Leaders- Caution! Choose Change Chits Wisely

If you are a workplace leader or manager, change is part of the job.  How you manage change with your staff matters to the leadership success equation.

What do staff expect from their leaders?  Research claims primarily – order, direction and protection.  Staff wants leaders to maintain fair and consistent norms. Yet effective leadership often means changing norms and even mandating change to meet objectives.  This can be a paradox and clearly a challenge for leaders.

I regularly coach leaders with their day to day “people” challenges – helping them manage change is a part of my daily coaching conversations.

Tips from the Coach:

  • Too much change is bad.  People do not have an infinite capacity to absorb change.  Choose your change chits wisely, strategically and frugally.  We mere humans have a finite amount of energy chits each day.  What do you want staff to spend their precious time and energy on?  If you are going to create a policy or process change—make sure its relevant and worthy of the challenges creating it may cause.
  • Don’t hold onto the past or deny inevitable change.  If the company change train has left the station without you on it—you keeping staff stuck.  Staff watches the boss to see how the boss responds or “reacts” to change.
  • Deal with problems!  Complaints regarding the boss avoiding problems and not dealing with them effectively–is the #1 complaint I hear from staff.  Staff count on the boss to resolve conflict and take care of obstacles to success.
  • Don’t put your direct report in the uncomfortable position of having to fend for themselves when it comes to answering unreasonable demands from your peers or theirs.  It’s a boss’s role to deal with problematic obstacles and challenges that impede staff success.
  • Don’t add to the drama factor.  Regulate your emotional reactivity to bad news.  If the boss gets upset, so does staff.  No one can spread the negative emotional “flu” virus like a boss!

Help is available for the people challenges of leadership—invest in yourself this year with leadership development.  Contact me:  360 682 5807 or info@pathtochange.com




Workplace Gossip

Workplace GossipThe root of many workplace problems can be traced to a lack of communication or misperceptions that result from ineffective communication. In my coaching practice, workers often tell me they are reluctant to speak up candidly with one another about their concerns or what’s up for them. They fear office politics, losing a job, angering someone or retribution. Many also simply lack the skills to address difficult conversations directly. Unfortunately what many do instead is gossip and “triangle” in a third person (thereby avoiding talking to the offending person directly).

It’s easy to get sucked unconsciously into negative workplace energy. A colleague vents about someone else and pretty soon you find yourself nodding your head in agreement about how “so and so” is lousy at something. Bad feelings get shared, absorbed and co-workers develop negative perceptions about those they need to count on.

To a degree, it is human nature to complain. Yet, gossiping about others when they aren’t present damages trust, respect, morale and relationships. We pay a high price for the gossip or “triangle” approach. Most importantly, the issues don’t get resolved, particularly if the offending party is left in the dark. Additionally, gossip is toxic to workplace morale, camaraderie and team. It often spirals out of control leaving a wake of negativity, suspicion, resentment and broken communication. Team collaboration, creativity and productivity suffer because a lack of trust impedes healthy debate and open dialogue.

My mission is to get people talking to each other and not about each other. Here are my coach’s tips:

  • Notice your energy the next time you are engaged in a negative complaining or gossip conversation about someone else. Odds are you will notice a drop in your energy and enthusiasm. You may even note a weight on your shoulders that now burdens your body, emotions and mind. How is this serving you?
  • Are you unconsciously or automatically looking at situations and people with a “critical” eye? Challenge yourself to use an “appreciative” eye and look for what’s right about others vs. looking for what’s wrong on auto pilot.
  • If you are feeling angry, identify and own your “judgments” and then identify what you are needing/wanting that you aren’t getting. Do you have a need for more information, inclusion, equality or respect? Express your feelings and unmet needs to the other.
  • Be authentic. Say what is true for you while being conscious of respectful delivery of the information. Ask for what you need to be successful with a workplace task or role.
  • Hold interpersonal judgments lightly and consider that you may have the information wrong. Test your perceptions.
  • Discourage coworkers from gossiping. Either change the subject or refuse to take part in a conversation about someone when they aren’t present.
  • Take stock of the facts before you automatically become the judge and jury of a coworker. We humans are remarkably adept at making up stories and meaning to situations we don’t fully understand. We frequently leap to conclusions often with little or no data. Check and verify your perceptions before taking action that might result in harmful consequences.
  • Be intentional about how you speak about others when they aren’t present. Ask yourself how what you will say may serve either you or others?
  • If something is bothering you or there has been a missed expectation, take it up with the person directly. This takes courage and as long as the delivery of the message is handled with care and intention, most often the relationship will be improved.
  • Prepare for difficult workplace conversations. Begin with the end in mind—where do you want to end up as a result of this conversation? How can you deliver the message in a way that the other person can hear?

