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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Language of Inclusion

     Greta took a 360-degree survey at the suggestion of her boss.  In an effort to get her to see herself through the eyes of others, she needed to know how she was performing as a leader.  The survey would allow her to compare how she saw herself to how her boss, peers, direct reports, and "others" saw her.  Greta rated herself as open and inclusive.  She felt like she invited people's input and was sociable and encouraged dialogue.  But when she looked at the feedback from her raters, she was shocked by what she saw.

     Her direct reports saw her as anything but inclusive.  They rated her low in areas like "being open to input, showing diplomacy" and "creating a positive environment".  Greta thought she was doing a great job in making her team feel like she valued them and their opinions.  She had no idea other people didn't see her the same way.  She wanted to talk to her team and find out why this was the first indication she was receiving of how they saw her.  Why hadn't they told her before? she wondered.  She later found out from her boss that it was because of the following reasons:
     1)  She had created mistrust because of a lack of inclusiveness.  When employees don't feel comfortable being up front and honest about matters important to them at work, it's because the leadership has discouraged them from speaking up.  Greta did not realize that every time she shot down someone's idea in a staff meeting or used demeaning and condescending words when talking to an employee, she slowly destroyed her staff's confidence in her ability to remain open and receptive to their input.
     2)  Greta had created animosity between herself and others because of her unfiltered communications style.  She didn't seem to care that she walked on other people's feelings when she passed harsh judgments on their performances.  She failed to consider how she often disrespected people by being dismissive when they brought her concerns.  Or when she interrupted someone in the middle of their point and hijacked the conversation as if only what she had to say was important.
     3)  The team often felt she turned them inward and against each other.  They noticed how she seemed to favor certain people.  Usually when someone made her look good, she was more supportive of them.  But if she couldn't shine through another person's work, she cast them aside like yesterday's news.  They hardly received a glance from her or she was on them so hard they felt they were being singled out for no reason.
     When Greta sat down for an evaluation with her boss, she felt blindsided by the details of the report.  Had she paid more attention to what her staff had been trying to say--whether it was in a conversation when she cut them off, through negative body language feedback, or through their lack of open communications--she would not have been surprised.  She needed to be more aware of what was going on around her.  And more importantly, she needed to be more aware of her own behavior.  
     She could fix some of this mess with just a few small changes.  A major one would be to learn the language of inclusiveness.  It sounds like this:
     1)  Tell me what you think about this issue.
     2)  Why don't you decide?  I trust your opinion.
     3)  Would you mind making the presentation?  You're the expert in this.
     Instituting these statements as part of her interactions with her staff would carry her a long way in building stronger relationships.  She will reduce animosity, eliminate mistrust, and best of all, be more inclusive.
     Need to do a 360?  Ask us about 363 for Leaders.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Taking the Sting Out of Emails

     One of the biggest challenges with writing emails is getting to the point without offending someone.  I dare to guess that millions of times a day somebody is misinterpreting the tone of an email and taking what is "said" personally.  We all know that emails lack inflection and visual acuity so it is easy for someone to perceive what was intended in the wrong way.  Without the benefit of hearing a person's voice inflection and seeing their facial expressions, words can often come across harsh and insensitive when written in haste or without much context to support the message.  This is probably one of the most widely known pitfalls about emails but the least considered when a person receives an email they don't like.  We don't often say, "Maybe the sender didn't mean it this way so I shouldn't take it personal."  We're more likely to take the message at face value and balk at its tone.
     There are three things to remember about emails you write and receive that will take some of the sting out of the ones that appear harsh.
     1)  You don't have to rely on emojis and emoticons to express emotion.  Emojis--the colorful faces expressing an emotion or condition like anxiety 😰--are often used to support comments we write and to give feeling to our words.  Emoticons are the original way most of us learned to express emotions by using keys on our computers like :0) to indicate a smile for example.  Both are used to support the meaning we're trying to convey when our words don't seem to fully hit the mark.  But much like the faces you're using to help people understand your feelings in your writing, you can use words to do the same thing.  Instead of emojis and emoticons, you can use the words that would express those feelings.  Like a novelist or nonfiction writer, you can say how you feel vividly and candidly without offense. 
     For example, "Michelle, I am so excited to share news about our upcoming sales report."  Or "Hi Mitch, I was disappointed to see we didn't hit our goal this month.  What are the plans to recover?"  With over a million words in today's dictionaries, surely we can find one that is suitable to share how we feel.  Invest in a thesaurus to help you out.
     2)  Make sure you put enough context in your message.  Too often we are rushing through emails.  It's hard enough to corral them all and decide what's worth reading when we're bombarded by them like locusts.  But they are a necessary and common practice in our communications today so we have to make email our friend.  Instead of resenting them, we need to see their value and necessity.  They should be brief as a rule of thumb.  Getting to the point is essential, but not at the cost of meaning.  Oftentimes, we want to jot a few bullets and zip off an email without proofing to make sure we're clear, correct, and considerate.  By being too bare bones, we lose the opportunity to put enough meat on the skeleton and offer clarity around what we really mean.  We leave too much up to interpretation in that instance.
     3)  Read the message before you send it!  I can tell email messages that were composed without any proofreading.  They are fraught with misspelled words, omitted words, and statements that make no sense.  This usually generates an additional email that wouldn't otherwise be needed if the message was clear from the start.  The irony is that we don't like to receive a lot of emails, but we inadvertently create more when we're not clear out of the gates.  Not to mention the fallout that comes from a misunderstanding that will surely get you several more. 
     I've had on a few occasions emails sent with one immensely important word missing.  That one word usually changed the meaning of the email 100%.  The word is usually "not".  There's a huge difference between conveying something you will do and that you will not be doing.  When you agree to something you don't intend to do because you left out that one word, you can see the chaos that can ensue.
     Any of the three of these actions will vastly improve the way your emails sound to your recipients.  They are easy to do and can eliminate a lot of headaches for you.  Give them a try and tell me how they worked for you.