“I wish I could rewind the clock and do it differently.” Bob, CEO of a mid-size organization lamented to his former colleague, Rick. A week earlier he had sent out an internal memo warning that things were about to change. Their entire industry would soon be affected due to emerging government regulations.
The day after the memo was sent, worst case scenarios were circulating throughout the company. The gossip mill was in full swing. Fear quickly spread to vendors and customers. Within 48 hours, Bob had hundreds of emails from concerned workers, vendors and customers.
“What could you have done differently? You shared the information you had at the time.” Rick earnestly attempted to support his friend.
“Rick, I didn’t have much information from the Feds. I should have been upfront with people that I was also in the dark.” The CEO confided.
“I know but you couldn’t have anticipated that people would react so badly.” Rick responded in a compassionate tone.
“I underestimated the importance of doing more than sharing facts. My memo wasn’t very warm and friendly.” Bob admitted.
For the past two decades, Bob had focused on building a loyal team around him. He had worked hard to build their trust and was confident he had achieved it. Now, with one poorly written document, he was surprised to see how quickly that trust could erode.
Here’s what also surprised Bob: how differently employees read written communication during times of stress and change.
Bob made some blunders. You don’t have to repeat his mistakes. As a leader, you can build trust during turbulent times by following these four writing tips:
Tip #1: Choose Every Word Carefully. This is critical. During times turbulent times, every word you write to your employees about the crisis will be scrutinized.
Bob’s Blunder: He used ‘unfortunate’ in his memo. Employees obsessed about the use of this word, convinced it reflected some dire meaning.
Do This: Before you press send, ask yourself, could my reader derive some unintended meaning from my wording? If you are not sure, get a second opinion! (or third or fourth!)
Tip #2: Make a Human Connection. It has been said that people will forget what you said, but they will never forget how you make them feel. This also applies to written communication. During turbulent times, employees look to leaders for reassurance and empathy. Conveying a human connection through writing fosters trust in leadership.
Bob’s Blunder: Bob’s memo came across as uncaring to employees since it lacked any expression of emotion.
Do This: Before you press send, ask yourself, what expression of genuine emotion could I share with my readers to let them know I care?
Tip #3: Be Transparent. When you don’t have the full information to share, be willing to honesty explain your constraints. If you do not show transparency, you risk breaching the reader’s trust. In your writing, what you leave unsaid can be as important as what you say.
Bob’s Blunder: Bob’s memo left many questions unanswered. Bob failed to share with his readers that he was limited by the lack of information he was receiving from his source, the federal government.
Do This: Before you press send, ask yourself, have I articulated why I can’t provide more detail?
Tip #4: More is Better. During a crisis, people can get overwhelmed. This reduces their ability to retain information. Your message may get lost. To ensure your communication is received, aim to increase the frequency of writing to employees about important issues. Repetition is key. Find ways to communicate important messages in different ways on a frequent basis during turbulent times.
Bob’s Blunder: Bob waited a few weeks between his first and second written communication about the changes and this caused concern among employees.
Do This: Before you press send, ask yourself, have I communicated how I will continue to keep people updated?
It has been said that the only constant in life is change. This may be truer than ever. How you communicate in writing during turbulent times can leave a lasting impression on those within your organization and beyond. Your people are watching not just what you do, but how you do it. By following these four tips, you can leave a lasting legacy within your organization – one that you will not look back and regret like Bob did.
About the Author
Dr. Julie Miller is President of Business Writing that Counts! Over the past 30 years, more than 750,000 people have participated in Business Writing That Counts! on-site and online writing courses and walked away with dramatically improved writing skills. Dr. Julie and her team are focused on increasing our clients’ bottom line by improving the efficiency and effectiveness of employees’ writing. Contact her at www.businesswritingthatcounts.com
Working from home by choice or by mandate presents a unique set of opportunities and challenges. If you’re new to telecommuting, you might find that without some discipline, you’re waking up well beyond normal work hours and adopting behaviors you would never exhibit on your worst day at the office.
In the beginning you might welcome a day or two late mornings and wearing pajamas past noon. However, sloth mimicry is a habit few professionals would enthusiastically adopt long term. To get the most out of telecommuting, you need to master some best practices.
