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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Language of Inclusion

     Greta took a 360-degree survey at the suggestion of her boss.  In an effort to get her to see herself through the eyes of others, she needed to know how she was performing as a leader.  The survey would allow her to compare how she saw herself to how her boss, peers, direct reports, and "others" saw her.  Greta rated herself as open and inclusive.  She felt like she invited people's input and was sociable and encouraged dialogue.  But when she looked at the feedback from her raters, she was shocked by what she saw.

     Her direct reports saw her as anything but inclusive.  They rated her low in areas like "being open to input, showing diplomacy" and "creating a positive environment".  Greta thought she was doing a great job in making her team feel like she valued them and their opinions.  She had no idea other people didn't see her the same way.  She wanted to talk to her team and find out why this was the first indication she was receiving of how they saw her.  Why hadn't they told her before? she wondered.  She later found out from her boss that it was because of the following reasons:
     1)  She had created mistrust because of a lack of inclusiveness.  When employees don't feel comfortable being up front and honest about matters important to them at work, it's because the leadership has discouraged them from speaking up.  Greta did not realize that every time she shot down someone's idea in a staff meeting or used demeaning and condescending words when talking to an employee, she slowly destroyed her staff's confidence in her ability to remain open and receptive to their input.
     2)  Greta had created animosity between herself and others because of her unfiltered communications style.  She didn't seem to care that she walked on other people's feelings when she passed harsh judgments on their performances.  She failed to consider how she often disrespected people by being dismissive when they brought her concerns.  Or when she interrupted someone in the middle of their point and hijacked the conversation as if only what she had to say was important.
     3)  The team often felt she turned them inward and against each other.  They noticed how she seemed to favor certain people.  Usually when someone made her look good, she was more supportive of them.  But if she couldn't shine through another person's work, she cast them aside like yesterday's news.  They hardly received a glance from her or she was on them so hard they felt they were being singled out for no reason.
     When Greta sat down for an evaluation with her boss, she felt blindsided by the details of the report.  Had she paid more attention to what her staff had been trying to say--whether it was in a conversation when she cut them off, through negative body language feedback, or through their lack of open communications--she would not have been surprised.  She needed to be more aware of what was going on around her.  And more importantly, she needed to be more aware of her own behavior.  
     She could fix some of this mess with just a few small changes.  A major one would be to learn the language of inclusiveness.  It sounds like this:
     1)  Tell me what you think about this issue.
     2)  Why don't you decide?  I trust your opinion.
     3)  Would you mind making the presentation?  You're the expert in this.
     Instituting these statements as part of her interactions with her staff would carry her a long way in building stronger relationships.  She will reduce animosity, eliminate mistrust, and best of all, be more inclusive.
     Need to do a 360?  Ask us about 363 for Leaders.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Taking the Sting Out of Emails

     One of the biggest challenges with writing emails is getting to the point without offending someone.  I dare to guess that millions of times a day somebody is misinterpreting the tone of an email and taking what is "said" personally.  We all know that emails lack inflection and visual acuity so it is easy for someone to perceive what was intended in the wrong way.  Without the benefit of hearing a person's voice inflection and seeing their facial expressions, words can often come across harsh and insensitive when written in haste or without much context to support the message.  This is probably one of the most widely known pitfalls about emails but the least considered when a person receives an email they don't like.  We don't often say, "Maybe the sender didn't mean it this way so I shouldn't take it personal."  We're more likely to take the message at face value and balk at its tone.
     There are three things to remember about emails you write and receive that will take some of the sting out of the ones that appear harsh.
     1)  You don't have to rely on emojis and emoticons to express emotion.  Emojis--the colorful faces expressing an emotion or condition like anxiety 😰--are often used to support comments we write and to give feeling to our words.  Emoticons are the original way most of us learned to express emotions by using keys on our computers like :0) to indicate a smile for example.  Both are used to support the meaning we're trying to convey when our words don't seem to fully hit the mark.  But much like the faces you're using to help people understand your feelings in your writing, you can use words to do the same thing.  Instead of emojis and emoticons, you can use the words that would express those feelings.  Like a novelist or nonfiction writer, you can say how you feel vividly and candidly without offense. 
     For example, "Michelle, I am so excited to share news about our upcoming sales report."  Or "Hi Mitch, I was disappointed to see we didn't hit our goal this month.  What are the plans to recover?"  With over a million words in today's dictionaries, surely we can find one that is suitable to share how we feel.  Invest in a thesaurus to help you out.
     2)  Make sure you put enough context in your message.  Too often we are rushing through emails.  It's hard enough to corral them all and decide what's worth reading when we're bombarded by them like locusts.  But they are a necessary and common practice in our communications today so we have to make email our friend.  Instead of resenting them, we need to see their value and necessity.  They should be brief as a rule of thumb.  Getting to the point is essential, but not at the cost of meaning.  Oftentimes, we want to jot a few bullets and zip off an email without proofing to make sure we're clear, correct, and considerate.  By being too bare bones, we lose the opportunity to put enough meat on the skeleton and offer clarity around what we really mean.  We leave too much up to interpretation in that instance.
     3)  Read the message before you send it!  I can tell email messages that were composed without any proofreading.  They are fraught with misspelled words, omitted words, and statements that make no sense.  This usually generates an additional email that wouldn't otherwise be needed if the message was clear from the start.  The irony is that we don't like to receive a lot of emails, but we inadvertently create more when we're not clear out of the gates.  Not to mention the fallout that comes from a misunderstanding that will surely get you several more. 
     I've had on a few occasions emails sent with one immensely important word missing.  That one word usually changed the meaning of the email 100%.  The word is usually "not".  There's a huge difference between conveying something you will do and that you will not be doing.  When you agree to something you don't intend to do because you left out that one word, you can see the chaos that can ensue.
     Any of the three of these actions will vastly improve the way your emails sound to your recipients.  They are easy to do and can eliminate a lot of headaches for you.  Give them a try and tell me how they worked for you.

