Medium Makes the Message Meaningful

January 26, 2018

The popularity of texting and social media has enabled quicker and wider distribution of our thoughts and ideas, but at what cost? When these methods become the default medium for how we interact with others, receivers may make false assumptions, misunderstand our intent and become less rather than more clear on the message.

This is because so much is lost when we remove the opportunity for the receiver to look into the eyes of the sender, hear the tone of their voice, and feel a physical presence that is either congruent or incongruent with what is being stated. All of these elements are vital to clear communication, yet missing when reduced to text and emoticons.

When we email, text, tweet or post we are choosing asynchronous communication. This electronically mediated form of communication occurs when participants are not necessarily interacting concurrently. One person can send a message and receivers can reply when they choose. This can be especially valuable in some situations and extremely problematic in others.

The trouble is these asynchronous communication vehicles have become the default way for far too many of us to interact with others. And this is creating a crisis in our communication.

One of the reasons for this is that we all instinctively need warmth to convey difficult truths, and this warmth won’t happen if you can’t see the other person’s face or hear the inflection in that person’s voice.

Communicating face-to-face or even via video (Skype, Slack, FaceTime, etc.) is much better suited in most cases. This synchronous communication is how we first learned to interact with other humans and became vital to our survival. In synchronous communication, you say something to another person and you receive immediate feedback both from what he or she says and from the extremely valuable non-verbal messages conveyed.

When conveying any message, it is important to choose the appropriate medium rather than simply default to one alone. With that I offer the following suggestions.

Email

Using email is a great way to convey information to others, but it’s not great in every case. Here are some suggestions regarding email guidelines:

  • Include a clear and direct Subject line.
  • Think twice before hitting “Reply All.”
  • Be cautious regarding humor.
  • Reply to your emails—even those sent to you by mistake.
  • Proofread your message before hitting Send.
  • Keep tabs on your tone to ensure the message won’t be misinterpreted.
  • If message may require back and forth discussion, choose face-to-face or phone call instead.

Text

Here’s a subset from a list from the Emily Post Institute regarding texting guidelines that I think are appropriate:

  • Don’t text to inform someone of sad news or to end a relationship.
  • Keep your message brief. If it runs on and on, make a phone call instead.
  • Don’t text anything confidential, private or potentially embarrassing.
  • Don’t be upset if your text doesn’t get an immediate response—you can’t know for sure when the recipient will read the message.
  • Just as you shouldn’t answer your phone during a conversation, you shouldn’t text when you’re engaged with someone else. If you are with someone who won’t stop texting during your conversation, feel free to excuse yourself until they have concluded their messaging.
  • Don’t text and drive.

In an article in Psychology Today, Douglas Van Praet recommends the following to improve all text-based communication:

  1. Play it straight. Strive for being clear over being clever. Less will be lost in the translation between what is written and what is read.
  2. Close the loop. Acknowledging a message is as simple as nodding your head or saying “uh-huh” when you are face-to-face. With text-based communications, you can be courteous with a quick return message to acknowledge receipt.
  3. Respond quickly. It is much more difficult to build and maintain trust without face-to-face interactions. Based on research, a general rule of thumb indicates that a quick response will lead to greater respect, even when the answer may not be what they want.
  4. Move the conversation offline. Bottom line: If the conversation is important, do it in person or at least via video where you can see each other.

Tweet

Twitter’s Terms of Service make it extremely clear and simple regarding proper etiquette: Be genuine and non-deceptive and provide value. Other things to keep in mind:

  • Like all social media, remember it is a public forum.
  • It is meant for engagement, so prepare to genuinely engage with your followers.
  • Be polite.
  • For every promotional link regarding you or your business, send out at least five tweets that inform, engage and converse.

Face-to-face is usually the most effective way to convey information to another person, especially with a sensitive or difficult message and where there is a need for back and forth questions and answers.

It seems that building and maintaining trust, perhaps more than anything else, is when it is most important to communicate face-to-face. Therefore, if you have any concern regarding trust with whomever you are trying to communicate, engage directly rather than digitally.

Three Ways to Increase Employee Engagement

January 27, 2014

Raising employee engagement should be the goal of every organization because engaged employees are more productive than those who are not.

Despite the fact that many companies are lavishing their workers with extravagant perks, overall employee engagement is still very low. Seventy percent of the country’s 100 million full-time workers are either not engaged or are actively disengaged.

