Tag Archive for communicating at work

Misunderstandings in the Workplace – How to Clarify Expectations and Meet Goals

A common complaint from managers revolves around unmet expectations from direct reports and their teams. Similarly, workers complain that expectations are not clear and leave too much room for misunderstandings and assumptions.

Here is a look at some root problems and solutions:

Problem: Failure to clarify the desired results assuming the outcome is understood.

Management is often working within a larger framework with information that has not been made available to their direct reports. Think of this information as the missing pieces that complete the puzzle picture. The manager’s expected result is to reproduce the picture with all the parts as he sees it. Misunderstandings arise when the picture in the manager’s head does not match the picture they have painted for their direct reports.

Solution:

1. Clarify the expectations. Paint a picture in as many ways as possible-visually, verbally and vocally. Give a comparison to a known entity, if possible. “It should look like X with this adjustment.”

2. Clearly state the required details-the non-negotiable conditions.

3. Confirm interpretation and actions. Ask what was heard. Ask what that means. Ask what actions will be taken. Allow creativity and leeway to do the job as long as the end result is the same.

Problem: Systems and tools don’t function as needed and departments don’t work together.

Solution: Read more

Embarrassing Conversations-Handle with Creative, Empathic Solutions

Difficult conversations come in all shapes and sizes. Handling them effectively means you will need an arsenal of clever, creative, and direct solutions. The most challenging conversations seem to be the ones involving personal habits. Handling poor performance, unacceptable behavior or a firing are often easier than handling conversations about inappropriate clothing, bad breath or body odor. These conversations tend to go one of two ways-both come with the possibility of embarrassment for both parties.

The first response from the offender upon notification is gratitude. Clueless to their own awareness, your conversation suddenly creates an epiphany about their affect on others. The change is made and no further conversations are required. The alternate response is denial, defense and anger. The key is to keep a neutral, non-judgemental but empathic voice focused on the desired change. Refrain from downplaying or diluting the offense as this may appear as a reprieve. Allow some venting, request the change, repeat if necessary, and name the consequence if the change does not occur.

Challenging as these conversations are with co-workers they leap into another stratosphere when they involve customers. While managing an upscale home furnishings store in the south, it was not uncommon for customers to shop in casual, warm-weather clothing. On this particular day a woman came in and explained that her mother and aunt were going to stay outside and enjoy the sun while she shopped. What she failed to explain was that her elderly and obese relatives had stripped down to bikini tops and short-shorts and plopped themselves down on the curb blocking the walkway to the entrance. I mean no disrespect to the weight and chronologically challenged as this behavior would be just as unacceptable even for nubile teens. But the grey hair and rubbery rolls of exposed and sweat-glistened flesh created a visual assault seemingly offensive to some of our regular design clients, whom voiced their displeasure at having to view and alter their path to get around the sun bunnies.

Horrified, my staff paged me and pleaded for immediate action. I must admit I was a bit stumped as to how to best approach this situation. I could invite them inside to enjoy the air conditioning but on second thought, did I really want to showcase this spectacle sitting on a four-thousand dollar loveseat? No-I needed to come up with another solution. My staff was now staring at me wondering how exactly I was going to approach our sun-bathing beauties. I took a deep breath, put on a big smile and walked towards the curb squatters, still not quite sure what was going to come out of my mouth.

“Hello, ladies. I see you’re enjoying the sunshine and I wish I could join you. But, I can’t imagine this curb is too comfortable so I’m going to suggest you enjoy the lovely picnic table our neighbor has put out for his customers to enjoy. Let me give you a hand getting up.”

It worked like a charm and they were grateful for my extended hospitality. Lucky for us the neighbor location was fifty feet away on the other side of a slight ravine. Problem solved. Back inside the store my staff, whom had watched in amazement as I dislodged the offenders, begged me to tell them what I said. I told them. The lesson here is to keep smiling, align yourself in a relatable way (“wish I could join you”) and have a solution that suits everyone.

Post your funny, embarrassing story and solution.

