Leadership Barometer 65 How People Treat Each Other

September 20, 2020

There are hundreds of assessments for leaders. The content and quality of these assessments vary greatly. You can spend a lot of time and money taking surveys to tell you the quality of your leadership.

There are a few leading indicators that can be used to give a pretty good picture of the overall quality of your leadership. These are not good for diagnosing problems or specifying corrective action, but they can tell you where you stand quickly. Here is one of my favorite measures.

How People Treat Each Other

You can tell the caliber of a leader instantly when you view how people in the organization treat each other. A good leader insists on constructive and helpful behaviors that model high trust and even affection.

Some people believe the word affection is too strong for the working world. I disagree. Groups that work for a great leader learn to really appreciate each other for their good qualities. That does not mean that everyone always gets along with no quarrels; that would be a phony environment.

Just like a family, people will eventually find some things to cause friction, but there is sincere affection behind any tension that shows trough as people work to resolve differences without doing emotional damage.

Good leaders teach their people to, as Ruth Bader Ginsburg suggested, “Disagree Without Being Disagreeable.”

Where leadership is weak, squabbles between people lead to childish behaviors that can cause permanent damage to relationships. It is easy to witness this in most organizations.

As Lou Holtz observed, “you can find a thousand things to not like about somebody but you need to look for the things that you do like, that support the team effort.” In an environment of support and affection it is easy to become a close knit team that is hard to beat.

Good leaders insist that their group generates a set of specific behaviors. It is important to be able to point at these things and call each other when the behaviors are not being modeled. The leader always works to model the behaviors and actually verbalizes them frequently.

It may sound like this, “Thanks for your comment Frank, I appreciate how your words supported Mary’s effort because that is a value and behavior we cherish in our group.

Watch for the signs of a group that, while there are differences, handle those disconnects in a mature and loving way. A group like that is being guided by an excellent leader.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations.


Talent Development 10 Adult Learning Theory

September 17, 2020

One of the important skills in the CPTD Certification program for ATD is a knowledge of the Theories and Models of Adult Learning.

In this article, I will discuss Bloom’s Taxonomy and how to use it.


There are three categories that describe types of adult learning. These are: 1) cognitive (knowledge), 2) psychomotor (skills), and 3) and affective (attitude) (also called KSAs). These three categories were first described by Benjamin Bloom.

I will describe the differences between these three categories in my own words below.

Knowledge (cognitive)

This involves developing intellectual skills. You might study mathematics, or law, or you might become an expert on ecology and climate control. There are an infinite number of topic areas to explore, and the cognitive section involves becoming knowledgeable on any one or more of them.

Skills (psychomotor)

This area of the taxonomy includes the use of motor skills and physical movement. For example, you might become a ballet dancer, or a mountain climber, or an artist. The skills required to perform well in the particular subject involve use of motor skills.

Attitude (affective)

In this area, we deal with feelings and emotions. These are generally acquired skills that are experienced differently for each person. The whole area of motivation is part of the affective. We acquire these skills not only through training, but we also discover them ourselves from just experiencing life.

A key point here is that training professionals will use different tools and methods depending on what part of the taxonomy is being developed.

Knowledge is the easiest area to transfer information. It usually involves some reading and lecture to bring out the finer points of the concepts being taught. There is also significant practice time to ensure full transfer of the content.

Workbooks and problem sets give the learner significant variety of ways the tools are used. In most situations there is an identifiable right way to do things.

For skills, there is usually lots of practice time developing the motor skills and muscle control necessary to do the task. There may be more than one right answer to how things are done, so some degree of personal preference needs to be allowed.

Often safety factors are a major part of skill building. For example, if you are learning mountain climbing, you must know at what altitude you need to put on an oxygen mask.

For Affective training, the methods may involve role playing, group brainstorming, body sculptures, and simulations. These are mostly experiential techniques that instill the proper attitudes by having the person immerse him or herself in the scenario and a professional debriefing to highlight the key learnings involved.

The Affective area has the most variety of outcomes because each individual will take away potentially different information from the training.

Using Blooms Taxonomy involves understanding these three learning situations. For the professional trainer or designer, it is important to know what area you are working on at any particular point and use the correct tools to obtain an optimal result.


Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.


Leadership Barometer 64 Lack of Fear

September 9, 2020

There are hundreds of assessments for leaders. The content and quality of these assessments vary greatly. You can spend a lot of time and money taking surveys to tell you the quality of your leadership.

