Emails are key to communication in the office. Yet, as a rule, they are badly written. So by consistently sending sharp, well-composed electronic messages, you will make yourself stand out from the crowd. Take careful note of the following:
1. Hone your subject line
Try to be more specific. Instead of giving your email the name ‘Byrne project’, call it ‘Byrne project: new deadline for phase 2’. Your email is already more interesting than most.
2. Don’t bury the lead
If you want to annoy people, make them read three paragraphs before you get to the point. If you want to rise in the company, state your purpose in the first sentence or two and then get to the why and how of the matter.
3. Request further action
End emails with a suggestion or a request for action. An example would be: ‘I will call you on Monday at 10am to discuss this’ or ‘When can we get this done?’. Otherwise, nothing is likely to happen.
PLUS: 10 Best One-Liners
4. Be human
People who would never dream of being cold and abrupt in person, often come across that way in their emails. Being businesslike doesn’t mean being impersonal. Try to remember that the recipient, like you, is a human being.
5. Proof your email
Just one misspelling, grammatical error or typo can make a sender look careless and disrespectful. Sending ‘clean’ emails lifts you above the sloppy crowd.
Face it every writer has days when they sit down to write and the words just don’t flow onto the page. You write one sentence and check how many words you just added in hopes it will miraculously be sufficient. The problem writers have is, when their heart isn’t in their writing, it shows. (Here’s how to overcome your writing demons).
To help you get your writing on track, here are twenty-one tips to prevent you from getting to the point where you have what I affectionately call blank-screen-syndrome.
- Create a list of articles you want to write but don’t have the time. I find that it’s easy to get inspired to write pieces about other topics when the pressure’s on to write a specific topic. There’s nothing like a deadline to make anything else seem exciting.
- Feed your mind. Read a book and/or other sources of insight such as blogs and news sites to get ideas. This isn’t an excuse to get a snack or other indulgence.
- Develop a story around a trending topic, even if it’s not in your area of focus. The objective is to stretch yourself to find a way to write about the hot topics. This can be useful for bloggers and company content where you need to keep your content relevant.
- Keep a swipe file. Sign up for a wide range of newsletters focused on your main topics to see what other writers and bloggers are covering. Save those articles that provide new insights or a different format for inspiration. This doesn’t mean you should simply copy someone else’s ideas or articles.
- Collect relevant questions you and others have on your main subject area.Think like you’re writing an endless FAQ. A list of questions gives you a hook to build your content around. This is particularly useful for blogs and company content.
- Get a jump before you quit. Before you quit a writing session, write down the ideas you have for the next session; form them into an outline added to the current document to make it easy to pick up where you left off.
- Close your digital door to remove distractions. This means close your social media sites, chat and email. To this end, it’s useful to have a dedicated space for writing.
- Make an appointment to write. Set your timer or alarm for a specific time and that’s when you have to start writing.
- Change writing environments. If you always write at your kitchen table, and you’re now stuck for new ideas, try writing at a coffee shop or local library.
- Seek inspiration. Do something that provides you with a muse. Go to a play, or museum.
First, you need to identify your audience. There are several methods to identify your audience, such as determining keywords that are bringing users to your website, creating user personae and more. Once you’ve identified your audience, you should create content that speaks to each user persona. Do not stray from this concept, because you will lose readers or followers. Readers are finicky at the beginning of any article or post. If you don’t capture their attention with the title, the remainder of the content might as well be in a language they don’t understand.
For example, let’s say you operate a blog about the exam for certified public accounts. Who is your audience? There are a few user personae we can identify without doing much detailed analysis. You can easily create personae for your audience in the same manner.
- Students: those in their early 20s who are working on an accounting bachelor’s or master’s degree, with the intent of taking the CPA exam eventually.
- Entry-level professionals: early- to mid-20s professionals working full time at a public accounting firm, after attaining a bachelor’s or master’s degree. This group is most likely to be actively involved in accounting practices or preparing to become a CPA.
- Career changers: adults looking to change careers or re-enter the workforce.
- Educators: accounting professors who might need to discuss CPA exam content with their students.
- Professionals: licensed CPAs who are concerned about the future of the profession.
Let’s say we want to target entry-level professionals, because this is likely the largest of the five personae we have identified. Many of these individuals have probably taken entry-level jobs as an accountant but have not yet sat for the CPA exam. One of the greater stresses about this exam is finding out one’s score for each section. Though the exam is largely computerized, it can take a few months for scores to be reported to the appropriate governing body. So “CPA exam score release” is a hot topic and sure to draw attention from entry-level professionals because this demographic would be interested in knowing exam scores.
This would be a perfect theme or title to create your content around. When reading this blog for the first time, readers will immediately be locked in because the content pertains to their situation — not their past, not their future, but what they are actively involved in at the moment. Most readers and discussion groups talk about what’s happening now. What’s buzzing? By focusing your title and content on “the now” of your target audience, you have a much better chance of each reader reading your article or post from beginning to end, which is the goal of any writer.
When selecting a topic, there are a few tips to keep in mind.
- Pick one that relates to at least one of your user personae. This drives at least one group of users to your content and is sure to relate to them.
- Topics should be useful or answer a question. This encourages social sharing, allowing your content to reach beyond its page.
- Pick a controversial or trendy topic. Readers usually show initial interest in current topics and trends compared with those of the past. That is, unless you are comparing a “now” topic with a past topic.
- Limit the sales and marketing aspect of your content. If you’re only trying to sell a product or service, you will probably fail. No one likes to feel as though he or she has been sold, but everyone likes to buy.
Here are 10 quick tips to help you add polish at the podium, enjoy your public speaking experience and influence your listeners.
