resources in your study materials as you prepare for the exam. Additionally, you will learn where to find resources to help you in your HR role and obtain new tools for your HR toolkit.

4. Manage Exam Stress with Preparation
Being well prepared is the best way to reduce exam jitters. So committing to a formal study plan is critical when preparing to take the HR certification exam. Visit the testing center to preview the site before your exam date. It helps to eliminate apprehensions, and you will know the travel route too. Finally, remember that the correct answer is provided to you in the multiple choice answer selections. It is a matter of you understanding the information to select the best answer.

3. Become more marketable
Earning the HR certification proves your commitment to higher HR standards and your credibility in the HR profession. If you are seeking a new HR position, either through an advancement within your current company or a new position with another company, your chances of securing a new role increase when you have your HR certification credentials.

2. Turn your dream into reality
Stop wishing you had your HR certification or making excuses as to why you aren't currently HR certified. If you commit to a 3 month study plan, you can begin to prepare for the exam. The exams are offered twice per year, between May 1st and June 30th, and again between December 1st and January 31st.  Be sure to apply through the HR Certification Institute to take the exam.  The only thing stopping you from fulfilling your dreams is you!

1. Recertify every 3 years. It’s easier than you think!
Recertify by accumulating 60 credit hours of HR-related continuing education activities (or by taking the exam again). To recertify through continuing education, all activities must be completed before the 3 year anniversary of your certification cycle. There are oodles of options for recertification from webinars, workshop sessions, conferences, chapter meetings, projects, etc. Keep a log of your recertification activities with documentation that you participated, and you'll be surprised at how quickly you achieve the recertification requirements.

The next certification course at USM begins in the fall. More information about this course can be found on the USM website.

Don't delay, begin your journey to certification today!

-Kristine Avery, SPHR
SVP of HR - FISC Solutions, Lewiston, ME

-Certificate Program in Human Resource Management

-Human Resources Certification Prep Course (PHR/SPHR)

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High Quality Assessment Leads to the Best Plan of Care

Gale JohnsonAs a nurse practitioner who frequently works with older adults, my best work occurs when my health assessment gathers the most accurate information possible from the patient. The highest quality assessment leads to the best plan of care for the patient.

I have found that the most important factor in learning what I need to know about an older patient comes from approaching the relationship in a way that I would want to be approached myself.     

It’s a simple and obvious concept, but one that is easily overlooked.

When we are in an exam room, an office or home interview, or the hospital setting, we may be distracted by the pressures of busy schedules and problem-oriented visits, losing focus of the unique individual in front of us.

I directly greet the patient using their full name…such as Ms. Smith or Mr. Smith, make eye contact, shake their hand….prior to greeting others that might be with them.   Making sure that I keep my laptop closed, seating myself, and starting the communication directly with the patient makes it clear that I am focused on them.   

Optimizing the interview environment is important.  If possible, create a private space by shutting the door or closing a curtain.  Make sure it’s warm enough, that the patient can hear, and that you are not back lit so they can see your face clearly.  

Then, if the patient is able to verbally communicate, I listen. 

Sometimes I have to redirect the conversation, but most often it takes just a minute or two of listening to find out what the patient is thinking and what his or her goals are.  It’s only after this time that I will start taking notes.   This attentive and quiet start to the interview process lays the foundation of respectful communication. 

I ask the patient’s permission to talk about their care directly with others in the room.   I try to remember my relationship with my own parents.  I knew them as my parents, not as the complex, long-lived, adult individuals they were.   Although their input is often essential, family members can’t provide you with the whole picture of the patient and his or her way of being in the world.

It really is simple. Approach the interview with older patient as I would want to be approached myself.  With careful respect, active listening, and a personal focus the assessment process will provide the best information possible. And that will help you provide optimal care!

Gale Johnsen, PhD, MSN
Lead instructor, USM Professional Development Certificate Program in the Advanced Assessment of the Older Adult

Gale Johnsen, PhD, MSN, is a family nurse practitioner living in western Maine. She has extensive experience in geriatrics both in family practice and long-term care settings. She has taught at the graduate level for Simmons College, University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine, and the University of Southern Maine and regularly conducts workshops and seminars on geriatric topics.

