Category Archives: business communication

mindset_brain

Ever wish you could catch yourself in a moment of fixed mindset (see The Secret to Success) and do a 180-degree turn, flipping yourself into a growth mindset quickly?

Our brains will fall back on what they know best until they are conditioned to respond differently. It is possible to retrain your brain to switch to a growth mindset. You can do so more quickly if you use a framework or pattern that you’re already familiar with. Remember the “Stop, drop and roll” technique you learned in elementary school, in case of a fire?  The process for shifting to a growth mindset I designed is built on that simple three-step process.

1. Stop.  Monitor your thoughts (think: self-awareness) and listen for fixed-mindset thinking.  You’ll notice it because it includes absolutes like never, always, everybody and anybody.  It sounds like this: “Everybody else always loses weight/gets promoted/has a great relationship.” When you catch yourself in a fixed-mindset thought, the first thing to do is stop.

2.  Drop.  Drop into a reflective state of mind. Take a deep breath. Ask yourself the question, “Is that thought true? 100% of the time?” Make a conscious effort to evaluate your thought pattern and ask yourself if it is the mindset that will serve you best. Hint: if it’s a fixed-mindset, it probably isn’t serving you.

3.  Roll.  Imagine doing a somersault (or a roll in a kayak if that’s more your speed) and rolling out the other side with a different mindset. Roll yourself into a different state of mind by trying on a growth mindset thought. It might sound like this: “If I apply myself and learn some new techniques I can lose weight/get promoted/improve my relationship.”

Everybody slips into a fixed mindset occasionally.  Even the most optimistic, growth-oriented people have moments where a fixed mindset stalls their progress.

The next time you hear your self-talk going down a fixed mindset path, remember to stop, drop and roll.

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    fixed vs growth mindset

    Bill was frustrated.  His manager Eric was well known and liked across the organization and it seemed like everything he touched turned to gold.  Eric was also 10 years Bill’s junior and had a similar college education and background. Bill was always trying to prove himself and show everyone how much he knew, to no avail. It seemed to backfire. Bill’s frustration boiled down to this: Why was Eric so successful and why wasn’t he experiencing the same success in his career?

    Turns out, Eric has a growth mindset and Bill has a fixed mindset.

    A growth mindset, says researcher and Stanford professor Carol Dweck who coined the term, is the belief that qualities and abilities can be developed or improved through effort and dedication. People with a growth mindset love learning and have resilience that helps them accomplish great things.  That description fits Eric like a glove. Eric is open to constructive feedback, always looking for a better way . . . in everything from how to keep his email manageable to how to be a better spouse and parent.

    Bill on the other hand, exhibits a fixed mindset.  People with a fixed mindset tend to believe their basic qualities and abilities, like their intelligence or talent, are fixed traits. They often believe that talent alone creates success (without effort). They spend their time proving their skills or intelligence instead of developing them. Bill was always striving to sound like an expert and show everyone how much he knew; key signs of a fixed mindset.

    Is it possible for Bill to shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset?  Absolutely! But first he needs to catch his fixed mindset thinking in the act and change his attitude and beliefs. If he can do that he can change his mind. Literally.

    When he hears his self-talk (or thinking, if you like that term better) say something like, “I’ll never get promoted,” Bill will need to catch himself and reframe the thought to something like, “If I work hard and continue to learn, I will be ready for a promotion.”

    Then, he will be able to tap into the secret to Eric’s success: his growth mindset.

    How about you?  Could you amp up your success by taking on a growth mindset?

    Listen to your own self-talk today. Do you hear fixed-mindset or growth mindset thoughts?

    Take action: when you hear a fixed-mindset thought, stop yourself and reframe it to a growth mindset thought.

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    Generation Z

    You’re a manager and you’ve finally got a handle on Millennials. Or maybe you’re one of the Millennials yourself. Look out. Here comes the next generation, Gen Z.
    And they’re nothing like Millennials.
    Here are six things every manager needs to know about Generation Z.

    1. How they want their workplace structured is different.

    Only 9% will want to work from home. Unlike Gen Xers and Millennials who have been adamant about working to live, Gen Zers will be more likely to want to come into the office, with a clearer separation of work and home. A mere 17% of them think an open office environment would support them in doing their best work. The overwhelming majority of them want their own private work space, be that an office or a cubicle. They are hard workers with a strong work ethic, and they want their own space in which to perform that work.

