Successful Supervisor Part 10 – Body Language

January 21, 2017

I have been fascinated with body language for several decades. I have studied it for countless hours and believe I have only scratched the surface of this complex area of communication.

We all are skilled at reading the body language of others. Another person does not need to talk to let us know she is upset, happy, tired, fearful, confused, and hundreds of other descriptors.

While we are all good at reading signals from other people, few of us have a really good working knowledge of some of the more subtle forms of body language.

This article shines a light on how supervisors who are skilled at reading the body language of others and controlling their own have a huge advantage in the workplace.

Decades ago, the behavioral scientist Albert Mehrabian did a series of experiments at UCLA. He tried to measure what percent of meaning comes from the words we use when we talk face to face with another individual about our feelings or emotions.

His famous experiments revealed that only about 7% of the meaning comes from the words we use. 38% of meaning comes from our tone of voice, and a whopping 55% of meaning comes from our body language.

The sad thing is that you rarely see a course in school, even graduate school, that deals with how to interpret body language. The topic is covered on some titillating websites that try to help people interpret the signals of possible mates in bars or other such entertaining information.

You rarely see the topic taught as a serious study for leaders. I find that strange and always include a heavy dose of body language awareness in my work with leaders at all levels.

The first thing to recognize is that the amount of body language that is available for interpretation is immense. Most people take in only a few percentage points of what they might if they were properly educated and paying attention.

The reason is that, for most people, the received body language is taken in subconsciously. Likewise, we are normally unaware of the majority of body language we are sending.

Facial expressions are the most intentional aspect of body language, and even there we send a lot more signals than we realize. If we could make it more intentional both on the giving and receiving end, we could improve communication between people an enormous amount with little extra effort.

If you study the Quality of Work Life Studies that are done in corporations, you can see that almost universally what employees feed back to managers is that the number one or number two deficiency in the company is COMMUNICATION.

Yet with all that obvious input, you rarely see leadership classes that specialize in body language or listening skills, which are two rich sources of communication improvement. It is really astounding.

For any supervisor, becoming more skilled at these elements of leadership is the fastest way to improve her performance. Unfortunately for me, these skills are not easily covered adequately in a blog article. I did one video on body language that highlighted how important it is when first meeting people. I call it “Planting the Seeds of Trust in the First 10 Seconds.”

I think for supervisors, the most important part of body language is to ensure the signals she is sending are consistent with her desires. I have no idea how she would do that if she has no education on the topic.

There are many good books on the subject, and of course I have a full program that I do with leaders in my consulting work.

There is lots of information online. One good test to see how well you interpret facial expressions is located at the site of the Greater Good. There is another good site on Business Balls that gives a lot of helpful information. I also happen to like a DVD Produced by Bill Acheson, a body language expert from University of Pittsburg. The title is Advanced Body Language.

One thing to be aware of is that body language is different for different cultures. You need to learn how people from the culture you are supervising send out signals.

You must not assume their signals are the same as yours. Be alert to misunderstandings due to this aspect and get some education. For example, if you are an American and you are supervising several people in a call center who are from the Far East, you need to take a lot more care to understand their points.

Probably the most significant help I can be in this brief article is to suggest the supervisor simply pay a lot more attention to the body language she is seeing with her people.

Learn to interpret signals more consciously and also pay attention to how you are communicating with people via body language. There is no substitute for specific knowledge, but awareness is always available and will help.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on 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, or 585.392.7763


November 13, 2016

I read Seth Goden’s blog every day and enjoy observing how his mind works. I am no Seth Goden, but I do admire how he comes up with interesting perspectives on the human condition daily.

His blogs are often very short, which I appreciate from a time perspective, but even in a few lines he can make me think. His entry for today (10/9/2016) was “Visualizing the Leaks.” It was about how organizations experience leaks all the time and often are not aware of them.

According to Seth, “The first step is seeing it, and then to refusing to go back to not seeing it.”

In this article, I will amplify on his observation about leaks in organizations and offer some ways to stop the hemorrhaging.

Webster defines the intransitive verb “leak” in two main ways:

1. to escape through an opening
2. to become known despite efforts at concealment

Both of these definitions have direct parallels in the business world, and each one has vast significance for the health of any organization.

