Category Archives: business communication

communication-problem

That’s not what I meant!

Oh, if only we never had to say that – at work or at home!

But alas, we do.  Misunderstandings happen.

Here are three of the most common misunderstandings that happen at work along with my advice on how to deal with them.

1) Misattribution of motives. This is when we guess wrong about why someone did something. The human brain is a sense-making machine and it wants to know why someone did (or didn’t do) something. In the absence of information, we make up a motive and we are usually wrong.

The best way to mitigate against this is to stop and check in with yourself when you think someone has intentionally wronged you. Ask yourself how much hard evidence you have to support your conclusion that the other person has acted maliciously. If you don’t have much (or any!) evidence, get curious and ask the person some questions about why they did what they did (or didn’t do).  Assume positive intent until you have hard evidence to the contrary.

 

2) Misunderstandings on email. We regularly misunderstand one another over email because we have limited social cues (i.e., no tone of voice, eye contact, facial expression) to aid our comprehension of the message. When email misunderstandings occur, people feel threatened and get defensive.  That often shows up as CCing others on the reply to the email as a form of vindication and proof that the sender of the email was wrong.

To avoid this misunderstanding I suggest following the rule of three: if there have been three emails exchanged and you haven’t understood each other, pick up the phone and speak to them in person. Another tip is when you are feeling angry or frustrated with someone and are tempted to CC someone on the exchange, check to see if there is a misunderstanding first.

 

3) Assuming agreement. Naturally, we want others to agree with us. In our current culture of too much to do and not enough time to do it, we often jump to conclusions that others agree with us, when in fact, we haven’t asked enough questions and engaged them effectively to find out if they agree or not.

To avoid jumping to a conclusion that you have reached agreement, state your objective (i.e., the need to reach a decision together) at the outset of the conversation. Then conclude the interaction with restating the conclusion or agreement as a comprehension check.

What other misunderstandings do you experience at work?

Post them in the comments below and I’ll give my best advice on how to address them.

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    homeoffice

    Open office. Hoteling. Agile office environments.

    Whatever you want to call it, working here, there, and everywhere is here to stay. Without water cooler talk, chance hallway meetings, and idle conversation waiting for meetings to begin, it can be hard to develop relationships with new colleagues or keep existing relationships strong and healthy.

    Relationship development often gets overlooked when people are not collocated with their team.  People tend to focus primarily on the tasks and the work and forget to develop a relationship with remote workers like the ones they have with their collocated colleagues. 

    Here are three quick tips to stay connected with your colleagues who are officeing elsewhere.

    1) Use a webcam for as many interactions as you can. Many times remote workers are reluctant to do this – they may be uncomfortable on camera, not in a perfect environment, or any number of other reasons. When they do get on camera, however, it is much easier for their counterparts, whether located in a central office or remotely themselves – to see them as human. As such, colleagues are less likely to make assumptions, blame, or act negatively toward each other.

    2) Make small talk.  It is especially important to do so while waiting for all parties to get on the line on a conference call, WebEx, or videoconference. Make small talk with those dialing in just like you would if they were in the same room.  I’ve seen those who are collocated put the remote workers on mute and have the small talk without them. The remote workers, more than anyone, need to be included in the small talk to develop relationships.  This does a great disservice to the relationship and the project work.  When people have deeper relationships, it is easier to have difficult conversations, deal with problems, and handle conflict. 

    3) See each other’s space. If you are not in the main office or headquarters, share pictures of your home office environment with your colleagues. This is another technique for humanizing the remote workers and developing relationships with them.

    In the comments below, add the tips you have for staying connected with your colleagues who are here, there, or anywhere.

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    habits-good-bad

    Habits most often come about accidentally.  We try something and it works: we get a reward. The next time that same cue triggers us, we implement the same routine and get the same reward. Rinse and repeat numerous times (some say 21 is the magic number) and a habit is born.

    But what if you recognize a habit that you have and you don’t like it. Can you change it?  Or swap it out with a different habit?

    Researchers agree that yes, we can change a habit, and they have some specific insights on how to do so.

    If you’ve read my recent blog posts, you’ll recall that a habit is includes a trigger or a cue that prompts a specific set of behaviors (a routine) and it ends in a reward. The stronger the craving for the reward, the easier the habit develops.  And the harder it is to break.