Create and Maintain a Routine
Recognize the fact that telework requires self-discipline. A day of waking up at 5:00 am followed by one where you rise at 9:00 and another at 10:00 is a pattern on the path to disaster. Adopt some desk hours and stick with them. Also, be sure to take some regular breaks. You need to eat, you need to stand, and you need to stretch. You also need to turn off work when it’s time to go home. Unless you’re in a field that demands it, checking email at midnight is not a good idea. You need to establish psychological boundaries to keep work hours work hours and home hours home hours.
Learn New Technology and Leverage Old
When working from a distance, you should learn how to use popular web-conferencing software, get comfortable on camera, and get ready to meet regularly online. The world is moving to the virtual conference room, and you need to know how to operate in that space. “I don’t like being on camera,” “I’m not a tech person,” and “I’ll just call in,” are excuses that will leave you behind. Nobody looks their best on a webcam; that’s a fact. It’s also a fact that facial expressions, body language, and other visual cues are a big part of communication. If they’re missing, you’re missing out.
In addition to mastering video conferencing, if you’re working with a single screen, consider investing in one or two more. The extra room is a game changer, especially if you don’t have access to a high-speed printer and find yourself having to read a lot of documents on screen that you would have normally printed at the office.
Working alone saves hours, but the lack of chit chat created during casual interactions can also cause your relationships with your coworkers to suffer. To remedy the problem, you need to be deliberate in your communication and schedule time to catch up.
Set aside some minute during your workday to check in with coworkers. Not working on a project that requires meetings? Consider setting up a virtual lunch date instead. Most people who wake up one day feeling isolated and in a funk don’t have a contact plan in place. Prepare for regular social interactions before you start missing them.
Seek Out Opportunity
If you’re working from home and find yourself with extra hours on your hands, it’s time take initiative and learn some new skills. Anything you can do to expand your knowledge, work practices, or professional network could help you later.
- Consider developing an education plan for yourself. For example, instead of faking your way through PowerPoint, learn how to use the slide master, templates, and other features so that tool works for you the way in which its creators intended.
- Look for ways to make your work more efficient. Is it time to organize your email system? Could you benefit from creating rules, using folders, and getting your electronic communication under control once and for all? It can be done, it takes time, and if you have any minutes to spare that you otherwise would have spent commuting, seize the day.
- Get online and expand your business network. Brush up your LinkedIn profile, and start making connections. Look for people with whom you grew up, attended school, or shared an employer at some point during your career. You never know how your efforts to connect could benefit you and others in the future.
Working from home means you have to become more self-reliant. For example, an ounce of prevention can make all the difference when you encounter a tech upset.
Start with the basics. Think about your files and the tools you need to complete your work. For example, do you have a cloud backup? Do you have remote access software so someone in IT can help you if you hit a roadblock?
In addition to technology surprises, consider your short- and long-term goals. If your employer decided to eliminate telework, or your position for that matter, what would you do? Do you have a plan? It’s a lot easier to enact something you created when you weren’t stressed than to craft and start working on a solution when you are.
Create a disaster plan for one, and you’ll be ahead of most people when challenges arise.
Following routines, leveraging tech, being deliberate with communication, setting aside time for growth, and preparing for uncertainty are five ways you can get the most out of a work-at-home experience.
About the Author:
Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. For more information, visit www.businesstrainingworks.com.
Entrepreneurs, business owners, and company leaders in every industry are living in a state of overwhelm right now.
The rules of business have changed seemingly overnight, and many are struggling to adapt to the new normal of our current reality.
The number of decisions business owners and leaders need to make daily is staggering. How do we communicate with customers? What do we do about projects put on hold? How do we keep our employees safe? What kind of infrastructure do we need to support our remote workers? And of course, the biggest decision of all, what steps must we take to ensure our business survives this crisis?
Being a business owner or company leader requires you to be nimble and ready to react at a moment’s notice. But that doesn’t negate the fact that you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed. Now more than ever you need to commit to your goals and squash any fears that may be holding you or your company back.
The following 5 strategies will help you persevere through any challenge, stay on track with your dreams, and emerge from the crisis victoriously.