There are a few leading indicators that can be used to give a pretty good picture of the overall quality of your leadership. These are not good for diagnosing problems or specifying corrective action, but they can tell you where you stand quickly. Here is one of my favorite measures.

Lack of Fear

Good leaders create an environment where there is less fear. That does not mean there is never any fear within the organization.

Sometimes scary stuff is needed in order for the organization to survive. But in those times of uncertainty, great leaders redouble their communication activities to keep people aware of what is going on.

In draconian times, it is the lack of solid reliable information that causes the most fear. When leaders are as transparent as possible, it leads to open communication. This means lower fear, and higher trust, even when things are not pleasant.

Nature hates a vacuum. If you have a bare spot in your lawn, nature will quickly fill it in with something, usually weeds.

If you take a bucket of water out of a pond, nature will fill in the “hole” immediately.

When you open a can of coffee, you hear the rush of air coming in to replace the vacuum.

So it is with people, if there is a void of information, people will find something to fill in the void – usually weeds.

That is why rumors attenuate in a culture of high trust. There is no fuel to keep the fires of gossip going. Leaders keep people informed of what is going on all the time. This helps people vent their fears and focus on the tasks at hand, even if they are involved with unpleasant things.

Great leaders also create a culture of psychological safety such that people know they will not be punished when they share their true feelings. In addition, great leaders foster emotional safety because they show empathy for what others are going through.

By creating a culture of excellent communication and low fear, outstanding leaders foster an environment where trust will grow, even if there are hard times.


Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations.


Talent Development 9 Emotional Intelligence

September 6, 2020

One of the important skills in the CPTD Certification program for ATD is a knowledge of Emotional Intelligence. I have studied Emotional Intelligence for over 25 years and find the skills to be extremely helpful when coaching or training leaders.

Can you improve your Emotional Intelligence by plowing your driveway? I think so, and I will explain a fascinating analogy later in this article.

I read a book on Emotional Intelligence by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves entitled Emotional Intelligence 2.0. If you have not been exposed to this book, perhaps my article will whet your appetite to purchase it.

The authors start out by giving a single sentence definition of Emotional Intelligence (which is abbreviated as EQ rather than EI, and proves that whoever invented the acronym did not have a high IQ). Emotional Intelligence is “your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships.”

This leads to a description of the four quadrants of EQ as described by Daniel Goleman in 1995.

1. Self Awareness – Ability to recognize your own emotions
2. Self Management – Ability to manage your emotions into helpful behavior
3. Social Awareness – Ability to understand emotions in others – empathy
4. Relationship Management – Ability to manage interactions successfully

The book contains a link to an online survey that lets you measure your own EQ. This is an interesting exercise, but it lacks validity, because people with low EQ have blind spots as described by Goleman.

You might rate yourself highly in EQ when the truth, in the absence of blind spots, is somewhat lower. Still it is nice to have a number so you can compare current perceptions to a future state after you have made improvements.

Most of the book consists of potential strategies for improving Emotional Intelligence in any of the four quadrants described above. You get to pick the quadrant to work on and which strategies (about 17 suggestions for each quadrant) you think would work best for you.

The approach is to work on only one quadrant, using three strategies at a time for the most impact.

The authors also suggest getting an EQ Mentor whom you select. The idea is to work on your EQ for six months and retest for progress, then select a different quadrant and three appropriate strategies.

The most helpful and hopeful part of the book for me is where the authors discuss the three main influences on performance: Intelligence, Personality, and Emotional Intelligence.

The observation is that it is impossible to change your IQ (Intelligence) and very difficult to change your Personality, but without too much effort, you can make huge progress in your EQ.

The trick is to train your brain to work slightly differently by creating new neural pathways from the emotional side of the brain to the rational side of the brain. This is where the plowing your driveway analogy comes in.

We are bombarded by stimuli every day. These stimuli enter our brain through the spinal cord and go immediately to the limbic system, which is the emotional side of the brain. That is why we first have an emotional reaction to any stimulus.

The signals have to travel to the rational side of the brain for us to have a conscious reaction and decide on our course of action. To do this, the electrical signal has to navigate through a kind of driveway in our brain called the Corpus Callosum.

The Corpus Callosum is a fibrous flat belt of tissue in the brain that connects the right and left hemispheres. How easily and quickly the signals can move through the Corpus Callosum determines how effective we will be at controlling our reactions to emotions.

