Make Email a Useful Tool

August 12, 2022

Along with attending meetings, nothing dominates our workday more than tending to email messages. But does this have to be the case? Instead of allowing email to dictate how we spend our work lives, let’s put it back into the place where it belongs as just another tool that adds to rather than diminishes our overall productivity.

In my work coaching clients, I ask them to report how they spend their workday, and they so often report that they are consumed with back-to-back meetings all day every day. This is obviously not optimal and it needs to be gotten under control as I wrote about previously.

When you spend so much time in meetings, you either choose to multitask while in attendance or do your work (including email) when the workday should be complete. Multitasking while in meetings is not the solution as you are present for neither the meeting or the work you are trying to focus on. I suspect you really don’t need to attend all the meetings you go to, and it will serve you better by choosing to opt out whenever possible.

Regarding email, there are many things to consider so that you don’t spend nearly as much time on it. Many of these may be quite obvious, but that doesn’t mean we all do them.

Nir Eyal, author of Indistractable: How to control your attention and choose your life, says it’s important to hack back on email. His suggestions include:

  • If you want to receive fewer emails, send fewer emails. You likely contribute to the problem of too many emails every time you send one. Consider whether email is the right medium for your message. Would it be better to pick up the phone to avoid a constant back and forth via email messages? Perhaps a face-to-face meeting would work even better. Text, slack message, or is it even necessary to write or respond?
  • Consider having office hours for when you will respond to emails. Rather than act as if every message is both urgent and important, choose more intentional follow through. Rather than checking your inbox constantly, specify times each day when you will check and respond as needed. Consider putting those times in an automated response, so people are not surprised when you delay in your reply.
  • Hesitate in replying as everything is not urgent and can go away with time. Oftentimes you may think “this will just take a minute, so I’ll reply,” even though others also included on the distribution may appreciate the opportunity to respond and thereby share their knowledge and expertise. Then perhaps next time an issue comes up, the sender may choose to reach out only to that person thereby reducing the number of emails you receive.
  • Schedule delayed delivery. Many people tend to respond or compose email messages late at night or on the weekend. This flexibility is great for you, but the recipient may sense more urgency than you intend. Consider scheduling a delay to have them sent early the next morning or the following Monday morning.
  • Eliminate unwanted messages. Reducing the number of email messages should begin with unsubscribing to those you don’t read or want. In the workplace, if you are receiving internal messages on projects or subjects that are not important to you, consider politely requesting that you not be included on the distribution list.

Another idea is to use the 1-minute rule. If you can reply within one-minute, then do it now. Otherwise plan to reply to all other emails at a designated time when you can focus more thoroughly. Again, try to avoid doing this throughout the day as it will detract from your ability to focus and accomplish important work.

Email has been around for decades and, while it may be shunned by many Millennials and Gen Zers, it will likely remain in the workplace so it’s important to make it work for us rather than against us. Make email a useful tool.

Effective Communication Takes Two

April 26, 2022

In my work as an executive coach, one of the most common goals my clients choose to work on is to become a better communicator. This is usually not about public speaking, presentations or even writing better emails. It’s about learning to actively listen, interacting back-and-forth and understanding it’s not about what you say, but what others hear.

Ironically, the plethora of tools created to help us communicate has not increased effective communication. In fact, I would argue it has gotten much worse. Look no further than the negative impacts of social media.

Effective communication requires back and forth exchange, otherwise it’s just talking at people. Sending and receiving messages requires active participation on both sides to enable accurate understanding. This is especially important in the workplace to ensure the results management wants is what employees can deliver.

“We have been working at communications downward from management to the employees, from the superior to the subordinate,” writes management consultant and author Peter Drucker in his book The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done. “But communications are practically impossible if they are based on the downward relationship. The harder the superior tries to say something to his subordinate, the more likely is it that the subordinate will mis-hear. He will hear what he expects to hear rather than what is being said.”

This back and forth is all too often missing and leads to managers upset when they repeatedly tell their direct reports what they want, yet the employee fails to deliver. Perhaps it’s less about telling and more about asking.

In a previous post, I wrote about the importance of doing the right things rather than simply doing things right. When those on the front lines (closest to the problem or opportunity) are consulted on what’s the right thing to do, leaders are likely to make better decisions. This involves two-way communication that balances listening with speaking.   

Drucker suggests effective executives should ask their knowledge workers the following:

  • What should we at the head of this organization know about your work?
  • What do you want to tell me regarding this organization?
  • Where do you see opportunities we do not exploit?
  • Where do you see dangers to which we are still blind?
  • What do you want to know from me about the organization?

“In every area of effectiveness within an organization, one feeds the opportunities and starves the problems,” writes Drucker. “Nowhere is this more important than in respect to people. The effective executive looks upon people including himself as an opportunity.”

Apple’s Steve Jobs once said “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” This advice should be followed by all executives as an organization can only be as effective as its people.

George Bernard Shaw once said: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Ensure that your communication includes active listening, back-and-forth interaction, and that what you say is what they hear. Then it won’t be an illusion.

Zelenskyy’s Virtual Executive Presence

March 14, 2022

Throughout the past two years many of us have been challenged to demonstrate effective executive presence while working remotely. But how do you convey leadership prowess when you’re not physically in the same room?

Perhaps Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has most recently provided a great example of how to do this effectively—even while his life is being threatened and his country devastated by the Russian invasion.

First and foremost, Zelenskyy has led with values and demonstrates courage, vision and inspiration to Ukrainians and people around the world. Becoming famous by first acting as a fictional president in “Servant of the People,” perhaps the war has verified his ability to truly embody the notion of a servant to others.

Clearly, before becoming president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy understood how to communicate effectively as he rose from comedian to commander by capturing more than 70% of the vote. This effective wartime president has been able to gather worldwide sympathy as well as support for him and the Ukrainian people.

Whether President Putin may have simply underestimated the Ukrainian people’s resolve or President Zelenskyy has effectively held back a quick and decisive victory is still unclear. Regardless, the Ukrainian president is certainly effective in demonstrating his leadership.

Here are some examples how President Zelenskyy demonstrates executive presence:

  • Leads with values – speaks of freedom and independence for the Ukrainian people.
  • Speaks in terms of “we, the people of Ukraine” rather than “I alone can fix it” language.
  • Knows his medium: capitalizes on social media to effectively communicate his message.
  • Takes his own video selfies using not only words, but visuals of him wearing fatigues, sitting with his troops, and using backgrounds effectively.
  • Targets message to his audience: speaks Russian to Russian citizens, speaks English as necessary, and channels Winston Churchill in House of Commons speech: “we will fight in the fields, in the forests, in the streets . . .”
  • Demonstrates courage: When offered a safe way out, says “The fight is here. I need ammunition, not a ride.”

When it comes to conveying leadership presence in less precarious and dangerous positions, perhaps there are some lessons to learn from Zelenskyy. Running an organization or any team of people requires showing up in a way that demonstrates you as a leader. This is about how you are perceived by others.

As I described in a previous blog post titled Building Trust & Connection via Zoom, it’s important to show you value others, carefully communicate, confidently collaborate and trust totally. Beyond the importance of digital body language, demonstrating executive presence in a virtual environment means:

  • Actively listen and take careful note of participants’ body language, focused attention, and whether they are engaged in the way you want.
  • Ensure that you remain fully engaged and are not distracted by multi-tasking.
  • Facilitate discussions to make everyone feel included and valued. Build on ideas, summarize information, and appoint actions to be taken.
  • Watch your tone of voice to ensure it is appropriate given the subject matter and the people involved, especially as this carries more weight without being in the same room.
  • Dress appropriately and groom yourself as if you were in the office. This falls under the category of “look the part of a leader.”
  • Use positive language and recognize that you may have to work harder to convey warmth due to the digital distance.

When you do these things effectively, you will show up in a way that others perceive as that of a leader. Since you can’t demonstrate how you physically carry yourself when you walk into a conference room, do all you can to accentuate the medium you are confined to. This is about how you look, how you speak, how you listen, how you participate.

