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Creating Successful Leaders

Category Archives: Tips for Improving Interactions

*This post was originally published in 2015 and has been modified slightly.

Clarity in Communication

Having clarity comes in two parts. You have to give clarity and ask for clarity. If you are in charge of a project or leading a team, don’t assume that everyone already knows your expectations. Make those expectations clear and leave room for others to ask questions. Put yourself in others’ shoes and anticipate the questions they might ask. Then, practice giving the answers, or at least jot out a few thoughts on how to answer the questions.

On the flip side, if you’re on the receiving end of a project or initiative, don’t be afraid to ask clarifying questions. It is much better to make sure your idea of the project’s end state aligns with the actual anticipated end state then to muddle your way through it and hope you’re doing what’s expected of you. One good way to make sure you completely understand your assignment is to repeat back what you think you heard. Something like: “Okay, Bill. It sounds like you’re saying we need to come up with a better social media marketing strategy for product X, and we have two weeks to get you a proposal. Is that correct?”

Having Clarity is one of the chapters in my book, The Ten Minute Leadership Challenge, and I go into much more detail in those pages about how to give and ask for clarity.

I’ve also made a short video about Having Clarity based off the principles outlined in my book. Enjoy!

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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support working moms

We’ve all heard it – being a mom is a full time job. So what do you do when you already have a 40 hours per week gig, and then you get motherhood thrown into the blender? You get a mess, that’s what. You get a toddler in a panda bear suit, trying to make a bamboo smoothie in your kitchen.

Transitioning to parenthood is like the terrifying transition years of junior high all over again, but amplified by the high stakes pressure of being responsible for the emotional, physical, and mental wellbeing of another human being.

You might be thinking: What could I possibly do to support the working moms in my office? Where do I even begin?

As a coworker, manager, or leader, YOU have many opportunities to be a role model when it comes to supporting the moms on your team. Below are four ways to get started.

1. Respect That Babies Have Priority

We get it, you don’t want your meeting interrupted by a mom stepping out to take a phone call from her child’s teacher, babysitter, or pediatrician. We get that when a woman is at work, you want her to be working. The desire is a reasonable one, but here’s the thing: moms don’t get to clock out of the mom job from nine to five. No matter what time of day or night it is, that mom (and dad) are the ones ultimately responsible for what is happening with their child. They don’t get to delegate the task to someone else. And when it comes to the wellbeing of your meeting, or the wellbeing of a child, I hope you’ll agree that the child is priority.

2. Respect That Babies Are Out Of Control

As an adult you probably feel at times that you have lost control of things. Your car, phone, friends, or waistline won’t cooperate. This is normal. No one is ever going to have their life tied up neatly with a bow. Now, add in a child and the chaos amplifies.

Babies are chaos masters. They wreak adorable havoc on almost everything they encounter. And that’s fine—it’s what they’re supposed to do. So when mom calls in to say she’s late because little peanut threw up on her as she was walking out the door, you must understand this is unavoidable. Don’t huff and puff and sigh when she comes in late. That mom didn’t want to be late to work either. She certainly wasn’t expecting the vomit, or she would have wrapped herself in trash bags.

3. Respect that Mom is Trying Her Best

Believe me, if a mother is working after having a baby, which is no small feat, then she is working because she wants to be working. With the cost of child care, it often makes little financial sense to return to work after a baby. So mom is there because this job means something to her. The dividing of motherhood and professional responsibilities is not easy for moms.

Working mothers make hard choices on how to use their time every day. Be supportive. Be encouraging. Be vocal about the things that are going well. Ask how you can assist in helping other things run smoother. Appreciation goes a long way in maintaining a valuable asset.

4. Respect That Improvement Takes Time

We are human. We all want things to be comfortable and convenient, and we struggle when we don’t get those things right away. Understandable. Who likes a rough patch? No one likes it when their smooth-running life hits a glitch. But no matter what, the rough patch is going to come. And this is true in business as well.

Returning to work after a baby is definitely a transition period. Mothers have to learn an entirely new way of being employees. It’s not easy to retrain yourself, or come to terms with your new reality. Give mothers time.

