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Business Communication Archive

Make It Easier to Talk About Fear at Work

In all of my years of working in and with organizations, I have never heard anyone say the words, “I’m scared” at work. I’ve heard: “I’m concerned” and “I’m uncomfortable,” but never the words, “I’m scared.”

These are scary times. It’s scary to go to the grocery store, to know who it’s ‘safe’ to stand next to, and to travel.

Make it safe for employees to talk about their fears.

One of the first things I teach when I talk about change management is letting people express how they feel – their worries, hopes, and concerns. The people you work with are likely scared. They may be wondering if their job is secure, what happens if they get sick, and are they doing enough work from home with their kids present.

It’s hard to talk about fear because we think doing so makes us appear weak. Leaders and managers need to normalize the conversation. Make it ok to talk about how people feel at work.

Here are four steps to make it easier to talk about fear at work:

  1. Leaders and managers – admit what you’re afraid of. People will take your lead. Admitting how you feel demonstrates strength not weakness.
  2. Tell people it’s ok to be afraid and it’s ok to talk about fear at work. Sanction the conversation.
  3. Give more information about contingency planning, budgets and work from home and time off policies than you think you need to.  Communicate, communicate, communicate.  Then do it again.
  4. Create a forum for people to talk about how they feel about recent events and changes. Managers are not therapists or dumping grounds, but you are coaches. You can help people work through their work-related fears when you know what those fears are.

I’ve always believed that demonstrating our humanity at work is a strength. Being authentic makes people want to work for and with you. Admitting concerns makes you approachable and real.

Your employees and coworkers don’t need to know the details of your whole life, but they do need to see your humanity and be able to relate to you. Talk about how you feel and open the door for others to do the same.


How to Talk About Social Distancing and the Coronavirus at Work

I have a nanny who works in my home. She isn’t afraid of getting sick with the Coronavirus. She was going to the gym, before gyms were closed. I couldn’t tell her not to, however badly I wanted to. I could tell her not to come to work, but that doesn’t help me. How does a nanny work from home?

You are likely in a similar situation. You canceled your spring break trip, your direct report didn’t. You are practicing social distancing, your coworker who sits in the desk next to you isn’t. You’re keeping your kids at home; your next-door neighbors are not. Your kids want to play together.

You can’t legally tell an employee or coworker what to do when they’re not working, but you can tell your coworkers, friends, and family members that you’re uncomfortable. You can make requests and express concern.

My son is on the cusp of the cutoff to go to kindergarten in September. He just makes the deadline. I’ve been asking his preschool teacher how I decide if I should send him to kindergarten in September. His teacher’s criteria for determining if children are ready for kindergarten is self-advocacy. Can children ask for what they need and get their needs met. This is an interesting criterion that I see adults struggle with all the time.

Do we (the adults) regularly ask for what we need and want? Are we willing to be uncomfortable on our own behalf, on our employees’ behalf?

The coronavirus is testing all of us. It’s testing our patience, resilience, and self-discipline. It’s also testing our personal courage in the area of speaking up.

Here are a few ways to talk about the coronavirus at work:

Share your concerns. Tell the people you work with, “We work closely together. I’ve heard you talking about attending parties and other events with groups of people outside of work. I am very nervous about contracting the coronavirus virus. This is making me uncomfortable. I can’t tell you what to do outside of work. Can we talk about what types of social distancing we’re both willing to practice so we’re both comfortable?”

This will take courage. If you can’t advocate for yourself, who will?

Make requests. Tell your boss, “I’m really committed to the project I’m working on with _______. I’m working very hard to stay healthy and practice social distancing. I’ve heard _________ talking about going to parties and gatherings with other people outside of work. We’re working closely together and it’s making me uncomfortable. I want to be a good coworker and employee and protect myself. Can you help me?”

Self-advocacy takes courage.

Caveat – Vet any conversation you plan to have with your HR person or in-house counsel. Make sure what you ask for is legal in your home state.

Share your positive intentions:  “I want to be a good coworker.” “I want to do good work on this project.” “I want to be easy to work with.”

Share your concerns:  “I’m concerned about getting sick. I’m trying to limit my exposure to the coronavirus.”

Share your observation: “I’ve heard you talk about spending time with groups of people outside of work.” “I’ve noticed you spending time with groups of people.”

Share how you feel: “This is making me uncomfortable.” 

Make a request: “Can we talk about how we can keep each other safe?”

Creating a safe workspace and working environment requires the courage to speak up. Plan, practice, and prepare your conversations. Don’t speak off the cuff. Vet what you plan to say with your HR person or in-house counsel. Speak from your positive intention. Be courageous. Be safe.


Know Your Reputation; Manage Your Career

At some point, you’ll get passed over for a promotion, project, or piece of work, and no one will tell you why. Why should they? There is little incentive to deal with your likely (human and normal) defensive response. It’s easier to say nothing.

The problem is that this lack of information gives you no ability to manage your career.

Most people get almost no feedback at work. “Good job” isn’t feedback. Neither is, “You seem distracted.” And being told, “You just weren’t the right fit,” is utterly unhelpful.