- Begin with the end in mind. Start planning your presentation by asking and answering this question: What do I want my audience to remember when they leave my presentation?
- Use a mind-map or other right-brain organizational tool to organize your presentation. Landscape beats portrait when it comes to presentation planning. Think, “map, direction, flow” rather than lists, paragraphs and text.
- Know the “story” your presentation tells. Refrain from data-dumping. The information you present has a story behind it. Your audience will understand the details better if they understand the big picture first.
- Do not apologize or put yourself down publicly. Even if you didn’t prepare, feel insecure, or have forgotten your slide show.
- Look at one person at a time rather than scanning the room. People feel your intention to include them individually if you speak directly to them. If it’s a large crowd, mentally divide the audience into a tic-tac-toe grid and target an individual to look at from each section. One-to-one eye contact creates connection differently from scanning the crowd.
Read full article via humancapitalleague.com
Steve Sargent, president and CEO of GE Australia and New Zealand, runs through a four-point checklist–sometimes in just 30 seconds–before every organized communication event, from small meetings to large speeches.
Don’t even think about speaking in front of an audience without going through this checklist.
Continuing from last week’s tip, remember, there’s no substitute for practice. There’s no easy way to develop your delivery skills. It’s like any other skill – the more you do it – the better you become. And the most important goal of practicing is developing your own natural style. You don’t want to imitate someone else. You want to be the best presenter you can be.
Just as professional actors and comedians have their own styles, you need to have your own style too. For example, Robert DeNiro’s approach to acting is completely different from Dustin Hoffman’s, and Jay Leno has a different comic delivery style than David Letterman. You want to find what works for you. What gestures are you most comfortable using? What body position or stance feels most natural? What vocal tone should you use? These are some of the questions you have to ask yourself, and the only way to find the answers is to practice – and practice often. It’s really the only way to make it “perfect.”
By Tom Mucciolo, President, MediaNet, Inc.
Now that “doing more with less” is the universal business mantra, managers are scrambling to develop the innovative capacity of their teams. If you are looking to increase your team’s creative output here’s a review of a classic technique and an introduction to some strategies you may not have tried before.
Linus Pauling once said: “If you want great ideas, you need to have lots of ideas.” Brainstorming is the most popular technique for producing lots of ideas. But, although it is widely practiced, it is seldom utilized to its full potential. If your group uses brainstorming, check to be sure these fundamentals are in place:
- Start with a warm-up exercise – especially if the group doesn’t brainstorm frequently or when the group seems distracted by outside issues. Use word games or puzzles or humor to set an atmosphere that is relaxed, fun and freewheeling.
- Encourage everyone to participate, either with original ideas or “piggybacking” (adding on to) other people’s input.
- Focus initially on quantity, not quality of ideas. Write all ideas on a white board or large sheets of paper and number them to help motivate participants and to jump back and forth between ideas without losing track of where you are.
- Urge participants to say anything that occurs to them, no matter how wild or “far out” those ideas may seem.
- Realize that brainstorming sessions tend to follow a series of steep energy curves. When the momentum starts to plateau, the facilitator needs to build on what’s been stated (“That’s a great idea; now what are some other ways to _____________?”) or to jump to another point (“Let’s switch gears and consider _____________.”)
Ideally, the brainstorming session should be broken into two parts: the first for idea generation and the second for evaluation. During the idea generation phase, no one should be allowed to judge, criticize, or squelch any of the ideas presented.
- Stay alert for nonproductive comments such as, “We tried that last year,” “I don’t think that will work,” etc.
- Counter premature judgment with, “This isn’t the time for evaluation yet.”
And, as effective as brainstorming can be, remember there are many other collaborative techniques that stimulate creativity. Here are just a few:
Metaphorical thinking is a great tool for breaking out of current patterns of perception. By comparing your situation to another more well-understood system or process you may spot similarities and come up with an unexpected idea. The exercise asks: What can I learn from this comparison?
A classic example of this technique from my book Creativity in Business is of a defense contractor that developed a missile that had to fit so closely within its silo it couldn’t be pushed in. Comparing the situation to a horse that refuses to be pushed into a stall, the solution was to lead the horse in. The solution for the defense company: pull the missile in with a cable.
Forced connections is a technique for finding commonalities between two or more seemingly unrelated concepts or items. One practical exercise is to examine an industry that is very different from yours and look for things you can successfully imitate. Another is to bring “show and tell” items that help you visualize the wide variety of options and materials that could be applied to the session’s topic.
Back to the future starts with an image of the completed goal. Team members compare their answers to a series of questions: What does the ideal end result look like? How is the ideal different from what we have now? What changes are necessary for us to achieve the ideal? How can we make those changes?
Get visual. The most productive creative-thinking sessions are extremely visual. They include mind mapping, sketching, diagrams, cartoons and stick figures. Images stimulate emotion. Emotion opens creative channels that pure logic can’t budge.
Get physical. Get up and move around. Have your team stand rather than sit when grouping around white boards or easels. Act out the problem you are working on. A popular technique used by design firms is “bodystorming” where people act out current behavior and usage patterns to see how they might be altered.
Get fired. My favorite way to end a creativity session is to ask participants to take the last few minutes and contribute ideas that would probably work, but are so outrageous they could get the group fired. (Obviously, the task then becomes to tone-down the potential solutions so that the problem can be solved without risking any jobs.)
