Six Tips for Improving Electronic Communications

February 27, 2019

Last week I discussed interpreting electronic body language. Decoding electronic body language well is the mirror image of being sensitive to the messages we write. Let’s look at some important, but often overlooked, principles of clear electronic communication. Here are six key principles to consider:

1. Different from verbal communications

Everyone knows that e-mail and texting are different from conversations, but often people don’t change their communication patterns accordingly.

For example, people cannot modify content of a message based on the real-time visible reaction of the other party as in face-to-face conversations. Instead, all information is presented at once without feedback.

Misunderstandings or hurt feelings are common. No matter how sensitive you try to be, the reader may interpret your comments as being insensitive.

2. Electronic documents are permanent documents

Once the “send” button is pushed, you can’t take it back, and you normally lose all control over who views your words. The permanent nature of notes is often forgotten in everyday interactions, but the implications are serious.

Consider the difference between verbal praise and praise via email. When praise is given vocally, the impact is reduced over time as people tend to forget. When praise is given via email, the recipient is likely to read it many times and even print it out to show others at home. The benefit is amplified.

Unfortunately, the more lasting impact also occurs on the negative side. A verbal reprimand is an unhappy event for anyone, but time often mitigates the pain. A reprimand in a text or email tends to endure and even feel worse with time. It will be read many times, and may be forwarded to others.

3. Understand the objective

Before you write a note, consider what are you trying to accomplish. Make sure when you proofread a note that it will achieve your goal.

Most people who annoy or anger others in notes don’t have that intention. You can eliminate problems if you clarify your objective.

4. Less is more in electronic communication

Short notes are more likely to be read and understood. A note must be opened, read, and internalized by the reader to have any value.

People who write long, detailed, and technically perfect notes are frequently ignored by others due to the volume of information. Have they communicated or just annoyed?

5. Set the tone

Your tone is established in the first sentence, or in the case of an email in the subject line. A poor start means the reader is likely to reject much of the content or become defensive. Notes that start with the right tone are more effective.

6. Write when you are yourself

Avoid sending messages that are written when you are angry or not yourself. At these times, you are not the person you want to portray to the world.

These points seem obvious, but they are often ignored. With the proper mindset and attention to detail, you can easily make major improvements to your electronic communications.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 600 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Improving Electronic Communication 1

February 20, 2019

Many of us now view electronic communication (email or texting) casually. We just type information as if we were chatting with someone in the hallway. This is potentially a big mistake.

When we communicate verbally, most information is conveyed through body language and voice inflection; only a small fraction of information is conveyed by the actual words. In electronic communication, all we have are the words as clues to decode information accurately, so the challenge is significant.

Imagine the advantage if we could read “ebody language.” We could understand the intent of notes by interpreting meaning in between the words on the screen. That skill would be important, as the percentage of electronic communications continues to rise. There is ample “body language,” and even voice inflection, available in electronic communications—if we know how to read the signals.

Unfortunately, most people have no training in reading electronic body language. They rely on the written words to impute meaning, which is like trying to paint a full-color picture using only red paint. They can’t blend different colors into subtle shades that reflect the richness of the scene.

Working with just the words means that sometimes people become offended when no offense was intended.

To read between the lines of text online, we have to pay attention to the signals and integrate them into a pattern that yields more information than the words alone. For example, if we know what to look for, the first few words on a message often give vital clues to the tone of the note.

The difference between “Hi Mary,” and “So Mary,” is huge if you are Mary. Keep an eye out for the tone, timing, and tension in your electronic communications.

Tone

Tone builds additional meaning into notes in dozens of ways. Emoticons and acronyms are two well-known methods that should be used sparingly and only in casual communications.

Qualifying conjunctions, such as the word “but,” often convey the opposite meaning from the literal words of a note: “We loved your class, but it is good to have it completed.” The conjunction becomes an “eraser word” because people pay more attention to what comes after the “but.”

Other kinds of expressions might also convey the opposite meaning. For example, “no offense” usually means the writer is expecting you may take offense. Some words or phrases tend to inflame people if not managed carefully. “Let me make it perfectly clear” is a good example.

Much of the tone of a note is contained in pronouns. “You” is the most commonly misused pronoun. “You never let me finish my work” is an example. The reader interprets this as an accusation or lecture and becomes defensive. Whenever starting a sentence with “you,” check to see if it might send a wrong signal.