The definition Seth was addressing was the first one, so let’s examine that first, then go on to some points about the second definition.

Organizations survive based on the nucleus of resources they have managed to amass and how well these assets are preserved. Whether we are talking about trade secrets, tangible assets, intellectual property, or key people, the organization becomes stronger when these elements are fostered and grow in number or weaker if they are allowed to leak out into the ether or become assets of a competing firm.

Here the concept of a vessel comes in handy as a metaphor because we can picture resources escaping through some hole or crack in the vessel.

Let’s focus the discussion here on the most important resource of all: people. The idea is to keep turnover to a minimum level and only lose those individuals who are dragging the organization down in some way.

Turnover is one of the most devastating costs for any organization, and it goes on in all groups. The antidote is to have such a wonderful culture, so far above what is available elsewhere that an individual would be a fool to pack up and go somewhere else.

To accomplish this requires leaders who know how to create great cultures. An example would be Tony Hsieh, who is the CEO of Zappos. In 2009 Zappos was acquired by Amazon because Jeff Bezos recognized the giant merchandiser could learn a lot from the smaller online retailer of shoes.

For years, Zappos had offered new employees a bonus of $4000 if they wanted to leave after their first year of training. Amazon upped the stakes with a program that they call “Pay to quit.” Amazon offers employees $2000 to quit after their first year and then an additional $1000 each year after that up to a maximum of $5000 that is offered each year of employment, if the employee wants to leave.

In explaining the philosophy to stakeholders of Amazon, Bezos said, “The goal is to encourage folks to take a moment and think about what they really want. In the long-run, an employee staying somewhere they don’t want to be isn’t healthy for the employee or the company.”

Other than a cash prize that tests loyalty, there are hundreds of ways organizations can create a fantastic culture where employees would be foolish to leave. Here is a very brief (and incomplete) list of examples:

1. Create a culture of high trust where people know it is safe to talk about their concerns without fear of reprisal.

2. Cross train people constantly. This encourages personal growth and adds bench strength. It is also a wonderful team building activity.

3. Set aggressive goals and keep people busy working toward the goals. Spend time and energy celebrating the small wins along the way. Make sure progress is reinforced.

4. Have specific values and insist that every employee, especially the managers, always live by them. It is easy to have a set of values but not always follow them when the going gets tough. Great organizations follow the values no matter what.

5. Have a culture where each person feels like a winner rather than a loser. This is done by creating a reinforcing culture that is real, not phony, and exists at all levels.

The idea here is not to create an exhaustive list of things that retain employees, but to give a few of the important examples as a reminder that the most important thing that will determine the culture of any organization is the behavior of its top leaders.

When you retain the best people, then you tend to plug up all of the other leaks that can occur, like intellectual property, physical assets, and many other intangible assets. Let’s shift gears and discuss the second definition of a leak:

The inadvertent or intentional disclosure of information that was meant to be kept private.

With the reality of Wikileaks as an example of what is going on, it has become obvious that keeping information from leaking is more difficult today that it was 15 years ago. This trend will continue without abatement as technology becomes more ubiquitous.

CEOs as well as all public figures are quickly realizing that we need to behave as if the microphone is always on, because for an overwhelming percentage of the time, it is.

Information will leak, period. The only way to run an ethical organization of high trust is to never talk or act in ways that are not consistent with what we would want plastered throughout the internet.

That is a tough standard for CEOs who live in the pressure cooker of quarterly pressures from Wall Street all the time. It is the only standard that is defensible or rational in our world today. Many organizations are finding out that doing things with integrity is the only formula for long term success.

Seth Goden is right, we need to see the leaks that are going on and rise to the challenge of ubiquitous information in every organization that intends to survive. The good news is that those organizations who get that message are not only surviving, they are thriving.

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, or 585.392.7763

What Are You Not Doing

October 24, 2016

This article is for all professionals who want to make the most of their time. The thesis is that we need to consider the things we are not doing as well as those we are supporting with our effort.

The idea of noting the things we can do as well as the opportunities we are missing is one that is highlighted in the quality concept called “six sigma.”