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Misunderstandings in the Workplace – An Invitation for Conversation

What is it about communication in the workplace that invites challenge instead of cooperation? Is it ego, fear, ignorance, culture or human nature? I can hear you checking off all of those factors and maybe adding a few of your own. But the question remains… what can you do about decreasing misunderstandings at work?

Short of listing all the potential dreaded conversation scenarios and a list of possible come-backs, I’d like to invite you to explore another approach: An “Invitation to Conversation.”

The “Invitation to Conversation” is both a formula and a mindset. The approach is to look at a conversation as an invitation to join in and share an experience. If I invite you to an event, a party or out on a date you might picture a ceremony, festivities or a romantic evening. You also have the option to accept or decline my invitation. Either way, I expect a response.

If you apply this to business and you decline my invitation you have agreed to disagree. If you accept, you agree to engage in a conversation. Of course, if I don’t hear back that sets off another round of miscommunications. Unfortunately, this is all too common both in business and life.

The invitation also comes with the notion that there will be an exchange of some kind. If I invite you to a birthday party and upon your arrival I hand you a bowl, an apron, and cake-mix you may get a slice of cake in the end, but I suspect that making the birthday cake was not what you had in mind. My thoughts did not translate into your thoughts.

And that is the objective for many workplace conversations-to get me thinking the same way that you do. When you fail to confirm that your message has been interpreted the way you intended that’s the start of another communication miscue. You must take the time to ensure you have conveyed your thoughts in the best way possible and that I have interpreted them the way you intended.

The formula for the “invitation” looks like this:

Intention: What outcome do you want as a result of your message? Be honest here–otherwise everything is built on falsehood.
Information: This is your message. The actual words you speak and the way you convey them.
Interpretation: How your listener deciphers the message. It might not be the way you intended. Check first.
Interaction: This is the key component-engaging to confirm the interpretation. Did they understand as I intended?
Integration: The intended result, change, or behavior is understood, implemented and assimilated.

And this process needs to be in-time, otherwise it’s like receiving the invitation after the event. What’s the point? Use the invitation to change the way you think about engaging with others-think guest not competitor. And use the formula as a simple way to keep on track and ensure that you have been heard correctly.

This technique plus dozens more can be found in my book, Misunderstood! The Fast Guide to Communicating at Work–What to Say, How to Say It and When to Shut Up. Pick up a copy today.

Workplace Communication—7 Steps to Turn Resistance into Cooperation and Gain Respect

Employee resistance to change in the workplace is nothing new. Leaders and managers accept the pushback that comes when rolling out new procedures, changes in operations, shifts in hours, status, or even the loss of a prime parking space. How you deal with resistance makes the difference between gaining cooperation and respect and being viewed as an uninvolved, autocratic administrator.

Whether the resistance comes from a single dissenter or an entire department, use the following steps to gain cooperation:

Step1. Clearly state what you want, when you want it and how it will affect individual jobs. Use a firm but neutral or positive tone of voice. Refrain from conveying disappointment, anger or defeat. Your particular situation or location will dictate the appropriate vocal expression.

Step2. Decide beforehand how much time you will allot to objections, groaning and griping. Inform the person or team you are addressing about the time limit. Let them vent.

Step 3. Listen to understand concerns. What underlying emotions are behind the complaints? What are the real fears behind the protests? Often the real fears will not be voiced in the initial session and until further questioning your understanding may be based on false assumptions.

Step 4. Check your perceptions by reflecting back your understanding of the concerns. Do not allow another round of protests, rather simply check for confirmation.

Step 5. If appropriate, ask for suggestions. Not every circumstance will allow for this but to the degree that employees feel engaged in the process the quicker the cooperation. Once again, do not allow suggestions to go on forever and keep the conversation on suggestions only—not grousing. Be involved. Listen and list possibilities without judging. Put it all down. Be open to viable proposals.

