Need to Be Heard? Learn to Be Brief.

brief_Bookcover_play-03-231x300I love concise messages. So when offered the opportunity to read Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less by Joseph McCormack and then blog about it, I was all in. Writing a book about being brief showcases the author’s credibility from the first paragraph. McCormack’s Brief succeeds in all ways.

“That’s the way it goes,” we say when we don’t get:

  • Support for our ideas
  • An approval after our presentation
  • The sale
  • A job or promotion

There’s always reason (aka an excuse):

  • Bad timing
  • An off day
  • Competing factors
  • Favoritism or office politics

Actually, when things don’t go our way,  it’s usually about us–what we say and how we say it, attached to what we do and how we do it.

If we want better outcomes, we need to master brevity.

Learn to be brief.

Your career is driven by words:

  • Your boss explains the need for improved processes. You present new ideas and initiatives..
  • Your customers express their needs. You describe how your company’s products and services can meet them.
  • Your manager declares the desire to build talent. You define your capabilities.

Your biggest career challenge is cutting through the maddening clutter of noise, distractions, and interruptions, exacerbated by digital communications.

Joseph McCormack’s book, Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less, leads you out of McCormack bb16d5afeedd0ad8986cb9_L__V367807303_SX200_the morass and into some rarefied air.

He writes:

Brevity is a choice. When you want to get more, decide to say less.

Think about that for a second. Consider how much workplace air you fill with talk that grabs the undivided attention of others. For most of us, it’s not much.

Consider these statistics from McCormack:

People speak about 150 words per minute, yet have the approximate mental capacity to consume about five times that number, or 750 words per minute.

Unless you’ve quickly hooked your listener with compelling information or stories, s/he has lots of time to drift to other thoughts before you’ve made your point.

Think about the last time you listened to someone who captivated you with an idea or an observation–a time when you hung on every word. Do you communicate that effectively? If not, what would it take and what would your career payoffs be?

Brief gives you the insights and the tools.

Commit.

If brevity in communication were easy to do, you’d see a lot more of your coworkers doing it. If you master being brief, your career value will increase if not soar!.

McCormack writes:

To be brief doesn’t just mean being concise. Your responsibility is to balance how long it takes to convey a message well enough to cause a person to act on it.

Effective presentations are smooth. Creating them can be rough. You don’t get to the power of brevity without putting in the challenging mental work.

McCormack adds:

Brevity starts with deep expertise. Only with thorough knowledge can you accurately make a summary.

His book digs into the how to’s, providing clearly stated models and stories that remove the mystique so you can up your brevity.

He emphasizes:

To communicate effectively nowadays, you must be able to speak in headlines and grab someone’s attention right away.

He advocates this approach:

Map it. BRIEF Maps [his model]…used to condense and trim volumes of information

Tell it.  Narrative storytelling…to explain in a way that’s clear, concise, and compelling

Talk it. …turn monologues into controlled conversations

Show it. Visuals that attract attention and capture imagination

Digital screens, phone calls, meetings, email, and interruptions of every dimension compete with what you want others to hear. Being brief helps to deflect their potentially negative effects.

Brief branding

Like it or not, you already have a reputation around the way you communicate.  Do you know what it is? Are you a rambler, a dominator, a repeater, a windbag, an empty suit, or a clarifier?

If you want to boost your career, become known for being brief, bringing clarity, and cutting through the clutter, taking the pain out of getting work done.

If you want to get good at it, then consider reading Brief.

 

Prickly or Pleasant? What Style Gets You. | Simple Gifts

How you look at work is one thing. How you appear is quite another.

Almost on a daily basis you can find a TV program touting the latest fashions for men and women, some programs even  providing “make overs” for audience members.

The problem is: new clothes, hair styles, or accessories can’t remake the way you  come across to others. Looking nice isn’t the same as being nice.

Your interpersonal style, the way you interact with coworkers, contributes to how they approach working with you.

