Posts Tagged ‘business communication’
Ten years ago today I left my corporate job and launched Candid Culture, business communication training. I’ll admit to being terrified and being pretty convinced I would fail. I thought about starting the business for 12 years, but was paralyzed by fear. The only thing that finally motivated me to act, was that at the time, I worked for someone who didn’t believe me when I said I didn’t want the internal opportunity he was giving me. Don’t give a woman who can barely use Excel, leadership over the Finance department.
The training and keynote speaking I do have evolved over the past ten years, as organizations’ needs have changed. A few things have remained constant.
Here’s what I’ve learned in the past ten years:
- People struggle more than I ever realized when receiving negative feedback. People care about the work they do, want to do a good job, and want to be thought well of. Negative feedback calls all of that into question.
Most people question themselves when receiving negative feedback, and that’s a very painful process.
What do to: Give very small amounts of feedback at a time. Share one or two things the person can work on. More negative information sends our brains to a dark place, where we feel we can’t be successful, and performance actually drops.
Provide feedback on the positive changes or lack thereof, that you see. Don’t let people work in a vacuum. After you’ve seen some improvement, give one or two additional pieces of feedback.
- Most of us get almost no feedback at work – positive or negative. “Good job” doesn’t qualify as feedback. But that’s almost all the ‘feedback’ most people get.
- Even if you ask for feedback, you probably won’t get much, because the other person is concerned about your potential negative reaction.
- Managers are afraid employees will quit if they give negative feedback or report them to HR or the Union.
- People really want to know how they’re doing – good and bad – even if they don’t want to hear the message.
- Giving negative feedback requires courage and a trusting relationship, in which the feedback recipient trusts that the person’s motives are pure.
So what to do with all of this information? Be courageous and clear. Remember that the purpose of feedback is to be helpful. Care enough to be uncomfortable. Specific is helpful. Giving feedback will always be challenging. If you want to give less feedback, get better at making specific requests. You get what you ask for.
I’ve always thought it was weird to sit next to someone on a plane and not say hello. I don’t mean a long chat, “Where are you going? Do you live there? What do you do for work,” merely a hello. Or to pass someone on the street or at the gym who pretends not to see me. It’s downright weird. And it’s even worse at work.
Passing someone in the hallway at work who you may or may not know and not saying hello can be off putting to many people. Admittedly, some people don’t care. But more do.
Many of the people you work with are affronted if you pass them in the hallway and don’t smile and/or say hello. They’ll never tell you they’re put off by the lack of social graces, they’ll just make decisions and assume they’re right. They’ll tell themselves, “We sit in multiple meetings together, and that guy doesn’t even know who I am.” Or, “I’ve walked past this woman every day for five years and it’s like she’s never seen me before.” Or, “Bob never says hello when he sees me in the hallway. I wonder why he doesn’t like me?”
Chances are you’re not thinking any of these things about the people you work with. You’re busy and focused on other things, and your mind is not on making small talk when you pass people in the hallway. But know that not saying hello can have an impact on the people around you and your corporate culture.
Start this simple practice: Smile and say hello to everyone you pass at work. Saying hello in the hallway won’t cost you anything or take any more time. And you never know the doors it might open. Maybe the person in accounts payable who’s been kicking back your expense reports will cut you a reimbursement check even when you fill out the wrong form. Or maybe IT will come to your desk first versus eighth when your laptop decides it’s taking a vacation day.
Get more simple ways to strengthen your corporate culture with a signed copy of How to Say Anything to Anyone. The book is on sale for $15 to celebrate our 4th printing. It’s the perfect holiday gift. Get your copy now! Offer ends 12/31/16.
You’re talking with someone. He asks a question demonstrating he didn’t understand or hear what you said. You let out an exasperated silent or audible sigh and say, “Like I just said…” Saying “like I just said” or “as I just explained” tells the person that you think he’s stupid or doesn’t listen. Both might be true, but saying so won’t help your relationship.
I consider myself reasonably smart. And for the most part, I listen. If I ask a question about something you said, consider the possibility that your explanation wasn’t clear and find a way to rephrase what you said the first time. Resist the temptation to tell me and the people you work with that we’re stupid.
Letting people save face is an art that takes patience, good communication, and the desire to have good relationships.
Here are five good communication tips that will strengthen you relationships versus alienate you from others:
Good communication tip number one: Give people the benefit of the doubt. Assume good. People are doing what they know to do.
