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Posts Tagged ‘communication’

Fix It Or Forget It?

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

Work can be tough when everything depends on how the boss communicates.  Is it simply a matter of adapting, or constantly bending over backward for someone who’s never going to be satisfied?  See what Esther* and Fern* did.

When Esther* came to me, she was worried.  As an older employee, she felt that starting a job search at her age would be a never-ending task, since she expected to face a great deal of age discrimination.

On the other hand, she told me that she already was, in her opinion.  Since her new manager came on board last year – a much younger manager – it seemed that he wasn’t really interested in hearing any of her ideas when he asked the team for their input.

The new manager made a point over the past year to emphasize that he wanted “everybody’s” ideas, Esther told me; however, although she contributed nearly every time by emailing him a suggestion or two – well before the stated dealine – he very rarely brought her ideas up for discussion during the bi-monthly staff meetings.  In fact, there had been occasions when similar ideas to hers were discussed . . . and other staff members were credited.

I examined Ester’s process of submitting her ideas more closely – particularly when the similar ideas made it to the meeting, asking her, “How did other staff members submit their ideas to the manager?”

Esther discovered that most of the (younger) members actually sent him text messages, rather than emails, much to her surprise.  She also reviewed her emails on the topics and found a couple of responses from the manager, asking her to send him a consolidated version prior to the meeting.

“I thought that I had,” Esther recounted, “But I’m pretty sure that was the month that he presented (and credited) someone else’s similar idea.”

I told Esther that I believed she could Fix It! by learning how to communicate with her Gen X boss in his preferred medium: texting.  Something that would help her become more comfortable and skilled in this area would be to open a Twitter account and learn how to tweet.

Not only does Twitter teach users how to succinctly make a statement, but the 140 character limit forces writers to make every word count.  Clearly, this type of writing is important to Esther’s boss, who just wants the bare minimum when collecting ideas for staff meetings.

Esther applied this new tactic, and within a few meetings, not only did she get her ideas on the agenda, but was complimented on her improved writing skills.  She is very pleased to know that she can continue being appreciated for her talents in her current job, rather than begin interviewing.

Fern* had seen firsthand how difficult the economy was for people.  For the past couple of years, her cousins had been out of work – searching, to no avail – and living with her.

She had a very difficult boss, but didn’t feel she had any choice about putting up with him.  It was obvious to her that the job market was difficult, and she felt lucky just to have a job.  Besides, other people were counting on her – it wasn’t just about her.

Recently, though, the fog had begun to lift.  Each of her cousins had found positions that were permanent, and had begun to save some money.  In several more months, they were planning on moving out, to get their own apartment!

Just knowing that things were going to settle down was making her home life much less stressful, which had the side effect of allowing Fern to really notice exactly how stressful her workplace really was, though – with a kind of laser-like focus.

Fern began to see that the CEO’s odd behavior wasn’t solely directed at her, for one thing, but that others had similar frustrations, not knowing what to expect from him, one day to the next.

She could see that this was the crux of the difficulty, actually:  he was so unpredictable and moody day to day, that his mood swings often greatly affected her mood afterward.

The CEO’s demeanor frequently would oscillate to great extremes, often playing out during meetings, as well as affect policy decisions.

For example, there were numerous planning meetings, where the CEO sat nearly sullen and silent, leading others to speak up more, ultimately heading the project and making the decision on what would happen, because as everyone looked to the CEO, he either nodded or clearly didn’t care, from his shrug.

Later, (often much later) when a great deal of the project was in the works, the CEO would step in, sneer, and either dismantle it altogether, or find so much fault that it ended up getting such a makeover that it didn’t even resemble the original design!

Other times, the CEO was so engaged from the start, nobody could get a word in edgewise during the planning stage, but it was just as well.  Clearly, he only wanted “yes men,” so people either nodded vigorously, or sat silent, waiting for their assignments and watching the clock.

Those who had been through his “mania” before knew that he’d lose interest in whatever he was currently feverish about soon enough, anyway, so there really was no point in volunteering for something that would be altered or shelved, so why bother?

As Fern considered this repetitive pattern, she told me, it gave her a bit of relief.

“I suppose it could have made me even MORE depressed, but I think it was what I needed:  a chance to step back and look at the situation rationally.  My fear of my circumstances had just gripped me before, but now, I could see that it really was him, and not me . . . and that I needed to Forget It!

Without others depending so much upon her, and an indication that the job market was a bit better, Fern decided to start looking for a job for herself.

Although it did take several months, Fern feels that she wouldn’t have been a good candidate before her change in attitude and outlook, anyway.

