Posts Tagged ‘business communication’
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.
A few years ago, the guy I was dating asked, “We don’t really need to do anything for Valentine’s Day do we?” I was taken aback by his question (which was really a statement) and replied, “No, we don’t.” But I didn’t mean it. And when he blew off the ‘holiday’ I was furious and let him know it. Instead of having dinner on Valentine’s Day, we had an ugly conversation and a lousy rest of the week. Asking for what I wanted upfront would have been much less painful.
Why is it so hard to ask for what we want, especially from the people who love us? Here’s how to get what you want on Valentine’s Day and every day:
We aren’t likely to get what we don’t ask for. The people in our lives can’t read our minds. They don’t know what we want. This is true at home and at work. If you want a report to look a certain way, sketch it out for your employees. If you want a meeting handled in a certain fashion, give detailed instructions. For the most part we expect things to go well and thus we delegate insufficiently at work and hope to be pleasantly surprised at home.
I hope the people who love you, know you well enough and are intuitive enough to give your heart what it wants on Valentine’s Day, and every day. But if they don’t, make it easy for them to please you by telling them what you want. For example, tell the person you love, “I’d love to spend Valentine’s Day together. I don’t care what we do, as long as we’re together.” Or, “I don’t care what you do for Valentine’s Day, but please do something to mark the day.” And if you want something specific, ask for it. “I’d love flowers on Valentine’s Day, despite that they’ll die and are impractical. Anything but roses and carnations would be lovely.”
Ask for what you want and see what happens.
Whenever I leave a job, the thing I take with me are the relationships. The projects and deliverables quickly become distant memories, but the people and the experiences we shared together stay with me. Some of my closet friends and the people most important to me in the world are the people I’ve worked with. It makes sense that we make friends at work; it’s where we spend a lot of time. And the people we work with make work fun or miserable.
There is a considerable amount of research citing the connection between having good business relationships and employee engagement, retention, and high performance. When we feel we belong and have good relationships at work, we are happier and do better work. It makes perfect sense.
As I’m writing this, I’m thinking about my coworkers with whom I spent weeks on the road, who endured a presentation, practice session for an upcoming town hall meeting that lasted until 1:00 am, and the coworkers I worked with in the World Trade Center. As much as I appreciated and cared about the people I worked with, I not sure how often I told them that they made my work world better.
Valentine’s Day is a day we express appreciation for the people closest to us. Don’t limit your appreciation to your loved ones at home; include your coworkers who make your work fun and who help you get things done. Of course, I hope you’ll tell express appreciation more than once a year, but Valentine’s Day is an occasion not to miss.
Write the people you work with, who matter most to you, a handwritten note that they’ll keep for a long, long time. You can see our assortment of greeting cards for the workplace here. I’ll admit that I collect stationary and love giving and receiving handwritten notes. I suspect the people you work with will appreciate receiving a handwritten note too.
Click here to see all of our greeting cards:
Last week I was upset, really upset. I worked hard to practice what I preach when giving feedback – wait to talk until I’m calm, ask questions, and no matter what happens, don’t send a text message. It was hard, really hard.
I was mad and wanted to say, “What the *&^#$@?” But I know that when people receive negative feedback they feel judged. And when people feel judged, they become defensive, making it very difficult to hear what the other person is saying and have a conversation.
When my emotions don’t get the best of me, I plan hard conversations by asking myself these questions:
- What do I want to have happen as a result of the conversation?
- How do I need to approach the conversation to get that result?
Knowing that if I want to have a good conversation, I need to reduce the other person’s defensiveness, I often start feedback conversations by asking the neutral question, “Help me understand; what happened the other day?”
Last week one of my employees tipped me off that the people who work for me are on to me. They’ve read my book. When I ask, “Help me understand; what happened the other day,” they know that feedback will follow.
You don’t want to approach your relationships and conversations in a formulaic and inauthentic way. Inauthenticity stinks and it can damage relationships more than freaking out will do. But it’s not a terrible thing to put someone on notice. If the people who work with me know that negative feedback follows the question “what happened,” they know the conversation is important. Yes, they’ve been tipped off and perhaps as a result they’re on the defensive, but I still think asking “what happened yesterday” is a heck of a lot better than raising your voice, accusing, and asking questions later.
Asking questions to discuss thwarted expectations is hard to practice. It takes great self-management, which I don’t always have. I mostly practice what I teach, and when I don’t, I clean up the mess I’ve made, apologize and recommit to doing so in the future. And you can do the same.
A Few Practices to Consider:
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- Wait to give feedback until you won’t freak out, but don’t let situations fester and become bigger than they need to be. Have the conversation as soon after an event as possible.
- If something is important to you, ask for it. Trying to persuade yourself that it isn’t a big deal and might be your issue, probably won’t help. We want what we want. Be true to yourself.