Style points

We generally prefer to work with people who lighten our load, physically and psychically. Just for fun, run through the names of the people you work with and describe their interpersonal styles in one word like:

  • Prickly or warm
  • Standoffish or engaging
  • Negative or positive
  • Supportive or critical

How would your coworkers describe you? If you don’t know, ask them. How would you describe yourself? Is there are difference?

 I’m not going to tell you that all the nice guys and gals are zooming to the top of the corporate ladder, because there are plenty of unpleasant people who get ahead. However, there is more to gain by being pleasant in the workplace than by being a prickly cactus.

Your boss, coworkers or direct reports are powerful word-of-mouth agents for your at-work brand. They’re the ones extolling your style and your effectiveness at building and sustaining relationships essential to getting  work done. You can be pleasant and still:

  • Be a demanding boss
  • Speak up for yourself
  • Present concerns about a project
  • Register a complaint

To be pleasant is to be agreeable but not necessarily agreeing. It means adopting a style that creates an environment where others feel respected, never shut down or out.

I can remember being at company meetings when there were hot issues being discussed. While there were caustic voices in the mix, it was those steady and pleasant-sounding ones that were generally heard and heeded by the majority.

Why? Pleasantness is an indicator of approachability, openness, inclusiveness, and warmth. It generally creates an environment where it’s easier for people to share what’s on their minds, even when it’s awkward or uncomfortable.

Pleasantness begets pleasantness. As our work places become more competitive and as technology changes the way we interact, it’s easy to forget the importance of treating each other with kindness and patience. When your prevailing style is to be pleasant, it:

  • Makes working with you easier and less stressful
  • Frees up the flow of new ideas
  • Creates a sense of team, mutual support, and respect
  • Makes it easier to accept disappointments

Pleasantness is a simple gift.

The art of pleasantries

We often forget the value of warmth and kindness when we’re being sucked into the vortex of deadlines, meetings, projects, and endless emails. Work can disconnect us from the people who are the hands performing the work.

Recently Tyler Perry, famed American actor, director, an screenwriter, perhaps best known for his in-drag movie role, Madea, was asked on Live with Kelly & Michael (12/09/2013) about the kinds of Christmas presents he gives to his dear friend, the famed Oprah Winfrey.

He answered: “We don’t exchange gifts. We exchange pleasantries.” Specifically, he gives personal letters, written in his own hand, and he likes to get them in return. It’s the human touch and the fact that letters can be saved and savored for years to come that means most to him.

We can exchange pleasantries at work every day, powerful gifts of our own making for our coworkers, in the form of:

  • A warm greeting at the beginning of each day
  • Expressed interest in their work, family, and/or hobbies
  • An acknowledgement (a nod or smile) at a meeting when they make a point
  • A written thank you note or email to express gratitude for their help

Our behavior is the mark of our interpersonal style. The more effectively we interact face-to-face, voice-to-voice, and heart-to-heart, the richer our relationships at work and the more value we bring to the job and to our careers.

 

Is Amazing Performance Really Amazing? What to Do About Meaningless Words.

Have you noticed how amazing everyone is these day? If not, just listen.

Somehow we’ve become surrounded by all these amazing people who do amazing work with amazing colleagues in amazing places during these amazing times.

Someone may be saying that you’re amazing too.

By definition, to be amazing means one needs to affect others with great wonder, to astonish. That means creating great surprise or marvel (yes, marvel).

That’s a tall order like a Starbuck’s Frappuccino Grande with whipped cream. Amazing or simply as ordered?

Reality or hyperbole?

What we do and how we do it characterizes our performance. Our bosses and coworkers form opinions and express them, sometimes to each other, to you, or on your performance appraisal.

The words they use might be fact-based or baseless assumptions. Sometimes people just say anything to fill in conversational space–no words of value extended.

We’re all prone to exaggerate at times, especially when we’re enthusiastic about something.