Friday, April 22, 2016

What I Said, What You Heard

     Let's face it.  Sometimes we don't do a very good job of being clear in our communications.  What we want to say is certainly clear in our minds, but somehow, on its way out of our mouths, things get muddled.  Unfortunately, this is a natural occurrence, and all sorts of important information gets lost in the exchange.  You say one thing; they hear another.  You meant one thing; they perceive another.  In the workplace where communication is essential, unclear information can cause all kinds of losses to the organization.  Everything from people doing the wrong things at the wrong times with the wrong people to customers' needs being misunderstood, and the ball gets dropped.

     So how do we clear up the confusion?  There are myriad ways based on where the holes are.  But I'll offer you up three.
     1)  After having a conversation about something that is vital, follow it up in writing.  That way, when you go back and read what you've written (and you should always go back and read what you've written), you can determine if there is clear enough conveyance of the content.  In writing, information appears more concrete.
     2)  Ask for clarification from the other party.  Say something like:  "Since this is a very important matter, I want to make sure I'm making myself clear on the details.  What's your understanding of what the situation is and how we'll move ahead?"
     3)  If an action step has been requested, follow up before it is due to make sure it's getting accomplished appropriately.  That could be done as a quick email in enough time before the deadline that says something like, "I was just checking in to make sure that you have everything you need in order to deliver the product to the customer by next Wednesday."  This statement reintroduces the topic without appearing to micromanage, and it reminds of deadlines and action items in case the person misunderstood any aspect of what was expected.
     Clearing up the muddiness of language and understanding is a critical aspect of great communications skills.  Too often we say one thing, but it's perceived differently by the other person.  The one thing you can't control is how your output is received by someone else.  But you can control the kinds of attempts you make so that it is as clear as the emerald waters of the Caribbean.  No more mud.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

2016 Administrative Professionals Conference--See my presentation!

Join me as I present "Zero Visibility:  How Blind Spots Impact Our
Success" at the Administrative Professionals Conference, April 28th at
the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center.

Monday, March 28, 2016

When Social Media Isn't So Social

     We know that social media is a great way for us to be--well--social.  When done right, these various outlets are a way to build relationships, share information with friends and family across the miles, engage in meaningful discussions about current events and pop culture, share in common interests with "friends" and acquaintances, make announcements, and maybe even do a little business.  But a huge challenge in these social interchanges is actually remaining social and civil in the midst of all this sharing.  What starts off as a way to connect with people we know, and maybe even forge new relationships with people we don't know, can easily lead to a disconnect that may never be repaired.  How does that happen?
     Every post defines an individual's beliefs, interests, views, prejudices, and beefs.  Even without intent to be controversial, you can be thrust into the mire of angry disagreement because you have little control over how other people perceive what you put out there.  Voicing an opinion about almost anything will certainly lead to an opposing view by someone else.  And that would be okay if everyone knew how to oppose without being argumentative and judgmental.  I have witnessed, as I'm sure you have, some pretty nasty exchanges over topics that don't necessarily have to be controversial (i.e. parenting, body image, personal choices, news stories, etc.)  I have been subjected to backlash from certain comments I've made with one intent in mind but taken offensively by others.  Of course, anytime we post anything, it's always subject to personal scrutiny by others.  We have to recognize that whether we ask for input or not, we're going to get it.  But is this about socializing, really?
     Consider your behavior if you were in front of an individual at a backyard barbecue that they invited you to, and they casually mentioned that they'd had a great time at church the previous week and couldn't wait to go back again next Sunday.  Would you attack that person for even mentioning their enjoyment?  Would you attack them at their barbecue at which you are a guest?  Yet, I saw a friend post that she had been accused of posting too much about church.
     When it comes to other controversial topics like religion, politics, race and all such "taboo" areas, we don't often think about what we communicate to those who follow us.  You are posting to other people and not for yourself.  You are influencing in some way the people who have connected to you.  Though we certainly have the right to post whatever we choose on our pages, would you invite your black friends to your house for dinner and then proceed to trash the entire black race while they're sitting there?  Would you tell all of the gay people at your party that they're welcome to be there but then turn around and bash all gays in front of everybody else at the party?  As with any communication, we have to consider all who hear us.  Our jokes, our comments, our views--they all define us.  What do your posts say about you?  Are you a bigot, arrogant, confrontational, vulgar, unethical or a nut job?  Or would people see you as competent, compassionate, intelligent, reasonable, open, unique, thoughtful or kind?
     Social media should be social.  It's about connecting in a friendly manner and finding common interests.  It's a chance to meet people, get better acquainted, draw people to you, and learn from someone else.  If people choose to stop following you, unfriend you, disconnect you or drop you from their circle, then you might want to reconsider the picture you've painted of yourself.  It's the equivalent of an in-person social gathering, but in this scenario, you're at the barbecue sitting at a table all alone while the rest of the group is socializing at the food table.  You're being shunned because you've taken the social out of socializing.  Online behavior should be no different than in-person behavior.  Use discretion.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Leadership Lesson for Cam Newton: Communicating Under Stress