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May I Have Your Attention, Please? Business Writing and Multitasking

Elizabeth DodgeThese days, the pace at work is faster than ever. In response, more and more people find themselves multitasking. Doing more than one thing at once can be especially tempting when we’re writing or reading business communications. Surely, we can write an email and talk on the phone at the same time—or keep up with emails and texts while we’re participating in a meeting. The drive to multitask can seem like a survival tactic.

But here’s the problem: There’s no such thing as multitasking on complex tasks.  (On simple tasks, such as walking and chewing gum, yes.) Current brain research is revealing that when we think we’re multitasking, we’re simply fooling ourselves—because multitasking is, in reality, shifting back and forth between one task and another. We’re still doing one thing at a time. Significantly, these continual shifts in attention increase time on task and number of errors made—and possibly (this is my own hypothesis) reduce optimal business judgment. 

So what can you do to be a more effective business writer?

The only person you can control is yourself. I’m making a plea that when you’re writing, you make a concerted effort to focus solely on the act of writing—even something as ubiquitous as email. You’ll get it done faster and have more time to deal with other tasks.

At the very least, if you cannot focus solely on writing, then make a commitment to “uni-task” during proofreading. (You are proofreading all your writing, aren’t you?) This focused attention will help you consider the best organizational structure for your message, delete excess verbiage, and catch mistakes in grammar, spelling, and punctuation.   

On the other hand, you can’t control your reading audience. For all you know, your reader could be trying to do six things at once—or be interrupted multiple times—while processing your message. How can you write most effectively for the distracted reader? The answer is to make your document—long or short—easy to read:

Avoid overly long sentences.

Create white space by putting separate points in separate paragraphs.

Begin each paragraph with its main point.

Consider labeling paragraphs with subheads, so readers can quickly find where they left off if interrupted (or what specifically pertains to them if one document will have multiple readers).

As a writer, saying no to multitasking will ultimately make you more efficient. What’s more, writing for readers who may themselves be multitasking will reap dividends in reader appreciation that will help you advance your goals.

-Elizabeth K. Dodge, M.F.A.
L’Atelier Writing, Editing & Training

This spring, Elizabeth Dodge teaches Business Writing Basics: A Grammar & Punctuation Review and Professional Writing.

Elizabeth Dodge, M.F.A., is a freelance writer, editor, and trainer in Portland. She has more than 20 years of experience in technical writing, marketing communications, public relations, and publishing. She has been teaching and tutoring for more than 15 years, sharing her passion for writing with a coaching style that is sensitive to the personal nature of writing.

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Sensible Multitasking:  How to Almost “Do it All” Without Losing Your Mind

Amy WoodEver tried talking to someone at a party while also trying to make out the lyrics of a song playing in the background, or taking in the audio AND the visual of two separate movies on adjacent televisions on a store shelf?  If so, you are well aware that it’s impossible to focus simultaneously on two activities requiring your full attention. 

And yet, like most American adults, you persist with the delusion that you can read and send text messages while driving, engage in serious cell phone conversation while walking down the street, or work on a significant project via laptop while participating in a critical conference call – three examples of what I call senseless multitasking.

Cell phones, computers, and other technological devices are wonderful tools for making work and life more efficient, pleasurable, flexible and manageable, but only if we use them judiciously. Judicious use means recognizing that if you use technology in ways that force you to put your full attention in two places at once, you aren't saving time. To the contrary, you're wasting it.   The bottom line is that combining two activities requiring your total attention means doing neither activity well.

The good news is that technology will save you time (and your sanity) if you recognize the limits of the average adult brain. Many activities can be blended for greater efficiency without compromising performance. As long as you are applying technology in ways that don't distract you from situations that require your full focus, you're engaging in what I call sensible multitasking.