Overuse of the personal pronouns “I,” “me,” and “my” make the writer sound parochial or egotistical.

Too much emphasis on “we” and “they” will signal a competitive atmosphere where silos inhibit good communication and cooperation.

To maintain credibility, avoid using absolutes. “She has never done anything to help us” is easily proven incorrect.

Try to avoid phrases with double meanings, one of which is sarcastic: “His diatribe at the meeting shows what an emotionally intelligent leader he is.” Sarcasm is often disguised as humor, but it can quickly backfire with uncontrolled distributions.

Never write something in an email that you would not be willing to have anyone read, because literally anyone might receive a copy.

Timing

Timing issues with electronic communication often lead to problems. A major issue is the asynchronous nature of email and often with texting. Since people open notes at different times, one person might respond to a note that has already been superseded, leading to much confusion.

When chatting, your input may be a response to a point made several entries back, which can lead to unintended, often comical, but sometimes embarrassing exchanges.

The antidote is to be alert for misunderstandings based on when people respond to notes. Sometimes notes arrive in the inbox when readers are in an overload situation or otherwise unable to react positively.

The solution to timing issues with electronic communications is to use common sense and try to reach your reader at a time when he or she is most receptive. This advice is more critical when emotions are high.

Tension

Tension and interpersonal conflict often leave a bloody trail in electronic correspondence. Inappropriate outbursts of anger in texts or e-mails usually make both parties look foolish. When individuals escalate conflict in online exchanges, it becomes like a childish food fight.

The way to stop an “electronic grenade” battle is to refrain from taking the bait. Do not respond to the attack in kind. Acknowledge a difference of opinion, but do not escalate the situation. Switching to a different form of communication will help avoid a trail of embarrassing notes.

The three T’s explain some of the mechanics of e-body language, but why should organizations be vitally interested in this subject?

E-xcellence: The Corporate Case

E-xcellence offers a pragmatic and inexpensive approach to resolve some of the most frustrating issues quickly. All organizations face the challenges associated with communicating online efficiently. The solutions may appear elusive. So, by including e-xcellence as part of your vision, you gain a huge competitive advantage.

Your organization has a sustainable competitive advantage if:

• You live and work unhampered by the problems of poor online communication.

• Employees are not consumed by sorting out important information from piles of garbage notes.

• Coworkers are not focused on one-upmanship and internal turf wars.

• Leaders know how to use electronic communications to build trust.

Once you learn the essentials of electronic body language, you will be more adept at decoding incoming messages and better sense how your messages are interpreted by others.

You will understand the secret code written “between the lines” of messages and enhance your online communications in your sphere of influence. Next week I will share some additional principles to keep in mind when communicating electronically.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 600 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Enjoy Your Dance

February 12, 2019

I love to watch young children dance to the music with great abandon. Unfortunately, as we grow into adults, we rarely get the opportunity to be as free and uninhibited as we were when we were kids.

How do you feel about being you right now? Be truthful with yourself, and think about how much you like yourself right this moment. This article, hopefully, will jolt you into a different frame of mind relative to your happiness and the quality of your life.

I teach many online courses, and deal with students from all over the world. I recall one interchange between a student living in a frigid part of the USA and another student in Hawaii.

At one point, the student who lived in Detroit was lamenting another dreary day, and he had reached the breaking point. His comment to the student in Hawaii was, “Well, I have to take responsibility for my own misery. After all, I chose not to live in paradise.” I immediately wrote to the complaining student reminding him that “paradise” is a state of mind rather than a state of the Union.

There are numerous things that gauge the level of satisfaction and happiness we milk out of living. This article focuses on one’s perception of self.
Most of us are in the middle of a long progression of the days of our lives. It feels like a long time since our days of youth and exuberance, and we have a long way to go before somebody puts us in a pine box. We live each day reacting to the forces and challenges that hit us. Some days are good, and others are less happy.

We are what we are because that is what we have chosen to be. Many people go through life being unhappy with themselves and blaming others or circumstances (like if I only had a smaller nose). We have such a short time on this planet, and it would be smart to be happy with ourselves first and foremost.

Nobody else has to wake up with you and be with you 100% of the time, so if you are not happy with yourself, the quality of your precious life is diminished. Who would be to blame for that? Hmmm…let me think.

My observation of our lives in the grand scheme of the universe and the ages is that human beings are all like little kids. You have to go up only a few miles and look down through a telescope, and you can observe us all dancing around all over the world as we move through our day.