Hyperbole is a figure of speech that uses exaggeration for emphasis or effect. You might use it when you:

  • Announce a new hire: “She’s the answer to all our fears about the new app.
  • Give performance feedback: “You carried the whole group on your shoulders this year.
  • Announce a promotion: “Jack out-maneuvers any crisis.”

Hyperbole only has effect when it has context. Saying, “We hired Mary who is amazing and promoted Jack who is also amazing and have you to thank for your amazing performance,” leaves us with no real information about them.

Word power

We need the right words to communicate what we mean because without them we end up adrift. At work we need clear words so we:

  • know what to do and how to do it
  • understand if we’re doing things correctly or not
  • remain motivated to keep growing

Words comes from outside and within, defining us and our world. Words have real, undeniable power.

Sometimes, though, we get ourselves in situations where we:

  • don’t know what to say
  • are caught off guard
  • forgot what we planned to say
  • don’t care about the issue or person

Of late, when people are caught short, they just say: “He or she or it was amazing.” (If you don’t believe me just listen to a talk show, the news, ads, an interview, your friends, or yourself. Consider counting the “amazings” in your day.)

Answers like “amazing” (or “This is crazy or nuts or awesome.”) are equally part of the workplace.

An amazing recovery

Empty words create malnourished communication. In a marketplace where you need to standout to be discovered, you need to speak and write using words that mean something.

When everything is said to be amazing, suddenly nothing is or can be. When everyone is amazing, nothing differentiates one from the other.

To believe that we are continually amazing becomes delusional. Praise words and laudatory phrases are wonderful. They become an issue when the words don’t come with context.

If I’m amazing at work, then in what ways do I astonish:

  • Do I get more accomplished in a day than my coworkers?
  • Do I produce fewer errors?
  • Have I achieved a standard of customer satisfaction performance that exceeds goals?
  • Do I work more calmly under stress than most?

No one performs at the top of their game all the time. So when you’re not creating wonder, you have skills and behaviors to work on. That’s how you grow and continue to raise the bar.

Amazing is rarefied air, breathed briefly under special conditions, so you must keep reaching.

Let’s fix this.

Words are power tools. Communication is enriched by those who use words to convey what they mean, not to fill space with empty sounds.

If you want to distinguish yourself, commit to using language that delivers insights, ideas, perspectives, viewpoints, and feedback clearly. I’ve stricken “amazing” from my vocabulary for now. I don’t want to sound like the echo of our times. Like you, I want to sound like myself.

Criticism, Intrusion or Help? Decoding Feedback.

Everyone has something they feel the need to tell us at work. And we’re prone to decoding 385688469_50fa8bc03b_mreciprocate.

They may comment on:

  • Our attire, haircut, and interactive style
  • Organizational changes and the risks to us
  • The last presentation we made, data set developed, or marketing idea we created
  • The likelihood of our getting promoted or even downsized

We tend, at first, to take these comments at face value, as part of the background noise of work, until they strike a nerve.

Decoding messages

Workplace savvy is a measure of our ability to correctly decode what we hear and see.

What our colleagues tell us is important. Behind every comment there’s either support, caution, implied criticism, or an offer of help.

We tend to weigh feedback based on who’s giving it: our boss, a coworker we like or one we don’t, the department manager, the HR rep, a customer, or a project team leader.

Consider the following statements as if you were either a hearing them or making them. Each has a positive element but two have a potentially negative undercurrent.

  • Mary, your proposal for using social media to attract younger customers to our new product is a good one. Do you also plan to include messages that will connect with our long-time customers?

          Criticism: If this is feedback from Mary’s boss, there’s a subtle criticism that her                proposal missed a key customer segment.

           Help: If it’s coming from a coworker, it could be considered helpful input to ensure            the proposal’s success.

  • Jacob, I’ve successfully put together Power Point presentations for the VP in the past. Let me finish the one you’re working on to announce the reorganization.

