Checking Out your Own Body Language

People make decisions on whether to like, work or be with you every day on how you present yourself to them. Your body language or non-verbal mannerisms send instant signals to anyone in your presence. Granted, what your body is saying may not be what you are thinking. So goes the story I heard from a chatty stranger in the grocery checkout today.

17993792_sShe asked me if I thought the bus driver would like a package of chocolates as a gift. I commented that was generous of her and she shared that the bus driver stepped off the bus to express his concern over her daughter. He had asked her daughter several times what was the matter? Her daughter kept telling him nothing, but he did not give up and continued to ask.

The mother asked her daughter afterward about the incident and she said, nothing is the matter except that everyone kept asking her what she was upset about. The questioning started at school and continued all day ending with the bus driver.

That’s when the mother told her that she was like her. Both of them don’t smile and have a look on their face like they are worried when in fact everything is OK. She told her daughter to start practice smiling more. I commended the mother for teaching her daughter a lesson so early in life.

It’s classic. People misread people all the time trying to read body language. While you may say that’s their problem, in reality it becomes your problem.  People make assumptions and left unchecked, it becomes their reality.

I am not suggesting that you have to paste a fake smile on  your face all the time, but be aware when someone questions you…and perhaps you can bump it up a bit or at the very least let them know that you might come across as more of a serious person when in fact you quite content.

Think about if your body language sends mixed signals to others. If so, try to be conscious when it happens and make some subtle changes. Do they react to you different? If not, try something else.

The more you can do to educate others about your body language if is different from others, the easier it will be for you to connect with others.

How to Effectively Use Business Email Communications

This topic of how to effectively use email communications arose in a discussion with an executive the other day. He was caught in the middle of a situation because he had not strategically used to the tools available to him in business email communications. It got me thinking that if he could be more effective, then others could too.

Communication

The first step is assess your business environment and how communication is done. In his case, he was accustomed to talking to people vs. boiling down things into writing in a earlier organization. I am strong proponent of this age-old method when it works – however, let’s get real – in today’s business environment, some of that does not work especially in the rough and tumble cultures. The lesson here is to be observant about what other people are doing and adopt changes to be successful – if this is a place you want to thrive in.

Take a look at the email communications that you have received over the last few weeks. Is there a trend? When do people copy (cc) others? When do they leave them off and you think that they probably should have been copied? Note – this may be a clue to heavy use of blind copying (bcc). Knowing how others use business communications will help you establish your parameters for using the email communication tools.

I can hear your push back…you don’t want to have to reduce all your conversations in writing. I am not suggestion that you will have to do that, however, if you are getting burned or pushed into a corner, then you are at a clear disadvantage.

Consider what conversations need to be documented. Let people know as you leave the meeting that you will be following up with an email to confirm what the plan is and who will be responsible for taking the actions discussed. Without a paper trail, the water gets awful murky when something blows up.

Here are some general guidelines for addressing emails, use of copy (cc) and blind copy (bcc) especially in a business environment where people document their actions (sometimes affectionately called covering their ass).  Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place for using these tools, however, some organizations take it to an excess.

Who to Address an Email Communication To

Always address the email to the person or persons who you believe need to take ACTION on your email. When you address emails to people who do not need to take action, they will discount future emails and may not react quickly because they are not sure if it is an actionable request.

When to Copy (cc) an Email

When you copy a person in the email you are sending the message – I want you to be informed about the request or conversation that is being shared with the people you have addressed the email to. Using copy (cc) does not ask someone to take action.

Do not copy your boss or project lead on every email unless they have asked you to do so. Why? This sends a signal to the people you are communicating with that you have little power or authority in the organization.

When to Blind Copy (bcc) an Email

This one gets tricky and will depend on the organization’s culture and the person you are blind copying. There are some people who want to know everything so blind copying is used heavily.

There are some situations where you should definitely blind copy someone:

  • Your boss has asked you specifically to do something and you want to let them know you are working the plan without using them as a crutch to get people to do something.
  • You believe an initiative or action may go haywire because of an experience or the person you are working with is unreliable. Keeping your boss apprised will help you if something blows up.

If you are unsure about what level of email communication your boss desires, ask them. Bring up a few different situations and see what their response is and respond accordingly.

Be as clear in your email communication as you can by using the structure available to you and don’t get caught in a political tug a war.

What is the best method of communicating with your unavailable boss?

