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Creating Successful Leaders

Category Archives: Communication

Seagull screeching the words "Clarity in Communication"

Communication is the lifeblood of all organizations. So much so, there are whole industries built around identifying the divides between people and bridging them to create effective teams. If your co-workers do not understand the goal or details you are trying to convey, it is likely there will be confusion strewn throughout the entire process of your project. Clear communication is not all about group dynamics and personalities. There is a rhyme and reason to the process that can be reflected and improved upon on an individual basis too. If you’re interested in improving your own communicative process, consider the tips below:

1. Pay Attention To Language Preferences

Everybody has language preferences. If you spend enough time in an organization, you’ll likely develop a sense of the different backgrounds people come from, and the type of language that engages them the most easily. Pay attention in meetings and in written correspondence to the way ideas are phrased and the presented. Then, apply your findings to your messaging.

2. Body Language and Volume

Humans are emotional creatures, and we are wired to pick up signals not just from speech, but from the way in which our speech is presented. For example, folded arms can undermine your position when trying to encourage participation and collaboration. Getting loud or using animated facial expressions can be read as excited as easily as intimidating. If people shy away or don’t physically present in a way to you that seems engaged, consider how you might adjust your body language to appear more approachable.

3. Expand Vocabulary

Sometimes clear communication is as simple as developing a greater precision in language. Crack open a thesaurus and study the contextual differences and appropriate use of terms you frequently encounter or use in your organization. There’s nuance in English between similar concepts, so any additional ability to distinguish your meaning can be valuable.

4. Ask Questions

If you are confused by someone’s meaning, do not be afraid to simply ask for clarification. Sometimes it can be intimidating to question a superior or pester a group message with a stream of individual questions. However, your confusion may be shared by the group at large, so being proactive and asking for more information can be beneficial for all. If the questions don’t clarify to your satisfaction, consider asking other colleagues or involving a mediator to get everyone on the same page.

There are a lot of factors that make up clear and effective communication. By using concise language and being more aware of others’ manners and modes, you can implement the changes that will lead to more effective team dynamics. Where there is rapport and understanding, there is success!

Margaret Smith is a career coach, author, Insights® Discovery (and Deeper Discovery) Licensed Practitioner, and founder of UXL. She hosts WORKSHOPS for people who need career or personal guidance.
NOW LIVE: Check out Margaret’s NEW online Leadership Course.

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Pink lotus flower

One of the key leadership attributes in my book, The Ten-Minute Leadership Challenge, is TRUST. I truly believe business and leadership success is built on trust. You need it between co-workers, between supervisors and staff, between the business and its customers. If trust doesn’t exist, the organization flounders and is likely to fail.

One of the ways to build trust is through transparent behavior and communication. It goes beyond honesty and into the realm of integrity. Though honest and integrity may seem like the same thing, they are actually quite different.

Honesty is simply telling the truth. You can tell the truth and still omit information or focus on one part of the big picture. To relate honesty to a work example, think of a check-in meeting you might have with your team. In this meeting, everyone goes around and reports on their project, giving highlights on how things are going. When you have the floor, you talk about one specific part of your project—the only part that is going well. You’re being honest, but are you acting with integrity?

I would argue that, no, you’re not. You’re leaving out the parts of your project that are going poorly and casting yourself only in a positive light. That might get you by for a while, but what happens when your project implodes and you turn in subpar work? What happens when you hit a wall and need to desperately seek help?

This situation calls for more than honesty. It calls for you to be vulnerable and discuss the parts of your project that are leaving you stymied or frustrated. It calls for integrity.

If you act with integrity, you do what you know is best. It may not be easy, but it is right.

In this situation, you might call attention to the areas in which you are struggling. You might set aside your pride and ask for additional resources to help you complete the project as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Another situation in which integrity outweighs honesty has to do with office gossip. If you know a damaging bit of news about a co-worker, you could tell others about it. You’re being honest, right? But are you acting with integrity?