           Intrusion: This coworker is saying, “I know how to do this and you don’t. Give it to             me, so I can be the agent of its success.” I’d be wary of the coworker’s next  step             which may be taking the credit and demeaning Jacob.

  • Paul, the last time there was a safety drill, I had the lead like you do now. Unfortunately, our department didn’t do too well. I learned a lot in the process, so if you’d like to talk over your plan, I’d be happy to share what I learned.

         Help: Here the coworker is reaching out, offering to share her knowledge and           experience so Paul can incorporate it into his plan.

Good feedback is information that enriches our knowledge and perspectives, so we can do a better job.

Decoding intent

Who’s giving the feedback, why , and how determine the way we take it.

I was inspired to write this post while outside spraying herbicide on the grass creeping through the stones on my driveway.

It was another hot, humid day with a forecast of periods of rain.

As I was spraying, an older man in a mid-sized, green pick up stopped in the street across from me.

With a smile and a friendly voice, he said that there was no sense spraying those weeds Sprayer 007when more rain was just going to wash it off.

I’d never met this guy, although I’d been maintaining my farm property for over 25 years.

I told him that I’d had lots of experience killing weeds, the environmentally-friendly material I was using was commercial grade, and that the leaves would absorb it in about an hour. (My feedback to him.)

I too smiled and spoke in a friendly voice.

He smiled again, wished me a nice day, and drove off.

At first, I thought he was just trying to be helpful. Maybe he was.

Then I thought he was actually both critical (“How dumb is that woman using herbicide when it might rain?”) and intrusive (“I’d better stop her from wasting her time and money.”)

Anyway, I kept on spraying and the rain held off as I expected.

Stay savvy.

Things are rarely what they seem. Words have more layers than a chocolate torte. Making sure you understand what’s behind the feedback you receive and the feedback you give enhances your ability to navigate the challenging waters of your career.

Photo by bubbo-tubbo via Photoree

 

The Pain of Being Singled Out at Work. | Ending Ridicule As Entertainment

Being singled out for our flaws can become our worst nightmare.single out 73348258_07c1515a72_m

Self-criticism is bad enough. Consider how often you  tell yourself that you’re:

  • not smart or likeable enough
  • too quiet and socially awkward
  • too young or old to fit in
  • too self-conscious to lead

It gets worse when others single you out for the differences they see:

  • You don’t look, talk, or act like them.
  • You have work habits that are different (solitary, serious, or scattered).
  • You’re too chummy, chatty, or distant with others.
  • Your eating habits, work station appearance, or break time routines are atypical.

What you see as uniqueness can be dubbed a “flaw,” depending on who’s watching and judging.

Everyone’s watching

We live in a world where everyone’s watching us, often recording our actions for any number of reasons. And we’re watching back.

Some people like the attention and others don’t. With all this watching comes judgment.

Over the years, it’s somehow become okay to form and express opinions about people at work and elsewhere based on snapshot observations intended to “portray” them. Social media has provided broad and instantaneous platforms for this.

It’s become easy to express disrespect, demean, and label our coworkers by “sharing”  and re-sharing snippets of conversations (“Here’s snarky Grace at it again.”), forwarding emails (“Bert’s stupidity about how to make quota is so obvious.”), or posting images (“Can you believe that Myra wore this horrid outfit to the meeting?”).

Opportunities for ridicule abound and it’s time to stop it.

Be aware of yourself.

As our deficiencies are being noticed and judged, we’re unwittingly judging others.

At work, we want to secure, protect, and/or advance our position in the organization.  We can see our coworkers as either supportive teammates or threats to our status, even when they may not be.

Fear, insecurity, and desire to feel powerful often lead coworkers to undermine their colleagues. It often starts as teasing before it accelerates into direct or indirect ridicule, bullying, or harassment.

When we observe someone else being ridiculed, we can feel a few things:

  • Relief that it’s not us
  • Humor or justification depending on the situation
  • Horror at the unfairness
  • Compulsion to stop it

What we do in the moment or even afterward, tells us a lot about ourselves.