    2. They are a resilient bunch.

    Millennials were raised to think they are special. Meanwhile, Gen Z, raised during the Great Recession, were raised to be resilient. They watched their parents navigate banks failing, retirement accounts tanking and figuring out how to make ends meet. Learning through osmosis and sometimes direct mentoring from their parents, this generation has mastered resilience. That doesn’t mean they enjoy punishing assignments or long hours, but if they are on board with the big picture, they will figure out how to make it work.

    3. Entrepreneurship is in their blood.

    With IPO heroes like Mark Zuckerberg and Evan Spiegel, they’ve come of age in a time when tech start-ups, bloggers and YouTube sensations have become independently wealthy under their noses. That successful start-up mentality has influenced what they think is possible. Capitalize on their entrepreneurship, showing how they can be intrapreneurial if you are part of a large organization or where they can most effectively apply their entrepreneurial efforts in a smaller or mid-sized organization.

    4. Optimism about the future.

    Whereas their Millennial counterparts tend to be more pessimistic (and entitled, many have said), Gen Z sees the glass as half full, and even more than half full when they work hard and apply themselves. Don’t douse their optimism if you want to get their best work from them.

    5. They are accustomed to freedom.

    Raised like mini-adults by their Gen X parents coupled with being able to explore the world in a device in the palm of their hand, they are accustomed to freedom unknown to previous generations. While their parents might know where they are in the physical world at all times, they have no idea where in the digital world they are. This is the generation that outsmarted the parental controls on their devices, not because they wanted to visit nefarious websites, but just to see if they could, and to see what lies beyond the fire wall. Your coaching skills as a manager might be put to the limit as you navigate giving them their freedom while supervising their work.

    6. Keep it real.

    Generation Z is more influenced by real, non-airbrushed personalities on YouTube than they are by celebrity endorsements. From their casual unkempt (men) or simple (women) hair styles to their tastes in music and fashion, this generation more than the few generations that immediately preceded them are all about keeping things real. Let their individuality shine through. Reciprocate and show your authentic self and you will win their trust and respect.

    Take these six dynamics into account as you onboard Generation Z into your organization and you will be rewarded with optimistic, resilient, entrepreneurial employees who will soon become the next generation of leaders in your organization.

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    Generation Z

    Given that Gen Z is estimated to be one third of the population by 2020 and will outnumber their Millennial counterparts by more than one million, it is time to take notice of them.

    Generation Zers will be the first to tell you they feel like their smartphone is as indispensable as a body part. Despite this, they are not entirely clueless about how to communicate. A full 78% feel that face-to-face communication is best when expressing feelings.

    Still, there are a number of things you can plan on teaching Gen Z employees as they begin to join your ranks.

    1. When to pick up the phone.

    74% admit communication in person or over the phone doesn’t come naturally to them, according to a recent BridgeWorks study. Consequently, many routine matters will get bogged down in email that takes much more time to process than a quick phone call.

    2. How to focus.

    Raised in a world of six-second Vine videos, Gen Zers have limited attention spans. Passive attention measures a mere eight seconds and active attention 12 minutes, according to a study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information. The upshot? They can handle, and will expect, working on multiple projects with competing priorities.

    3. How to ask for help.

    They are a self-reliant bunch. Raised like mini-adults by their Gen X parents, it may not naturally occur to them to ask for help. Even when they are stuck. Model asking for help and show them that it is perfectly okay for them to reach out.

    4. Patience.

    Growing up in a world of Amazon, Zappos and other next-day and same-day delivery services, this generation expects that things will be delivered (at work and elsewhere) nearly instantaneously. And in working order. If they have to wait or if the product or service does not meet their high standards, they will take it as a sign of disrespect. Teaching them that the world of work does not deliver in the same way as Amazon will help them be more tolerant and understanding.

    5. How to make small talk.

    As they note about themselves, communicating in person does not come naturally to them. Courting clients, making friends at work and networking in their professional field will inevitably involve small talk, a staple of in-person communication. Make small talk with them by asking what they did on the weekend, how their commute was and what’s happening on the music scene (or whatever their area of interest) and you will model this important skill.

    Follow these tips and you will get the most out these optimistic, resilient, entrepreneurial young adults.

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    Generation Z

    Just when you’ve started to get your head around what makes the Millennials tick, the conversation on generations is changing.

    Say hello to Gen Z.

    Generation Z are those born after 1995.  It’s tempting to think that they are like Millennials on steroids. But that is far from the truth. Gen Zers were raised in the midst of the Great Recession. They came of age in a time when the norm was same-day or next-day delivery of just about anything. True digital natives, they learned to swipe before they learned to talk. For half their lives, they’ve experienced an African American President.