We show up and dance around for a fleeting 80-100 years, and then we are gone. Eighty years in celestial time is hardly a blink. Better make sure you are enjoying your dance.

Our possessions that we covet, our money that we lust after, make very little difference in the end. All that matters is how much of an impact we have managed to have on others, how much love we have generated, and how much we have enjoyed our dance.

What are some of the things that contribute to enjoying your dance? Here are a few examples. (Note, this list is not exhaustive.)

Making a contribution:

We all make contributions, both good and bad. If you have provided one shred of thought that has been recorded and provided value to other people, you have made a contribution. Two shreds counts for double that value, so provide many shreds of value to the advancement of society.

Finding honest love:

If we feel deeply in our soul that we have loved the people in our lives, then we go to our grave reflecting on a life well lived. This, of course, includes family, but it also includes heroes, mentors, classmates, pets, friends, grocers, frogs, lamps, books, and any other person or thing that we truly love.

Believing in an Infinite Power:

Many people think of this as religion, but it really covers the entire realm of spiritual awareness. I do not know about you, but I really do believe that something is guiding my steps at times, and it is not just me.

There have been too many remarkable surprises handed to me in life for me to take credit for thinking them up or for them to be just random coincidences. You can call it what you wish, but there is an Infinite Presence there somehow.

Helping others:

Whenever you give of yourself to help another, you feel great about yourself. That effort is a really good dance in your daily routine. The help can come in any form, and the only criterion is that at that time you were thinking more about the other person’s situation than your own. The help could be financial, physical, emotional, or even comical.

Making something:

To create a thing of beauty, or even ugliness since beauty is subject to interpretation, is a good dance. Some people are really good at this, like my father, who painted over 2000 fine watercolor paintings after the age of 55. Some people create great food or fine woodwork. To shape the elements into a new configuration that has never been done is intrinsically rewarding. Most creations are not marketable, but they are physical evidence that we were around and dancing happily.

Teaching or mentoring:

As we seek to impart some of our wisdom onto other people, we give the gift of knowledge. It is a subset of helping others, but this one is special, because we target the help on an individual who benefits from it.

For a person with great insight and knowledge to keep it to himself really wastes his dance time. I think it is really difficult to mentor from the grave, although some people do believe strongly in doing it or receiving it, which is part of their own dance.

Appreciating what you experience:

This attitude is all about not being numb to the beauty all around us every day. Seeing the small acts of kindness of one person toward another brings us joy. Marveling at the beauty of a flower, the taste of raspberry Jello, or the Bach B Minor Mass provides deep joy, but only if you are awake and paying attention.

Loving what you do:

The ability to look at each day as an adventure into the possible instead of a drudgery of our current agony is what lifts us up. Hope is there when you enjoy your work and your play. There is a choice you make every day as you dance through it.

Those are just eight examples from the top of my head of how to make the most out of your 80+ year dance. Who knows, you might beat the odds and dance until you are older than 100, or you might check out in your 20s.

You will notice the absence of wealth or possessions on my list, because I think those things dry up and blow away very quickly after we stop dancing. In the grand scheme of the world and the eons of time, the only thing that really matters is what you did with your opportunity to dance, not how big a pile of clutter you were able to generate.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, 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. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Andrew Brady Named one of 100 Top Thought Leaders in Trust

January 29, 2019

I am pleased to pass on that my friend Andrew Brady has just been named as one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trust by Trust Across America.

The citation reads as follows: As CEO of the XLR8 Team Inc. Andrew is a tireless champion of excellence in culture, which includes an environment of high trust. He has been the principal consultant for the Award Winning Wegmans Grocery Chain, which typically scores in the top ten organizations to work for in the USA.

Andrew is well known in Rochester as an amazing positive force in numerous organizations such as:  The Rochester Chapter of Conscious Capitalism, Junior Achievement, Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, Young Professional Leaders, Rochester Area Business Ethics Foundation, and ROC City Coalition.

Andrew’s first book “For the EVOLution of Business” is due to come out this year.  He was a member of the 2017 class of 40 Under 40.  Please join me in congratulating this amazing resource for the Greater Rochester Community and for the international Trust Community.


Body Language 10R Scratching of the Head

January 12, 2019

Sorry – I had to reissue this article with a different picture to translate well in the LinkedIn environment.

This type of body language is very well known, and the meaning is hard to miss. Perhaps it is a bit more conscious than other BL gestures because we actually refer to it in daily conversation.