Most business professionals are familiar with the term six-sigma. It is a concept where we seek to make our processes so close to perfection that there are only slightly over 3 defects per million opportunities. I have taught six sigma for decades, and one thing about the concept has always bugged me.

The whole premise of six-sigma is based on a ratio of defects per opportunity. When you think about it, the number of defects is difficult to measure, but at least the number is finite.

The number of opportunities to make a defect is really infinite because they include all of the steps we can take but also all of the steps we decide not to take.

If I remember my 7th grade math correctly, when the denominator of a fraction goes to infinity, the ratio becomes a moot point. Now let’s consider how the conundrum of an infinite number of possible alternatives creates an interesting parallel for our personal lives.

Most of us focus our energy on the things we are doing. In planning the daily “To Do” list, we tend to list the items of importance that must be done today in order to convince ourselves that we are getting the most out of life.

We rarely spend that much energy on the other side of the equation and think about the things we are deciding not to do. Of course, if you are trying to quit a bad habit, you might list “smoke no cigarettes” on your To Do list for today.

We make a conscious effort to avoid the things that we are trying to quit, but we spend far less conscious energy on what things we are avoiding out of neglect.

Let me make a couple ridiculous examples to illustrate my point.

On my mental To Do list for today, I do not have an item to avoid becoming a ballet dancer. I am not making a conscious effort to avoid a late-blooming career as a ballet dancer. If you could see my body, you would understand the absurdity of that vision, because it has no basis in reality.

The irony is that there are an infinite number of things I am choosing not to do today. I will not decide to become a politician today. My bucket can be overflowing when I die and still I will never have won an elected governmental office.

The number of things I am deciding to not do is infinite.
These crazy examples are just to highlight the dilemma. I have only a finite number of seconds yet to be alive on this planet. Clearly, it is in my best interest to use each second wisely, so I focus on the things I want to accomplish: my goals.

Then the dilemma becomes, what potential activities did I miss through the process of neglect? My path forward is very narrow and restricted when compared with the infinite number of things I reject simply by not considering them. What I do not get involved with may be limiting the joy I am getting from life as well as what I choose to do.

The whole concept is so convoluted that my brain starts to hurt after a while, so I cop out like every other breathing person and focus on those few things that are readily available for me to do today. The irony is that I do have the option at any point in time to do something completely different.

For example, today I could choose to give away all my possessions and go try to help the poor in Africa for the remainder of my life.

Personally, I am not going to spend more time today wondering about this conundrum. It is not going to change what I do, but I must realize that in rejecting the option to think more carefully about what I am electing to not do, I am limiting my choices in life dramatically. Right now, I am deciding to have a cup of coffee. How about you?

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, or 585.392.7763

Work Ahead of the Power Curve

May 28, 2016

Do you ever find yourself scrambling near a deadline to get all the work done? I suspect we have all experienced a time crunch on a project, whether it was a term paper in school, a special project at work, or even a party to celebrate a holiday.

As we pull an all-nighter to finish our project just ahead of the deadline, what we are really doing is lowering our chances of a successful effort and suffering unnecessary stress.

The alternative is to arrange your life so that you can complete most of the work well ahead of the due date. My mentor used to refer to this as “working ahead of the power curve.” That may seem impossible to do, but hang in with me and I will make it more doable for you. Before we discuss the process, let’s explore the benefits.

There are many advantages of getting the majority of work done early. Here are seven obvious advantages:

1. You have more time to polish the work, so the final quality is significantly higher.

2. You can do dry runs of the material, so your work comes out more professional looking.

3. You can relax and not be uptight about working close to the deadline. That also improves the quality of the material along with reducing your stress level.

4. You get the reputation as an organized person who has his or her act together.

5. You can respond better to unanticipated emergency situations because your current plate of work is not overflowing.

6. You can spend some time looking at potential problems that might arise and have contingencies ready to go.

7. Since you know you are prepared, you are more confident and relaxed when the event arrives.

With the help of my mentor, I got the idea of doing this many years ago. It sounded impossible to me at the time because, like everyone else, I was always so backed up with dozens of projects.

Actually, it was not as difficult as I thought to get into the habit of tricking myself into believing the deadline was a week or two ahead of the actual due date.