Step 6. Suggest a review or an opportunity to revisit the impact of the change after a test run or implementation. This is a good practice to put into place whenever a new procedure or shift has taken place, regardless of the initial response. Small changes made at this re-visit may prevent a complete breakdown if left unchecked. This is also an excellent opportunity to increase face-time, engage employees and learn something new.

Step 7. If these steps fail, explain the costs of noncooperation. Change is what makes an organization stay competitive, robust and profitable. Dissenters may be in the wrong position or job so act accordingly.

Cooperation comes when people know and feel they are part of something bigger. Employees know that changes occur but welcome the opportunity to influence the outcome and success. However, just because you communicate openly and involve employees by asking for suggestions, does not mean they make the final decision. Be a leader—listen, learn and them implement.

Now get your FREE 6-Part Audio Series – The Power of Effective Communication.  For more tips like the ones above pick up a copy of my book, Misunderstood! The Fast Guide to Communicating at Work–What to Say, How to Say It and When to Shut Up. People love the insights and easy to apply techniques.

Communicating at Work for Better Results

Communicating at Work – 5 Reasons Why You are a Poor Listener and What You Can Do About It

I’m going to suggest that most people are poor (or at best, fair) listeners. If you don’t believe you are a poor listener than consider the list below and might walk away with a different belief. In fact, you might wonder how anyone manages to listen without misunderstanding considering all the hoops we put messages through.

Most people listen from their point-of-view or autobiographically while only a small percentage listen with true empathy. Listening from the speaker’s standpoint takes energy, awareness and understanding. It strikes me as a bit like acting. You need to portray a character but you can’t help bring yourself to the role.

Consider the filters that “color” your listening and decide for yourself whether or not your listening skills could use a little help.

1. Education Level: I bet I have your attention already. Too little education in the eyes of the listener and the incoming communication might run through the “I’m not smart enough “or” they think they are better” filter. Reverse the situation and the thoughts and you can see how much education level affects all listeners.

2. Culture: Ethnicity, customs and traditions are filters that are addressed a bit more openly, as suggested by the popularity of diversity training. Visual components that indicate or suggest a different culture may help the aware listener. He or she could use the clues as a reminder to consider how the speaker’s background might support their viewpoint. Conversely, the unaware listener uses the differences to support their own opinion.

3. Economic Background: The “I worked for everything” listener might use this filter to avoid believing the more “economically advantaged” speaker. Just as the other “message sifters” mentioned, economic background can be a barrier to empathic listening no matter which side of the economic coin you were born on. The film “Slumdog Millionaire” comes to mind as a great example of prejudicial listening.

4. Family Messages: Was your family open and demonstrative or indirect and more formal? Did you receive the message that people are generally good or generally evil? What obvious or subliminal messages did you grow up with? Consider how your viewpoint colors your listening. The challenge here is recognizing that other families may not have grown up the same way you did. Remember the first time you had dinner at a friend’s house? Was the dinner conversation lively and encouraged or were controversial topics hush-hush? Think about it.

5. Birth Order: I admit that as the middle child of seven and the first female my mediating qualities were enhanced. Listening to someone who loves conflict and takes the opposing viewpoint just for fun is a challenge for me. How has being the only, first, last or middle child tinted your listening ability?

These are just five of the filters incoming messages go through before we hear a message. I could have included religion, personality and location but the point remains the same—listening from your audience’s perspective takes an acute awareness of your own filters first.

Practice understanding, become knowledgeable and use attentiveness as the tools to becoming a better listener. Misunderstandings will decrease and you might just learn something.

Want more listening tips? First, get FREE instant access to your 6-part audio series on The Power of  Effective Communication by putting your first name and email in the boxes on the upper right. Now pick up a copy of my book, Misunderstood! The Fast Guide to Communicating at Work-What to Say, How to Say It and When to Shut Up, for dozens more tips you can put to use immediately.

Communication at Work—5 Strategies for Developing Leadership and Building Trust

Trust in the workplace, trust in leadership and connecting with others were the key phrases I found in a recent search for the best selling business books. It’s a sign of the times. A lack of leadership and trustworthiness in the workplace appears to be the norm.