And, of course, you want to make sure that you are trying to solve the right problem. The European operation of a business started losing money after many years of outstanding profitability. Worried, the management team initially discussed ways to reduce costs in Europe in order to improve profitability. When the cost-cutting did little to stop the downward slide, the team finally faced the real issue: the geographical distribution of customers had changed drastically. The problem was then redefined as “How do we serve our customers more profitably on a global basis?” Hundreds of ideas were generated around this challenge that resulted in a customer focused business restructuring that not only cut costs in Europe but also added resources in other parts of the world.
By Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D. delivers keynote speeches and seminars on collaborative creativity to association, government, and business audiences around the world. For more information or to book Carol as a speaker at one of your events, please call: 510-526-1727, email: CGoman@CKG.com, or visit her website:http://www.CKG.com.
After two decades of advising organizations large and small, my colleagues and I have formed a clear idea of what’s required of you in this role. Adaptive strategic leaders — the kind who thrive in today’s uncertain environment – do six things well:
Most of the focus at most companies is on what’s directly ahead. The leaders lack “peripheral vision.” This can leave your company vulnerable to rivals who detect and act on ambiguous signals. To anticipate well, you must:
- Look for game-changing information at the periphery of your industry
- Search beyond the current boundaries of your business
- Build wide external networks to help you scan the horizon better
“Conventional wisdom” opens you to fewer raised eyebrows and second guessing. But if you swallow every management fad, herdlike belief, and safe opinion at face value, your company loses all competitive advantage. Critical thinkers question everything. To master this skill you must force yourself to:
- Reframe problems to get to the bottom of things, in terms of root causes
- Challenge current beliefs and mindsets, including your own
- Uncover hypocrisy, manipulation, and bias in organizational decisions
Ambiguity is unsettling. Faced with it, the temptation is to reach for a fast (and potentially wrongheaded) solution. A good strategic leader holds steady, synthesizing information from many sources before developing a viewpoint. To get good at this, you have to:
- Seek patterns in multiple sources of data
- Encourage others to do the same
- Question prevailing assumptions and test multiple hypotheses simultaneously
There are three important keys that all companies should strive for: energy, focus and accountability.
Energy. In a healthy company, everyone is engaged. Next time you’re in a meeting, pay attention to how people are interacting. Are they staring into space? Checking e-mail? Working on other things?
You could get mad at them, but the problem is probably your lack of energy as a leader.
If you’re engaged, if you lead and set the tone, others will follow. It’s the same in leading meetings as it is in leading a company. Set the pace and expect others to keep up.
Focus. Energy is important, but if it’s not channeled correctly, it can become destructive. How do you prepare your team for a meeting? Do you think through what you want to discuss? Do you prepare an agenda? Does everyone know why you’re calling them to a meeting and what you expect?
Learn a lesson from Steve Jobs. Focus. He took a multitude of ideas and focused his team on one great idea. Channel your team’s creative energy into one specific task and goal.
Accountability. You can have all the energy and focus in the world, but if your employees don’t know what they’re supposed to do, your team will either do redundant work or give up because they’re not sure of what you want.
In meetings, everyone should also know what you expect of them coming into and going out of a meeting. It’s not enough to talk and dream, you also have to do. Bring crystal clarity to your team and follow up.
Want to change your company culture? Start today by working on your meeting culture.
You alone can consciously take the personal leadership steps in strengthening and managing relationships, including those with a boss. The often used phrase for this is“managing upward.” While the phrase describes aspects of managing relationships with bosses, the dynamics are deeper.
From my personal experiences and observations, here are 16 ideas to consider in creating a stronger working relationship with your boss. (BTW, I alternated “he” and “she” as personal pronouns throughout the list.)
16 Ideas for Managing Upward
- Understand your boss as a teammate and a client because both roles are relevant.
- Ask and learn how your boss likes to communicate? Deliver communications that work for him, with the “right” amount & type of information.
- What are the strengths & weaknesses of your boss? Complement both of themin your working relationship.
- What’s her decision making style? Propose recommendations in ways that fit how she evaluates & decides on things.
- Hone your skills to anticipate what he needs and see things coming before they actually happen.
- Demonstrate complete trustworthiness. Display the highest integrity. Don’t break confidences; safeguard the “vault.”
- Be networked – know who knows things and be able to share relevant information your boss might not be privy to in her relationship circles.
- Have a great working relationship with your boss’ assistant and the other key people around him.
- Be a strong negotiator.
- Ask questions – help her think through issues and get to stronger points of view based on your contributions.
The challenge for business leaders, then, is making sure that all of their managers stay on track and on task. Here are 10 rules that can help.
1. If it’s not on the calendar, it won’t happen. Using a shared team calendar allows you to make deadlines clear, schedule in updates to monitor progress, and let your team know when you want to see them. Setting several dates in a row can help you to force the pace of progress.
2. Focus on the follow-through. Big programs are often broken into smaller, more manageable chunks, each run by separate team leaders. As the person with overall responsibility for delivery, it is essential to make sure that each of these project leaders is executing as required. Do not allow unresolved issues to drop, and to be prepared to offer feedback as necessary.
3. No project owner means no progress. A great idea is a fragile thing: even the best ideas die fast unless someone takes responsibility for putting them into action. This project owner should have the time, resources, autonomy and talent required to succeed.
4. Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. Few people enjoy the luxury of having all the time that they need to get things done; most of us spend our days constantly balancing priorities and choosing between options. The key to successful execution is choosing the important tasks – those which will have the biggest impact on whether or not you can achieve your objective – rather than the urgent tasks, which can often be left to wait. The other critical tool here is delegation: if you do not have to do a task personally, assign it to someone else.
5. Initiate: it gains time. Initiation means using your resources to get a project started, even if you do not have the time to get involved in it at that moment. This means that others in your team can get the ball rolling, for example by finding and analyzing relevant data, so that when you are free to get on board you do not need to waste time on any of this preliminary work.