“When is it appropriate to handle issues by e-mail versus in person? Some people are very busy and don’t have time to sit and talk.” This is a follow up question about how effective communication can be difficult from a reader and we discuss how to your finesse communications.

I wrote back to ask some questions about whether or not they were the boss or subordinate, here was their response.

“The boss is very busy, and he is that same age as me. He needs to let me know when he is free. SO e-mail verses talking in person. It probably means more talking in person. More effective, but don’t want to take too much time.”

Here is the scoop on being a boss. It means being available to your staff to discuss issues or situations.

If your boss is local, it is reasonable to expect to schedule a meeting within a few days or sooner if it is an emergency. If there is always a conflict, your boss is not taking his responsibilities for supervising, developing or managing his staff’s outcomes effectively.

Being a boss means setting time aside to do these activities on a daily basis. If they do not have the time, they have bigger issues with prioritizing or delegating their work. People management should be a high priority and if it is not, they may be in the wrong role.

Winning by Jack Welch addresses the role of top-notch leadership in organizations. If you get the Winning CD Set, listen to CD #3 (a refresher last week for me) where Jack talks specifically about management priorities. No surprise, he believes people management is at the top.

The best way to discuss a situation is face-to-face, eyeball-to-eyeball. Talking in person provides more opportunities for both parties to:

If a face-to-face is not possible, a phone conversation is the next viable approach. Here are some tips for making your phone call more successful:

  • Listen carefully to the tone of the voice. If you think, the tone is sharp or non-responsive, request a face-to-face meeting.
  • Be careful not to jump to conclusions. If in doubt, ask your boss to explain it again a different way.
  • Recap the issue and what each of you commits to do and follow it up in writing.
  • Do not feel stupid asking questions, if someone is unclear; continue to probe until you understand fully.

The last resort is using email to have a discussion. Is it quicker? Initially, yes – someone gets the issue off his or her desk and onto the other party’s to do list.

Is it better? No- chances are it will take longer to solve. Here are some watch outs:

  • Both parties lose the ability to create a two way dialogue
  • There is a loss of problem solving in real time
  • The tone of email is open to interpretation of the receiver without the sender knowing something is being taken wrong
  • Not everyone responds to emails quickly
  • Brainstorming for ideas and solutions is nonexistent
  • Relationships build more slowly because it is less personal
  • Learn how to do it effectively if you must send one by reading learn about e-body language

Finally, do not let your manager off the hook. You have a right to discuss if you are on track with projects, people, resources and personal or organizational performance requirements with them. There is no reason to rush the conversation if you schedule ample time to cover the topic. If the boss’s time is that tight, schedule it over multiple meetings.

How To Tell Someone You Are Not Giving Them a Recommendation on LinkedIn

There are a lot of articles about how to give proper recommendations on LinkedIn or how to ask for a recommendation from someone. But what happens when you get a request from a LinkedIn contact and you don’t really want to give them a recommendation?

Whatever the reason – you don’t have firsthand knowledge of their work performance or you may believe their work is substandard – the fact is you are hesitating and debating about how to say “no”.

When you make a recommendation on someone’s behalf, it is a statement that you believe they value and other people will make decisions about hiring or connecting with them based on their profile content.

So, let’s talk about the elephant at work – how do you say “no”? You’ve got a few options – find the one that works best for you.

Ignore the Recommendation Request

So you got busy and the email trailed down your inbox to a place where you haven’t checked it in eons. The truth is you just did not want to deal with the request.

The other person may take the hint or not – they may nudge you with a reminder or the next time they run into you they may ask about their request. So be ready for the difficult question: Why did you not respond?

Have I ignored any recommendation requests? Yes, especially if I received a message that was not personalized.

Gracefully Decline Recommendation Requests

Declining someone’s request may be stressful because you don’t want to hurts someone’s feelings. You’re torn between being nice to them and truthful about what you really think.

Here are some reasons you can use to decline a request gracefully:

  • You don’t have direct knowledge of someone’s work performance. You have heard good things about them, but you write recommendations on your experience with someone.
  • The person is an acquaintance – you know them casually or for a short time, suggest that there is probably someone better suited to recommend them.
  • If you truly don’t like the person or know their work performance is poor, it’s time to reflect on why you are connected with them.

Here’s a situation I experienced.