6 Tips for Sensible Multitasking

  1. Carry your laptop with you so you can read and respond to emails, work on projects, read your favorite blogs, and download music and books while you're waiting to board a flight, filling time left by a client who doesn't show up, or enduring other delays.
  2. Listen to music or a book on your iPod while you're driving, exercising, or cleaning the house.
  3. Participate in a conference call via cell phone while taking a walk somewhere peaceful and away from traffic.
  4. Enjoy casual phone conversation while you're gardening or doing the dishes.
  5. Fold laundry while you're watching TV.
  6. Read and respond to text messages while you're getting your hair cut or standing in the grocery store check-out line.

Now, I realize these tips won't be enough to convince you to abolish your senseless multitasking behavior. Temptations to disregard the logical reasons why it's impossible to accomplish two challenging tasks at once are everywhere and hard to resist. Even a savvy psychologist who knows more than most people do about what the brain can and can't do falls sometimes.

In a culture that provocatively pushes the fantasy that the brain can do far more than it's capable of, the only way to give up senseless multitasking is to make it hard to engage in. You can thwart your impulses to multitask senselessly by putting your Smart Phone in the trunk of your car before you get behind the wheel or by shutting down and zipping up your laptop before you get on a conference call. As with any habit you're trying to acquire, you'll fall off track and go back to your old ways from time to time, but you'll eventually reach a point where the desire to engage in senseless multitasking becomes less powerful.

Whenever pervasive pressure to participate in senseless multitasking has you feeling like you might miss something important or get left behind if you refuse to partake, simply tell yourself this:   pushing your brain uncomfortably beyond what it was built to do is only wearing you out, eroding your concentration capacity, and stealing enjoyment from your life. You’ll be in a much better position to thrive in a world of constant distractions when you do your best to treat your brain well.
-Amy Wood, Psy.D.

This March, Amy Wood teaches The New Way to Wellness: An Approach Fit for Our Hectic Times

Amy Wood, Psy.D. - Through speaking, training, consulting, and one-on-one sessions, psychologist Amy Wood has helped countless adults from all walks of life and work to articulate and accomplish their own versions of success. Known for her pragmatic optimism, she believes that every human being is a unique and valuable individual with the inner resources necessary to overcome any challenge. Dr. Wood earned her doctorate from the Adler School of Professional Psychology,  is certified by the College of Executive Coaching, and is based in Portland, Maine.

Dr. Wood is the author of Life Your Way: Refresh Your Approach to Success and Breathe Easier in a Fast-paced World an award-winning personal improvement book that surpasses quick-fix self-help rhetoric with a sustainable program for adapting to our perpetually hectic age.   She is a co-founder of sPeak performance, a speakers bureau comprised of women authors, and is often called on for her expert opinion by media ranging from local newspapers to Parade Magazine.   To learn more about Dr. Wood, visit her websites at and

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Instructor Tip: Mastering Multiple Projects, Priorities, & Demands

Jim MilikenFocus on mastering your work; not just getting the work done. Move beyond being an accomplished, results-driven task doer, to become a longterm-relationship builder and master of your work.

Step Away From the Cliff. I have this vision of the elite employee, the perfect co-worker – always prepared, totally dependable, right there to lend a hand . . . and headed straight for a cliff.

This person is committed to the organization, loyal to employer and colleagues, devoted to excellence, unerringly competent, eager to take on any and all problems.

The cliff part comes in because this wonder-worker is incapable of saying “No.” The wonder-worker can’t refuse to help, is unable to resist jumping in when something needs to be done.

There is a huge, enthusiastic market for such people. Their managers and fellow employees love them. They put in long hours, working nights at home, coming in on weekends.

No one can keep that up forever. Sooner or later, this person runs down or runs out.

If you are this person, don’t try to tough it out. It can’t be done. You’re going to have to make some changes.

First, adjust your activities, not your attitudes. Vow to retain the habits of focus and discipline that got you here. They will serve you well no matter what you do in life.

Second, devote some time to an accounting, an analysis of how you spend your days:

  • What are you doing, and how long does it take?
  • Why are you doing these things? Each of them?
  • Don’t have time to do this examination? That, my friend, is a strong sign that you’re closer to the cliff than you thought.

However uncomfortable it makes you, step back and take stock. There are simple tracking formats that take little time – although they also reveal the frightening volume of work you are asking yourself to handle.