    Meanwhile, their older counterparts, the Millennials (born between 1980 and 1994) came of age in a time marked by 9/11 and other terrorist attacks, political scandals and computer technology starting to become second-nature.

    Oddly enough, Gen Z has far more in common with their great grandparents, who came of age just after the Great Depression. And at 26% of the US population and outnumbering their Millennial counterparts by more than 1 million, Generation Z is important to get to know.

    Just what exactly are the top priorities of this generation that is about to enter the workforce?

    1. They are intent on finishing college and finding a stable job.

    We might see more students graduate in the desirable four-year window, something colleges and universities will delight in.  Their interest in finishing college is driven by practical motives. Most Gen Z college students are seeing college as a route to get a skill set that will enable them to be gainfully employed rather than a time to pursue a topic they are passionate about.

     

    Many in this generation have seen their parents and close family friends lose investments, lose their homes and lose their jobs during the 2008 recession and its aftermath. According to a  Goldman Sachs poll, Generation Z reported that finding a stable job was one of their top priorities and ranks job stability above travel, working out and spending time with family and friends.

    2. They are thrifty and they save.

    The same Goldman Sachs poll showed that Gen Zers are concerned with saving for the future and coming out of college with as little debt as possible. 71% of them report being focused on saving for the future and a full 60% of them have savings accounts. Their largely Gen X parents have taught them to save, much as their great-grandparents did with their children in a post-Depression world.  Their focus on the future is backed up by their actions. A Youthlogix study reported that two thirds of Gen Z said they will take the time to go online and find a coupon for a purchase, compared with only 46% of Millennials.

    3. They are inherently entrepreneurial.

    From role models like Mark Zuckerberg and Evan Spiegel to YouTube stars such as Meg DeAngelis and Tyler Oakley, Generation Z was raised on entrepreneurial icons. One study cites as many as 72% of teens surveyed want to start their own business. Coming of age during the Great Recession has created an impetus to take control of their employment and financial future in an action-oriented manner. A 2015 US Census Bureau report indicated one third of Millennials were living with their parents. Generation Z is taking matters into their own hands and don’t want to be living in mom and dad’s basement. Ever.

    In the coming weeks, the Working Conversation blog will continue its exploration of Generation Z, helping you communicate better with this generation and teaching them what they need to know to succeed at work. They’ll be joining your ranks before you know it.

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    virtual team communication

    Communication in virtual teams may not feel as fluid and dynamic as it does in face to face teams, especially if you’ve spent most of your time working in collocated teams.  Here are four ways to improve communication in virtual teams:

    1. Develop communication norms.

    Email. Texting. SharePoint. Phone calls. Workfront. Jira. Slack. Sales Force. Instant messaging. And the list goes on (and on!).

    There are so many communication technologies available for virtual teams these days, it can be hard to figure out which one is best used for which type of task.

    The more you can establish norms for communicating through certain media for specific tasks, it will make it easier for your virtual team members to find what they need and communicate effectively.

    2. Be available as much as possible.

    When a collocated team member walks by and sees your door open and that you’re not on the phone, it is easy and comfortable for them to stop by and ask a quick question, get clarification or simply say hello.

    Virtual team members don’t have access to those same physical and visual cues, so they will need other means to know when you are available.  Whether it is through using an onscreen status indicator or regularly scheduling office hours where virtual team members can “drop by” via phone or video conference, make yourself available to your virtual team members in a regular and dependable way.

    3. Strategically over-communicate.

    Communicate your expectations through multiple means (project plans, documents and meetings to name a few). Over-communicate the things that you feel are the most important, being mindful to keep it at an expectations level rather than at a task level in order to avoid micromanaging team members.  Additionally, do your best to preempt any side conversations with individual team members in which important or critical information is exchanged. This will help to ensure that team members who are not present don’t feel out of the loop or disenfranchised because they were not part of the discussion.

    4. Communicate the story of the team and how it fits into big picture

    As I’ve discussed elsewhere, virtual team members need to hear the story of their team (why it was formed, what it’s goals are and how it fits into the mission of the broader organization) regularly and told with conviction. When team members understand the broader context for the team’s existence and their specific role on it and that they are fulfilling a critical role in the organization, they will be more likely to be committed and engaged.

    These four steps, taken together, can make significant strides toward bringing more cohesion and connection to your virtual team. These steps are meaningless if you don’t act on them.  Pick one and start doing it today.

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    man-on-phone-background-noise

    Dogs barking in the background.

    A noisy lawnmower outside an open window.

    Doorbells, other phones ringing and text message alerts.