STATEGY ONE: Be Tenacious
As an entrepreneur, business owner, or company leader, you likely made the decision to be tenacious long ago. After all, if you hadn’t, you wouldn’t be in the position you are today. Now is the time to double down on that commitment, not back away from it. Times of crisis demand boldness, innovation, and tenacity like no other. If you feel your tenacity wavering, pick a mantra that is powerful and motivating for you and have it play on a loop in your mind. Some common mantras leaders use to build their tenacity are “never give up,” “tough times don’t last; tough people do,” and “persistence breaks down resistance.” Pick a phrase that works for you and use it as your guide.
STRATEGY TWO: Look to Your Past Challenges and How You Overcame Them
We’ve all had to overcome challenges in the past. Whether it was a business failure, a job loss, the death of a loved one, or anything else, no one’s life is without obstacles. And, believe it or not, that’s a good thing, because by living and working through those setbacks, you learned some important and useful skills. Even though the current global challenge facing us may seem different than anything anyone has experienced in the past, the fact is that the skills you have honed over the years during other challenges are the same skills that will get you through the current crisis. Just as a skilled cyclist picks themselves up after a wipeout and can ride again, so can you if you focus on the skills you already have.
STRATEGY THREE: Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
During times of crisis, you will need to try new things—maybe even things you never imagined you’d do. Often, that means being uncomfortable. For example, many business owners are now doing live videos on social media to stay in front of customers and prospects. While they may be very comfortable giving scripted messages to the camera, talking off the cuff, in a casual setting (such as their home), is very different. During any crisis, “business as usual” isn’t enough. Therefore, think about what new, uncomfortable things you can do to keep your company top-of-mind for your customers.
STRATEGY FOUR: Reinvent Your Message
If your sales have dropped or projects have been put on hold, taking a “wait and see” stance is dangerous. You need to keep your business profitable during the crisis, so you may need to reinvent or reposition your message and your offerings. The key is to find the pain your clients are having right now (which may be very different from the pain they were trying to address a mere 3 months ago), and then deliver solutions to meet their current needs. Realize that repositioning your offering often requires only a slight pivot, not a 180-degree change. Look at some examples currently occurring in communities across the country: restaurants offering grocery delivery services, distilleries making hand sanitizer, apparel and shoe makers adding face masks to their product line, etc. You already know how to reposition—you did it when you started your business or leadership position. Simply put that skill to work again now.
STRATEGY FIVE: Protect Your Company’s Culture
In order for your business to survive and thrive during a crisis, you need to nurture and protect the company culture you’ve worked so hard to create. This requires you to model strength for your employees, and to communicate honestly and often with them. The goal is to keep fear at a minimum and to make your employees feel safe. Let them know that they are doing a fabulous job during all the changes. Listen to their ideas. Ensure they feel part of the team and valued. Above all else, make sure they know—both by your words and your actions—that you are going to lead them through the storm.
STRATEGY SIX: Embrace the Challenge
They say that necessity is the mother of invention. And it’s true! In fact, often the best innovations come during times of crisis. The key is for you to assess the situation, determine where your business can add value, and then take action using the strategies outlined here. When you do, you’ll find that your company can weather any obstacle and emerge as the marketplace leader.
About the Author: Shelley Armato is CEO at MySmartPlans, a provider of best-in-class SaaS construction technology that eliminates risk, creates transparency and protects the budget. She provides professional construction services to some of the most prestigious business owners in the healthcare, scholastic, government, and other commercial market sectors. Contact her at www.mysmartplans.com.
Is Fear Holding You Back from Achieving Your Goals? By Angela Civitella
Research first diagnosed the fear of success a couple of decades ago. The findings, at the time, related to fear of success in women, and the results proved incredibly controversial.
Since then, however, most scientists and psychologists agree that the fear of success exists for both men and women. Fear of success is similar to the fear of failure. They have many of the same symptoms, and both fears hold you back from achieving your dreams and goals.
Signs of Fear of Success
The biggest problem for many people is that their fear of success is largely unconscious. They just don’t realize that they’ve been holding themselves back from doing something great. If you experience the following thoughts or fears, you might have a fear of success on some level:
- You feel guilty about any success you have, no matter how small, because your friends, family, or co-workers haven’t had the same success.
- You don’t tell others about your accomplishments.
- You avoid or procrastinate on big projects, especially projects that could lead to recognition.