We might say something like, “His actions yesterday really left me scratching my head.” The translation is one of confusion or not knowing how to interpret something.

The vision I have with this body language is stuck in my mind. I once saw a man who was driving a little black sports car. I came up upon him when his car was broken down by the side of the road. He had gotten out of the car and just raised the hood as I was going by.

Out from the engine compartment steam was billowing out toward the man’s face. He stood there with his hand near the back of his head and fingers reaching down to scratch his head. It did not take a rocket scientist to derive the meaning of his gesture. It means, “What the heck is going on?”

Often there is a physiological explanation for a specific type of body language, such as the need for more oxygen leading to loosening of the collar. The link for scratching the head might originate in the inability of the brain to comprehend exactly what is happening at the moment.

We may scratch our heads as a way to see more clearly the issue, much the same as when we rake leaves we can see the grass better.

In addition to confusion, this form of body language may signify doubt or uncertainty. In some circumstances, it may be an indication of lying. If someone starts to scratch his head while you are talking to him, check to see if the indication is that the person does not believe what you are saying. You would usually see another facial indication of doubt along with the head scratching.

For example, if the person furrows his brow while scratching his head, it may be a signal that you are damaging the trust this person had built up for you.

Whatever the source of the emotion, the person making the gesture is usually not aware he is doing it, unless someone points it out. We see the behavior in others very quickly, but we are normally not conscious of when we do it ourselves.

The scratching head gesture may have a logical physical explanation such as eczema or severe dandruff. As with all body language, you need to consider the person’s habitual movements. If this person routinely scratches his head with no apparent stimulus, it is likely the problem is a physical itch rather than puzzlement.

The best way to grow in your interpretation of this type of body language is to catch yourself in the act and bring it to your conscious mind. You will be using your Reticular Activation System (RAS) to become more alert to the signals you send out.

The best way to describe RAS is with an example. You are driving down the highway, and you do not notice any specific pattern to the different makes and models of the cars and trucks. Your mind is focused on other things. Then you turn into a Ford dealership and look at a specific red Ford truck that you fancy. You have a negotiation with the dealer and get enough information to make a decision in the next couple days. As you drive back home, you will see every red Ford truck on the highway. You will be amazed at the number that are flowing by when you did not notice them at all on your way to the dealer. Your RAS will have been activated.

Use your RAS to sensitize yourself to the various body language signals you send and you will gain greater control of how you project your emotions to others.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/Bodylanguage or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 600 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Global Ethics Day 2018

October 16, 2018

I am writing an extra blog this week in support of the Global Ethics Day for 2018 that is supported by The Carnegie Council.

The day of celebration is Wednesday October17, and they have 74 different groups from around the world running events and getting input on the state of ethics in their geography. #globalethicsday2018

Many of the groups appear to be associated with universities, but there are several non-academic groups involved as well.

Personally, I am interested in this effort because I am the Chair of the Board of the Rochester Area Business Ethics Foundation (RABEF) in Rochester New York.

We are working to be recognized as the Gold Standard for Ethical Cultures. Our mission is to Promote, Support and Celebrate ethical practices, and we award top organizations with a tangible statue that we call the ETHIE each year in October.

Our celebration this year takes place on October 22 at the GEVA Theater in Rochester.

RABEF is also associated with a group called Trust Across America: Trust Around the World. Last April Barbara Brooks Kimmel, CEO of TAA-TAW, announced an initiative to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the group.

The initiative is called “Tap Into Trust.” We invite you to participate in the program at the attached site: You and your group can “Tap Into Trust” by following these principles and behaviors:

 

 

 

 

 

Truth
We are honest and humble – we put the truth ahead of personal gain.
Accountability
We hold one another accountable – we each take responsibility without regard to level or role.
Purpose
We engage our stakeholders to build shared purpose – we avoid short term “wins” that undermine future success.
Integrity
We do what we say – our everyday actions and talk are consistent.
Notice
We seek out and listen to diverse perspectives – every voice can matter.
Talent
We reward moral character – we hire and promote in alignment with our purpose and values.
Openness
We are open and ready to learn – we can be vulnerable and not have all the answers.
Transparency
We reject hidden agendas – we are transparent wherever and whenever possible.
Respect
We respect each other – we encourage questioning and create a “zero fear” environment where innovation can thrive.
Understanding
We celebrate our successes – we acknowledge and examine our failures with empathy, and learn from both.
Safety
We call out unethical behavior or corrupt practices – we make it safe to be honest with no fear of reprisal.
Tracking
We define and scorecard our performance against our value and values – we measure both.