“I am so relieved to be in a new atmosphere,” she says.  “It’s incredibly different, to be headed to work and think about the tasks I’ll be facing, rather than wonder – with trepidation – what sort of emotional storm lies ahead today!”

Do you have a Fix It or Forget It? story to share?  Send it to me, and it might help others.  Identifying features will be altered prior to publishing.

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Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
—  Rita Mae Brown

Similar Posts:

Merle* and Naomi* deal with age gaps in the workplace

Lynn* deals with her OCD manager

Gabrielle* found a way to be more relevant

Get To The Point!

Monday, December 27th, 2010

If I invited you over “for dinner” and you later realized I also wanted your help moving my furniture, this might not go over too well. Likewise, if I had a surprise blind date waiting for you. Clear, direct communication is most often preferred.

Consider the people whose emails, phone calls and visits you look forward to – and those you dread. What do the ones you dread have in common? Most likely, they are poor communicators who require a great deal of effort to comprehend, either initially, or with a lot of follow up. Concise, brief statements are appreciated more than ever in a world filled with 24 hour communication via a plethora of channels.

This is true, whether you are sending a direct mail piece, email, text message, tweet or updating a Facebook status on your page. Consider the same basic Who, What, When, Where, Why and How tenets and make a deliberate attempt to answer these questions as quickly and directly as possible. Also ask yourself if the message is necessary and relevant to your constituents.

Not only will constituents unsubscribe or withdraw from messages that are too frequent or too lengthy, but also when they feel they are being misled or taken for granted with a message that’s too impersonal, such as one that’s sent from no-reply@company.com.

Often, fewer words are necessary when a succinct graphic is used to tell the story. Most people are visually responsive, and offering an enhancement that supports your text provides another means for them to process your message.

Not only should organizations invest further in social media overall for 2011, but when looking at the statistics of how similar Twitter and Facebook users are in their consumption, it makes sense to reach out to people where they are already spending their time.

Twitter in particular encourages brief, direct messaging. Crafting an effective tweet takes practice, but those who do it effectively end up with many loyal followers – precisely because they understand how to provide useful information in 140 characters.

Consider the following examples:

In each case, I’ve provided a short, informative headline (e.g., “Make Donating To Your Cause Easy & Meaningful”), followed by a hyperlink to the article (http://bit.ly/gL9Mfu) that elaborates on the topic. The rest of the tweet includes several relevant hashtags, or searchable terms, designated by the # symbol, so that anyone interested in finding tweets related to these topics will find my tweet – and article.

How would you summarize your latest newsletter, email, video, annual report, etc. in such a fashion, so that interested parties could search and locate it on Twitter?

Engaging in Twitter is not only a sound social media practice for your organization, but it will help your overall communication practices improve, as you become better at writing in a more condensed fashion in general.

Once this objective of writing relevant information into brief statements has become the standard, your organization’s communications – both internal and external – will be taken more seriously and seen as substantial when viewed, rather than tossed into the dread pile.

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

Fix It Or Forget It?

Friday, September 17th, 2010

When your workplace environment makes you feel that nothing you do is good enough, just walking in the door each day will sap all of your strength.  Can you Fix It Or Forget It?  See what Michael* and Norma* did.

Michael* had difficulty with a director who constantly criticized his work, but would only provide vague direction at best as to what he should do on his projects.

Each time he was given an assignment, he would attempt, in vain, to get more specific instructions, so as to avoid not only the critique, but the inevitable amount of work reassigned in having to do it again . . . along with the blame he would surely get for “not having listened” the first time, and so forth.

Initially, Michael was willing to accept that he was at fault for not understanding company ways, or failing to grasp a particular assignment when he was a new employee, but this pattern continued to repeat itself.  It became obvious that his director was simply a poor communicator who didn’t convey details, and would rather tell him what was wrong with each attempt after he had made it.

We initially attempted to remedy Michael’s situation somewhat by having him communicate with his manager in writing, to have documentation of him asking for further clarification on a particular project.  Although it seemed like a good idea, she ended up being just as poor a communicator in writing, and would simply respond with such things as, “What I said in the meeting.”

Michael decided to Forget It! and we began his job search.  It took longer than he wanted, and he ended up taking a consulting position for less money than he was currently making.  According to him, however, it was a good trade, compared to being belittled on a constant basis.  He simply could no longer deal with the daily stress and criticism of being told how wrong, ineffectual, incompetent, etc. he was.

With her new job, Norma* realized that she walked into an environment of animosity, where the atmosphere seemed to be laced with adversity.  She soon realized why.