- You frequently compromise your own goals or agenda to avoid conflict in a group or even conflict within your family.
- You self-sabotage your work or dreams by convincing yourself that you’re not good enough to achieve them.
- You feel, subconsciously, that you don’t deserve to enjoy success in your life.
- You believe that if you do achieve success, you won’t be able to sustain it. Eventually, you’ll fail and end up back in a worse place than where you started. So, you think, “why bother?”
What are the Causes?
The fear of success has several causes:
- We fear what success will bring, for example: loneliness, new enemies, being isolated from our family, longer working hours, or being asked for favors or money.
- We’re afraid that the higher we climb in life, the further we’re going to fall when we make a mistake.
- We fear the added work, responsibilities, or criticism that we’ll face.
- We fear that our relationships will suffer if we become successful. Our friends and family will react with jealousy and cynicism, and we’ll lose the ones we love.
- We fear that accomplishing our goals, and realizing that we have the power to be successful, may actually cause an intense regret that we didn’t act sooner.
Overcoming the Fear of Success
You can use several different strategies to overcome your fear of success. The good news is that the more you face your fears, bring them to the surface, and analyze them rationally, the more you’re likely to weaken those fears – and dramatically reduce your reluctance to achieve your goals.
Take a realistic look at what will happen if you succeed with your goal. Don’t look at what you hope will happen, or what you fear will happen. Instead, look at what is likely to happen.
It’s important not to give a quick answer to this. Take at least 15 minutes to examine the issues, and write down your answers to questions like:
- How will my life change?
- What’s the worst that could happen if I achieve this goal?
- What’s the best that could happen?
- Why do I feel that I don’t deserve to accomplish this goal?
- How motivated am I to work toward this goal?
- What am I currently doing to sabotage, or hurt, my own efforts?
- How can I stop those self-sabotaging behaviors?
Another useful technique is to address your fears directly, and then develop a backup plan that will overcome your concern. For instance, suppose you don’t push yourself to achieve a promotion, and the biggest reason is because you secretly fear that the additional income and recognition would jeopardize your family relationships and your integrity. You’re worried that you would be so busy working to maintain your success that you’d never see your family, and you might be forced to make choices that would destroy your integrity.
To overcome these fears, start by addressing your workload. You could set a rule for yourself that you’ll always be home by 7 p.m. You could tell this to your boss if you’re offered the new position.
For issues involving integrity, you always have a choice. If you set maintaining your integrity as your top goal, then you’ll always make the right choice. By creating backup plans that address your fears, you can often eliminate those fears entirely.
Fear of success is common, and many of us don’t realize that we have it. If this is your current situation, it’s time to let go of the chains that are holding you back from reaching the ultimate level of success in all that you do. Trust me, once you break free, you’ll never look back.
Angela Civitella is a certified business management coach and the founder of Intinde. www.intinde.com
Networking for Introverts – by Ted Janusz
Studies show that up to 93 percent of adults consider themselves shy. And those studies were conducted even before we were encouraged to avoid others by adopting the practice of social distancing and to don the facial attire worn by bank robbers.
Is it any wonder then that when you now go to a social gathering, you may feel uncomfortable? You may look around the room and think (probably in error), “Everybody here knows each other!” or “I knew it was a bad idea to come here!” or “Everybody is looking at me!”
Relax. There is a good chance that most of the room is feeling just as you are. To advance both personally and professionally, we need to engage with people. And sometimes we just need to get comfortable being uncomfortable.
To lessen your anxiety, here are six things you can do:
- Determine in advance your reasons for attending a social event. If necessary, write out the reasons on the back of a business card and sneak a look at the card while you are at the event. You will find that you can do just about anything in life if your why is strong enough. The real secret to successful time management is to constantly ask oneself, “Is this the best use of my time right now?” If so, go to the event and make the best of it. If not, go do something else.
- Plan what you will say when you meet another person at the event. If you can make your opening statement interesting, or better yet humorous, the conversation can get off to a great start. For instance, at a wedding, one guest introduced herself by saying, “Hello! I am a former girlfriend of the groom’s father!”
- Go with a friend. You may know people at the event your friend is unfamiliar with, and vice versa. You can introduce your friend to others and say things about your friend that he may socially be unable to say about himself. And he can do the same for you! Speaker Patricia Fripp says, “It’s like being with your own PR person. We say about each other that which we would not say about ourselves.”