Read all 10 at the Jakarta Post
Question #1 – What is the employees’ perspective?
Front-line employees deal regularly with customers and observe first-hand the issues, challenges, and successes of those they serve. The IT department sees advances in technology before the rest of the organization has adapted to the last update. Professionals throughout the company attend association meetings and have access to experts in their field. Your organization has hired the best and the brightest – and your task is to tap their expertise, points of view, and concerns. The first question to ask is: “What do employees think?”
Question #2 – Did you “set the stage” for change?
The best time to discuss the forces of change is well in advance of an organization’s response to them. Everyone in the organization needs a realistic appreciation of the precursors of change and transformation – the impact of globalization, market fluctuations, technological innovations, societal and demographic changes in the customer base, new products/services of competitors, new government and regulatory decisions. And here technology can be a great asset. Although it certainly shouldn’t be the only medium, the intranet can be a timely vehicle for competitive and industry information.
Question #3 – How will you track employee perceptions?
Employee interaction and feedback loops help communicators track the level of workforce comprehension. Whether you supply an email box or a phone number for individuals to ask questions about the change, use online surveys to query a sampling of the workforce, or create Communication Advisory Teams to represent their fellow workers, the greatest advantages come when organizational feedback is gathered immediately after the delivery of an important message.
Question #4 – Do you have honest answers to tough questions?
Not only can employees tolerate honest disclosure, they are increasingly demanding it. And when it comes to change, employees want straight answers to these tough questions:
* Will I keep my job?
* How will pay and benefits be affected?
* How will this affect my opportunities for advancement?
* Will I have a new boss?
* What new skills will I need?
* What will be expected of me?
* How will I be trained/supported for the new challenges?
* How will I be measured?
* What are the rewards or consequences?
Question #5 – Can you answer the most important question: What’s in it for them?
There are personal advantages to be found in almost every change, but people may need help discovering what the advantages are. Sometimes employees just need to be guided through a few questions: What are your career goals? What are the skills you would like to learn? What job-related experiences would you like have? In what ways might this change help you to fulfill some of your personal objectives?
Organizations send two concurrent sets of messages about change. Formal communication is what companies “say” to employees about the organization and its goals. Informal communication is what the company “does” in terms of rewards, compensation, training, leadership behavior, organizational structure, etc. to demonstrate and support what it says. For today’s skeptical employee audiences, rhetoric without action quickly disintegrates into empty slogans and company propaganda.
Question #7- Who’s vision is it?
Effective communicators understand the power of vision to imbue people with a sense of purpose, direction and energy. But if the vision belongs only to top management, it will never be an effective force for transformation. In the end, people have to feel that the vision belongs to them. The power of a vision comes truly into play only when the employees themselves have had some part in its creation. So the communicator’s role moves from crafting executive speeches to facilitating interactive events.Question #8 – Can you paint the big-little picture?
Vision is the big picture, and it is crucial to the success of the enterprise. But along with the big picture, people also need the little picture so they know where their contribution fits into the corporate strategy. And here’s where first-line supervisors can be the most effective communicators. In face-to-face discussions with their team members, supervisors become a vital link in turning the organizational vision into practical and meaningful actions.
Question #9 – Are you emotionally literate?
People have to understand the rationale for change – the business case, the marketplace reality. But change is more than just the logic behind it. Large-scale organizational change almost invariably triggers the same sequence of emotional reactions — denial, negativity, a choice point, acceptance, and commitment. Communicators who track this emotional process design strategies that help people accept and move through the various stages.
Question #10 – Are you telling stories?
Good stories are more powerful than plain facts. This is not to reject the value in facts, of course, but simply to recognize their limits in influencing people. People make decisions based on what facts mean to them, not on the facts themselves. Stories give facts meaning. Stories resonate with adults in ways that can bring them back to a childlike open-mindedness – and make them less resistant to experimentation and change.
Question #11 – Do you know how change really gets communicated?
Town hall meetings in which senior leaders speak openly about change, great stories that embody the spirit of change, well-designed intranets filled with pertinent information about the forces and progress of change, interactive “transformation sessions” in which a cross-section of the organization co-creates a vision and develops the strategy, online employee surveys that query and monitor a work force as it deals with the nuances of change, icons and symbols and signage that visually reinforce change, and (especially) first-line supervisors who are trained and prepared to engage their direct reports in a dialogue about what change means to them – these are (and will remain) vital tools for communicators. But, as powerful as they are, these are formal communication channels operating within the organizational hierarchy. And a single informal channel, the company grapevine, can undermine them all.In the hallways, around the water cooler or coffee pot, over the telephone, as part of a blog, in rouge web sites, and through e-mail messages, news is exchanged and candid opinions are offered. It is during these “off-line” exchanges and daily conversations that people decide whether or not to support change. Want to dramatically improve the effectiveness of your change communication? Then find ways to identify, involve, and enlist your organization’s social networks and informal opinion leaders.
Question #12 – Are you positioning change as an event or a corporate mindset?
With his team, Saku Tuominen, founder and creative director at the Idealist Group in Finland, interviewed and followed 1,500 workers at Finnish and global firms to study how people feel and respond to issues in the workplace. Tuominen’s findings are easy to understand — 40 percent of those surveyed said their inboxes are out of control, 60 percent noted that they attend too many meetings, and 70 percent don’t plan their weeks in advance. Overall, employees said they lacked a sense of meaning, control, and achievement in the workplace. Sound familiar?
Based on the study and the insights of Teresa Amabile, a professor at Harvard Business School, Tuominen recommends new approaches to changing our work processes that all tap into our unconscious:
- Think about one question/idea that needs insight and keep this thought in your subconscious mind.