Don’t disregard the importance of optimizing the medium you find yourself to bring out your best self. You’ll not only act like a leader but look the part as well.

Body Language in a Virtual World

February 28, 2022

With a return to the workplace, now’s a good time to reflect on the communication challenges we faced while working remotely. You were likely frustrated by the difficulty in exclusively communicating via Slack, Zoom or Teams, email, and texting. These alternative forms are certainly not going away, so it’s time to improve your digital body language.

Communication technologies provide many benefits, yet not being face-to-face in the same room, we lose the opportunity to send and receive messages most effectively.

While we’ve relied on body language to understand each other for centuries, the technology that has enabled alternative forms of communicating hasn’t replicated the nuance of being face-to-face. As a result, we need to strengthen our digital body language.

According to Erica Dhawan, author of Digital Body Language: How to build trust & connection, no matter the distance, this can be simply responding promptly to a text, showing engagement by replying to an email with substantive comments, using a thumbs-up emoji in a video meeting or many other things.

Dhawan says when trying to communicate most effectively, trust, engagement, excitement, and urgency all play a role. Keep the following suggestions in mind.

Traditional Body LanguageDigital Body Language
Establish Trust
Keep your palms open; uncross your arms and legs; smile and nod.Use language that is direct with clear subject lines; end emails with a friendly gesture; never bcc anyone without warning; mirror the sender’s use of emojis and/or informal punctuation.
Show Engagement
Lean in with your body as another person is talking; uncross your arms and legs; smile, nod, and make direct eye contact.  Prioritize timely responses; send responses that answer all questions or statements in the previous message (not just one or two); send a simple “Got it!” or “Received” if the message doesn’t merit a longer response; don’t use the mute button as a license to multitask; use positive emojis like thumbs-up or smile.
Demonstrate Excitement
Speak quickly; raise your voice; express yourself physically by jumping up and down or tapping your fingers on your desk.  Use exclamation points and capitalizations; prioritize quick response times; send multiple messages in a row without getting a response first; use positive emojis (smiley faces, thumbs-up, high fives).  
Show Urgency
Raise your voice; speak quickly; point your finger (or make any other exaggerated gesture).  Use all caps paired with direct language or sentences that end in multiple exclamation marks; opt for a phone call or a meeting over a digital message; skip greetings; use formal closings, Reply All, or cc to direct attention; issue the same message on multiple digital channels simultaneously.

Working remotely is not going away so it’s important to strengthen your digital body language. Recognize the limitations in communicating without being face-to-face and shift the way you show up. Insert the beneficial elements of body language in the way you communicate in the virtual world.

Building Trust & Connection via Zoom

November 17, 2021

Now that many of us have gotten accustomed to working remotely, it’s time to assess whether we’re optimizing our ability to communicate and connect most effectively. Zoom and Teams remain a poor substitute for sitting shoulder to shoulder in a conference room together, but there are certainly ways to strengthen our connection in this digital environment.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have mandated that more of our communication be done digitally, but it has certainly been moving in that direction for a long time. Consider:

  • We send 306 billion emails every day, with the average person sending 30 and receiving 96 emails daily. Even before the pandemic demanded we work from home, roughly 70 percent of all communication among teams was virtual.
  • The “tone” in our emails is misinterpreted 50 percent of the time, according to the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
  • A study reported that 25 percent of respondents said they socialize more frequently online than in person.
  • The average person spends nearly 116 minutes every day—that’s about 2 hours—on social media, which over an average lifetime would add up to 5 years and 4 months.

“Communicating what we really mean today requires that we understand today’s signals and cues at a granular level while developing a heightened sensitivity to words, nuance, subtext, humor, and punctuation—things we mostly think of as the field of operations for professional writers,” says author Erica Dhawan in Digital Body Language: How to build trust & connection, no matter the distance.

According to Dhawan, this digital body language involves responding promptly to a text message; showing engagement by replying to an email with substantive comment; writing I completely agree with what you’re saying in the group chat during a Microsoft Teams meeting; using a thumbs-up emoji in a video meeting.

It used to be when we passed people in office hallways, stairways or parking lots, there was an opportunity to smile, say good morning, and make a brief but important connection that simply conveys I see you. So simple, yet when it’s missing, we are losing something important. This is hard to replace in a virtual environment, but not entirely.

Beyond the words that are spoken, things like eye contact, facial expressions, body posture, hand gestures, and tone of voice can greatly impact what is communicated. When reading words, so much can be misinterpreted when there’s not a great deal of care put into context, clarity and intention.   

Author Dhawan proposes “Four Laws of Digital Body Language,” and they are:

  1. Value Visibly – Don’t assume people are okay. Be proactive in explicitly showing you understand their desires and value their participation. When you value visibly, team members show up at work with excitement and drive. They’re motivated to make meaningful contributions and innovations, prompting employee engagement, retention and productivity.
  2. Communicate Carefully – This is about getting to the point while considering context, medium and your audience. When you communicate carefully, teams present a single, united front, get projects done quickly and efficiently, and feel safe bringing up potentially groundbreaking ideas.
  3. Collaborate Confidently – Begins by understanding what other departments do—and establishing clear norms on how they interact with one another. When you collaborate confidently, you create organization-wide alignment on common goals without misunderstandings or petty disagreements, leading to cross-team collaboration, innovation, customer loyalty, and marketing effectiveness.
  4. Trust Totally – Means you have an open team culture, where everyone knows they are listened to, where everyone can always ask one anyone for help, and where everyone can grant favors whose returns may or may not be immediate. When you create high levels of organizational faith, where people tell the truth, keep their word, and deliver on their commitments, in turn creating client/customer sales growth and cost-effectiveness.

If you find the move to remote work has impacted your ability to communicate most effectively, take steps to identify how you can improve your digital body language. Consider adopting alternatives to how you show up. Even in a post-pandemic world, you are likely to benefit from these suggestions as our reliance on communicating digitally is likely to remain.  

Clarity in Communication

November 10, 2021

Communicating well has never been easier yet it appears we are continually falling short. Despite incredible leaps in technology, including a dedicated communication device in the palm of our hands, we struggle to communicate effectively. This is a huge problem for productivity and profitability.

A 2011 survey of 400 companies with 100,000 employees each cited an average loss per company of $62.4 million per year in lost productivity because of inadequate communication to and between employees, according to the Holmes Report on “The Cost of Poor Communications.” 

Is this due to the sender or receiver of communication? The answer is an emphatic YES!

The sender can undermine message effectiveness for many reasons, including choosing the wrong medium (texting versus calling), not recognizing the power of non-verbal communication (body posture, tone of voice, etc.), not providing context, and using too few, too many or the incorrect words to clearly convey thoughts. The receiver can fail to carefully listen or read the message due to distraction or lack of focus, choose to make assumptions rather than ask clarifying questions, and respond only partially or not at all.

The most common reason organizations communicate poorly is because they don’t achieve clarity around key messages and stick with them, according to Patrick Lencioni in his book The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business. The discipline to overcommunicate clarity is one aspect of Lencioni’s Four Discipline Model, which he says is vital for leadership where organizational health is concerned.

True Rumors

“The best way to ensure that a message gets communicated throughout an organization is to spread rumors about it,” writes Lencioni. “Tell true rumors. After decisions are made on a leadership team, have each leader immediately communicate that message to their direct reports.”

Lencioni says this results in “cascading communication” with a structured but interpersonal process of rolling key messages down throughout the organization. The effectiveness of it has to do with the contrast to more formal means of communication.

Three Keys to Cascading Communication:

  1. Message consistency from one leader to another
  2. Timeliness of delivery
  3. Live, real-time and in person communication (not email, but videoconferencing when necessary) – Make it interactive so questions can be asked in the moment

Sending & Receiving

Whether you’re in a leadership role or not, simple things can make a huge difference in the way you communicate as a sender and receiver.