    So Cam Newton had a bad day Sunday.  It happens.  But his bad day has turned into a bad week because of his actions at a press conference following his loss in Super Bowl 50.  It's been controversial, to say the least, since there are people who empathize with the MVP's behavior after a tough and painful defeat and others who think he behaved badly after walking off in the middle of a press conference.  Regardless of what side you're on, there are lessons to be learned in communicating when under duress.  Cam can learn them and so can the rest of us.  If I had to coach him in how to handle those difficult moments, I'd recommend the following:
     1)  Slow down.  Take a deep breath and then express your emotions honestly.  No doubt about it, Cam came into the Super Bowl feeling confident he and the Panthers would go home with the trophy.  He was absolutely right in thinking that way.  After all, how can you go into a high stakes game like the Super Bowl anticipating you might lose?  I admire his confidence.  But the tough part of being center stage in such a high-profile contest is if that loss does come, you're still required to talk about it to the entire world when you've hardly had time to process the loss.
     I think it's unfair to expect a competitor like Cam to take such a devastating situation and conduct business as usual.  This was not the usual game.  Too much was riding on it--pride, history, hard work, success, everybody else's expectations, everything!  Win or lose, at the end of a game this intense is raw emotion.  He'd hardly had time to review what went wrong in his mind before he was being bombarded with questions about what went wrong on the field.  He'd had barely a moment to reconcile his feelings when he was thrust into the spotlight and had to face his longtime detractors as I'm sure many gloated.  So I would advise anyone in a leadership position who has to stand before a crowd and face down your mistakes, your failures, and your pain that you breathe first and take your time before speaking and reacting to questions or expectant stares.  Then verbalize your despair.  His response could've sounded something like this:
     I know you have a lot of questions about what happened out there.  I do too.  I haven't had much time to think it through yet because all I know at this moment is that the agony of defeat is real.  I'm extremely disappointed in this loss.  I feel a heavy weight on my shoulders, and it's not going anywhere anytime soon.
     Moments like these require transparency and sincerity.  People can appreciate it.  We've all been there at some point, and this kind of honesty can help people better relate to what he's going through.
     2)  Address the challenges, issues, and failures directly.  Even though he didn't have time to dig deep into the many gaps and shortcomings of his or his teammates, he should have had a sense of what went wrong.  It was obvious to the rest of us who were watching, and yes, even to the press that were firing off questions.  They knew the answers.  They just needed to hear them from him.  He was the man of the hour, and he held his own perspective that everyone was anxious to hear.  Owning whatever fault existed at the time can shut down the haters.  His narrative could've gone a little something like this:
     Until we've had a chance to debrief everything, I can't pinpoint any one thing in particular, but I know that I had a hard time delivering under that Broncos defense.  They did an excellent job of shutting me down and preventing me from being my best.  And isn't that what they were supposed to do?
     Complimenting the competitor when they deserved it shows humility and good sportsmanship.  It might taste like vinegar in his mouth to say it, but it would've done wonders for increasing his equity as a leader.  In corporate organizations when a product or service falters (i.e. a restaurant that sickens its patrons due to bacteria in the food), the head of that organization has to grit his or her teeth and admit fault.  They've got to go before the public and say they messed up somehow, and they're going to make it right.  People develop faith and admiration in leaders who acknowledge their shortfalls without excuse or defensiveness.
     3) And finally, I would advise Cam to finish it all on a high note.  After acknowledging what went wrong, he should then focus on what went right.  And yes, there were things he and the Panthers did right.  The Panthers' defense was stellar.  There were individual performances (Luuuukkeee!) that should be recognized.  Cam could've left his fans looking forward to next year by assuring them that once the team gets back to the drawing board, they'll have a winning plan ready next season.  Fans believe it already, and they certainly are proud of Cam and the Panthers.  I know I am.  So his final comments could've gone like this:
     Though we have some work to do to finish the job next time, I have no doubt we'll be back better than ever.  This was quite a learning experience for all of us.  We're winners.  Losing is tough to accept when you haven't had to face it much in a season.  But we have a first-rate team with the best fans in the world pulling for us, and we can't wait to get back out there to do it all again.  But the next time, we're bringing home the trophy!
     It's all good, Cam.  We're looking forward to your press conference next year.  For those of us living in Panther Nation, we've got a strong feeling that the press conference after SB51 will find you with that winning smile back on your face.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Self Talk: The Ties That Bind


