Communication Tip – Email Strings

I’m sure you’ve been caught up in what seems to be an endless email string. It started off between two people and suddenly there is a host of folks chiming in. Or perhaps one of your team members forwards one to you and says something to the effect of, “see what’s going on?!”

If an issue, complaint, misunderstanding is heading down the email string path, stop it. Pick up the phone. Set up a Skype or Zoom meeting. Walk to their desk. Take them out for coffee or lunch. But stop the email string.

Communicate directly and clearly. The written word is powerful, but it all comes with inherent misunderstandings. Some read an email and pick up a certain “tone” in the words. Others read the same email and don’t. Others see an offensive approach while others don’t.

Jon Acuff in his book, Soundtracks, speaks of direct communication in a couple of ways that I have found to be helpful.

“Curiosity beats criticism.” “My predictions are positive.”

I have had team members and colleagues forward an email string. “See what they said to me?!” Curiosity can say, “Why are they communicating this way? What is the root cause of this issue? Have you talked with this person directly about this?” Encourage your team (and yourself) to lead with curiosity and not criticism. Seek to understand.

This then leads to Acuff’s other point. An email string can be wrought with assumptions. Approaching issues from the positive can begin to break down walls, cease accusations, and come to a common goal – clear communication that leads to results.

I challenge you (and me) to encourage direct communication. Far too much time and money is wasted on incendiary emails that contaminates the workplace. We’re better than that.

Your Mindset Change Can Improve Company Culture

This morning, I started reading a new book, Soundtracks by Jon Acuff. I have been studying how the brain works and how we act/react according to how we think. This book will be providing more insights into that area.

One quote caught my eye today.

“I imagine that everyone I work with is a business partner that I’m trying to help grow. I have 350 partners.”

Every day whether in person or working remotely, we interact with coworkers. Most of the time, these interactions go smoothly. Other times…not so much.

Acuff is pointing out in his book that our brains work off of existing “recordings”, thoughts that we believe (whether they are true or not) and then we act on them. Soundtracks is about replacing old “recordings” with new ones. Doing this brings meaning back to our encounters. It inspires us to move forward looking at life with a fresh perspective.

So today, as you log on in your home office or as you enter your office building (maybe for the first time in a year!), imagine that everyone you work with is a business partner that you are trying to help grow. If you get asked the same question multiple times a day, there is an opportunity to help your business partners grow. If you get caught up in an email string that takes a harsh turn, don’t respond with another email. Pick up the phone. Send out a Skype/Zoom invite. Walk to their desk if you are both onsite. And talk. Listen. Ask questions. Find ways to help them (and you) grow.

Break out of old patterns. Change the “recordings” of old soundtracks and replace them with better ones. You can do this. You can rewire your thinking. It is possible.

The End of Stress: Four Steps to Rewire Your Brain | Emotional intelligence  quotes, Stress, End of year quotes

Asking Great Questions

Have you found yourself in a situation where you needed to get below the conversational surface with a team member but you end up floundering? How about a difficult conversation with your boss? Or a talk you’ve been dreading with a challenging team member?

I highly recommend John Maxwell’s book Good Leaders Ask Great Questions.

I have found this to be more of an ongoing resource than simply another book. I review it often. I use it often. It has helped me in many difficult conversations. It frames a positive environment for me and the other person to have a fruitful discussion. This resource helps move us forward.

John Maxwell is a master at giving us the right words to say at the right time. If you often feel stuck in coaching sessions, this book will free you. It will help you add value to the other person and create a more professional, positive working environment.

Be a Noticer

One of the podcasts I enjoy listening to on my morning walks is “The Professional Noticer” by Andy Andrews. Andy’s podcast is “built around Common Sense, Wisdom, and Laughter.” Andy calls himself a Professional Noticer – someone who pays attention to the great individuals and ideas all around him and then shares that with the rest of us.

This morning on my walk, I was thinking about this. How am I a noticer in life? How can I be a noticer who can bring out the best in others and even myself? What will I “catch” when I begin to notice more. How will my eyes be open to things I haven’t noticed before? How can I notice more of the positive people and things all around me? I certainly don’t need to focus on the negative. And neither do you.