Good change takes time. Let them have the space to find the best way to do their job in their new situation. You’ll receive the payback for years to come when you have a master problem-solver on your hands.

 

Gone are the days when mothers have to stay home. Now, women get to work, and I hope we can all agree this is a benefit for everyone involved. After reaching this milestone, our next task is to make it better. Better for the company, the coworkers, the parent, and the child. With a little creativity and a little patience for the curve balls of life, I think the task of supporting new mothers in the workplace is not only feasible, but worthwhile as well.

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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Compromises that work

Ever witnessed a child being told they must share their toys with another child? Their reaction to this news wasn’t too pretty, was it?

Although we’ve grown to understand that the world doesn’t revolve around us and we don’t always get our way, that small child’s voice is still inside us, protesting whenever things don’t go how we want them to.

But the truth is, in order to lead in any real sense of the word, you must learn the art of making compromises. But how do you effectively make a compromise? How do you ensure that both parties feel satisfied with the outcome?

  1. Express yourself fully, and listen intently. Explain your reasoning behind your viewpoint. Often our views are skewed by our emotions, which makes it harder to make effective decisions. Articulating your view to another person forces you to take a good long look at your position, and in many cases this allows you to see where your view may not be perfect. On the same token, listen to what the other person is actually saying, not what you think they’re saying. Hear them out before you rush to judgment. Open communication is crucial to getting things done.
  2. Think from the other person’s perspective. If it continues to be difficult for you to accept the other person’s position, do your best to put yourself in their shoes. What’s the reasoning behind their thoughts, ideas, and opinions? Even if you disagree, can you see why they hold these views?
  3. Be committed to results. Compromising pushes two opposing viewpoints past a gridlock into a region where they can move from ideas into actions. In this way, compromise is one of the most powerful tools we have to getting results. A compromise is a mature way of acknowledging that we can never fully get what we want all the time, but we can get more of what we want if we work together to achieve it.
  4. Be prepared to be disappointed, but give it time. At first, you might only see what you didn’t get out of a compromise. This is understandable, but don’t give up on it just yet. In the long term, compromising pays off for both parties, as you’ve established an alliance and proven to one another that you are capable of working together and taking steps forward.

Have a great week!

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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Speaking Tips to Build Confidence

As a coach, one of my focuses is on courage. In fact, I’ve developed a whole keynote (and even a little video) around the topic. Tapping into your courage isn’t always easy to do. We each have certain stumbling blocks that make us feel anything but courageous. For some people, it’s speaking.

Whether presenting in front of a group, or simply meeting with your manager in a one-on-one meeting, having polished speaking skills can help you succeed. When you’re articulate and confident, you can convey your ideas with clarity, improve your leadership, build relationships, and better interact with customers and co-workers. In short, having excellent speaking skills makes you seem more promotion-worthy (and who doesn’t want that?).

So, how do you improve your speaking skills and start expressing yourself with confidence?

It won’t happen overnight, but with time and conscious practice, you’ll be able step into any room and clearly communicate your thoughts. Start with these nine tips:

1. Prepare

Usually, you’ll have some kind of idea of what you’re going to have to talk about. Whether you’re speaking up at a meeting or going over your latest project with your manager, it’s a good idea to make a few notes about what you’d like to say and do whatever research you need to do. Anticipate questions and have answers prepared—but don’t be afraid to go off-script if necessary.

2. Pace Yourself

Confident speakers have careful pacing. They don’t speak too quickly, so that others can’t catch what they’re saying, and they don’t speak too slowly and completely lose their audience’s interest. The trick is to find your happy medium and while you’re at it…

3. Enunciate

Have the confidence to speak clearly. Practice your enunciation in front of a mirror or with a partner and make sure you’re sounding strong, instead of canned.

4. Listen

It may seem counterintuitive, but some of the best speakers are also excellent listeners. They pay attention to what other people are saying and respond in-kind. If, for instance, someone is expressing concern to you, it’s a good idea to acknowledge and address that concern. Remember: words are only part of the picture. Body language, vocal inflection, and other visual cues can help determine what’s on the speaker’s mind.