Good communication tip number two: If someone doesn’t understand what you said, take responsibility for delivering unclear information. It’s easier to change your communication style than alter someone else’s style.
Good communication tip number three: Put your desire to have good business relationships above the desire to be right.
Good communication tip number four: Consider that you may not explain things in the way others learn. Vary your communication methods. Most people don’t learn solely by hearing. Make your explanations hands on and/or visual, and you’ll reach more people.
Good communication tip number five: Bring your patience to work.
It’s tempting to tell people where they’re lacking, but it won’t get you very far. Say what you need to in order to get your point across. And if people are unclear, know the easiest thing is to alter your message. Take the path of least resistance; let people save face.
People are not us; they do things their way, not ours. This is so obvious. Yet violated expectations are consistently a source of lots of frustration and upset, both personally and professionally. “How could you not check your work before submitting information to a client?” “What do you mean you didn’t call that person back?” “You said what?!”
The most frequent request we get at Candid Culture is for feedback training. The call usually goes something like this, “The communication isn’t great at our company. Managers don’t give a lot of feedback. People don’t talk directly to each other when there are problems, they talk about each other. Can you help?”
Sure, we can help. But once we’re having this conversation people are already frustrated. Trust has been violated and relationships and reputations have been damaged. Instead of waiting for problems to occur, expect the unexpected. Set clear expectations before people don’t proofread reports, miss deadlines, and do other things you wouldn’t dream of doing.
How to avoid violated (often unstated) expectations? Ask more questions.
Here are five questions you should ask every person you work with. And if you do, your workplace will have fewer frustrations and violated expectations:
- What’s most important that you’re working on right now? What are your goals this quarter?
- What are we both working on that we can work on together? Or what should one of us stop working on?
- How do you like to communicate? Phone, in-person, by appointment or drop by’s.
- How do you like to receive information – email, voicemail, text message or instant messenger?
- If I need information from you and I haven’t heard back from you, what should I do, and is it ok to do that?
- What are your pet peeves at work? How will I annoy you and not even know it?
- How do you like to be interrupted? (You’re going to be interrupted. You might as well have a preference.)
I know. That was seven questions, not five. I could keep going. But this is a good start.
Here’s the philosophy and practice: People aren’t you. Anticipate challenges, breakdowns, and violated expectations, and talk about them before they happen. Make requests. Ask questions.
It’s always easier to ask for what you want than to give feedback.
You’re more likely to get an email or text message with emoticons at work than a phone call or an in-person visit. Email, text messages, and instant messenger have become the primary modes of communication in most workplaces. And as we know, it’s difficult to manage tone of voice in written communication. Not wanting to sound angry or demanding, we add emoticons at work so the reader doesn’t misinterpret our message.
I believe email and text messages are overused. But I know most people won’t pick up the phone as often as they could or should. So instead of recommending that you pick up the phone more frequently, I’ll suggest you give people the benefit of the doubt, and make it a general rule not to take things personally.
If you’ve seen me teach how to give feedback or have read How to Say Anything to Anyone, you know I believe that one of the keys to being able to tell the truth, is to ask for and gain permission to do so. What would happen if everyone in your workplace assumed that every email had a positive tone and that if something is a problem or a big deal, people will talk to you live? What if you made a deal that people won’t take emails or text messages personally?
When I teach feedback, I tell people not to give feedback via email and to instead talk with people. And we can’t always do that. Sometimes we need email to ensure feedback is timely. But email recipients are often hurt by the implied tone of an email or the brevity of a text message. Intended meanings are often misconstrued, feelings are hurt, and relationships are damaged, hence why we add emoticons at work.
There is a lot written on the value of emoticons at work and how we need to embrace the change in the way we communicate. I just wish we didn’t need emoticons at work. I wish, instead, we thought, “I trust you and assume good. I know that if you’re annoyed with me, you’ll tell me, because we’ve built a relationship in which we deal with challenges overtly, as they happen.” And perhaps I’m living on another planet – the planet of utopic candor. But the aforementioned are my goals. It’s why I do the work I do at Candid Culture. I envision workplaces in which we assume good and ask questions if we don’t. Do you?
You’ve either seen the video or heard about the group think that happened before NASA’s Challenger exploded in 1986. One engineer felt strongly that there was a defect in the Challenger’s design. He spoke up, others disagreed. He continued to speak up, until it became very uncomfortable to do so.