Would you like to be able to “tune” your awareness and mind on the positive life around you? You can do it. In fact, I bet you already have done it before.

When you’ve shopped for and then bought a new car, didn’t you start noticing that car model all around you? Prior to your search and then sale, you probably didn’t pay much attention to that as you drove back and forth to work or to the store. But now that you’re in your new car, you see them everywhere.

There is something at work. It’s called the Baader-Meinof effect. This happens “when your awareness of something increases. This leads you to believe it’s actually happening more, even if that’s not the case.”

Years ago, I challenged a group of managers at work to start noticing yellow cars on the road. For weeks after this challenge, they reported “suddenly” seeing yellow cars. But did those yellow cars really, suddenly appear? No! But their awareness of seeing yellow cars increased and they started noticing them. I then challenged them to notice what our customers were saying in conversations so we could help them save money, make money, save time, and protect their assets better. And my managers did!

So how can we apply the Baader-Meinof effect in our day-to-day lives? How can we become, as Andy Andrews calls it, professional noticers? Try some of these ideas on:

The Team You Lead

Are you focused more on assigning tasks to your team vs noticing how they approach their work, how their family life affects their work life, how their health either helps them or hurts them etc.? Have you noticed subtle comments in a coaching session that gives you a peek into how they feel about themselves, their work, their impact?

Take time in your next coaching session (even it is virtual) to notice something differently than you have in the past. If you are virtual right now, tune up your listening skills. Don’t be afraid to ask, “tell me more about that” if you hear something that you notice might help you help them move forward in their development. Notice personal changes such as a death in the family, moving into a new home, changes in relationships, kids graduating, etc. You can celebrate and understand your team far better when you pay attention to what may seem like the “little” things.

Notice their results and celebrate their wins. Ask them if they noticed how they accomplished their goals. Coach them to see those opportunities and actions that got them there.

Community Leaders

As you network in your community (again, even if it is virtually), notice what is happening in the lives of your community leaders. I find the best tool to use is LinkedIn. If a connection (or even a 2nd or 3rd level connection) has accomplished a milestone, engage with them to share a congratulatory comment. This tells them you noticed!

Read their content. Share their content if you feel it is appropriate. Promote their business. Noticers do more than merely notice. They take action. Action that adds value to the other person.

Strangers

Years ago when my kids were in the middle of their elementary years, we were eating at a local restaurant. I noticed an elderly couple sitting a few tables away from us. I called over their waitress and asked that she allow me to pay for their meal and to keep it anonymous. My daughter, I think she was a 4th grader, seemed appalled by this. “Dad, do you know them?!” I said I did not. “You can’t do that!”

“I certainly can. What I’m doing is a random act of kindness. You guys know what that is, right?” They both said they had talked about that in school. I then asked how do they think the couple will feel when they know that someone paid for their meal that day. My son said, “I’d feel great.” “Now you know why I’m doing this,” I said.

It is amazing what we can do for others when we notice others around us. The sales person at Best Buy who just got yelled at by an unreasonable customer. The Downs Syndrome bagger at Krogers who does his job with an ever-present smile on his face. The barista who always remembers your drink even though you don’t remember her name. The young man who helps an elderly woman who just dropped something and she is now embarrassed.

You’ve witnessed scenes like this, I’m sure. Noticers notice. But noticers can take it one step further. Say something. Walk up to that sales person and assure them that not everyone will be cranky today and that they handled themselves with dignity. Tell that grocery bagger you appreciate them. Look your barista in the eyes and say “thank you” and use their name (I bet they are wearing a name tag). Walk up to that young man and let them you know you noticed his kindness.

For me, I’ve taken in a step further. My wife started a fun little game for us that I’ve expanded on. She created an engaging way to tell me she loves me. You can read about that here (https://smilyspreadlove.com/home/). I have created “coins” that I carry with me. If I notice someone doing a random act of kindness or someone needing a lift in their day, I give them one of the coins. I’ve paid for someone’s McDonald’s in the drive-thru and asked the cashier to give the coin to the driver behind me. I want to encourage them to either spread some love to someone else or know in that moment that they matter.