When sending a message:

  • Be Intentional: Ensure the intention behind your message is clear. Provide context, set the appropriate tone, and remain sensitive to your audience.
  • Choose Best Medium: Though you may default to text or email, there are many times and many messages that should demand using the phone or delivered face-to-face.
  • Emoji or No Emoji: Etiquette regarding emojis in business texts is so far unclear. Context is critical as emojis are seen as more casual and can be interpreted inconsistently. On the other hand, they can quickly convey a mood. It’s probably best to use them sparingly.

When receiving a message:

  • Listen/Read Carefully: Seek first to understand, then to be understood as Stephen Covey so eloquently stated in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Be an active listener.
  • Ask Clarifying Questions: Rather than make assumptions, be sure you fully understand the message you read or hear. Assume only that the sender has positive intent until you have proof otherwise.
  • Respond Thoughtfully: Before you respond, ensure you clearly understand what the sender is looking for. Is it agreement, acceptance, approval, etc.? Once you know this, respond in a way that is respectful and kind.

These are obviously only a few things to consider as you seek to improve communication in your role. Keeping these in mind when you send or receive a message will likely improve the clarity in your communication. And that’s good for you and your organization.

Delivering Quality Feedback

October 14, 2021

To help direct reports improve and grow as leaders, it’s essential to provide quality feedback to best illustrate what they do well and what they do not do so well. When this feedback is behaviorally specific and delivered effectively, direct reports are more likely to receive the message well and take meaningful action.

Most importantly, you should begin with humility. Your recipient will be much more receptive when you connect as human beings first as it demonstrates that you acknowledge and accept that we are all perfectly imperfect.

The Center for Creative Leadership recommends the “situation-behavior-impact” methodology to help leaders be more precise and show up less arrogant when giving feedback. This method focuses on: 1) the situation, 2) the behavior (i.e., what the person did, either good or bad), and 3) the impact. Sticking to this methodology helps you avoid making judgments regarding the person’s intelligence, common sense or other personal attributes. And keeping it based on the events you observe, means you are less likely to sound judgmental or arrogant.

The CCL further recommends follow up inquiry to understand the person’s intent. Rather than assume, ask the person if what you witnessed was their intention. In this way they can potentially see how there may be a disconnect between what they intended and what transpired. This is a way to open the conversation and that’s where learning and potentially corrective action can occur.

Coaching Conversation

This is more of a coaching conversation, and it can help clarify the delta between intent and impact, which can result in a change in behavior. This type of conversation can also serve to increase trust and understanding. Ultimately, by inquiring in this way to understand the intention or motivation behind the action, you will both find it less disciplinary and more instructive.

Providing feedback is often a delicate area, but it need not be. It’s simply a matter of explaining what you observe and the resulting impact. When this impact is detrimental, it’s important to determine if that was the intention. And when the intent is different than the result, you can be helpful in corrective action and ensure there is learning so it doesn’t happen again.

The Importance of Strong Working Relationships

November 30, 2020

[The following is an excerpt from my new book Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace, which is now available at Amazon and wherever you buy books.]

Today’s technology enables you to meet face-to-face far less often. However, this can actually make it harder for you to communicate in an effective manner. Connecting virtually—even through video conferencing—means you are missing essential elements of truly effective communication. That’s because it can be difficult to pick up nonverbal clues in body language, such as posture, micro-expressions, and eye movement. It’s also more challenging to establish rapport and build trust when you are not in the same physical space.

When you are in the same room, you should therefore make the most of these opportunities because it will pay off when you are not. Investing time to intentionally get to know others and allow them to get to know you will strengthen your relationships at work in the same way it does in your personal life. In addition to building rapport and trust, you’ll also be better prepared to communicate, collaborate, manage conflict, and influence others. All of these components of emotional intelligence enable you to strengthen your work relationships.

CEOs from a variety of industries understand the benefits of building strong relationships in business. Take for example:

  • Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway, who engenders intense loyalty with a relationship-driven focus. “Success in investing doesn’t correlate with IQ once you’re above the level of 25,” says Buffett. “Once you have ordinary intelligence, what you need is the temperament to control the urges that get other people into trouble investing.”
  • PepsiCo’s CEO Indra Nooyi bonded with the members of her executive team by sending letters to their parents and telling them what their “child” was doing at PepsiCo. In a discussion with the Boston Consulting Group, Nooyi said, “You need to look at the employee and say, ‘I value you as a person. I know that you have a life beyond PepsiCo, and I’m going to respect you for your entire life, not just treat you as employee number 4,567.’”
  • Or Alan Mulally of Ford who sends employees hand-written, personalized notes praising their work. He is well respected for his interpersonal skills and making those he’s in conversation with feel special.
  • And Microsoft’s Satya Nadella has brought the company back to prominence while revamping their corporate culture to encourage employees to learn from failure and remain motivated to continue giving their best.

The importance of strengthening work relationships is not only for leaders. It’s important for all of us because the more connected we are to others, the better we all perform, whether we are part of a basketball team or jazz ensemble or work in distribution centers, retail stores, construction sites, law firms, hospitals, consultancies, business offices, or other workplaces. We rarely work in isolation; therefore, it’s paramount to build strong working relationships. Teamwork makes the team work. The more capable you are at working well with others, the better the overall performance from you and the group.

Judy Riege, principal of Connected Leaders based in Calgary, Canada, successfully deployed emotional intelligence training to nearly 200 leaders in a large chemical company in North America. In addition, 15 of the company’s HR professionals were later certified to deliver that same EQ training beyond the leaders, further down in the organization. Because the company is made up primarily of engineers, scientists, and other technical people, Riege says it was especially important for them to see the value of emotional intelligence by tying the brain science directly to the behaviors that play out in the workplace. For example, when they learned how their ability to stay curious was compromised when they were under stress or in conflict, they could better see directly the benefits of emotional intelligence. EQ helped them learn how to stay curious and connected in spite of the stress.

“We need to shift our thinking of the word ‘trust’ as a verb instead of a noun,” says Riege. “Everything we do in relationship influences whether we improve or take away trust. It’s about the connection to curiosity. Trust is an act of grace.” Riege says the best leaders are confident and connected. “You cannot build either in isolation. If you’re not building trust and a network who can tell you when you’re doing well or not, you can’t build confidence. EQ is going to be significantly more important than IQ because of this.”

[A continuation of this discussion will appear in my next blog post.]

Does EQ Matter in the Workplace?

November 9, 2020

[This is an excerpt from my new book Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace, which is now available at Amazon and wherever you buy books.]

The burly, barrel-chested vice president of operations entered the meeting room and the mood quickly dropped from jovial to somber. Earlier in the week Jonathon had reprimanded two meeting attendees, lashed out at a third, and mocked another. His frequent use of sarcasm, although greeted encouragingly by one team member, made him hard to read. No one knew exactly what they were going to get in their interactions with Jonathon, but they were always on guard. Though he was respected due to his subject matter expertise and his executive position, Jonathon’s peers, direct-reports, and external vendors all found it difficult to work with him effectively.

Jonathon had little self-awareness, an inability to control his reactions, was unable to read or care about what others were feeling, and had lost the trust of those he worked with. Jonathon had very low emotional intelligence, and this was undermining his effectiveness and would ultimately jeopardize his career.

All humans are emotional beings, and emotions are not something you can ignore or leave at home when you go to work. Feeling emotions such as happiness, sadness, anger, fear, love, surprise, disgust, and shame provides you with valuable information. As with any other data, your emotions can enable you to make better decisions in how you work and how you live.

