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.

 

Feeling Left Out and Don’t Know Why? Turn Things Around. | Reaching Out

It can’t be avoided but we don’t want it to last.

It’s that feeling of being disconnected, conspicuous, and self-conscious whenever we’re plunked in workplace situations with people who don’t know us. It can happen when we:

  • join a new work group
  • participate in a cross-functional meeting
  • attend an industry conference
  • go to our first company party
  • become part of a new project team

The sooner we feel accepted the better. For some it’s easy but not for others. Feeling excluded  can drag us down and stall our careers.

The “why” of it

We can usually sense that we’re being left out by theses clues:

  • Blatant exclusion — being uninvited to meetings, ignored, ostracized, bypassed
  • Disregard– repeated rejection of input, unacknowledged communication, impolite treatment
  • Avoidance–unwillingness of colleagues to interact, collaborate, or talk with us

The reasons for being left out are many, so it helps to figure out enough so we can try to turn things around.

Generally, exclusion (temporary or permanent) may be the result of some discomfort  our colleagues feel because of our:

  • physical appearance (size, shape, gait, dress, race)
  • sound (accent, tone of voice, pace of speaking)
  • background (ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic group)
  • career specialty (techie, scientist, writer, hands-on worker)
  • reputation (climber, flirt, trouble-maker, boaster, truth-bender)

When  colleagues make us feel left out, their reasons are as much a commentary about them as us. The difference is that we’re the ones who feel the pain.

I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, especially at work, since company culture, work demands, and personalities create unique pressures.

Whether what others think about us is fair or correct isn’t the focus. It’s what we’re going to do to correct misconceptions and build positive perceptions that make us an accepted and valued part of the team.

What to do.

Once we have an inkling about the barriers to our being included, we need to shrink them.

It’s easy to be resentful and have a chip on your shoulder. When you do, it makes matters worse.

The reality is that we’re all capable of being excluders, even when while we’re being excluded.  It happens when:

  • We don’t know how to include someone we don’t know well; our tongues get tied and our feet stuck.
  • No one else in the work group has yet made a move, so the ice is not yet broken for us.
  • We’re uncertain about how connecting will affect us one-on-one and as part of the team.
  • There is a fear that our overture will be rejected, misread, or misused.

Inclusion at work is an investment in a relationship. When it’s positive, everyone wins; if not, then the price can be dear. That’s why coworkers are often careful or unwilling to step forward.

Take the pledge.

Healthy, productive organizations need everyone to feel valued. Anyone who feels left out is likely to perform below par, lack motivation to grow, and experience career disappointment.

Supervisors who fail to create inclusive work groups risk escalation of unwanted behaviors that slowly poison the operation.

Each of us is responsible for contributing to a fully inclusive work environment, even when we’re feeling excluded. That’s the big challenge.

We all need to pledge that we’ll extend a hand to a coworker who may feel left out. It’s about doing simple things:

  • Greet him warmly when your paths cross
  • Invite her to join in a discussion, meeting, or event
  • Talk with him about his work
  • Share news that she might have missed
  • Volunteer to work with him on an assignment
  • Commit to kindness

If you are feeling excluded now or if you have been excluded in the past, please pledge to take these small steps. They are a path to inclusion over time that will also benefit you.

Our career success is a product of what we do and how we do it. Remember those who reached out to you along the way and please pay it forward where you work.

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.

Employee Behavior Troubling You? Time to Intervene.

path 126441045_0121483a49_m“What you resist, persists.” Carl Jung, Swiss psychiatrist/psychotherapist, is credited with this powerful quote.

If more supervisors followed it, fewer problems would develop on their watch.  Sadly, most don’t.

 

Balancing acts.

Supervisors are busy. Some even overwhelmed.

They’re like the circus act where someone spins a plate on the end of a stick, puts it on his head, then takes two more sticks with plates and spins them in each hand.

No applause if the plates fall off…only sad sounding oohs from the crowd and maybe a boo from someone feeling mean.

Supervisors dread noise that doesn’t sound like attaboy or attagirl. Their job is to build a work group where employees keep lots of plates spinning, in spite of interruptions, faulty sticks, or a lapse in concentration.

Supervisors are continually on red alert for the material stuff that can disrupt performance:

  • Equipment needing repair
  • Technology flaws
  • Processes that break down
  • Cost overruns

They often see their job as running interference to avoid plates falling off sticks, when their most important job is to provide clear, consistent direction and behavioral standards to employees.

When employees know what is expected, they can do their best work. However, they don’t know if they’re meeting your expectations unless you tell them.

And you can’t tell them if you don’t pay attention to how they are working and acting. Or if plates 2333375431_5857d7e3f3_myou pull the covers over your head. (Crash go the plates!)

All behavior matters.

In general, supervisors don’t like to confront employees about problematic behavior, particularly when it seems incidental.

They chalk it up to:

  • A bad day or a slight misstep
  • A brain cramp
  • No big deal
  • Typical of “their” generation

Until, of course, you end up with a pattern, a full-blown employee problem that’s taking a toll. Your employees start looking at you with the unspoken question: “Why are you letting this happen?”

Crash go the plates!

Problematic employee behavior is a gift that keeps on giving if you don’t intervene early. Three typical categories are:

1. Testing the rules

  • Periodically arriving late to work for legitimate sounding reasons
  • Coming back “a little late” from lunch or breaks
  • Missing meetings here and there
  • Not reporting off as required

2. Reliability and dependability

  • Not completing/submitting work on time
  • Failing to communicate project status and/or needs
  • Finding reasons not to support coworkers
  • Making excuses

 3. Interpersonal conduct

  • Way of speaking to coworkers (harsh, demanding, critical)
  • Negative body language, one-on-one or in groups
  • Impatience, bullying, resistance
  • Gossiping, nay-saying, over-socializing

Signs of these behaviors usually surface within the first three months after a new employee joins the work group.

When a supervisor takes over a new group, those behaviors have already taken root.

Job one is to take inventory of how each employee is conducting him/herself, assess what is positive and what isn’t, and immediately have a sit down.

Persist.

The longer you wait to confront unwanted or problematic behavior, the worse it will become and the more misery it will bring to your job as supervisor. What you resist, persists!

The earlier you call attention to what you don’t want, the easier your employee discussions will go:

  • Employees will know what you see and don’t want. That may be enough for them to change without further action.
  • You obtain a commitment for behavior changes which will launch improvement.
  • A dialogue starts, so you and your employee can get in a helpful performance feedback loop together.
  • Employees will recognize your commitment to fairness and a positive culture.

Good supervisors are teachers. Their primary role is to let each employee know what it takes to be successful in his/her job and how to contribute to the work group’s success.

It’s a lot easier to keep the plates spinning when everyone holding the sticks operates in a constructive work environment where they feel confident, safe, and understood.

Early intervention when employees are out of sync with your expectations positions everyone for a winning performance.

Opening photo by Polpulox !!! via Photoree                   Plate Photo by fonso via Photoree

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

 

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