- Clear your conscious mind by using this two-step system: move your thought(s) from your mind to a list and then clear your list when you have a short break (if your meeting is canceled, for instance, or your flight is delayed).
- Plan your week and month by listing three priorities you would like to accomplish.
- Make certain you have at least four consecutive, uninterrupted hours a day dedicated to the three priorities you identified.
This last point is key. Tuominen deduced that if you can schedule four hours with continuous flow and concentration, you could accomplish a lot and improve the quality of your thinking. As Tuominen aptly states, “you can’t manage people if you can’t manage yourself.”
For text messages on cell phones between co-workers, let them decide what to do. Yes, this may be AYOR (At Your Own Risk) behavior, but is it worth the time to be the TMA (Too Many Acronyms) police?
For email and other communication though—especially messages to customers, vendors and others outside the organization, drop the jargon and abbreviations.
This applies to company-specific acronyms that are totally undecipherable. (Would you translate “CHR” as “Contact HR”? One of my clients uses that acronym regularly in its merger communications. Not exactly welcoming to their newly-acquired employees.)
For any type of recognition or appreciation, use language and gestures that the individuals you’re acknowledging welcome. For example, having KUTGW (Keep up the good work)show up as a text message or email doesn’t seem warm, friendly or motivational to this curmudgeon.
Clearly, there are basic ‘hygiene’ factors that companies need from their comms people: strong written/verbal skills; excellent conversational and presentation skills; an eye for design; awareness of communication technology trends and corresponding audience reach strategies.
However, a good PRO will always stand out on a number of more complex, intuitive and leadership levels and I would proffer the following attributes:
1) Acts as strategic and trusted advisor to the leadership team (including the CEO, CFO and commercial and functional heads); contributes with authority to strategic corporate discussion and works on his/her track record to be viewed as a contributing equal;
2) Through accumulated insight and marketplace persceptiveness, may be in a truly unique position within any organisation to ‘Bring the Outside World’ in to corporate thinking, ensuring sound future governance and guiding strategies that help protect any company’s future ‘Licence to Operate’ in the open, global marketplace;
3) Is an astute and credible diplomat, able to navigate elegantly through all layers and across all organisational silos to inform, to encourage collaborative thinking and to galvanise operational solutions to any issues or opportunities faced by a company in its public and employee dealings;
4) Intuitively understands and bridges the interdependency between internal and external reputation and has astute command of the theory and tools/practice of its delivery;
What attributes would you add to this list?
Human beings are genetically programmed to look for facial and behavioral cues and to quickly understand their meaning. We see someone gesture and automatically make a judgment about the intention of that gesture.
And we’ve been doing this for a long, long time. As a species we knew how to win friends and influence people – or avoid/placate/confront those we couldn’t befriend – long before we knew how to use words.
But our ancient ancestors faced threats and challenges very different from those we confront in today’s modern society. Life is more complex now, with layers of social restrictions and nuanced meanings adding to the intricacies of our interpersonal dealings. This is especially true in workplace settings, where corporate culture adds it own complexities and unique guidelines for correct behavior.
No matter what the culture at your workplace, the ability to “read” nonverbal signals can provide some significant advantages in the way you deal with people. You can start to gain those advantages by avoiding these five common mistakes people often make when reading body language:
1) They forget to consider the context.
Imagine this scene: It’s a freezing-cold winter evening with a light snow falling and a north wind blowing. You see a woman sitting on a bench at a bus stop. Her head is down, her eyes are tightly closed and she’s hunched over, shivering slightly, and hugging herself.
Now the scene changes . . .
It’s the same woman in the same physical position. But instead of sitting outdoors on a bench, she’s seated behind her desk in the office next to yours. Her body language is identical – head down, eyes closed, hunched over, shivering, hugging herself. The nonverbal signals are the same but the new setting has altered your perception of those signals. In a flash she’s gone from telling you, “I’m really cold!” to “I’m in distress.”
Obviously, then, the meaning of nonverbal communication changes as the context changes. We can’t begin to understand someone’s behavior without considering the circumstances under which the behavior occurred.
2) They try to find meaning in a single gesture.
Nonverbal cues occur in what is called a “gesture cluster” – a group of movements, postures and actions that reinforce a common point. A single gesture can have several meanings or mean nothing at all (sometimes a cigar is just a cigar), but when you couple that single gesture with other nonverbal signals, the meaning becomes clearer.
For example, a person may cross her arms for any number of reasons. But when that action is coupled with a scowl, a headshake, and legs turned away from you, you now have a composite picture and reinforcement to conclude that she is resistant to whatever you just proposed.
3) They are too focused on what’s being said.
If you only hear what people are saying, you’ll miss what they really mean.
A manager I was coaching appeared calm and reasonable as she listed the reasons why she should delegate more responsibility to her staff. But every time she expressed these opinions, she also (almost imperceptibly) shuddered. While her words declared her intention of empowering employees, the quick, involuntary shudder was saying loud and clear, “I really don’t want to do this!”
4) They don’t know a person’s baseline.
You need to know how a person normally behaves so that you can spot meaningful deviations.
Here’s what can happen when you don’t: A few years ago, I was giving a presentation to the CEO of a financial services company, outlining a speech I was scheduled to deliver to his leadership team the next day. And it wasn’t going well.
Our meeting lasted almost an hour, and through that entire time the CEO sat at the conference table with his arms tightly crossed. He didn’t once smile, lean forward or nod encouragement. When I finished, he said thank you (without making eye contact) and left the room.