Once I experienced the tremendous benefits of working ahead of the power curve, as described above, I have tried to work that way ever since. There are still some times when things get just overwhelming, but when that happens, I just get up earlier to keep things moving.

A professor of mine in college used to advise students to write papers like they were climbing a mountain. Get as far up the mountain on the first day as you can. Then the path to the top on subsequent days gets easier and more enjoyable.

Just write the bulk of the paper quickly and have it in draft form as early as possible, then you can go back and refine it at a more metered pace when you are relaxed. It is a lot easier that way.

I use this system with my weekly blog articles. I have an “inventory” of articles that stretch out for a few months in front of when they are actually published. When my inventory starts to get below four weeks, that is the signal to plunk out another 4-8 articles.

I do that quickly based on little notes I have made to myself along the way of interesting topics to discuss. Once the drafts are done, I can refine the writing as the time to actually publish them gets closer.

Using this method allows me to keep a stream of content going at all times. I can, and often do, accumulate similar articles into a book or a video program format. The result is a continual stream of fresh content coming out without a lot of stress or panic.

Try the formula of working ahead of the power curve in your life. If you can acquire the discipline to do it, you will find that the quality of your work will rise, while at the same time your stress level will go down. It is a life skill worth cultivating.

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, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind. 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, or 585.392.7763

Clean Out Your Clutter

May 14, 2016

Most of us need a reminder once in a while to clean out our clutter. This article is about the topic of clutter in various parts of our lives and how we need to keep it from building up.

If you have the personal discipline never to have a cluttered desk or workbench, stop reading and give yourself a medal for being so organized. The rest of us will pick apart the clutter and find some ways of coping.

First, it would be good to identify exactly what clutter is. Clutter is that set of things (or ideas) that once served a useful purpose in our lives, but now are no longer useful.

For example, if you look in your cupboard or pantry, you are likely to find some condiments or food items that expired over a year ago. If you think about it, these items are not safe to eat, and you will never use them. They remain on the shelf taking up valuable space, but they will not be consumed by you or anyone else.

To throw them out would be the smart thing to do, but some of us continue to work around these artifacts and simply refuse to do what is obviously right.

Look in your closet. There are probably clothes in there that you intellectually know you will never wear again. Your body shape is not going to return to the size that would allow you to wear them, and you cannot legitimately give them to someone else due to their condition. Yet, year after year, they remain in your closet taking up space and leaving the place a cluttered mess.

Keeping clutter is not just a bad habit for people; it is also a problem for organizations. In any organization, there are procedures and processes that have no current purpose, but we continue to do them out of momentum. They sap energy and time from our current operation, but we fail to stop them.

An example might be a daily report that nobody pays any attention to anymore. It may be the ancient Mimeograph supplies in the stationery cabinet. They will sit there for decades in their unopened boxes, even though the Mimeograph machine was tossed out in 1975.

You probably have ink cartridges or toner for printers that no longer exist in your office. The list goes on and on. Spare parts for machines we no longer own; old Christmas decorations we no longer use; trade show posters collecting dust; a broken vase; these are all items that can be found in most office store rooms, and there are thousands of other examples, if you think about it.

There is also mental clutter that clogs our brains with old ideas that do not apply in our current world, or maybe never did apply very well. For example, many managers still practice a “command and control” philosophy, clinging to the ancient belief that in order to get things done they need to scare people into compliance.

Managers may believe that to “motivate” people, all they need to do is add some extrinsic goodies like t-shirts, pizza parties, or hat days. Those ideas went out with Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory over 60 years ago, yet every day I still see managers trying to “motivate” people with extrinsic rewards.

How can we get a handle on clutter and remove much of it from our lives?

To start with, we need to be able to actually see the clutter in a different form than we usually do. I think one way is to do campaigns where we remove every single bottle of lotion or shampoo from a cupboard and then only replace those items we are likely to use in the future.

You can do one cupboard or closet a day and have an entire room cleaned up in a week. You can set aside three consecutive days on your calendar to do the garage or attic. Just be sure to have a dumpster handy and a wheelbarrow to carry the junk out to it.

