Successful Supervisor 72 Didn’t You Read My E-mail?

April 7, 2018

My work with supervisors often focuses on communication. Reason: Poor communication is the #1 complaint in most employee satisfaction surveys. Habitually, communication has been a major bone of contention in organizations.

Even though communication tools have morphed into all kinds of wonderful technologies, the problem is still there and even is worse today because many managers tend to rely too much on electronic means to communicate information.

For the past decade, the majority of workers say they need to hear information 3-5 times before they are likely to believe it. The implication is that the bar has been raised on the number of times supervisors need to communicate a consistent message before people are likely to internalize it.

The sad truth is that many supervisors put information in an e-mail and honestly believe they have communicated to people. Let’s examine some of the reasons this opinion is incorrect.

People rarely read long and complex e-mails

Supervisors who put out technically well-worded messages have a vision that the employees will read every word and fully absorb all the points. Hogwash! If it takes more than about 30 seconds to read a note, most people will only skim it for the general topic and miss parts of the message.

If a manager puts out a note that is 3 pages long and takes 15 minutes to read, I suspect not 2 in 10 people are going to internalize the meaning. In fact, when most people open a note and see that the text goes “over the horizon” (beyond the first page), they either delete the note without reading it or close the note and leave it in the inbox for a more convenient time.

Naturally, a more convenient time does not surface, so the note is allowed to mold in the inbox like last week’s opened cheese in the refrigerator. Eventually it is thrown out in some kind of purge when the stench becomes too much to bear.

Written information needs to be augmented with verbal enhancements

The written e-mail should contain simply an outline of the salient points. True meaning should be obtained by reinforcing the key points in other forms of communication. This would also include the opportunity for personal involvement or at least dialog, so people can ponder the meaning and impact. Questions for clarification will enhance understanding.

Important conceptual topics need a third exposure (and maybe a fourth)

Some form of summary hand out, YouTube video, voicemail, text, Skype, conference call, newsletter, or podcast should be used to solidify the information. If action is required, this is a critical step that is often not highlighted. The supervisor assumes everyone got the message by an initial e-mail and is astounded that not one of his direct reports took the action he requested.

Formatting is really important

E-mail notes should be as short and easy to digest as possible. Aim to have the message internalized at a glance and with only 15-30 seconds of attention. Contrast the two notes below to see which one would be more likely to be followed by the sales force.

Example of a poorly formatted and wordy note:

I wanted to inform you all that the financial trend for this quarter is not looking good. In order to meet our goals, I believe we must enhance our sales push, especially in the South East Region and in the West. Those two regions are lagging behind at the moment, but I am sure we can catch up before the end of the quarter. Let’s increase the advertising in the local paper so that we get more buzz about the new product. The increased exposure will help now and also in the next quarter. Advertising has a way of building up sales equity. Also, I am cancelling our monthly meeting at headquarters in order to keep the sales force in the field as much as possible. This means you can give your full attention to making customer calls. I am available to travel to the regions next week if you would like to have me meet face to face with your customers. I look forward to celebrating a great success when we have our Fall Sales Meeting. Thank you very much for your extra effort at this critical time for our company… Jake Alsop: Sales Manager, Domestic

Improved format of the same content:

Let’s look forward to celebrating success at the Fall Sales Meeting. Since we are currently behind the pace (particularly in the South East and Western regions) I am asking for the following:
• Increase newspaper advertising to improve exposure
• Stay in the field this month; we’ll skip the meeting
• Request my help with customer presentations if you want it
Thanks…Jake

The second note would be far more likely to be read and internalized. When the sales force opens up the first note, they would see an unformatted block of text that is a burden to wade through. There are no paragraph breaks to give the eyes a rest between concepts.

It contains several instructions amid redundant platitudes and drivel. The second note can be internalized at a glance, and it would be far more likely to produce results. Note the use of bullets eliminates wordy construction.

Use the “Golden Rule” for writing e-mails; “Write notes that you would enjoy receiving,” and utilize many different forms of communication rather than relying on just e-mail.

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


Pooper Scooper at Work

July 16, 2016

My wife saw a truck the other day with an advertisement on the side for an organization called “Doody Master.” For a fee, they will come to your yard and scoop up all the little doggie muffins they can find. I suppose there are worse jobs, but really that is about the bottom (sorry, no pun intended there).

She suggested that many organizations need someone to scoop up all the human doody that people leave around the office for each other. How quaint!

Human beings working in close proximity have a remarkable capacity for driving each other crazy. It happens in organizations of all sizes and types; there are few exceptions.

When we do find an organization where people do not leave nasty little messes for their co-workers to step in, we will see a culture of trust and respect at the core.

The more I thought about it, I realized there are actually categories of doody, and maybe we could be more effective if we eliminated the sources of the mess.