The information emotions provide can be appreciated or discounted, but emotions cannot be ignored. When emotions are ignored, they can show up negatively within your behavior. These behaviors show up in your interactions with others where they can undermine your intentions and result in friction. Such behaviors could include overreacting to feedback or an offhand comment, “flying off the handle,” or becoming unhinged. You may be unable to control your anger, disappointment, or jealousy and have it show up as rage, defensiveness, or spite. Emotions can be revealed in less dramatic ways such as in passive-aggressive behavior, where the external expression is not consistent with the underlying emotion. Passive-aggressive behavior can result when you avoid responsibility or refuse to directly express your concerns or needs. Emotions can also be suppressed or not intentionally expressed, but this often leads to them leaking out in unintended and potentially consequential ways. Your emotions have great power to help or hurt you. The good news is that you can choose how to harness that power.

Since the 1995 publication of Daniel Goleman’s best-selling book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, a great deal of energy and excitement has been generated around understanding emotional intelligence. Individuals and organizations around the world have sought to learn and embrace ways of improving emotional intelligence, or “EQ.” It has also become a major component of many leadership development programs and an important part of executive coaching. In the workplace, it is critical to be aware of your emotions because they are revealed in your behavior. This behavior can either support or undermine your overall effectiveness.

Not long ago, 30 percent of all work was collaborative and 70 percent was the result of individual contributions. That has since been reversed as the majority of work now requires collaboration and effective interaction with other people. Even when jobs are conducted remotely, it has become increasingly common for them to be performed in teams. When such interaction is face-to-face, it’s critical that you are in touch with your emotions and are able to read the emotions of others. When the interaction is compromised because it is done via phone calls, video conferences, email, Slack messages, or text, it is even more critical that you are able to effectively connect because you are missing the essential nonverbal feedback of being in another person’s physical presence. And although some jobs require little interaction with other people, all of us will need to interact with others—even if it is only our direct supervisor. Managing that relationship effectively is extremely important. In most organizations, your advancement opportunities typically require not only working with others, but often supervising others as a manager or director. In fact, the higher you rise in an organization, the more you will be interacting with others rather than primarily staring at a spreadsheet or writing emails. Working effectively with others requires EQ.

Emotional intelligence is an excellent indicator of success in the workplace and is often used to identify team players and good leaders as well as people who are better suited to working alone. Increasingly, when it comes to gauging job candidates, companies are viewing emotional intelligence as an integral factor, once technical skills and work experience are considered.

Daniel Goleman makes a strong case for a direct link between emotional intelligence and workplace performance in his book, Working with Emotional Intelligence. Goleman presents data showing that 67 percent of competencies deemed as essential for high performance within one’s work career are grounded in one’s emotional intelligence. In fact, one’s emotional intelligence is believed to matter nearly twice as much as one’s technical knowledge or IQ, where high performance within one’s career is concerned. Perhaps not surprisingly, EQ was also found to be of the greatest advantage at the highest levels of leadership.

[Learn more about Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace.]

Unmasking Emotions: EQ During a Pandemic

May 18, 2020

Demonstrating one’s emotional intelligence at work can be very beneficial, but also challenging—especially when trying to read another’s emotions hidden behind a mask. When workplaces open up again and we’re working in the same physical space as others, many of us will likely to be wearing masks. How well will you be able to read the emotions of others?

Emotional intelligence includes personal and social competencies in the areas of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. These competencies can be extremely valuable in navigating relationships in the workplace. Social awareness is about the ability to accurately recognize another’s emotions and demonstrate empathy. It is about discerning what may be unsaid, but communicated in more subtle ways.

The best protective mask fully covers both the nose and mouth, thus blocking what can help reveal emotions. We rely a great deal on recognizing whether someone is happy, sad, angry, disappointed or surprised by whether the corners of the mouth are turning up or down, a tightening of the jaw, flaring of the nostrils and other facial features.

So how can you recognize the emotions of others when shielded by a mask? Without being able to see the nose or mouth, you’ll need to rely more on what is revealed in their tone of voice and what you can determine from the other person’s eyes.

You’ll need to work harder to understand their intent, seek information from their body language and continually check your assumptions in order to fully understand.

According to researcher Albert Mehrabian regarding communication, he determined that 55% is revealed through body language, 38% through tone of voice and 7% through the actual words that are spoken. While this breakdown is not absolute and can’t be applied to every situation, it is helpful to see the importance of communication beyond the words spoken.

Since nearly 40% of communication can potentially be understood from one’s tone of voice, we should be able to pick up useful information regarding the other’s emotions from this alone. A tone of voice that is perceived as confident and more direct may lead you to respond very differently than when it is softer and more subtle. A deeper tone is often associated with more confidence and trustworthiness. A tone that is lower in volume could indicate inexperience or inhibition.

It can be challenging to determine what a person’s eyes reveal from an emotional standpoint, but these so-called “windows of the soul” can be helpful if you know what to look for.

For example, people blink a lot more when they are surprised, angry or annoyed. When someone’s pupils dilate, it could be because they are feeling stimulated, or it could simply be due to their being in a dimly lit area. Those who fail to maintain eye contact or look from side-to-side could be lying or it could mean they are merely timid. Certainly, this will take further discernment on your part to take everything into account.

One’s eyes can reveal a great deal of social and emotional information. A quick glance or an extended gaze can be interpreted differently by the receiver. The quick glance could mean simply checking to see your reaction and emotional state to what’s been said. Or it could mean an inability to stay locked in when interacting with you. But is this due to a lack of confidence or shiftiness? Again, you’ll need to take other factors into account.

Effectively working with others is greatly enhanced with high emotional intelligence. However, during this time of COVID-19 when you are likely to encounter others wearing masks, it will be more difficult for social awareness. It will be especially important to focus on tone of voice and the look in one’s eyes in order to understand their emotional state. Don’t let the presence of a physical mask prevent you from seeing what’s behind it.

Ask and Thou Will Succeed

February 12, 2020

In today’s workplace people are often reluctant to ask for the information they need to be most productive. Failure to ask could be explained for many reasons, but it needs to change in order for individuals as well as organizations to be successful.

Research shows that employees failing to share knowledge effectively costs Fortune 500 companies $31.5 billion every year! This lack of knowledge sharing can be due to: no clear methodology or forum, little to no examples demonstrated by leadership, the assumed expectation that we are supposed to know everything. Or perhaps it is due to the mistaken belief that the specific knowledge is somehow not available within the organization.

The knowledge and information we seek is very often available from our colleagues, but we assume it is not. Many companies have built up silos that restrict the very cross-pollination necessary to solve big problems. Some employees withhold knowledge and information because they believe it makes them more powerful. And many people are competing internally for resources, promotions, status, etc. But to what end?

When you reduce internal competition and increase cross-collaboration, the company wins. To encourage this, those who work effectively together should be rewarded rather than those who, for whatever reason, stand in the way. This seems like a no-brainer, but we can all think of many examples where it isn’t the case.

What needs to change? The most important thing is to create a culture where asking questions and asking for help should be celebrated rather than frowned upon. This means encouraging those who do speak up and ask for what they need. Leaders should set an example by asking more questions and demonstrating through their own vulnerability that they need assistance from others.

Amy Edmondson, professor of leadership and management at Harvard Business School, says leaders need to acknowledge their own fallibility, and model curiosity through asking lots of questions. Edmondson says to frame the work as learning problems instead of execution problems.

“It’s critical to understand that help rarely arrives un-asked for,” according to Wayne Baker, author of All You Have to Do is Ask: How to Master the Most Important Skill for Success. “In fact, studies have shown that as much as 90 percent of the help that is provided in the workplace occurs only after requests for help are made.” And research shows that people who regularly seek advice and help from knowledgeable colleagues are actually rated more favorably by supervisors than those who never seek advice and help.

It’s also critical to normalize mistakes. According to Baker, in the start-up world of high-tech companies, there is often the mantra of “fail fast.” The focus is on normalizing mistakes and viewing iteration as a necessity for continuous learning.

Many companies are looking for models to encourage asking questions and have adopted Reciprocity Rings, which are dynamic group exercises focused on the “pay-it-forward” principle. This enables people to get the information they need and solve problems, while energizing the group and creating stronger, more trusting relationships. Reciprocity Rings are used in the top business schools and corporations such as Deloitte, Dow, Goldman Sachs and Google.