Successful Supervisor 90 Managing a Low Trust Group

August 25, 2018

Sometime in your career, you may inherit a low trust group. It won’t take you long to figure out that you have your hands full. In low trust groups, the acrimony is obvious, and employees take every opportunity to turn honest attempts to improve the culture into further difficulties.

This article highlights why this phenomenon occurs and suggests some antidotes to try if you are in that circumstance.

Why do Low Trust Groups Exist?

Almost without exception, when you run into a group of people who are totally negative, it is because they have been poorly led in the past. Often there have been a string of ill-equipped leaders at several levels that have destroyed the culture and created the monster you now face.

The good news is that if you are an excellent leader, the prognosis to regain a great culture is pretty good. It is certainly not a cinch to turn the situation around, but it usually is possible depending on your own leadership skill. Below are some ideas that I have found work well, if they are skillfully applied.

Do not assume they are just “bad people”

Often leaders blame the workers for their poor attitudes or work habits. It is really the circumstances they have been in that are causing the hostility they are showing toward you. Recognize it will take time, but you can get most of the people to be great workers once again.

One caution here, you probably will not be able to save them all. Once people have been abused past a certain point, some of them will never be able to regain positive mindsets. One of your tasks is to figure out which few will never come around and find a different home for them inside or outside the organization. If you do have a few truly bad apples, it is essential to remove them from the rest of the group or you will never be successful at changing the culture.

Have open discussions about a “new deal.”

Tell the employees that you are not like the leaders they have had in the past. Realize they may scoff at this idea, but keep pointing out that you value a culture of high trust and will be working to earn their trust as you proceed.

Recognize that they are acting out in ways that annoy you, but the underlying cause is fear. When people are afraid of bad things happening to them, they become jaded and push back on every positive suggestion.

One of your main jobs during the first few months is to drive out the fear.

Ask your new employees to tell you any time what you are proposing does not square with their sense of rightness. They will be reluctant to do this at first because there has been a pattern of punishment for this in the past.

You must convince them by your actions that you will make them glad when they point out what they feel are inconsistencies as long as they do it respectfully.

Understand that you do not have to reverse every decision when there is pushback from the employees. Instead you should make the decision that is best for the organization but just make them not feel punished when they pushback. Treat them as adults who have legitimate points of view.

Be consistent and also flexible

It is not necessary to treat all employees the same way on all decisions. Employees have different needs, so you may have to make some decisions that reflect that. However, on enforcement of rules and policies or on modeling the values, you must be consistent and unwavering.

You need to know when you can flex and when you must be rigid. Knowing when to be “steel” and when to be “velvet” is a concept taught to me by my dear friend Bob Vanourek in his book “Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations.” I recommend this book for all leaders.

Admit mistakes publicly and quickly

It is normally a trust-building event when a leader admits a mistake. The two exceptions to this rule are if the mistake has been repeated several other times or if the mistake is due to a sinister motive. For example, if the mistake was to avoid owning up to a lie you told in the past, then admitting it would seal your fate.

Most mistakes are honest attempts to do something worthwhile that just did not work out as planned. For those mistakes, admitting them builds higher trust with most people.

Praise in public but coach in private

Become known as a person who acknowledges the good deeds of others. Make sure your praise is sincere rather than manipulative.

When it is necessary to enforce discipline or coach an errant employee, do it face to face (not in e-mail) and do it privately. Make sure the employee knows you are having this discussion because you genuinely care about him and want him to have a successful future.

Learn their names

Make sure you call people by their name when passing in the hall or at their work station. Keep track of what they are going through in their personal lives, so you can relate to them emotionally. Say things like “Did your daughter ever find her lost cat?” or “How are those new tires working out?”

Practice good body language

Making good eye contact is essential if you hope to develop trust with people. Study the different forms of body language and use that knowledge to connect with people on a deeper level. For example, you might say “You are looking much brighter today; yesterday I thought you looked a little sad…anything going on?”

There are literally hundreds of other tips that can allow you to turn a hostile group into one of high trust, but these seven ideas make a good starter kit. Practice them daily, and you can transform almost any hostile group in just a few months. Once you have a reputation for being able to accomplish this feat, you will become known as “one of the best supervisors we have in the organization.”

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763