Most employees don’t even get that far. Many employees are afraid to speak up at all, feeling that it’s not ok to have a counter point of view, and that those who disagree with ‘management’ are eventually fired. I honestly am not sure where this comes from. It hasn’t been my experience, and yet the fear of speaking up is pervasive. I hear it in almost every organization with which I work.
If it’s not ok to express different opinions, your organization will deliver the same-old products and services you always have. If staying the same works in your industry, great. But stagnation is a killer to most organizations.
If you want more innovation in the workplace, you have to make it safe to speak up and offer a different point of view. Saying new, different, and even controversial things must be encourage and rewarded.
Five Ways to Encourage Innovation In the Workplace:
- Ask for new ideas and different points of view.
- Wait until you get both. Don’t allow a meeting or discussion to move on until you get new, opposing, and different points of view.
- Positively acknowledge people who risk and say something new or different from the norm.
- Ensure people with new ideas and different points of view are allowed to finish speaking before they’re interrupted or before someone else tries to negate their ideas.
- Create a few new awards in your organization and announce winners publicly and with great fanfare. You get what you reward.
Create Awards to Encourage Innovation In the Workplace:
- Acknowledge the person who fails massively trying something new.
- Award the person who brings new ideas to the table, regardless of what happens to those ideas.
- Celebrate the person who willingly gives you the worst news.
The fear of speaking up and saying something new or different will kill your innovation efforts. It will also kill your employees’ ambition and ability to be creative. Make it safe to tell the truth, even when the truth is hard to understand or unpopular, and see what happens to innovation, creativity, and employee productivity and morale.
It’s hard to watch people do things that damage them – personally or professionally. And yet, if they haven’t asked for feedback, people likely won’t listen to unsolicited advice, so don’t bother giving it.
If you really want to give unsolicited advice, ask for permission and make sure you get a true “yes” before speaking up.
The conversation could go something like this:
“I noticed we’re getting behind on the XYZ project. I have a couple of ideas about what we can do. Would you be interested in talking about them?” Or, “That Monday meeting is rough. I feel for you. I used to run meetings like that. Would you be interested in talking about some meeting management strategies? I’d be happy to share what I’ve learned.”
After you offer to talk (aka, give your opinion), listen and watch the response you get. Does the person’s words and body language portray a true “yes, I’d like your opinion” or what seems like an “I’m supposed to say yes” reply? If you get the latter, you’re likely just giving unwanted advice that won’t be heard. If that’s the case, let it go. But if the person appears generally interested and open, proceed.
You could also say something like:
“Last week we were talking about your frustrations about not being promoted. I have a couple of ideas about that. Do you want to talk about them? Either way is fine, but I thought I’d offer.”
Or, “That was a tough conversation during today’s staff meeting. It’s hard to present ideas and not have them be embraced. I have a couple of thoughts about ways you can approach the conversation during the next meeting. Want to talk about them?”
If you make the invitation to talk, the other person has to be able to say no. An invitation is only an invitation if no is an acceptable answer. You can’t ask if the person wants your input and then keep talking even if he verbally or physically said no.
Be brave. If you care about someone personally or professionally and you see him doing something that gets in the way of his success, ask permission to say something. If you get the go ahead, proceed. If you get a “no thank you,” accept that and move on. You’ve done your part.
Read How to Say Anything to Anyone, and get the words to have even the toughest conversations.
Companies want people who make things happen. And to make things happen, you have to speak up. No, anticipating the train wreck and commenting after the train goes off the tracks doesn’t count.
What if you said what you thought, in a way other people could hear you, when you had the right to do so? Meaning, you have the relationship with the other person to tell the truth and you’ve asked permission to be candid?
6 Courageous Steps to Advance Your Career:
- Look for opportunities to make things better.
- Ask for permission to take the ball and run with it.
- Build relationships with other people who are making things happen.
- Don’t say yes, when they mean no.
- Find a way to say no, while engaging the other person in a conversation so a new approach is generated.
- Are willing to go out on a limb, work hard, and fail.
Here’s how to speak up for change without being labeled as the problem person who finds flaws in everything:
- Look for and present solutions, not merely problems.
- Offer to do the work to move towards a better way of doing things. Don’t drop problems at your other people’s doors.
- Ask questions versus overtly say why something is wrong. That could sound something like, “I’d love to help. Tell me more about the process. Perhaps we can insert a step to make this better. What do you think of trying…?” No one likes to be told he’s wrong. Asking questions elicits participation more than overtly saying, “This is broken. We need to fix it.”