This is a critical part of the Personal Competency model as described by Goleman. Now the good news: whenever we are thinking about, reading about, working on, teaching others, etc. about EQ, what we are doing is plowing the snow out of the way in the Corpus Callosum so the signals can transfer more quickly and easily.

Translated; working with the concept of EQ is an effective way to improve our effectiveness in this critical skill.

After reading the book, my awareness of my own emotions has been heightened dramatically. I can almost feel the ZAP of thoughts going from the emotional side of my brain to the rational side. Oops, there goes one now!

Given that roughly 60% of performance is a function of Emotional Intelligence, we now have an easy and almost-free mechanism to improve our interpersonal skills.

I hope you will go out and purchase this little book, particularly if you are a leader. For leaders, EQ is the most consistent way to improve performance and be more successful.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.




Talent Development 8 Compliance and Ethical Behavior

August 27, 2020

The topics of Compliance and Ethical Behavior are part of the ATD CPTD Certification model.

This topic involves a knowledge of laws, regulations, and ethical issues related to the access and use of information. There are numerous statutes that help to safeguard sensitive information, whether that is copyrighted information, patented technology, or personally sensitive data.

The area of ethical corporate behavior is the topic of this article. I have been involved with ethics all my life and have taught different courses on the subject at local universities. I consider ethical behavior to be a subset of trust, and it is simply about doing business the right way.

We tend to rationalize situations when there are difficult choices. We use flawed logic to make something seem right when it really is not. To guard against ethical lapses, we need organizations to build cultures of trust and psychological safety.

The ability to speak up when you see something that does not seem right is at the core of ethical behavior. Unfortunately, in many organizations, the leaders find ways to punish rather than reward whistle blowers.

Leaders who have built up a high degree of trust based on the knowledge that it is a good thing to speak up when something does not seem right have the advantage of many eyes and ears to view each action. If a leader gets off the straight and narrow through some form of rationalization, the individuals will point that out. It is up to the leaders to reinforce this candor by making the whistle blower glad he brought up the problem.

In Rochester New York, we have a group that has been seeking to raise the level of ethics in our extended community by celebrating organizations that are doing great things with respect to ethics.

We call the effort “Elevate Rochester” because by openly celebrating highly ethical organizations we raise the level of awareness for ethics. Our vision is to eventually become the “Gold Standard” in terms of an ethical community.

We have a long way to go, but our program is strong and vital. It involves an annual contest to uncover highly ethical organizations (except 2020 due to COVID-19). The contest starts early in the year by a series of breakfast meetings to encourage organizations to apply for an award we call the “ETHIE.”
Groups then fill out a brief application form that asks for content and examples in the following four areas.

1. Ethical Leadership – we ask the organization to identify the importance of values, ethical standards and moral conduct in all stakeholder relations.
2. Organizational Excellence – to establish and maintain ethical standards and operational processes that are well deployed throughout the organization.
3. Ethical Challenges – this is a description of how the organization deals with ethical issues when they come up either internally or externally.
4. Corporate Citizenship – how the organization gives back to the community and supports the well-being of society.

For 2021, we will be adding a fifth section that deals with how well the organization practices inclusion and equity principles in their work.

Organizations fill out the application, and an independent panel of judges decides which organizations meet the criteria and pass on to the next level of activity, which involves a site visit to witness the degree of deployment of the above areas.

Finally, in the Fall, there is a celebration that mimics the Oscar Awards, thus celebrating the best ethical organizations in our region.

Participating organizations tell us that the organized process is the valuable part of the contest. Getting a glass statue for the trophy case is the icing on the cake, but the real benefit is bringing ethical behavior front and center within the organization on a daily basis.


Robert Whipple is also the author of The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders.



Body Language 91 Ready to Make a Deal?

August 24, 2020

Body Language is relevant in all aspects of our life. The topic is particularly useful in the field of sales. Highly skilled sales professionals are trained to look for many different body language shifts that indicate the prospect has crossed the mental chasm from skeptical to sold.

This article highlights a few of the signs you can observe in this dynamic.

Deep Breath

If a person has been breathing shallow slow breaths and all of a sudden takes in a huge breath and lets it out slowly, that signals a change in mental attitude. It is likely that the person is expressing the lowering of overall tension.

The technique is known as a cleansing breath because the impact is to acknowledge the tension going out of the body.

