IMPROVE COMMUNICATION SKILLS AT WORK

We are experts in effective business communication, leadership skills training and interpersonal skills training. Ever try to write a presentation and not know how to start? Ever deal with an incompetent boss? Ever feel you were about to cry in front of your boss? Ever start to interview someone and not to know what to ask? Ever want to confront a coworker?

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RECENT BLOG POSTS

Um….Did You Get My Email?

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Yes, it’s so irritating not to get a quick reply to an email. We’re so accustomed to instant responses that it’s frustrating to wait. Maybe our email went into spam? Maybe it has been hijacked by the MAILER DAEMON? And we all feel that way, so the people you don’t write back to feel that way about you as well. So how long is OK to keep people waiting?

In pre-internet days (some of us remember, right?) many professionals had a 24-hour rule for returning phone messages. It wasn’t always easy, but it was the mark of respect to respond within a single day. How many of us follow the 24-hour rule with email? What practices do you follow for timely responses? At what point do you feel disrespected when you don’t receive a response?

A day is probably a good rule of thumb. If an email is too complex for one-day turn around, consider a quick “I received your email but need some time to work on responding.”

You Have a BlackBerry! Wow, You Must be Important!

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You’re in a meeting and your BlackBerry vibrates in your pants. You’re about to look under the table discreetly to see who’s texting or emailing you. “No,” you say to yourself, “I can wait till the end of the meeting. I have self control.” The VP next to you is droning on about the minute details of your upcoming product launch. The anticipation is killing you. “OK,” you rationalize self-importantly. “No one will notice. Besides, the message is likely to be critical.”

Sorry bub, you blew it.

Here are some BlackBerry etiquette guidelines:

1. Never be rude. Turn your BlackBerry off or put it on vibrate in meetings or lunches, and don’t check messages or take calls unless you warn other people beforehand that you’re expecting a critical message. And step out of the room if you get it.

2. Suggest taking message breaks every hour so everyone can check messages. Chances are you’re not the only self-important person in the room.

3. Let your boss know when and why you’ll be incommunicado. You’ll be more relaxed if you’ve prepared.

4. Set limits on off-business-hours use. Yes, your workaholic boss may be online 24/7, but you deserve some private time. Try to check messages only once twice over the weekend.

When You Really Want to Say “Shut up, Already!”

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A colleague of mine manages a team of several people that works to promote a membership organization. One of the team members is not too happy, and criticizes the organization in the team meetings. In addition, he has refused requests to represent the organization publicly saying his unhappiness will creep through in his speeches and talks. His negativity affects the team, and undermines the members’ promotional goals. As team leader, what should my colleague do?

1. Have a private conversation with Mr. Unhappy. Let him vent a bit. Who knows? He might be on to something that can be fixed or improved.

2. Let him know that his negative comments at meetings are affecting the team. He’s entitled to his views, but can choose not to share them at the meetings.

3. Ask him if working with this team, given it’s promotional objectives, is really how he wants to spend his time. Must be frustrating, after all…certainly for the team, but probably for him, too.

Having a 3-part message ready to deliver for this conversation will help my colleague prepare…

How about “(1) When you speak negatively and at length in meetings about your experiences, such as XXXXX and YYYYY, (2) it frustrates me, (3) because it demoralizes the team and delays us from working towards our goals.”

Reply-To-All HELL

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I recently received an email asking everyone on a large distribution list if anyone had a business relationship with a high-level person at a certain organization. Within minutes some stranger emailed me, “No, sorry, I don’t.”

On another occasion, a client hit reply-to-all on an email about a scheduling issue and told several people (including me) that we really better talk to an employee before she speaks to the IRS. Yikes–a bit of an oversight since I shouldn’t have been included on that one.

Then there’s the famous story of a summer intern who thought he was emailing only a buddy about why he hated his job so much. Whoops—the email went to all the senior partners.  Be careful about reply-to-alls:

1. Only use reply-to-all when every member a group needs to know your message,

2. In some instances reply only to the sender and add on a few relevant cc’s,

3. Never use reply-to-alls to say, “Thanks!”, “No problem!,” or “I’ll bring cookies!”

The Spirits of the Holidays Can Haunt You….

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Holiday time means holiday parties with end-of-year relief and merriment. Just remember not to go too far. There’s no greater buzz kill for this festive time than to realize you behaved inappropriately in front of your boss or co-workers the night before.

1. Limit your drinking. You know your limit, right? Keep track.

2. Keep moving at cocktail parties. Everyone knows these parties are for mingling, so don’t feel shy about moving along after ten or fifteen minutes.