    These and other distractions have been the impetus for many virtual teams to enforce a ground rule of muting during calls when others are talking.

    Muting comes with its own set of pros and cons. Sure, the dogs, doorbells and children are not a distracting part of the meeting. At the same time, muting the line often gives way to doing other work and non-work activities.

    A recent study by Intercall, supplier of teleconference lines to the vast majority of Fortune 100 companies found that many employees report doing other things while attending conference call meetings:

    • Two-thirds of those surveyed admitted to doing other work while on other calls,
    • 63% reported writing and sending email,
    • nearly half admitted to using the restroom while on a call,
    • and others reported being on another phone call or exercising while on conference calls.

    Clearly mute is necessary to perform these unrelated activities without disrupting the call.

    Is there an alternative?  One that will keep employees engaged in the call at hand – the one they are supposed to be on?

    Indeed, there it and it is unmuting.  I advise virtual teams to UNMUTE during their meetings (think three to ten people on a call or video chat; the same rules to not apply when there are more than a dozen people on the call).  Having everyone “live” on the line fosters a more natural flow of conversation.

    Social cohesion is also more likely to develop since team members’ laughter and other social cues are heard and more easily understood.

    As for the issue of background noise such as a barking dog, the doorbell, or even the sounds of family members, these can be a good reminder that team members are people in real environments with real things happening in their environments, rather than work-producing robots. It’s also a good reminder that someone might be joining the call at an odd hour in their time zone or on a day when they might otherwise not be working.

    So, if you’d like to create more social cohesion, more accountability and get people to pay more attention on conference calls, reach for the “unmute” button.

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    micromanaged

    “I do my best work when micromanaged,” said no employee ever.

    Managers typically do not set out to micromanage, but it is easy for those who supervise virtual employees and teams to micromanage on accident. Without observing the day-to-day work behavior of others, some managers and supervisors will resort to overmanaging the daily responsibilities of their direct reports.

    To manage more effectively in a virtual environment, follow these five steps.

    1. Provide more structure than you think they need.

    As a leader of a virtual team, you’ll need to take a more structured approach than if you were managing that same team in a collocated environment.  To provide that additional structure you can be proactive in explaining what success looks like at each step of the project team members are working toward.  Use technology tools to make sure team members know who is responsible for what and when it is expected to be done, as well as highlighting the interdependencies among team members. When this structure is communicated directly and upfront, it is far less likely to be perceived as micromanagement.

    2. Lead the person, supervise the work.

    As you set expectations and provide more structure than you think you need to, be cognizant of the possibly of micromanagement creeping in.

    Managing virtually is best done when leadership and management are clearly thought of as separate activities. Lead the employee. Supervise their work.

    That may sound simple, but it is not always easy to implement.

    What does it mean?

    Leading the employee is about imparting values, communicating vision and direction and telling the story of the team (discussed in Four Steps to Creating Community in Virtual Teams).  Supervising the work, on the other hand, is about setting clear expectations on process, outcomes and timelines. Each employee may have different needs in terms of how much supervision they need. Be aware of those needs. Ask about them if you need to so that you can avoid micromanagement.

    3. Create a supportive work environment.

    Create a supportive work environment for your virtual team members by being available, having an established rhythm and encouraging informal interactions.

    When your team members know they can reach you for a quick question, they will feel more supported and less “out of the loop,” a common complaint of virtual employees. And, when there is a rhythm to their week which includes regular one-one-one meetings with you, regular team meetings or status updates, they will be less likely feel “lost” in the organization. Further, find opportunities to engage in informal interactions with virtual employees to approximate the connection that develops with collocated employees when you visit informally in the hallways or when getting coffee. These interactions create social cohesion between you and your employees and also model that it is okay – beneficial even – for them to have social interactions with one another.

    4. Provide more feedback.

    Employees who work virtually need more feedback. They don’t get the quick look of approval from you that may transpire in a face-to-face meeting or the questioning non-verbal reaction of your knit brow when you don’t understand something.  When they do good work, especially that which is above and beyond your expectations, be generous in your praise. And, if they are new to their role, be clear and specific as they learn the ropes, again being generous when they fulfill on their expectations and being quick to provide constructive feedback if they are not fulfilling on the expectations of their tasks or their role.

    5. Clarify expectations; track commitments and progress.

    During regular one-on-one meetings and team status meetings, clarify expectations.  Do your virtual team employees know exactly what they need to do and by when?  Do they understand how their work is interrelated with that of other team members? Set those expectations clearly and explicitly.