Feet to Floor

If the buyer is sitting with crossed legs suddenly uncrosses his or her legs and puts both feet on the floor, it is usually a sign the person is ready to sign on the dotted line.

Unbutton Jacket

If a man in a business suit that has been buttoned suddenly unbuttons it and pushes it out to the sides, thus exposing the solar plexus, it is a very good sign. You are scoring points.

Open Palms

If a person who has been sitting at a table or desk with closed fists and knuckles on the surface, turns hands over with palms upward, it shows a transition from being resistant to being open.

Dilated Pupils

If you observe the pupils of the person are larger than normal, you have an indication of anticipation that is generally a good indication of a deal. Note, the other person has no way of observing his or her own pupils, so you have a significant advantage by checking for that clue.

Increased Blinking Rate

This signal can go either way, so be careful. If the other person is irritated by the negotiation, the result may be an increase in blinking rate.

However, an increase in blinking rate could also signal anticipation of closing the deal. If you observe increased blinking rate, check for other signs to understand which direction is operational.

Inward Lean

If a person who has been sitting back in the chair suddenly leans in, that is a signal that the person is ready to close the deal.

Increased Eye Contact

If a person who has had difficulty maintaining good eye contact, all of a sudden increases eye contact to the level of 60% to 70%, you have likely made the sale.

The Opposite Signal

If a person has his or her notebook open on the table in front of him, then suddenly closes his book and folds his hands on top of it, that gesture means no sale is likely today. The person has just shut down the negotiation for this session.

There are many other body language gestures that can help you identify when a person is ready to make a deal. Many of these have to do with facial expressions, such as skeptical versus a satisfied smile. Stay alert when negotiating for another person over anything, from which food to order to buying a house. Knowing these signals will help you come out with a better result.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language” by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.”



Leadership Barometer 62 Level of Trust

August 20, 2020

There are hundreds of assessments for leaders. The content and quality of these assessments vary greatly. You can spend a lot of time and money taking surveys to tell you the quality of your leadership.

There are a few leading indicators that can be used to give a pretty good picture of the overall quality of your leadership. These are not good for diagnosing problems or specifying corrective action, but they can tell you where you stand quickly. Here is one of my favorite measures.

Level of Trust

Good leaders create a legacy of trust within their organization. I have written elsewhere on the numerous hallmarks of an organization with trust as opposed to one that has no trust.

Is there a quick and dirty kind of litmus test for trust? Think about how you would know if an organization has high trust.

You can do extensive surveys on the climate or call in an expensive consultant to study every nook and cranny of the organization, but that is not necessary.

All you need to do is walk into a meeting that is going on and observe what you see for about 5 minutes. You can get a very accurate view of the level of trust in what Malcolm Gladwell calls a “thin slice” of a few minutes watching a group.

Look at how the people sit. Are they leaning back with arms crossed and rigid necks, or are they basically leaning either in or toward the other people next to them?

Observe the look on the faces of people in the meeting. Can you see pain and agony, like they do not want to be there but are forced to endure the agony till the boss adjourns?

Listen to how people address each other. Is there a biting sarcasm that seeks to gain personal advantage by making other people in the room look small, or do the people show genuine respect and even affection for each other?

See how individuals interact with the leader. Is it obvious that everyone is trying to help the leader or are they trying to trip him up or catch him in a mistake? Do the participants show a genuine respect for the leader?

Is there a willingness to speak up if there is something not sitting right – for anyone, or is there a cold atmosphere of fear where people know they will get clobbered if they contradict the leader? In other words, is there psychological safety in this group?

If there is work to be done are there eager volunteers or does everyone sit quiet like non bidders at an auction?

Is the spirit of the meeting one of doom and gloom or is the group feeling like masters of their own fate, even when times are rough?

Do the people focus on the vision of what they are trying to accomplish, or do they focus on each other in a negative way.  The former is an indication of a high trust group while the latter is how low trust groups interact.

These are just a few signs you can observe in only a few minutes that will tell you the level of trust within the group. That trust level is an accurate reflection of the caliber of the leader.

I used to tell people that I could tell the climate of an organization within 30 seconds of watching a meeting. You can actually see it in the way people interact with each other.


Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations.



Talent Development 7 Cultural Awareness and Inclusion

August 16, 2020

The topics of cultural awareness and inclusion are part of the ATD CPTD Certification model. Basically, this involves skill in integrating diversity and inclusion principles in talent development strategies and initiatives.