3. Be polite to spouses and significant others. Asking about holiday plans is pleasant conversation for anyone you don’t know. Don’t ignore people who are important to the people who are important to you.

4. Choose a departure time in advance. Set your cell phone alarm to remind you of your plan and enable you to make a graceful exit.

That being said, spend time with your friends and family where you can genuinely relax and enjoy the magic of the season without self-consciousness.

I’ll Just Blend in with the Wallpaper, Thank You

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Team members are encouraged to participate in meetings to demonstrate how they can add value to their teams. Many introverted people I work with, however, struggle with speaking up. While I would never try to change someone’s personality type, I like to remind shy types that aggressive people often make judgments about people’s quiet styles and easily write them off. It’s important, then, to make yourself heard.

Here are some tips for people who’d rather sit in the back row:

1. Set a goal when you go to any meeting to say just two things that you feel will have an impact.

2. Don’t worry if you have not fully thought through a point; state your idea in the meeting and then offer to follow up with a fleshed- out version in an e-mail.

3. During a meeting look for opportunities to demonstrate your listening skills by recapping what people have said.

Increase Your Value by 50%!

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Warren Buffett addressed a gathering of graduate business students at Columbia recently and gave them some guidance and advice. “Improve your communication skills,” he told them, “and you will increase your personal value by 50%.” Of course he knows the importance of effective communication, as well as the value of lots of other stuff. And his advice is consistent with what I hear from students and clients time and time again.

The thing about “communication skills” is that it covers so much. When we hear the phrase “communication skills,” I think many of us immediately think of public speaking, and that’s a big one. But it’s so much more: writing, listening, negotiating, managing meetings, delivering feedback, coaching, managing conflict, and the list goes on and on. In fact, when you try to figure out the pieces, you realize that leadership is mostly about effective communication. Leadership can take a lot of forms, but it all comes down to connecting with others. Leaders build relationships, motivate and inspire. Like Warren Buffett.

Thanks, Mr. Buffett.

“That’s impossible. There’s nothing I can do.”

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Almost nothing annoys me more than hearing those sentences. Sure, there are instances when the answer really is “impossible.” (Can you raid the corporate treasury this afternoon? How about some insider trading?) But no one likes to work with someone who isn’t willing to help solve a problem. Here are some tips on what you could say instead of: “That’s our policy; you’ll have to talk to my manager.”

1. Acknowledge someone’s frustration: “That does sound annoying.” “No wonder you’re upset.”

2. Show willingness to help: “Let’s see if we can figure this out.” “I’m sure we can come up with something.”

3. Be honest about your limitations: “Our system won’t give us access.” “I have a meeting at noon.”

4. Make sure the person is satisfied: “Will that help you for right now?”  ”Please let me know how it turns out.”

I have some other tips, but it’s not my job to tell them.

Looking Good in an Interview

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We’ve gotten a lot of response about our videos. Many people have asked about advice for Leslie, the interviewee, in the interview scenario. While Leslie’s answers were particularly lame, let me touch here on some interviewing non-verbals.

I work with a lot of people preparing for interviews, and I always try to videotape them during a mock interview so people can see their own non-verbal behavior. Erratic and infrequent eye contact, smirks, lip biting and other distracting and off-putting habits are not unusual for people to exhibit when they are trying to figure out what to say in response to a challenging or unexpected question. Since an interview can have the perceived informality of a conversation, many people don’t think about these facial expressions or about they way they sit in the chair. While relaxing in the chair is fine, slumping and slouching, or leaning heavily onto the arm chair, are not.

Finally, there is the all important handshake to begin and end an interview.  At the risk of spreading the flu, I encourage people to practice their handshakes and ask for feedback. A confident grip and strong triple pump, along with a smile and direct eye contact goes a long way. A limp or sweaty handshake can be a real turn off.

It’s Easy to Criticize

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“Harry’s idea is completely inane.”

It’s easy to make strong critical statements like those in meetings or in emails. But are you really helping your client, your manager or your team?

You may feel good about yourself for coming up with a strong and definitive comment. But managers get particularly frustrated when they hear statements like those because 1) you’re not providing a reason for your opinion and 2) you’re not providing a strategic alternative.

So what should you say? Instead of “Harry’s idea is completely inane,” you could say, “I don’t think Harry’s idea about using soda straws to suck up all this loose hair will be very effective because we’d need a lot of straws and we could choke on the hair.”

That’s the first part, giving a reason for your opinion. But don’t just end there; you need to provide a strategic alternative.

How about the following: “I think we should call HairNoMore, which will use a proven method of complete loose hair cleaning. The $59 fee will be well worth the peace of mind. And there is no risk of choking.”

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