Third, take a good look at your relationships:

  • What goes on between you and other people?
  • Who does what for whom?
  • Are there sensible ways to re-order responsibilities?
  • Should you work on your communication and negotiation skills?

Finally, set up more productive ways touse your time. Make collaboration just as important as individual effort. Think relationships and results, not familiar old processes.

This is called mastering multiple projects, priorities and demands. It helps you become a teamwork devotee more than a task doer. You train yourself to derive deep satisfaction from collegial rather than individual results. It is a more ordered, less driven way of working.

You don’t go over a cliff. And there’s a bonus: you get a life.
-Jim Milliken

Jim MillikiJim Milikenn, has provided management and communication consultation to business, industry, and nonprofits throughout the United States since 1986. His specialties include project management, in which he holds the PMP (Project Management Professional) certification, problem solving and delegation, business writing and advertising, and negotiation and presentation skills. His work combines organizational skills with nearly thirty years' experience as a newspaper editor.

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Instructor Tip: Expectations & Accountability

What does accountability look like in your organization? Are you providingDeb Whitworth candidates with your expectations in the form of a job description when they interview for a position with your company? Or are you relying on memory to discuss the position that is open? Do you provide written materials that outline for your employees what the company’s expectations are? Or do you just make assumptions because they really ought to know by now? Do you discuss quality and quantity and what is acceptable? Do you talk about your expectations for attitude, customer service, and courtesy? Or do you leave the “soft stuff” discussions to someone else?

It’s easy to hold employees accountable when they’re doing whatever they’re supposed to be doing right. It’s more difficult when they’re doing it wrong. Knowing a few tricks will help you to provide meaningful feedback, whether it’s of the positive or negative variety.

If we don’t tell employees what is important to us, to our organizations, we can’t expect to hold them accountable. Tell employees what they’re doing right. Tell them what they’re doing wrong and help them understand the difference. Talk about job-related behaviors and provide ongoing feedback. Don’t wait until the annual performance evaluation takes place in December to talk about something that happened in JUNE. Talk about THAT in JUNE. When you provide feedback immediately, you provide an opportunity for the employee to meet your expectations. Consistently hold employees accountable so that there are no surprises at the end of the year.

Practice in front of a mirror, particularly if the feedback you plan on delivering is negative. You don’t need to memorize what you plan to say but you should rehearse it so you’re comfortable with the concepts you plan to discuss. And don’t hesitate to bring notes with you—talking points—so you don’t forget anything.

Be descriptive. Don’t speak in vague generalities. Speak clearly and decisively about performance expectations and the behavior that is or is not occurring.

Resist using labels. Just like when you told your kids, no name calling and we don’t use the word stupid in this house. Yeah. Just like that.

Avoid exaggerations. If the behavior has only happened once (and to be effective, your feedback should occur after the behavior happened only once), then don’t accuse the employees of doing this a zillion times.

Refrain from judgment. You don’t need to judge why something is or is not occurring. You need to point out what the expectation is and what you are holding the employee accountable to. Period. Without a judgment call.

Speak only for yourself. Your credibility will plummet the moment you say and Bob agrees with me when Bob is questioned and doesn’t know what the employee is talking about. You should be credible enough by yourself.

Restrict your feedback to things you are certain of and keep your opinion to yourself. This isn’t a time to talk about you. It’s a time to hold the employee accountable to your organization’s expectations.

Expectations and Accountability. New words for managers.
-Deb Whitworth

Deb Whitworth, SPHR, Senior Associate at Mercer, Inc., brings over 30 years of human resources management experience with her as she consults with for-profit and non-profit organizations. Deb guides clients through compliance issues, comprehensive human resources audits, and advises on all other HR topics as well. The SHRM Maine State Council named her the 2012 HR Leader of the year.

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Instructor Tip: What Aikido Can Teach Us About Conflict & Emotions

Instructor Judy Ringer

Conflict stories are our most interesting stories. When you see two people deeply engaged in conversation, chances are that one of them is telling a conflict story. They’re fascinating. And they elicit strong opinions and emotions.