As I’m a body language expert, I was sure that his nonverbal communication was telling me that my speaking engagement would be canceled. But when I walked to the elevator, the executive’s assistant came to tell me how impressed her boss had been with my presentation. I was shocked and asked how he would have reacted had he not liked it. “Oh,” said the assistant, her smile acknowledging that she had previously seen that reaction as well. “He would have gotten up in the middle of your presentation and walked out!”
The only nonverbal signals that I had received from that CEO were ones I judged to be negative. What I didn’t realize was that, for this individual, this was normal behavior.
5) They judge body language through the bias of their own culture:
When we talk about culture, we’re generally talking about a set of shared values that a group of people holds. And while some of a culture’s values are taught explicitly, most of them are absorbed subconsciously – at a very early age. Such values affect how members of the group think and act and, more importantly, the kind of criteria by which they judge others. Cultural meanings render some nonverbal behaviors as normal and right and others as strange or wrong. From greetings to hand gestures to the use of space and touch, what’s proper and correct in one culture may be ineffective – or even offensive – in another.
For example, in North America, the correct way to wave hello and good-bye is palm out, fingers extended, with the hand moving side to side. That same gesture means “no” throughout Mediterranean Europe and Latin America. In Peru it means “come here,” and in Greece, where it’s called the moutza, the gesture is a serious insult. The closer the hand to the other person’s face, in fact, the more threatening it is considered to be.
So just remember: Body language cues are undeniable. But to accurately decode them, they need to be understood in context, viewed in clusters, evaluated in relation to what is being said, assessed for consistency, and filtered for cultural influences. If you do so, you’ll be well on your way to gaining the nonverbal advantage!
Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D. is the author of nine books including CREATIVITY IN BUSINESS and “THIS ISN’T THE COMPANY I JOINED” — How to Lead in a Business Turned Upside Down. She delivers keynote speeches and seminars to association and business audiences around the world. For more information or to book Carol as a speaker at one of your events, please call: 510-526-1727, email: CGoman@CKG.com, or visit her website: http://www.CKG.com.
You may never find yourself in the high-stakes, high-pressure world of a presidential debate. But if you are addressing an employee audience, meeting with your team, or even interviewing for a job, you are constantly communicating. You’re doing that through body language, and the key is to know whether the way you stand, your facial expressions, gestures, touch, and use of space are expressing enthusiasm, warmth, and confidence – or arrogance, indifference, and displeasure.
Whether you are a business executive promoting a vision for the company or a politician promoting a vision for the country, people interpret what you say to them only partially from the words you use. They are picking up most of your message (and all of the emotional nuance behind the words) from your nonverbal signals.
Understanding body language is critical whether you are a chief executive officer, a first-line supervisor, or a candidate for president of the United States. But unlike political candidates, most business people are oblivious to the impact of the nonverbal signals they send.
Which can be a big problem.
The female manager who constantly flips her hair as she speaks or smiles too much when discussing a critical business issue probably doesn’t realize that she has minimized her chances of being taken seriously. The team leader who reserves head nods, forward leans and direct eye contact for only a few members of his team may not know that he is demoralizing the rest of the team.
The first step to gaining a nonverbal advantage is awareness – and one way to increase awareness is to learn from experience. The good news is that it doesn’t always have to be your own experience.
If you were not watching the political debates, you missed an opportunity to learn from some body language dos and don’ts. Here are five tips from the debates that would apply to leaders in any kind of organization.
Tip One: With nonverbal communication, it’s not how the sender feels that’s most important; it’s how the observer perceives how the sender feels.
Body language interpretations are often made deep in the subconscious mind, based on a primitive emotional reaction that hasn’t changed much since humans began interacting with one another. Because reading body language is an ancient and primarily process, your audience may not always know why they get that “something just isn’t right,” or “I trust this person” feeling – but most often it has nothing at all to do with a critical analysis of the statements you make. Instead, it has everything to do with what the audience believes you really mean.
A famous debate signal occurred in 1992 when incumbent President George H.W. Bush looked at his watch while his opponent, Bill Clinton, who would win the election, spoke.
Why did he look at his watch? It doesn’t matter. What does matter, is that to the viewing audience, President Bush’s gesture conveyed boredom – as if he had better things to do with his time and was wondering when this annoying inconvenience would end.
This is a common problem with body language: often your nonverbal signals don’t convey what you intended them to. You may be slouching because you’re tired, but your team will most likely read it as a sign of disinterest. You may be more comfortable standing with your arms folded across your chest (or you may be cold), but others see you as resistant and unapproachable. And keeping your hands stiffly by your side or stuck in your pockets can give the impression that you’re insecure or hiding something – whether you are or not.
Tip Two: Watch those facial expressions.
Have you ever interviewed for a job? Ever been interviewed in a group setting? If you have, then you probably did your best to come across as qualified, confident, and likable.
Let’s suppose the interviewer asked you a question that you hoped wouldn’t come up. Did you clench your jaw, raise your eyebrows in amazement, and grimace to show your annoyance? Or did you sigh, smile condescendingly, and shake your head?
Can you imagine the impression you’d make if you did any of those things in an interview? Do you think you’d get the job? Do you think you’d even make the next round?
Job interviews are often as much about body language and impressions as they are about issues and substance. If you think of the debates as a super-sized job interview – and in many ways they are – you can begin to see why facial expressions have such an impact.
Both candidates made facial expression errors. In most of the debates, Senator Obama minimized his emotional reactions and reinforced the impression that he is remote and “cold.” Senator McCain’s forced grins and eye rolling in the third debate sent a negative signal that was reflected instantly in polls rating likeability: Obama scored 70% to McCain’s 22%.