I had a recent wake up call on this topic because I had just finished a leadership course but failed to create enough discussion on the social unrest that occurred in the summer of 2020. I received a comment to that effect on a feedback report.

Since then, I have gone back and modified my course in several ways to elevate the topics of equity and inclusion. Here are six of the points I have added.

Point 1 – Diversity is an Asset

When you have a mixture of cultures and differing opinions, the team can come up with more creative solutions to problems. The ability to see issues from different angles enhances the quality of dialog as long as all individuals show respect and trust for each other.

At work, I made it a point to promote people so that my team was highly diverse. Of the (roughly 40) supervisors and managers reporting to me, they were 1) more women than men, 2) roughly 30% racially different from me 3) of different age groups and with diverse cultural upbringings. I always enjoyed the diversity of my teams because we were able to see things from different angles. We listened to each other and avoided a monoculture in my area.

In nature, a monoculture is a weakened state. If you plant the same crop on a plot of land year after year, it will become susceptible to disease and produce lower yields.

Point 2 – Silence is being Complicit

Discussions that include individual differences can become uncomfortable, so many leaders tend to avoid them. That is a mistake. If you try to ignore the topics of equity and inclusion, you actually become part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

Dialog is essential because it leads to higher levels of awareness. The most dangerous part of bias is unconscious bias, so it is essential to discuss differences, and be receptive when others point out how you are showing bias.

Point 3 – There is no Fence Anymore

You must take a stand and declare your posture on fairness and equity. It is not possible to sit on the fence and let others argue the fine points of racial injustice, or any other form of prejudice.

Point 4 – Do not say “I Understand”

There is no way that a person from a privileged class can understand what it is like to be from a disadvantaged group. The person from a disadvantaged segment will have endured far more pain and feelings of inadequacy every day of his or her life than you can possibly imagine.
Recognize the emotional load that others carry, but do not patronize by saying “I understand.” You don’t.

Point 5 – Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable

Many of the discussions on equity and inclusion will be challenging and difficult. Both sides of any issue will make false steps along the journey to understanding.

Recognize and factor in the difficulty of the challenge.

Point 6 – Don’t Hire with the Idea of Getting Someone to “Fit In.”

It is a mistake to bring in people who are just like the rest of us. Always seek to hire people with differing points of view and backgrounds. Note: that does not mean you should seek to hire people who will be disruptive or abrasive. Rather seek to diversify the points of view for various people on the team.

These are just six points out of thousands that could be discussed, but they do demonstrate that I am trying to address the issue of cultural awareness, equality, and inclusion more consciously in my leadership work.

Robert Whipple is also the author of The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders.


Leadership Barometer 61 Your in Versus Out Ratio

August 10, 2020

There are hundreds of leadership assessments for leaders. The content and quality of these assessments vary greatly. You can spend a lot of time and money taking surveys to tell you the quality of your leadership. There are a few leading indicators that can be used to give a pretty good picture of the overall quality of your leadership. These are not good for diagnosing problems or specifying corrective action, but they can tell you where you stand quickly. Here is one of my favorite measures.

Know your “In Versus Out Ratio”

Are people striving to get into your organization or are they trying to find ways to get out? It is pretty easy to assess if people want to get in because you will have a long line of individuals contacting you to ask in what way they can join your group. Some people are very persistent, and it is a good sign when highly talented people ask you to keep looking for a spot for them.

The second measure is harder to assess because when people want to get out of your organization, it is not always obvious. The telltale sign is if individuals are “looking for other opportunities.” Usually a leader does not know what percentage of his or her population is trying to find alternate employment. That is because if lots of people want out, there is likely very little trust in the organization.

With low trust, people will hide the fact they are looking for a different job out of self protection. The best time to find a job is when you already have a job, so people can go years while looking around to find a better position. Likewise in an environment of low trust you might be afraid for your employment if your boss knew you were looking elsewhere.

It is obvious that when people are looking elsewhere, they are not giving 100% of their best to the current organization. If there are several people in this situation it can really sap productivity and morale.

So the yin and yang for a leader is that if trust is high, people will generally be wanting in and that information will be rather transparent due to the long line. If trust is low, the number of people wanting out is a hidden number.

My bottom line for all leaders is to ask if they know the ratio of people wanting to get in versus out. If they have a good idea, then they are good leaders. If they have no clue, it reflects poorly on the quality of their leadership. It is a simple and remarkably accurate barometer.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations. He can be reached at bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585-392-7763.