Ridicule reveals our dark side: Its unfairness is made evident when knowing the other side.

Case in point:

Recently, a  muscular man attending a major league baseball game was captured on camera  trying desperately to open a plastic water bottle.

He  struggled mightily with the bottle, even using his shirt for a better grip, to no avail. He eventually returned the unopened bottle to the vendor.

Sportscasters on ESPN and many other news outlets played and replayed this tape incessantly, laughing at, and yes, ridiculing this fellow’s:

  • Workout regime and gym
  • Actual strength/muscles
  • Attempt to use his shirt for a grip
  • Struggling attempts and then giving up

This was a very nice guy who you can see in this video from his Today Show appearance. He was simply trying to:

  •  enjoy a baseball game
  •  help the water vendor who couldn’t open the bottle

For his trouble, he got a heap of mockery and ridicule plus numerous Google listings, all at his expense. He became entertainment because others, who were not as muscular, had an opportunity to demean his physique. It made the ridiculers feel stronger, I guess.

The sad reality is: At any time and on any day, that man could be you at work or elsewhere.

Ridicule as pastime

It is painful to be ridiculed. The price paid is a cut to your self-esteem. There is no place for it at work or anywhere else.

It’s become so easy to turn each of us into a picture or a video, exposing us to ridicule and violating our desire to work and play unimpeded. Let’s all commit to doing better.

Photo by emdot via Photoree

Respect, Recognition, and Appreciation Matter. | Assessing Your Give and Take

Self-esteem can be pretty fragile.appreciation 4759535950_7bca6684c8_m

Each of us has the ability to pump up another person’s self-esteem or scar it.

A lot goes into developing and maintaining pride in ourselves, especially considering our personal and situational obstacles.

So we need to be caring.

Make others matter.

Most of us crave positive feedback. We want to know in concrete ways that our bosses and coworkers:

  • respect our talents, good intentions, and integrity
  • recognize the contributions we make to the success of the team and company
  • appreciate our efforts, kindnesses, and selflessness

Others want what we want. The question is: “Are we giving it?”

  • To everyone?
  • Just to people we like or who are like us?
  • To those we feel we need to “repay”?

The esteem we show to others is good for us. It’s how we create a bond that:

  • builds dependable relationships
  • helps coworkers try harder
  • develops confidence to overcome challenges
  • buoys up courage to take risks
  • creates community

In all likelihood, the esteem we show to others comes back to us in subtle and sometimes surprising ways.

Respect, recognition, and appreciation are equalizers. They say to the recipient, “I value you” for your:

  • skills and work quality
  • honesty and integrity
  • kindness and generosity
  • dependability and decency

Value is personal not positional.

None of us can do every job that needs to be done. Just look around where you live and count the number of things you can’t build, fix, or solve.

Then look around your company and count the number of jobs you aren’t qualified to do from the top of the organization chart to the bottom.

The only way all of us can live the lives we want is for everyone around us to do their jobs well. For that we all need to express our gratitude.

Assess yourself.

Consider the way you engage with craftsmen you hire at work or at home. Assess the amount of effort you put into expressing respect for their expertise, recognition of the challenges of the work, and appreciation for the outcome.

In my experience, a unique alliance forms, a strategic partnership, and shared engagement in the work where the results exceed the expectations of you both.

I recently accumulated a pretty long list of big and small jobs long overdue at my farm where the buildings were built from 1780 to 1900. The jobs ranged from releasing a frozen pocket door in the house to replacing light fixtures in the barn; from painting and repairing a large shed to replacing slates with shingles in the back of the house. There was other “little” stuff too.

Kirk, the expert in charge, is a one-time home builder, an inventor, and one of the most well-read people know. He took on my work solo because I was his last client in PA before moving to the mid-west.