What a novel idea: prevent the doody in the first place, and it eliminates the requirement to clean it up. Here are some prevention ideas:

Assume best intent

When something does not seem right, people have a tendency to assume something evil has prompted it. For example, if you get an e-mail from a coworker asking where you were yesterday, you might assume she was trying to scold you for missing an important meeting.

You might drop some doody with a sarcastic note back stating, “I intentionally missed that meeting – I figured it was totally useless.” After reading your reply, she calls to tell you that her inquiry was because she came to your office yesterday to deliver a late birthday gift, but you weren’t there.

Assuming the best intent until all the facts are in would prevent many nasty messes from ever happening.

Forgive and forget

Grudges can linger on for years in some circumstances. People who are angry with each other go out of their way to make life miserable for the other person. They undermine the positive things and set the rival up for failure whenever possible.

It becomes like a food fight of childish behaviors. Some Twitter exchanges come to mind when thinking about a food fight.

The antidote here is to remember that we are adults and try to act that way most of the time. Cut the other person some slack. There is no need to toss those mashed potatoes.

Don’t be a Chicken Little

We all probably know someone at work who goes around spreading gloom every single day. It is as if there is not enough pain and worry in the world, and this person is self appointed to correct the problem.

Imagine the impact on your organization if you could wave a magic wand and have the most negative person in your group turn into someone who always looks on the bright side of life: sort a reincarnation of Mary Poppins.

It really can happen, if the negative person is handled properly by leaders. I have written on how to accomplish this feat in my books. The technique is to “adopt” the negative person, find out what makes him or her tick, and begin to enroll this person as a positive force rather than a negative anchor.

With time and commitment, most negative individuals can be turned into positive forces within the organization. It is not possible to save every negative person, but each one that can be turned around creates major improvements in the overall culture.

Turn “gotchas” into “thank yous”

By creating a culture of respect and trust, we can reduce the human tendency to catch others doing wrong things and to rub their noses in it like when trying to train a puppy not to make a mess on the carpet.

When people look out for the good in others, they learn to find the best parts, and things go a lot more smoothly after that. The Pygmalion Effect is more pervasive and stronger than we realize.

When we seek to find the good in others, it is there in abundance.

Unfortunately, if we are looking for dodo, we are sure to find plenty of that to step in as well. It is a matter of mindset.

Use Your Emotional Intelligence

Whenever someone says or does something that really pushes your buttons, try to take a step back and consider the implications of your reaction to the stimulus. By refusing to take the “bait” that was dangled by the other person, you are taking the high road, and you come out the winner.

Try to take greater pleasure in avoiding a nasty confrontation than you would by putting the other person in his or her place. The trick is to build in some dwell time and not flash a response when the bait is thrown your way. It takes great restraint and some practice, but the rewards are delicious.

The most powerful way to prevent interpersonal messes is to remember we are not Golden Retrievers. Instead, seek to use the Golden Rule every day, and see a greatly reduced need to clean up ugly messes at work.

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 http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


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 bwhipple@leadergrow.com 585-392-7763. Website http://www.leadergrow.com BLOG http://www.thetrustambassador.com 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.


12 Ways to Improve Online Communication

April 19, 2013

Something wrong with my pcOverarching consideration: Use the right mode of communication – often e-mail or texting are not the right ways to communicate a particular message.

1. Do not treat online notes like a conversation. In normal conversation we use the feedback of body language to modify our message, pace, tone, and emphasis in order to stay out of trouble. In e-mail or in texting, we do not have this real-time feedback.

2. Keep messages short. A good e-mail or text should take only 15-30 seconds to read (texts as little as 2-3 seconds) and absorb. Less is more in online communication. Try to have the entire message fit onto the first screen. When a messages goes “over the horizon,” the reader does not know how long it is, which creates a psychological block.

3. Establish the right tone upfront. Online messages have a momentum. If you start on the wrong foot, you will have a difficult time connecting. The “Subject” line and the first three words of a note establish the tone.

4. Remember the permanent nature of e-mails. Using e-mail to praise helps people remember the kind words. Using e-mail to be critical is usually a bad idea because people will re-read the note many times.

5. Keep your objective in mind. Establish a clear objective of how you want the reader to react to your note. For sensitive notes, write the objective down. When proofreading your note, check to see if your intended reaction is likely to happen. If not, reword the note.

6. Do not write notes when you are not yourself. This sounds simple, but it is really much more difficult than meets the eye. Learn the techniques to avoid this problem.

7. Avoid “online grenade” battles. Do not take the bait. Simply do not respond to edgy note in kind. Change the venue to be more effective.

8. Be careful with use of pronouns in notes. Pronouns establish the tone. The most dangerous pronoun in an online note is “you.”

9. Avoid using “absolutes.” Avoid words such as: never, always, impossible, or cannot. Soften the absolutes if you want to be more credible online.