Again, the answer is no. Even though you’re not fabricating the damaging news, just telling it can be harmful. It can erode trust.

That’s the difference between honesty and integrity: Honesty is blunt, truth-telling and integrity involves considering the big picture and attempting to do what is right. Acting with integrity helps create trust.

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Two women meeting over notebooks

If you’re like many people, you dread your annual performance review. It’s not the prospect of getting in trouble, it’s that performance reviews can be just…tedious. They often feel like a distraction–something you have to get out of the way before you can move on with business as usual.

It’s unfortunate that performance reviews have received such a bad reputation because they can be enormously valuable!

Instead of shying away from this year’s performance review, kick yourself into high gear and focus on taking advantage of everything a performance review can and should be. Think of your review as an opportunity to do one or more of the following:

1. Ask for a Raise

According to Grant Sabatier, author of Financial Freedom, one of the best times to ask for a raise is during a performance review. Sabatier says, “Your annual performance review is a natural time to ask because your boss is already thinking about your value to your company. If you come with your market-value research, you are significantly more likely to get a higher raise.”

Just be sure to put together a solid case for asking for a raise (find a few hints in my past blog post), and practice your speech in front of the mirror or to a willing partner. The goal is to sound as confident as possible when making your ask.

2. Identify Weak Points

Performance reviews are a great time to ask critical questions about yourself, your work performance, and what you can do to improve. Think of it as a time to gather as much information as possible to have a successful year ahead.

If you don’t understand or agree with a piece of feedback, don’t argue or get defensive! Simply ask clarifying questions and attempt to understand where the feedback is coming from. If the advice seems sound, develop a plan for putting it into practice.

3. Create Change

It’s easy to complain about everything you don’t like about your workplace behind your boss’ back. Not only is that counterproductive, it can bring down the attitude of the entire office. Instead, keep a list of things you’d like to see changed, tweaked, or eliminated. Be sure to brainstorm potential solutions as well.

When it comes time for your review, present your list to your superior in a respectful, solutions-oriented way. Get excited about the potential changes, and show you’re willing to put in some time to make them happen. Instead of seeming like a complainer, you’ll be viewed as someone who is motivated and bold enough to take initiative to make positive change.

Performance reviews don’t have to be a slog. Think of them as opportunities to carve out a better year for yourself and the workplace. Get excited for your next review and start planning the conversation you’d like to have with your boss. Here’s to a self-made year!

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have a productive debate at work

Team dynamics can’t always be 100% collaborative. When an office encounters external challenges, like a change in size or shift in industry focus, argument and individual vision can become important points of engagement to keep a team productive and cooperating as a whole unit.     

Productive debate is a form of healthy communication, and making sure everyone understands the same ground rules for conducting those debates is important. When there is a problem that can’t be solved with a short conversation, co-workers need to be prepared to present their viewpoints in a way that remains approachable and non-combative. Shane Snow talks about some of these strategies in a recent article in the Harvard Business Review.

So what are the ways to have a productive debate at work?

Having a facilitator who remains fair and impartial can provide a strong foundation for such events. Usually, a manager or supervisor can take on this role, but team members may find it appropriate to select a different candidate. There should be a consensus on who is directing the conversation.

No personal attacks. All debate stops the moment your team members begin to react defensively. It is impossible to weigh decisions with logic and reason when folks are emotionally threatened or wild. Keep talking points centered around the problem that is being discussed.

Reinforce to team members that you are sharing solutions. There may be information that is shared throughout the course of the debate that changes someone’s position or opinion, and that is okay. There are no sides that need to be taken. You are striving for an honest and meaningful solution to a problem. If somebody with an opposing viewpoint shares an idea that you agree with, be sure you acknowledge the position. Compromise or consensus is more likely when people feel heard.

Remain curious throughout the process. You’re likely to learn something new about your team members through uncomfortable or contentious subjects. Try to frame these lessons as positive incentives, and encourage your team to participate and act in good faith. A team’s real strength lies in the ability to navigate conflict.