No matter how your organization goes about encouraging employees to ask for what they need, it needs to happen. A company’s success depends upon its employees’ ability to efficiently ask for and obtain knowledge and information in order to solve problems. Creating a space that normalizes this behavior and breaks down the walls of information silos is critical for success of both individuals and their companies.

Express Gratitude Far & Wide

November 26, 2019

This is the time of year when we gather to give thanks—primarily to those with whom we have close relationships. Perhaps we should extend this gratitude to our colleagues, neighbors, acquaintances, and even to strangers in our workplace, community and throughout our country. It’s good for your health and the health of our country.

The gratitude I speak of is not as deep as that reserved for family members and close friends, but appreciation, nevertheless. We can choose to see others as we see ourselves: no better or no worse, yet all of us flawed in perfectly human ways. We all have virtues and vices, gifts and challenges, hopes and dreams. Though we may look, sound and act very differently, we all share a common humanity.

As human beings we share not only biology, but also a desire for a long and happy life. A life that deserves respect regardless of gender, race, religion, sexual preference, or political affiliation. At this time of especially partisan tribalism, it’s time to focus not on what divides us but what can unite us.  

Begin by learning to see and respect what we have in common rather than what separates us. See that we are more alike than we are different. See that we are all in this together. That our actions—whether good or not so good—have an impact on others.

Then choose to be kind. Choose to smile. Choose to use your turn signal. Choose to engage in a helpful manner. Engage in a way that transcends social media “likes.” Begin where you are in whatever way you can. But begin today by expressing gratitude for our shared good fortune at being alive and sharing this planet.

Evidence shows that people who see and appreciate the positives in life are more likely to avoid psychological distress.  Expressing gratitude can help reduce your risk of depression, anxiety and drug abuse. And it’s really simple to acknowledge what you’re grateful for. Think about three things each night before falling asleep.

Better yet, tell someone you appreciate something they’ve done. You’ll feel better. They’ll feel better. And quite possibly that person may pay it forward by passing along gratitude to others.

We live at a time when far too many countries and corporations are gaining power and making money over our infighting and divisiveness. Don’t allow this behavior to weigh you down and make you bitter. Take a break from (anti-)social media and find a way to connect in real time and space with others.

Thank you for reading this post. Happy Thanksgiving.

Leading with Intention

October 13, 2019

Knowing what you want and how to get it is important as it provides the vision and roadmap for achieving results. But leading without intention, may prevent you from getting results for you as well as your team.

Intention is often defined as a mental state representing a commitment to carry out an action or actions in the future. Entering into this mental state is necessary as it provides the fuel required to act. And committing to something is vital for you to get from point A to point B.

This commitment can be kept internal only to you. For example, if you are looking to lose weight and exercise more, you may not need to communicate this to others. However, you may find that sharing this with others may, in fact, aid in your commitment and provide you with the external support you need to follow through.

Demonstrating your intention externally is important most of the time no matter what you choose to commit to. This is because when you communicate your intent to others, this clarity of purpose and the necessary motivation can convey the importance to others. And other people are often necessary to carrying out actions to achieve results.

As I wrote previously, using a turn signal when turning or changing lanes when driving provides a clear understanding to those around us regarding our intentions. Though you may think using turn signals is unimportant or optional, putting yourself in the position of other drivers can reinforce its importance.

If you operate without intention in the workplace, you may find people are confused, unmotivated or entirely disengaged in the actions you are looking to execute. The lack of clarity in your intent allows people to make up their own assumptions, which is never a good idea.

In leadership, the more intentional your behavior the more those around you are likely to respect and follow your lead. When they know the why behind your request, the more willingly they are to come along.

Benefits of leading with intention include:

  • Clearer Communication – When you state your intention directly, others will better understand why you are saying what you are saying. This knowledge of the why behind your what can be the difference between effective and ineffective leadership.
  • Motivated Employees – If you walk into a meeting with behavior, tone of voice and overall demeanor signaling you are clear in your intent, others will feel secure and motivated to follow where you want to take them.
  • Positive Corporate Culture – Intention is an essential part of motivating people to achieve results because it enables others to feel valued and trusted for what they bring to the workplace. Your intentional behavior models the standard for a corporate culture they want to be part of.

Leadership requires many behavioral attributes. Leading with intention means you provide a clarity of purpose that can inspire and motivate others to help carry out the actions needed to achieve your desired results. And that will make you a better leader.

Communicating with Listening Intelligence

February 20, 2019

Verbal communication is a critical skill in every organization, yet rarely do we think beyond the speaking half of what we call communication. Fact is, listening is equally important for effective communication and it is neglected on factory floors as well as in office cubicles, meeting rooms, C-suites, and board rooms. It’s time to raise our listening intelligence.

Many of us fail to provide speakers with the opportunity to fully express themselves—giving them our undivided attention so they feel heard and understood. Listening needs to be more active and more intentional to be truly effective.

According to SIS International Research, 70 percent of small to mid-size businesses claim that ineffective communication is their primary problem. And a business with 100 employees spends an average downtime of 17.5 hours per week clarifying communication, which translates to an annual cost of $524,569.

Listening is a huge component of this since on average we retain just 25% of what we hear due to busyness and lack of effective listening skills.

Cognitive researchers have learned that individuals interpret what they hear based on habits learned over a lifetime. We can all be better listeners, yet there are no “good” or “bad” listeners, just different ways listeners interpret, value and categorize what they hear.

Listening Intelligence

Different people habitually listen to and for different types of information. Once you become aware of your own filters, you can then examine blind spots and start listening for and recognizing an expanded range of input. You can also watch for and speak into other people’s listening preferences to enhance overall communication. This greater awareness and ability is called Listening Intelligence.

The ECHO Listening Profile identifies four styles of listening: connective, reflective, analytical, and conceptual. No one style is better than another, but we all have a preference for one over the others and each style has benefits and drawbacks.

As I wrote in a previous post, connective listening filters what you hear through interests in other people, groups, processes and audiences. This type of listening demonstrates support and empathy, seeks out feelings behind the facts, and orients oneself toward others. On the flip side, these connective listeners may accept information at face value, sacrifice facts and data, and be ruled by emotions.

Reflective listeners filter what they hear through their own interests and purposes. They are able to evaluate what they hear based on direct application, reflect on personal meaning, and easily discard non-useful information. On the other hand, they may miss potential applications, be overly introspective and ignore the meaning for others.

The analytical listener focuses on what the interaction means to an issue or objective situation. For them it’s about results and facts. They are able to critique information for decision-making, listen for the facts beyond the emotions, and are able to control for biases and attitudes. However, they may discard information that could be useful, miss out on others’ feelings, and could shut off complete interactions.

Conceptual listeners are those who focus on ideas and the big picture. Their interest is in concepts and possibilities. They are able to use the information they hear to stimulate ideas, connect ideas together, and understand multiple meanings in messages. Alternatively, they can miss the trees for the forest, lack focus on the present situation, and may read more into the message than is intended.

As you can see, each listening preference has its benefits and drawbacks. Regardless of where you score, it’s important to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of this particular style. It’s equally important to recognize and understand how well those you interact with are able to listen to you.

Listening intelligence will improve your ability to understand others and enhance overall communication. By focusing on listening, you will become more engaged and therefore more effective in the workplace.

Connective Listening is Key

January 28, 2019

At the time of this writing, the US government has been temporarily reopened after being shut down for the longest stretch in history. One reason for being closed so long is due to our elected representatives’ inability to listen effectively to each other. Leaders in politics and business who want to communicate more effectively require connective listening.

First an example of poor communication:

  • Donnie: I want a ball and if I don’t get it, you can’t open the game.
  • Nancy: We’ll talk about the ball after we open the game.
  • Donnie: No ball. No game.
  • Nancy: Game first. Then we’ll talk about the ball.

