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.



Talent Development 3 Reduce Conflict

July 10, 2020

One of the skill areas listed in the Detailed Content Outline for the Certified Professional in Talent Development CPTD by ATD is “knowledge of conflict management techniques.”

Several years ago, I created a list of twelve tips to reduce conflict. I present these as a discussion starter. What techniques would you add to my list?

Reverse Roles

When people take opposing sides in an argument, they become blind to the alternate way of thinking. This polarization causes people to become intransigent, and the rancor escalates. A simple fix is to get each party to verbalize the points being made by the other person. To accomplish this, each person must truly understand the other person’s perspective, which is why the technique is effective.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Most of the things that drive you crazy about a co-worker are things that you won’t remember by the end of the day or certainly not later in the week. Recognize that the things annoying you about another person are really insignificant when considering the bigger picture and the numerous things both of you have in common.

Live and Let Live

The other person’s personal habits are just the way he or she is built. Don’t fixate on trying to change the person to conform to what you think should happen. Focus your attention on the things you like to do.

Take a Vacation

When pressure builds up, just take a brief vacation in your mind. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and visualize a happier place and time. You can take a vicarious trip to the beach anytime you wish. One trick with this technique is to get as many senses involved as possible; feel the warm air on your cheek, taste the salt water on your lips, hear the gentle lapping of the waves, smell the seaweed by your feet, touch the warm sand on which you are sitting, see the beautiful sunset over the water.

Be Nice

Kindness begets kindness. Share a treat, say something soothing, compliment the other person, do something helpful. These things make it more difficult for the ill feelings to spread.

Extend Trust

Ernest Hemingway said, “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” We’ll forgive the flawed grammar, since Ernest is already in the grave, and also since his meaning is powerfully true. Trust is bilateral, and you can usually increase trust by extending more of it to others. I call this “The First Law of Trust.”

Don’t Talk Behind their Back

When you spread gossip about people, a little of it eventually leaks back to them, and it will destroy the relationship. If there is an issue, handle it directly, just as you would have that person do with you.

Don’t Regress to Childish Behavior

It is easy for adults in the work setting to act like children. You can witness it every day. Get off the playground, and remember to act like an adult. Work is not a place to have tantrums, sulk, pout, have a food fight, undermine, or any number of common tactics used by people who are short on coping mechanisms because of their immaturity.

Care About the Person

It is hard to be upset with someone you really care about. Recognize that the load other people carry is equal or heavier than your own. Show empathy and try to help them in every way possible. This mindset is the route to real gratitude.

Listen More Than You Speak

When you are talking or otherwise expounding, it is impossible to be sensitive to the feelings of the other person. Take the time to listen to the other person. Practice reflective listening and keep the ratio of talking to listening well below 50%.

Create Your Development Plan

Most individuals have a long list of what other people need to do to shape up but a rather short list of the things they need to improve upon. Make sure you identify the things in your own behavior that need to change, and you will take the focus off the shortcomings of others.

Follow the Golden Rule

The famous Golden Rule will cure most strife in any organization. We tend to forget to apply it to our everyday battles at work.

If we would all follow these 12 simple rules, there would be a lot less conflict in the work place. It takes some effort, but it is really worth it because we spend so much time working with other people.

Following these rules also means leading by example. If just a few people in an organization model these ideas, other people will see the impact and start to abide by them as well. That initiative can form a trend that will change an entire culture in a short period of time.


The preceding information was adapted from the book Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind, 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, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, 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.