10. Avoid sarcasm. Humor at the expense of another person will come back to haunt you.

11. Learn techniques to keep your e-mail inbox clean (down to zero notes each day) so you are highly responsive when needed. Adopting proper distribution rules in your organization will cut e-mail traffic by more than 30% instantly.

12. Understand the rules for writing challenging notes so you always get the result you want rather than create a need for damage control.

Your organization has a sustainable competitive advantage if:

• You live and work in an environment unhampered by the problems of poor online communication. This takes some education and a customized set of rules for your unique environment, but the effort is well worth it.

• Employees are not consumed with trying to sort out important information from piles of garbage notes.

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

• Leaders know how to use electronic communications to build rather than destroy trust.

For leaders and managers, once you learn the essentials of e-body language, a whole new world of communication emerges. You will be more adept at decoding incoming messages and have a better sense of how your messages are interpreted by others. You will understand the secret code that is written “between the lines” of all messages and enhance the quality of online communications in your sphere of influence.

Training in this skill area does not require months of struggling with hidden gremlins. While employees often push back on productivity improvement or OD training, they welcome this topic enthusiastically because it improves their quality of work life instantly. Four hours of training and a set of rules can change a lifetime of bad habits.


The e-mails of David Petraeus

November 14, 2012

I try to steer away from politics in my bolg, but sometimes I just need to vent on things.

Whether you believe David Petraeus is a hero or a monster, the undisputed revelations of this past week have revealed two interesting facts about him. First, he is a human being who is capable of getting into compromised situations. Second, his indiscretions were not just poor judgment, they demonstrated a lack of intelligence, which is odd for the head of the CIA.

I get a kick out of how the press describes his voluntary resignation as the “honorable thing to do.” Hello? If you are Petraeus, the honorable thing to do is to resign long before getting caught with your pants down. It baffles me how the word honor can be associated with his ouster. Let’s just hypothesize that if his affair had not been revealed, he would still hold the most trusted position in the USA? Hello? Something is more seriously wrong than a simple lack of good judgment.

The thing that reveals his lack of intelligence is that he used e-mail to communicate with his lover. I have written guidelines for e-mail excellence and teach courses on it from undergraduates to CEOs. The rules are so simple, it is sometimes embarrassing to teach them. Here are the seven major points I use to simply start the conversation about using e-mail.

1. Always use the right mode of communication
2. E-mail is completely different from conversation
3. Less is more when writing e-mails
4. The subject and first sentence set the tone
5. E-mails are permanent documents – never write what could hang you
6. Make sure your note is consistent with your real objectives
7. Write only when you are reflecting your true self and not in a compromised situation

A quick scan of these obvious principles reveals that David was unaware or chose to ignore six out of seven of these most basic rules. I cannot tell if he violated rule four because I have not read any of his notes. One could argue that he was actually following rule number seven, but the true self he was masquerading as was not in the room when he wrote his notes.

It is particularly scary that the person who was entrusted with America’s most closely guarded information would act in a way that revealed him to be not at all intelligent. We might as well not have any secret documents at all and save the money spent on the CIA. If we put our faith in a man who was that flawed on the inside while we believed his integrity based on his outside behaviors, how can we ever believe in the security of information?

I realize that people are human beings and that the animal nature of hormones can sometimes cause totally illogical things to occur, but if that is so, then how do we ever know who to trust? The dilemma is beyond comprehension. I am not prejudging any criminal culpability here; I will let history play out and watch, like the rest of us, in utter amazement. The central question now is “whom do we trust?”

As a post script, I loved the title of an article by Michael Hirsh in National Journal on November 13. It read “Two Generals, Two Women and the FBI: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?”


Improving E-mail: Avoid the Quicksand

February 12, 2012

Sometimes e-mail feels like steroids for communication; other times it feels more like quicksand. A key problem is trying to figure out which notes among the hundreds received each day must be opened and read. This article describes an idea that will accelerate the flow of notes through your inbox and other tips to make your e-mail sparkle. It will help you write notes that people actually read.

One of my students relayed a method used by a Major General in the Air Force to help organize the inbox clutter. The idea is to establish a kind of code that goes upfront on the subject line of all e-mails within a unit. No, I am not talking about the famous military acronyms. These code words are so simple that everyone knows what they mean. Here are the prefaces the senior officer required on each note in his unit:

ACTION:
INFORM:
REQUEST:
QUESTION:
COORDINATE:
RESPOND:

If an entire unit took up this convention, it would be possible to set up files for the incoming e-mails to go directly to one of the above categories and not sit in the main inbox of notes. This would allow an individual to go directly to the ACTION folder if time was short, or browse the INFORM folder when a more leisurely pace was possible.

It would still be possible to mark certain notes as “urgent” so that method of giving priority is still available as well. One caution on the use of “urgent” is to not abuse the designation. When an individual uses “urgent” as a means to give routine requests higher priority, it defeats the purpose and labels the abuser as a poor online communicator.

