IMPROVE COMMUNICATION SKILLS AT WORK

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RECENT BLOG POSTS

Socialize this!

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I received many emails about my blog post “Brilliant Scheme,” which translated some Britishisms to American English. Most people (mainly the Brits) wanted me to translate some Americanisms back. Interestingly, the words they suggested I translate are typical bad business buzzwords that I recommend people on both sides of the Atlantic avoid altogether. Here are some:

1. “Let’s socialize this plan.” Where I come from “socialize” (or in the UK ”socialise”) means “to mix socially,” or “to party down.” Recently, the word has been used in some organizations to mean “talk to people to get consensus.”

2. “Circle back when you’re done.” Don’t spin around or anything, it just means, “Get back to me.”

3. “Reach out to Sally.” Before you contact, uh, reach out to HR and complain about employee harassment, recognize that “reach out” seems to have replaced what we used to do, which is call or email. I don’t recommend reaching out too much; be more specific about what you want someone to do. Besides, some people don’t like to be touched. And you have to watch out for germs.

The Email Subject Line is Important

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Emails that lack subject lines, or have generic one- or two-word subject lines, are frustrating to receive. Many of us get hundreds of emails a day. Non-specific subject lines are time-wasters for email readers who are sifting through many emails trying to pick out the urgent and actionable ones.

Write something specific in the subject lines of the emails you send. Tell your reader the gist of the message and the action you expect. Many readers sift through emails on handhelds and detailed subject lines facilitate out-of-the-office reading and responding. Your emails will get quicker attention and faster responses. And you may be surprised at your own ability to distill your message into a short phrase.

Are Colleagues Facebook-Friend-Worthy?

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Some of my clients and colleagues have become Facebook friends, and I’ve learned about more about some of them that I thought I’d ever want to know: Nice bathing suit! Bet that bar really WAS fun! So glad you enjoyed your weekend at home alone with your wife! Ah, if you were a sandwich you’d be a grilled cheese! Good to know!

Social networking sites can be a great tool, and many organizations use them as a way for co-workers to share ideas and stay in touch. However, real-time posts and embarrassing pictures may reveal more about you than your colleagues and boss should know. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend rejecting a friend request from a co-worker or boss, but I’d think carefully about what information you share.

  1. Change your Facebook settings so that you restrict which people can your full profile. Also, edit who can see your wall posts since you can’t control what some of your friends will want to write on your wall.
  2. Watch out for posting strongly worded messages, which could offend your current or future coworkers.
  3. Suggest that your coworkers or boss use LinkedIn, which is used for business networking, instead of Facebook as a way to stay in touch.

Brilliant Scheme

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I’m working in London this week, and I find myself saying things like, “I’ll be on holiday soon,” just so I’ll fit in with the locals so they’ll understand and like me better. As if they’ve never heard the expression, “I’m going on vacation.” There are a few words and phrases, however, that don’t translate perfectly from British to American English:

1. “Our company has developed an intricate pension scheme.” Nothing shady’s going on; “scheme” just means “plan.”

2. “I’ll open my diary for you.” You’re not getting someone’s intimate thoughts; “diary” just means “schedule.”

3. “This is brilliant.” Don’t think you’re necessarily a genius; “brilliant” just means “great.”

4. “Cheers.” No one’s offering a pint. It’s a catch-all for “thanks,” “best,” ”regards,” etc.

If you’re an American, don’t feel you have to use the British word for them to understand you. In fact, when an American uses “Cheers” at the close of an email some people may think the writer never got over his junior year abroad.

Do I Look Nervous?

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When we coach people on public speaking and presentation skills, one of the most common questions we hear is “I feel SO nervous! Do I look nervous?”  In many cases, the answer is an emphatic NO.

How can that be? Because a great number of nervous symptoms—such as butterflies, pounding heart, dry mouth, and moments of forgetfulness, among many others—are simply not detectable to anyone but the person feeling them. Your audience can’t see butterflies, dry mouth or a pounding heart. And brief moments of forgetfulness seem much longer to speakers than they do to listeners: we just don’t know that your mind went blank unless you announce it.

Of course, some symptoms are visible, too. But there are many tips and techniques for managing them, even if they never go away. The good news is that there is not much connection between a speaker’s effectiveness and whether or not he or she feels nervous.  Seeing yourself on videotape can be great confirmation of this. Most people are happily surprised to find they come across as much more poised than they thought.

Listening: Don’t Dismiss Looking Like You Care

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We all know people whom we consider dull or uninteresting, and have probably had to sit through more boring presentations than we would like. Some people feel justified to behave as bad listeners as passive-aggressive retaliation to boring speakers: they look away at their papers, phones or computer screens, cross their arms, or have annoyed smirks on their faces.

But our listening behavior has tremendous impact on a speaker. By listening with great intent we can actually improve a speaker’s performance. Strong eye contact and non-distracted behaviors demonstrate respect and can bolstera speaker’s confidence. Many speakers blossom under the attention of a caring listener.

Your good listening will probably yield valuable information from a speaker. And, more importantly, it will build your credibility as a courteous and fair person.

The Strengths and Limitations of Self-Awareness Tools

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Self-awareness inventories abound: MBTI, Team Roles, DISC, Social Styles, and the list goes on and on. These inventories are tremendously useful in highlighting a critical lesson: not everyone is the same, and that’s a good thing. People differ from one another along many measures, such as their preferences for detailed versus conceptual information, for planning versus being spontaneous, and for their patterns of behavior relating to demonstrating emotions versus controlling the expression of their emotions, just to name a very few.

While these inventories can provide tremendous self-insight and shed light on why we may feel incompatible with some of our co-workers, they can never tell the whole story. They serve as a great icebreaker for understanding dissimilarities, and can provide non-judgmental language for discussing differences. But, these inventories just help us to scratch the surface of who we are. Ultimately, we need to get to know key people as individuals. And we need to help people know the information about us that will make our interactions more successful.

“Dear John,” “John,” “Hi John,” “Hey John,” “Yo, John!” “DUDE!!!”

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Above is the hierarchy of salutations from most formal to least formal. Many 20-somethings are afraid to use “Dear John” in emails because they think the next line should read: “I’ve loved you from afar.” You shouldn’t be afraid to start with “Dear John”; he probably doesn’t love you either. “Dear John” is fine in emails; it’s a formal greeting. Use “Dear John” when you don’t know someone well, and John hasn’t yet set the tone for what kind of relationship you have. Take cues from him. If John gets back to you with “Alice,” or “Hi, Alice,” follow his lead. Just watch out for “Hey-ing” someone until you know for sure you’re on a “Hey” basis.

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