People love noticers. It validates them. It makes their hearts visible to the world. It makes them – for that moment – believe they matter – and they do!

As we wrap up this crazy year, determine to be a noticer in 2021 and beyond. Tune your mind to become of aware of the great people and things around you. Build someone up. Add value to someone. Spread love.

Staying Connected – We’re Better Together

I produced a video yesterday for our local leadership networking forum, First Fridays Fort Wayne.  I wanted to share the text of what I said on video.  This is all about how we can stay connected during this quarantine environment that we are all hoping ends soon.

child zoon

…We’ve moved meetings and events to Zoom and Skype platforms.  We’ve been entertained by the sound of barking dogs, children asking a parent for something to eat, and squealing brakes of a garbage truck in front of our house while these meetings go on.  We’ve hoped and prayed our internet speed holds up.  We’ve been bombarded with emails, instant messages, and more meetings.

And we do all of this in relative isolation from each other.

We are suffering from what someone in our area has called technology fatigue.

Don’t get me wrong.  Technology is great!  But is cannot ultimately replace the face-to-face interactions that so many of us are missing.

So how can you stay connected professionally during this quarantine?

  1. Talk with another leader outside of your company. Pick up the phone, Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, etc. Literally, talk with someone you were connected with prior to the quarantine.  It does not have to be about work or your career.  Just make a person-to-person contact.  A friend called me the other day to ask some questions.  It was SO GOOD to hear his voice.  We need this kind of interaction.  Just like the old telephone commercial says, “Reach out and touch someone.”  (just don’t physically touch them…we’re not supposed to do that!)  You get the jist…

Contact me

  1. LinkedIn connections. So many of you are on LinkedIn today.  This is a great tool to stay connected.  When you read someone’s post, comment on it.  Send them a message.

 

  1. Write a note and mail it. Let me say that again – write someone a note and mail it.  That still works!  Encourage someone.  Tell them you are thinking of them.  Ask them to pass this idea along and to send someone they know a similar note.

 

  1. Email someone. About once a month, I send a few people an email thanking them for their contribution to our community.  I thank them for how their company is positively impacting us all.  It makes a difference in that person’s life.  Try it.

book                                                          podcast

  1. Recommend a book to read or a podcast to listen to. Do this through your socially media channels.  There are many of us out here who are looking for the next book to read or a podcast that will help us grow.  You can be a resource for someone’s personal, professional growth.

 

  1. Even in the midst of a quarantine, you can network. Attend a First Fridays online event.  As I shared earlier, we have some great online events coming in May. Greater Fort Wayne (our local chamber of commerce) is offering a variety of sessions with flexible times/days to connect with others.  Take advantage of these great opportunities.  Make technology work for you to network!

 

  1. Give back. We all know how devastating this quarantine has been.  So many businesses are at risk of closing never to open again. I’ve driven by small businesses in town seeing their site closed with For Sale signs out front.   Support local businesses in any way you can.  Order carry out from local restaurants.  Buy a t-shirt from them.  Buy other products that they offer.  Recently I order a t-shirt and hand sanitizer from Three Rivers Distillery Company here in Fort Wayne.  It was a simple way to support a local company who has pivoted their business to serve the needs of our community.  It was an investment of $24 from me to do this.

three rivers distillery

 

hand santizer

 

I hope that this quarantine comes to an end very soon.  We need to get our economies going and growing again.  But in the meantime, do what you can to connect with local leaders.

Let’s keep our community’s foundation strong.  Encourage one another.  Help one another.

As my new t-shirt says, “We’re better together.” 

The First 7 Seconds

Change the Way

I am re-reading a great book by Dr. Kathryn D. Cramer and Hank Wasiak.  The book is Change the Way You See Everything.  I’m in the section that talks about creating positive interactions/ relationships with others.  Here is something that should make us all think:

 

“Research confirms that the tone you set (positive or negative) in the first seven seconds of any interaction determines the predominant tone for the remainder of the interaction.  Start well, and you are more likely to end well – even in the face of challenging or disturbing interactions.”