Another tip for the subject line is to actually compress the entire e-mail message onto the subject, then type EOM (End Of Message) at the end. The subject would look like this: “Meeting for Tuesday at 10 am cancelled: EOM.” This saves readers the time to open the note, and they still get the essential information. Clearly not all e-mail messages can fit into a subject line, but if 10% of them actually could, why not use this time-saving technique?

There are many methods of managing the inbox for optimal efficiency. It is a matter of personal choice what works for you. One habit that works for me is to try to get the inbox down to zero notes at least once a day. I am not always successful at getting to zero, but roughly half of my days I can see an empty inbox. I rarely let the inbox get to more than one page long, so all of the notes waiting for my attention can be viewed in one frame. That practice gives me the ability to have very rapid turnaround time on all incoming requests. It is a good way of building higher trust online. I receive over 150 notes on an average day, so having an uncluttered inbox saves a lot of search time.

When writing notes, make most of them short enough to fit entirely on one display pane. The reason is psychological. When the reader opens the note, he or she will see at a glance that the note ends right there in the first pane, because the signature block will be visible at the bottom of the screen. That puts the reader in a happy place regarding how much time will be required to read the note. This realization will go a long way toward having the reader pay attention and absorb the meaning.

If a note goes beyond the first pane (I call it “over the horizon”), then the reader is in a more grumpy mood while diving into the content. Psychologically, he or she is distracted by wondering how long the note really is and pays less attention to the content. The person may not even tackle the note and put it back in the inbox to read later, if at all.

These tips are easy to accomplish, if people are trained to use them and the expectation is made clear. Your work environment will be significantly more efficient and you will stay out of e-mail quicksand if you use these ideas every day and teach them to others.


Organizational Pooper Scooper

January 2, 2012

My wife saw a truck the other day with an advertisement on the side for an organization called “Doody Master.” For a fee, they will come to your yard and scoop up all the little doggie muffins they can find. I suppose there are worse jobs, but really that is about the bottom (sorry, no pun intended there).

She suggested that many organizations need someone to scoop up all the human doody that people leave around the office for each other. How quaint! Human beings working in close proximity have a remarkable capacity for driving each other crazy. It happens in organizations of all sizes and types; there are few exceptions. When we do find an organization where people do not leave nasty little messes for their co-workers to step in, we will see a culture of trust and respect at the core.

The more I thought about it, I realized there are actually categories of doody, and if people would stop and think before taking action, they could usually prevent the need for an organizational pooper scooper. Here are some prevention ideas:

Assume best intent

When something does not seem right, people have a tendency to assume something evil has prompted it. For example, if you get an e-mail from a coworker asking where you were yesterday, you might assume she was trying to scold you for missing an important meeting. You might drop some doody with a sarcastic note back stating, “I intentionally missed that meeting – it was a load of crap.” After reading your reply, she calls to tell you that her inquiry was because she came to your office yesterday to deliver a late birthday gift, but you weren’t there.
Assuming the best intent until all the facts are in would prevent many nasty messes from ever happening.

Forgive and forget

Grudges can linger on for years in some circumstances. People who are angry with each other go out of their way to make life miserable for the other person. They undermine the positive things and set the rival up for failure whenever possible. It becomes like a food fight of childish behaviors.
The antidote here is to remember that we are adults and try to act that way most of the time. Cut the other person some slack.

Don’t be a Chicken Little

We all probably know someone at work who goes around spreading gloom every single day. It is as if there is not enough pain and worry in the world, and this person is self appointed to correct the problem. Imagine the impact on your organization if you could wave a magic wand and have the most negative person in your group turn into someone who always looks on the bright side of life.

It really can happen, if the negative person is handled properly by leaders. I have written on how to accomplish this feat in my books. The technique is to “adopt” the negative person, find out what makes him or her tick, and begin to enroll this person as a positive force rather than a negative anchor. With time and commitment, most negative individuals can be turned into positive forces within the organization. It is not possible to save every negative person, but each one that can be turned around creates major improvements in the overall culture.

Turn “gotchas” into “thank yous”

By creating a culture of respect and trust, we can reduce the human tendency to catch others doing wrong things and to rub their noses in it like when trying to train a puppy not to make a mess on the carpet. When people look out for the good in others, they learn to find the best parts, and things go a lot more smoothly after that. The Pygmalion Effect is more pervasive and stronger than we realize. When we seek to find the good in others, it is there in abundance. Unfortunately, if we are looking for dodo, we are sure to find plenty of that to step in as well. It is a matter of mindset.

The most powerful way to prevent interpersonal messes is to remember we are not Golden Retrievers. Instead, seek to use the Golden Rule every day, and see a greatly reduced need to clean up ugly messes at work.