Communication – Its All In the Delivery

In workplaces, the ability to get things done hinges on successful interpersonal communication. It’s a critical workplace skill.

One of the greatest challenges with interpersonal communication is having your message understood as you intended (particularly when giving feedback — the subject of last week’s column).

Successful communication happens when the message the sender intended to communicate is what is understood by the receiver. Misunderstandings occur because we interpret or “decode” messages through our unique human filters: culture (“it’s disrespectful to interrupt”), education, race, gender (think Mars versus Venus), age, health, status (“he’s the boss”), sense of self and our total life experiences — to name a few.

Our entire human history colors how we interpret and make meaning of what we hear and see. We make instant judgments about motives based on these filters (“she’s trying to control me”). Throw in a stressful workplace, an organizational hierarchy, time constraints, competing resources and distractions, and it’s a wonder we ever communicate successfully.

As receivers of messages, we attempt to understand the other by reading faces/body language and decipher (or make sense of) the words we hear. Have you ever said something seemingly neutral to someone and been surprised at their strong emotional response? Or have you noticed how two people can be in the same room, witness the same message and come away with two completely different perceptions? It’s not so much what I say, it’s what you hear, observe and how you make meaning.

To lessen the potential for misunderstandings and conflict, here are a few guidelines that may help:

  • Get clear about your intent before you communicate. What do you want to have happen as a result of the exchange? Communicate your intention (particularly if the message is sensitive or likely to be misunderstood). As a receiver of a message, don’t attempt mind-reading and “assume” intention about the other.
  • Non-verbal communication speaks volumes. Research estimates that as little as 7 percent of a communication’s effectiveness can be attributed to words alone — 38 percent is vocal (volume, pitch, etc.) and 55 percent body movements (mostly facial expressions). People tend to believe body language over words. Eye rolling or crossed arms send cues that can make words almost meaningless. Think of a salesperson who makes verbal promises but won’t make eye contact. We discount the words and equate “no eye contact” to shifty or dishonest behavior. The key is to be congruent — the video should match the audio.
  • Use “I” language versus vague pronouns (“they,” “we” or “you”). When we hear the word “you,” we often interpret this as blame or having a finger pointed at us (“you are unfair”). Take responsibility for your judgments and interpretations. Describe what is going on for you (I think, feel, want …) from the “I” position. Speaking for others is a recipe for trouble (“we all agree …”). Also problematic is speaking about people as if they aren’t present while they’re in the same meeting. Good rules to follow: Address people directly and speak for yourself.
  • Avoid interrupting (two ears/one mouth — use them proportionally) and finishing others’ sentences (a pattern with people who have worked together a long time). Ask what the other person is thinking, feeling or wanting versus assuming you know. Seek to understand: Paraphrase to try to ensure that you get the meaning of what the person said.
  • Choose your words carefully. Words mean different things to different people. For example, “satisfactory” is a word that needs to be well defined in the workplace. Other words have explosive potential, such as “unprofessional.”
  • Don’t assume you have been understood. Managers need to be particularly careful when giving complex or important instructions. Check in for understanding (“You look puzzled. Are you?”). Or if they give you a confusing response, rephrase for clarity. When trying to understand something complex, important or sensitive, state in your own words what you interpreted (“Let me see if I get this …”).

Aim for clarity. Be straightforward, concise and avoid overexplaining things. Too many words can confuse people. Sometimes it’s better to aim for the Reader’s Digest version. If it’s an important meeting, craft your main talking points in advance.