With edible condiments and drug or cosmetic items, the rule is to buy only what you intend to use. Use up each item and throw away the container before you purchase a replacement. If you use 3/4 of the bottle, then buy a replacement, eventually you will have cupboards full of 1/4 full bottles and no room for any new ones, plus you will spend 25% more for your cosmetics than you need to. Use what you have before opening a new jar.

With the office procedures, why not have a “clean out” day where we challenge all of the rituals and things that take up our time. There is a formal process for this called “Work Out.” The idea is to take the useless work out of our processes so we can spend our precious time only on the things that matter, thus de-cluttering our processes. The concepts of lean thinking and “5S” principles are particularly helpful for these clean out activities.

The benefit of cleaning out your clutter is that you make room to put the vital few things for your current existence front and center where they are readily available and not hidden among the piles of useless garbage that has built up over the years.

In the event that you need to downsize your environment in the future (and we all eventually do), you will need to throw out the clutter anyway, why not start now and enjoy some more usable resources today.

Your e-mail inbox is another place where clutter can easily accumulate. One antidote for this problem is to make a vow to have the inbox cleaned out totally at least three times a week. If you are really ambitious, see if you can get the inbox to zero read and unread notes at least once a day. People tell me that is impossible, and I admit that I do not always get there, but often I do. I did today, for example.

There are numerous advantages to having a clean inbox. First, you will be more responsive to other people, and that will help build trust between you. I just answered an RFP in record time simply because it was the only thing in my inbox. That may give me an advantage to get selected; maybe not, but at least it is done and out of here.

People also tell me I am much more responsive to proposals than other consultants or speakers. I do not spend a micro-second scanning over old e-mails looking for something I need. I can see everything there is in my inbox with just one glance. People view me as being an organized person, because I almost never lose things or get behind on deliverables.

Successful people have the knack of working at a pace that they define rather than one that is defined by others. For example, Seth Goden can write a book in a weekend, and he writes an insightful blog every day. He has developed a system that works well for him. I admire his prolific nature and seek to emulate it in a more modest pattern that works for me.

One trick I learned a long time ago from my former mentor is to always “work ahead of the power curve,” which is shorthand for “do your work well ahead of the deadline date.” You get more done, and you are rarely late.

Key points

1. Clutter exists in many forms that are physical, mental, emotional, or electronic.
2. It takes discipline to keep the level of clutter down.
3. Electronic clutter is as much of a problem as physical clutter.
4. There are many benefits to getting rid of clutter.

Exercises that will help

1. Name at least 5 practices at your place of work that are wasting the time of people. How could these be eliminated?
2. Now name 5 more and recognize that the potential to identify waste is infinite.
3. What is your personal process for cleaning out the clutter in your life? Are you satisfied with how that is working?
4. Identify one storage area at home and at work each month and have a “cleaning out day.”

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. He can be reached at 585-392-7763. Website BLOG He is author of the following books: 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.

5 Rules to End Hurtful Jokes

March 5, 2016

Have you ever been hurt by a joke, even though it was offered in jest? I was having an online conversation in a class I am teaching about teams at work.

The discussion was relative to having online messages misinterpreted. Clearly we have all experienced this uncomfortable situation more than once.

I got so fascinated about this topic that I wrote a book on it a few years ago.

One student brought up a situation that is common in person as well as online, but the damage done online is usually much larger. This is when a person tries to rib another person with a joke, but the meaning on the part of the receiver is taken literally.

The writer is astonished when the reader takes umbrage at the barb. The writer says, “but I was only joking.”

When people say things in jest, there is usually an element of truth in them. Jokes are often just distortions of reality; that is what makes them humorous. The problem occurs when we make a joke where the punch line puts down another person.

This is so common you probably witness it a dozen times a day or more, and it hardly registers because it is ubiquitous. If you are listening for it, you will hear it often.

Unfortunately, when the joke is documented in online exchanges, there isn’t the opportunity for the writer to let the other person know through body language that the barb is totally in jest.

Actually, even in person there is usually a part of the barb that is for real. Online, the danger is magnified for two reasons,

1) the person cannot see the facial expression and emoticons often are misinterpreted as well, and

2) e-mails are permanent, so the person can read and re-read the joke. It becomes more menacing with each iteration.