There was nothing about this work that was easy. At every turn there were problem-solving challenges and surprises. It required:

  • electrical work and some plumbing
  • remodeling and construction
  • roofing, painting, and repair

Kirk says what he thinks, never sugar-coating anything. And he’s not a big giver or receiver of compliments. But he accepted my communicated regard for his expertise and willingness to help when needed.

I had been his customer before, so he knew that I respected him. Ultimately, he told me that he wouldn’t have taken on this wild array of jobs for anyone else. That was a gift for my self-esteem.

It was not about what I was paying him: It was about my respect, recognition, and appreciation.

 As you sow…

Treating people well is about recognizing their value and making that known. At work it’s easy to see our coworkers as just another pair of hands. Any time you treat others in a way that says, “You matter,” you are giving them a priceless gift which will, in time, come back to you.

Photo by woodleywonderworks via Photoree

 

 

 

Fired, Downsized, or Eased Out–Helping Employees Save Face

It’s awful. Letting employees go, no matter what the circumstance, is a dreaded task for respect 4621075758_6c21beb236_mmost managers.

That’s often the reason why they:

  • put the task off for too long
  • tell HR to take care of it
  • find a way to do it remotely
  • botch the conversation

Good managers understand that when they have to let one of their employees go, it’s the way they do it that will be remembered and become lore.

Be clear about why.

Employees are fired, downsized, or eased out for any number of reasons:

  • Poor performance, rule violations, improper conduct, or breaking the law
  • Company reorganization, elimination of a product or service, merger, process redesign, or technology changes
  • Inability to adapt to change, resistance to direction, or loss of performance value

In each instance there should be a valid set of circumstances to support separating the employee from the company. Whether they accept it or not, employees deserve to be told specifically what has led to the loss of their jobs.

This means the manager who delivers the message must understand and be able to articulate those facts clearly. That’s what often scares them.

No one likes to deliver bad news. In the working world, losing your job, for any reason, feels like career capital punishment.

Sure, there will be opportunities for future career steps–more than likely a job that’s a better fit in a company with a more compatible culture and a boss that you click with.

But when that hammer hits, most employees just feel the crush of it. Finding that new door that will open seems like a million light years away.

So no matter the reason for the “letting go,” the manager who must deliver the message knows that s/he will be facing a difficult conversation that may result in hurt, backlash, argument, or conflict.

Do what’s right.

When we get hired as managers, we’re expected to come to work with our big girl and big boy pants on. That means being present to do what’s right, particularly when it comes to our employees.

You can run but you can’t hide.

Any time you have to let someone go, the onus is on you. Your reputation (yes, brand) as a manager is enhanced or damaged by the way you handle the situation.

I’ve seen and heard about employees who learned they were  being let go when they:

  • came to work and found a dumpster in their offices
  • were met by HR or company security as they came to work and were immediately sent back to their cars with the news
  • called into HR and while there someone from the company was packing up their personal effects
  • got the news by phone or email, even while on vacation

I  worked with a high ranking corporate attorney who didn’t have one personal item in his office. When I asked why, he told me that’s so when he left or was asked to go, there was nothing for him to take along.

It’s about respect and humanity.

Telling employees that it’s their last day is stomach-churning and uncomfortable. You can’t predict how your employees will react and that doesn’t really matter.

What’s important is the way you treat them in their most unsettled and scary hour. That’s what they’ll remember and say about you after the dust settles.

Your respect and humanity toward your employees in those meetings are what enables them to retain a good portion of their self-esteem and self-confidence going forward.

No matter how awful their reactions may be toward you, you need to show them respect, patience, and caring.

That means you need to:

  • Prepare your conversation using respectful language and tone
  • Acknowledge their disagreement agreeably
  • Speak calmly and listen attentively
  • Encourage them to move forward

Losing one’s job can feel pretty humiliating. So anything managers can do to help employees save face and rebound is a gift. Our job is not to ruin our employees’ careers but to help them to plant their roots in the best soil and grow.

Photo by B.S. Wise via Photoree