LinkedIn wants you to ask for recommendations so they make it easy for you – perhaps too easy. There are occasions when someone hits the automatic request button and everyone is contacted in their network to a recommendation for them.

A fellow consultant asked for a recommendation and I had not worked with them directly or indirectly. We were connections because we had met agreed that connecting was beneficial to both of us.

I wrote back and told her that I did not feel like I knew her work well enough to write a recommendation on her behalf. She responded with complete understanding and conveyed her surprise when that request sent to her entire network.

Hint: If it is a canned request for a recommendation, chances are they got duped by the system.

Playing the Offense

This is a tactic that may work or may put you in a situation where you set an expectation that you will follow through with a recommendation. If you get a request and you are not sure what to do about it, ask a question back. Here are some examples,

I received your request for recommendation – what you would like me to say about you?

Do you want to write a recommendation for me to review and I will post it?

I had a colleague do this to me. To be honest, I was dumbfounded. I was not sure if they really did not know how to write a recommendation or if they were looking for a way out. I dropped the request for the simple reason that if they lacked initiative to write it, the recommendation was going to be lukewarm at best.

To Avoid Being Declined:

There are some steps you can take to avoid being declined. Consider:

  • When is the last time you spoke with your contact? Perhaps it is time to reconnect.
  • Ask them by email or phone before sending a request if they are willing to write something on your behalf.
  • Request recommendations immediately after performing a service, doing a project or being recognized for exceptional work.

Connecting with Little Known Facts

This week I am attending a networking event and the organizer shared little known facts about himself with the group.

The advantage of sharing little known facts is that connecting with others becomes easier. Little known facts become great conversation starters because where there is overlap or interest, people open up and share more about themselves.

Try it with your group and see how quickly people connect and interact with very little facilitation.

Here’s the list of little known facts I shared with the group:

  1. One of my passions is ballroom dancing. I have been dancing for 11 years and help run the Rochester Ballroom meet-up group.
  2. My new hobby – photography. There is so much to learn. I’ll be leaving at 6:35 to go to a meeting – so catch me early!
  3. I am a techie gadget girl and geek.
  4. I am a WOW girl. Hint – see #3.
  5. I used to be a gypsy. I have moved 19 times (different cities/states/countries) in my life, 14 times during my corporate climbing career. I have been in Rochester for 12 years.
  6. On one business trip, I traveled around the world (full circle).
  7. I promote genetic testing – it has impacted our family positively. Eighteen months ago, my brother was diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer and was told to make out his will. Six weeks after his operation in September, he is cancer free and rides his bike 50 miles a day. All because of a little gene.
  8. I have been a vegetarian since 17, adding fish at 25.
  9. Beer does not agree with me.
  10. I use LinkedIn is a professional network with people that I know personally. If you want to connect, then let’s meet and get to know one another beyond a networking event.
  11. I have been responsible for world-wide Human Resources operations and integrated acquisitions in Europe and Asia.
  12. My career coaching practice is global – my furthest client – Dubai.
  13. I love to work with teams – especially leadership and sales teams. I have delivered programs world-wide as a consultant.
  14. Most of my corporate clients are outside of Rochester. I am not surprised.
  15. My brother has traced our family history back to 1674.
  16. I have never been married; have no kids except for my two dogs. Perhaps #5 has something to do with it.
  17. If I had another career, it would be doing something with the internet. I build my websites and dabble in it more than I should.
  18. I am a reality show junkie.
  19. I am a great cook.
  20. I started a Mah Jongg group and teach new players. Anyone interested?
  21. Helping people identify what’s getting in the way of them being successful and overcoming it is my passion.
  22. I offer free advice at Elephants at Work.
  23. This summer, I became an author – publishing two career management books: What to Do After Being Fired and The Secrets to Successful Job On-Boarding.
  24. I dislike politics.
  25. If you want an idea person or out of the box thinker – that’s me.

 How we can help one another –

  1. I am always on the hunt for new topics to write about with #22. If you have a career story success or an easy problem that I can write about, let’s have a conversation – perhaps I can help you.
  2. Personal introductions to people looking for executive or career coaches.
  3. Referrals into companies developing leadership, communication and team skills or investing in job on-boarding programs to address retention.

What little known fact you shared surprised you when connecting with others because it was a conversation hit?

My New Feedback Method: I Like, I Wish, What If?

Feedback just got better with the I Like, I Wish, What if Method from Stanford University Institute of Design. This approach is simple to use and focuses on getting feedback in a positive framework.