Leadership is something everyone in the workplace can practice—not just CEOs and business owners. Communicating trustworthiness starts with honest intention and self-awareness. Additionally, you cannot be an effective communicator or leader if you do not provoke trust in others.

Here are 5 strategies for developing leadership and establishing trust:

1. Tell the truth. Easy to say—difficult to practice. Yet truth is what your customers, co-workers, employees, shareholders and vendors want from you. If a product is going to be delivered late, if a report is not completed, if quality is a problem, if earnings are down tell the truth about it. Most people CAN handle the truth. And, it prompts others to be honest. Truth requires no managing or memorization. Tell the truth—it’s easier.

2. Take action. Leadership means evaluating the available information and moving forward. The best leaders make difficult and timely decisions with about 70-80% of the information. You may never get all the details and waiting to act may result in tragedy. Evaluate and be proactive.

3. Do what you say you are going to do. Okay, this may be a combination of the first two strategies but it bears its own heading. Both actions and in-actions influence others. If you promise to return a call, handle a matter, or show up on time—follow through.

4. Be consistent. Leadership requires consistency in behavior, mood and communication both at home and at work. Nothing kills trust like in-congruency between what you do and say to one person and what you do and say to another.

5. Model what you expect from others. Don’t ask others to do something you wouldn’t do. Trust is developed when you live to ethics.

Communicating leadership requires an inner confidence and an outer personality that can convey that confidence to others both verbally and non-verbally. Many leaders possess the self-confidence to perform tasks and reach goals but lack the ability to connect with people. Trustworthiness is earned through communication not just results.

If you’re serious about developing your leadership qualities start by assessing your communication skills by filling in your name and email address in the boxes on your upper right and grabbing  your FREE 6 part audio on the Power of Effective Communication . You’ll be surprised by your answers–try it it’s fun!

Don’t forget to pick up a copy of my book, Misunderstood! the Fast Guide to Communicating at Work–What to Say, How to Say It and When to Shut Up.

Communication at Work: 3 Ways to Improve Communication and Avoid Misunderstanding

Probably everyone has experienced a misunderstanding, misinterpretation or a miscommunication at work. It seems that communication breakdowns are so common they are accepted as business as usual. Each time I ask someone if they have ever been misunderstood at work the answer is always yes– demonstrated with a shy smile, a nodding head and maybe rolling eyes. I suspect some guilt in those answers.

When I ask what the cost of such a misunderstanding might be the immediate response seems to trigger a train-of-thought ending in ‘aha’ moment. Suddenly, the real costs associated with even a simple miscommunication begin to appear like a magicians unending scarf trick. Loss of a customer today due to a misunderstanding could mean lost revenue in the future.  Loss of production time now might result in a missed opportunity later. Miscommunication with a co-worker might result in bad feelings, poor morale, less productivity or costly mistakes. In some professions the result of a misunderstanding can result in death.

Here’s how you can decrease misunderstandings and communicate more effectively:

1. Take responsibility for your communication. Whether or not you have initiated a conversation does not let you off the hook for confirming what was said and intended. Create a mind-set that releases you from being right so you have the opportunity to learn.

I recently encountered a sales clerk who refused to shift her thinking about a situation even when her supervisor explained why a garment I was returning had a different number than the receipt. As far as the clerk was concerned, I did not have a receipt and she proceeded to handle the transaction as such. This resulted in more issues, more time lost and a second round of a managers intervention. Not to mention my growing aggravation.

To the manager’s credit she did an excellent job of explaining what probably happened and after overriding a computer default she expected the return to be handled smoothly. Unfortunately, she failed to confirm the clerk’s interpretation of her message assuming she understood.

Responsibility means verifying that your message was interpreted as you intended.

2. Match your listener’s communication style. If you are a fast talker but your listener is slower paced they may miss what you are saying as they struggle to process your message. If your style is less direct and you prefer to use a lot of words when communicating you may find that someone with a direct style may lose interest, become distracted and misunderstand your message.