Conflict is one way in which we come to know the world and understand each other. It can offer an opening to our most powerful selves--or the opposite. Habitual stress reactions leave us thinking we have no choice but to do what we’ve always done. And when the conflict is over, we look back, asking, “Why did I do that? What was I thinking?”

A New Way to Manage Conflict

Luckily, I’ve discovered a means to help me remember that I have choices even in the most difficult situations. I practice and teach Aikido, a Japanese martial art developed in the early 20th century. Aikido teaches how to disarm an attack without harming the attacker. Joining with and redirecting its force, Aikidoists replace resistance with connection. We call the attack a gift of energy.

Aikido principles are equally applicable in non-physical conflict, such as arguments, everyday hassles, and the emotions that come with them. Our goal is to engage the incoming energy and redirect it--to lead, guide, and manage the force by managing ourselves.

Instructor Judy Ringer in the classroom
Life Applications

You practice Aikido in life any time you stop, take a breath, and choose a more centered way of being; when you interrupt reactive emotions and behaviors that no longer serve you; or choose to acknowledge your feelings instead of acting them out. Aikido has helped me create a life with less stress and more joy.

The next time you find yourself getting triggered by someone or something, use the energy of your emotions to help you become less reactive and more responsive:

  • Notice. Wow! I'm pretty upset. Where is this coming from and what do I want to do about it?
  • Stop, breathe and center yourself. Centering puts a moment of awareness between the emotion and your action.
  • Act purposefully. Make a choice that aligns with your true intention. Listen with curiosity to an opposing view. Search for solutions and mutual understanding.

Emotions happen. And we can make choices about them. In order to manage others we must first understand and manage ourselves.
-Judy Ringer

Judy Ringer is a popular USM Professional Development Program instructor, Judy Ringer is the author of Unlikely Teachers: Finding the Hidden Gifts in Daily Conflict. She provides conflict, communication, and presentation skills training internationally with innovative workshops based on mind/body principles from the martial art Aikido, in which she holds a second-degree black belt. Employing best practice communication models, Judy brings to life key concepts such as self-management under pressure and appreciation of other viewpoints. Her programs are interactive, experiential and energetic.

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Instructor Tip: Getting the Monkeys Off Your Back

Lynne RichardsAs a manager or supervisor, do you find yourself harried, having more work to do than time? It's possible you may be "picking up monkeys" that don’t belong to you.

What is a monkey? Think of it as a task or assignment you choose to take on that really isn’t your responsibility and distracts you from focusing on your own work priorities.   In its simplest form, a monkey is when you take responsibility for the next step.  When you hear yourself say, “I’ll look into it and get back to you,” you have most likely picked up a monkey.

The first step in getting other people’s monkeys off your back is to identify why you are picking up their monkeys.  What’s the lure?

  • I enjoy/feel the need to help or rescue others
  • I’m afraid/concerned about letting people down
  • I want the task done right
  • I’d rather say ‘yes’ than ‘no’
  • I’m good/or the best person for the task
  • I enjoy being involved
  • I can do the task faster

Once you have identified the motivator, reframe your thoughts. In order to act differently, you have to think differently. For example, if you enjoy helping others, reframe your thinking from “I’ll do the task because that’s how I demonstrate I’m helpful,” to “I help people by teaching them self-reliance.” If you have a hard time saying ‘no’, reframe by asking yourself, “What will I be saying ‘yes’ to if I don’t pick up this monkey?” (e.g., a shorter workweek, less stress, more time with family, etc.)

Lastly, assertively resist the care and feeding of other people’s monkeys. Here are three communication tools that will help:

1. Partial Agreement
“You’re correct.  This task was done in the past by the previous supervisor.  I am rearranging work assignments and have every confidence in your ability and experience as a senior member of this team.”

 2. Redefine/Reframe
“It hasn’t been part of your day-to-day routine.  It has always been part of your job.”

3. Ask a question 
“What are your concerns about this assignment?”

4. Contrasting   (I don’t want…I do want)
“I don’t want you to think I’m dissatisfied with the quality of work you do.  I do want you to be more efficient.  I believe this assignment can be completed with the resources you have. Let’s discuss how this can be accomplished.”