The I Like, I Wish, What if Method is appropriate to use with teams or one on one.  As with other feedback techniques, always use “I” rather than “you” when providing feedback.

Here’s an example:

You statement: You make me mad when you are late.

I statement: I get mad when you are late.

Avoid “You” in Feedback

The “you statement” is a well-known trigger and is seen as a personal attack. When you say “you” the other person immediately becomes defensive. Once their defenses are up, how easy is it to have a conversation with them?

When you use the “I statement” instead of the “you statement”, the focus is on how you feel about the person’s behavior and not how you feel about them personally. While the other person may not like the feedback you are giving them, they will not feel personally attacked.

Putting I Like, I Wish, What if to the Test

Let’s see how using I Like, I Wish, What if makes feedback more constructive and positive. Using the same example about our friend being late, you might say instead:

I like it when you are time.

I wish you would leave a few minutes earlier.

What if you left a few minutes earlier?

Think about how you can use the I Like, I Wish, What if Method to improve your communication with others. Try it out with a new situation and not a re-occurring or nagging problem. My hunch is that attitude makes a big difference in delivery.

Can leaders deliver feedback without someone taking it personally?

The other day a leader shared that he was working with a coach and his team, specifically on his team not taking things personally. When I hear this kind of comment, I get curious.

Here are a few of the questions that I immediately think about:

  • Why is the delivery of the feedback or discussion by the boss being done poorly?
  • Is the boss aware of and does he or she assume responsibility for creating the right discussion environment?
  • Does the other party take the boss’s words or intent out of context?
  • Are both parties communicating as effectively as they can with one another?
  • How well is the other party listening to the feedback? Why is he or she not listening?
  • Is the other person really that sensitive?

Why is Feedback Given?

The reason you give feedback is to reinforce or change a behavior. To be successful at communicating what you would like to change or reinforce, it is essential the other person wants to listen and is open your suggestions.

The Feedback Environment

While not a deal breaker, creating the right environment for delivering feedback will make it much easier to communicate your thoughts to someone else.

If possible, forgo doing it in your office with a desk between the two of you – it will create a physical barrier to overcome and the discussion is tough enough to tackle. Why complicate things more? Opt for a table or use a conference room for privacy.

Schedule the meeting when you are not in a rush and when you know you will not be interrupted. Turn off your cell phone.

The Feedback Giver’s Responsibilities

When you assume the responsibility of giving feedback to someone, you own how it is done. The tone and content of the conversation is controlled and initiated by the feedback giver.

One of the best ways to approach another person is in their preferred way of communicating or thinking. When you approach someone in their comfort zone rather than your own, the other person will be more receptive to your message.

Sometimes we do not know what the other person’s preferred communication style is, however, if you use a model or an assessment tool such as the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI), Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) or DISC Profiling, you may be able to figure it out and develop your personal style and approach to the person and situation.

At a minimum, look at your own profile and review your strengths and potential blind spots to gain insight and identify triggers you may observe when you are having a conversation.

Understanding the Really Sensitive Employee

What do you do if you really have someone who is so sensitive that any conversation, even one where you adapt to their style is unsuccessful? It is impossible for you to know what has happened to that person in the past and those experiences may be affecting how they react to you or anyone else.

He or she may have a fear of dealing with their boss or someone in authority because of a past experience. If you believe this is the case, tread very lightly and enlist the help of a seasoned HR professional or consultant. It is clear sign that trust must be established before trying to move forward.

You may be asking – Is this worth it? It might be, especially if that person is someone who is talented and has critical skills for your organization.

How to Know You Are Successful

The feedback discussion outcome is something the boss must accept responsibility for and when he or she does not, inevitably, a productive conversation will fail.

You will know you were successful when the other person is receptive to having a discussion even if the news is not favorable. Another indicator is that the two of you will constructively problem solve or reach a decision that makes sense for the situation without passing any blame, making each other feel awkward or by putting anyone down.

The tone of the discussion will be calm and rational with everyone able to voice their opinion. Ideally, the person receiving the feedback will offer solution(s) and be committed to following through without pressure from the boss.

Do not fret if everything does not go perfectly – sometimes people react differently in conversations where they are stressed. You may make an assumption that they will react one way and all of a sudden they are reacting differently.

Reflect on your conversation and figure out what you can do differently the next time around – at least with that one person.