Tip Three: Don’t underestimate the power of touch.
While Senator Obama shook hands with audience members after the debates, only Senator McCain touched anyone during a debate. Toward the end of the second debate, McCain walked into the audience and patted a U.S. military veteran on the back and then shook his hand, which produced a genuine smile from the veteran. McCain’s gesture was exquisitely done and worked very much in his favor.
Usually considered to be the most primitive and essential form of communication, we are programmed to feel closer to someone who’s touched us. The person who touches also feels more connected. It’s a compelling force and even momentary touching can create a human bond. A touch on the forearm that lasts a mere 1/40 of a second can make the receiver not only feel better but also see the giver as being kinder and warmer.
Touch is so powerful and effective that clinical studies at the Mayo Clinic show that premature babies who are stroked grow 40 percent faster than those who do not receive the same amount of touching. And touch retains its power — even with adults in business settings. A study on handshakes by the Income Center for Trade Shows showed that people are twice as likely to remember you if you shake hands with them.
Tip Four: When your body language is out of sync with your words, people believe what they see.
Anytime Senator McCain was speaking in the first debate, Senator Obama oriented his body toward McCain and looked directly at him. In doing so, he sent a nonverbal signal of interest and respect. McCain’s decision to avoid looking at Obama during that debate, was not only dismissive, it was counter to McCain’s stated position that Democrats and Republicans need to work together on behalf of the American people. In fact, his failure to look at Obama was so off-message that if I had been coaching McCain, I would never have allowed it. To me, it was the biggest nonverbal stumble – and the one most significantly against-message – that I saw in all the presidential debates.
In the same way, a business leader who stands in front of a thousand employees – and talks about how much he welcomes their input – derails that message if he hides behind a lectern, or leans back away from his audience, or shoves his hands in his pockets. All of those send closed nonverbal signals – when the intended message is really about openness.
It is crucial to communicate congruently – that is, to align your body to support (instead of sabotage) an intended message. Mixed signals have a negative effect on performance and make it almost impossible to build relationships of trust. Whenever your nonverbal signals contradict your words, the people you are addressing — employees, customers, voters — become confused. And, if forced to choose, they will discount your words and believe what your body said.
Tip Five: Remember – you are never “off camera.”
When the second debate was over, and their wives were on stage, Senator McCain tapped his rival on the back. Senator Obama turned around to offer his hand, but it was not reciprocated. McCain, instead, pointed to his wife, Cindy – an action that many viewers took for a nonverbal brush-off.
As a leader, you are always communicating. People are unrelenting leader-watchers, and your “off-record” behaviors are being closely monitored. In the words of one savvy executive, “What I do in the hallway is more powerful than anything I say in the meeting room.”
So there you are — five body-language tips that can play a positive role in your professional communication. Even if you never find yourself in the midst of a presidential debate.
Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D. is the author of nine books including CREATIVITY IN BUSINESS and “THIS ISN’T THE COMPANY I JOINED” — How to Lead in a Business Turned Upside Down. She delivers keynote speeches and seminars to association and business audiences around the world. For more information or to book Carol as a speaker at one of your events, please call: 510-526-1727, email: CGoman@CKG.com, or visit her website: http://www.CKG.com.
Adhere to these and your audience receives your message as you intended, and you achieve the results you desire. Solari Position Paper.
Twenty-five years later, here are some of the lessons I have learned about communicating change . . .
It isn’t about strategy. It’s about people. Communicators may develop well-crafted strategies that emphasize the urgency for change. They may enlist eloquent leaders to deliver those strategic messages.
But . . . organizational change efforts (still) fail more often than they succeed. And rarely because of poor strategies. Rather, it’s almost always a “people” issue. If the individuals in an organization don’t agree with the stated rational, if they haven’t been involved in developing the strategic plan, and if they don’t trust the messages they hear from leadership, there will be no successful change.
Emotion is more powerful than logic. Which is not to say that logic isn’t important. Employees need to understand the marketplace realities that are the driving forces of change. They need to know the consequences of not changing. And they need to hear the answers to questions about how changes will impact them personally: What specifically is changing — and what isn’t? What’s in it for me? How does this affect my job and my security? What new skills will I need to learn?
But . . . what matters more than the facts alone is the ability to place those facts into a meaningful context and to deliver them with emotional impact. That is why stories are such a powerful communication tool. Stories create the context and speak to the emotions. Rolf Jensen, in his wonderful book, “The Dream Society,” says that we need to learn the language of emotion – a language which is embodied in myth, symbols, rituals and stories.
What they see is more powerful than what you say. As a therapist, and later as a consultant, I’ve seen how words have the power to inspire, enlighten, and transform people.
But . . . nothing is more depressing than watching corporate communicators struggle to convince an audience with words that run contrary to organizational symbols and leadership behaviors. If an organization is filled with signs of executive privilege (corporate dining room, over-the-top executive compensation, reserved parking spaces, etc.) and the change message is: “We’re all in this together!” — that message will be derailed by the far more convincing corporate symbols. Likewise, if the stated message is “Let’s all collaborate!” and employees sense that senior leadership does not work well together, the collaboration message hasn’t a chance.
Informal communication is more powerful than formal communication. We will always need and value authentic speeches from senior leaders, well-written and well-researched articles in newsletters, and first-line supervisors who are first-rate communicators.
But . . . organizations are a mixture of hierarchical structure and informal networks, and the approaches listed above – executive speeches, articles and first-line communication — utilize only formal channels. None of them deals with the complex web of social interactions and informal networks that are the conduit for up to 70% of all organization information. Grapevine communication is more pervasive, faster, and more influential than formal communication.