Technology and Communication Challenges

In today’s workplace, we face a dizzying array of options to communicate. Which do you choose: e-mail, phone, voice mail tag, text messaging, instant messaging (“IMing”), paper notes, blogs, face to face, conference calls, Skype, Facetime or yelling over the cubicle wall?

There are many things to consider before deciding.

  • Is what I need to communicate critical, requiring immediate attention or an FYI?
  • Who is my audience and who else might potentially hear/read it?
  • Does this need to be documented or tracked?
  • How can I relay the message to lessen the odds of it being misunderstood?

There are also generational preferences to consider. In general, boomers (1946-64) still prefer the phones they grew up with, Gen X (1965-82) is big into e-mail, while the youngest members of today’s work force, the “net generation” or the Millennials (1982-now), strongly prefer real-time communication technologies such as IMing and texting.

Adding to the complexity are project managers preferring to use the latest software tracking devices and internal “techno jargon,” which may be Latin to the rest of us.

My favorite: “Joe — pls frwd kernal with IPSec immediately — system compromise imminent!” which left me wondering if something in the produce department needed a prescription. And we thought the “women are from Venus and men are from Mars” challenge was complex!

Breakdowns are inevitable — boomers leaving endless voice mails to Millennials, who respond by text (to some who still haven’t figured out how to read them), then wonder why they get no response.

The loops seem endless. E-mails, voice mails, texts — what do you respond with this time, and did I or didn’t I already?

Messages get lost, follow-up doesn’t happen and the communication gap widens, leading to missed expectations, confusion and frustration.

Granted, new technologies offer advantages. IMing and text offer immediacy and convenience, making them very popular with the on-the-go, ready, fire, aim (and get it done) worker.

On the con side, deciphering “tone” with an IM is almost impossible (no voice or nonverbal cues), there’s no paper trail or documentation (think follow-up) and the messages often interrupt co-workers trying to get work done.

Boomers complain that IMs interrupt their focus, yet for the youngest members of the work force, this poses no problem. According to the Pew Research Center, 75 percent of recent college grads did homework while instant messaging (while their incredulous boomer parents wondered how they could focus).

E-mail has its pros and cons. On the pro side, it allows for documentation and a way to look back and check what was communicated (or agreed to).

On the con side, those long strings are irritating and time-consuming to decipher what action is required, and e-mails get lost in the hundreds that pile into people’s inboxes each day.

One of my pet peeves about e-mail is professionals who hide behind it, using it to avoid having an uncomfortable face-to-face conversation while claiming they are “communicating.”

What you can do:

  • Find out what medium your co-workers (and boss!) prefer. Let them know preferences (tell them if you typically turn off your instant messaging option so you can work in the morning or if you don’t check e-mail at night).
  • If the message is critical, relay it by several means. For example, start with a phone call (and/or text), back up critical points in an e-mail and follow it up with a face-to-face visit. If you find yourself in voice mail tag jail, suggest a best time to reach you or moving the communication over to e-mail.
  • Find out if your company has any user policies and/or guidelines.
  • What you say can be used against you. IMs can be copied and saved. Don’t say anything in any form that you wouldn’t say in front of your boss or that can damage your reputation, credibility or that of your company.
  • Learn how to use current technologies and the shortcut language (ask for help from your Millennial co-worker).
  • Avoid using text, IM or e-mail for sensitive or difficult conversations. With no nonverbal cues to help us decipher intent and meaning, there is simply too much left to interpretation.

Maybe I’m old school (I will out myself as a boomer), but I firmly believe that the best way to improve working relationships with co-workers is via human connection.

In my book, face to face is still the preferred method to communicate anything sensitive, of importance or that might be potentially misunderstood.  I like to hear the person’s tone of voice to decipher urgency and importance and look into their eyes to see how they are reacting to my request or challenge.  Most of today’s technology leaves out body language and tone clues.

Invest in yourself by hiring me as your career coach! I can help you learn, develop and grow your leadership and emotional intelligence abilities.  I coach professionals all over the world via Skype.  Call me:  360 682 5807 or email: mmoriarty@pathtochange.com