    Researchers now know that the cue triggers our brain to have a craving for the reward, and it’s not likely that the cues are going to go away. And our brain certainly doesn’t want to let go of the reward. What’s left to change? The routine, or the specific behaviors that we take when the cue shows up.

    Here’s a before and after comparison of the habit change. Let’s say the habit I’m trying to change is to stop gossiping with my coworkers.

    Before  

    Cue: A natural lull in my work (a slight moment of boredom).

    Routine: Get up from desk, walk over to Roxanne’s office, get the latest gossip, go back to my desk.

    Reward: Distraction and a change of scenery to cure the boredom and reset my attention span.

    After

    Cue: A natural lull in my work (a slight moment of boredom).

    Routine: Get up from desk, take the stairs to the main level, go out the back door, take a short walk, go back to my desk.  (Or, if it truly is social interaction I crave, go to Alex’s desk for a short visit . . . she rarely gossips and always has interesting anecdotes.)

    Reward: Distraction and a change of scenery to cure the boredom and reset my attention span.

     

    So while we cannot easily change the whole habit, we can systematically run different routines until we find one that gives us the same reward.

    What workplace habits would you like to change?

    Let me know in the comments below.

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    Cravings

    Ty was a participant in one of my leadership development classes. In our session on effective meetings, I’d shared research on how much more efficient meetings could be if people refrained from attempts to “multi-task” while in the meeting. The buzzes and beeps from our smartphones, tablets and laptops are addictive. We crave the distraction and the potential reward that comes with an exciting or important text message, social media alert or email.

    So Ty set out to curb his craving for distraction.

    It was harder than he thought.

    “I keep looking at my phone to see if there are any new messages,” Ty told me, “I have it silenced, not even on vibrate, and I am so addicted I keep looking.  I can hardly last 10 minutes!”

    I empathized. I’d been there myself a couple of years ago when I broke up with email. It is simple, but it certainly isn’t easy.

    I explained to Ty that his smartphone habit was based on the repeated and predictable pattern of Cue –> Routine –> Reward.

    The cue was his boredom.

    When his mind would drift, whether in a meeting or doing independent work at his desk, that was his cue to reach for his phone. Maybe a juicy reward (interesting message) just arrived.

    What makes the smartphone habit stick is the craving for the reward.

    We all want the kudos email from a customer, the confirmation of a new project with your best client, or a note from your sweetheart.

    But more often it is a notice that the cable bill is due, Amazon would like you to rate your recent purchase or Target alerts you to a sale curtains.

    Ty’s anticipation for a reward, in fact his craving for a reward, was what made the habit stick.

    Once he understood that the craving for the reward was driving his behavior, he understood, and he relaxed a bit. “I get a little hit of that craving when I’m just looking at my phone on my desk, trying to will myself not to look at it,” he said. “I’m going to leave it in my pocket or put it in my desk drawer when I need to concentrate so that I’m not triggering the craving just by looking at it.”

    When I last spoke with Ty, he was making good progress on delaying the reward. He’d decided that kicking the smartphone habit altogether wasn’t in the cards for him, but he could at least delay the eventual reward . . . be it a text from his sweetie or a sale on curtains.

    What strong cues draw you in?

    Share yours below and I’ll reply with some tips to curb them.

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    Cue Routine Reward

    Passed over for a promotion yet again, Sandra came to me frustrated and angry.  After we talked for a bit, I asked her how her morning at the office started each day. She explained that she came into the office each morning, head down and aiming straight for her office. She made little eye contact with others and usually had no specific interactions with people apart from the occasional “Excuse me” or “Third floor, please,” in the elevator.

    Sandra spent the first 45 minutes of her day catching up on email. With colleagues in other time zones (and local colleagues who seemed to work around the clock), email felt like the bane of Sandra’s existence. If she could at least get her inbox to a manageable size before the day of meetings and project work began, she felt a sense of accomplishment. It was good to start the day ahead of the game, she thought.