If you want to manage your career, you need more information. Getting this information might seem scary. You might be thinking, “What if I don’t want to hear what people have to say? What happens if I hear something really bad?” People are so hesitant to give feedback, they’ll likely be ‘nice’ to you. You won’t hear anything you can’t handle.

There are people in your life who will tell you the impression you create, what you’re like to work with, and why you might not have gotten a job you really want. They’ll tell you, if you ask and make it safe to tell you the truth. Making it safe means you can’t defend yourself. No matter what the person says and how hard it may be to hear, you must respond with, “Thank you for telling me that,” even if you’re convinced they’re wrong.

The easier it is to give you feedback, the more feedback you’ll get. The harder it is to give you feedback, the less you’ll get. Remember, no one wants to deal with your defensive response. It’s easier to say nothing.

Identify five people in your life who care about you, who you trust. They might work with you now, but perhaps not. Don’t overlook your friends, family, spouse and past co-workers. Tell each person, individually, that you want to know more about the impression you make and what you’re like to work/interact with. Do this over the phone or in-person. Emailing the request doesn’t demonstrate seriousness. Ask the person to schedule a conversation with you. Send your questions in advance, so the person is prepared. Have the scheduled meeting; don’t cancel it, even if something important comes up. Consider asking: The first impression you make; what you’re like to work/interact with; the best thing about you; and one change you could make. Say, “thank you,” for the information and not more. Don’t underestimate the power of your emotions. Everyone gets defensive when receiving feedback. Defensiveness can be off-putting and scary to others. Don’t do anything to limit future feedback.

Ask these questions a few times a year. You don’t necessarily need to make any changes, based on what you learned. The point isn’t to act on the information, it’s merely to have it. Information is power, and power is control.


Manage People Who Give You ‘The Tone’ – Tone of Voice Communication

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 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….

Any of these questions will lead to a 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 overloading people with data, ask questions that 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.


Business Communication Skills – Influence by Asking Questions

When selling a product, service, or idea, people often think that providing more information is better. The more data points, the more likely the other person is to be persuaded. This is not necessarily the case. Excluding data hounds, most people don’t like to be overloaded with information. But people do appreciate the opportunity to talk about what they want and need. So if you want to sell something, give people a chance to talk.

I’ll never forget one of my first sales calls, early in my career. I was selling Dale Carnegie Training. After calling a prospect for six months, he agreed to spend ten minutes with me. Feeling rushed, I laid out all of our training brochures and quickly told him about every program we offered. Then I asked if he wanted to buy anything. He didn’t.

If I had asked a few questions and listened to his answers, I could have provided information on just the training programs he needed, instead of giving him a list of likely irrelevant options.

Selling a product or service is no different from selling an idea. You are trying to persuade someone to your way of thinking. Resist the temptation to persuade solely by educating. Instead, ask questions, listen to the answers, and then tell the person what you heard her say. If you’ve taken a listening class, you learned the practice of paraphrasing what someone said. Paraphrasing is a very old, very effective practice.

People need to feel heard and understood. From my experience, asking relevant questions, demonstrating that you listened to the answers by paraphrasing what the person said, and providing pertinent and succinct information is what people need to make a decision.


Ask Questions Before You Give Feedback & Strengthen Your Business Relationships

When you feel you’ve been wronged, it’s natural to lay into the offending person, give negative feedback, and tell him exactly what you think. The problem with doing this is that as soon as a person feels accused, he becomes defensive. And when people are put on the defensive and feel threatened, they stop listening. And you’ve potentially damaged your workplace relationship.

When someone does something for the first time that violates your expectations, use the lowest level of intervention necessary. Allow the person to save face, and ask for what you want, without giving an abundance of negative feedback and pointing out all the things he’s done wrong.

Likewise, when you cut your finger while cooking, you put a Band-Aid on your finger. You don’t cut off the finger. This is true with business communication too.

When you’re facilitating a meeting, you can ask the two people who are side talking to stop, or you can go third grade on them and ask, “Is there something you want to share with the rest of us?” Both methods will stop the behavior. But one embarrasses the side talkers a lot, the other only a little.

Likewise, when one of your coworkers takes credit for your work, you can give feedback and say, “I noticed you told Mike that you worked on that project, when we both know that you didn’t. Why did you do that?” Or you can skip the accusation and ask a question instead, saying, “I noticed you told Mike you worked on that project. Can I ask why you did that?” From there you can have a discussion, give feedback if you need to, and negotiate.

When your boss doesn’t make time to meet with you, rather than saying, “You don’t make time for me. That makes it hard for me to do my job and makes me feel unimportant.” Instead consider saying, “I know how busy you are. Your input is really important in helping me move forward with projects. How can we find 30 minutes a week to connect so I can get your input and stay on track?”

In each of the situations above, you’d be justified in calling the person out and giving negative feedback. And it might feel good in the moment. But being right doesn’t get you closer to what you want, and it can damage your workplace relationships.

Practice good business communication –say as little as you have to, to get what you want. If this method doesn’t work, then escalate, communicate more directly, and give feedback. The point is to get what you want, not to make the other person look bad. The better the ‘offender’ feels after the conversation, the more likely you are to get what you want in the future.


Celebrate Valentine’s Day at Work Without Spending Money

Many organizations spend more money than they have to on employee recognition gifts and appreciation programs that often involve bonuses, paid time off, contests, gifts, and other expensive forms of compensation. What employees want most is to know they’re doing a good job.

Giving feedback in the workplace is the cheapest, most effective, and often overlooked form of employee recognition. Employees want to know how they’re performing, and most employees get little to no positive or negative feedback at work. They may not want to hear negative feedback, but employees want to know if they aren’t meeting expectations.

In several of Candid Culture’s training programs, I give participants a box of questions to help coworkers set expectations and improve workplace communication.  Some of the questions include:

  • Do you prefer to receive information via email, voicemail, or text message?
  • Are you a big picture or a detail-oriented person?
  • What are your pet peeves at work?
  • What type of work do you like to do the most? What type of work do you like to do the least?
  • What do you wish I would start, stop, and continue doing?

Participants use the questions during the training, and I am consistently amazed at how often training participants ask what their coworkers wish they would start, stop and continue doing. I assume employees will be hesitant to ask for feedback in front of a group of peers. But training participants consistently tell me that they get almost no feedback at work, and they’re desperate for the information.

Here’s How to Celebrate Valentine’s Day at Work Without Spending Money:

  1. Give clear, specific, and timely positive and negative feedback. Employees want to know how they’re performing.
  2. Ask what type of work employees really want to do, and let them do that work most of the time.
  3. Ask what skills employees want to learn, and give them a chance to attain those skills.
  4. Write handwritten notes of appreciation.

Employees at Candid Culture get their birthdays off paid. We often buy employees lunch, give bonuses, and have a generous time-off policy. Those perks are important and do help retain employees. But monetary rewards never replace or supersede the value of being aware of employees’ performance and caring enough to tell employees the truth.


Tell your coworkers you appreciate them – Valentines for coworkers

Today I’m having lunch with people I worked with twenty years ago. Twenty years. I have long forgotten the projects we worked on, the deadlines, and deliverables that were important at the time. What I do remember, are Jim and Siobhan. Some of my closest 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 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 who I traveled with for weeks on end, who endured a CEO who made us practice and re-write presentations until 1:00 am for a meeting the next morning, and the coworkers I worked with at the World Trade Center. As much as I appreciated and cared about the people I worked with, I’m 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 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 stationery 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.


Not getting feedback at work? It’s your mom’s fault.

Last week I had lunch with a client. When I returned from lunch I saw a friend who told me I had something stuck in my teeth.  I was embarrassed and wondered why my client hadn’t told me.

It’s quite possible he hadn’t noticed.  In fact, knowing this guy and how much work I’ve done with his firm on being candid, it’s probable he hadn’t noticed. But we all know people who notice and say nothing. We could walk around all day with toilet paper on our shoe, lipstick on our teeth, or our fly down, and the people around us won’t tell us.

If you read my blog weekly, you already know that people have been trained not to tell you the truth.

But I think there is more preventing people from telling us the truth. Complete this sentence:  “If you have nothing nice to say, _________________________________. Who told you that?  Your mother!!!

I do think there’s something to this. We’re raised to believe that it’s not nice to say something to another person that isn’t positive.  And in the past, when we did speak up, it’s likely the other person got defensive.  So it’s no wonder that we don’t readily give people bad news.

Here are five tips for getting feedback from the people around you:

  1. Establish a core team of people who will always tell you the truth. These can be friends, coworkers, clients, vendors, your boss, etc.
  2. Give people permission, to be honest with you.  “Let’s make a deal. I always want you to tell me the truth. If I have something stuck in my teeth, or I’m inappropriately dressed for a meeting, or I’m doing something that damages my reputation, I want you to tell me.”
  3. Make it easy to tell you the truth. “I promise no matter what you tell me and how hard it is to hear, I will say thank you. I won’t get defensive. And if I do, I’ll apologize and try to do better next time.”
  4. Offer to do the same for them. “And if you want me to do the same thing for you, I’m happy to do it.”
  5. Periodically check in with people and ask for feedback.  “A few months ago I asked you to tell me anything I said, did, or wore that got in the way of my success.  Is there anything you’ve seen that you want to tell me?”

Every time you ask for feedback and take it graciously, you train the person to give you more feedback. On the contrary, every time you get defensive, you make it hard for people to give you feedback, making it likely they won’t do it again.

If you don’t want to walk around looking silly all day, create a safe environment where co-workers can tell the truth.


Hinting Won’t Cut It

Several years ago, a guy I was dating asked, “We don’t really need to do anything for your birthday 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 ‘big day’ I was furious and let him know it. Instead of having dinner on my birthday, 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? Learn how to get what you want on your birthday 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 your birthday, 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 the day together. I don’t care what we do, as long as we’re together.” Or, “I don’t care what you do for my birthday, but please do something to mark the day.” And if you want something specific, ask for it. “I’d love flowers, 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.


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