Clearly, there’s no effective listening in this exchange. Each side is firm in his and her position, which only prevents understanding and connection.

But let’s first make a distinction between listening and hearing. While hearing is the act of perceiving a sound by ear and essentially a passive activity, listening is the act of trying to understand the other person’s point of view and therefore much more active. In fact, passive listening is not listening at all.

Listening is a conscious choice that requires you have purpose in your heart and an interest in your brain. Listening requires focused attention.

In their book “Real Influence: Persuade Without Pushing and Gain Without Giving In,” authors Mark Goulston and John Ullmen call connective listening the type all speakers crave. It is about listening with the intention to fully understand the speaker AND strengthen the connection. Connective listening is listening from their there instead of your here. It means listening without an agenda that is focused entirely on responding or helping.

To gain influence and persuade others requires that you practice connective listening because this is where you are best able to understand the other’s perspective, so they feel heard, and stay connected so they feel respected while negotiating.

Here’s an example of connective listening in communication:

  • Donnie: I want a ball and if I don’t get it, you can’t open the game.
  • Nancy: Tell me more about why you want the ball.
  • Donnie: Well, I told everyone I’d get the ball and it’s important to me.
  • Nancy: I hear you. The ball is important to you and you told people you’d get the ball. I understand and I appreciate you telling me this. Can you tell me why it’s important you get the ball before we open the game?
  • Donnie: Uh. Because I don’t think you’ll give me the ball if we open the game first.
  • Nancy: I can’t promise you will get the ball, but if we don’t open the game, no one can play. You want everyone to play, don’t you?
  • Donnie: Yeah. But I want the ball.
  • Nancy: I understand you want the ball, but everyone wants to play the game and you’re not letting anyone play. Once we open the game, everyone gets to play and then we can talk about the ball. Don’t you think this is in the best interest of everyone?

Okay, so I know this probably won’t entirely resolve the issue of the ball, but it does provide an opening for respectful dialogue to continue and end a stalemate. If one person can seek to actively listen for understanding while remaining connected, it can lead to better communication.

“The purest form of listening is to listen without memory or desire,” said psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion. “When you listen with memory, you have an old agenda. When you listen with desire, you have a new agenda that you’re going to plug into the other person.”

Though it’s hard to conceive of US politicians listening without memory or desire as long as lobbyists and special interests have such influence over them, I am hopeful that progress can be made—both in politics and business. Connective listening is key.

photo credit: verchmarco <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/160866001@N07/30882037817″>Kinder spielen mit einem Fußball – Modelfiguren</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>

Lead with Your Intentions

January 9, 2019

Poor communication is the reason for many misunderstandings. This can be due to the person sending the message, the one receiving it, or both sender and receiver. As a leader, to send an effective message, you need to begin by making your intentions clear.

That’s because when you lead with intention, your message is immensely easier to understand. You are stating what you want. You are being direct. And you are being clear.

It’s important when speaking in any conversation to first understand what it is you want. Are you seeking to inform, persuade, disagree, motivate, entertain, or something else? By identifying what it is you want and making this immediately clear to the other person, you are more likely to gain better understanding.

Think about the importance of the words in the subject line of an email message. It can often be the difference between whether the actual message ever gets read or not.

In order to lead with your intentions, you need to alert the receiver of what’s coming. Think of it like the headline in a newspaper article. Or the old adage regarding effective presentations: 1) tell them what you are going to talk about, 2) tell them about it, and 3) tell them what you just told them. Begin with end in mind, as Stephen Covey wrote.

Leading with your intentions means you are able to develop a stronger commitment to move out of your comfort zone. And this, of course, is where the real growth and opportunities begin.

In a recent Forbes magazine article, author Alan Trivedi discusses being mechanical (machine-like, and uninfluenced by the mind or emotions) versus intentional (open-minded regarding ideas and influence) with regard to hearing/listening, seeing/observing, doing/practicing, remembering/reflecting. Intentionality is more active than passive and inevitably leads to new possibilities.

This intentionality also requires that you are in touch with yourself and with what is true for you. It is integral to showing up effectively in the workplace. And finding your inner truths and leading with them are essential to effective leadership, according to Melissa Williams-Gurian in her book How Do You Want To Show Up?

“Every step you can take toward addressing what is true for you directly, rather than indirectly, helps you gain in power and self-confidence,” writes Williams-Gurian. “And the closer you can get to doing that in the moment rather than a week or a month later, the more effective it will be.”

Authenticity is inherently a part of showing up and leading with intention. By embracing who you are and courageously stepping into the vulnerability this requires, means you are able to show up in an authentic manner.

Leading with your intentions means you are able to communicate more effectively and reduce the number of misunderstandings. You demonstrate more commitment to getting outside of your comfort zone, which enables further possibilities. And the authenticity you demonstrate creates greater trust and engagement. All of which demonstrates effective leadership.

Workplace Engagement Follows Appreciation

December 21, 2018

Here at the end of another year, my family and I will express and literally record statements of love and appreciation for each other in what has become an annual tradition. This simple exercise compiles what we appreciate about and wish for each other in the coming year—something started nearly ten years ago in order to strengthen the bonds of a blended family.

I now see this act of acknowledging in public (at least within the immediate family) our feelings for each other has helped normalize the expression of appreciation. While this is extremely important in families, I contend there should be a lot more appreciation expressed in the workplace because this will lead to greater engagement.

Though many workplaces today are more open to encourage increased interaction and engagement, this alteration of the environment is not nearly enough.

Fact is most of us are motivated and engaged only when we feel appreciated in a way that is both accurate and personal. And simply throwing a holiday party where the boss says some words of overall appreciation—while important—is not nearly enough.

If every supervisor, manager, director and senior executive were to vocalize what they honestly and personally appreciate about each of those who report to them, I suspect this would increase overall productivity and sustainable engagement.

Perhaps you’re thinking that because you don’t get this kind of appreciation from your own supervisor, you shouldn’t offer it to others. This type of thinking only contributes to why so many people feel depleted and unmotivated at work.

Sharing appreciation for another person doesn’t cost you anything. What it demonstrates is your awareness of the value another person provides and your own vulnerability, which enables greater emotional connection.

Often times the deciding factor for why people stay on a job or look elsewhere has to do with whether they feel an emotional connection with leaders. Those who are able to show vulnerability demonstrate honesty, openness and authentic leadership. Employees then feel more connected and are less likely to move on, even for more money or benefits.

No matter your position in the organization, expressing gratitude for others will elevate your aptitude for leadership in their eyes. You will distinguish yourself from others and likely build an engaged group of followers.

If your organization is looking for the simplest, cheapest and best way to increase engagement, look no further than the expression of honest and personal appreciation. And while doing this at the end of annual performance reviews is valuable, it can be much more meaningful if it is done more frequently and when it is unexpected.

Now that my kids are all teenagers, their expressions of appreciation for each other has moved from the simple and often funny to more heartfelt and moving. What I appreciate most is that they don’t always wait until the end of the year to express these feelings.

Lonely in the Workplace

December 7, 2018

Loneliness is on the rise in America. This is a huge health concern and has ramifications in the workplace. The solution is complex yet maybe we can learn something from magpies.

First some facts regarding the impending epidemic. A recent Cigna survey of 20,000 U.S. adults 18 years or older found that:

  • Nearly half of Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone (46 percent) or left out (47 percent).
  • Two in five Americans sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful (43 percent) and that they are isolated from others (43 percent).
  • One in five people report they rarely or never feel close to people (20 percent) or feel like there are people they can talk to (18 percent).
  • Only about half of Americans (53 percent) have meaningful in-person social interactions, such as having an extended conversation with a friend or spending quality time with family, on a daily basis.
  • Generation Z (adults ages 18-22) is the loneliest generation and claims to be in worse health than older generations.
  • Social media use alone is not a predictor of loneliness; respondents defined as very heavy users of social media have a loneliness score (43.5) that is not markedly different from the score of those who never use social media (41.7).