The desire to avoid debate is easy to understand, but arguing productively is essential to any team’s growth and learning process. Keep a level head and you’ll go from 12 Angry Men to 12 Contented Team Members.

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It’s easy to say yes. We naturally aim to please our co-workers and supervisors; we want to look good in the eyes of the company and get that raise or earn that promotion. But saying yes can be dangerous. If you say yes to everything—every assignment, every request, every invitation—you’ll end up stretching yourself too thin and you’ll possibly end up taking on work that isn’t in your sweet spot or doing things that go against your code of ethics.

Though I’m a proponent of trying new things and being agreeable, there are times when it is in your best interest to give a firm N-O. Here are three scenarios where saying “No” is the best course of action (accompanied by three strategies to pull it off):

1. You have too much on your plate.

If you feel your workload growing out of control and can tell the quality of your work is sharply declining, it’s time to say no. How to do it? The next time your project leader tries to assign you something new, do not immediately say yes. Arrange to meet one-on-one (it is much easier to reason with someone one-on-one than in a group) and lay out your reasons for not wanting to take on the project.

Be prepared. Make a spreadsheet that clearly displays the projects you are currently tackling and how much time you spend each day on each project. Also, come into the meeting with a counter-proposal in mind. If you know of someone else who might have the capacity (and desire) to take on the project, suggest that person to your project leader (be sure to get that individual’s approval ahead of time).

Alternatively, you could suggest a future date that would work for you to start the project (i.e. “I’m busy from now until the end of the May, but I could start working on this project in June.”)

2. You are being given work that is not in your “sweet spot.”

This is a tough one, but ultimately, if you are constantly handed work that does not align with your areas of expertise, you are doing both your company and yourself a disservice. Your company won’t receive the best possible work and you’ll be straying from your career goals.

So, how to say no? Again, a one-on-one meeting with your supervisor is helpful in this situation. Explain to her what your ultimate goals are and what kind of projects you prefer. One of the best things you can do in this situation is approach it with confidence and decisiveness. Know where you’d like to be heading and explain, confidently, how you’d like to get there.

Ultimately, if your company is not supportive of your career goals (or if you find that the type of work you do consistently does not align with your sweet spot), it is time to start searching for something new, either inside or outside your current company.

3. Saying yes compromises your values.

There are times when it just does not feel good to say yes. Perhaps you agree to attend a late-night strategy session, knowing that your daughter has a piano recital that night. Or perhaps a co-worker dumps several assignments on your lap that are really her responsibility, not yours. Or maybe you’ve had to sacrifice your health or nightly down-time because of all the projects you’ve agreed to do. Whatever the case, sometimes saying yes is simply not the right decision.

How to say no? First of all, know your priorities. Does your family come first? Your health? Your mental wellbeing? When one of the things that’s important in your life becomes compromised, it’s time to say no. Keep an open line of communication with your boss and let him know when you feel like work is tipping the scales of your work-life balance.

And another thing: think before you say yes. Always take a moment to pause, assess the situation, and make a deliberate decision. If that means waiting a day or two to mull over the pros and cons, so be it. Ultimately, you need to feel good about agreeing to do something before you say “yes.”

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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questions to build trust in leadership

It may seem surprising, but asking questions can actually make you a more trustworthy leader. Questions do not diminish your authority or make you appear weak. Rather, by asking the right questions, you can gain valuable insight, open the floor for more meaningful conversations, and demonstrate that you respect your team.

Which questions are the “right questions?” The simple answer is: open-ended questions that stimulate conversation and don’t presuppose an answer. A question such as “Don’t you think Client X would benefit from our new product?” is not open-ended and not productive. It is only searching for agreement, not a true dialogue.

Instead, try asking questions that begin with words like How, What, or Why. These question words typically allow for a wide range of answers, not just a yes or no response.