Three ways to increase employee engagement include the freedom on how to do the work, the option to work on things that interest the individual employee, and the flexibility to work remotely at least part of the time.

A few years ago Netflix created their employee slide deck in which one of the seven aspects of their culture is freedom and responsibility. This includes self-motivation, self-awareness, self-discipline, self-improving, acts like a leader and others.

They found that as companies grow they are typically forced to add more processes and procedures in order to manage the increasing complexity that comes with more employees. These processes and procedures, however, lead only to short-term benefits and often drive the highest performing employees out of the company.

Netflix instead attracted high value people with the freedom to have a big impact, demanded a high performance culture, and provided top of market compensation. So instead of a “culture of process adherence” they have a “culture of creativity and self-discipline, freedom and responsibility.”

As I wrote in a previous post, this freedom takes great courage and faith that your employees will be responsible and accountable for getting things done.  So far, this seems to have paid off for Netflix.

The second area that can help boost employee engagement is enabling workers to follow their interests and passions. This could be similar to what Google provides in “20% Time,” where employees can choose to work on a project or concept that intrigues them to stir innovation. Though not official, there are reports that Google has done away with 20% Time, even though it produced such profitable ventures as Gmail, Google News and Adsense.

The idea of giving employees this freedom is not new as 3M was exploring the use of 15% time for this purpose as far back as the conservative 1950s. Well-known and profitable products like Post-its and masking tape were invented out of this.

There is even a 20-Time in Education that allows students 20% of class time (one day each week) to work on and explore a topic of their choice. Since the world is becoming more interconnected and collaborative, it seems natural to enable learners to begin working in this way before they need to earn a paycheck for it. This means teaching students to be autonomous learners who can guide their own career and discover how to most effectively contribute to a team.

Finally, there is the notion of creating a culture of openness that enables employees to choose not only how they do the work, but also from where.

Nearly 30% of employers now offer telecommuting as a way to improve staff retention rates, and nearly three-quarter of employees say flexible work hours would cause them to choose one job over another.

But is the ability to work remotely really the complete answer?

Gallup recently found that employees who worked remotely ended up working longer hours and were slightly more engaged employees. They found that 32% of employees who worked remotely engaged, while only 28% of those employees working on-site were engaged.

However, it turns out that there was a point of diminishing returns for remote workers. Those spending 20% or less of their time working remotely were found to be the most engaged (35%) and had the lowest level of active disengagement (12%). Working remotely began to decrease engagement levels, however, with more time spent away from the workplace.

There should be a balance between face-time with other workers and flexibility for how the work gets accomplished.

Dave Coplin, chief envisioning officer at Microsoft, in an entertaining look in this RSA animated video, discusses how technology can be part of the problem as well as a potential solution.

Among other things, Coplin says that social networking has changed how we work in that we are now sharing just about everything versus previously when we were sharing only what we chose to share. This sharing inevitably requires a great deal more trust not only in our selves but in each other as well.

The idea of providing employee perks to encourage workers to stay at the office longer can initially attract employees, but giving benefits that stir innovation and lasting employee engagement needs to appeal more to people’s intrinsic motivation.

This means providing people with the freedom on what the work is, how it gets done and where to do it. Accompanying this freedom also requires a degree of trust, responsibility and accountability.  And that’s a formula for increasing employee engagement.

Do the Work to be Lucky in Your Career

June 25, 2012

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”  — Seneca

I often encounter people I admire who seem extremely lucky in getting a great job, regular promotions, and seemingly unlimited professional success.

For the most part, I believe these people earned this fate through taking responsibility for their luck. What I mean by taking responsibility is that they are doing the work necessary to be lucky in their careers.

In psychologist Richard Wiseman’s book “The Luck Factor,” he studied thousands of exceptionally “lucky” and “unlucky” people. What he found was that those who considered themselves lucky tended to exhibit similar attitudes and behaviors. And those identifying themselves as unlucky tended to exhibit the opposite traits.

His 10-year study revealed that good fortune is not primarily due to talent, hard work or intelligence. It is the attitudes and behaviors you have that can help determine how lucky you are in your career.