Turns out loneliness can be as big a health risk as obesity. The American Psychological Association released a study concluding lonely people are at a greater risk for premature death. And according to John Cacioppo and William Patrick in their book Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, studies suggest that one lonely day can exact roughly the same toll on the body as smoking an entire pack of cigarettes!

Many of us are not sleeping enough, and sleep deprivation can increase loneliness because it takes a lot of energy to engage with others. Despite the fact that the “open office” environment was designed to bring about more interaction, this has yet to be proven effective.

Using Slack, social media and your company’s intranet are no substitute for face-to-face water cooler—err, espresso bar—conversations. Interacting with co-workers in real time and in person enables connection unlike any other method.

Now about those magpies: Research by Ben Ashton from the University of Western Australia found that cooperatively breeding Australian magpies living in large groups showed increased cognitive performance. Repeated cognitive testing of juveniles at different ages showed that the correlation between group size and cognition emerged in early life, suggesting that living in larger groups promotes cognitive development.

“Our results suggest that the social environment plays a key role in the development of cognition,” says Ashton, though the findings are considered contentious.

Nevertheless, if magpies can benefit cognitively from social interaction, shouldn’t humans—considered the most social animals—find ways to interact face-to-face more often?

Bright spots in the Cigna survey found:

  • People who engage in frequent meaningful in-person interactions have much lower loneliness scores and report better health than those who rarely interact with others face-to-face.
  • Getting the right balance of sleep, work, socializing with friends, family and “me time” is connected to lower loneliness scores. However, balance is critical, as those who get too little or too much of these activities have higher loneliness scores.

“There is an inherent link between loneliness and the workplace, with employers in a unique position to be a critical part of the solution,” said Douglas Nemecek, M.D., chief medical officer for Behavioral Health at Cigna. “Fortunately, these results clearly point to the benefits meaningful in-person connections can have on loneliness, including those in the workplace and the one that takes place in your doctor’s office as a part of the annual checkup.”

We shouldn’t look to our workplace to keep us from being lonely, of course, but we could all benefit by choosing to meet with our colleagues and discuss things face-to-face more often. To enable time for this will require getting out of those many meetings we currently attend. But that’s a topic for another post.

The Gift of Being Heard

March 1, 2018

In this age of extraordinary technological advances and accelerating change, our ability to effectively communicate has diminished severely. This is partly because we are not equally focused on sending and receiving messages. And we don’t listen in a way that demonstrates that the other is being heard.

Despite the many powerful ways we have to connect, our ability to do this well has suffered. Think about how often you text when you really should talk. Or you choose email when you should call because your message requires some back and forth discussion.

Every new technology has to find its ideal purpose and this usually takes some trial and error. Remember when people faxed in their pizza orders? Just because we can text or email, doesn’t mean we should use them constantly and expect success in our communication.

As I wrote in a previous post, these “asynchronous communication vehicles have become the default way for far too many of us to interact with others.” Texting, emailing, and tweeting are all very effective for sending information. But when it comes to topics that are sensitive, require establishing trust or back-and-forth discussion, using the phone or meeting face-to-face is best.

We have become so focused on sending our perspectives, thoughts, feelings, selfies and the latest emojis that we are no longer as receptive to the other side of the communication equation: receiving. While we may feel confident that the content of our message was received, perhaps not the full sentiment.

However, when we can equally focus on the receiving end of a message, we can begin to engage in meaningful dialogue. We can enable true reciprocity. We can immediately see and/or hear the impact our message had on the receiver. And we can immediately respond in a way that effectively continues to move the conversation forward.

When you experience a communication breakdown in a message you initiate, it could be due to the receiver being confused or misunderstanding your intention because you’ve chosen the incorrect medium. If the receiver of your message can’t accurately interpret what you intended, the communication can fail—often miserably.

One reason is that we make a lot of assumptions in our interactions with others, and these assumptions often get in the way of successful communication. With texting and emailing, assumptions are more challenging to combat due to the fact that verifying them requires more back and forth that can seem to slow down the conversation. The nuance of effective communication—even for the most gifted writers—is often missing in text-only communication.

Being a good receiver in communication means you provide the sender with the gift of being heard—very difficult to do via text and email.  And this gift is all too rare these days. If you are able to give it to others, you will be appreciated and likely gain respect from your colleagues and affection from your family and friends.

One of the benefits of calling or talking face-to-face is you can immediately check on assumptions in order to eliminate any anxiety or confusion. You are also likely to pick up non-verbal clues based on tone of voice, facial expressions and body language that can help you determine whether there is congruence between what is being said and how they look and act when saying it.

Don’t underestimate your intuitive power of reading the sender of the message. You are able to pick up many things above and beyond the words. And this is missing in your texts and emails—no matter how many emojis and photo attachments may be included.

Communicating better requires you to become a better listener. This means really focusing on what the other person is trying to communicate. Whenever possible, ensure discussions that warrant it are face-to-face or by phone, and then provide the other person the gift of being heard.

Success in Difficult Conversations

February 8, 2018

In our work lives as in our personal lives we encounter situations that demand initiating difficult conversations. These conversations are not easy, but shouldn’t be avoided because that can often make things worse.

As much as the conflict avoider in us may want to run in the other direction, those who are able to courageously confront the situation are likely to push through the discomfort and grow from it. In addition, the relationship that is demanding the difficult conversation will most likely move forward.

A difficult conversation results when two or more people have: 1) a difference of opinion, perspective, needs or wants; 2) feelings or emotions are strong; 3) consequences or the stakes are high for at least one person. When you’re in a difficult conversation, you may find:

  • There is little safety between participants
  • Emotions are defining the conversation
  • Very little listening is taking place
  • Participants are aiming for a win/lose scenario
  • Participants may be playing a role: victim, aggressor, martyr, etc.

Obviously, this can result in a highly stressful environment. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Use the following steps to be at your best when initiating a difficult conversation:

Stay Calm
Breathe. Try to be present of what you are feeling and what it is you want. If possible, try to determine what the other person may be feeling and wanting. And when you begin the conversation, be certain to communicate your intent up front in order to provide safety for the other person.

Shift Your Perspective
Rather than focus on how difficult the conversation is going to be, try to think of it as a constructive conversation. By initiating this constructive conversation, you are demonstrating the value the relationship has for you. Keep in mind that this is an investment of your time and emotional energy that will benefit you as well as the relationship.

Make a Plan
Have a clear idea of the points you want to make, but don’t write out a script. You should be able to summarize both your perspective as well as the other’s. If you are uncertain of the former, you need to figure it out before initiating the conversation. If you are uncertain of the latter, you should provide ample opportunity at the beginning of the conversation to better understand this. Be careful of assumptions you are making as these can so often derail any conversation, and are especially dangerous when emotions are high.

Prepare to Actively Listen
This means listening to the other person in a way that ensures he or she feels heard. Being an active listener means you make a conscious effort to truly hear what the other person is saying—in their words as well as their body language. Practice holding off thinking about how to respond or interrupting until you have thoroughly heard what they are saying.

Be Compassionate and Demonstrate Empathy
Consider how it may feel to be on the other end of this conversation. Be respectful while they take in what may be very difficult for them to hear. Convey in your words, tone and body language that you truly care for how the other person feels about what it is you are saying. Try to get comfortable with the awkward silence that may result.

Seek a Win-Win Conclusion When Possible
In most cases a successful difficult conversation doesn’t result in a winner and a loser. Therefore, seek out an amicable resolution to the conflict in a way that is satisfying to both parties. This is not always possible, of course, but even when you have to convey bad news such as a job dismissal, see if there is a way to soften the news. Perhaps it is simply providing information about out-placement services, severance package, a solid reference, etc.

Reflect & Learn
When the conversation is over, take a moment to reflect on what went well and what not so well. What could you have said better or differently? There are certainly things outside of your control in a heated conversation and you will need to maintain your boundaries. Don’t take on guilt for the other person’s negative reaction to your news. This requires courage and you will likely be fortified the next time you need to have a difficult conversation.