Generally, we use the term “the ties that bind” to indicate all the special ways we connect with those we love.  Ties are the conditions, actions, and emotions that draw us to them and keep them part of our lives.  Those ties may be kinship, marriage, trust, friendship, support, history.  They get stretched and twisted and ragged, but they don’t often break.  Our bonds are generally strong. 
          But there’s another side of this term that’s not as appealing, yet it is the reality of life.  It’s when certain ties bind us to the negatives and shortfalls that are sure to come.  We get connected to behaviors that keep us marking time, and we are unable to release ourselves from them.  We are mentally handcuffed.  Mental handcuffs are limited thoughts that box us in to the status quo whether good or bad, and we’re unable to grow anymore or change.  For example, if I want to start my own business, the mental handcuffs only permit me to think of the expense, the loss of regular income if I’m giving up a job, and the possibility of failure.  Though all of these are realistic risks, there is also the other side of the spectrum—increased income that I’ve never had, living the life I’ve always wanted, doing the type of work that brings me joy and financial independence.  These desires are just as possible or even more possible than what I fear.  If I don’t check my thinking, then I will remain bound up by my own self-imposed, mental imprisonment.
          There is a wonderful story about an elephant who as a baby was bound by a heavy chain around one of his legs.  The elephant learned from the length of the chain how far he could go so he only went as far as the chain allowed.  As he grew into adulthood, the owner changed the heavy chain to a thinner, smaller one.  The elephant weighed more than 10,000 pounds, and could have easily broken free of the small chain.  But he had been conditioned over the years to only go as far as the chain would allow him.  He never realized when the time had come for him to flex his strength and no longer be a victim to limitations. 
          We are like that in many ways--limited by barriers and roadblocks.  But rather than finding ways around and over them, we let them stop us.  Maybe it’s a job promotion you know you deserve, but the difficult manager attached to it who seems to hate you stands in the way.  You believe you’ll never be able to get that promotion as long as he’s in his position so you stop trying to go for it.  Or maybe the desire to be a parent fades as you get older and remain single.  Because you haven’t found the spouse you wanted, you believe you’ll have to throw the dream of parenthood away.  Therefore, you keep it out of your thoughts, conversations, and future plans.  The dream slips away with time.  Or what about the trip you long to take to Rome, Italy because it’s a place you believe would be wonderful to visit?  But your limited funds and fear of flying have caused you to keep going to your usual vacation spot.  You’ll never see Rome.
          It’s time to let the familiar go—the same actions over and over again that bind you up.  The key to unlocking the mental handcuffs is to change the way we perceive how to get what we want.  If we believe the effort to get our dreams fulfilled is too hard, then we will give up before we get started.  If we think that the roadblocks to our goals are insurmountable, we won’t even make the effort to try to find ways around or over them.  We’ll simply talk ourselves out of trying.  The whole battle starts in our minds, and that’s where it should be defeated.  If your thinking is hindering your success, then you must resolve to strategize against negative thinking—not against success.  You have to affirm that you can and should move forward on your passions and desires because you know you can.  Your achievements are possible.  Will it be hard to get to them?  Maybe.  But not impossible.  Change your self-talk.  Find new dialogue in your internal conversation.  Boost your own morale with affirmations and words of encouragement.
          Your belief in what can be has to exceed your doubt in what can’t be.  The power of the mind is far greater than we give it credit, yet we yield to our fears daily.  We must think about how we think.  Are our thoughts creative, without limits, and motivating?  Or are they self-defeating?  It’s time to dump the head trash, the tumbleweed of timidity that blows us this way and that, and choose to change possibility to reality.  Reinvent your thinking.  Recharge your internal conversation.  And watch your life events change to embrace your passion.