5. Empathize

Aim for understanding. When you have some kind of idea of what the other person is thinking or feeling, it will be easier to talk with that person on their level.

Part of empathy may involve asking clarifying questions to make sure you’re understanding the other person’s point of view.

6. Have a personality

Everyone’s speaking style is unique. You might be more boisterous or reserved. You might prefer more formal or casual language. Just make sure your best authentic self is shining through.

7. Cut convo fillers

Those “Ums” and “Ahs” and “You knows” can be distracting and can make you seem less confident. Practice eliminating them from your speech.

8. Put away distractions

When you’re speaking, give your full self. Put away your phone and pay attention. You might be surprised by the nuances you can pick up and then feed off of when it’s your turn to speak.

9. PRACTICE

As I mentioned above, it takes time to become an accomplished speaker. If you flop at first, don’t give up! Continue to engage others, practice your statements in front of a mirror, and keep at it. Try not to measure your progress against others, but regularly check in with yourself and recognize your personal progress. Did I mention, KEEP AT IT?

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 your manager is difficult

They’re always wearing a frown, criticizing staff, and shooting down ideas. They are a storm cloud, blocking out sunny moods and lightheartedness. They are difficult managers.

Many of us have had the unfortunate experience of dealing with a difficult manager at some point or another. It’s amazing how a single person can sour the mood of an office, isn’t it? Their callous attitude can bring everyone down, deflate motivation, and squash innovation and creativity.

How can you possibly defeat such an energy vampire? Isn’t it easier to simply quit your job and find better management elsewhere?

Even though it can sometimes be difficult to overcome an unsupportive manager, there are a few methods you can try before raising the white flag and heading somewhere else. Start with the following five tips:

Remain calm

The way you react to your manager can have a profound effect. If you return a snippy attitude with snippiness, or if you return anger with anger, you’ll only end up more frustrated. Instead, work on detaching yourself from your manager’s poor attitude. The next time he riles you up, remove yourself from the situation (physically or mentally), count to ten, and think about the encounter logically. Is it worth it to respond in kind? Probably not. Instead, find your inner calm and return childish behavior with calm reason.

Refocus

Although it may take significant effort on your part, it is best to focus on a task, not the criticism. Unless your manager has good reason for her critiques, it is best to let them slide off your back. Strategize and forge ahead as best you can, keeping the goal—not the criticism—at the center of your mind.

Be direct, if possible

Sometimes, it’s a good idea to be direct with your manager. If one of his criticisms seems off-base, ask him to explain what he means and how you and your team can perform better next time. Alternatively, you might try bringing up your feelings in a one-on-one meeting with your manager. Let him know how you’re feeling, why you’re feeling that way, and what would make the situation better. Use the D4 model of feedback as a guide and be sure to bring up specific examples.

You’ll have to be brave to directly face your manager, but honestly, what do you have to lose? Sometimes a direct approach can be a breath of fresh air. It’s possible your manager is unaware of the profound effect of his words and actions and simply needs someone to point it out.

And if your directness completely flops? It may be a sign that it’s time to move on to greener pastures (but be sure to consult a career coach before doing anything too drastic!)

Have perspective

An article by Liz Ryan of Forbes Magazine encourages us to see our difficult managers as minor parts in our lives. She says, “Eventually you reach a point where no manager can make you fearful, because you realize that any boss is just a bit player in your movie. You are the director and the star. You could leave any boss at any moment and it wouldn’t kill you — it wouldn’t be ideal perhaps, but you’ll survive. Keep that in mind!”

Ask what you can do better, specifically

It’s possible your manager’s expectations are simply not aligning with your work. The only way to find out is to ask for specific feedback on specific projects. Small changes in your work may have a big impact on your boss’ attitude.