    Shortly after she started working for her current employer, Sandra felt continuously behind on her work, especially email. She resolved one day, years ago, to get caught up one morning. She came in with absolute focus, spoke to no one on the way to her desk, and churned through several hundred emails before coming up for air. When she was done, she felt a rush of accomplishment. And she began to repeat the pattern.

    What Sandra didn’t realize was that this habit of “head’s down” approach first thing in the day was impeding her relationships with her co-workers, even the ones she worked the most closely with.  In the absence of even a smile or a quick hello, people thought of Sandra as aloof and standoffish, hardly material for a promotion.

    Sandra’s pattern follows the routine researchers at MIT have discovered when it comes to habit: it starts with a cue or a trigger.  For Sandra, that was hundreds of unread and unanswered emails in her inbox. Prompted by the cue, she implemented a routine: a head’s down approach to clearing her inbox, complete with the absolute focus while walking to her desk. And finally, reward. For Sandra, the reward was the sense of accomplishment she felt heading off to her first meeting with her inbox at zero.

    Cue –> Routine –> Reward.

    Those are the makings of a habit.

    Left unchecked, our repeated behaviors develop into habits with no conscious effort on our part.

    Or habits can be deliberately designed to support who you are and what you want to create for yourself professionally.

    What do your habits say about you?

    Let me know in the comments below.

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    GrowthMindset

    Ever wish you could just sit back, relax and let change wash over you? What if I told you that one of the most powerful techniques Olympic athletes, blockbuster actors and top sales performers use to seal the deal on their success was readily available for you to use, too?

    Good news!  It is.

    The secret?  The easiest way to shift your mindset is to visualize yourself having a growth mindset.  Visualization is the process of seeing in your mind’s eye the behavior you wish to have, in the moment you wish to have it.

    Sound woo-woo?  Esoteric?  Consider Michael Phelps who has earned 28 Olympic medals in swimming. His coach trained him to “watch a movie” in his mind of him winning every race. His coach told him to do the visualization (watch the movie) every night before he fell asleep and every morning upon waking. The more detailed, the better. Every stroke, every movement, in precise detail.

    How will it work for you? Imagine you’re at the start of your work day. See every challenge that comes your way as an opportunity for personal and professional growth. Fill your “movie” with some of the more challenging scenes from a typical day: getting less-than-stellar feedback from your boss, learning a new software program, a difficult conversation with a colleague.  In each of the situations in your visualization, see yourself responding with a growth mindset: see yourself asking questions like, “What’s the most effective thing I can do right now? How can learn from this? And how can I improve based on what I now know?”

    Or, I’ll make it even easier for you:  Watch this guided meditation. I’ve narrated the movie for you. Review it at the start of your day, imagining your day lived through a growth mindset.

    After you’ve listened to it, share your thought in the comments below.

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    changetheirmind

    You know the difference between growth mindset and fixed mindset. You’ve been working on it. You can spot a fixed mindset a mile away.  And it bugs the heck out of you when you hear your colleague/spouse/best friend/child responding to life with a fixed mindset.

    Ever wish you could (quite literally) change their mind?

    Okay, so you can’t necessarily change their mind. But you can change their mindset.

    Here’s how:

    1) Look for an opportunity.  Find something they did well (project work, yard work, helping you with something).

    2) Show appreciation for their effort. It sounds like this: “Thank you for helping me host the client dinner/party/garage sale.  Your effort and help is noticed and appreciated.”

    Research on mindset shows that when people are praised for their effort they are subsequently more willing to take on more challenging tasks. On the other hand, those who are praised for their intelligence or their innate talent (i.e., “You’re so good at hosting client dinners/parties/garage sales.”), were less likely to perform well on more challenging tasks.  Moreover, those who were praised for their intelligence or innate talent were less likely to even want to take on more challenging tasks!

    3) Rinse and repeat. Continue to find opportunities to praise or show appreciation for a job well done.
    Show your appreciation for the effort, not the person’s intelligence or talent.

    Now, I’m not suggesting that you issue false praise or thank someone for meeting minimum expectations. Instead, look for the gems. They may be few and far between at first, but the more you cultivate them, the more they will emerge.

    The steps:

    1. Find an opportunity.
    2. Appreciate/praise the effort.
    3. Repeat.

    Give it a try and then share your results in the comments below.

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    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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