Wiseman identified four principles that characterize lucky people. They:

  1. Maximize chance opportunities and are especially adept at creating, noticing and acting upon these opportunities when they arise.
  2. Are very effective at listening to their intuition and do work—like meditation—that is designed to boost their intuitive abilities.
  3. Expect to be lucky by creating a series of self-fulfilling prophesies because they go into the world anticipating a positive outcome.
  4. Have an attitude that allows them to turn bad luck into good. They don’t allow ill fortune to overwhelm them, and they move quickly to take control of the situation when it isn’t going well for them.

Wiseman recommends listening to your gut, being open to new experiences, remembering the positive in situations and simply visualizing yourself as being lucky. By actively practicing these principles, he says you too can find more luck in your professional growth and development.

According to a survey from the professional networking site LinkedIn, 84% of professionals believe in career luck. And 48% consider themselves to have better career luck when compared to other professionals.

These LinkedIn professionals attribute their luck to having strong communication skills, being flexible, acting on opportunities, compiling a strong network, and having a strong work ethic.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says 70% of all jobs are now found through networking. It seems obvious that the more you pursue the sort of people who can help you in your career, the higher the probability that you’ll meet them.

So what exactly is the work necessary to bring more luck into your career? I believe you can position yourself to be lucky in advancing your career by the following:

  • Become more aware of what’s going on around you. The first step in any change begins with awareness. Not only of where you are, but who you are, and what you want to be. Practice mindfulness to be more conscious of the abundance all around you.
  • Follow your passion and pursue those who fascinate you. Just because you’re doing one type of job, doesn’t mean you can’t talk to people outside of this niche. Don’t limit yourself just because you don’t have any experience or education in a certain field. If you’re passionate about something and have some talent in it, then find those who can help you nurture this.
  • Open yourself to serendipity. A chance encounter is how so many great innovations and breakthroughs occur. Serendipity is the ability to take a chance occurrence—a surprising idea, person or event—and make creative use of it. Connecting the dots and seeing patterns can lead to novel ways of doing things and enterprising opportunities.
  • Always be on the lookout and be ready to pounce. This is all about the preparation necessary to seize opportunities. It means having your elevator pitch always at the ready. And it means being able to pursue your interest when the right connections appear before you.
  • Don’t count anyone out: see every encounter as potentially fruitful. You never know who you may meet who can help you take your career to the next level. Keep an open mind with everyone you meet to let them know what you’re looking for. Most people will want to help you if only given the opportunity.
  • Seek out and listen to advice. Keep an open mind to others’ ideas and suggestions so you can expand your thinking. Learning should be a lifelong pursuit no matter where you are in your career. Ask questions and really listen in order to learn.
  • Be nice even when others don’t seem receptive. Maintaining a positive attitude and showing appreciation is vital to attracting people and opportunities. People want to hire and work with people who are nice to be around. Make sure to demonstrate you are nice be around even when it may be difficult to do so.
  • Reframe the situation. Your perspective can influence events. Crisis can mean opportunity. Getting fired from a job that is not aligned with who you are can lead to your finding the job that is. I’ve always believed that if you raise any glass high enough, it will look half full rather than half empty.

While acquiring knowledge, skills and experience are important to any career, luck also plays a significant role. And though many people think of luck as something passive that either happens or not, the lucky ones know it is much more active and requires work.

So do what’s necessary to adequately prepare and remain open to see the opportunities in front of you. Then you’ll have luck on the side of your own career development.

Take Time to Think Offline

July 16, 2011

Working professionals today all seem to want wider and faster internet access on their mobile phones. We expect our smart phones to do everything our laptops can do. The result is we’re rarely unconnected anymore.

Employers are coming to expect this too. But being connected all the time may mean we are losing the benefits of being offline.

Facebook is now the most visited website with more than a half-billion users who spend a lot of time documenting their lives and commenting on others. Do you feel like the important things in your life don’t really matter if you haven’t posted them on Facebook? What if you did post something and nobody “Liked” or “Commented” on it? Does your network determine whether it has value?

I don’t consider myself a social media butterfly by any means, but I know how compelling connecting in this way can be. I just think we need to temper our time on Facebook with actual facetime.

And I am as guilty as the next guy when it comes to needing my internet fix. I no longer read a “dead tree,” as my friend likes to call them, and I used to subscribe to three newspapers at a time. I no longer have a TV cable bill either. My news, my information, my entertainment, and much of my connections now come in large part via the web.