Be empathetic

If your manager suddenly becomes more grim and angry than usual, it’s possible she’s going through a rough patch in her personal life. Many of us leave our personal struggles at home and cover up hardships as best we can in the workplace. This might be the case with your difficult boss. With that in mind, be empathetic and understanding. Don’t take harsh words too personally. Remain calm and talk to your boss as an individual, not as a brutish machine, out to get you. Your empathy may make all the difference.

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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The power of vocal inflection

We’d all like to think that what we say is important. When we stand up to give a presentation or if we’re talking with a friend or significant other, we hope that others are listening to what we’re saying.

But the what is not necessarily as important as the how.

How you deliver your words can matter just as much (or more!) than what you say. No matter how compelling your message, if you say it in an unenthusiastic or irritated way, others will pick up on your tone, rather than what you are saying.

Take the simple phrase “Dinner’s ready.”

Let’s say you get home from work and you decide to prepare a nice meal for yourself and your family. You cook up a couple dishes from scratch and time everything perfectly so that your entrée comes out of the oven at the same time that you’ve finished making your sides. You’re pleased as punch with how your meal turned out and you can’t wait to share it with your family.

At this point, you call out in a sing-song voice, “Dinner’s ready!”

No reply.

Your spouse, your children are upstairs doing who-knows-what. But you don’t feel like hunting them down, so you busy yourself with doing a few dishes while you wait for them to come down.

Five minutes.

Ten.

When you call for your family again, the cheeriness is out of your voice completely. It’s been replaced by a loud, curt, and semi-dangerous tone:

“DINNER IS READY.”

You’d better believe your family will come running this time!

The lesson here is that vocal inflection matters. It conveys how serious you are about something. It demonstrates your enthusiasm (or lack of). It has the power to energize a room or put everyone to sleep.

Next time you’re about to interact with someone or lead a team meeting, think about your tone of voice. Practice your speech in front of a mirror. In most cases, you’ll want to sound energized, but not over-the-top. Cheery, but authentic. The only exception is if you’re speaking about a serious issue that requires more gravity. Use common sense and let your tone match the message.

For more tips on how to be a compelling speaker, take a look at these blog posts:

https://uxlblog.com/2016/10/05/let-your-voice-be-heard/

https://uxlblog.com/2016/03/09/10-ways-to-have-a-better-conversation/

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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gain control of conversation

Have you ever been in a situation where the conversation went off the rails? Maybe you were trying to talk to a client about a new product and they insisted on talking about politics or their latest family vacation. Or maybe you were leading a meeting and your team began to stray from the topic at hand. Or maybe every time you talk with a particularly chatty co-worker, it’s difficult to get a word in edgewise.

What do you do?

Start with these 5 steps:

1. Believe that your voice counts

Enter every conversation with the confidence that your voice (your thoughts, ideas, and opinions) matters. Believe in what you have to say and you will find a way to bring it up in the conversation. Keep in mind: there’s a difference between confidence and arrogance. What you have to say is important, but it’s not the only opinion that counts. Your listening ear is just as important as your voice.

2. Acknowledge what the other person is saying

It’s important to let the other party know that, yes, you hear what they have to say. You can also use this tact as a way to step in and take control of the conversation. For example:

“What I hear you saying, Bill, is that you’d like to implement more customer service surveys. I think that’s a great idea that warrants more discussion. I’d like to focus on that more during our next meeting so that we give the topic the time it deserves. In the meantime, let’s finish going over our quarterly reports and see what other ideas crop up…”

3. Keep your audience engaged

What you have to say is important; make sure your audience hears it! Instead of lecturing at others, make an effort to engage them. Ask questions, request feedback, and ask your audience if any clarification is needed. Make others a part of what you’re doing, not just passive observers.

4. Be direct

Oftentimes, the best way to refocus a conversation is to be direct. Acknowledge what the other party is saying (see tip #2) and then transition into what you’d like to say. Your interaction may go something like this:

“Your family vacation sounds great, Susan, and I’d love to discuss it more tomorrow, but I’m afraid I have to shift the conversation back to business…”

 

Remember: What you have to say is important! Don’t sell yourself short. Have the confidence to interject when necessary (in a tactful way!) and let your voice be heard.

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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