Observe your listener and adjust your style accordingly. If you are the receiver, listen from the speaker’s point-of-view and confirm what you’ve heard. Context is as important as content. Your frame of reference can easily distort a positive intention if it doesn’t match the speaker’s point of reference.

3. Handle a misunderstanding immediately. If something has gone wrong in the communication process open up the lines of communication as soon as possible. Often the result of a misinterpretation doesn’t come to the forefront until a further action has taken place. Rather than place blame, seek to rectify the situation and move forward.

The cost of misunderstandings is too big to ignore. Be a part of the solution by taking responsibility, shifting your style and handling misunderstandings quickly.

If you’re serious about improving your communication skills but don’t want to go back to school just pick up a copy of my book, Misunderstood! The Fast Guide to Communicating at Work–What to Say, How to Say It and When to Shut Up. Do it now!

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Leadership–10 Qualities for Success

dreamstimefree_4260686Leadership requires  far more than a list of 10 qualities but for the sake of space and feedback I’ve listed a few I don’t usually see mentioned.

It goes without saying that the broad category of  communication skills is a quality I believe every leader needs to succeed so I’ve chosen not to put it on my list.  I  consider communication skills to include speaking, presenting, selling and  persuading. I did, however, include listening on my list simply because some things require emphasis.

Here’s my list:
1. Active Listening Skills--and being able to ask “is there anything more?”
2. Empathy–and having a deep understanding of priorities (using the 10,10,10 method)
3. Inspirational–being able to create an environment that supports motivated people
4. Courage–and the conviction to carry out intentions and tough decisions when it really counts
5. Clarity of intention–and the insight to question your motives
6. Servant Leadership–and the wisdom to know what that means
7. Humor–and humility, they often travel hand-in-hand
8. Vision–and the ability to enroll your team in the journey
9. Vitality–even the physically incapacitated can possess the extraordinary mental vigor to lead
10.Confidence–not arrogance but faith in your abilities to lead

and 10+ Trustworthiness and Moral Fortitude

Your thoughts?

Successful Communication Equals Business Success

1125736_busy_businessman_1How successful you are at communicating determines the degree to which you will be successful in business. Giving instructions, conducting interviews, presentations or selling all involve communication.  Where do you stand?

“The way we communicate with others and with ourselves ultimately determines the quality of our lives.”

Tony Robbins said that and he was right. The good news is that communication skills can always improved. Start by evaluating your current ability.

Here are a 5 ways to determine how successful you are at expressing yourself:

Ask for and listen to feedback. Most people are fearful of doing this. Few people like to hear the unvarnished truth about how well they come across to others. Yet, this may be the key to unlocking your business growth. Ask people you trust to give you an honest response. Ask a mix of family, friends and business associates to get a better profile. Then listen, really listen. Decide what might be true and choose to make some changes. Be open to the information and thank them for their honesty.

What kind of clients do you have? Are you working with people you enjoy and respect? Do they express themselves well? Do they recommend you to others? 

Would you want to associate with you? What message do you send to others about the people you socialize and do business with? Do you have a variety of associations? “You can’t fly with eagles if you’re hanging out with turkeys,” is a saying that holds a lot of truth. Take a critical look at your relationships and ask yourself if you need to make some changes.

How careful are you about your written or viral communications? Have you gotten lax about grammar and spelling? Do you speak or write in “text?” Do your articles, reports or books have numerous errors that erode your credibility?

How well do you follow-up? This is a big one. Success in personal and business relationships has everything to do with how well you follow-up. I’m including the courtesy of responding to an RSVP on an invitation. Failure to respond affects business—it doesn’t matter if it’s a wedding or a business function—the consequence is far reaching. If this were the benchmark for successful communication most people would be in trouble. On the business side, customer dissatisfaction is overwhelmingly about the lack of follow-up.

Take an honest look at these questions. Choose one you know you can change immediately and implement it now.

Leave me you thoughts. What burning question do you have about communicating in business?