Many people are afraid to speak up at work and believe that people who speak up get fired. I haven’t found this to be the case. People who work hard and produce results are typically the last people to be let go.
Say what you think in a way that is not critical; offer solutions not just problems; be a force for good and take an active role in making things better, and my hunch is your career will accelerate faster than you ever thought possible.
I’ll never forget a coaching meeting I had about two years ago. I gave the manager I was coaching some tough feedback and he replied by saying, “I know I do that.” So I asked him, “If you know this is an issue, why are we having the discussion? He told me, “I just figured this is the way I am.” And I realized that knowing a behavior is ineffective doesn’t mean we know what to do to make things better.
The people you work with want to do a good job. They want you to think well of them. Yes, even the people you think do little work and/or are out to get you. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Assume people are doing the best they know how to do. And when you don’t get what you want, make requests.
There are two ways to give feedback. One way is very direct.
Version one: “You did this thing and here’s why it’s a problem.”
The other way is less direct. Rather than telling the person what went wrong, simply make a request.
Version two: “Would you be willing to…” Or, “It would be really great to get this report on Monday’s instead of Wednesday. Would you be willing to do that?”
It’s very difficult to give feedback directly without the other person feeling judged. Making a request is much more neutral than giving direct feedback, doesn’t evoke as much defensiveness, and achieves the same result. You still get what you want.
When I teach giving feedback, I often give the example of asking a waitstaff in a restaurant for ketchup. Let’s say your waiter comes to your table to ask how your food is and your table doesn’t have any ketchup.
Option one: Give direct feedback. “Our table doesn’t have any ketchup.”
Option two: Make a request. “Can we get some ketchup?”
Both methods achieve the desired result. Option one overtly tells the waiter, “You’re not doing your job.” Option two still tells the waiter he isn’t doing his job, but the method is more subtle and thus is less likely to put him on the defensive.
You are always dealing with people’s egos. And when egos get bruised, defenses rise. When defenses rise, it’s hard to have a good conversation. People stop listening and start defending themselves. Defending oneself is a normal and natural reaction to negative feedback. It’s a survival instinct.
You’re more likely to get what you want from others when they don’t feel attacked and don’t feel the need to defend themselves. Consider simply asking for what you want rather than telling people what they’re doing wrong, and see what happens.
I will admit, asking for what you want in a neutral and non-judgmental way when you’re frustrated is very hard to do. The antidote is to anticipate your needs and ask for what you want at the onset of anything new. And when things go awry, wait until you’re not upset to make a request. If you are critical, apologize and promise to do better next time. It’s all trial and error. And luckily, because most of us aren’t great at setting expectations and human beings are human and make mistakes, you’ll have lots and lots of chances to practice giving feedback and making requests.
You know when someone gives you ‘the tone’. Similar to when people roll their eyes at you, when you get ‘the tone’ you’re being told that the other person is exasperated.
Tone of voice communication is one of the hardest things to coach because we don’t hear ourselves. People who give people ‘the tone’ rarely know they’re doing it. One of the best ways I know to effectively coach tone of voice is to ask tone givers to tape themselves during phone calls. Then listen to the recording together and ask the tone giver, “If your grandmother called and someone spoke to her that way, would you be happy?” You can also read written correspondence out loud, adding the tone you ‘heard’, and ask the sender how she would have interpreted the message.
When given the tone, most people feel judged. And when people feel judged, conversations are constrained.
The way to avoid giving ‘the tone’ is to come from a place of curiosity. When you ask the question, “What were you thinking when you approached the customer that way,” you can sound curious or judgmental. Being judgmental evokes defensiveness, which shuts conversations down. Being curious creates discussion.
Consider asking questions like these to invite discussion:
• Tell me more about…
• Help me understand what happened here…
• What are your thoughts about…
• What’s the history behind….
• Why do we do it this way?
Any of these questions will lead to good discussion, if you manage your tone.
If you want to get information or influence someone, ask questions and engage the person in a dialogue. We often try to persuade people by giving them information. This rarely works. Instead of over loading people with data, ask questions which evoke discussion. Through discussion you might get to a different place. And if not, you’ll at least have learned why the other person thinks as he does and you will have shared your point of view in a way that is inviting versus off putting.
It’s easy to give people ‘the tone’ when we’re tired and frustrated. Try to avoid difficult conversations when you’re tired or stressed. Wait to have important conversations until you know you can manage yourself and your tone.