Leading a Remote Workforce

business unusual

We are all navigating in a strange new world with the news changing from day-to-day.  We’ve all had to be nimble and flexible in ways we have not expected.

In a meeting I was in this morning, we were asked what we’ve learned with our team working remotely.  My team is comprised of 3 different departments.  Two are working from home and one is onsite right now.  It has been different, but it has worked.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned from having a remote workforce:

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!

  • We are not setting up a lot of meetings, but we do have the option of using Skype for Business.  It has worked as we use it.
  • I’ve asked my leadership team to communicate when:
    • a process is changing
    • a procedure is changing,
    • when they need help, etc.
  • Missing the face-to-face interactions, we need to become very clear in our emails, instant messaging.  Keep communication simple and focused.
  • Pick up the phone and call to avoid miscommunication that can at times happen in an email.

Get closer.

  • I have been reaching out to individual team members to check on them and their families, find out how remote is working for them, their challenges and how I can help.
  • I send notes and tell team members more than ever how much I appreciate them.
    • I visit our call center and “remote” team in another building to check in on them. I say “Thank you” a lot these days.  Note to self:  when this craziness is over, don’t stop saying “thank you” often.

Working remotely works.

  • Introverts love it.  Extroverts miss their team.
  • But this has worked.  It’s different, but it can work.
  • Collaboration between workers and IT has been critical in making this happen in a secure fashion.

 

I’ve shared with my team that right now, it’s not business as usual, but it’s business unusual.  And we are up to the task.

 

What have you learned?

Outdo One Another…

valentine day

Today is Valentine’s Day.  Here in the US, that means there will be lots of flowers and chocolates and cards given.  Restaurants will be packed with lovers.

 

All this brought to mind a verse from the Bible.  It is in Romans 12:10:

“Love one another in brotherly affection.  Outdo one another in showing honor.”

Now, you may not be a person a faith.  That’s ok.  Stay with me here.

I often tell people who ask that I like my job and love the people I work with.  It’s true.  I’m not perfect in this, but most days and in most moments, it’s true.  It’s what drives me to serve them, to push them to be their best, to cheer them on.

But I want to focus on the second part of this verse – “Outdo one another in showing honor.”

What would happen to your company culture if the majority of the team did exactly this?  I know many of us seem to be in competitions with each other within our companies.  People strive to be the top dog in sales.  Project leaders are looking to excel more than the last project manager.

But what if we all started striving to “outdo one another in showing honor.”  How would conversations sound differently?  How would meetings be run?  How would conversations about someone who is not present sound (would those conversations stop?)?  How would even casual interactions change for the better? How would your company’s culture change?

So, on this Valentine’s Day, I challenge you and me to work to outdo one another in showing honor.  I think this could have a positive, systemic effect in your workplace.  It can become a place where we honor, respect, and appreciate each other.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Get Better in 2020

As we prepare for 2020, take some time to ask yourself some key questions.  When many think of goals, they become overwhelmed by the sheer number of goals they believe they “should” have.

I’ve asked my own leadership team these basic questions.  Try them on for size…

What things have you identified that you need to change to make you a better manager of people?

    • What plans do you have in place to improve on that?
    • How can I help in that process?

What are 2 to 3 things your team – if they really focused on – could make the most positive impact in 2020?

  • What will be your role to help them achieve this?
  • How will your team learn about these focal points?

Take time to document your answers to these questions.  If you lead managers, ask them how you can support them in this process.  Then in coaching sessions, regularly review these questions with your team to keep them on track.

Your doesn’t need dozens of goals. They need focus.  And your support.

Make 2020 a great year for your team !

Keys to Being Focused by Jim Johnson

I came across these notes I wrote over 2 years ago.  I thought I would share them here.

keys

KEYS TO BEING FOCUSED:

  • Understand your goals – what is needed to make your company successful?
  • Align your activity around those goals.
  • Make sure your team understands the corporate goals.
  • Filter – if a project, activity, or attitude doesn’t move you, your team, or the company forward, ditch it.  You don’t have time to waste.