In order to have a constructive difficult conversation, the steps above should help you navigate them more successfully. In most cases, your efforts are likely to improve the relationship and build your skill at navigating future difficult conversations.

“Twenty years of research involving more than 100,000 people reveals that the key skill of effective leaders, teammates, parents and loved ones is the capacity to skillfully address emotionally and politically risky issues,” according to the authors of Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High.

Start by rethinking your difficult conversation as more of a constructive conversation. Remember that whether it is with your family members, friends or co-workers you are directly confronting an issue that has stifled the relationship. Though it is not easy to do, the result of your efforts—in most cases—will move the relationship forward and build-up a powerful skill in you as a leader.

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.

More (Positive) Feedback Please

January 11, 2018

Feedback. We all want it and perhaps those in the Millennial generation crave it more than most. But is anything less than positive feedback really appreciated and effective at bringing out our best performance?

Years ago I wrote a blog post titled Six Tips to Successfully Deliver Employee Feedback where I suggested “. . . if we are doing something not so well, we want to know what this is and especially how to correct it. Don’t underestimate a person’s level of resilience because such feedback loops are vital to their continued growth.”

But in the current issue of the Harvard Business Review, an article titled Negative Feedback Rarely Leads to Improvement by Paul Green, a doctoral candidate at Harvard Business School, found that critical feedback from coworkers drove employees to adjust their roles to be around people who would provide more positive reviews. That is, when feedback was what they term “disconfirming,” the test subjects would seek others to provide “confirming feedback.”

Further, he found that when the relationship was discretionary—people didn’t have to work together—the person getting the negative feedback would just move away from that person or group. When the employees had to work together, however, the recipient of the negative feedback would look to connect with other people in the company in what they termed “shopping for confirmation.”

Negative feedback doesn’t provide the sustenance we need to enable us to maintain a positive view of ourselves, according to Green.

“The idea behind performance appraisals, and feedback in general, is that to grow and improve, we must have a light shined on the things we can’t see about ourselves,” says Green. “There’s an assumption that what motivates people to improve is the realization that they’re not as good as they think they are. But in fact, it just makes them go find people who will not shine that light on them. It may not be having the intended effect at all.”

What it comes down to is whether when receiving this critical feedback, the employee feels valued or not. Delivering the feedback sandwich of “here’s what you do well, here’s what you do not so well and keep up the good work” isn’t necessarily helpful. Instead, it should be about ensuring that employees first and foremost feel secure knowing that they provide value and their contributions are generally positive. Then the employee is able to hear and respond appropriately to the critical information.

In my work as a consultant and leadership coach, I find so often it is not the salary, job title, or other external expressions of worth, but whether or not the person feels they are valued by their manager, by their peers and by the company as a whole. And, ironically, conveying this appreciation of value to an employee costs the company nothing.

In some ways, this seems to further the argument that we should focus on maximizing strengths rather than minimizing weaknesses. But I think that would be short-sighted and reduce our ability to continue to grow and learn as we advance in our careers.

Regularly acknowledging and emphasizing the value employees provide means they may be much more open to hearing critical feedback. They may then be able to separate their job performance from who they are as individuals. Then they will be able to act on the feedback with a foundation of security that enables the courage to make necessary changes.

The Value of Organizational Values

July 6, 2017

In personal relationships we tend to choose others who share our values—regardless of whether they are friends or romantic interests. This is because values help define who we are and what we stand for. When this is shared between yourself and another, it provides the foundation to maintain a solid relationship both can depend on.

In politics, Democrats and Republicans might make a lot more progress if they were to identify and build upon what values they share in common. Our representatives in congress should seek out and build upon what their constituents share in common with the constituents of other representatives in order to make progress. The process of differentiating oneself from one’s opponent may work well in campaigning, but it is detrimental to effective governing.

In any organization, values define what it stands for, how it makes decisions, conducts business and the type of people it seeks to attract—customers, partners and employees.

All too often I see an organization’s corporate values clearly displayed on a website, but not truly embraced in the way its people function. This is not only bad for the bottom line, it’s bad for attracting the right talent.

Core values should support the company’s vision and shape the culture. That’s because values are the very essence of a company’s identity, its principles and beliefs. These values should not be defined in haste nor should they be so generic or fluffy that they don’t really mean anything.

The best values are those that are unique and demonstrated so often that they are embodied rather than simply memorized.

Core values can be an important differentiator and build a more solid brand. They can:

  • Enable better decision-making with regard to partnerships, employee engagement, quality standards, customer satisfaction, etc. The more values are integrated into the decision-making process, the easier it is to make hard choices.
  • Educate partners and customers so they are able to invest in an organization that is aligned with their own values. Social media is building brand awareness like never before and, with so many options, today’s consumers will choose products and services from those companies who they can identify with most closely.
  • Help recruit the right employees because they can see that these corporate values are congruent with who they are as individuals. This alignment is becoming increasingly important as Millennials are seeking much more than a paycheck in their careers.

Placing an emphasis on core values will improve every aspect of business, but only if these values are meaningful, fully demonstrated and embraced by every employee. Make an effort to ensure your organization’s values are the right ones and that they are more than mere words on a website.

Leader as Listener

June 21, 2017

Boilerplate copy on resumes typically include the phrase “excellent communication skills.” But how many people really have them?

Communication is so often thought of as speaking and writing well. While these are certainly important, it is not only the clear dissemination of thoughts and ideas, but also the receptivity and complete understanding of other people’s thoughts and ideas.

Excellent communication skills include the ability to listen really well, and leaders need to do this is order to be successful.

In a previous post, I wrote about the importance of connective listening. In their book Real Influence: Persuade Without Pushing and Gain Without Giving In, authors Mark Goulston and John Ullmen describe this as listening with the intention to fully understand the speaker and strengthen the connection. Connective listening is about listening from their there instead of your here.

Listening is a lot more than hearing the words that are spoken. Body language, tone of voice, inflection and other factors can either amplify, distract or totally contradict the words that are spoken and this needs to be incorporated into effective listening. To become an excellent listener means being able to go to different levels in order to fully understand.

In their book Own the Room: Discover Your Signature Voice to Master Your Leadership Presence, authors Amy Jen Su and Muriel Maignan Wilkins write that in order to improve the ability to listen and engage, a leader needs to master three levels of listening: surface, issues-based and emotions-based.

Level One: Surface Listening

This is listening to hear what is actually being said and taking the words at face value. You do this by making eye contact, nodding your head, and repeating back what you hear. The speaker is then confident that you are following along and engaged in a way that enables the effective transfer of thoughts and ideas.

Level Two: Issues-based Listening

This is the ability to focus intentionally on what really matters. Rather than listening only to the basic facts, you are looking for the underlying message. Reading between the lines, so to speak. This may require asking clarifying questions to get the speaker to expand his or her thinking and say more. The underlying issues are what you are seeking to fully understand.

Level Three: Emotions-based Listening

This is the deepest level of listening that enables you to uncover the real agenda at play. Leaders who listen at this level are able to sense the underlying emotions and motivation behind the issues. They listen to the nonverbal cues, such as the speaker’s body language, tone of voice, and overall mood. You discover the assumptions the speaker is making. Once you understand what’s going on under the surface, you are then able to name and acknowledge it. You can paraphrase what you hear and perhaps add what you sense the speaker is feeling as well. This type of listening requires you to be objective, open and curious. It takes a great deal of effort to be this present. And it takes the courage to name and say aloud the emotions being felt.

Each of these levels is essential for leaders to be effective listeners. The important thing is to practice each so that you can deploy the appropriate level when the situation requires it.

With social media’s focus on “selfies,” “likes” and “followers,” your leadership will stand out if you are able to make the most of interpersonal one-on-one, real-time communications. This means truly engaging by listening more effectively using these three levels.