- Look for a person standing alone. “The person, who is speaking to no one, would welcome your conversation,” notes Susan RoAne, “The Mingling Maven,” and best-selling author of How to Work a Room: The Ultimate Guide to Making Lasting Impressions – in Person and Online. “Just because someone is standing alone doesn’t mean he or she is a snob or “unimportant.” People who are alone may be shyer than you.” Perhaps she is hidden under the fake palm tree, clutching a drink in her hands. Chances are, she is repeating those three statements (lies) at the beginning of this article. If you go over and introduce yourself to her, you may have a new best friend for life!
- Pretend you are a talk show host. Treat the person across from you as the most important guest of the evening. What questions (and answers) would your viewers or listeners want to have discussed? As a good host, make the conversation be about the guest, and not about you.
- When the other person begins to talk, listen. I believe that empathetic listening has three parts: 1) listen with your ears (obviously), but also 2) listen with your eyes, and 3) listen with your heart. Instead of planning your response, anxiously waiting for the other person’s lips to stop moving so that you can talk, take the time to be present with the other person.
Listen … Truly Listen
Best-selling author Stephen Covey asked, “Do we listen to understand? No! We listen to reply.” Let me relate the concept of empathetic listening to something I experienced recently. My wife took me into her garden to show off her phlox, mums or rhododendron. I’m not really sure because I am not into gardening. But I am into my relationship with my wife. So rather than thinking at the time about an upcoming presentation I was about to give, I needed to slow down and be in the moment with her.
Always take the time to truly be with the person with whom you are speaking. Do not constantly scan the room for somebody even “more important.”
How to Make Others Love (or Like) You
English journalist Jenni Murray talked about meeting former president Bill Clinton, “He made you feel for those few short moments that you were the only woman in the world and he’d never met anyone as interesting or as lovely as you.” Similarly, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis seemed to possess the ability to have men all over the world fall in love with her. Asked how she did it, the former First Lady replied, “Two ways. First of all, when a man would finish talking about himself and his work, I would say, ‘Tell me more!’”
(I can only imagine the nervous guy thinking to himself at this point, “Oh, nobody has ever asked me about quim-quat widgets before, but here goes …” We guys and our egos!)
Secondly, as the wife of a wealthy Greek shipping magnate, Jacqueline revealed, “I would hang on their eyes.”
Can you just imagine how powerful that effect must have been? Now, you may not want women or men all over the world to fall in love with you. You may only want to survive your next social gathering. However, you can adapt Mr. Clinton’s or Ms. Onassis’s strategies to help you achieve your goal.
F – O – R – D
If you tend to be an analytical type (and many shy people consider themselves to be), when you meet a new person, imagine the blue oval of the carmaker Ford emblazoned on her forehead. It will give you clues as to what you can talk about with your conversation partner.
The F stands for “Ask her about her family.” (Everybody has a family.)
The O references her occupation. That does not necessarily mean a paying job. My wife was a stay-at-home-mom, one of the most difficult jobs in the world. She was offended when somebody had the attitude, “Oh, you don’t really work!” So, occupation could even refer to a present vocation, for instance, a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity or some other charitable organization.
The R means relaxation. Ask her what she likes to do for fun!
And if you really feel you have hit it off with your new acquaintance, ask her about D, her dreams.
Don’t Try to Impress, Ask Questions Instead
Another successful networking strategy is to ask questions rather than attempting to impress another person by talking about yourself.
I was interviewing for my first job out of graduate school. The firm sent a new hire who was a recent graduate to interview prospective employees from his alma mater. When it was my turn to sit down with him, I asked him about his experiences in graduate school – about the professors, the fraternities and sororities. The interviewer was thoroughly enjoying himself regaling me with interesting stories. When it was finally my turn to launch into my sales pitch, the interviewer interrupted me by saying, “Ted, you are exactly the kind of person we want working at our firm!”
Mary Kay Ash, founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, said, “Everybody has an invisible sign hanging from their neck saying, ‘Make me feel important.’ Never forget this message when working with [or meeting] people.”