    Use tools for team members to track their commitments and their progress on those commitments. With smart use of technology, you can take a backseat to always knowing where each virtual team member is in relation to their work responsibilities. Insist that the tools be used and explain if necessary, that this is a tool that helps you from micromanaging them.

    With these five steps in practice, you will keep yourself out of the micromanagement trap with your virtual employees.  They will respect you more for it and their true value to the organization will have the best chance to shine brightly.

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    virtual teams

    Humans crave community.  In fact, our survival depends on it.  It’s true in our personal lives and it’s true at work, too.

    Community does not necessarily develop as fluidly and naturally when managing virtual teams as when managing collocated teams. Purposefully cultivating a sense of community is often overlooked when managing and supervising virtual teams.

    However, if you don’t create a vibrant community for virtual employees to belong to, they will find their own community. Again, it is part of our very fabric to feel a part of something. So if virtual team members are not finding community in the workplace ether, they might find it on social media through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn.  Or they might find it in their actual physical community by walking the dog, hanging out with neighbors during work hours, or spending time in local coffee shops and other haunts . . . not working. Or they may fall back on other communities that they already belong to like extended family and friends.

    To create a virtual team that truly embodies community (that is commitment to one another, ability to be vulnerable, and a strong desire to see the team succeed) requires conscious, deliberate action.

    Here are four steps to create community in virtual teams:

    1. Get together in person early and often.

    Advocate tirelessly for a budget to bring team members together early and often. Although the tools for communicating and collaborating virtually have improved dramatically over the last decade, there is still no replacement for face-to-face interaction. Team members will build trust more swiftly, have a greater sense of comfort with one another and come to rely on each other the more opportunities they have to spend time together in the same room.

    2. Get to know team members.

    Into every team interaction, build opportunities for team members to get to know one another better.  Whether it is a simple round-robin roll call where you ask what people ate for breakfast or where they’d go on vacation if they had an unlimited budget, create opportunities for them to share small, relatively low-risk information about themselves.  As they build social cohesion, the team will become stronger and work together better.

    3. Create spaces and places for informal interaction.

    Whether it be through an enterprise wide tool like Yammer, Honey or Slack, or using a public platform like a private group on Facebook, team members need a place to gather, exchange ideas and be social. Consciously create the places and spaces for your virtual team members to hang out and communicate virtually.  And then get yourself there and model the behavior you’d like to see.

    4. Regularly communicate the story of the team

    While it might seem commonplace to you, your team members need to hear the story of their team regularly and told with conviction.  Include why it was formed, what it’s goals are and how it fits into the mission of the broader organization. When team members feel like their team is by design rather than by accident and fulfilling a critical role in the organization, they will be more likely to be committed and engaged.

    What are your favorite techniques for creating community in your virtual team?

    Share your ideas in the comments below.

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    man_woman_discussing

    Jon just received an offer for his dream job: a more challenging job (in a good way), a bump in salary and a plum location.

    The only trouble is, he enjoys working for his current boss Sarah, and he’s unsure how to explain that he’s leaving.  Hired directly out of college by Sarah, Jon hasn’t had to navigate a resignation conversation before.

    As Jon speaks with Sarah, there are two types of rules that will govern how their conversation unfolds. Constitutive rules help us understand how to create meaning. Regulative rules guide the behavior of the conversation and communicate what happens next in a conversation.

    Jon begins his conversation with Sarah by sharing how much he has learned from her in the five years he’s worked for her.  He mentions that she has been a role model in navigating office politics and securing resources.  Sarah must determine how to interpret Jon’s praise of her leadership (constitutive rule). She will draw on past experiences of being complimented on her leadership style and what those remarks meant (as well as her relationship with Jon) as she applies constitutive rules to make sense of what he means.

    “However,” Jon continues, invoking a constitutive rule that suggests Sarah will need to make additional meaning out of what comes next. “I’ve made the difficult decision to take a role with a new firm.”

    Sarah must compose some sort of response, governed by a regulative rule.  She may ask for more information about the new opportunity Jon is pursuing or if there’s anything she could do to persuade him to stay.

    As the two engage in the conversation and co-create their social reality, they will discover each other’s rule systems. Some rules they have known from working together and some will be discovered in this novel situation.

    While these rules are not spoken of aloud, they are constantly being negotiated in the moment, drawing on the life experiences and world views of the conversational partners, which may vary markedly. They may not agree entirely on the rules they are choosing to enact, but at least they can make sense of their conversation and what will happen next.

    What conversational rules can you identify – either constitutive or regulative – and how do they shape meaning making or turn taking in the conversation?

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