The director, knowingly or not, essentially pitted employees against one another, assigning similar – and often exact same – tasks to multiple employees.  Then, when Employee A would bring the idea (copy, creative) or answer (data), the director’s response would be, “B has THIS idea…I like it better…” or “Well Employee B says it’s actually THIS way.”

Since Norma was the newest employee, it was typically the other ideas the boss liked better.  (They knew the organization & history better, after all.)  When hers was finally selected as being “better,” this didn’t enamor her with anyone at all!

Norma approached me about looking for another position, since she didn’t like the option of staying at a place that forced her to choose between pleasing the director and estranging her coworkers or vice versa.  She was remorseful about her decision, though, because she actually wanted to work for the organization – she simply couldn’t tolerate the internal politics.

I suggested she attempt to alter this broken adversarial system, if she really wanted to stay, since I suspected the other workers would welcome less competition as well – but someone would have to take the first step.  Norma agreed to give it a try.

With the next assignment(s), she made a point not to work independently, but to go to the person also assigned the task, before presenting her findings to the director, and show her cards: “I got ____.  What did you get?”

Not only did this show of trust drop some of the antagonism, but when real discussion began to take place, the employees began to realize that the director often posed the questions/assignments to them slightly differently!  It wasn’t always possible for them to reach the same conclusions/answers!

Norma was able to Fix It! by extending the hand of friendship, and the employees made a point to communicate EVERY question to one another in the future.  Initially, they made certain that their conclusions agreed.  Later, they came to realize there was no need to duplicate work, and they ended up taking turns on who would do each assignment, freeing them up to do more important assignments.

It created a much more pleasant environment overall.

Do you have a Fix It or Forget It? story to share?  Send it to me, and it might help others.  Identifying features will be altered prior to publishing.
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Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
—  Rita Mae Brown

Before you hit [Post], THINK!

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

As social media evolves, there seem to be more changes and questions about it than anyone can answer or keep up with.  One important rule, though, is to consider carefully what you post before you post it.

While there are various security measures that can be put into place, you should assume that anyone can read anything you send into cyberspace – and this means e-mail, blogging, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Balancing your personal and professional online personas can be challenging these days.  Andrew Heller offers several great tips for this, such as segmenting your Facebook friends into various lists and blocking certain aspects of your profile.  I took my profile specifications a bit further last year, and removed one person’s permission to comment on my posts.  You can do this on an individual basis, and it pays to spend some time on the settings tab, getting to know your specific options.

Thinking before posting isn’t limited to preventing yourself from being careless or too casual anymore, either.  A large part of social media is getting people to Share or retweet your message; therefore, you need to be as clear and concise as possible when crafting your message.  If you aren’t, people may share what they think you said instead.

This happened to me twice in recent months.  Once, I saw a contest, where a company was offering a prize for the most creative ____, and I tweeted about it, along with a link to the page.  I saw a retweet of this message, essentially saying that “Valerie Lambert will give you $___ for your creative idea about ____ [hyperlink].”  Oh, dear, I thought.  I hadn’t meant to imply that, but I was trying to reduce the message to 140 characters.  How could they have inferred that I was giving away the prize?  Guess I should have worded it better.

Last month, I was at the AFP International conference, tweeting during a session about a speaker I admire.  My phone was semi-cooperative, and I was trying to listen and tweet.  Later, someone retweeted that I had said that  “Vinay of Convio said ___.”  Um…no, I didn’t say that.  He didn’t say that.  Did they misunderstand, or did they recraft what I tweeted to suit their own commercial needs, I wondered?

In the end, it doesn’t matter why as much as it does that your original message didn’t go out as intended, so it’s best to ask someone else (or several) to review it.  Rather than asking them to tell you if it’s “ok,” or not, have them restate its meaning or the situation back to you, in their own words.  Do they tell the same story?  If not, you probably need to recraft your message for better clarity.  Certainly this is easier when you are drafting a press release from a computer than when you are tweeting during a live session from a handheld.

It also gets easier with practice.  And, as another great speaker at AFP, Katya Andresen, said, “If anyone tells you they’re a ‘social media expert,’ don’t believe them.  It’s changing too fast right now for anyone to be an expert.”  (Hope I got that right!)

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

10 IT Things Every Executive Should Know

Monday, September 14th, 2009

I feel compelled to pass on this little gem I’ve come across.  IT can make our lives easier in many ways, but without buy-in from the top, it can also become a dreadful burden!  (#9 about donated IT being more costly brings back some horrible memories for me…)

Let’s hope this list helps to open some executive eyes.

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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