5. Emphasize a thought/feeling
“I understand it is more work.  We all are taking on additional responsibilities.”

Remember, your primary responsibility as a supervisor or manager is to get work done through others. Coach and develop your employees to regain control of their monkeys. Allow them to act and be accountable for their own work. Teach responsibility by giving responsibility.  And finally, give the gift of self-reliance!
- Lynne M. Richards, MBA

Lynne Richards, M.B.A.,, is a member of the National Speaker's Association, and author and founder of Leading Generations, a training and leadership development firm. Lynne specializes in helping people develop their leadership and presentation skills. With over 20 years of experience in management and training, she brings a wealth of practical experience to the classroom.

Lynne Richards is a lead instructor in USM’s Professional Development Certificate Program in Supervision.

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Instructor Tip: Technology for Grant Writers

Jack SmithAs a grant writer, you need to be on top of all the latest advances in technology and software. Two of my favorite current software programs are Evernote and Adobe Acrobat Pro.

Consider using Evernote for your next grant project. This free multi-platform program can help organize your grant writing projects and key files in a more intuitive style than straight file management.

You can load the Evernote program on to all of your devices so you can sync the info between your desktop, laptop, smartphone and tablet. For example, if you find research on your grant topic or information on a collaborating organization on the web or through an email attachment, you can easily clip it to an Evernote folder and have it available to read or share with any of your internet devices.

Evernote includes a useful text program if you want to write or edit your proposal text. This is most useful if you are using your tablet or smartphone and do not have immediate access to your preferred word processing program.

I am gravitating more and more of my work on to Evernote. You might want to give it a try.

If you have already tried Evernote but did not find it useful, you need to revisit. The program has recently been updated with a more user-friendly layout and file attachment system.

Another program I highly recommend for grant writers is Adobe Acrobat Pro software. This software allows you to easily combine different files into a single pdf document and also allows you to capture the text from scanned documents and convert the text into digital text. Adobe Acrobat Pro software is expensive but worth the investment. If you are connected to a nonprofit organization, you can purchase discounted versions at a fraction of the retail price on the website.
- Jack Smith

Jack Smith
The Smith Group

The Smith Group is a consulting practice specializing in training and consulting services to public agencies primarily in the areas of program development, grant management and organizational development.
Clients include large and small nonprofits, professional firms and government agencies. The Smith Group is based in Houston, TX and has been in business for over 24 years. Jack Smith is the principal consultant.

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Instructor Tip: Making Meetings Count

Almost all of us spend a large amount of time in meetings. Attending a meeting that is unnecessary or feels like a waste of time is so frustrating. And attending a great meeting, one that is focused and well organized, is such a good feeling.

To have a great meeting, either as the leader or attender, you should answer these questions:

(1) Why are we meeting? What is our purpose?

(2) What do we expect (or need) as outcomes?  What do we want to walk away with as products?

(3) Do we need interactive communication?  Meetings should not be a one-way flow or “dump” of information. The purpose of a meeting is to bring people together to:

    • Discuss ideas
    • To develop group ownership of a problem and its solution
    • To create group commitment to an idea, goal or project
    • To develop agreement or make decisions

(4) Who should attend, and what roles should each person be ready to perform: e.g.: facilitator, scribe, information provider, expert, contributor to   discussion, decision makers.

(5) How shall we meet?

    • Face to face
    • Phone conference
    • Video conference

(6) What materials do we need for the meeting?  At minimum have an agenda with clear designations of who will be leading each segment of the  agenda, and the time frame. If you are using any technology in the  meeting, double check that it is working. Also consider providing paper and pens for each participant. You might think, too, of having snacks or beverages for everyone.

If you are not the leader of the meeting, have the confidence to ask questions of the leader.  Ask for the purpose statement, desired outcomes, why you have been included on the guest list, etc. This will help you be a better participant.
- Dee Kelsey and Pam Plumb

Dee Kelsey and Pam Plumb from Great Meetings! Inc. based on their book Great Meetings! Great Results. Dee and Pam are lead instructors in the USM Professional Development Meeting Facilitation Certificate Program.
Learn more about Dee Kelsey and Pam Plumb.

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