But I don’t want to be addicted to what academic researchers Edward Hallowell and John Ratey call a “dopamine squirt” for every email or text message I receive. Instead, I want time away from my devices to enable creative thinking and genuine human interaction that I find can only occur when I’m unplugged.

When television moved from three network stations to hundreds of channels via cable or satellite, this seemed like such a great thing. But, for the most part, you can only watch one channel at a time. The same is basically true in the internet age.

Yes I know that multitasking is now considered a basic job requirement, but we should also acknowledge that there are limitations in trying to do things in parallel rather than sequencially. Taking the time to focus thoroughly on one thing at a time enables you to dive deeper, and to better diagnose and resolve a problem or find an opportunity.

In a previous post, I discussed how multitasking or “switchtasking” is detrimental to productivity, and email is the biggest reason why. Email and other distractions on our computers and smart phones are constantly seeking our attention.

But just because we can attend to our computers and phones all day and night, doesn’t mean we should. Like any tool, the laptop and the smartphone have their limitations and organizations would benefit if they enabled and encouraged more time for focused work away from these tools.

The Economist magazine recently pointed out, “Most companies are better at giving employees access to the information superhighway than at teaching them how to drive.”

Time for focused thinking may be frowned upon at work because you won’t actually look busy when you’re doing it. We may, in fact, even feel guilty if we’re not facing our computer screens and simply gazing off into the distance or out a window, though that could sometimes be enormously more productive.

Making the time to unplug and focus your thinking without disruptions can go a long way towards increasing your productivity. Instead of emailing, tweeting or posting a comment, speak to someone face-to-face. There will be less chance for misinterpretation and greater opportunity for increasing trust and commraderie.

Social Networks Bottom-line Benefits Require Employee Focus

January 12, 2011

Companies embracing social networks both internally and externally appear to be achieving bottom-line benefits, but this requires more than technology. It also means empowering employees at every level to make decisions and provide them with more flexibility in how to solve problems.

According to recent findings by McKinsey & Company, a new class of company is emerging that uses collaborative Web 2.0 technologies (wikis, blogs, social networks, mash-ups, etc.) intensively to connect the internal efforts of employees and extend an organization’s reach to customers, partners and suppliers.

The McKinsey worldwide survey of 3,249 executives across a range of regions, industries and functional areas found that two-thirds of respondents use Web 2.0 technologies in their organizations and the results are paying off. The survey asked respondents about their patterns of Web 2.0 use, the measurable business benefits they derived from it and the organizational impact of Web technologies.

More than two-thirds (69%) reported that their companies have gained measurable business benefits, including more innovative products and services, more effective marketing, better access to knowledge, lower cost of doing business, and higher revenues.

This is great news for businesses and their shareholders as well as the economy as a whole. The widespread use of Twitter and Facebook is beginning to look like more than a passing fad, but as a valid way to leverage business opportunities. Blogging can now be used to reach customers more directly and establish stronger relationships.

This is also good for a company’s ability to increase productivity, innovate more and increase employee engagement. According to the survey, the internal organizational impact included increased information sharing, less hierarchical information flows and collaboration across organizational silos.

Those businesses who embrace Web 2.0 technologies both internally and externally deploy talent more flexibly to deal with problems and allow employees lower in the corporate hierarchy to make decisions.

Implementing any new technology in an organization requires employee training to use it, but in the case of Web 2.0, there is also a need to alter corporate culture behaviorally. Just because there is a wiki, doesn’t mean people will contribute to it. Blogging without guidelines, support and incentives won’t necessarily lead to greater usage.

Social networking requires truly embracing the social to be successful and this may very well change the way employees interact inside the organization. Information won’t flow more freely because of technology alone. It also requires a cultural shift in the way employees interact with each other that is based upon mutual respect and trust.

Perhaps this is what separates the 3% of companies included in the McKinsey survey who are considered fully networked—those that have embraced Web 2.0 technologies both internally and externally. They are realizing the most benefits because they have focused their efforts on the cultural aspects as well as the technology.

To realize the bottom-line benefits of Web 2.0, organizations need to focus on the behavior accompanying it. This means empowering employees and giving them greater flexibility to do their jobs.

How is Web 2.0 technology being adopted in your company? Is it just the latest business strategy or is it fully embraced and supported with a focus on shifting the corporate culture so that it can be successful?