Talent Development 6 Electronic Communication

August 6, 2020

The very first area of personal capability in the ATD Certification Institute Content Outline is “Communication.” Within that category, the second skill area reads: “Skill in applying verbal, written, and/or nonverbal communication techniques.”

Personally, I would add the concept of electronic communication to that bullet, because we continue to communicate more through electronic means than other ways.

Years ago, I saw many professionals make critical errors when trying to communicate online. That observation caused me to write a book on the topic way back in 2006. The book was titled “Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online.” Most of the content is still valid today.

Here are a few of the key points I made in the book.

Use the right mode of communication

Every time we attempt to transfer information through communication, we have a choice of how to do it. For some topics, a “Town Hall Meeting” format will be best. Other times a phone call is the most appropriate, while for other situations an email would be the best choice.

The first rule in communication is to consider what mode to use for a particular situation. For example, if you are having an “e-grenade” battle with another person going back and forth with escalating rancor and distribution, it is a wise strategy to pick up the phone or walk down the hall to change to a less inflammatory method of communicating.

Email is not conversation

Because of the pattern of entering data and then getting a response before adding more information, we often think of email messages as if they are a conversation. But email communication is far different from conversation.

When we are face to face with another person, we have the opportunity to flex our tone, cadence, content, and message based on the real-time body language we observe on the part of the recipient.

In email, we have no ability to modify the message based on how it is being interpreted by the receiver.

We just take our whole unmodified message and put it in a box and plop in into the lap of the receiver. Never think of email as conversation. It is so much easier to get into trouble in email versus face to face communication.

Less is more in emails

To communicate at all, it is necessary for the recipient to not only open the note but to actually read the whole thing and absorb the meanings you put into it. If you have a reputation for sending long, rambling, poorly-formatted emails, you may think you are communicating, but if people just don’t bother to open your notes, then you are in error.

You probably know someone who when you see their name pop up in your inbox, you say something like, “Oh no, not him again. I don’t even want to open this note because it will be upsetting to me and take me 15 minutes to unscramble.”

You know other people who you welcome in your inbox, because you anticipate their note will be well formatted BRIEF and easy to digest. Make sure you are perceived more like the second person than the first.

I have two rules of thumb to keep out of trouble.

Rule 1 – Your email should be able to be read and interpreted in 15-30 seconds. If there is more detail necessary, consider a different form of communication or use optional attachments.

Rule 2 – Make sure that when the reader opens up your note, he or she can see the signature at the bottom of the FIRST page. The reason is that if the text of a note goes “over the horizon” to more pages to come, it puts the reader off because the person does not know how long this note is going to be.

Subject and first sentence set the tone for a note

Before a person opens your note, the only bits of information are your name and the subject. Make sure the subject is clear and unambiguous.

Then, when the person opens up the note, the very first few words will actually set the tone for the entire note. Make sure you start off on the right foot with the reader.

It is best to avoid having the first word be “You.” Reason: regardless of the content to follow, the tone of the first word puts the reader on the defensive. This is especially true if you would follow the pronoun with an absolute (eg “You always,” or “You never”).

Be cheerful but not banal. For example, “Hi George” is a good start, but if it is followed by “I trust this note finds you and your loved ones feeling well” you have lost credibility. Also, while I am on the topic of banal, please do not write at the end of your note, “and remember we will all get through this together.” It was old several months ago.

Emails are permanent documents

Once you hit the send button, you have lost control of the information. It can go to anyone else at any time in the future. When we speak to others, the half life of the information is a few days to a week, but when it is online, the information is available forever. Try to mostly praise people online but coach them verbally.

If you use electronic means to criticize other people, there will likely be significant damage control necessary, as we witness by the tweets of some famous people.

Accomplish your objective

When you communicate online, you have an objective in mind. You want to obtain a positive reaction to your note. When you proofread your note before sending it (which is always a best practice) ask yourself if this content and format is going to get the reaction you wanted.

Write when you are yourself

We have all made the mistake of flashing out to others in email when we are upset. It is sometimes difficult to hold back, but it is always wise to send out notes only when you are in good control of all your faculties.

These are just a few of the points I make in the book. They seem obvious, but in the hub bub of organizational life we sometimes forget these basic ideas. That habit works to our disadvantage.

The preceding information was adapted from the book, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online by Robert Whipple. It is available on http://www.leadergrow.com.

Robert Whipple is also the author of The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders.