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Posts Tagged ‘business communication’

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.


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.


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.


Can I Be Candid with You? The Real Definition of Candor.

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.


Give Feedback by Asking Questions

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. 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: “Will you…” Or, “It would be helpful to get this report on Mondays instead of Wednesday. Are you able 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 productive 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.


Want More Innovation In the Workplace? Make It Safe to Tell the Truth

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:

  1. Ask for new ideas and different points of view.
  2. 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.
  3. Positively acknowledge people who risk and say something new or different from the norm.
  4. 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.
  5. 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:

  1. Acknowledge the person who fails massively trying something new.
  2. Award the person who brings new ideas to the table, regardless of what happens to those ideas.
  3. 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.

Innovation In the Workplace


Giving Feedback – Don’t Give Unsolicited Advice

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. Do the person’s words and body language portray a true “yes, I’d like your opinion” or what seems like an “I know I’m supposed to say yes, but I’m really not interested” 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. Do you want to talk about them?”

If you extend 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 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.

How to Say Anything to Anyone


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