What To Do If You Struggle With Small Talk
I thought when I would attend a social event I would need to develop an elevator pitch or some other pithy story, so that when another person would hear it, they would be forced to take a step back and exclaim, “Wow, Ted! That is so profound! Let me hire you right now!”
It isn’t going to happen. So don’t put that kind of pressure on yourself, either. Simply engage in small talk.
“Small talk,” says author Michael Korda, “should intrigue, delight, amuse, fill up time pleasantly. Given that, anything will do, from dogs to delicatessens. The aim of small talk is to make people feel comfortable – to put them at their ease – not to teach, preach or impress.
It’s a game, like tennis, in which the object is to keep the ball in the air for as long as possible.”
Networking … the Right Way
We have all been to a Chamber of Commerce mixer or some similar networking event, at which one of the attendees does networking the wrong way. His goal is to meet everybody in the room and to get right down to what he wants to accomplish. He’ll run up to you and say, “Hi!” while thrusting his business card into your hand. “I’m John. I fix computers. If you ever need your computer fixed, call me.”
Before you even have a chance to respond, John will rush off to his next … victim.
“I learned that real networking was about finding ways to make other people more successful,’ says Keith Ferazzi, author of Never Eat Alone and Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time. “It was about working hard to give more than you get. Those who are best at it don’t network – they make friends. The only way to get people to do anything is to recognize their importance and make them feel important.”
As Valentine’s Day approaches, love is in the air. But, if you are in a relationship with a co-worker or thinking about starting one, there’s plenty that you can do to avoid embarrassment, hurt or disruption for yourself and your colleagues. What should you know? Angela Civitella is a former executive, certified business leadership coach and founder of Intinde.
She Says There Are Six Things To Consider:
- Check your organization’s HR policy: Many organizations have their own policies on workplace relationships. For example, some companies frown upon one partner managing the other. It’s not that your boss doesn’t want you to be happy, there are larger considerations such as breaches of compliance, conflicts of interest, or inappropriate collusion. The safest option is to ask your HR department if it has a policy in place, and to let your HR Advisor know if you are in a workplace relationship.
- Consider your company’s culture: Even if it’s not written into HR policy, you need to get a feel for your organization’s cultural view on workplace relationships. This is especially important if you are working abroad, or in an organization with a different culture from your own.
- Agree to an approach with your partner: Chances are, your colleagues and co-workers already know that you “have a crush” on the redhead in the sales team or the “hunk” in communications, and they may already suspect that it has blossomed into a relationship. You have to decide with your partner how you’ll behave at work. Do you “come clean” and let your colleagues know what’s going on? Or, do you join the third of workplace couples who decide to keep their relationship a secret? Discuss whether to set some boundaries at work, such as not spending too much time alone together, or agreeing not to use your “pet names” for one another
- Stay professional at work: Your colleagues might approve of your office romance and think you’re the best-matched couple since Romeo and Juliet, but you still need to tread carefully. Indulging in in-jokes, private conversations, and public displays of affection can make your co-workers feel awkward. And if you and your partner are eating lunch together in the staff restaurant, other colleagues may not know whether you want privacy or would welcome the extra company. Why not invite a few more people along? Even if they decline your invitation, you have made the offer. If you discuss business matters together – or, worse still, make business decisions – while your co-workers are absent, it will likely cause resentment. If you’re managing your partner, you need to be especially mindful of your professional interactions, and be seen to be extra careful to treat your other team members equally and fairly.
- Be prepared for gossip! Human beings are social animals, and we connect with one another by sharing stories and experiences. And the more exciting or shocking those stories, the more engaging they become. So, even if you rigorously follow the rules and are careful with your actions, some people may be quick to make assumptions and to see favoritism or nepotism that’s just not there. It’s a kind of fake news.
- Plan for the worst: What if the relationship ends? You have to remain professional if your workplace relationship comes to an end, no matter what the reason. This can be a difficult time for you, your ex-partner, and your colleagues, especially if you still have to work closely together. An acrimonious split can poison the atmosphere in the workplace, and impact productivity and morale. If you manage your ex-partner, make sure that you don’t discriminate against them, or you and your organization risk being the subject of a grievance procedure. Don’t get involved in “muck-raking” or “washing your dirty linen in public,” even if your former partner does.
Written By: Angela Civitella, a former executive, certified business leadership coach and founder of Intinde.