The other half of asking good questions is practicing active listening. Leaders build trust by seeking their team’s thoughts, opinions, and ideas, and listening closely to the answers they give. This show of respect is integral to building trust

Next time you’re in a meeting (either with your entire team or a single individual) try asking some trust-building questions. Here are 10 to get you started—choose ones that are applicable to your team and situation.

  1. What resources do you need to complete your task?
  2. What is holding you/us back from success?
  3. How can I help?
  4. What are some possible solutions you envision?
  5. Who/what are we lacking to achieve success?
  6. What can I do to help foster more creativity?
  7. Why do you think                            is happening?
  8. What are your current frustrations?
  9. What is our biggest risk in this endeavor? What is the Plan B?
  10. Is this assignment a good fit for your talents? (Why or why not?)
  11. How does this add value to our mission?
  12. What effects will this decision have?
  13. How can we improve                     ?
  14. What opportunities can bolster our business?
  15. What else would you like me to know?

This is just a sampling of the questions you can ask your team. Get curious. Involve them in decision-making. Ask good questions and build trust.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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When you hear the word “networking,” what comes to mind? Do you see yourself with sweaty palms and anxiety pressing on your chest? Do you picture people wearing phony smiles and handing out business cards like free samples at the grocery store? Do you think about making awkward small talk over a soup and salad lunch?

Networking doesn’t have to be this way! In fact, it shouldn’t be this way. When done properly, networking is all about helping one another and making valuable connections. It isn’t about forcing business cards onto those who aren’t interested in your services. It isn’t about trying to frantically gather as many new connections as possible. It’s about quality interactions that are mutually beneficial.

To overcome your mental barriers, actually enjoy (gasp!) networking, and start making valuable connections, try using the following guidelines at your next event. Who knows, the next person you meet could propel your career, offer important guidance or support, or connect you with yet another person who can help you meet your career goals.

1. Reframe Your Thinking

Give networking a new name! Instead of thinking of it as “networking,” think of it as bridge-building, growing your community, or meeting interesting new people. By reframing the way you think about networking, you can overcome some of the mental obstacles associated with it.

2. Always Aim To Provide Value

Don’t try to sell your services to someone who clearly does not need them. Your goal should be to provide value to other people, to figure out how you might be able to help them. Ask questions to unearth needs and discover whether or not your skillset or offerings align with their requirements.

3. Create A Tagline

Businesses have their own slogans and taglines—McDonalds has “I’m Lovin’ It,” Nike has “Just Do It,” Maybelline has “Maybe she’s born with it; maybe it’s Maybelline.” These are phrases that stick in your head because they’re punchy and give you some sense of the brand’s image and values. Create your own career tagline to describe what you do. It should be straightforward, but memorable. Some examples are:

“I write business content, so you don’t have to”

“I build beautiful websites with personality”

“I make social media marketing easy”

4. Ask Good Questions

A great way to open the floor for a positive interaction is to ask questions. Be genuinely curious about the other person and learn about what they do, their interests, and how you might be able to help them. Ask open-ended questions (typically, questions that start with “How,” “What,” or “Why”) and actively listen to the answers.

Asking questions can help you learn about the other person’s personality and their business needs. It allows you to play off their social cues and lets them drive the conversation. In other words, it’s the perfect tactic for anyone who suffers from networking anxiety!

Showing an interest in others is not only good for building your personal image (others will see you as generous and curious), it’s also a great way to do some detective work. Just don’t forget to tell the other person a little bit about yourself as well!

5. Follow Up

You’ve put in all the legwork to connect with others—don’t let it go to waste! Make a concerted effort to follow up at least a couple times, add your new connection to your email list, and befriend them on LinkedIn. In other words, make yourself present in their sphere. Even if they do not need your services at the moment, they may need them eventually.

Get out there and make this year your best bridge-building year yet! Keep in mind that you’re probably not the only one with networking jitters. Do your best to relax and ask good questions, and you’ll put both yourself and others at ease. You’ve got this!

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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