I think this response from a participant in my research on the topic sums it up perfectly: “Formal communication focuses on messages the company wants to deliver, with a scope management feels is appropriate, and at a time management feels is right. The reason the grapevine plays such an important role is that it delivers the information employees care about, provides the details employees think they should know, and is delivered at the time employees are interested.”
Nonverbal communication is more powerful than verbal communication. Traditional explanations of human behavior in the business world presume that employees are influenced most by meaning and reasoning.
But . . . recent studies from the Human Dynamics Group at MIT’s Technology Media Lab, Xerox and Intel’s research centers (and a growing volume of other evidence), suggest that this view is seriously flawed. The key to successful change communication may be found in understanding the kinds of signals ordinarily overlooked, especially tone of voice and body language.
All of us express enthusiasm, warmth, and confidence — as well as arrogance, indifference, and displeasure through our facial expressions, gestures, touch, and use of space. If leaders at any level of an organization want to be perceived as credible and forthright, they have to think “outside the speech.” That’s where they’ll recognize the importance of what isn’t being said, but is being communicated.
The cultural mishaps started when the chamber president was formally introduced to the top ranking Japanese executive. The president held out this hand for a shake, the Japanese chairman bowed. The president then hastily bowed, while his Japanese counterpart thrust out his hand. To the embarrassment of all, this “gestural dance” continued for several minutes,
Then things got worse . . .
When everyone was finally seated for dinner, the welcoming gifts for members of the Japanese contingent were opened. They were lovely pocketknives, handsomely engraved with the name of the Japanese company. Unfortunately, the gift givers didn’t realize that knives are a Japanese symbol suggesting suicide.
By the end of the evening, the city officials had managed to offend all their guests – without saying a word.
In the high stakes world of international business, nonverbal communication often speaks for itself. Unfortunately, much of the meaning may be lost in translation. The most innocuous of gestures – when its intent is misinterpreted – can wreak havoc on business dealings.
Even the simplest hand movement can get you into cross-cultural trouble.
Of course, it’s okay to talk with your hands – if you know what they’re saying. Gestures are powerful communicators in any culture and are obviously easier to learn than language. Just be aware that some familiar hand gestures can have very different meanings.
For example, in most European countries, the correct way to wave hello and good-bye is palm out, hand and arm stationary, fingers wagging up and down. Common North American waving, with the hand moving side to side means “no” throughout Mediterranean Europe and Latin America. In Peru that gesture means “come here.” Called the Moutza in Greece, that same gesture is a serious insult, and the closer the hand to the other person’s face, the more threatening it is considered to be.
The “thumbs up” gesture that North Americans and many other cultures flash when they want to signify “Good job!” or “Well done!” is considered offensive in certain locales (Australia and Nigeria, to mention just two) and should be avoided. In Germany, when you order drinks, the gesture means “One, please.”
When someone taps the side of his nose with his forefinger, it signals a desire for confidentiality or secrecy in many cultures. But, in the U.K., Holland, and Austria, if the tap is to the front of the nose, it means “Mind your own business.”
Flashing the “V” sign for victory in the United States suggests business negotiations have concluded well. But that sentiment will be lost on anyone from the U.K., Australia and New Zealand if the back of the hand is facing out. In which case, it will be interpreted as a rude gesture.
The crossed-fingers gesture (the U.S. “Good luck!” signal — or cancellation sign when telling a lie) has several other meanings. In Turkey, the gesture is used to break a friendship. Elsewhere it is used to indicate that something is good or to swear an oath, or as a symbol for copulation.
The eyelid pull, in which the forefinger is placed on the cheekbone and pulled down to widen the eye a little, translates to “I am alert” in France, Germany, Yugoslavia and Turkey. In Spain and Italy it means “Be alert.” In Austria it signals boredom. In Saudi Arabia touching the lower eyelid with the forefinger indicates stupidity.
Even the “Okay” sign commonly used in the United States as signifying approval is a gesture that has several different meanings according to the country. In France it means zero; in Japan it is a symbol for money; and in Brazil it carries a vulgar connotation.
Some hand gestures are unique to a single culture. In Japan, people use a hand prow gesture (the palm-edge of one hand is placed vertically forward in front of the nose) accompanied by a slight bow to apologize for crossing between two people or to move through a crowded room. The hand acts like the prow of a ship cutting through water.
The greeting gesture that most business people around the world use is the handshake, but even that has its cultural nuances. In the U.S., the handshake is most often effusive. We use several pumps of the arm, and a strong grip to deliver an unspoken message of confidence. A Brit may give three to five hand pumps, and in Germany or France, one or two pumps is considered sufficient, with the pressure generally lighter. In Asia, the grip is often rather limp. A light, lingering handshake is generally more favored in Latin America, and to withdraw the hand too quickly could be interpreted as an insult.
Some cultures add a cheek kiss to the greeting. Scandinavians are happy with a single kiss, the French prefer a double, and the Dutch, Belgians, and Arabs go for a triple kiss. In Turkey, in addition to the normal handshake, a much younger person may kiss your hand and press it to his head as a sign of respect.
Exceptions to the handshake greeting may be seen in Japan and South Korea (bowing), in India (the namaste – palms held together in a prayer gesture) and in Arabic and Islamic cultures (the salaam – touching the heart with the right palm and then sweeping the forearm up and outward).
Professionals around the world prefer to do business with people who put them at ease and make them feel comfortable and appreciated. Cultural sensitivity to nonverbal communication plays a large part in building that kind of relationship. While you probably can’t learn every hand gesture used around the world, you can stay alert for and respectful of the differences you observe. It’s just good manners – and good business!