- Consider starting hard conversations with “help me understand.”
And when you find that you’ve put the other person on the defensive and s/he feels judged, work to do better next time. But in the end, speaking up is always better than stuffing how you feel, even if you handle the conversations differently than you had planned.
During the holidays we often see people we haven’t seen in a long time. Your family and friends care about you and want to hear what’s happening in your life. Caring and curiosity can lead people to ask questions that you don’t want to answer.
Over Thanksgiving last year I was holding my sister-in-law’s adorable baby. That prompted another family member to ask when I was going to have a baby. I was completely taken aback by the question and simply replied, “I don’t know.”
Friends and family don’t need to know everything that’s happening in your life. None of your business – said a bit differently – is a perfectly acceptable reply. You decide what to share.
Here are a few possible replies to questions you don’t want to answer:
Question: “What’s happening with that nice young man/woman you’ve been dating?”
Answer: “Things are going great. Thanks for asking.”
Question: “Are you guys serious?”
Answer: “We like each other a lot. If it goes further, I’ll let you know.” Aka, this conversation is over.
Here’s another scenario:
Question: “Are you dating anyone?”
Answer: “No, not right now.”
Question: “You know, I met my husband on Match.com. Have you tried online dating?”
Answer: “That’s great that you met online. I don’t really want to talk about my dating life. What else is happening?”
The next thing she says, “You really should try it. You need to be open. You just never know.”
Answer: “I really appreciate your interest. I’m not looking for dating advice right now, but I really appreciate your concern.” Aka, shut up.
The examples above are about romantic relationships but they could have been about careers, kids, or finances. Your response can be the same. You don’t need to tell anyone anything you don’t want to. It’s ok to tell people to back off and that something is none of their business. You can say it nicely. Just don’t let yourself get cornered into giving information you don’t want to share.
An appropriate answer to almost any personal question is, “I don’t have anything to report on this front, but I’ll let you know when I do.”
An appropriate response to any type of unsolicited advice is, “Thanks so much for your concern. I’m not looking for advice on _____, but I really appreciate you caring.”
Telling someone to back off is perfectly appropriate. S/he’ll get the point and your personal life will remain personal. Boundaries are your friend.
Read How to Say Anything to Anyone, and be ready to manage intrusive questions and unsolicited advice this holiday season. We’re offering a special holiday deal. It’s the best price you’ll find anywhere.
By Shari Harley, Keynote Speaker and Founder and President of www.candidculture.com.
A few weeks ago, a college student introduced me before I spoke at a conference. I heard him practicing out loud shortly before he was to read my introduction on stage. As he practiced, I heard him struggle with the word candor. Initially he pronounced it as can-door vs. can-dor. He’d never seen the word and didn’t know what it meant.
The word candor is not being used on a regular basis. Younger people may not know what it means. And, in my experience, people who are familiar with the word often misinterpret candor to mean bad news. Most people expect bad news to come after the question, “Can I be candid with you?”
The definition of candor is to be honest, truthful and forthright. We at Candid Culture define candor differently. The Candid Culture definition of candor: Telling people what you need before challenges occur. Anticipating everything that can take a project or relationship off track and talking about potential pitfalls before they happen.
Think about the projects and processes in your office – hiring someone new, sourcing a vendor, training people on new software. The potential breakdowns are predictable. You know the pitfalls that can happen when starting anything new because you’ve experienced them.
What if candor sounded like, “We want this project to be smooth. There are a couple of things that will make our work together go well and a few things that may delay the project and have it cost more than we budgeted. Let’s talk about what needs to happen for things to go smoothly, ways to prevent missed deadlines, and how we’re going to handle breakdowns when they happen.”
Some call a conversation like this setting expectations, others call it planning. In my world, these conversations are called candor –talking about what you need when projects begin, rather than letting the anticipatable train wreck happen.
Candor isn’t bad news. It’s telling people how to win with you vs. making them guess.
Examples of candor at work and at home:
“Here a few of my pet peeves… It would be great if you could avoid them.”
“What will frustrate you?”
“I turn off my cell phone alerts at night, so feel free to text or call me anytime. I’ll respond to all messages in the morning.”
“I respond to text messages mostly quickly, then voicemail, then emails. If you don’t get a reply to an email within two or three days, don’t take it personally. Chances are I haven’t read the message. Feel free to follow up with a text or voicemail.”
“I work best by appointment. Drop by’s are hard because they interrupt my flow. Email or text me if you need something, and I’ll tell you when I can swing by. Does that work for you?”
For the most part, we treat people as we want to be treated. Other people aren’t us. They don’t do things as we do and don’t know what we want. Don’t make people guess how to work with you, what you need, and what you expect. Be candid and tell them! Then ask what the people you work and live with expect from you.
You won’t get what you don’t ask for.