The antidote for this common problem is to establish five behavioral norms in your work group as follows:

1. We will not make jokes in any forum at another person’s expense.

2. We will praise in public or online but offer constructive criticism face to face in private.

3. When there is a disconnect in communication, we will always assume the best intent and check it out.

4. If something in an e-mail seems upsetting, it is up to the person who is upset to meet face to face with the other person as soon as possible.

5. We will call each other out politely if we see violations of these rules.

These five rules are not difficult, but it does take some training and resolve to get all people in a population to comply with them.

It helps to get firm agreement among the entire group and to post the rules in the team meeting area. If you can get people to actually follow the five rules above, it will change the entire complexion of the work group.

If all this sounds like common sense, it is. Too bad it is not common practice in many organizations.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. He can be reached at 585-392-7763. Website BLOG He is author of the following books: 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.

The Virality of Trust

January 17, 2015

SynapseI wrote an article a while ago about whether trust can scale. My conclusion was that trust does scale because it is measurable and has properties where it can grow or shrink.

The ensuing discussions between two of my good friends brought out an important nuance. Both Bob Vanourek and Fred Dewey came back with the concept that while trust can expand and contract based on what is going on, it is not linear at all.

A small increase in trust due to an action will tend to grow exponentially as the news spreads through cyberspace. Actions that build trust will become more powerful as a result of the viral nature of information.

Of course, the same phenomenon happens on the negative side. If a leader does something that has a damping effect on trust, that negative impact will become more hurtful as the information spreads virally.

So while the nature of trust is that it does scale, we need to be constantly aware of a “hockey-stick” situation, where one small misstep magnifies in time and in space.

I think this observation has always been true, but as we trend toward a greater percentage of information being conveyed virtually, the leverage increases.

There is an opportunity to intervene that may be helpful. When something unfortunate is done, and it is picked up on the social networks, the person who committed the sin is usually aware of the bad press. It is a kind of moment of truth where the damage is either made much worse or can be muted somewhat. This public relations problem can make or break a person’s reputation.

Let’s take a case as an example and dissect the likely outcomes. Suppose a CEO puts out a note to the senior managers that refers to some problem (unnamed) employees as “knuckleheads.”

One of the managers gets a chuckle out of the wording and elects to pass it along to a couple underlings as a joke. One of the underlings is familiar with a person who has been under scrutiny for some attendance problems. He writes a note to that person attaching the CEO’s message and asks “Wonder if you are one of the knuckleheads?”

That individual sends it out to everybody in his group, and the cascade is on. Within an hour, the entire organization knows the CEO considers some of the employees to be “knuckleheads.”

The CEO will quickly become aware, through feedback, that his note is out all over the plant. Let’s look at a few possible approaches for the CEO:

1. He can call a quick meeting with his senior managers to try to find out who leaked the information. That “Witch hunt” reaction is unfortunately pretty common, when the real witch was actually the CEO.

2. He can ignore the situation and let people calm down over time. That “head in the sand” approach is also a common ploy that only feeds the rumors of clueless leaders.

3. A better approach might be a humble apology where he admits to what is already obvious and indicates that his choice of words was inappropriate. Rather than try to justify what is already known (like… “we are under extreme pressure right now”), he indicates sincere regret and a desire to not repeat it.

You be the judge of the outcomes under these scenarios. Perhaps you can think of other methods of handling the situation.

Undoubtedly the best cure would be prevention where the CEO would not send a note like that in the first place.

Even more important, would be to have a CEO who does not even think in terms where he or she has to guard his wording so the spin comes out right. If your private thoughts show the proper level of respect and trust, then you do not have to scrub your communications. You are free to be authentic.

Of course this example was a small situation that was contained within one specific organization. Many times people get into trouble when they communicate inappropriate things about people outside the organization, like customers, insurance companies, the government, law enforcement, or any number of other situations.

These lapses can lead to embarrassment, loss of one’s job, jail time, or worse. When people compromise trust in any type of communication, there is no telling how much damage will ensue.

With the growing percentage of communication happening in the online environment, it is time to redouble efforts to phrase things correctly at the start and avoid embarrassing slips. It is also important to check our personal self talk to ensure our attitudes reflect a trustworthy rather than duplicitous person.